I may say that he seemed to possess an extraordinary fascination for the Indian women, and that he always carried a large spreading palm branch with which he beat them off as if they were flies, when their attentions became too pressing.
To see him walking like a comic opera Sultan, with this badge of authority in his hand, his black beard bristling in front of him, his toes pointing at each step, and a train of wide-eyed Indian girls behind him, clad in their slender drapery of bark cloth, is one of the most grotesque of all the pictures which I will carry back with me.
As to Summerlee, he was absorbed in the insect and bird life of the plateau, and spent his whole time (save that considerable portion which was devoted to abusing Challenger for not getting us out of our difficulties) in cleaning and mounting his specimens.
Challenger had been in the habit of walking off by himself every morning and returning from time to time with looks of portentous solemnity, as one who bears the full weight of a great enterprise upon his shoulders.
One day, palm branch in hand, and his crowd of adoring devotees behind him, he led us down to his hidden work-shop and took us into the secret of his plans.
The place was a small clearing in the center of a palm grove. In this was one of those boiling mud geysers which I have already described.
Around its edge were scattered a number of leathern thongs cut from iguanodon hide, and a large collapsed membrane which proved to be the dried and scraped stomach of one of the great fish lizards from the lake. This huge sack had been sewn up at one end and only a small orifice left at the other.
Into this opening several bamboo canes had been inserted and the other ends of these canes were in contact with conical clay funnels which collected the gas bubbling up through the mud of the geyser.
Soon the flaccid organ began to slowly expand and show such a tendency to upward movements that Challenger fastened the cords which held it to the trunks of the surrounding trees.
In half an hour a good-sized gas-bag had been formed, and the jerking and straining upon the thongs showed that it was capable of considerable lift.
Challenger, like a glad father in the presence of his first-born, stood smiling and stroking his beard, in silent, self-satisfied content as he gazed at the creation of his brain.
It was Summerlee who first broke the silence.
"You don't mean us to go up in that thing, Challenger?" said he, in an acid voice.
"I mean, my dear Summerlee, to give you such a demonstration of its powers that after seeing it you will, I am sure, have no hesitation in trusting yourself to it."
"You can put it right out of your head now, at once," said Summerlee with decision, "nothing on earth would induce me to commit such a folly.
Lord John, I trust that you will not countenance such madness?"
"Dooced ingenious, I call it," said our peer.
"I'd like to see how it works."
"So you shall," said Challenger.
"For some days I have exerted my whole brain force upon the problem of how we shall descend from these cliffs.
We have satisfied ourselves that we cannot climb down and that there is no tunnel.
We are also unable to construct any kind of bridge which may take us back to the pinnacle from which we came.
How then shall I find a means to convey us?
Some little time ago I had remarked to our young friend here that free hydrogen was evolved from the geyser.
The idea of a balloon naturally followed.
I was, I will admit, somewhat baffled by the difficulty of discovering an envelope to contain the gas, but the contemplation of the immense entrails of these reptiles supplied me with a solution to the problem.
Behold the result!"
He put one hand in the front of his ragged jacket and pointed proudly with the other.
By this time the gas-bag had swollen to a goodly rotundity and was jerking strongly upon its lashings.
"Midsummer madness!" snorted Summerlee.
Lord John was delighted with the whole idea.
"Clever old dear, ain't he?" he whispered to me, and then louder to Challenger.
"What about a car?"
"The car will be my next care.
I have already planned how it is to be made and attached.
Meanwhile I will simply show you how capable my apparatus is of supporting the weight of each of us."
"All of us, surely?"
"No, it is part of my plan that each in turn shall descend as in a parachute, and the balloon be drawn back by means which I shall have no difficulty in perfecting.
If it will support the weight of one and let him gently down, it will have done all that is required of it.
I will now show you its capacity in that direction."
He brought out a lump of basalt of a considerable size, constructed in the middle so that a cord could be easily attached to it. This cord was the one which we had brought with us on to the plateau after we had used it for climbing the pinnacle.
It was over a hundred feet long, and though it was thin it was very strong.
He had prepared a sort of collar of leather with many straps depending from it.
This collar was placed over the dome of the balloon, and the hanging thongs were gathered together below, so that the pressure of any weight would be diffused over a considerable surface. Then the lump of basalt was fastened to the thongs, and the rope was allowed to hang from the end of it, being passed three times round the Professor's arm.
"I will now," said Challenger, with a smile of pleased anticipation, "demonstrate the carrying power of my balloon." As he said so he cut with a knife the various lashings that held it.
Never was our expedition in more imminent danger of complete annihilation.
The inflated membrane shot up with frightful velocity into the air. In an instant Challenger was pulled off his feet and dragged after it.
I had just time to throw my arms round his ascending waist when I was myself whipped up into the air.
Lord John had me with a rat-trap grip round the legs, but I felt that he also was coming off the ground.
For a moment I had a vision of four adventurers floating like a string of sausages over the land that they had explored.