Alas, his warning was too late!
In a moment the creature, beating and bumping along the wall like a huge moth within a gas-shade, came upon the opening, squeezed its hideous bulk through it, and was gone.
Professor Challenger fell back into his chair with his face buried in his hands, while the audience gave one long, deep sigh of relief as they realized that the incident was over.
"Then—oh! how shall one describe what took place then—when the full exuberance of the majority and the full reaction of the minority united to make one great wave of enthusiasm, which rolled from the back of the hall, gathering volume as it came, swept over the orchestra, submerged the platform, and carried the four heroes away upon its crest?" (Good for you, Mac!) "If the audience had done less than justice, surely it made ample amends.
Every one was on his feet.
Every one was moving, shouting, gesticulating.
A dense crowd of cheering men were round the four travelers.
'Up with them! up with them!' cried a hundred voices.
In a moment four figures shot up above the crowd.
In vain they strove to break loose.
They were held in their lofty places of honor. It would have been hard to let them down if it had been wished, so dense was the crowd around them.
Regent Street!' sounded the voices.
There was a swirl in the packed multitude, and a slow current, bearing the four upon their shoulders, made for the door.
Out in the street the scene was extraordinary.
An assemblage of not less than a hundred thousand people was waiting.
The close-packed throng extended from the other side of the Langham Hotel to Oxford Circus.
A roar of acclamation greeted the four adventurers as they appeared, high above the heads of the people, under the vivid electric lamps outside the hall.
'A procession! A procession!' was the cry.
In a dense phalanx, blocking the streets from side to side, the crowd set forth, taking the route of Regent Street, Pall Mall, St. James's Street, and Piccadilly.
The whole central traffic of London was held up, and many collisions were reported between the demonstrators upon the one side and the police and taxi-cabmen upon the other.
Finally, it was not until after midnight that the four travelers were released at the entrance to Lord John Roxton's chambers in the Albany, and that the exuberant crowd, having sung
'They are Jolly Good Fellows' in chorus, concluded their program with 'God Save the King.'
So ended one of the most remarkable evenings that London has seen for a considerable time."
So far my friend Macdona; and it may be taken as a fairly accurate, if florid, account of the proceedings.
As to the main incident, it was a bewildering surprise to the audience, but not, I need hardly say, to us.
The reader will remember how I met Lord John Roxton upon the very occasion when, in his protective crinoline, he had gone to bring the "Devil's chick" as he called it, for Professor Challenger.
I have hinted also at the trouble which the Professor's baggage gave us when we left the plateau, and had I described our voyage I might have said a good deal of the worry we had to coax with putrid fish the appetite of our filthy companion.
If I have not said much about it before, it was, of course, that the Professor's earnest desire was that no possible rumor of the unanswerable argument which we carried should be allowed to leak out until the moment came when his enemies were to be confuted.
One word as to the fate of the London pterodactyl.
Nothing can be said to be certain upon this point.
There is the evidence of two frightened women that it perched upon the roof of the Queen's Hall and remained there like a diabolical statue for some hours.
The next day it came out in the evening papers that Private Miles, of the Coldstream Guards, on duty outside Marlborough House, had deserted his post without leave, and was therefore courtmartialed.
Private Miles' account, that he dropped his rifle and took to his heels down the Mall because on looking up he had suddenly seen the devil between him and the moon, was not accepted by the Court, and yet it may have a direct bearing upon the point at issue.
The only other evidence which I can adduce is from the log of the SS.
Friesland, a Dutch-American liner, which asserts that at nine next morning, Start Point being at the time ten miles upon their starboard quarter, they were passed by something between a flying goat and a monstrous bat, which was heading at a prodigious pace south and west.
If its homing instinct led it upon the right line, there can be no doubt that somewhere out in the wastes of the Atlantic the last European pterodactyl found its end.
And Gladys—oh, my Gladys!—Gladys of the mystic lake, now to be re-named the Central, for never shall she have immortality through me.
Did I not always see some hard fiber in her nature?
Did I not, even at the time when I was proud to obey her behest, feel that it was surely a poor love which could drive a lover to his death or the danger of it?
Did I not, in my truest thoughts, always recurring and always dismissed, see past the beauty of the face, and, peering into the soul, discern the twin shadows of selfishness and of fickleness glooming at the back of it?
Did she love the heroic and the spectacular for its own noble sake, or was it for the glory which might, without effort or sacrifice, be reflected upon herself?
Or are these thoughts the vain wisdom which comes after the event?
It was the shock of my life.
For a moment it had turned me to a cynic.
But already, as I write, a week has passed, and we have had our momentous interview with Lord John Roxton and—well, perhaps things might be worse.
Let me tell it in a few words.
No letter or telegram had come to me at Southampton, and I reached the little villa at Streatham about ten o'clock that night in a fever of alarm.
Was she dead or alive?
Where were all my nightly dreams of the open arms, the smiling face, the words of praise for her man who had risked his life to humor her whim?