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? Already I was down from the high peaks and standing flat-footed upon earth. Yet some good reasons given might still lift me to the clouds once more. I rushed down the garden path, hammered at the door, heard the voice of Gladys within, pushed past the staring maid, and strode into the sitting-room. She was seated in a low settee under the shaded standard lamp by the piano. In three steps I was across the room and had both her hands in mine.
“Gladys!” I cried, “Gladys!”
She looked up with amazement in her face. She was altered in some subtle way. The expression of her eyes, the hard upward stare, the set of the lips, was new to me. She drew back her hands.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Gladys!” I cried. “What is the matter? You are my Gladys, are you not—little Gladys Hungerton?”
“No,” said she, “I am Gladys Potts. Let me introduce you to my husband.”
How absurd life is! I found myself mechanically bowing and shaking hands with a little ginger-haired man who was coiled up in the deep arm-chair which had once been sacred to my own use. We bobbed and grinned in front of each other.
“Father lets us stay here. We are getting our house ready,” said Gladys.
“Oh, yes,” said I.
“You didn’t get my letter at Para, then?”
“No, I got no letter.”
“Oh, what a pity! It would have made all clear.”
“It is quite clear,” said I.
“I’ve told William all about you,” said she. “We have no secrets. I am so sorry about it. But it couldn’t have been so very deep, could it, if you could go off to the other end of the world and leave me here alone. You’re not crabby, are you?”
“No, no, not at all. I think I’ll go.”
“Have some refreshment,” said the little man, and he added, in a confidential way, “It’s always like this, ain’t it? And must be unless you had polygamy, only the other way round; you understand.” He laughed like an idiot, while I made for the door.
I was through it, when a sudden fantastic impulse came upon me, and I went back to my successful rival, who looked nervously at the electric push.
“Will you answer a question?” I asked.
“Well, within reason,” said he.
“How did you do it? Have you searched for hidden treasure, or discovered a pole, or done time on a pirate, or flown the Channel, or what? Where is the glamour of romance? How did you get it?”
He stared at me with a hopeless expression upon his vacuous, good-natured, scrubby little face.
“Don’t you think all this is a little too personal?” he said.
“Well, just one question,” I cried. “What are you? What is your profession?”
“I am a solicitor’s clerk,” said he. “Second man at Johnson and Merivale’s, 41 Chancery Lane.”
“Good-night!” said I, and vanished, like all disconsolate and broken-hearted heroes, into the darkness, with grief and rage and laughter all simmering within me like a boiling pot.
One more little scene, and I have done. Last night we all supped at Lord John Roxton’s rooms, and sitting together afterwards we smoked in good comradeship and talked our adventures over. It was strange under these altered surroundings to see the old, well-known faces and figures. There was Challenger, with his smile of condescension, his drooping eyelids, his intolerant eyes, his aggressive beard, his huge chest, swelling and puffing as he laid down the law to Summerlee. And Summerlee, too, there he was with his short briar between his thin moustache and his gray goat’s-beard, his worn face protruded in eager debate as he queried all Challenger’s propositions. Finally, there was our host, with his rugged, eagle face, and his cold, blue, glacier eyes with always a shimmer of devilment and of humor down in the depths of them. Such is the last picture of them that I have carried away.
It was after supper, in his own sanctum—the room of the pink radiance and the innumerable trophies—that Lord John Roxton had something to say to us. From a cupboard he had brought an old cigar-box, and this he laid before him on the table.
“There’s one thing,” said he, “that maybe I should have spoken about before this, but I wanted to know a little more clearly where I was. No use to raise hopes and let them down again. But it’s facts, not hopes, with us now. You may remember that day we found the pterodactyl rookery in the swamp—what? Well, somethin’ in the lie of the land took my notice. Perhaps it has escaped you, so I will tell you. It was a volcanic vent full of blue clay.” The Professors nodded.
“Well, now, in the whole world I’ve only had to do with one place that was a volcanic vent of blue clay. That was the great De Beers Diamond Mine of Kimberley—what? So you see I got diamonds into my head. I rigged up a contraption to hold off those stinking beasts, and I spent a happy day there with a spud. This is what I got.”
He opened his cigar-box, and tilting it over he poured about twenty or thirty rough stones, varying from the size of beans to that of chestnuts, on the table.
“Perhaps you think I should have told you then. Well, so I should, only I know there are a lot of traps for the unwary, and that stones may be of any size and yet of little value where color and consistency are clean off. Therefore, I brought them back, and on the first day at home I took one round to Spink’s, and asked him to have it roughly cut and valued.”
He took a pill-box from his pocket, and spilled out of it a beautiful glittering diamond, one of the finest stones that I have ever seen.
“There’s the result,” said he. “He prices the lot at a minimum of two hundred thousand pounds. Of course it is fair shares between us. I won’t hear of anythin’ else. Well, Challenger, what will you do with your fifty thousand?”
“If you really persist in your generous view,” said the Professor, “I should found a private museum, which has long been one of my dreams.”
“And you, Summerlee?”
“I would retire from teaching, and so find time for my final classification of the chalk fossils.”
“I’ll use my own,” said Lord John Roxton, “in fitting a well-formed expedition and having another look at the dear old plateau. As to you, young fellah, you, of course, will spend yours in gettin’ married.”
“Not just yet,” said I, with a rueful smile. “I think, if you will have me, that I would rather go with you.”
Lord Roxton said nothing, but a brown hand was stretched out to me across the table.