Friday, 1 July 2016

Part One: London, March to April 1912: Chapter 6 “This journal contains the most amazing things you will have ever heard!”

The Reptile Hall at the Natural History Museum, South Kensington

Having been rejected by his sweetheart, Agnes, because he lacked an adventurous spirit, journalist Edmund Molloy sought solace at the Babylon Exploration Society, a high class brothel, with his best friend William Britten. Sent by his editor to interview the irascible Professor Challenor, he was informed of the possibility of dinosaurs living on a plateau in South America. His subterfuge of posing as a Natural History Museum employee to gain access to the Professor was discovered by Challenor's attractive wife, Edith, who then seduced him the morning before Professor Challenor was due to give his talk on the plateau at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.

“Molloy! Molloy!” I looked around towards the direction of the call as I climbed the steps to the imposing Romanesque entrance of the Natural History Museum that evening.

“Britten! Glad to see you! I have managed to get you a seat. It is a sell out!” I said. The lecture was due to start at seven and now, twenty minutes beforehand, a steady stream of people were arriving at the museum. We walked inside to the cathedral like Great Hall and past the giant African elephant that dominated the cavernous space. “We are in the Reptile Gallery, it seems!”

“A most appropriate venue for Professor George Challenor!” said a voice behind us. I recognised Challenor’s arch enemy, Professor Somersby, immediately. He was a tall, slim man in his sixties with white hair and a neat white mustache and beard. He was impeccably dressed in an expensive looking navy blue suit and looked more like a distinguished old admiral than a famous naturalist. 

“Professor Somersby, what an honour. Do you have a few words for The Daily Courier? What are you expecting from Professor Challenor’s lecture tonight?” I asked, pulling out my notebook.

“Do you not mean, Professor Challenor’s astounding and historic lecture? I think that is how it is being billed! I am surprised that this august institution would have anything to do with the man. What I am expecting, young man, is ill-thought out, sensationalist claptrap, as usual. I am sure your readers will lap it up. I doubt any of the proper newspapers are here tonight!” he strode off arm in arm with a matronly but handsome lady who I took to be his wife.

“Excellent!” I said to myself, writing it down. “Sensationalist claptrap! Perfect!” Britten laughed. “What is so funny?” I asked him.

“You are! In your reporter guise! I have not seen it before! You are hilarious! Look there is another important looking chap!”

 “It is Lord Claygate, president of the Royal Zoological Society!” I said. “I have just written his obituary!” I shot over to the distinguished looking man, who was surrounded by a group of younger but equally distinguished looking men, who all looked to me rather too fastidiously dressed. 

“Lord Claygate! Daily Courier!” I said. Claygate had perfectly coiffed silver hair and a very expensively cut dark grey suit which managed to disguise, to a certain extent, his large bulk.

“Good Lord! The Courier no less," he said, turning his long nose towards me. "Can we expect news of the latest sighting of a giant ape in Tibet, a sordid foreign political scandal involving some minor European royal’s wife and details of Lord Hoxton’s latest conquest from the music hall to appear alongside your account of this evening’s eagerly awaited revelations! All leavened by your inside tips on the latest greyhound racing odds, of course.” 

“We are always first with the news, Lord Claygate!” I said. 

“First with the news no-one else can be bothered with!” he replied, looking at the faces of his companions with delight, as they all laughed, sycophantically. I was, however, somewhat distracted by the arrival of Agnes and her father. I had not expected them to be there. I was even more distracted when Britten went over to talk to them and Agnes’ face lit up in delight. She wouldn’t be so impressed if she knew he went with prostitutes on a regular basis, I thought, rather cruelly. My own experience, I had decided, would be a one off, simply for the purpose of my own education. Mrs Challenor had proved to me that I did not have to pay for the intimate attention of women. I felt a moment’s superiority to Britten and almost immediately felt guilty that I should have such unbecoming thoughts. 

“Is it true that the Royal Zoological Society refused to host Professor Challenor’s lecture on account of the controversy and uproar his talks always generate!” I asked Lord Claygate. 

“Of course not! That sounds like Challenor spreading malicious lies to make him appear the injured party once again. It is simply that our lecture room was already booked for a more prestigious talk. On the dung beetle!” He laughed uproariously and moved on, with his little flock in close attendance. 

“Hello Edmund!” said Agnes as I approached her. 

“Hello Agnes!” I leaned in to kiss her cheek and much to my surprise she turned her head to catch my lips with hers. 

“Are you here in your professional capacity?” she asked. 

“Journalism is not a profession. It is an embarrassment!” said her father. “Although I suppose prostitution is called a profession too!” he added.

“Father, really!” she said, while guiding me away from him towards the stuffed elephant. It looked rather like Lord Claygate, I mused. 

“How have you been, Edmund? I am still very fond of you. I really do not wish ill of you. Perhaps, after an appropriate time, we may be friends again. I think I may have been rather harsh when you were in a delicate emotional state. I am sorry.” She squeezed my forearm rather tenderly. 

“That is kind,” I said. She looked completely ravishing that evening, dressed in powder blue which set off her eyes. “I am fine, just fine I...” I began, wondering what to say to cover the awkwardness of the situation. I was interrupted by someone else causing a stir as they entered the building. 

“It is Lord Hoxton!” said Agnes, a big beam appeared on her face, before she turned away from me, peremptorily. I realised that this was, indeed, the very man I had seen at the Babylon Exploration Society the other night and, indeed, he nodded at Britten. He was accompanied by three very beautiful raven haired women. One was older and I recognised her as Lady Caroline, a famous widow about town. The other two looked very similar and must have been her daughters, who I knew were both less than eighteen years old, although both were dressed in a very adult manner, with daringly low cut evening dresses in a shocking scarlet. 

“Lord Hoxton! Daily Courier! Are you looking forward to Professor Challenor’s lecture this evening?” I said, darting in front of Agnes, rather rudely. 

“Well, I have only recently returned from the Amazon meself so, of course, am interested in what a fellow traveller has to say about the region!” he answered. 

“Lord Hoxton...” I began again, but he had stopped looking at me and was gazing at Agnes. 

“And who is this very beautiful young woman?” he asked no-one in particular.

“I am Agnes Cardwell, Lord Hoxton!” said Agnes, actually dropping a curtsey. 

“She is a friend of mine!” I said. Hoxton turned his piercing blue eyes on me. 

“Really?” he said as if the thought was completely unlikely. “Well, Miss Cardwell and I do so hope you are a Miss, why don’t you join me and my companions!” He took her hand and lifted it to his lips kissing her white glove, although I noticed that the older woman accompanying him did not look that pleased with the suggestion. “This handsome fellow must be your father. Please come too!” They swept off together and Britten and I trudged after them out of the main hall and down the ornate, terracotta-decorated corridor to the Reptile Hall. 

“Never mind, old chap,” said Britten, grinning at me.  "No-one can compete with Lord James Hoxton! Might as well give up all hope now! I wager he will have her down to her stockings, begging for it on all fours, before the end of the week!” 

“Britten! You bounder! At least he will stymie your attempts to ingratiate yourself with Agnes!” 

“True. I know when I am beaten. Unlike you, old chap!” 

The Reptile Hall was dominated by a large skeleton of a dinosaur, a Diplodocus, if I remember rightly, and chairs had been placed either side of it. The front rows, under the creature’s long neck, stretched the whole width of the room, however. In the centre, just in front of the small podium on which the rod supporting its neck was mounted, a three lens magic lantern had been placed pointing at a screen which had been erected behind the platform at the front of the hall. I recognised the cedar wood box of slides placed next to it. Standing beside it was Edith Challenor. “Good evening, Mrs Challenor!” I said, brightly. 

“Good evening, Mr Molloy!” She stood on tiptoe to kiss my cheek but instead I felt a little nip on my earlobe as I dipped my head to compensate for the nine inch difference in height between us. 

“May I present my friend, William Britten!” 

“Good evening, young man!” she gave him a dazzling smile and I experienced a flash of jealousy as she took his hand. 

“Are you looking forward to your husband’s lecture, Mrs Challenor?” he asked her. She was resplendent in a deep crimson evening dress with a surprisingly low cut neckline barely made decent by transparent net around the shoulders. It was a far cry from the sensible clothes I had seen her in before. 

“Dreading it, is probably a more accurate summation of my current mental state, Mr Britten. Mr Molloy, you may quote me in your newspaper as saying that even the Professor’s faithful wife,” she winked at me, “had misgivings about the reception that Professor Challenor’s controversial lecture might receive!” 

“The Professor’s beautiful and faithful wife,” I said. “I am sure it will be a triumph!” She smiled and shook her head. Britten and I found our reserved seats some five rows back, next to a display case featuring various turtle carapaces. We picked up the cards with our names on and sat down. 

“Molloy,” hissed Britten, “did I just see Professor Challenor’s wife nip your ear and wink at you?” 

“I don’t know. Did you?” I asked, looking straight ahead. 

“You went to see her this morning. Didn’t you? What happened?” 

“Now is not the time!” I replied. 

“Handsome looking women!” he said. 

 “Really?” I said. “Can’t say I had noticed!  She's very old.” 

“Well, here is a real beauty!” he said, digging his elbow into my ribs, rather more forcefully than was necessary, I thought. On the other side of the gallery from where we sat, a very elegant young women was taking her seat. She had thick chestnut hair and a midnight blue dress and wide brimmed hat decorated with black feathers. Her clothes were simple but obviously expensive. She wore a pearl necklace which must have cost a fortune, given the size of the pearls. “You seem to know everyone!” said Britten. “Who is that?” 

“I have no idea!” I said. “Shh. Here is Lord Claygate!” The hall was now completely packed. There were even people sat behind the platform. I turned around in my seat and saw that a large group of people, who I took to be students by their raucous demeanour, were standing at the back as well. 

“Shove up, Molloy!” said a voice. It was McCandless and, much to my horror, he was accompanied by Lord Ventnor, the proprietor of The Daily Courier. Britten and I moved in towards the centre, which is where they should have sat, I saw from the cards, while McCandless and Ventnor took our places on the outside edge. “This better be good, Molloy!” said my editor. “I had to persuade his Lordship that this was worth coming to!” Oh no, I thought. What if Challenor was a disaster? Back to obituaries tomorrow! 

“My Lords, ladies and gentlemen!” boomed a voice. It was Lord Claygate, standing on the small platform at the front of the hall. “Despite ill-informed rumours to the contrary, spread by the gutter press,” he looked straight at me, “the Royal Zoological Society is proud to present the eminent naturalist Professor George Challenor to give tonight’s lecture on A Lost World in Amazonia and the discovery of fabulous creatures there!” 

“Good old Georgie!” cried the students from the back of the hall. 

“Mrs Challenor is a fabulous creature!” shouted another, to cheers and a few whistles. Edith looked around and grinned at them. 

“Eminent?” I heard Professor Somersby’s distinctive drawl from just in front of us. There were a mixture of cheers and jeers as Claygate described Challenor’s academic qualifications and then thanked the Natural History Museum and Professor George from the Museum for providing the venue. 

“No one else would have him!” I whispered to Britten. 

“Without further ado I give the floor to Professor George Challenor!” said Claygate and sat down with his claque in the front row. 

“My Lords, ladies and gentlemen!” boomed Challenor, striding onto the platform from the side of the hall. “What I am about to tell you this evening is going to turn everything we know about prehistory upon its head!” 

“Just like you landed on your head!” shouted someone from the back. Challenor glared at him. He began by telling the story of his visit the previous year to Brazil and his search for a particular sort of monstrous bird he had heard described. He then told the story of Waring Blanc and his journal and flourished it over his head like Moses with the Ten Commandments. “This journal contains the most amazing things you will have ever heard! For within it are a series of maps...” 

“Pirate treasure maps?” asked one of the group with Lord Claygate. 

“Oh there is treasure here! But scientific treasure!” He waved at Mrs Challenor and the lights at the front of the gallery were turned off so that the first slide could be shown. Those sat behind him twisted around in their seats to look. It was the drawing of the map of the tributary which led to the plateau. Challenor was a good story teller, I will give him that. His account of Blanc’s journey was full of perils regarding rapids, snakes and hostile Indians. The drawing of the plateau elicited some excited noises from the audience. He described how Blanc and his daughter, who, he explained had produced the fine drawings, had climbed up a tunnel to the surface of the plateau. 

“A secret tunnel as well as a secret map?” said one of Lord Claygate’s group. “It’s just like a cheap novel by that French fantasist!” 

“After exploring the edge of the plateau for an hour or so Blanc made his first extraordinary discovery,” continued Challenor. “An amateur botanist of some note in his native Canada...” 

“A Canadian, Lord save us!” said Claygate, to much laughter. Challenor ignored him but I could see that he was starting to get angry. His dark eyes flashed, dangerously. 

“I have many slides of Waring Blanc’s daughter’s drawings but here I will present an actual sample!” he held up a large piece of card on which had been pressed the leaves and stem of some type of plant. “When Waring Blanc spotted these leaves he was astounded, as he knew exactly what it was. An example of Glossopteris, which even those in this museum believed to be an extinct fern. Blanc has confirmed however that it is neither extinct nor a fern as we know it but is, in fact, a gymnosperm and, in particular, a tree that grows to approximately one hundred feet in height...” 

“This is ridiculous, Challenor!” called out Somersby. “Glossopteris died out at the end of the Permian period, two hundred and fifty million years ago. Are you telling me that it is still growing on top of a plateau in the Amazon jungle?” 

“A secret plateau!” said a man in Claygate’ group. Everyone laughed. 

“You cannot dispute the evidence of your own eyes. Somersby! Here it is!” said Challenor waving the card over his head. “An actual leaf! If we can find a proper botanist rather than someone with no knowledge of the subject whatsoever, like yourself, he will no doubt confirm it!” There was more laughter. 

“Perhaps we should give it to your wife!” said one of the students. 

 “Oh, yes please!” cried another, to lewd laughter from the back. I turned around to glare at the student who was, I was glad to see, rather unprepossessing.

“I hope this gets more interesting than an unknown fern, Molloy!” hissed McCandless. “I don’t think our readers are going to be very excited by that!” 

“Indeed!” agreed Lord Ventnor, glaring at me. I was concerned my journalistic career might come to an abrupt halt that very evening. 

“Blanc’s next discovery was even more exciting!” said Challenor. 

“Lord save us, not an extinct mushroom?” called out one of the students. 

“There are, of course, giant mushrooms in the fossil record, Mr Brown, as you would know if you did any studying at all rather than spending quite so much time researching that fascinating creature, the London hospital nurse!” There was more laughter and I turned around to see Brown’s companions poking him in delight. “Let us go back to 1825 and the second dinosaur ever named by Gideon Mantell. The Iguanodon! Visitors to Crystal Place will no doubt have seen the large quadrapedal sculptures supervised by Owen.” A slide appeared of one of the sculptures. I saw Agnes turn back towards me and grin. “We now know these to be quite inaccurate, since the discovery of the fact that the creature had smaller forelimbs than rear legs.” Another slide appeared showing a creature stood on its hind legs and balanced on its tail. This is the current interpretation of the creature given the Bernissart fossils discovered in Belgium thirty five years ago.” He waved at his wife who changed the slide. Now here is Veronique Blanc’s drawing of an iguanodon.” The posture of the creature was quite different. It stood on two legs but its body was held horizontally and its tail was held in line with its body, raised from the ground. The front limbs were held a few inches above the ground. It also appeared to have a striped body. 

“Ridiculous!” said Somersby. “It would lose its balance and topple over!” 

“Just as we humans do, Somersby. How can a creature be bipedal, I wonder? How do you keep yourself upright? You don’t even have a tail to help you; not a visible one, anyway!” The students laughed. “You seem perfectly able to walk, in your rather elderly and infirm way, unless you have indulged in too much Port, once again, of course!” 

“Honestly, Challenor! Implying drunkenness of Professor Somersby is low, even for you!” said Claygate. Challenor ignored him and went on to show more drawings of extraordinary creatures which he claimed were still alive on the plateau. 

“None of these creatures, which Waring Blanc identified, carry themselves like our current interpretations. Surely, as my ignorant detractors in this room suggest, if you were trying to provide a convincing fake you would show them as we think they are today not, as here, in a completely different manner!” 

“Good point!” I heard Lord Hoxton say. Challenor continued with a detailed exposition of the evidence which generated more and more cries of ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’ and such like. Finally, Professor Somersby stood up, just as the final slide of the blurred pterodactyl had been shown. 

“Honestly, Challenor, you really can’t expect us to believe, in the twentieth century, that there are living dinosaurs on the planet. It makes a nonsense of evolutionary theory for one thing. Where is your incontrovertible evidence? One supposed leaf does not count!” 

“Exactly, Somersby! We need evidence. Real, inarguable evidence!” said Challenor. 

“Quite right!” said Claygate. 

“I agree completely!” said Challenor, striking a pose. “So I am, therefore, proposing that we mount an expedition to locate Waring Blanc’s Lost World and not only photograph its wonders but bring back specimens! I am sure the Royal Zoological Society would love to exhibit a living dinosaur in Regent’s Park!” He stood with his arms crossed, his chin jutting out, looking triumphant as the chorus of comments, calls, laughter and insults washed around him. I feared that Mrs Challenor’s prediction would prove sadly prescient. She looked back at me, raised her eyebrows and looked resigned. 

“And who is going to fund what will no doubt be a very expensive expedition? We are not talking about a quick jaunt to Lyme Regis!” said Claygate. Challenor frowned. 

 “Well, I assumed that the Society would fund the expedition!” 

“Well you assumed quite wrongly, not for the first time!” said Claygate, standing up and joining Challenor on the platform. “We do not want the Society to become the laughing stock of zoologists worldwide! I’m sorry but with no money there is no expedition and that is my final word!” 

“Surely someone will fund such an important expedition! We have an opportunity to change our whole outlook on prehistory!” said Challenor. 

“I will fund part of the expedition!” came a voice. People shushed those still making a noise. A man stood up in front of us. “I am Lord James Hoxton. You may have heard of me. I have recently been in Amazonia myself and it contains vast areas of unexplored land. If I had to bet on one place on earth where there might be something undiscovered, then Amazonia is where it would be!” 

“Lord Hoxton’s reputation is well known!” said Claygate looking surprised. “But how much can you fund?” 

“I will pay for one third of the total costs of the expedition! My experience and contacts in the region will be useful and if we do find dinosaurs then I have a bally fine collection of elephant guns!” There was general laughter as I scribbled down the exchange. “I would ask just one thing; that I be allowed to take one dinosaur trophy for my collection!” 

“Agreed!” said Challenor. There was a cheer. 

“Unfortunately, a third of the money will get you to somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic!” said Somersby. More laughter. 

 “I will pay one third, also!” came a woman’s voice. It was the beauty in the midnight blue dress, who now also stood up. She had what sounded like an educated American accent, if there is such a thing. 

“Thank you, madam!” said Challenor. “May I ask your name, please?” 

“I am Marguerite Blanc. I am Waring Blanc’s niece!” There were gasps and an outbreak of muttered discussion in the hall. 

“Now this is more like it!” said Lord Ventnor. “La Belle et la BĂȘte, eh, McCandless?” 

“Are you getting all this, Molloy ? Looks like we may have a story after all!” said my editor. 

“Yes sir!” I said, both delighted and relieved. 

“So now you have enough money to get part way up the Amazon!” said Claygate. 

“Who else will come in and be part of making history?” asked Challenor. The room went silent and everyone looked at each other, expectantly. I still don’t know what made me do it, whether it was thoughts of impressing Agnes or Mrs Challenor but I found myself on my feet and felt every face turn towards me. I could feel myself blushing furiously. “Mr Molloy, is the Natural History Museum going to fund the rest?” asked Challenor. 

“I am afraid, sir, that I may have slightly misled you on that point. I am Edmund Molloy, a reporter for the Daily Courier and...” 

What?” roared Challenor and leapt from the platform, making a bee line for me. “A liar is what you are!  A liar who came to my own house! Who lied to my precious wife as well! I am going to thrash you to within an inch of your life!” By this point he was at the end of the row and I saw Lord Ventnor helpfully getting out of the way so Challenor could get to me. He raised his ham like fist and looked to be about to climb over McCandless, who, I have to say, to his credit, stayed put. 

“But then you wouldn’t be able to fund the rest of your expedition!” I said, loudly and stood up.

“What?” but it stopped his seemingly inexorable forward motion. 

“Because The Daily Courier will fund the final third of the costs!” I announced to gasps and cheers. 

“What?” said Lord Ventnor. 

“Are you out of your mind, laddie?” muttered McCandless. 

“No!” I cried and addressed the whole room. “If there is the faintest chance that Professor Challenor’s story is true then we must make every attempt to prove it. We have Lord Hoxton on board with his unrivalled experience of the wild places of the world and hunting large, dangerous animals.  Professor Challenor has the map, journal and enormous knowledge of prehistoric creatures!” Somersby made a dismissive noise. “Miss Blanc has provided a good part of the funding and obviously has a personal interest in the outcome. I would like to join the expedition to provide our readers and the Royal Zoological Society with an honest, neutral account of the expedition. I can send my despatches back to London so all Courier readers can feel part of this extraordinary venture!” 

“Lord Ventnor, is this young man really speaking for you?” asked Lord Claygate. 

 “I must be mad,” muttered Lord Ventnor, sotto voce. “Indeed, Lord Claygate, principally because I know and respect Lord Hoxton and trust his judgement. We will put our newspaper’s resources into the expedition and tell the world, exclusively of course, what is discovered!” said Claygate. 

“Well, Challenor, it seems you have your expedition,” said Claygate, looking rather stunned by this turn of events. “I would prefer if we could include another, perhaps more critical scientist to accompany you all. Would Professor Somersby contemplate joining the team?” 

“Certainly not!” said Challenor. 

“I should be delighted!” cried Somersby, although I saw his wife stiffen at his announcement. 

“It is my expedition, I can include, or not, whomsoever I like!” said Challenor. 

“In fact, Professor Challenor, it is mine, Lord Hoxton’s and The Daily Courier’s expedition,” said Marguerite Blanc, “and I would certainly insist on Professor Somersby’s presence!” There was a brief argument but when Hoxton joined in, Challenor had to admit defeat. 

“Alright then! The expedition will consist of myself, as leader, Professor Somersby, Lord Hoxton and Mr Molloy!” There was a cheer. 

 “And myself, of course,” added Marguerite. “I am not investing thousands of dollars in an expedition only to sit in London and wait for Mr Molloy’s accounts!” She nodded at me and smiled. 

“But you’re a woman!” exclaimed Challenor. 

“Indeed and, like my uncle, something of a botanist. I am also a geologist and an experienced hunter who is a crack shot with a rifle and is used to camping out in the wild. I have some medical training too. All of which, I think you will agree, will be useful on this venture!” 

“Those are points well made, dear lady,” said Hoxton. “I strongly support Mademoiselle Blanc’s inclusion on the roster! Provided she is able to rough it!” 

“I can be as rough as the next girl, Lord Hoxton!” she declared smiling at him. He smiled back. Oh dear, there goes another one, I thought. Challenor tried to have another go but he was stopped by Edith. 

 “Now George you have achieved more than you thought possible. You need to concede on some points!” He shrugged and looked defeated. 

“Welcome to the Professor George Challenor expedition to the Lost World, Miss Blanc!” he said, finally. 

“We really will have to change the name!” muttered Somersby. We were all made to stand on the platform and pose for a picture by Smaile, one of the Courier’s photographers, who McCandless had brought along, more out of hope than anything else. There was a barrage of questions and Lord Ventnor only calmed the tumult by saying that the expedition members would issue a statement in the Courier in the next few days on the plans for the venture. 

 “Look, here, Molloy,” said Lord Hoxton as we stood next to the stage, “as we are going to be on this expedition together and appear to be the only normal chaps on it, why don’t you pop around to see me tomorrow. I have rooms in Albany,” he handed me his card. “Say, eight thirty, just after dinner. We can knock back a few glasses of Madeira and I can help you with the sort of things you might need to equip yourself with for the expedition!” 

“That would be most welcome, Lord Hoxton,” I said and we shook hands, him nearly breaking all the bones in my hand in the process and then he .

"Now, I better go and rescue Mademoiselle Blanc from the Professor's students!" he headed towards the back of the hall where Mlle Blanc was surrounded by young men.

 As Britten and I eventually slipped out of the Reptile Hall, Mrs Challenor approached us in the corridor, while her husband showed Somersby the supposedly extinct fern. 

“May I speak to you in private, Mr Molloy?” she asked. I looked at Britten who said he would meet me at the main entrance. She took me down to the far end of the dimly lit corridor, away from the Reptile and main halls. “Thank you, Mr Molloy, for backing George. This means everything to him. I hope you will look after him, as I will miss the grumpy old goat. You must promise me you will ensure that he is not eaten by a dinosaur!” I laughed and said that that promise might be better extracted from Lord Hoxton. 

 “Mrs Challenor, I promise to write to you regarding your husband’s activities,” I said, “so that you may get something of an impression of him in his absence!” 

“That would be very kind. I expect nothing whatsoever from his hand!” She looked down the corridor and took my hand for a brief moment. “After you left today I went straight back to bed and frigged myself until I spent once more!” she whispered, looking down the corridor to make sure no one was nearby. “I could not get the image of your beautiful manhood out of my mind. I am actually becoming moist as I stand here before you!” 

“And I am becoming stiff!” I said, smiling at her. 

“I would very much like to kneel down right here and take your lovely penis into my mouth! To lick it and suck it and make you spend down my throat! Sadly I cannot!” she added. 

“Sadly indeed!” I agreed, shocked at her candour.

"This dress is so tight I do not think I could perform the manouevre anyway!" she laughed.

"It is a very fine dress, to be sure!"  I said wishing I could tear it from her shapely body and free those thrusting breasts. 

“Good God, though, but I am disappointed by this turn of events!” she said. 

“How so?” I asked, puzzled. 

“Because I thought, however unrealistically, perhaps, that the Royal Zoological Society would fund George’s expedition and he would disappear for many months and you and I might have had an ongoing...arrangement.” 

“An arrangement, Mrs Challenor?” I asked. 

“Don’t play the innocent, Edmund. A carnal arrangement! You would satisfy my sexual desires in any way I chose!  Repeatedly!” 

“I very much enjoyed myself today. You are a beautiful, intelligent and passionate woman.” 

“Flattery is unnecessary, although pleasing. I would like to see you again tomorrow for some more private time together! Naked of course. Time is now of the essence!” 

“Is that a good idea, as the Professor and I will now be colleagues?” I asked. 

“I am only interested in my private pleasure, Edmund. If you do not wish to benefit I will find someone else. Your friend, Mr Britten, seems nice!” She smiled and I was not quite sure if she was joking or not. 

“Edith, I would love to spend any amount of time with you, naked or not!” I said.

“Oh, quite definitely naked. I already have an idea as to what we may get up to tomorrow. I will meet you in the lobby of the Great Northern Hotel at King's Cross at eleven o’clock. We will take morning tea, or coffee if you prefer, although personally I despise the drink. I will have booked a room and then we will go separately up to that room and remove each other’s clothes!” 

“I may bring my sketching materials!” I said. 

“That would be most entertaining!” she said. “Now we must get back. Your friend will be wondering about us!” She gave my hand one last squeeze and we returned to the Reptile Hall entrance. 

“Edith!” roared Challenor from just inside the door, where he was standing with Professor Somersby and Professor George of the Museum. “You are not to speak with Molloy! I know what he is getting up to with you!” My heart started to pound and I wondered about making a run for it. 

“Really? Have you uncovered our passionate affair already, George?” said Mrs Challenor. 

“You overestimate yourself if you think any man would have an affair with you, woman!” he said. “Especially a young man like Molloy. No, he is no doubt using the underhand journalist’s technique of speaking about supposedly innocent matters in order to obtain a nugget of something he can twist and trumpet in his disreputable newspaper!” 

“Oh dear!” said Edith. “And there I was thanking him for helping to fund a third of your expedition. No doubt he will find some way to twist that against me. Is that correct, George?” 

“Humph!” said Challenor and barrelled back into the centre of the hall, barging through the crowd towards Lord Claygate. 

“Hello, Edith!” said Professor Somersby, taking her hand briefly. “You have the patience of a saint!” 

“Hello, Leon!” She stood on tip toe to kiss him on the cheek which left him rather flustered. “Where is Edna? I wanted to say hello!” 

“Oh dear, I am afraid that the redoubtable Mrs Somersby has returned home in high dudgeon. She does not like me travelling on long expeditions any more, without her accompanying me!” 

“Yes, the whole day has been somewhat shocking!” said Edith. “Have you met Mr Molloy properly?” Somersby shook my hand. 

 “Indeed, we said a few words outside. He seems like a headstrong sort so I am hoping he will be able to stand up to George somewhat!” 

“I’ll do my best, sir!” I said. 

“I liked the way you faced him down this evening, Molloy!” said Somersby. 

“Mr Molloy is obviously a brave man!” said Edith. “A very brave man!” She smiled at me ,innocently.

“Now, Edith, there is someone I would like you to meet. Excuse me Molloy!” said Somersby, guiding Edith inside. 

“Good night Mr Molloy. Until next time!” said Edith. I walked back towards the main hall but it took me some time to reach the museum entrance as well-wishers from the audience kept stopping to talk to me 

“Make sure you don’t get eaten by a dinosaur!” said one young lady, who obviously wanted to stay and talk but was being urged away by her husband. 

“I hope Lord Hoxton will protect me!” I said.

“I’d be quite happy with your protection, Mr Molloy!” she smiled. Her husband jabbed her in the arm and led her away. At last I met Britten, just inside the main entrance.

“I am not letting you go home until you tell me what is going on between you and Mrs Challenor!” he said.

“Nothing!” I said.

“I do not believe a word of it! Now let’s get a cab and go to the Babylon!”

“I may not be in the mood for that!” I said.

“But I am sure you will be in the mood for some game pie and a bottle of claret or two served by a couple of beautiful young ladies wearing hardly anything at all!” he answered.

“You make a good point!” I said.

 “So come along, then!”

Notes on this chapter can be found here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Part One: London, March to April 1912: Chapter 5 “All out for the morning!”

Bloomsbury Square 

Edmund Molloy, a journalist, was assigned by his newspaper, The Daily Courier, to interview the notorious Professor Challenor, who was due to give a lecture on the discovery of prehistoric creatures in the jungles of Amazonia.  Molloy was charmed by the Professor's flirtatious wife, Edith, who he had eavesdropped upon while she engaged in a bout of passion with her husband at their home in Bloomsbury Square. 

“Honestly, Molloy, you have gone from being a complete dunce around women to having married ladies behaving towards you in the most familiar way. Sexual confidence breeds general confidence which breeds admiration which breeds more opportunity!” said Britten, as we had dinner in the splendid dining room of the Ritz Hotel. “I take some credit for your transformation, along with the ladies from the Babylon Exploration Society, of course. Although, perhaps, we should give most of the credit to the very forward Agnes!” 

“Currently I do not feel like giving Agnes credit for anything! Well, I suppose all of those influences may have had some effect. Certainly Mrs Challenor seemed very taken with me!” 

“Well if her husband is as simian as your description indicates then perhaps she is just looking for a well formed man. Intimate congress with an ape must be quite revolting!” He sipped some of his Chateau La Tour Blanche. 

 “She appeared to be enjoying it greatly, from what I could hear through the professor’s study door!” I said, cutting into my fois gras. 

“Indeed! Now continue with your account of your visit!” said Britten. 

I told him the amazing story of how Blanc and his small expedition had, based on local stories, found their way to a cave at the foot of the plateau’s escarpment. This they had entered and discovered a series of caves leading up into the interior of the mount. Cutting torches, Blanc and his daughter ascended the passage. Their few remaining Indian porters had refused to follow them, quoting the story of Puripuri, some sort of winged demon. Blanc had put their stories down to fears of large bats which they certainly found in the cave. Eventually, they reached daylight and realised that they were on the top of the plateau. Their exit was blocked by stones and logs but after several hours they could clear enough of a hole to crawl out onto the top of the mount. 

“Fully half of the journal tells of the wonders they found there," I said. "It seems, according to Professor Challenor, that this plateau has been cut off from the world for tens of millions of years and is filled with plants and creatures that have long since died out on earth!” 

“What?” asked Britten drinking some more Sauternes. I had thought it odd to have a Sauternes with the fois gras but it complimented it perfectly. There was even more to learn about wine than women, it seemed. “What do you mean?” 

“Dinosaurs, old chap! Living breathing dinosaurs!” I said, finishing my glass. 

“Poppycock! On what basis does Challenor make such an absurd assertion?” said Britten. 

“Well, the drawings in the journal and there was even a cracked glass plate photograph of a flying reptile. A photograph of a prehistoric pterodactyl!” I said. “The Indians Puripuri is actually a flying reptile thought to be long extinct!” 

“Honestly, it sounds like Madam Challenor’s musky charms have gone to your head, old chap!” said Britten, waving for the sommelier to bring over our bottle of Latour '99. “Anyone can knock together a series of drawings of dinosaurs! Just get yourself down to Crystal Place or visit the Natural History Museum and sketch away! I am certain you can! Anna is delighted with that sketch you did of her last night, by the way. I think she wants to give you a special reward, if you take my meaning!” I blushed. After I had shot my seed over Hoshimi’s flat belly, having withdrawn just before the critical moment, we had washed each other and then dressed to return to the Oriental Room downstairs, where some Port and Stilton had been laid out. Britten and Anna, displaying a lot of leg from under her peignoir as she sat on his lap, were already tucking in, Britten, annoyingly, having finished the claret. The Scandinavian had looked so pretty I whipped out my reporter’s notebook and pencil and did a quick sketch of her. I then had to do one of Hoshimi too, of course. 

 “Yes, but...” I began. 

“And as for photographs, well they are very easy to fake. It would be just as easy to present photographs of fairies looking as real as any dinosaur, I am sure, with a little photographic trickery!” said Britten. 

“But Challenor explained that the depiction of the dinosaurs, particularly of Iguanodon, is completely different from those in Crystal Palace and even the more modern reconstructions of today. This Iguanodon in the journal has its tail held out horizontally behind. It is not dragging on the ground and is in a much less upright posture than is depicted now! You could not invent such a pose unless you had witnessed it!” 

“Can’t say I would know an Iguanodon if it roamed down Piccadilly tonight!” said Britten as the decanter of wine arrived. “But what happened to the girl who drew the pictures?” 

“Well, something terrible happened. The journal entries, which had been detailed and scientific suddenly stopped. “My God, I have lost her!” were the final words in the journal, written in a shaky hand. After that, nothing. The account ends there!” I said, still thinking about the haunting face of the girl and wondering what terrible fate had befallen her. 

“Well, it is certainly a good tale. You have been looking for a subject for your adventure novel and there you have it. Jungles, cannibal Indians, monsters and some lost world in the clouds! Classic stuff! I am sure that twelve year old boys will lap it up!” 

“I have to say, that was my initial thought too but Challenor was convincing. He also said that there was a piece of physical evidence that would lend veracity to the tale! Anyway, McCandless said it was worth me attending the lecture and that he would even go too. He said at best we could be in on the story of the century and at worst we could reveal a crank and a charlatan. Both would shift more copies, anyway. Especially as none of the other newspapers seem to have picked up on Challenor’s lecture, our discrete enquiries have informed us.” 

“Perhaps because they, at least, can recognise pure bunkum!” said Britten. “Well, I am certainly intrigued to see the monkey professor’s reputation blasted into tatters, especially if the disappointed wife is looking for comfort and somewhere private to bathe naked in the sun. I have a very secluded terrace at the rear of my house! I will attend Challenor’s lecture myself and you will introduce me to his wife! After all you cannot be pursuing two women romantically at the same time, it isn’t fair!” 

“In that case you cannot pursue Mrs Challenor and Virginia. That also is not fair! In any fact, I am not pursuing Mrs Challenor, romantically or in any other way!” I said. I had enjoyed Mrs Challenor’s flirtatious ways but she was a happily married lady who was slightly older than me mammy! 

“Anyway, I thought Challenor hated journalists! Didn’t he attack a couple of your chaps not long ago?” asked Britten, dropping, I was glad to hear, the subject of Mrs Challenor. 

“Yes, well, now there is a curious thing. At no point did Challenor twig that I was a journalist. I think I convinced him that I knew something about prehistory but mainly I focused on things like whether he would require a magic lantern, a blackboard and such like. He said that he thought that had all been dealt with but he reiterated everything, anyway. I left his house about three and rushed straight to the British Museum. There I told them that I was a reporter, just come from Professor Challenor’s house and was checking on the arrangements for the following day. Fortunately, they did not know that he now required a large table so I was able to add veracity to my tale! Anyway, I secured a good place for myself at what is, it seems, a sold out event!” 

“Until he discovers that you are a reporter tomorrow and throws you out of the lecture hall! I hope it’s not upstairs!” 

“No, no. We are in the Reptile Gallery, on the ground floor. I have seen it. The Museum’s famous dinosaur skeleton dominates it somewhat, though. Now, when I got back to the office at about six I found a letter waiting for me!” I continued. “I had discussed the matter with McCandless and we had agreed that an early piece on tomorrow’s lecture was not appropriate and having delivered my updated obituary on Lord James Hoxton, that was him last night, wasn’t it?” Britten shrugged, “I went home to write up my meeting with Challenor.” 

“And the letter? It can’t have been Challenor, he didn’t know you were a reporter!” 

“Indeed, no! It was from Mrs Challenor. She had been suspicious about the nature of my questioning and had telephoned the Natural History Museum. They informed her that they had no Edmund Molloy on the staff but confirmed that the nice reporter from The Daily Courier of that name had informed them of the new arrangements for the stage tomorrow and all would be arranged. Well, she penned a letter and took herself off to Fleet Street immediately to deliver it personally to the Courier’s offices. 

“What did it say?” asked Britten nodding for the claret to be poured. 

“I have it here. ‘Dear Edmund,’” I began. 

“A familiar opening, at least!” said Britten sniffing his wine. 

‘You are a very brave man insinuating yourself into my husband’s house without confessing that you are a reporter, as I have subsequently discovered.’ She then goes on to detail how she found me out. ‘When, not if, my husband discovers your subterfuge I suggest that you ensure that you are accompanied by two burly policemen, as even your undoubted physical fitness will give you not the slightest chance when faced with the wrath of the Professor! You really are a very naughty young man and if you were here I would put you over my knee! Affectionately, Mrs George Challenor.’” 

“Oh dear. It sounds like you are in for trouble at every point!” said Britten, looking delighted. 

“There is a post scriptum. ‘My husband, still unaware of your true role, has suggested that you collect the magic lantern slides he is currently preparing, tomorrow morning and take them to the museum. He will be out from ten until four so I suggest you come at this time in order to avoid the possibility of unpleasantness!’” 

“So are you going?” asked Britten. 

“I think I have to!” I said. 

“Good luck! If I do not see you at the lecture tomorrow I will assume the Professor has caught you molesting his wife! I will check all the hospitals! Now would you like to join me at the Babylon Exploration Society tonight or is your mind full of the mature charms of Mrs Challenor? Madame Nathalie seemed very taken with your charms last night, she told me, before you came down. Perhaps you have been unsuccessfully focussing on young women when you should have been pursuing ladies of a certain age!” 

“I am becoming appealing to all sorts, I hope!” I laughed. “Your offer of a visit to the Babylon is very kind but I need to finish my account of my visit to Professor Challenor’s. I have to write two versions: One based on the fact that what he says is true and one lambasting him for being a fool and a charlatan. At present I am finding the latter account somewhat challenging!” 

“Ah, the good Professor has obviously gained a convert!” 

"Perhaps!  I am intrigued at the very least!" I said,

"Intrigued by Mrs Challenor!"

"Certainly by her!" I laughed.  I retired to my flat and worked on the second version of the interview with Challenor that McCandless wanted. I managed to incorporate much of Britten’s scepticism and finished the piece quite quickly. I then completed the account of my visit to the Babylon Exploration Society for my personal journal. At around one in the morning, I climbed into bed and wondered what the reaction to Challenor’s claims would be on the morrow. I did find myself looking forward to seeing Mrs Challenor again and as I thought about her sat on the footstool, sans drawers, a familiar flush of blood engorged me. I clasped my fingers around my manhood and realised, afterwards, that all thoughts of an erotically writhing Agnes had been replaced in my mind with images of Edith Challenor, 

The next morning was dark and rolling clouds threatened rain.  I entered Bloomsbury Square, walked around to the far side of the square from Challenor’s house and tried to make myself look inconspicuous. I was not surprised to see Challenor emerging from his house at precisely 10.00 am. Nevertheless, I waited another ten minutes before proceeding to the front door and rapping firmly on the knocker. I was surprised when Mrs Challenor answered the door herself. 

“Good morning, Mr Molloy. My, you do look very fine today!” She stepped back from the door and bid me into the hallway. 

“So do you madam. Where is Mason?” I asked. 

“On his way to Tunbridge Wells, much to his disgust. Some family crisis involving his sister, I believe. I think, to use the vernacular, she is in the pudding club without a husband. He will be away several days. So far, I am realising how very little he does around the house! I really cannot think why we employ the ghastly fellow! He is the only man who puts up with George, I suppose! Now, my friend Mabel has a very nice young man as butler. A pleasing fellow in every regard! Ah well! Pass me your hat and I will hang it up for you!”  She was wearing a long sleeved ivory coloured silk peignoir with ruffles at the cuffs and down the front. I glanced down and saw that she was, surprisingly, barefoot. “Ah,” she said spotting my downward gaze. “I was not expecting you quite so promptly and was about to take a bath. You really do find me completely naked, underneath, this morning!” She hung my hat on the hat stand next to the front door. I glanced appreciatively at her silk covered behind. I swallowed. 

“I am s-sorry!” I stammered, trying not to think on it and failing. “Perhaps I will take the magic lantern slides now and leave you in peace!”  

“Oh dear, I am afraid that I have not yet packed them up. George asked me to do that but I thought I would have time to take my bath first! You will have to wait, I am afraid. I do detest a cold bath and if I stop now to pack slides that is how it will be. Come upstairs and we can chat while I bathe!” She started towards the stairs. 

“Chat?” I asked, stupidly. 

“Yes! While I bathe. No doubt you have seen a naked woman before. The sight will not cause you any deep psychological problems, I am sure. You may even enjoy it!” 

“I do enjoy a naked woman, I admit. I drew a number of ladies at art school before I became a reporter.” I said, recovering my composure somewhat, while already wondering what terrible fate would befall me if Professor Challenor returned home early. “Although I was not expecting such an experience so very soon after meeting you, Mrs Challenor!” 

“But you were obviously contemplating it at some juncture, perhaps?” she said. I could see the outline of her nipples beneath the thin silk. They were very prominent. “How very forward of you! Meeting a married woman for the first time and already thinking about her in her natural state. And how did I look, in your fevered imagination?” she continued. 

“No! No! It was not like that at all. I...” I paused, uncharacteristically unable to think of anything to say. 

 “What was it like, pray? Was it the revelation yesterday that I was sans culottes, so to speak?” she grinned. “I am sorry to tease you. Of course I am flattered if you thought about me in an inappropriate way. Sometimes appropriate behaviour just needs to be discarded like a pair of drawers!” 

“I suppose so,” I ventured guardedly. 

“Anyway, while we discuss the level of your arousal, engendered by my nakedness, my bath is getting cold. Do come along!” 

“But what about the staff?” I asked. 

“All out for the morning! Cook and the scullery maid have gone shopping and I have given them the money to have lunch out. Mason is on his way to Kent. Emily the chambermaid is in Clapham for her mother’s birthday. I enjoy having time to myself. I am quite alone here. You could ravish me and no one would be here to stop you!”  She looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

“I cannot see the point in taking a woman against her will. Where is the happily shared intimacy in such a situation?” 

“Why, Mr Molloy, what an unusually sensitive young man you are! Now come upstairs at once!” I followed her up the stairs, unable to take my eyes off her undulating posterior under its thin, clinging, covering of silk. She led me into a large bathroom, which was surprisingly modern, given the decor elsewhere. It had a hot water boiler and was warm. She put her hand into the water. 

“Perfect!” She turned back to face me. “There is a chair in the bedroom next door!” she said indicating a different door from the one through which we had entered the room. I opened the door and found a pretty, floral and very feminine bedroom decorated in pinks and pale greens. This did not look like an environment that Professor Challenor would be at home with so I surmised that the couple had separate bedrooms. Not unusual in itself, although if I was married to Edith Challenor I would want her in the same bed as myself for as much time as possible. I picked up a wooden chair and carried it into the bathroom. “Place it there, next to the foot of the bath!” she said. I did so and was about to say something to her when she undid the tie at her waist, slipped her peignoir from her shoulders and dropped it onto a wicker linen basket. I confess that I actually audibly gasped. Her petite body seemed to me to be perfectly formed. She had wide hips, a slightly rounded belly with a thick floss of light brown curly hair beneath it and slim, well toned legs. Her breasts thrust forward from her narrow chest and were tipped by two pale pink nipples with large, erect teats like thimbles. 

“Goodness me, Mrs Challenor, what a very fine frame you possess, if I may be so bold. I would, one day, like the opportunity to draw you in your natural state!” 

“What a delightfully forward young man you are! I would very much like to be drawn by you! So what made you become a reporter rather than an artist? You were quite convincing yesterday, I must say!” she said, bending over the bath and sloshing the water around with her hand. The sight of that soft-looking posterior had me at the edge of tumescence but for some reason I mentally fought against it, feeling it would be most inappropriate. I looked away from her as she continued. “It was just the very structured nature of your questioning that made me suspicious. Reporter or detective, I thought. That and the fact that that I had already made all possible arrangements with the museum myself as regards today’s lecture!” 

“I assume you have told the Professor,” I said. 

“Of course not! There are many things that he does not have to know. Like our current situation, of course! Here, hang this up for me!” she said handing me her robe. I looked around and saw that one of the doors had a hook on it so carefully hung it there. As I turned back she was climbing into the bath. “How adventurous are you, Mr Molloy?” she asked. 

“Not adventurous enough, according to my former sweetheart, Agnes. She has recently broken off our relationship because I lack an intrepid spirit, she told me. I am seeking an exciting assignment from my newspaper, in order to improve her view of me! Currently, I am confined to writing obituaries!” 

“Deadly dull, no doubt!” She smiled, fetchingly. “Well a woman who breaks a relationship off just because of a perceived lack of an adventurous spirit is not worth pursuing, I would suggest.” 

“Oh I have an adventurous spirit, Mrs Challenor; just a lack of opportunity to display it!” I said. 

“I see! And how adventurous are you feeling today? Quite adventurous, I would think, if you are willing to follow a married woman you hardly know into her bathroom and look at her naked body with barely a hint of surprise, protest or embarrassment. Unusually adventurous for a man your age!” She smiled and picked up a sponge which she dunked into the water and then squeezed, distractingly, over her bosom. 

“There is something about you, Mrs Challenor, I do admit, which I find very attractive. Not just your undoubted good looks and, er, abundant charms but more to do with your personality which is slightly wicked, humorous, flirtatious but independent, open, friendly and also comforting.” I was starting to gabble, in my nervous state. 

“You make me sound like a particularly cherished Labrador!” she laughed. A bright, high young person’s laugh. Just as her body did not look like one a person of her age would possess. The bodies of the middle aged women who had served as life models at art school were sad, drooping things and nothing like Mrs Challenor’s fine form. I confess to having dug out Challenor’s draft obituary file in the office, from which I learned that she was forty-one; much younger than the professor’s fifty-six years but older than I had guessed when I first met her. Only the slight creases around her eyes and on her forehead betrayed this. Her body was smooth and pliant. 

“No, No! Far from a dog!” I said, laughing. She gave a little bark. 

“So, I say again, how adventurous are you feeling today, Mr Molloy? Will you display your unappreciated adventurous spirit for me?” 

 “In what manner?” I asked nervously. I both hoped and feared that this conversation might head in but one direction. 

“Look, I love my husband very much, even though he treats me quite appallingly in some ways. He has other redeeming features, although I have to say that physical attractiveness is not one of them!” I declined to comment on this statement on account of the fact that I could not think of anything convincing or polite to say. “Now, as you may gather I am a very sensual woman. More sensual than dear George can cope with, alas. You caught us yesterday in the throes of a very rare bout of passion. But I had to go in there, pull my drawers down, flip my skirts up over my bottom, lean across a chair and beg him, beg him, to perform his connubial duties. He did so quite efficiently but without any real passion, as ever. I felt that I was just something of a break for him from his work, as he finished his notes for today. Rather like having a nice pot of tea and a fancy biscuit. ‘Shall I have tea or shall I roger my wife?’ Do I shock you, Mr Molloy?” 

“Surprise me, perhaps, given our brief acquaintance, although even our short meeting yesterday gave me some prescience as to that wicked side of your nature!” I said carefully. 

“Wicked? I like to think of myself as saucy, perhaps. There is no malice in my activities, although others may not see it in the same way, I suspect! So, I repeat, how adventurous and, indeed, saucy, do you feel at this particular moment, Mr Molloy?” I suspected a trap but if that trap involved a naked Mrs Challenor for an extended period I quickly decided to succumb. 

 “I am feeling very adventurous this morning, Mrs Challenor. In fact I have quite decided to grasp every adventurous opportunity with which I am presented with both hands!” I could not help but look at her deliciously thrusting breasts. She gave me a smile. 

“Saucy indeed, Mr Molloy! In that case I suggest you remove all your clothes and climb into this really quite large bathtub with me!” 

“Oh!” I said, rather stupidly. “I thought I was going to sit on this chair!” 

“The chair is for your clothes, Mr Molloy!” The thought of being naked when Challenor burst into the room, like the Minotaur, added, however, a large element of risk over and above the situation I already found myself in. 

“But if your husband...” I began. 

“George is a creature of habit and exact time keeping. If he says he will return at four o’clock then four o’clock it will be! Now, be brave! Take your clothes off or I will be forced to remove them for you and then they will get quite wet!” I hesitated but Agnes’ goading about my lack of adventurous spirit made me abandon any reservations I might have had. I decided to throw caution to the winds. How could Challenor treat this marvellous woman so badly? He had also forcibly ejected me from his house and hit me with an umbrella. If his poor wife wanted some male companionship then if it wasn’t me she would no doubt soon find another to satisfy her desires. I started to undo my waistcoat. Mrs Challenor lay back in the bath and watched my every move as I removed my garments and placed them neatly over the back of the chair. I was soon down to my drawers. My mind flashed back to the night before and the expectant faces of Hoshimi and Madame Nathalie. 

“Are you quite sure about this, Mrs Challenor?” I asked hoping that she would say no but equally hoping she would say yes. 

“Of course! Do not be shy!” I pushed my combinations over my hips. Fortunately, my dark thoughts as regards being imminently assaulted by the furious Professor kept me in a flaccid state. 

 “There!” I said and stood before her on the tiled floor of the bathroom, totally exposed. 

“Goodness me, Mr Molloy. What a very fine physical specimen you are. So fit. So...manly. Now get in the bath and let us talk about drawing!”I climbed into the bath and stood there unable to work out where to sit without coming into contact with her body. 

“Where shall I sit, Mrs Challenor?” 

“Facing me of course! Oh I see! Do not concern yourself about physical contact with my person, Mr Molloy. It is inevitable!” I sat, my feet placed outside her haunches. She assumed the same position but not before slipping her foot between my legs and, shockingly, tickling my ballocks with her wriggling toes in greeting. Given this intimate situation I did not know what I was expecting to happen next but a long discussion about my family background, my artistic studies and my moving to London was not it. I realised that I was becoming used to sitting in the bath with a naked Mrs Challenor, as if it was a perfectly normal thing to do. She was just telling me of her fears that Challenor would finally ruin his career through his theories tonight when she began to soap her breasts. It was all done rather matter of factly. There was no sensual teasing, as I had experienced with Hoshimi the previous night. She washed under her arms which caused her breasts to jiggle enticingly and her forearms to brush her nipples. It was inevitable really. I placed my hands over my groin, not so much to cover my increasing excitement, as I could not do that completely, but, at least to prevent my organ breaking the surface of the bathwater like a broaching whale. She leant forward and slipped her hand under the water to clasp my shaft. 

“I...I am so sorry Mrs Challenor, I am just...” I mumbled, nevertheless thoroughly enjoying her soft grip. 

“You are just sitting here in my bath with a very large erect phallus!” she smiled. 

“I am mortified!” I said. “It is just that you are so...” 

“Well, I am so flattered, that is what I am, Mr Molloy. That such a desirable young man as you would find me exciting and become so...aroused! Goodness me, so very aroused indeed! Now move your hands! I did not invite you into my bath so that you would cover yourself!” I did so and I sprung upwards, my bulb popping up above the surface of the water. “Really, what a lovely one!” she said, gently massaging me with her small, soft hand. “Such an elegant, upwards curve! Such a very big glans!” 

“Mrs Challenor, if you keep doing that I cannot answer for my self control I may actually...” 

“Spill your seed? I would like to see that very much! In fact I insist on it! There really are very few things I enjoy more than the sight of an erect penis pumping forth! Let us wash and retire to my bedroom! You can spill your seed for my entertainment!” I stayed fully tumescent during this process, not surprisingly. She soaped my manhood with evident enjoyment although not, I suspect, to the level of enjoyment I was experiencing. I did not touch her body, other than inadvertently, during the process. There seemed to be some unspoken rule that she might touch me but I should not touch her. I fancied that she saw me as some sort of plaything rather than a man. When we had stepped out of the bath and dried ourselves, Mrs Challenor took hold of my manhood and led me into the bedroom, like a faithful dog or a lamb to slaughter. She pulled the blankets down and lay on the white linen sheets. “As I said, Edmund, I love my husband so do not hold thoughts of an emotional relationship or diverting me from George. Some intimate activity, to whatever level I choose, is offered to you if you accept! However, at this point I would be grateful if you could continue, as I notice that you have been doing, in refraining from caressing me.” 

“I enjoy your company very much, madam,” I replied, looking down at her pliant body. “And understand perfectly well that in your situation you must be the ultimate arbiter of events! I am, of course flattered by your attentions and gladly accept, in a spirit of adventure, your enticing offer!” 

“Excellent!” said Mrs Challenor.   "As an initial encounter I thought it might be entertaining to watch each other stimulate ourselves until we spend!” 

“Stimulate ourselves?” I asked, not believing what I had just heard. 

“Yes, of course. Frig! I am very aroused, as are you, patently! We should stimulate ourselves until climax! I take it you do stimulate yourself regularly? If you deny it I shall not believe you, although I suppose that you are a Catholic and I know that the Roman Church is particularly negative, even more than the Church of England, on the subject of self abuse, as they mistakenly call it. Personally, if I possessed a penis I would stroke and pump it constantly! As it is, I caress myself almost every day; particularly when reading in bed, which I find very comforting.” 

“I had not been previously aware that there was a female equivalent.” I ventured. 

“How typically male, that you only contemplate sexual pleasure through stimulation for men alone! Women have just as much desire for sexual gratification as men. It is just that society forces them to suppress it!. A suppression which I reject completely, Mr Molloy!” All during this exchange Mrs Challenor was caressing her body with her hands, much to my surprise and delight. She stroked her own thighs, hips, belly and breasts; whose nipples she squeezed, pulled and tweaked. She smiled at me throughout the process; daring me with her eyes. Enticing me. Conquering me. 

“It is a fine thing to enjoy your own body, Mrs Challenor. Although quite understandable, given yours is so very splendid!” I said, determined not to look foolish and inexperienced before this very brazen woman. 

“Why thank you, Mr Molloy. Your own form is very fine indeed too. You have an unusually well defined musculature which is a very pleasing sight and without wanting to contribute to any vanity on your part, your erect phallus is quite the most beautiful I have ever seen!” 

“Er, thank you!” I glanced down at it, still almost painfully rampant, and wondered how many others she had seen. I began to suspect that I was not the first man she had entertained in this manner. 

“Now come and kneel between my thighs!” she said, spreading her legs and cupping her sex. I climbed onto the bed and hopped over one slim leg. I could smell her arousal now. I looked down in excited fascination as Mrs Challenor began to stroke her sex, two fingers of her right hand gently rotating over it. It was pink and swollen and there was evidence of lubrication. “Come along, Edmund! Don’t be shy! Massage yourself for me!” 

 “Very well, Mrs Challenor!” I said, nervously. I took myself in hand and rubbed my erection a couple of times, looking intently at my manhood as I did so. It felt most odd in several ways. I had only ever performed this act lying down, not kneeling up and also, even while enjoying myself previously, I felt some lingering guilt about the process. To perform this intimate, forbidden act before someone else, someone I barely knew, felt uncomfortable. But then, was not that what I sought to do? To challenge myself? To be adventurous? Should not sexual adventures be as valid a challenge  as any other journey to a far flug part of the world?  Only by acts of derring do could I change my life! I looked up at Mrs Challenor and she smiled. encouragingly. 

“Come along Edmund! It is beautiful! Pump it for me!” she said. It was enough to give me confidence, if not entirely to remove my awareness of the situation completely. The very first time I had drunk beer, as an eleven year old at a family wedding in Donegal, I had become inebriated and felt so light headed and disembodied that I almost felt that I was looking down on myself from a point several feet above my head. I felt exactly the same that morning as Mrs Challenor rubbed her parts with increasing vigour and I worked myself too, as I knelt between her slim thighs. In Ireland self abuse was, of course, strongly denounced but in London I had started to enjoy taking pleasure in my manhood with rather less guilt than at home, as if the general wickedness of the capital somehow obscured God’s omniscience. Or perhaps it was just the fog. Anyway, who would not want to excite themselves at the sight of Mrs Challenor, lost in her own intimate passions? Her breasts bounced as she lay there, two fingers of her left hand rubbing quickly across the shaft of her clitoris (I was becoming an expert on the nomenclature of women’s parts) while one finger of her other hand rapidly penetrated her opening, making rhythmic, wet, lapping sounds like the tongue of a kitten in a bowl of cream. Indeed, cream was now pouring from her sex as she continued and her thrusting finger was glistening with it. She was rotating her hips slowly, like a dancer from Constantinople. I looked back up at her face and our eyes met. She smiled as we continued to perform what would normally be the most private of intimate actions in front of each other. I could see from her face, as much as her rapid breathing, her rising excitement. She spread her thighs even wider, pulled her knees back and I was shocked by the sight of her anus and its prominent ring of muscle. I was even more shocked when she inserted a finger into her back passage so that she was penetrating both her holes. She was gasping now, her breath coming in short staccato puffs. “Huh!” she gasped at last and lifted her hips so her bottom rose up off the bed and her thighs closed on her hands. She held this pose for a few seconds before dropping back onto the sheets once more, sighing and then gently extracted her digits from her parts. She let her thighs flop apart. I had slowed myself down because, to be frank, I was enjoying the sight and sounds so much but now she had reached her climax I increased my speed briefly and shot with such force that my spunk spurted right up the length of her torso, splashing her breasts, belly and intimate hair as I gave forth five times. She looked at me and grinned. I grinned back. 

 “That, Edmund, was just excellent!” 

“I am glad you enjoyed it, Mrs Challenor!” I replied. 

“I do think, Edmund, that as you have just ejaculated a copious quantity of your semen over much of my naked body, that you might call me Edith!  Now come and lie next to me!” I did so but after only a few minutes my thoughts turned to the Professor. I looked towards the door out to the landing and then Mrs Challenor’s bedroom window and had a vision of myself being thrown through it, to land bleeding and broken onto the pavement below. 

 “Well, Edmund,” said Mrs Challenor after a minute or so, “I have to admit that I had a little wager with myself that you would not, in fact, succumb to my charms!” 

“Why did you think that?” I asked. “Your charms are irresistible!” 

“When I pressed myself against you in George’s study yesterday you pulled away from me. I was most disappointed. I was in a state of extreme arousal, engendered by your presence. I was very wet!” 

“Wet? Oh I see!” I said, still not comfortable talking about such matters. I blushed. 

“So aroused, that after you had gone I went upstairs, pulled up my skirts and frigged myself on this very bed!” 

“I am flattered. I suppose!” I said. 

“You should be, Edmund! I am still a very desirable woman and am much admired. There is no point assuming false modesty about it!” 

“Indeed, not!” I agreed. She placed her fingers around my limp member and rubbed it a little. 

“What, if I may be so bold as to ask...” she began. 

“Be as bold as you like, Edith!” I interrupted. She continued to massage me and I thought, to my amazement, that perhaps a little response was evident. 

“Oh I intend to be, Edmund! Now, what is your experience of intimate activity?” 

“Intimate activity?” I asked, as she pulled my foreskin down and started stroking my knob with her thumb. 

“Yes! The act of love. With a woman, Not by yourself!” she laughed. “Sexual intercourse!” My mind raced. What should I answer? Should I pretend to be a naive virgin? If I admitted experience would she be put off? 

“Well, Edith, I have a few, a very few, experiences. Well, just one of actually, you know...” 

“Doing it!” she said. 

“But some other intimate experiences. All, I should say, very recent!” 

 “Have you had cause to ejaculate during them?” she asked, now tickling my ballocks. “I would think that you must have been making such a large amount of semen for some time!” She rubbed her damp chest with her other hand. 

“It’s best, I think, not to talk of others. I would not ask you, for example!” I said, attempting to stop the direction of the conversation. 

“That is a very wise thing to say, Edmund!” she said. She turned her face to me and kissed me on the lips; the only time that she had done so that morning. 

“Perhaps we should get up!” I suggested. 

“Well, perhaps we should, sadly, although I would like to continue enjoying your body but while some risk is exciting we do not want to push our luck today, I think! Cook may return shortly!” 

 “You will need another wash,” I said, looking at my essence drying on her ivory skin. I was worried about how my semen had spattered her sex and wondered if she could get pregnant that way. That would be difficult to explain, if she gave birth to an auburn haired baby! However, she later reassured me that she was barren, so the Challenors had no children. 

“I will not wash. I will wear your copious emissions as a perfume for the rest of the day. I did so enjoy the sight of you spurting forth like a fountain. The vigour of youth is its own pleasure. Appreciate it while it lasts, Edmund!” 

“I intend to enjoy my vigour greatly, Edith!” I replied pulling my combinations on. 

“We must do this again, very soon, Edmund, provided my husband hasn’t hospitalised you by then, on discovering your subterfuge regarding your profession. If he does, be sure that I will visit you at your bedside and will massage your organ for you as it may be impossible for you to do so with broken arms!” I looked at her wondering to what extent this was a joke or a prediction. She saw me looking anxious, laughed and patted my behind affectionately. 

Within ten minutes we were dressed and downstairs in Professor Challenor’s study, both still flushed with excitement. Edith carefully wrapped each glass magic lantern slide in tissue paper and placed them in a cedar wood box. Before she opened the front door she kissed me on the lips once more, placing her hands on my behind as she did so. “Good afternoon, Mr Molloy. I look forward to seeing you this evening in Kensington.” 

“Indeed, Mrs Challenor. The feeling is mutual!” I said, returning to our earlier formality. She opened the door and I stepped out into the street with the box of slides under my arm, all the time expecting the impact of a furious Professor Challenor hitting me like a Harlequins forward. She gave me a friendly wave and closed the door. The morning had been like a dream. I shook my head, took a deep breath and headed off to the Natural History Museum in Kensington.

Notes on this chapter can be found here.