Friday, 1 July 2016

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 a set 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.