Mary's Hospital lately. He is a rising surgeon, you know."
"I've heard of him -- cerebro-spinal."
"That's the man. He is level-headed and is looked on as an authority on psychic research, as they call the new science which deals with these matters."
"Well, that is what they call it. He seems to take these people seriously. I consult him when I want a reference, for he has the literature at his fingers' end. 'Pioneers of the Human Race' -- that was his description."
"Pioneering them to Bedlam," growled Challenger. "And literature! What literature have they?"
"Well, that was another surprise. Atkinson has five hundred volumes, but complains that his psychic library is very imperfect. You see, there is French, German, Italian, as well as our own."
"Well, thank God all the folly is not confined to poor old England. Pestilential nonsense!"
Have you read it up at all, Father?" asked Enid.
"Read it up! I, with all my interests and no time for one-half of them! Enid, you are too absurd."
"Sorry, Father. You spoke with such assurance, I thought you knew something about it."
Challenger's huge head swung round and his lion's glare rested upon his daughter.
"Do you conceive that a logical brain, a brain of the first order, needs to read and to study before it can detect a manifest absurdity? Am I to study mathematics in order to confute the man who tells me that two and two are five? Must I study physics once more and take down my Principia because some rogue or fool insists that a table can rise in the air against the law of gravity? Does it take five hundred volume to inform us of a thing which is proved in every police-court when an impostor is exposed? Enid, I am ashamed of you!"
His daughter laughed merrily.
"Well, Dad, you need not roar at me any more. I give in. In fact, I have the same feeling that you have."
"None the less," said Malone, "some good men support them. I don't see that you can laugh at Lodge and Crookes and the others."
"Don't be absurd, Malone. Every great mind has its weaker side. It is a sort of reaction against all the good sense. You come suddenly upon a vein of positive nonsense. That is what is the matter with these fellows. No, Enid, I haven't read their reasons, and I don't mean to, either; some things are beyond the pale. If we re-open all the old questions, how can we ever get ahead with the new ones? This matter is settled by common sense, the law of England, and by the universal assent of every sane European."
"So that's that!" said Enid.
"However," he continued, "I can admit that there are occasional excuses for misunderstandings upon the point." He sank his voice, and his great grey eyes looked sadly up into vacancy. " I have known cases where the coldest intellect -- even my own intellect -- might, for a moment have been shaken."
Malone scented copy.
Challenger hesitated. He seemed to be struggling with himself. He wished to speak, and yet speech was painful. Then, with an abrupt, impatient gesture, he plunged into his story:
"I never told you, Enid. It was too . . . too intimate. Perhaps too absurd. I was ashamed to have been so shaken. But it shows how even the best balanced may be caught unawares."
"It was after my wife's death. You knew her, Malone You can guess what it meant to me. It was the night after the cremation . . . horrible, Malone, horrible! I saw the dear little body slide down, down . . . and then the glare of flame and the door clanged to." His great body shook and he passed his big, hairy hand over his eyes.
"I don't know why I tell you this; the talk seemed to lead up to it. It may be a warning to you. That night -- the night after the cremation -- I sat up in the hall. She was there," he nodded at Enid. "She had fallen asleep in a chair, poor girl. You know the house at Rotherfield, Malone. It was in the big hall. I sat by the fireplace, the room all draped in shadow, and my mind draped In shadow also. I should have sent her to bed, but she was lying back in her chair and I did not wish to wake her.