"Do you smell anything, Monsieur Mailey?"
Mailey sniffed the air.
"Yes, surely, it reminds me of our London Zoo."
"There is another more ordinary analogy. Have you been in a warm room with a wet dog?"
"Exactly," said Mailey. "That is a perfect description. But where is the dog?"
"It is not a dog. Wait a little! Wait!"
The animal smell became more pronounced. It was overpowering. Then suddenly Malone became conscious of something moving round the table. In the dim red light he was aware of a mis-shapen figure, crouching, ill-formed, with some resemblance to man. He silhouetted it against the dull radiance. It was bulky, broad, with a bullet-head, a short neck, heavy, clumsy shoulders. It slouched slowly round the circle. Then it stopped, and a cry of surprise, not unmixed with fear, came from one of the sitters.
"Do not be alarmed," said Dr. Maupuis' quiet voice. "It is the Pithecanthropus. He is harmless." Had it been a cat which had strayed into the room the scientist could not have discussed it more calmly.
"It has long claws. It laid them on my neck," cried a voice.
"Yes, yes. He means it as a caress."
"You may have my share of his caresses!" cried the sitter in a quavering voice.
"Do not repulse him. It might be serious. He is well disposed. But he has his feelings, no doubt, like the rest of us."
The creature had resumed its stealthy progress. Now it turned the end of the table and stood behind the three friends. Its breath came in quick puffs at the back of their necks. Suddenly Lord Roxton gave a loud exclamation of disgust.
"Quiet! Quiet! " said Maupuis.
"It's licking my hand!" cried Roxton.
An instant later Malone was aware of a shaggy head extended between Lord Roxton and himself. With his left hand he could feel long, coarse hair. It turned towards him, and it needed all his self-control to hold his hand still when a long soft tongue caressed it. Then it was gone.
"In heaven's name, what is it?" he asked.
"We have been asked not to photograph it. Possibly the light would infuriate it. The command through the medium was definite. We can only say that it is either an apelike man or a man-like ape. We have seen it more clearly than to-night. The face is Simian, but the brow is straight; the arms long, the hands huge, the body covered with hair."
"Tom Linden gave us something better than that," whispered Mailey. He spoke low but Richet caught the words.
"All Nature is the field of our study, Mr. Mailey. It is not for us to choose. Shall we classify the flowers but neglect the fungi?"
"But you admit it is dangerous."
"The X-rays were dangerous. How many martyrs lost their arms, joint by joint, before those dangers were realized? And yet it was necessary. So it is with us. We do not know yet what it is that we are doing. But if we can indeed show the world that this Pithecanthropus can come to us from the Invisible, and depart again as it came, then the knowledge is so tremendous that even if he tore us to pieces with those formidable claws it would none the less be our duty to go forward with our experiments."
"Science can be heroic," said Mailey. "Who can deny it? And yet I have heard these very scientific men tell us that we imperil our reason when we try to get in touch with spiritual forces. Gladly would we sacrifice our reason, or our lives, if we could help mankind. Should we not do as much for spiritual advance as they for material?"
The lights had been turned up and there was a pause for relaxation before the great experiment of the evening was attempted. The men broke into little groups, chatting in hushed tones over their recent experience. Looking round at the comfortable room with its up-to-date appliances, the strange bird and the stealthy monster seemed like dreams. And yet they had been very real as was shown presently by the photographer, who had been allowed to leave and now rushed excitedly from the adjacent dark room waving the plate which he had just developed and fixed. He held it up against the light, and there, sure enough, was the bald head of the medium sunk between his hands, and crouching closely over his shoulders the outline of that ominous figure.