The Lost World

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CHAPTER1

I ?There Are Heroisms All Round Us? Mr. Hungerton, her father, rea lly was the most tactless person upon earth,?a fluffy, feathery, untidy cockatoo of a man, perfectly good-natu red, but absolutely centered upon his own silly self. If anything could have driven me from Gladys, it w ould have been the thought of such a father-in-law. I am convinced t hat he really believed in his heart that I came round to the Chestnuts three days a week for the pleasure of his co mpany, and very especially to hear his v iews upon b imetallism, a subject upo n which he was by way of being an authority. For an hour or more that evening I listened to hi s monotonous chirrup about bad money driving out good, the token value of silver, the depreciation of the rupee, and the true standards of exchange. ?Suppose,? he cried with feeble violence, ?that all the debts in the world were calle d up simultaneously, and immediate payment insisted upon,?what under our present conditions would happen then?? 4 of 353 The Lost Worl d I gave the self-evident answer that I should be a ruined man, upon which he jumped from his chair, reproved me for my habitual levity, which made it impossible for him to discuss any reasonab le subject i n my presence, and bounced off out of the room to dress for a Masoni c meeting. At last I was alone with Gladys, and the moment of Fate had come! All that evening I h ad felt like t he soldier who awaits the signal which will send him on a forlorn hope; hope of victory and fear of repulse alternating in hi s mind. She sat with that proud, delic ate profile of hers outlined against the r ed curtain. How beauti ful she was! And yet how aloof! We had been friends, quite good friends; but never could I get beyond the same comradeshi p which I might have established with one of my fellow-reporters upon the Gazette,?perfectly frank, perfectly kindly, and perfectly unsexual. My instin cts are all again st a woma n being too frank and at her ease with me. It is no compliment to a man. Where th e real sex feeling begins, timidity and distrust are its companions, heritage from old wicked days when love and violence went ofte n hand in hand. The bent head, the averted ey e, the faltering voice, the wincing figure? these, and not the unshrinking gaze 5 of 353 The Lost Worl d and frank reply, are the true signals of passion. Even in my short life I h ad learned as much as that?or had inherited it in that race memory which we call instin ct. Gladys was full of every womanly quality. Some judged her to be cold and hard; but such a thought w as treason. That delicately bronzed skin, almost oriental in its coloring, that raven hair, the large liquid eyes, the full but exquisite lips,?all the stigma ta of passion were there. But I was sadly conscious that up to now I had never found the secret of drawing it forth. However, c ome what might, I sho uld have done with su spense and bring matters to a head to-night. She could but refuse me, and better be a repulsed lover than an accepted brother. So far my thoughts had carried me, and I was about to break the long and uneasy silence, when two critical, dark eyes looked round at me , and the proud head was shaken in smiling reproof. ?I have a presentiment that you are going to pro pose, Ned. I do wish yo u wouldn?t; for thing s are so much nicer as they are.? I drew my chair a little nearer. ?Now, how did you know that I was going to propose?? I asked in genuine wonder. ?Don?t women always know ? Do you suppose any woman in the world was ever taken unawares? But?oh, 6 of 353 The Lost Worl d Ned, our friendship has been so good and so pleasant! What a pity to spoil it! Don?t you feel how splendid it is that a young man and a young woman should be able to talk face to face as we have talked?? ?I don?t know, Gladys. You see, I c an talk face to face with? with the station-master.? I can?t imagine how that official came into the matter; but in he trotted, and set us both laughi ng. ?That d oes not satisfy me in the least. I want my arms round y ou, and your head on my breast, and?oh, Gladys, I want??? She had spr ung from her chair, as she saw signs that I proposed to demonstrate so me of my wants. ?You?ve spoiled everything, Ned,? she said. ?It?s all so beautiful and natural until this kind of thing comes in! It is such a pity! Why can?t you control yourself?? ?I didn?t invent it,? I plea ded. ?It?s nature. It?s love.? ?Well, perhaps if both love, it may be different. I have never felt it.? ?But you must?you, with your beauty, with your soul! Oh, Gladys, you were made for love! You must love!? ?One must wait till it comes.? ?But why can?t you love me, Gladys? Is it my appearance, or what?? 7 of 353 The Lost Worl d She did unbend a little. She put for ward a hand ?such a gracious, stooping attitude it was?and she pressed back my head. Then she loo ked into my upturned fa ce with a very wistful smile. ?No it isn?t that,? she said at last. ?You?re not a conceited b oy by nature, and so I can safely te ll you it is not that. It?s deeper.? ?My character?? She nodded severel y. ?What can I do to mend it ? Do sit down and talk it over. No, really, I won?t if you?ll only sit down!? She looked at me wi th a wondering distrust which was much mor e to my mind tha n her whole-hearted confidence. How primitive and besti al it l ooks w hen you put it down in black and white!?and perhaps after all it is only a feelin g peculiar to myself. Anyhow, she sat down. ?Now tell m e what?s amiss with me?? ?I?m in love with somebody else,? said she. It was my turn to jump out of my cha ir. ?It?s nobody in particular,? she explained, laughing at the expression of my fa ce: ? only an ideal. I?ve never met the kind of man I mean.? ?Tell me about him. What does he look like?? ?Oh, he might look very much like you.? 8 of 353 The Lost Worl d ?How dear of you to say that ! Well, what is it that he does that I don?t do? Ju st say the word,?teetotal, vegetarian, aeronaut, the osophist, superman. I?ll have a try at it, Gladys, if you will onl y give me an idea what would please you.? She laughed at the elasticity of my character. ?Well, in the first place, I don?t thin k my ideal would speak like that,? said she. ?He would be a harder, sterner man, not so ready to adapt himself to a silly girl?s whim. But, above all, he must be a man who could d o, who could act, w ho could look Death in the face and have no fear of him, a man of great deeds and strange experiences. It is never a man that I should love, but always the glories h e had won; for they would be reflecte d upon me. Think of Richard Burton! When I read h is wife?s life of him I could so understand her love! An d Lady Stanley! Did you ever read the wonderful last chapter of that book about her husband? These are the sort of men that a woman coul d worship with all her so ul, and yet be the g reater, not the less, on account of her love, honored by all the world as the inspirer of noble deeds.? She looked so beauti ful in h er enthusiasm that I nearly brought down the whole level of the interview. I gripped myself hard, and went on with the argument. 9 of 353 The Lost Worl d ?We can?t all be Stanleys and Burtons,? said I; ?besides, we don?t get the chance, ?at le ast, I never had the chance. If I did, I should try to take it.? ?But chance s are all around you. It is the mark of the kind of man I mean that he makes his own chances. You can?t h old h im back. I?ve never met him, and y et I seem to know him so well. There are h eroisms all round us waiting to be done. It?s for men to do them, and for women to r eserve their love as a reward for such men. Look at that young Frenchman who went up last week in a balloon. It was blowing a gale of wind; but b ecause he was announced to go he insisted on starting. The wind blew him fifteen hundred miles in twenty-four hours, and he fell in the middle of Russi a. That was the kind of man I mean. Think of the woman he loved, and how other women must have envied her! That?s what I should like to be,?envied for my man.? ?I?d have do ne it to please you.? ?But you shouldn?t do it merely to please me. You should do i t because you can?t help yourself, because it? s natural to y ou, because the m an in you is crying out for heroic expression. Now, when you described the Wigan coal explosion last month, c ould you not have gone down and helped t hose people, in spite of the choke-damp?? 10 of 353 The Lost Worl d ?I did.? ?You never s aid so.? ?There was nothing worth bucking about.? ?I didn?t know.? She looked at me with rather more interest. ?That was brave of you.? ?I had to. If you want to write good copy, you must be where the things are.? ?What a prosaic mo tive! It seems to take al l the romance out of it. But, still, whatev er your motive, I am glad that you went down t hat mi ne.? She gave me her hand; but with such sweetness and dignity that I could only stoop and kiss it. ?I da re say I am merely a foolish woman wi th a young girl?s fanc ies. And yet it is so real with me, so entirely part of my very self, that I cannot help acting upon it. If I marry, I do want to marry a famous man! ? ?Why should you not?? I cried. ?It is women like you who brace men up. Give me a ch ance, and see if I will take it! Besi des, as yo u say, men o ught to MAKE their own chances, and not wait until they are given. Look a t Clive?just a clerk, and he c onquered India! By George! I?ll do something in the world yet!? She laughed at my sudden Irish ef fervescence. ?Why not?? she sai d. ?You have everything a man coul d have,? 11 of 353 The Lost Worl d youth, heal th, strength, education, energy. I was sorry you spoke. And now I am g lad?so glad?if it wake ns these thoughts in you!? ?And if I do ??? Her dear ha nd rested like warm velvet upon my lips. ?Not anothe r word, Sir! You shoul d have been at the office for evening duty half an hour ago; only I hadn?t the heart to rem ind you. Some day, perhaps, when you have won your place in the world, we shall talk it over again.? And so it was that I found myself that foggy November evening pursuing the Camberwell tram with my heart glowing within me, and with the eager determination that not another day should elapse before I should find some deed which was worthy of my lady. But who?who in all this wide world could e ver have imagined the incredible shape which that deed was to take, or the strange steps by which I was led to the do ing of it? And, after all, this opening chapter will seem to the reader to have nothing to do with my narrative; and yet there would have been no narrati ve without it, for it is only when a man goes out into the world with the thought that there are h eroi sms all round him, and with the desire all alive in his heart to follow any which may come withi n sight of him, that he breaks away as I did 12 of 353 The Lost Worl d from the life he knows, and ventures forth into the wonderful mystic twilight land where li e the great adventures and the great rewards. Behold me, then, at the office of the Daily Gaze tte, on the staff of w hich I was a most insignif icant unit, with th e settled determination that very night, if possible, to find the q uest whi ch should be worthy of my Gladys! Was it hard ness, was it selfishness, that she should ask me to risk my life for her own glorification? Such thoughts may come to middle age; but never to ardent three-and-twent y in the fever of his first love. 13 of 353 The Lost Worl d
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