"I was the Flail of the Lord"
Lord John Roxton and I turned down Vigo Street together and
through the dingy portals of the famous aristocratic rookery.
At the end of a long drab passage my new acquaintance pushed open
a door and turned on an electric switch. A number of lamps shining
through tinted shades bathed the whole great room before us in a
ruddy radiance. Standing in the doorway and glancing round me, I
had a general impression of extraordinary comfort and elegance
combined with an atmosphere of masculine virility. Everywhere there
were mingled the luxury of the wealthy man of taste and the
careless untidiness of the bachelor. Rich furs and strange
iridescent mats from some Oriental bazaar were scattered upon
the floor. Pictures and prints which even my unpractised eyes
could recognize as being of great price and rarity hung thick upon
the walls. Sketches of boxers, of ballet-girls, and of racehorses
alternated with a sensuous Fragonard, a martial Girardet, and a
dreamy Turner. But amid these varied ornaments there were
scattered the trophies which brought back strongly to my
recollection the fact that Lord John Roxton was one of the great
all-round sportsmen and athletes of his day. A dark-blue oar
crossed with a cherry-pink one above his mantel-piece spoke of
the old Oxonian and Leander man, while the foils and
boxing-gloves above and below them were the tools of a man who
had won supremacy with each. Like a dado round the room was the
jutting line of splendid heavy game-heads, the best of their sort
from every quarter of the world, with the rare white rhinoceros
of the Lado Enclave drooping its supercilious lip above them all.
In the center of the rich red carpet was a black and gold Louis
Quinze table, a lovely antique, now sacrilegiously desecrated
with marks of glasses and the scars of cigar-stumps. On it stood
a silver tray of smokables and a burnished spirit-stand, from
which and an adjacent siphon my silent host proceeded to charge
two high glasses. Having indicated an arm-chair to me and placed
my refreshment near it, he handed me a long, smooth Havana.
Then, seating himself opposite to me, he looked at me long and
fixedly with his strange, twinkling, reckless eyes--eyes of a
cold light blue, the color of a glacier lake.
Through the thin haze of my cigar-smoke I noted the details of a
face which was already familiar to me from many photographs--the
strongly-curved nose, the hollow, worn cheeks, the dark, ruddy
hair, thin at the top, the crisp, virile moustaches, the small,
aggressive tuft upon his projecting chin. Something there was of
Napoleon III., something of Don Quixote, and yet again something
which was the essence of the English country gentleman, the keen,
alert, open-air lover of dogs and of horses. His skin was of a
rich flower-pot red from sun and wind. His eyebrows were tufted
and overhanging, which gave those naturally cold eyes an almost
ferocious aspect, an impression which was increased by his strong
and furrowed brow. In figure he was spare, but very strongly
built--indeed, he had often proved that there were few men in
England capable of such sustained exertions. His height was a
little over six feet, but he seemed shorter on account of a
peculiar rounding of the shoulders. Such was the famous Lord
John Roxton as he sat opposite to me, biting hard upon his cigar
and watching me steadily in a long and embarrassing silence.
"Well," said he, at last, "we've gone and done it, young
my lad." (This curious phrase he pronounced as if it were all one
word--"young-fellah-me-lad.") "Yes, we've taken a jump, you
I suppose, now, when you went into that room there was no such
notion in your head--what?"
"No thought of it."
"The same here. No thought of it. And here we are, up to our
necks in the tureen. Why, I've only been back three weeks from
Uganda, and taken a place in Scotland, and signed the lease and all.
Pretty goin's on--what? How does it hit you?"
"Well, it is all in the main line of my business. I am a
journalist on the Gazette."
"Of course--you said so when you took it on. By the way, I've
got a small job for you, if you'll help me."
"Don't mind takin' a risk, do you?"
"What is the risk?"
"Well, it's Ballinger--he's the risk. You've heard of him?"
"Why, young fellah, where HAVE you lived? Sir John Ballinger
is the best gentleman jock in the north country. I could hold
him on the flat at my best, but over jumps he's my master.
Well, it's an open secret that when he's out of trainin' he drinks
hard--strikin' an average, he calls it. He got delirium on
Toosday, and has been ragin' like a devil ever since. His room
is above this. The doctors say that it is all up with the old
dear unless some food is got into him, but as he lies in bed with
a revolver on his coverlet, and swears he will put six of the
best through anyone that comes near him, there's been a bit of a
strike among the serving-men. He's a hard nail, is Jack, and a
dead shot, too, but you can't leave a Grand National winner to
die like that--what?"
"What do you mean to do, then?" I asked.
"Well, my idea was that you and I could rush him. He may be
dozin', and at the worst he can only wing one of us, and the
other should have him. If we can get his bolster-cover round his
arms and then 'phone up a stomach-pump, we'll give the old dear
the supper of his life."
It was a rather desperate business to come suddenly into one's
day's work. I don't think that I am a particularly brave man.
I have an Irish imagination which makes the unknown and the untried
more terrible than they are. On the other hand, I was brought up
with a horror of cowardice and with a terror of such a stigma.
I dare say that I could throw myself over a precipice, like the Hun
in the history books, if my courage to do it were questioned, and
yet it would surely be pride and fear, rather than courage, which
would be my inspiration. Therefore, although every nerve in my
body shrank from the whisky-maddened figure which I pictured in
the room above, I still answered, in as careless a voice as I
could command, that I was ready to go. Some further remark of
Lord Roxton's about the danger only made me irritable.
"Talking won't make it any better," said I. "Come on."
I rose from my chair and he from his. Then with a little
confidential chuckle of laughter, he patted me two or three times
on the chest, finally pushing me back into my chair.
"All right, sonny my lad--you'll do," said he. I looked up
"I saw after Jack Ballinger myself this mornin'. He blew a hole
in the skirt of my kimono, bless his shaky old hand, but we got a
jacket on him, and he's to be all right in a week. I say, young
fellah, I hope you don't mind--what? You see, between you an' me
close-tiled, I look on this South American business as a mighty
serious thing, and if I have a pal with me I want a man I can
bank on. So I sized you down, and I'm bound to say that you came
well out of it. You see, it's all up to you and me, for this old
Summerlee man will want dry-nursin' from the first. By the way,
are you by any chance the Malone who is expected to get his Rugby
cap for Ireland?"
"A reserve, perhaps."
"I thought I remembered your face. Why, I was there when you got
that try against Richmond--as fine a swervin' run as I saw the
whole season. I never miss a Rugby match if I can help it, for
it is the manliest game we have left. Well, I didn't ask you in
here just to talk sport. We've got to fix our business. Here are
the sailin's, on the first page of the Times. There's a Booth boat
for Para next Wednesday week, and if the Professor and you can work
it, I think we should take it--what? Very good, I'll fix it with him.
What about your outfit?"
"My paper will see to that."
"Can you shoot?"
"About average Territorial standard."
"Good Lord! as bad as that? It's the last thing you young fellahs
think of learnin'. You're all bees without stings, so far as
lookin' after the hive goes. You'll look silly, some o' these
days, when someone comes along an' sneaks the honey. But you'll
need to hold your gun straight in South America, for, unless our
friend the Professor is a madman or a liar, we may see some queer
things before we get back. What gun have you?"
He crossed to an oaken cupboard, and as he threw it open I caught
a glimpse of glistening rows of parallel barrels, like the pipes
of an organ.
"I'll see what I can spare you out of my own battery," said he.
One by one he took out a succession of beautiful rifles, opening
and shutting them with a snap and a clang, and then patting them
as he put them back into the rack as tenderly as a mother would
fondle her children.
"This is a Bland's .577 axite express," said he. "I got that
fellow with it." He glanced up at the white rhinoceros. "Ten more
yards, and he'd would have added me to HIS collection.
`On that conical bullet his one chance hangs,
'Tis the weak one's advantage fair.'
Hope you know your Gordon, for he's the poet of the horse and
the gun and the man that handles both. Now, here's a useful
tool--.470, telescopic sight, double ejector, point-blank up to
three-fifty. That's the rifle I used against the Peruvian
slave-drivers three years ago. I was the flail of the Lord up in
those parts, I may tell you, though you won't find it in any
Blue-book. There are times, young fellah, when every one of us
must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel
clean again. That's why I made a little war on my own. Declared it
myself, waged it myself, ended it myself. Each of those nicks
is for a slave murderer--a good row of them--what? That big one
is for Pedro Lopez, the king of them all, that I killed in a
backwater of the Putomayo River. Now, here's something that
would do for you." He took out a beautiful brown-and-silver rifle.
"Well rubbered at the stock, sharply sighted, five cartridges to
the clip. You can trust your life to that." He handed it to me
and closed the door of his oak cabinet.
"By the way," he continued, coming back to his chair, "what
you know of this Professor Challenger?"
"I never saw him till to-day."
"Well, neither did I. It's funny we should both sail under sealed
orders from a man we don't know. He seemed an uppish old bird.
His brothers of science don't seem too fond of him, either.
How came you to take an interest in the affair?"
I told him shortly my experiences of the morning, and he
listened intently. Then he drew out a map of South America
and laid it on the table.
"I believe every single word he said to you was the truth," said
he, earnestly, "and, mind you, I have something to go on when I
speak like that. South America is a place I love, and I think,
if you take it right through from Darien to Fuego, it's the
grandest, richest, most wonderful bit of earth upon this planet.
People don't know it yet, and don't realize what it may become.
I've been up an' down it from end to end, and had two dry
seasons in those very parts, as I told you when I spoke of the
war I made on the slave-dealers. Well, when I was up there I
heard some yarns of the same kind--traditions of Indians and the
like, but with somethin' behind them, no doubt. The more you
knew of that country, young fellah, the more you would understand
that anythin' was possible--ANYTHIN'1. There are just some narrow
water-lanes along which folk travel, and outside that it is
all darkness. Now, down here in the Matto Grande"--he swept his
cigar over a part of the map--"or up in this corner where three
countries meet, nothin' would surprise me. As that chap said
to-night, there are fifty-thousand miles of water-way runnin'
through a forest that is very near the size of Europe. You and
I could be as far away from each other as Scotland is from
Constantinople, and yet each of us be in the same great Brazilian forest.
Man has just made a track here and a scrape there in the maze.
Why, the river rises and falls the best part of forty feet,
and half the country is a morass that you can't pass over.
Why shouldn't somethin' new and wonderful lie in such a country?
And why shouldn't we be the men to find it out? Besides," he
added, his queer, gaunt face shining with delight, "there's a
sportin' risk in every mile of it. I'm like an old golf-ball--
I've had all the white paint knocked off me long ago.
Life can whack me about now, and it can't leave a mark. But a
sportin' risk, young fellah, that's the salt of existence.
Then it's worth livin' again. We're all gettin' a deal too soft
and dull and comfy. Give me the great waste lands and the wide
spaces, with a gun in my fist and somethin' to look for that's
worth findin'. I've tried war and steeplechasin' and aeroplanes,
but this huntin' of beasts that look like a lobster-supper dream
is a brand-new sensation." He chuckled with glee at the prospect.
Perhaps I have dwelt too long upon this new acquaintance, but he
is to be my comrade for many a day, and so I have tried to set
him down as I first saw him, with his quaint personality and his
queer little tricks of speech and of thought. It was only the
need of getting in the account of my meeting which drew me at
last from his company. I left him seated amid his pink radiance,
oiling the lock of his favorite rifle, while he still chuckled to
himself at the thought of the adventures which awaited us. It was
very clear to me that if dangers lay before us I could not in all
England have found a cooler head or a braver spirit with which to
That night, wearied as I was after the wonderful happenings of
the day, I sat late with McArdle, the news editor, explaining to
him the whole situation, which he thought important enough to
bring next morning before the notice of Sir George Beaumont,
the chief. It was agreed that I should write home full accounts
of my adventures in the shape of successive letters to McArdle,
and that these should either be edited for the Gazette as they
arrived, or held back to be published later, according to the
wishes of Professor Challenger, since we could not yet know what
conditions he might attach to those directions which should guide
us to the unknown land. In response to a telephone inquiry, we
received nothing more definite than a fulmination against the
Press, ending up with the remark that if we would notify our boat
he would hand us any directions which he might think it proper to
give us at the moment of starting. A second question from us
failed to elicit any answer at all, save a plaintive bleat from
his wife to the effect that her husband was in a very violent
temper already, and that she hoped we would do nothing to make
it worse. A third attempt, later in the day, provoked a terrific
crash, and a subsequent message from the Central Exchange that
Professor Challenger's receiver had been shattered. After that
we abandoned all attempt at communication.
And now my patient readers, I can address you directly no longer.
From now onwards (if, indeed, any continuation of this narrative
should ever reach you) it can only be through the paper which
I represent. In the hands of the editor I leave this account
of the events which have led up to one of the most remarkable
expeditions of all time, so that if I never return to England
there shall be some record as to how the affair came about. I am
writing these last lines in the saloon of the Booth liner
Francisca, and they will go back by the pilot to the keeping of
Mr. McArdle. Let me draw one last picture before I close the
notebook--a picture which is the last memory of the old country
which I bear away with me. It is a wet, foggy morning in the late
spring; a thin, cold rain is falling. Three shining mackintoshed
figures are walking down the quay, making for the gang-plank of
the great liner from which the blue-peter is flying. In front of
them a porter pushes a trolley piled high with trunks, wraps,
and gun-cases. Professor Summerlee, a long, melancholy figure,
walks with dragging steps and drooping head, as one who is already
profoundly sorry for himself. Lord John Roxton steps briskly,
and his thin, eager face beams forth between his hunting-cap and
his muffler. As for myself, I am glad to have got the bustling
days of preparation and the pangs of leave-taking behind me, and
I have no doubt that I show it in my bearing. Suddenly, just as
we reach the vessel, there is a shout behind us. It is Professor
Challenger, who had promised to see us off. He runs after us, a
puffing, red-faced, irascible figure.
"No thank you," says he; "I should much prefer not to go
I have only a few words to say to you, and they can very well be
said where we are. I beg you not to imagine that I am in any way
indebted to you for making this journey. I would have you to
understand that it is a matter of perfect indifference to me, and
I refuse to entertain the most remote sense of personal obligation.
Truth is truth, and nothing which you can report can affect it in
any way, though it may excite the emotions and allay the curiosity
of a number of very ineffectual people. My directions for your
instruction and guidance are in this sealed envelope. You will
open it when you reach a town upon the Amazon which is called
Manaos, but not until the date and hour which is marked upon
the outside. Have I made myself clear? I leave the strict
observance of my conditions entirely to your honor. No, Mr. Malone,
I will place no restriction upon your correspondence, since
the ventilation of the facts is the object of your journey; but
I demand that you shall give no particulars as to your exact
destination, and that nothing be actually published until your return.
Good-bye, sir. You have done something to mitigate my feelings
for the loathsome profession to which you unhappily belong.
Good-bye, Lord John. Science is, as I understand, a sealed book
to you; but you may congratulate yourself upon the hunting-field
which awaits you. You will, no doubt, have the opportunity of
describing in the Field how you brought down the rocketing dimorphodon.
And good-bye to you also, Professor Summerlee. If you are still
capable of self-improvement, of which I am frankly unconvinced,
you will surely return to London a wiser man."
So he turned upon his heel, and a minute later from the deck I
could see his short, squat figure bobbing about in the distance
as he made his way back to his train. Well, we are well down
Channel now. There's the last bell for letters, and it's
good-bye to the pilot. We'll be "down, hull-down, on the old
trail" from now on. God bless all we leave behind us, and send
us safely back.
Top of Page
Room | The