Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Madness of Professor Craine

I fear the Professor has lost his senses. First he changed our plans on a whim, dashing to London to attend a lecture (at which he behaved very oddly) and then there was the strange business of the sabre-tooth tiger that he claims chased him from the burning... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Lord Worthing sent us back to Wensleydale Priory to investigate the clock mechanism. I was sorry to leave the merry Worthing sons and heirs, of course, but his Lordship's sepulchral company I can do without. We are to take Birdie with us -- he has found a place for himself under my scapula. I seem to have another passenger, as well as the book.

But at the station, we met Mr Riley again. He told Professor C that our old friend DeWhymper was to lecture at the Royal Institute in London that very evening. So instead of going to Priory Halt, nothing would do for the Professor but for us to go to London immediately to attend this demonstration. I was troubled by the thought of looking for lodgings in a strange city after the lecture; but then the thought of the 7 mile walk from Priory Halt banished such thoughts from my mind. The Lord will provide, I told myself.

The Royal Institute is a wonder by day, as I discovered this morning, but lit up with gas lamps by night, it is even more of a marvel. Professor C and I were separated by the crowds in the lobby -- he was keen to get a seat at the front; while I just wanted to put the book down and rest my legs. In my row was seated a Dominican monk, Fr Constantine, I discovered, who was from the Vatican Observatory. But next to me was a charming Hungarian, Baron Franz Nopsha. He described himself as a paleobiologist. At the time, I said to myself: 'now I have heard everything! Who would have thought that a cultured, educated man would make a life's study of imagining the habits and anatomies of the stone bones God has seen fit to layer in the earth.' For all his misguided philosophies, though the Baron is a charming dandy and delightful company.

But then the lecture began. DeWhymper started his demonstration (not helped, I imagine, by heckling from certain portions of the audience). He transformed a live chicken into a pile of dry bones -- I was reminded horribly of the fate of DeWhymper's manservant Eustace. But worse was to come. The next chicken was transformed into a creature constructed from bones and leather and teeth. Baron Nopsha seemed entranced, and told me it was a pterrosaur, one of his ancient biologies. Professor C expressed his disgust in a loud voice, claiming it was some present-day mutant.

The meeting began to break up at this point -- I think people were not happy to sit watching a charlatan, or perhaps a once great mind deluding himself. I hurried to the door, hoping to catch a word with Fr Constantine. I was rewarded, and we agreed to meet later; and again I was rewarded, for in leaving the room, I avoided the explosion that I believe has unhinged the Professor.

When I came back into the room, all was in disarray. The walls were scorched; the apparatus was scattered around the room. And DeWhymper had vanished leaving a neat hole in the carpet. Professor Craine was fired up, almost electric. He announced his intention of investigating the ruined apparatus -- to my surprise, the people in charge of the Institute permitted this. The Professor must be more respected than I realised.

Baron Nopscha and Fr Constantine were kind enough to take me back to the Nunciature to Great Britain where the good father promised me guidance and rest while the professor worked.

After the baron had left us for his friend's home, having confessed and attended Mass first, Fr Constantine and I talked for a long time about the task I have been given. Perhaps I am naive to trust him; but there was something about him that gave me hope. Perhaps I will be able to lay this book down at last.

The next morning, I rose early and after a breakfast of good Italian coffee and a piece of bread, I went back to the Institute, thinking to find the Professor.

What I found was uproar -- the Institute afire and Professor Craine talking of giant tigers and an escaped gorilla. His eyes were wild and his clothing torn -- there was little sign of the respectable man of science who took control of the situation the night before. I did the only thing I could think of and took him back to Fr Constantine -- I had no money to hand; no other friend in London who might help us. The priests put the professor in a guest room, and he fell instantly into a deep sleep.

I meanwhile was full of energy following my restful night. I sought out the Baron and described the Professor's wild beasts to him. Then going back to the Institute I asked a few shopkeepers if they had heard or seen anything like a gorilla or a big cat. They looked at me oddly but had nothing of interest to say. Finally, I went to London Zoo to enquire about any escaped beasts. But there was nothing at all to indicate that the professor was telling the truth.

I am at a loss -- he did not seem like a man who was lying; he had seen what he said he had seen. But how can a tiger and a gorilla vanish into the streets of London?

No comments: