"The world will be amazed," declared Prof. Challenger.
His words were greeted with a smattering of applause mixed with some snickers as the members slowly began to quit the chambers in small but lively groups of twos and threes.
Marguerite stepped into a shadowed alcove. As adept at concealment as commanding attention, she only had to slightly tilt her head for her hat to completely hide her face. Her clothes melted into the dark recesses and none of them members noticed her as they left. She was busy with plans while the room emptied itself.
'Finally, I am making progress,' thought Marguerite in mild exultation. For two years, now, ever since she had escaped from Shanghai, she had planned to travel to the plateau. With a great deal of deliberation and crafty planning, she had escaped joining Maple White's expedition. Maple White, unlike Challenger, had not sought funding from the Royal Zoological Society and had formed a group consisting mainly of Xan's mercenaries. None of the members of that expedition had returned. In fact, Marguerite suspected that very few knew who had known much about his expedition. Professor Challenger's expedition would be much better. The expedition was likely to consist of hoary but respectable scientists and explorers. She would manage them very nicely, she thought with a pleased smile.
Challenger was carefully replacing his photographic plates into his case while muttering imprecations under his breath.
"Fools," he grumbled "Every single one of them. They talk of the glory of science but they have no vision, no gumption."
"Prof. Challenger," called a voice from a little afar.
The professor looked up. It was Ms. Marguerite Krux, his patron.
He smiled broadly and quickly jumped down from the podium.
"I congratulate you, Ma'am," he said by way of greeting. He took her hand and kissed it, a rare act of chivalry on his part. "You have greater scientific acumen and daring than any of these so-called notable scientists. Your name will go down in history books."
Marguerite smiled at his praise, more amused than flattered. "I trust you have assembled a good team?" she enquired politely.
"Absolutely," cried Challenger, taking her arm in his and walking her out. "Prof. Summerlee,".
"Of course," nodded Marguerite, "the botanist". Marguerite had indeed heard of him during her years of espionage. Professor Summerlee was just the type of scientist that government circles liked. He was stolid and dependable. No surprises from him, unlike Challenger who got on everybody's edge.
"Hmmph," snorted Challenger derisively and then contined, "Malone, I believe his name was, from the International Tribune,"
"A reporter, how charming" said Marguerite, a faint note of distaste in her voice. 'Nosy creatures,' she thought to herself in displeasure. Challenger, however, did not notice.
"And Lord John Roxton," concluded Challenger triumphantly in the manner of one who was laying his trump card on the table. "Surely, you would have heard of him?"
"Ah, yes, the hunting accident," said Marguerite with an arch smile. This time Challenger noticed and his head turned around to study the woman.
"Are those your companions?" Marguerite indicated the three men in the foyer whose backs were turned to them. Challenger looked and nodded.
The three men were waiting him in the foyer.
"What have we got ourselves into," muttered Summerlee. Lord Roxton merely smiled and did not respond.
"Do you know anything about this Ms. Krux," asked reporter Malone. His curiosity was piqued by the idea of a woman funding a scientific expedition of this proportion.
"Some bored old widow with money," remarked Lord Roxton snidely.
"Old?" exclaimed Malone, "But didn't you see…"
He was interrupted before he could finish. Prof. Summerlee who had turned towards the door and noticed Challenger exclaimed "You have done it, Challenger. You have goaded three good men into joining a wild goose chase."
"Don't be ridiculous," responded Challenger imperiously, "I am offering you all a chance of a lifetime. Now, gentlemen, may I present to you Ms. Krux."
Lord Roxton turned around at his voice and immediately forgot to breathe. Later he would notice that she had a very fine figure, was modishly dressed and intelligent in conversation. But at that very first moment, he only noticed her magnificent eyes that stared back at him with similar wonder. Something old, deep and primitive flared between them. Both were acutely aware of it and each other. Roxton felt that he should know her and yet how could that be possible when he was meeting her for the very first time. Marguerite felt her heart beating faster in a manner that
"You are not what I thought you would be," murmured Marguerite wonderingly.
"I am sorry to disappoint," he replied in a soft voice just a glint of smile on his face.
The words broke the spell. With an arch smile, Marguerite turned away to greet Malone and Summerlee. 'Dangerously attractive man and he knows it only too well.'
'Devilishly beautiful woman,' thought Roxton, 'What a pity I won't get to see much of her.'
Marguerite conversed politely with the four men for a few minutes longer. Then after exchanging some information regarding the bond with Challenger, she excused herself and walked away.