Her words hurt me like the sting of a wasp, but I could not resist them, and when some days later Martin called to take me to the Geographical Society, where his commander, Lieutenant —— was to give an account of their expedition, I could not find it in my heart to refuse to go.
Oh, the difference of this world from that in which I had been living for the past six months! All that was best in England seemed to be there, the men who were doing the work of the world, and the women who were their wives and partners.
The theatre was like the inside of a dish, and I sat by Martin’s side on the bottom row of seats, just in front of the platform and face to face with the commander.
His lecture, which was illustrated by many photographic lantern slides of the exploring party, (including the one that had been shown to me on the ship) was very interesting, but terribly pathetic; and when he described the hardships they had gone through in a prolonged blizzard on a high plateau, with food and fuel running low, and no certainty that they would ever see home again, I found myself feeling for Martin’s hand to make sure that he was there.
Towards the end the commander spoke very modestly of himself, saying he could never have reached the 87th parallel if he had not had a crew of the finest comrades that ever sailed on a ship.
“And though they’re all splendid fellows,” he said, “there’s one I can specially mention without doing any wrong to the rest, and that’s the young doctor of our expedition—Martin Conrad. Martin has a scheme of his own for going down to the Antarctic again to make a great experiment in the interests of humanity, and if and when he goes I say, ’Good luck to him and God bless him!’”
At these generous words there was much applause, during which Martin sat blushing like a big boy when he is introduced to the girl friends of his sister.
As for me I did not think any speech could have been so beautiful, and I felt as if I could have cried for joy.
When I got back to the hotel I did cry, but it was for another reason. I was thinking of my father and wondering why he did not wait.
“Why, why, why?” I asked myself.
Next day, Martin came rushing down to my sitting-room with a sheaf of letters in his hand, saying:
“That was jolly good of the boss, but look what he has let me in for?”
They were requests from various newspapers for portraits and interviews, and particularly from one great London journal for a special article to contain an account of the nature and object of the proposed experiment.
“What am I to do?” he said. “I’m all right for stringing gabble, but I couldn’t write anything to save my soul. Now, you could. I’m sure you could. You could write like Robinson Crusoe. Why shouldn’t you write the article and I’ll tell you what to put into it?”