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"It's all right," said Crouch, "I've fixed it up. Lewis and Sharp paid over the money this afternoon, and I gave them a receipt."
"How much did they fetch?" asked Max.
"Three hundred and eighty thousand pounds."
Max whistled, but said nothing. For some minutes, the three explorers sat gazing into the fire. Not another word was spoken until Frankfort Williams burst into the room.
Williams had no sympathy with those who roamed the equatorial forests.
His own heart was set upon the ice-floes of the Arctic.
"Look here," he cried, "what's this I hear about you fellows presenting a million pounds to some Missionary Society?"
"Who told you that?" said Crouch.
"Why, I heard it just now from Du Cane."
"News travels quickly," said Crouch. "But, a million is rather an exaggeration Three hundred and eighty thousand is the sum."
"And it all goes to a Missionary Society!"
"Yes," said Max, "you didn't expect us to keep it, did you? It was slave-trade money. We wouldn't touch a penny of it. Why, it would burn holes in our pockets."
"You see," said Edward, taking his pipe from his mouth, "a chap called Mayhew--nice sort of fellow from what we saw of him--has gone up into the very part of the country that we came from. He wants to civilize the people; and after all, it's only fair that they should have the benefit of the money, for it was they who earned it."
Crouch got to his feet, and turned his back to the fire.
"See?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, I see all right," said Williams, somewhat reluctantly, however. "Of course, you couldn't very well do anything else, in the circ.u.mstances. But, it seems rather a shame, somehow--when I can't raise subscriptions for an expedition to the west coast of Baffin Land."
"Look here," said Crouch, "if you think we're going to take money from half-starved negroes, who have slept in chains and sweated under the lash, and give it to you to climb some flaming iceberg, you're in the wrong, my friend; and it's just as well for you to know it."
Frankfort Williams laughed. It was the custom in the "Explorers'" for those who favoured the tropics to scorn the men who were endeavouring to reach the poles; just as it was for the Arctic adventurers to wax ironical on the subject of cannibals and mangrove swamps, poisoned arrow-heads and manioc. Williams talked for some few minutes upon the current topics of the day, and then left the club.
When he was gone, the three friends remained in their old positions before the fire. Though not a word was said, the thoughts of each drifted in the same direction. They saw the steaming mist upon a wide, tropic river; they heard the hum of thousands of insects in their ears, and the cries of the parrots overhead. They pa.s.sed over, once again, the route of their portage from Date Palm Island to Hippo Pool, and set forth in fancy into the valley of the Hidden River.
At last, Crouch got from his chair and, walking to the window, looked out into the street. The fog had lifted in a fine, drizzling rain.
Shadowy figures hurried past, each with umbrella in hand, whilst the reflection from the lights of the club windows glistened on the pavement. The shops had closed. The workers were hurrying home; and the London that had no need to work was dressing up for dinner. Crouch swung round upon his heel.
"I'm sick of this!" he cried.
"So am I," said Edward. "Where shall we go?"
Max got to his feet, and fetched down the map.