It was decided to search for the immediate vicinity. McCafferty and Sheridan set off in a northerly direction, while Broke and I went south.
Meantime, the scientists, Young and Kinnock, prepared to conduct their research. Malcolm would have liked to come with us, but he confided to me that not even a dose of morphine would enable him to undertake a longish trek.
It was naturally impossible to explore more than a small fraction of the island. Being well over two hundred square miles in area, Prins Karls Forland was too big and, away from the coastal strip, far too inaccessible. We could hope only that the missing men had not tried to cross the precipitous mountains to reach the interior of the island. Because of the subzero temperatures prevailing at night, it would have meant certain death.
A herd of walruses had appeared on the shore. We gave the huge creatures a wide berth so as not to provoke them unnecessarily. Some of them craned their necks inquisitively and emitted loud, menacing grunts, but they ignored us thereafter. “I suppose it’s unlikely that the men were attacked by these creatures?” I said. “Out of the question,” Broke replied, looking in all directions. “You’d have to go right up to them, and Price and the others are men of a great experience. They’re well acquainted with the far north.” “Are all of the scientists employed by the War Office?”
“Only Landis and Stine. Price and Higgins I’d describe more as competent craftsmen. Research stations like this wouldn’t survive for long without their expertise. Before the present mission, Sam Price and Jeremy Higgins spent several months at a station on the south coast of Greenland.”
I now realized how Price knew of the tupilak. He had probably been in contact with the aboriginal inhabitants of Greenland and had become acquainted with their culture.
Although there was no proof of the existence of those demonic creatures, other than the stories told by the Inuit, I did not think it altogether impossible that tupilak haunted these icy regions. “Hey, look!” Broke walked on faster.
I now saw what had caught his eye: a rifle half embedded in the marshy ground. He extricated the gun and examined it closely.
“The magazine is empty,” he said. “I doubt if anyone would have carried a useless weapon around, so there must be some reason.”
“Perhaps there was a fight here,” I ventured.
Broke shrugged. “Polar bears are the only creatures on the island that would attack a human being.”
It was impossible to detect any footprints on the moss, so we couldn’t tell which way the rifleman had been facing.
Broke scrambled up a nearby rock. “Nothing to be seen,” he called down. “I can’t imagine a polar bear carrying off a prey the size of a man.”
“Perhaps it wasn’t a polar bear,” I said.
Broke jumped down from the rock. “What else could it have been? The only other possibility is that the men attacked each other, for whatever reason.” “The tupilak,” I said. “Never heard of them,” he said, then stopped short. “Tupilak … Sam Price used that word.” He came right up to me. “Do you know anything about it, Sir Arthur?” “I do indeed.” I proceeded to tell him about the
Greenlandic demons and their ability to appear like magic.