I, too, had experienced a certain mental confusion during my brief visit to the cave. “But it wasn’t in the ministry’s interest for him to kill his colleague and almost do us in as well,” I remarked.
“No. McCafferty was a spy. A spy ring has been uncovered inside the War Office. Its agents even gained access to the autopsy findings on the corpses from Prins Karls Forland. McCafferty was meant to bring his employers samples of what produced the hallucinogenic substance.”
“Did he succeed?” That point interested me exceedingly.
“The Ramsgate sighted a freighter off the east coast of the island, obviously waiting to pick up McCafferty and his specimens. It took off at once when the Ramsgate appeared. I’ve no idea which country was behind the operation.”
“What about McCafferty?” I asked eagerly. “Was he found and given his just deserts?” “That was done for us,” Malcolm replied. “A search party found his pathetic remains halfway to the east coast. It seems he fell prey to a polar bear.” “A polar bear, eh?” I mused. “It might also have been a tupilak.” “You honestly think so?” “Only joking,” I replied, straight-faced. “The island is too far south for a tupilak.” I leaned forward and lowered my voice. “Our country won’t use that toxin, surely? I mean, in armed conflicts?”
\Malcolm calmly dismissed this. “As a form of nerve gas? That would be like opening Pandora’s box. No one could be that unscrupulous and contemptuous of human life. No, it’s out of the question!”
I refrained from pointing out that our lives had already been put at risk, and took a sip of Earl Grey. Then I nudged Malcolm in the ribs. “But now, old boy,” I said, “I’m sure you won’t say no to a glass of sherry.”
My eye having been drawn to a large summerhouse standing in the shade of an old maple tree, I wondered if Sir Arthur had used it as a study.
Sure enough, on opening the door, I saw a desk and a typewriter, though the latter looked as if it had not been used for some time. I felt profoundly moved as I stood there in the famous author’s inner sanctum.
It was a windless day. Even the birds seemed to have fled the unpleasantly sultry weather.
All at once, amid that hush, I heard a faint hum. At first, I thought it was only my imagination, but then I noticed that it became more distinctly audible in one particular spot, just a yard to the right of the desk.
It was coming from below. I lay down with my right ear to the floor. I could now detect a slight vibration. I ran my fingers over the floorboards.
Outlined by a fine, almost invisible crack in the timber was a perfectly straight section of the floor.
A trapdoor to a cellar beneath the summerhouse? There was no handle, no keyhole. I scanned the walls for a switch, crawled under the desk, and there-out of sight of any visitor–I discovered a metal lever.