I spent the voyage home being nursed by Malcolm in my cabin. I knew nothing of what had transpired after my injury, as absolute secrecy had been maintained. Malcolm had promised to enlighten me at a later date. That time had now come. He’d sent me a telegram to say he would be arriving today.
Malcolm turned up on the dot, and Jean brought him to me. He waited, smiling, until she had left the veranda, then sat down.
“I’m on tenterhooks, my friend,” I told him. “You fathomed some of it yourself,” he began. “It won’t take more than a few details to complete the picture.”“No demons, eh?” I said. “There must be something in that cave which extraordinarily deranges the human senses, leading to complete loss of control.”
Malcolm nodded. His face darkened. “You’re right, Arthur. They’re microorganisms whose growth releases a substance with hallucinogenic properties into the air. That cave is the only place on the island which offers the conditions essential to their survival.”
“And the scientists and workmen spent most of their time in that very cave,” I said.
“The violence and duration of their hallucinations, which could even lead to insanity, we’re dependent on how long they spent there. Their panic attacks were colored by their personal experiences. In Sam Price, it was his memory of the Inuit myths with which he was confronted during his long sojourn in the wilds of Greenland. Professor Kinnock felt he was being pursued, for whatever reason, and Young was simply petrified with fear.”
Malcolm heaved a loud sigh. He produced a leather case from his jacket pocket and offered me a cigar.
“Kinnock and Young have recovered well,” he said. “Fortunately, they weren’t in the cave for long enough to be seriously impaired.”
“Unlike the many other victims,” I remarked, lighting my cigar. “Did you know about these microorganisms during our voyage to the island?”
“Arthur!” Indignantly, Malcolm sprang to his feet. His back did not seem to be giving him any trouble today. “If I had known, I would never have exposed you to danger in that way.”
I gestured to him to sit down again. “But why are you so fully in the picture now?”. “I have certain contacts at the War Office. I can’t say more than that.”
“So people at the War Office already knew about this highly toxic substance?”
Malcolm’s face darkened again. “They had certainly detected the identical toxin in all the bodies from the research station, and they had to assume that it originated in Prins Karls Forland.”
I blew a perfect smoke ring. “But they needed us to determine where. Was it because the War Office saw this substance, which had spelled the end of so many men, as a potential weapon of war?”
“I presume so,” Malcolm admitted. “I’m just as appalled about it as you are, Arthur. Sheridan and McCafferty were supposed to supervise things and avert disaster. At all events, when McCafferty discovered what a state Kinnock and Young were in after spending time in the cave, he knew where to look for the substance.”