The beach was very hard going. We had to watch our step on the shingle for fear of stumbling. A little higher up, moss and lichen were growing on slightly marshy, springy subsoil that yielded beneath the soles of our boots.
A certain amount of frozen snow was still lying here and there, but the route to the slopes of the nearby mountains was almost free from ice. Our arrival had coincided with the most agreeable time of year on Prins
Karls Forland, but the chill wind was a reminder of how quickly the weather here could become an enemy of man, even in August. “Hello!” Broke called. “Anyone there?” McCafferty and Sheridan looked at each other uncertainly.
There were six timber-framed buildings in all, one of them large enough to have accommodated the whole of the original crew. The others housed various storerooms and research facilities. One building, which was just a hut around twenty feet square, had been gutted by fire. The remains of the roof were supported by only a few charred beams. It looked to me as if the conflagration had occurred not long ago. Luckily, the hut was far enough away from the other buildings to have prevented the flames from spreading.
The civil servants made for one of the huts and tried to open the door. This appeared to stick, but it creaked open after a moment or two. Before Sheridan crossed the threshold, he opened his parka and drew out a revolver. His colleague followed suit, and they disappeared into the gloomy interior with their guns at the ready. “This is a nice start,” I muttered.
Colin Broke said nothing, but the look on his face made it clear that he felt equally uneasy about the situation.
From inside the hut came a loud bang, as if some heavy object had fallen over. Then silence returned.
I prepared to dash the doorway but Broke caught my arm. “Better wait, Sir Arthur!”.
The two seamen were meanwhile approaching from the beach, laden with the first batch of equipment. Professor Kinnock, every inch a man of action, had also picked up a crate and was following them, while Malcolm Hurd and the biologist, Thomas Young, stood watching from the shore.
The two civil servants emerged from the hut. Sheridan patted the dust off his clothing.
“Well?” I asked. “Nothing important,” McCafferty said tersely.
The Ramsgate’s first officer seized the initiative. “In that case, we’ll split up into groups and search the rest of the huts.” He beckoned the seamen over. “Simon, Waters! Check that hut on the left!”
They dumped the boxes they were carrying and complied with. “Sir Arthur and I will take care of the building on the right. You two, take a look inside the big accommodation hut.”
It looked at first as if McCafferty and Sheridan were going to disobey his instructions, but they set off.
“What about me?” asked Kinnock, depositing his heavy crate on the ground. He wasn’t out of breath despite his substantial bulk.
By now, Malcolm and Thomas Young were halfway up