I couldn’t tell whether it was Sheridan or McCafferty-the light was still too dim. They were as alike as two peas in a pod, even in broad daylight.
The man went over to the hut in which we had found Sam Price. It was used by us as a depository and contained our stores and the bulk of our equipment.
I decided to follow him and find out what he was doing there at such an early hour. If he spotted me, I would pretend I had simply been unable to sleep after all the excitement of the previous day.
I quickly put on some winter-proof clothing and stole across the gap between the huts without a sound-a useful knack I’d picked up during the Second Boer War.
I just had time to dodge back around a corner when the man emerged from the storeroom. He was wearing winter clothing, like me, and had a rucksack on his back. He passed within a few feet of me, likewise trying to be as silent as possible. He was so close, I was able to identify him as McCafferty. Dangling from his rucksack was an object such as I had seen only once before in my life: a respirator of the type used in modern laboratories to prevent the inhalation of poisonous gases.
This struck me as extremely odd. When McCafferty proceeded to set off in the direction of the cave, I became convinced that he was up to no good. Or, at least, that he was determined to conceal his activities from us.
I was of two minds as to whom to inform of what I had seen. Malcolm was trustworthy, I felt sure, but Colin Broke might conceivably be in on McCafferty’s plans. After briefly considering the matter, I decided to inform Broke as well. He struck me as a thoroughly honest young man. In any case, the whole thing might turn out to be innocuous. McCafferty might simply have wanted to take advantage of the early morning’s peace to pursue his inquiries.
I roused Malcolm first, then Broke.
My old friend looked exhausted and took a moment to compose himself, whereas the young officer was wide awake in a flash. “I’m in charge of these investigations,” he said. “McCafferty has to inform me of his doings.”
“A respirator?” Malcolm sounded puzzled. “That’s very odd.”
Broke got dressed in no time. “I intend to question Sheridan right away. He’ll probably know what his highhanded colleague is up to.”
But it was not to be. Broke had scarcely set foot inside the civil servants’ quarters when I heard him calling me. “Quick, Sir Arthur! I need your help!”
I entered the hut followed by Malcolm, who was still wearing nothing but a voluminous nightshirt.
Howard Sheridan was lying on his bed. His eyes were bulging from their sockets, and his tongue was protruding from between his bloody lips, which he had bitten in his death throes. The wire noose around his neck had cut deep into the flesh. McCafferty must have attacked him in his sleep and throttled him most brutally.
“He’s beyond help, poor fellow,” Malcolm said superfluously.