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Outwardly the book accorded ill with its surroundings. In that place of desolation and death, it typified the petty neatness of office processes. Properly placed, it should have been found on a desk, with pens, rulers, and other paraphernalia forming exact angles or parallels to it. It was a quarto, bound in marbled paper, with black leather over the hinges. No external label suggested its ownership or uses, but through one corner, blackened and formidable in its contrast to the peaceful purposes of the volume, a hole had been bored. The agency of perforation was obvious. A bullet had made it.
"Seen something of life, I reckon," said Trendon, as the captain turned the volume about slowly in his hands.
"And of death," returned Captain Parkinson solemnly. "Do you know, Trendon, I almost dread to open this."
"Pshaw!" returned the other. "What is it to us?"
He threw the cover back. Neatly lettered on the inside, in the fine and slightly angular writing characteristic of the Teutonic scholar, was the legend:
Karl Augustus Schermerhorn,
1409-1/2 Spruce Street,
The opposite page was blank. Captain Parkinson turned half a dozen leaves.
"German!" he cried, in a note of disappointment, "Can you read German script?"
"After a fashion," replied the other. "Let's see. Es wonnte sechs--und-- dreissig unterjacke," he read. "Why, blast it, was the man running a haberdashery? What have three dozen undershirts to do with this?"
"A memorandum for outfitting, probably," suggested the captain. "Try here."
"Chemical formulae," said Trendon. "Pages of 'em. The devil! Can't make a thing of it."
"Well, here's something in English."
"Good," said the other. "By combining the hyper-sulphate of iridium with the fumes arising from oxide of copper heated to 1000 C. and combining with picric acid in the proportions described in formula x 18, a reaction, the nature of which I have not fully determined, follows. This must be performed with extreme care owing to the unstable nature of the benzene compounds."
"Picric acid? Benzene compounds? Those are high explosives," said Captain Parkinson. "We should have Barnett go over this."
"Here's a name under the formula. Dr. A. Mardenter, Ann Arbor, Mich. That explains its being in English. Probably copied from a letter."
"This must have been one of the experiments in the valley that Slade told us of," said the captain, thoughtfully. "Why, see here," he cried, with something like exultation. "That's what Dr. Schermerhorn was doing here. He has the clue to some explosive so terrific that he goes far out of the world to experiment with its manufacture. For companions he chooses a gang of cutthroats that the world would never miss in case anything went wrong. Possibly it was some trial of the finished product that started the eruption, even. Do you see?"
"Don't explain enough," grunted Trendon. "Deserted ship. Billy Edwards. Mysterious lights. Slade and his story. Any explosives in those? Good enough, far as it goes. Don't go far enough."
"It certainly leaves gaps," admitted the other.
He turned over a few more pages.
"Formulas, formulas, formulas. What's this? Here are some marginal annotations."
"Unbehasslich," read Trendon. "Let's see. That means 'highly unsatisfactory,' or words to that effect. Hi! Here's where the old man loses his temper. Listen: 'May the devil take Carroll and Crum for careless'--h'm--well, 'pig-dogs.' Now, where do Carroll and Crum come in?"
"They're a firm of analytical chemists in Washington," said the captain. "When I was on the ordnance board I used to get their circulars."
"Fits in. What? More English? Worse than the German, this is."
The writing, beginning evenly enough at the top of a page, ran along for a line or two, then fell, sprawling in huge, ragged characters the full length. Trendon stumbled among them, indignantly.
"June 1, 1904," he read. "It is done. Triumph. (German word.) Eureka. Es ist gefillt. From the (can't make out that word) of the inspiration--god-like power--solution of the world-problems. Why, the old fool is crazy! And his writing is crazier. Can't make head or tail of it."
The captain turned several more pages. They were blank. "At any rate, it seems to be the end," he said.
"I should hope so," returned the other, disgustedly.
He took the book on his knees, fluttering the leaves between thumb and finger. Suddenly he checked, cast back, and threw the book wide open.
"Here beginneth a new chapter," said he, quietly.
No imaginable chirography could have struck the eye with more of contrast to the professor's small and nervous hand. Large, rounded, and rambling, it filled the page with few and careless words.
June 2, 1904. On this date I find myself sole occupant and absolute monarch of this valuable island. This morning I was a member of a community, interesting if not precisely peaceful. To-night I am the last leaf. 'All his lovely companions are faded and gone,' the sprightly Solomon, the psychic Nigger, the amiable Thrackles, the cheerful Perdosa, the genial Pulz, and the high-minded Eagen. Undoubtedly the social atmosphere has cleared; moreover, I am for the first time in my life a landed proprietor. Item: several square miles of grass land; item: several dozen head of sheep; item: a cove full of fish; item: a handsomely decorated cave; item: a sportive though somewhat unruly volcano. At times, it may be, I shall feel the lack of company. The seagulls alone are not distrustful of me. Undoubtedly the seagull is an estimable creature, but he leaves something to be desired in the way of companionship. Hence this diary, the inevitable refuge of the empty-minded. Materially, I shall do well enough, though I face one tragic circumstance. My cigarette material, I find, is short. Upon counting up--"
"Damn his cigarettes!" cried the surgeon. "This must be Darrow. Finicky beast! Let's see if it's signed."
He whirled the leaves over to the last sheet, glanced at it, and sprang to his feet. There, sprawled in tremulous characters, as by a hand shaken with agony or terror, was written:
Look for me in the cave.
The bullet hole in the corner furnished a sinister period to the signature.
Trendon handed the ledger back to the captain, who took one quick look, closed it, and handed it to Congdon.
"Wrap that up and carry it carefully," he said.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the coxswain, swathing it in his jacket and tucking it under his arm.
"Now to find that cave," said Captain Parkinson to the surgeon.
"The cave in the cliff, of course," said Trendon. "Noticed it coming in, you know."
"On the north shore, about a mile to the east of here."
"Then we'll cut directly across."
"Beg your pardon, sir," put in Congdon, "but I don't think we can make it from this side, sir."
"No beach, sir, and the cliff's like the side of a ship. Looks to be deep water right into the cave's mouth."
"Back to the boat, then. Bring that flag along."
The descent was swift, at times reckless, but the party embarked without accident. Soon they were forging through the water at racing speed, the boat leaping to the impulsion of the sailorman's strongest motives, curiosity and the hope of saving a life.
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