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MR. DARROW RECEIVES
"You say the last entry is June 7th?" asked Barnett, as the boat entered the light surf.
"That was the night we saw the last glow, and the big burst from the volcano, wasn't it?"
"The island would have been badly shaken up."
"Not so violently but that the flag-pole stood," said the captain.
"That's true, sir. But there's been a good deal of volcanic gas going. The man's been penned up for four days."
"Give the fellow a chance," growled Trendon. "Air may be all right in the cave. Good water there, too. Says so himself. By Slade's account he's a pretty capable citizen when it comes to looking after himself. Wouldn't wonder if we'd find him fit as a fiddle."
"There was no clue to Ives and McGuire?" asked Barnett presently.
"None." It was the captain who answered.
The gig grated, and the tide being high, they waded to the base of the cliff, Barnett carrying his precious explosives aloft in his arms.
"Here's the spot," said the captain. "See where the water goes in through those crevices."
"Opening at the top, too," said Trendon.
He let out his bellow, roaring Darrow's name.
"I doubt if you could project your voice far into a cave thus blocked," said Captain Parkinson. "We'll try this."
He drew his revolver and fired. The men listened at the crevices of the rock. No sound came from within.
"Your enterprise, Mr. Barnett," said the commander, with a gesture which turned over the conduct of the affair to the torpedo expert.
Barnett examined the rocks with enthusiasm.
"Looks like moderately easy stuff," he observed. "See how the veins run. You could almost blow a design to order in that."
"Yes; but how about bringing down the whole cave?"
"Oh, of course there's always an element of uncertainty when you're dealing with high explosives," admitted the expert. "But unless I'm mistaken, we can chop this out as neat as with an axe."
Dropping his load of cartridges carelessly upon a flat rock which projected from the water, he busied himself in a search along the face of the cliff. Presently, with an "Ah," of satisfaction, he climbed toward a hand's breadth of platform where grew a patch of purple flowers.
"Throw me up a knife, somebody," he called.
"Take notice," said Trendon, good-naturedly, "that I'm the botanist of this expedition."
"Oh, you can have the flowers. All I want is what they grow in."
Loosening a handful of the dry soil, he brought it down and laid it with the explosives. Next he called one of the sailors to "boost" him, and was soon perched on the flat slant of a huge rock which formed, as it were, the keystone to the blockade.
"Let's see," he ruminated. "We want a slow charge for this. One that will exert a widespread pressure without much shattering force. The No. 3, I think."
"How is that, Mr. Barnett?" asked the captain, with lively interest.
"You see, sir," returned the demonstrator, perched high, like a sculptor at work on some heroic masterpiece, "what we want is to split off this rock." He patted the flank of the huge slab. "There's a lovely vein running at an angle inward from where I sit. Split that through, and the rock should roll, of its own weight, away from the entrance. It's held only by the upper projection that runs under the arch here."
"Neat programme," commented Trendon, with a tinge of sardonic scepticism.
"Wait and see," retorted Barnett blithely, for he was in his element now. "I'll appoint you my assistant. Just toss me up that cartridge: the third one on the left."
The surgeon recoiled.
"Supposing you don't catch it?"
"Well, supposing I don't."
"It's dynamite, isn't it?"
"Something of the same nature. Joveite, it's called."
Still the surgeon stared at him. Barnett laughed.
"Oh, you've got the high explosives superstition," he said lightly. "Dynamite don't go off as easy as people think. You could drop that stuff from the cliffhead without danger. Have I got to come down for it?"
With a wry face Trendon tossed up the package. It was deftly caught.
"Now wet that dirt well. Put it in the canvas bag yonder, and send one of the men up with it. I'm going to make a mud pie."
Breaking the package open, he spread the yellow powder in a slightly curving line along the rock. With the mud he capped this over, forming a little arched roof.
"To keep it from blowing away," surmised Trendon.
"No; to make it blow down instead of blowing up."
"Oh, rot!" returned the downright surgeon. "That pound of dirt won't make the shadow of a feather's difference."
"Won't it!" retorted the other. "Curious thing about high explosives. A mud-cap will hold down the force as well as a ton of rock. Wait and see what happens to the rock beneath."
He slid off his perch into the ankle-deep water and waded out to the boat. Here he burrowed for a moment, presently emerging with a box. This he carried gingerly to a convenient rock and opened. First he lifted out some soft padding. A small tin box honey-combed inside came to light. With infinite precaution Barnett picked out an object that looked like a 22- calibre short cartridge, wadded some cotton batten in his hand, set the thing in the wadding, laid it on the rock, carefully returned the small box to the large box and the large box to the boat, took up the cartridge again and waded back to the cliff. They watched him in silence.
"This is the little devil," he said, indicating his delicate burden. "Fulminate of mercury. This is the stuff that'll remove your hand with neatness and despatch. It's the quickest tempered little article in the business. Just give it one hard look and it's off."
"Here," said Trendon, "I resign. From now on I'm a spectator."
Barnett swung the fulminate in his handkerchief and gave it to a sailor to hold. The man dandled it like a new-born infant. Back to his rock went Barnett. Producing some cord, he let down an end.
"Tie the handkerchief on, and get out of the way," he directed.
With painful slowness the man carried out the first part of the order; the latter half he obeyed with sprightly alacrity. Very slowly, very delicately, the expert drew in his dangerous burden. Once a current of air puffed it against the face of the rock, and the operator's head was hastily withdrawn. Nothing happened. Another minute and he had the tiny shell in hand. A fuse was fixed in it and it was shoved under the mud-cap. Barnett stood up.
"Will you kindly order the boat ready, Captain Parkinson?" he called.
The order was given.
"As soon as I light the fuse I will come down and we'll pull out fifty yards. Leave the rest of the Joveite where it is. All ready? Here goes."
He touched a match to the fuse. It caught. For a moment he watched it.
"Going all right," he reported, as he struck the water. "Plenty of time."
Some seventy yards out they rested on their oars. They waited. And waited. And waited.
"It's out," grunted Trendon.
From the face of the cliff puffed a cloud of dust. A thudding report boomed over the water. Just a wisp of whitish-grey smoke arose, and beneath it the great rock, with a gapping seam across its top, rolled majestically outward, sending a shower of spray on all sides, and opening to their eager view a black chasm into the heart of the headland. The experiment had worked out with the accuracy of a geometric problem.
"That's all, sir," Barnett reported officially.
"Magic! Modern magic!" said the captain. He stared at the open door. For the moment the object of the undertaking was forgotten in the wonder of its exact accomplishment.
"Darrow'll think an earthquake's come after him," remarked Trendon.
"Give way," ordered the captain.
The boat grated on the sand. Captain Parkinson would have entered, but Barnett restrained him.
"It's best to wait a minute or two," he advised. "Occasionally slides follow an explosion tardily, and the gases don't always dissipate quickly."
Where they stood they could see but a short way into the cave. Trendon squatted and funnelled his hands to one eye.
"There's fire inside," he said.
In a moment they all saw it, a single, pin-point glow, far back in the blackness, a Cyclopean eye, that swayed as it approached. Alternately it waned and brightened. Suddenly it illuminated the dim lineaments of a face. The face neared them. It joined itself to reality by a very solid pair of shoulders, and a man sauntered into the twilit mouth of the cavern, removed a cigarette from his lips, and gave them greeting.
"Sorry not to have met you at the door," he said, courteously. "It was you that knocked, was it not? Yes? It roused me from my siesta."
They stared at him in silence. He blinked in the light, with unaccustomed eyes.
"You will pardon me for not asking you in at once. Past circumstances have rendered me--well--perhaps suspicious is not too strong a word."
They noticed that he held a revolver in his hand.
Captain Parkinson came forward a step. The host half raised his weapon. Then he dropped it abruptly.
"Navy men!" he said, in an altered voice. "I beg your pardon. I could not see at first. My name is Percy Darrow."
"I am Captain Parkinson of the United States cruiser Wolverine," said the commander. "This is Mr. Barnett, Mr. Darrow. Dr. Trendon, Mr. Darrow."
They shook hands all around.
"Like some damned silly afternoon tea," Trendon said later, in retailing it to the mess. A pause followed.
"Won't you step in, gentlemen?" said Darrow, "May I offer you the makings of a cigarette?"
"Wouldn't you be robbing yourself?" inquired the captain, with a twinkle.
"Oh, you found the diary, then," said Darrow easily. "Rather silly of me to complain so. But really, in conditions like these, tobacco becomes a serious problem."
"So one might imagine," said Trendon drily. He looked closely at Darrow. The man's eyes were light and dancing. From the nostrils two livid lines ran diagonally. Such lines one might make with a hard blue pencil pressed strongly into the flesh. The surgeon moved a little nearer.
"Can you give me any news of my friend Thrackles?" asked Darrow lightly. "Or the esteemed Pulz? Or the scholarly and urbane Robinson of Ethiopian extraction?"
"Dead," said the captain.
"Ah, a pity," said the other. He put his hand to his forehead. "I had thought it probable." His face twitched. "Dead? Very good. In fact ... really ... er ... amusing."
He began to laugh, quite to himself. It was not a pleasant laugh to hear. Trendon caught and shook him by the shoulder.
"Drop it," he said.
Darrow seemed not to hear him. "Dead, all dead!" he repeated. "And I've outlasted 'em! God damn 'em, I've outlasted 'em!" And his mirth broke forth in a strangely shocking spasm.
Trendon lifted a hand and struck him so powerfully between the shoulder blades that he all but plunged forward on his face.
"Quit it!" he ordered again. "Get hold of yourself!"
Darrow turned and gripped him. The surgeon winced with the pain of his grasp. "I can't," gasped the maroon, between paroxysms. "I've been living in hell. A black, shaking, shivering hell, for God knows how long.... What do you know? Have you ever been buried alive?" And again the agony of laughter shook him.
"This, then," muttered the doctor, and the hypodermic needle shot home.
During the return Darrow lay like a log in the bottom of the gig. The opiate had done its work. Consciousness was mercifully dead within him.
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