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The Mystery

The Corrosive
That evening I smoked in a splendid isolation while the men whispered apart. I had
nothing to do but smoke, and to chew my cud, which was bitter. There could be no doubt,
however I may have saved my face, that command had been taken from me by that
rascal, Handy Solomon. I was in two minds as to whether or not I should attempt to warn
Darrow or the doctor. Yet what could I say? and against whom should I warn them? The
men had grumbled, as men always do grumble in idleness, and had perhaps talked a little
wildly; but that was nothing.
The only indisputable fact I could adduce was that I had allowed my authority to slip
through my fingers. And adequately to excuse that, I should have to confess that I was a
writer and no handler of men.
I abandoned the unpleasant train of thought with a snort of disgust, but it had led me to
another. In the joy and uncertainty of living I had practically lost sight of the reason for
my coming. With me it had always been more the adventure than the story; my writing
was a by-product, a utilisation of what life offered me. I had set sail possessed by the sole
idea of ferreting out Dr. Schermerhorn's investigations, but the gradual development of
affairs had ended by absorbing my every faculty. Now, cast into an eddy by my change of
fortunes, the original idea regained its force. I was out of the active government of affairs,
with leisure on my hands, and my thoughts naturally turned with curiosity again to the
laboratory in the valley.
Darrow's "devil fires" were again painting the sky. I had noticed them from time to time,
always with increasing wonder. The men accepted them easily as only one of the
unexplained phenomena of a sailor's experience, but I had not as yet hit on a hypothesis
that suited me. They were not allied to the aurora; they differed radically from the
ordinary volcanic emanations; and scarcely resembled any electrical displays I had ever
seen. The night was cool; the stars bright: I resolved to investigate.
Without further delay I arose to my feet and set off into the darkness. Immediately one of
the group detached himself from the fire and joined me.
"Going for a little walk, sir?" asked Handy Solomon sweetly. "That's quite right and
proper. Nothin' like a little walk to get you fit and right for your bunk."
He held close to my elbow. We got just as far as the stockade in the bed of the arroyo.
The lights we could make out now across the zenith; but owing to the precipitance of the
cliffs, and the rise of the arroyo bed, it was impossible to see more. Handy Solomon felt
the defences carefully.
"A man would think, sir, it was a cannibal island," he observed. "All so tight and tidy-like
here. It would take a ship's guns to batter her down. A man might dig under these here
two gate logs, if no one was against him. Like to try it, sir?"
 
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