فصل 10

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فصل 10

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Ten

I Do you believe it?” Vera asked.

She and Philip Lombard sat on the windowsill of the living room. Outside the rain poured down and the wind howled in great shuddering gusts against the windowpanes.

Philip Lombard cocked his head slightly on one side before answering. Then he said: “You mean, do I believe that old Wargrave is right when he says it’s one of us?” “Yes.”

Philip Lombard said slowly:

“It’s difficult to say. Logically, you know, he’s right, and yet—” Vera took the words out of his mouth.

“And yet it seems so incredible!”

Philip Lombard made a grimace.

“The whole thing’s incredible! But after Macarthur’s death there’s no more doubt as to one thing. There’s no question now of accidents or suicides. It’s definitely murder. Three murders up to date.” Vera shivered. She said:

“It’s like some awful dream. I keep feeling that things like this can’t happen!” He said with understanding:

“I know. Presently a tap will come on the door, and early morning tea will be brought in.” Vera said:

“Oh, how I wish that could happen!”

Philip Lombard said gravely:

“Yes, but it won’t! We’re all in the dream! And we’ve got to be pretty much upon our guard from now on.” Vera said, lowering her voice:

“If—if it is one of them—which do you think it is?”

Philip Lombard grinned suddenly. He said:

“I take it you are excepting our two selves? Well, that’s all right. I know very well that I’m not the murderer, and I don’t fancy that there’s anything insane about you, Vera. You strike me as being one of the sanest and most levelheaded girls I’ve come across. I’d stake my reputation on your sanity.” With a slightly wry smile, Vera said:

“Thank you.”

He said: “Come now, Miss Vera Claythorne, aren’t you going to return the compliment?” Vera hesitated a minute, then she said:

“You’ve admitted, you know, that you don’t hold human life particularly sacred, but all the same I can’t see you as—as the man who dictated that gramophone record.” Lombard said:

“Quite right. If I were to commit one or more murders it would be solely for what I could get out of them. This mass clearance isn’t my line of country. Good, then we’ll eliminate ourselves and concentrate on our five fellow prisoners. Which of them is U. N. Owen. Well, at a guess, and with absolutely nothing to go upon, I’d plump for Wargrave!” “Oh!” Vera sounded surprised. She thought a minute or two and then said, “Why?” “Hard to say exactly. But to begin with, he’s an old man and he’s been presiding over courts of law for years. That is to say, he’s played God Almighty for a good many months every year. That must go to a man’s head eventually. He gets to see himself as all powerful, as holding the power of life and death—and it’s possible that his brain might snap and he might want to go one step farther and be Executioner and Judge Extraordinary.” Vera said slowly:

“Yes, I suppose that’s possible.…”

Lombard said:

“Who do you plump for?”

Without any hesitation Vera answered:

“Dr. Armstrong.”

Lombard gave a low whistle.

“The doctor, eh? You know, I should have put him last of all.”

Vera shook her head.

“Oh no! Two of the deaths have been poison. That rather points to a doctor. And then you can’t get over the fact that the only thing we are absolutely certain Mrs. Rogers had was the sleeping draught that he gave her.” Lombard admitted:

“Yes, that’s true.”

Vera persisted:

“If a doctor went mad, it would be a long time before any one suspected. And doctors overwork and have a lot of strain.” Philip Lombard said:

“Yes, but I doubt if he could have killed Macarthur. He wouldn’t have had time during that brief interval when I left him—not, that is, unless he fairly hared down there and back again, and I doubt if he’s in good enough training to do that and show no signs of it.” Vera said:

“He didn’t do it then. He had an opportunity later.”

“When?”

“When he went down to call the General to lunch.”

Philip whistled again very softly. He said:

“So you think he did it then? Pretty cool thing to do.”

Vera said impatiently:

“What risk was there? He’s the only person here with medical knowledge. He can swear the body’s been dead at least an hour and who’s to contradict him?” Philip looked at her thoughtfully.

“You know,” he said, “that’s a clever idea of yours. I wonder—” II

“Who is it, Mr. Blore? That’s what I want to know. Who is it?”

Rogers’ face was working. His hands were clenched round the polishing leather that he held in his hand.

Ex-Inspector Blore said:

“Eh, my lad, that’s the question!”

“One of us, ’is lordship said. Which one? That’s what I want to know. Who’s the fiend in ’uman form?” “That,” said Blore, “is what we all would like to know.”

Rogers said shrewdly:

“But you’ve got an idea, Mr. Blore. You’ve got an idea, ’aven’t you?” “I may have an idea,” said Blore slowly. “But that’s a long way from being sure. I may be wrong. All I can say is that if I’m right the person in question is a very cool customer—a very cool customer indeed.” Rogers wiped the perspiration from his forehead. He said hoarsely:

“It’s like a bad dream, that’s what it is.”

Blore said, looking at him curiously:

“Got any ideas yourself, Rogers?”

The butler shook his head. He said hoarsely:

“I don’t know. I don’t know at all. And that’s what’s frightening the life out of me. To have no idea….” III

Dr. Armstrong said violently:

“We must get out of here—we must—we must! At all costs!”

Mr. Justice Wargrave looked thoughtfully out of the smoking room window. He played with the cord of his eyeglasses. He said: “I do not, of course, profess to be a weather prophet. But I should say that it is very unlikely that a boat could reach us—even if they knew of our plight—in under twenty-four hours—and even then only if the wind drops.” Dr. Armstrong dropped his head in his hands and groaned.

He said:

“And in the meantime we may all be murdered in our beds?”

“I hope not,” said Mr. Justice Wargrave. “I intend to take every possible precaution against such a thing happening.” It flashed across Dr. Armstrong’s mind that an old man like the judge was far more tenacious of life than a younger man would be. He had often marvelled at that fact in his professional career. Here was he, junior to the judge by perhaps twenty years, and yet with a vastly inferior sense of self-preservation.

Mr. Justice Wargrave was thinking:

“Murdered in our beds! These doctors are all the same—they think in clichés. A thoroughly commonplace mind.” The doctor said:

“There have been three victims already, remember.”

“Certainly. But you must remember that they were unprepared for the attack. We are forewarned.” Dr. Armstrong said bitterly:

“What can we do? Sooner or later—”

“I think,” said Mr. Justice Wargrave, “that there are several things we can do.” Armstrong said:

“We’ve no idea, even, who it can be—”

The judge stroked his chin and murmured:

“Oh, you know, I wouldn’t quite say that.”

Armstrong stared at him.

“Do you mean you know?”

Mr. Justice Wargrave said cautiously:

“As regards actual evidence, such as is necessary in court, I admit that I have none. But it appears to me, reviewing the whole business, that one particular person is sufficiently clearly indicated. Yes, I think so.” Armstrong stared at him.

He said:

“I don’t understand.”

IV

Miss Brent was upstairs in her bedroom.

She took up her Bible and went to sit by the window.

She opened it. Then, after a minute’s hesitation, she set it aside and went over to the dressing table. From a drawer in it she took out a small black-covered notebook.

She opened it and began writing.

“A terrible thing has happened. General Macarthur is dead. (His cousin married Elsie MacPherson.) There is no doubt but that he was murdered. After luncheon the judge made us a most interesting speech. He is convinced that the murderer is one of us. That means that one of us is possessed by a devil. I had already suspected that. Which of us is it? They are all asking themselves that. I alone know….” She sat for some time without moving. Her eyes grew vague and filmy. The pencil straggled drunkenly in her fingers. In shaking loose capitals she wrote: THE MURDERER’S NAME IS BEATRICE TAYLOR….

Her eyes closed.

Suddenly, with a start, she awoke. She looked down at the notebook. With an angry exclamation she scored through the vague unevenly scrawled characters of the last sentence.

She said in a low voice:

“Did I write that? Did I? I must be going mad….”

V The storm increased. The wind howled against the side of the house.

Everyone was in the living room. They sat listlessly huddled together. And, surreptitiously, they watched each other.

When Rogers brought in the tea tray, they all jumped. He said:

“Shall I draw the curtains? It would make it more cheerful like.”

Receiving an assent to this, the curtains were drawn and the lamps turned on. The room grew more cheerful. A little of the shadow lifted. Surely, by tomorrow, the storm would be over and someone would come—a boat would arrive….

Vera Claythorne said:

“Will you pour out tea, Miss Brent?”

The elder woman replied:

“No, you do it, dear. That teapot is so heavy. And I have lost two skeins of my grey knitting wool. So annoying.” Vera moved to the tea table. There was a cheerful rattle and clink of china. Normality returned.

Tea! Bless ordinary everyday afternoon tea! Philip Lombard made a cheery remark. Blore responded. Dr. Armstrong told a humorous story. Mr. Justice Wargrave, who ordinarily hated tea, sipped approvingly.

Into this relaxed atmosphere came Rogers.

And Rogers was upset. He said nervously and at random:

“Excuse me, sir, but does any one know what’s become of the bathroom curtain?” Lombard’s head went up with a jerk.

“The bathroom curtain? What the devil do you mean, Rogers?”

“It’s gone, sir, clean vanished. I was going round drawing all the curtains and the one in the lav—bathroom wasn’t there any longer.” Mr. Justice Wargrave asked:

“Was it there this morning?”

“Oh yes, sir.”

Blore said:

“What kind of a curtain was it?”

“Scarlet oilsilk, sir. It went with the scarlet tiles.”

Lombard said:

“And it’s gone?”

“Gone, sir.”

They stared at each other.

Blore said heavily:

“Well—after all—what of it? It’s mad—but so’s everything else. Anyway it doesn’t matter. You can’t kill anybody with an oilsilk curtain. Forget about it.” Rogers said:

“Yes, sir, thank you, sir.”

He went out shutting the door behind him.

Inside the room, the pall of fear had fallen anew.

Again, surreptitiously, they watched each other.

VI

Dinner came, was eaten, and cleared away. A simple meal, mostly out of tins.

Afterwards, in the living room, the strain was almost too great to be borne.

At nine o’clock, Emily Brent rose to her feet.

She said:

“I’m going to bed.”

Vera said:

“I’ll go to bed too.”

The two women went up the stairs and Lombard and Blore came with them. Standing at the top of the stairs, the two men watched the women go into their respective rooms and shut the doors. They heard the sound of two bolts being shot and the turning of two keys.

Blore said with a grin:

“No need to tell ’em to lock their doors!”

Lombard said:

“Well, they’re all right for the night, at any rate!”

He went down again and the other followed him.

VII

The four men went to bed an hour later. They went up together. Rogers, from the dining room where he was setting the table for breakfast, saw them go up. He heard them pause on the landing above.

Then the judge’s voice spoke.

“I need hardly advise you, gentlemen, to lock your doors.”

Blore said:

“And what’s more, put a chair under the handle. There are ways of turning locks from the outside.” Lombard murmured:

“My dear Blore, the trouble with you is you know too much!”

The judge said gravely:

“Good night, gentlemen. May we all meet safely in the morning!”

Rogers came out of the dining room and slipped halfway up the stairs. He saw four figures pass through four doors and heard the turning of four locks and the shooting of four bolts.

He nodded his head.

“That’s all right,” he muttered.

He went back into the dining room. Yes, everything was ready for the morning. His eye lingered on the centre plaque of looking glass and the seven little china figures.

A sudden grin transformed his face.

He murmured:

“I’ll see no one plays tricks tonight, at any rate.”

Crossing the room he locked the door to the pantry. Then going through the other door to the hall he pulled the door to, locked it and slipped the key into his pocket.

Then, extinguishing the lights, he hurried up the stairs and into his new bedroom.

There was only one possible hiding place in it, the tall wardrobe, and he looked into that immediately. Then, locking and bolting the door, he prepared for bed.

He said to himself:

“No more china-soldier tricks tonight. I’ve seen to that….”

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