فصل 11

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فصل 11

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Eleven

I Philip Lombard had the habit of waking at daybreak. He did so on this particular morning. He raised himself on an elbow and listened. The wind had somewhat abated but was still blowing. He could hear no sound of rain….

At eight o’clock the wind was blowing more strongly, but Lombard did not hear it. He was asleep again.

At nine-thirty he was sitting on the edge of his bed looking at his watch. He put it to his ear. Then his lips drew back from his teeth in that curious wolf-like smile characteristic of the man.

He said very softly:

“I think the time has come to do something about this.”

At twenty-five minutes to ten he was tapping on the closed door of Blore’s room.

The latter opened it cautiously. His hair was tousled and his eyes were still dim with sleep.

Philip Lombard said affably:

“Sleeping the clock round? Well, shows you’ve got an easy conscience.” Blore said shortly:

“What’s the matter?”

Lombard answered:

“Anybody called you—or brought you any tea? Do you know what time it is?” Blore looked over his shoulder at a small travelling clock by his bedside.

He said:

“Twenty-five to ten. Wouldn’t have believed I could have slept like that. Where’s Rogers?” Philip Lombard said:

“It’s a case of echo answers where.”

“What d’you mean?” asked the other sharply.

Lombard said:

“I mean that Rogers is missing. He isn’t in his room or anywhere else. And there’s no kettle on and the kitchen fire isn’t even lit.” Blore swore under his breath. He said:

“Where the devil can he be? Out on the island somewhere? Wait till I get some clothes on. See if the others know anything.” Philip Lombard nodded. He moved along the line of closed doors.

He found Armstrong up and nearly dressed. Mr. Justice Wargrave, like Blore, had to be roused from sleep. Vera Claythorne was dressed. Emily Brent’s room was empty.

The little party moved through the house. Rogers’ room, as Philip Lombard had already ascertained, was untenanted. The bed had been slept in, and his razor and sponge and soap were wet.

Lombard said:

“He got up all right.”

Vera said in a low voice which she tried to make firm and assured:

“You don’t think he’s—hiding somewhere—waiting for us?”

Lombard said:

“My dear girl, I’m prepared to think anything of anyone! My advice is that we keep together until we find him.” Armstrong said:

“He must be out on the island somewhere.”

Blore, who had joined them, dressed, but still unshaved, said:

“Where’s Miss Brent got to—that’s another mystery?”

But as they arrived in the hall, Emily Brent came in through the front door. She had on a mackintosh. She said: “The sea is as high as ever. I shouldn’t think any boat could put out today.” Blore said:

“Have you been wandering about the island alone, Miss Brent? Don’t you realize that that’s an exceedingly foolish thing to do?” Emily Brent said:

“I assure you, Mr. Blore, that I kept an extremely sharp look out.”

Blore grunted. He said:

“Seen anything of Rogers?”

Miss Brent’s eyebrows rose.

“Rogers? No, I haven’t seen him this morning. Why?”

Mr. Justice Wargrave, shaved, dressed and with his false teeth in position, came down the stairs. He moved to the open dining room door. He said: “Ha, laid the table for breakfast, I see.”

Lombard said:

“He might have done that last night.”

They all moved inside the room, looking at the neatly set plates and cutlery. At the row of cups on the sideboard. At the felt mats placed ready for the coffee urn.

It was Vera who saw it first. She caught the judge’s arm and the grip of her athletic fingers made the old gentleman wince.

She cried out:

“The soldiers! Look!”

There were only six china figures in the middle of the table.

II

They found him shortly afterwards.

He was in the little washhouse across the yard. He had been chopping sticks in preparation for lighting the kitchen fire. The small chopper was still in his hand. A bigger chopper, a heavy affair, was leaning against the door—the metal of it stained a dull brown. It corresponded only too well with the deep wound in the back of Rogers’ head….

III

“Perfectly clear,” said Armstrong. “The murderer must have crept up behind him, swung the chopper once and brought it down on his head as he was bending over.” Blore was busy on the handle of the chopper and the flour sifter from the kitchen.

Mr. Justice Wargrave asked:

“Would it have needed great force, doctor?”

Armstrong said gravely:

“A woman could have done it if that’s what you mean.” He gave a quick glance around. Vera Claythorne and Emily Brent had retired to the kitchen. “The girl could have done it easily—she’s an athletic type. In appearance Miss Brent is fragile-looking, but that type of woman has often a lot of wiry strength. And you must remember that anyone who’s mentally unhinged has a good deal of unsuspected strength.” The judge nodded thoughtfully.

Blore rose to his knees with a sigh. He said:

“No fingerprints. Handle was wiped afterwards.”

A sound of laughter was heard—they turned sharply. Vera Claythorne was standing in the yard. She cried out in a high shrill voice, shaken with wild bursts of laughter: “Do they keep bees on this island? Tell me that. Where do we go for honey? Ha! ha!” They stared at her uncomprehendingly. It was as though the sane well-balanced girl had gone mad before their eyes. She went on in that high unnatural voice: “Don’t stare like that! As though you thought I was mad. It’s sane enough what I’m asking. Bees, hives, bees! Oh, don’t you understand? Haven’t you read that idiotic rhyme? It’s up in all your bedrooms—put there for you to study! We might have come here straightaway if we’d had sense. Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks. And the next verse. I know the whole thing by heart, I tell you! Six little soldier boys playing with a hive. And that’s why I’m asking—do they keep bees on this island?—isn’t it funny?—isn’t it damned funny …?” She began laughing wildly again. Dr. Armstrong strode forward. He raised his hand and struck her a flat blow on the cheek.

She gasped, hiccupped—and swallowed. She stood motionless a minute, then she said: “Thank you … I’m all right now.”

Her voice was once more calm and controlled—the voice of the efficient games mistress.

She turned and went across the yard into the kitchen saying: “Miss Brent and I are getting you breakfast. Can you—bring some sticks to light the fire?” The marks of the doctor’s hand stood out red on her cheek.

As she went into the kitchen Blore said:

“Well, you dealt with that all right, doctor.”

Armstrong said apologetically:

“Had to! We can’t cope with hysteria on the top of everything else.” Philip Lombard said:

“She’s not a hysterical type.”

Armstrong agreed.

“Oh no. Good healthy sensible girl. Just the sudden shock. It might happen to anybody.” Rogers had chopped a certain amount of firewood before he had been killed. They gathered it up and took it into the kitchen. Vera and Emily Brent were busy, Miss Brent was raking out the stove. Vera was cutting the rind off the bacon.

Emily Brent said:

“Thank you. We’ll be as quick as we can—say half an hour to three-quarters. The kettle’s got to boil.” IV

Ex-Inspector Blore said in a low hoarse voice to Philip Lombard:

“Know what I’m thinking?”

Philip Lombard said:

“As you’re just about to tell me, it’s not worth the trouble of guessing.” Ex-Inspector Blore was an earnest man. A light touch was incomprehensible to him. He went on heavily: “There was a case in America. Old gentleman and his wife—both killed with an axe. Middle of the morning. Nobody in the house but the daughter and the maid. Maid, it was proved, couldn’t have done it. Daughter was a respectable middle-aged spinster. Seemed incredible. So incredible that they acquitted her. But they never found any other explanation.” He paused. “I thought of that when I saw the axe—and then when I went into the kitchen and saw her there so neat and calm. Hadn’t turned a hair! That girl, coming all over hysterical—well, that’s natural—the sort of thing you’d expect—don’t you think so?” Philip Lombard said laconically:

“It might be.”

Blore went on.

“But the other! So neat and prim—wrapped up in that apron—Mrs. Rogers’ apron, I suppose—saying: ‘Breakfast will be ready in half an hour or so.’ If you ask me that woman’s as mad as a hatter! Lots of elderly spinsters go that way—I don’t mean go in for homicide on the grand scale, but go queer in their heads. Unfortunately it’s taken her this way. Religious mania—thinks she’s God’s instrument, something of that kind! She sits in her room, you know, reading her Bible.” Philip Lombard sighed and said:

“That’s hardly proof positive of an unbalanced mentality, Blore.”

But Blore went on, ploddingly, perseveringly:

“And then she was out—in her mackintosh, said she’d been down to look at the sea.” The other shook his head.

He said:

“Rogers was killed as he was chopping firewood—that is to say first thing when he got up. The Brent wouldn’t have needed to wander about outside for hours afterwards. If you ask me, the murderer of Rogers would take jolly good care to be rolled up in bed snoring.” Blore said:

“You’re missing the point, Mr. Lombard. If the woman was innocent she’d be too dead scared to go wandering about by herself. She’d only do that if she knew that she had nothing to fear. That’s to say if she herself is the criminal.” Philip Lombard said:

“That’s a good point … yes, I hadn’t thought of that.”

He added with a faint grin:

“Glad you don’t still suspect me.”

Blore said rather shamefacedly:

“I did start by thinking of you—that revolver—and the queer story you told—or didn’t tell. But I’ve realized now that that was really a bit too obvious.” He paused and said: “Hope you feel the same about me.” Philip said thoughtfully:

“I may be wrong, of course, but I can’t feel that you’ve got enough imagination for this job. All I can say is, if you’re the criminal, you’re a damned fine actor and I take my hat off to you.” He lowered his voice. “Just between ourselves, Blore, and taking into account that we’ll probably both be a couple of stiffs before another day is out, you did indulge in that spot of perjury, I suppose?” Blore shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. He said at last:

“Doesn’t seem to make much odds now. Oh well, here goes, Landor was innocent right enough. The gang had got me squared and between us we got him put away for a stretch. Mind you, I wouldn’t admit this—” “If there were any witnesses,” finished Lombard with a grin. “It’s just between you and me. Well, I hope you made a tidy bit out of it.” “Didn’t make what I should have done. Mean crowd, the Purcell gang. I got my promotion, though.” “And Landor got penal servitude and died in prison.”

“I couldn’t know he was going to die, could I?” demanded Blore.

“No, that was your bad luck.”

“Mine? His, you mean.”

“Yours, too. Because, as a result of it, it looks as though your own life is going to be cut unpleasantly short.” “Me?” Blore stared at him. “Do you think I’m going to go the way of Rogers and the rest of them? Not me! I’m watching out for myself pretty carefully, I can tell you.” Lombard said:

“Oh well—I’m not a betting man. And anyway if you were dead I wouldn’t get paid.” “Look here, Mr. Lombard, what do you mean?”

Philip Lombard showed his teeth. He said:

“I mean, my dear Blore, that in my opinion you haven’t got a chance!” “What?”

“Your lack of imagination is going to make you absolutely a sitting target. A criminal of the imagination of U. N. Owen can make rings round you any time he—or she—wants to.” Blore’s face went crimson. He demanded angrily:

“And what about you?”

Philip Lombard’s face went hard and dangerous.

He said:

“I’ve a pretty good imagination of my own. I’ve been in tight places before now and got out of them! I think—I won’t say more than that but I think I’ll get out of this one.” V The eggs were in the frying pan. Vera, toasting bread, thought to herself: “Why did I make a hysterical fool of myself? That was a mistake. Keep calm, my girl, keep calm.” After all, she’d always prided herself on her levelheadedness!

“Miss Claythorne was wonderful—kept her head—started off swimming after Cyril at once.” Why think of that now? All that was over—over … Cyril had disappeared long before she got near the rock. She had felt the current take her, sweeping her out to sea. She had let herself go with it—swimming quietly, floating—till the boat arrived at last….

They had praised her courage and her sangfroid.…

But not Hugo. Hugo had just—looked at her.…

God, how it hurt, even now, to think of Hugo….

Where was he? What was he doing? Was he engaged—married?

Emily Brent said sharply:

“Vera, that toast is burning.”

“Oh sorry, Miss Brent, so it is. How stupid of me.”

Emily Brent lifted out the last egg from the sizzling fat.

Vera, putting a fresh piece of bread on the toasting fork, said curiously: “You’re wonderfully calm, Miss Brent.”

Emily Brent said, pressing her lips together:

“I was brought up to keep my head and never to make a fuss.”

Vera thought mechanically:

“Repressed as a child … That accounts for a lot….”

She said:

“Aren’t you afraid?”

She paused and then added:

“Or don’t you mind dying?”

Dying! It was as though a sharp little gimlet had run into the solid congealed mess of Emily Brent’s brain. Dying? But she wasn’t going to die! The others would die—yes—but not she, Emily Brent. This girl didn’t understand! Emily wasn’t afraid, naturally—none of the Brents were afraid. All her people were Service people. They faced death unflinchingly. They led upright lives just as she, Emily Brent, had led an upright life … She had never done anything to be ashamed of … And so, naturally, she wasn’t going to die….

“The Lord is mindful of his own.” “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day….” It was daylight now—there was no terror. “We shall none of us leave this island.” Who had said that? General Macarthur, of course, whose cousin had married Elsie MacPherson. He hadn’t seemed to care. He had seemed—actually—to welcome the idea! Wicked! Almost impious to feel that way. Some people thought so little of death that they actually took their own lives. Beatrice Taylor… Last night she had dreamed of Beatrice—dreamt that she was outside pressing her face against the window and moaning, asking to be let in. But Emily Brent hadn’t wanted to let her in. Because, if she did, something terrible would happen….

Emily came to herself with a start. That girl was looking at her very strangely. She said in a brisk voice: “Everything’s ready, isn’t it? We’ll take the breakfast in.”

VI

Breakfast was a curious meal. Every one was very polite.

“May I get you some more coffee, Miss Brent?”

“Miss Claythorne, a slice of ham?”

“Another piece of toast?”

Six people, all outwardly self-possessed and normal.

And within? Thoughts that ran round in a circle like squirrels in a cage….

“What next? What next? Who? Which?”

“Would it work? I wonder. It’s worth trying. If there’s time. My God, if there’s time….” “Religious mania, that’s the ticket … Looking at her, though, you can hardly believe it … Suppose I’m wrong….” “It’s crazy—everything’s crazy. I’m going crazy. Wool disappearing—red silk curtains—it doesn’t make sense. I can’t get the hang of it….” “The damned fool, he believed every word I said to him. It was easy … I must be careful, though, very careful.” “Six of those little china figures … only six—how many will there be by tonight? …” “Who’ll have the last egg?”

“Marmalade?”

“Thanks, can I cut you some bread?”

Six people, behaving normally at breakfast….

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