فصل 12

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فصل 12

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Twelve

I The meal was over.

Mr. Justice Wargrave cleared his throat. He said in a small authoritative voice: “It would be advisable, I think, if we met to discuss the situation. Shall we say in half an hour’s time in the drawing room?” Every one made a sound suggestive of agreement.

Vera began to pile plates together.

She said:

“I’ll clear away and wash up.”

Philip Lombard said:

“We’ll bring the stuff out to the pantry for you.”

“Thanks.”

Emily Brent, rising to her feet sat down again. She said:

“Oh dear.”

The judge said:

“Anything the matter, Miss Brent?”

Emily said apologetically:

“I’m sorry. I’d like to help Miss Claythorne, but I don’t know how it is. I feel just a little giddy.” “Giddy, eh?” Dr. Armstrong came towards her. “Quite natural. Delayed shock. I can give you something to—” “No!”

The word burst from her lips like an exploding shell.

It took every one aback. Dr. Armstrong flushed a deep red.

There was no mistaking the fear and suspicion in her face. He said stiffly: “Just as you please, Miss Brent.”

She said:

“I don’t wish to take anything—anything at all. I will just sit here quietly till the giddiness passes off.” They finished clearing away the breakfast things.

Blore said:

“I’m a domestic sort of man. I’ll give you a hand, Miss Claythorne.” Vera said: “Thank you.”

Emily Brent was left alone sitting in the dining room.

For a while she heard a faint murmur of voices from the pantry.

The giddiness was passing. She felt drowsy now, as though she could easily go to sleep.

There was a buzzing in her ears—or was it a real buzzing in the room?

She thought:

“It’s like a bee—a bumble bee.”

Presently she saw the bee. It was crawling up the windowpane.

Vera Claythorne had talked about bees this morning.

Bees and honey….

She liked honey. Honey in the comb, and strain it yourself through a muslin bag. Drip, drip, drip….

There was somebody in the room … somebody all wet and dripping …Beatrice Taylor come from the river.… She had only to turn her head and she would see her.

But she couldn’t turn her head….

If she were to call out….

But she couldn’t call out….

There was no one else in the house. She was all alone….

She heard footsteps—soft dragging footsteps coming up behind her. The stumbling footsteps of the drowned girl….

There was a wet dank smell in her nostrils….

On the windowpane the bee was buzzing—buzzing….

And then she felt the prick.

The bee sting on the side of her neck….

II

In the drawing room they were waiting for Emily Brent.

Vera Claythorne said:

“Shall I go and fetch her?”

Blore said quickly:

“Just a minute.”

Vera sat down again. Every one looked inquiringly at Blore. He said:

“Look here, everybody, my opinion’s this: we needn’t look farther for the author of these deaths than the dining room at this minute. I’d take my oath that woman’s the one we’re after!” Armstrong said:

“And the motive?”

“Religious mania. What do you say, doctor?”

Armstrong said:

“It’s perfectly possible. I’ve nothing to say against it. But of course we’ve no proof.” Vera said:

“She was very odd in the kitchen when we were getting breakfast. Her eyes—” She shivered.

Lombard said:

“You can’t judge her by that. We’re all a bit off our heads by now!” Blore said:

“There’s another thing. She’s the only one who wouldn’t give an explanation after that gramophone record. Why? Because she hadn’t any to give.” Vera stirred in her chair. She said:

“That’s not quite true. She told me—afterwards.”

Wargrave said:

“What did she tell you, Miss Claythorne?”

Vera repeated the story of Beatrice Taylor.

Mr. Justice Wargrave observed:

“A perfectly straightforward story. I personally should have no difficulty in accepting it. Tell me, Miss Claythorne, did she appear to be troubled by a sense of guilt or a feeling of remorse for her attitude in the matter?” “None whatever,” said Vera. “She was completely unmoved.”

Blore said:

“Hearts as hard as flints, these righteous spinsters! Envy, mostly!”

Mr. Justice Wargrave said:

“It is now five minutes to eleven. I think we should summon Miss Brent to join our conclave.” Blore said:

“Aren’t you going to take any action?”

The judge said:

“I fail to see what action we can take. Our suspicions are, at the moment, only suspicions. I will, however, ask Dr. Armstrong to observe Miss Brent’s demeanour very carefully. Let us now go into the dining room.” They found Emily Brent sitting in the chair in which they had left her. From behind they saw nothing amiss, except that she did not seem to hear their entrance into the room.

And then they saw her face—suffused with blood, with blue lips and starting eyes.

Blore said:

“My God, she’s dead!”

III

The small quiet voice of Mr. Justice Wargrave said:

“One more of us acquitted—too late!”

Armstrong was bent over the dead woman. He sniffed the lips, shook his head, peered into the eyelids.

Lombard said impatiently:

“How did she die, doctor? She was all right when we left her here!”

Armstrong’s attention was riveted on a mark on the right side of the neck.

He said:

“That’s the mark of a hypodermic syringe.”

There was a buzzing sound from the window. Vera cried:

“Look—a bee—a bumble bee. Remember what I said this morning!”

Armstrong said grimly:

“It wasn’t that bee that stung her! A human hand held the syringe.”

The judge asked:

“What poison was injected?”

Armstrong answered:

“At a guess, one of the cyanides. Probably potassium cyanide, same as Anthony Marston. She must have died almost immediately by asphyxiation.” Vera cried:

“But that bee? It can’t be coincidence?”

Lombard said grimly:

“Oh no, it isn’t coincidence! It’s our murderer’s touch of local colour! He’s a playful beast. Likes to stick to his damnable nursery jingle as closely as possible!” For the first time his voice was uneven, almost shrill. It was as though even his nerves, seasoned by a long career of hazards and dangerous undertakings, had given out at last.

He said violently:

“It’s mad!—absolutely mad—we’re all mad!”

The judge said calmly:

“We have still, I hope, our reasoning powers. Did any one bring a hypodermic syringe to this house?” Dr. Armstrong, straightening himself, said in a voice that was not too well assured: “Yes, I did.”

Four pairs of eyes fastened on him. He braced himself against the deep hostile suspicion of those eyes. He said: “Always travel with one. Most doctors do.”

Mr. Justice Wargrave said calmly:

“Quite so. Will you tell us, doctor, where that syringe is now?”

“In the suitcase in my room.”

Wargrave said:

“We might, perhaps, verify that fact.”

The five of them went upstairs, a silent procession.

The contents of the suitcase were turned out on the floor.

The hypodermic syringe was not there.

IV

Armstrong said violently:

“Somebody must have taken it!”

There was silence in the room.

Armstrong stood with his back to the window. Four pairs of eyes were on him, black with suspicion and accusation. He looked from Wargrave to Vera and repeated helplessly—weakly: “I tell you someone must have taken it.”

Blore was looking at Lombard who returned his gaze.

The judge said:

“There are five of us here in this room. One of us is a murderer. The position is fraught with grave danger. Everything must be done in order to safeguard the four of us who are innocent. I will now ask you, Dr. Armstrong, what drugs you have in your possession.” Armstrong replied:

“I have a small medicine case here. You can examine it. You will find some sleeping stuff—trional and sulphonal tablets—a packet of bromide, bicarbonate of soda, aspirin. Nothing else. I have no cyanide in my possession.” The judge said:

“I have, myself, some sleeping tablets—sulphonal, I think they are. I presume they would be lethal if a sufficiently large dose were given. You, Mr. Lombard, have in your possession a revolver.” Philip Lombard said sharply:

“What if I have?”

“Only this. I propose that the doctor’s supply of drugs, my own sulphonal tablets, your revolver and anything else of the nature of drugs or firearms should be collected together and placed in a safe place. That after this is done, we should each of us submit to a search—both of our persons and of our effects.” Lombard said:

“I’m damned if I’ll give up my revolver!”

Wargrave said sharply:

“Mr. Lombard, you are a very strongly built and powerful young man, but ex-Inspector Blore is also a man of powerful physique. I do not know what the outcome of a struggle between you would be but I can tell you this. On Blore’s side, assisting him to the best of our ability will be myself, Dr. Armstrong and Miss Claythorne. You will appreciate therefore, that the odds against you if you choose to resist will be somewhat heavy.” Lombard threw his head back. His teeth showed in what was almost a snarl.

“Oh, very well, then. Since you’ve got it all taped out.”

Mr. Justice Wargrave nodded his head.

“You are a sensible young man. Where is this revolver of yours?”

“In the drawer of the table by my bed.”

“Good.”

“I’ll fetch it.”

“I think it would be desirable if we went with you.”

Philip said with a smile that was still nearer a snarl:

“Suspicious devil, aren’t you?”

They went along the corridor to Lombard’s room.

Philip strode across to the bed table and jerked open the drawer.

Then he recoiled with an oath.

The drawer of the bed table was empty.

V “Satisfied?” asked Lombard.

He had stripped to the skin and he and his room had been meticulously searched by the other three men. Vera Claythorne was outside in the corridor.

The search proceeded methodically. In turn, Armstrong, the judge, and Blore submitted to the same test.

The four men emerged from Blore’s room and approached Vera. It was the judge who spoke.

“I hope you will understand, Miss Claythorne, that we can make no exceptions. That revolver must be found. You have, I presume, a bathing dress with you?” Vera nodded.

“Then I will ask you to go into your room and put it on and then come out to us here.” Vera went into her room and shut the door. She reappeared in under a minute dressed in a tight-fitting silk rucked bathing dress.

Wargrave nodded approval.

“Thank you, Miss Claythorne. Now if you will remain here, we will search your room.” Vera waited patiently in the corridor until they emerged. Then she went in, dressed, and came out to where they were waiting.

The judge said:

“We are now assured of one thing. There are no lethal weapons or drugs in the possession of any of us five. That is one point to the good. We will now place the drugs in a safe place. There is, I think, a silver chest, is there not, in the pantry?” Blore said:

“That’s all very well, but who’s to have the key? You, I suppose.” Mr. Justice Wargrave made no reply.

He went down to the pantry and the others followed him. There was a small case there designed for the purpose of holding silver and plate. By the judge’s directions, the various drugs were placed in this and it was locked. Then, still on Wargrave’s instructions, the chest was lifted into the plate cupboard and this in turn was locked. The judge then gave the key of the chest to Philip Lombard and the key of the cupboard to Blore.

He said:

“You two are the strongest physically. It would be difficult for either of you to get the key from the other. It would be impossible for any of us three to do so. To break open the cupboard—or the plate chest—would be a noisy and cumbersome proceeding and one which could hardly be carried out without attention being attracted to what was going on.” He paused, then went on:

“We are still faced by one very grave problem. What has become of Mr. Lombard’s revolver?” Blore said:

“Seems to me its owner is the most likely person to know that.”

A white dint showed in Philip Lombard’s nostrils. He said:

“You damned pig-headed fool! I tell you it’s been stolen from me!”

Wargrave asked:

“When did you see it last?”

“Last night. It was in the drawer when I went to bed—ready in case anything happened.” The judge nodded.

He said:

“It must have been taken this morning during the confusion of searching for Rogers or after his dead body was discovered.” Vera said:

“It must be hidden somewhere about the house. We must look for it.”

Mr. Justice Wargrave’s finger was stroking his chin. He said:

“I doubt if our search will result in anything. Our murderer has had plenty of time to devise a hiding place. I do not fancy we shall find that revolver easily.” Blore said forcefully:

“I don’t know where the revolver is, but I’ll bet I know where something else is—that hypodermic syringe. Follow me.” He opened the front door and led the way round the house.

A little distance away from the dining room window he found the syringe. Beside it was a smashed china figure—a sixth broken soldier boy.

Blore said in a satisfied voice:

“Only place it could be. After he’d killed her, he opened the window and threw out the syringe and picked up the china figure from the table and followed on with that.” There were no prints on the syringe. It had been carefully wiped.

Vera said in a determined voice:

“Now let us look for the revolver.”

Mr. Justice Wargrave said:

“By all means. But in doing so let us be careful to keep together. Remember, if we separate, the murderer gets his chance.” They searched the house carefully from attic to cellars, but without result. The revolver was still missing.

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