فصل 14

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فصل 14

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Fourteen

I They had carried Mr. Justice Wargrave up to his room and laid him on the bed.

Then they had come down again and had stood in the hall looking at each other.

Blore said heavily:

“What do we do now?”

Lombard said briskly:

“Have something to eat. We’ve got to eat, you know.”

Once again they went into the kitchen. Again they opened a tin of tongue. They ate mechanically, almost without tasting.

Vera said:

“I shall never eat tongue again.”

They finished the meal. They sat round the kitchen table staring at each other.

Blore said:

“Only four of us now …Who’ll be the next?”

Armstrong stared. He said, almost mechanically:

“We must be very careful—” and stopped.

Blore nodded.

“That’s what he said … and now he’s dead!”

Armstrong said:

“How did it happen, I wonder?”

Lombard swore. He said:

“A damned clever doublecross! That stuff was planted in Miss Claythorne’s room and it worked just as it was intended to. Everyone dashes up there thinking she’s being murdered. And so—in the confusion—someone—caught the old boy off his guard.” Blore said:

“Why didn’t anyone hear the shot?”

Lombard shook his head.

“Miss Claythorne was screaming, the wind was howling, we were running about and calling out. No, it wouldn’t be heard.” He paused. “But that trick’s not going to work again. He’ll have to try something else next.” Blore said:

“He probably will.”

There was an unpleasant tone in his voice. The two men eyed each other.

Armstrong said:

“Four of us, and we don’t know which….”

Blore said:

“I know….”

Vera said:

“I haven’t the least doubt….”

Armstrong said slowly:

“I suppose I do know really….”

Philip Lombard said:

“I think I’ve got a pretty good idea now….”

Again they all looked at each other….

Vera staggered to her feet. She said:

“I feel awful. I must go to bed … I’m dead beat.”

Lombard said:

“Might as well. No good sitting watching each other.”

Blore said:

“I’ve no objection….”

The doctor murmured:

“The best thing to do—although I doubt if any of us will sleep.”

They moved to the door. Blore said:

“I wonder where that revolver is now?…”

II

They went up the stairs.

The next move was a little like a scene in a farce.

Each one of the four stood with a hand on his or her bedroom door handle. Then, as though at a signal, each one stepped into the room and pulled the door shut. There were sounds of bolts and locks, of the moving of furniture.

Four frightened people were barricaded in until morning.

III

Philip Lombard drew a breath of relief as he turned from adjusting a chair under the door handle.

He strolled across to the dressing table.

By the light of the flickering candle he studied his face curiously.

He said softly to himself:

“Yes, this business has got you rattled all right.”

His sudden wolf-like smile flashed out.

He undressed quickly.

He went over to the bed, placing his wristwatch on the table by the bed.

Then he opened the drawer of the table.

He stood there, staring down at the revolver that was inside it….

IV

Vera Claythorne lay in bed.

The candle still burned beside her.

And yet she could not summon the courage to put it out.

She was afraid of the dark….

She told herself again and again: “You’re all right until morning. Nothing happened last night. Nothing will happen tonight. Nothing can happen. You’re locked and bolted in. No one can come near you….” And she thought suddenly:

“Of course! I can stay here! Stay here locked in! Food doesn’t really matter! I can stay here—safely—till help comes! Even if it’s a day—or two days….” Stay here. Yes, but could she stay here? Hour after hour—with no one to speak to, with nothing to do but think.… She’d begin to think of Cornwall—of Hugo—of—of what she’d said to Cyril.

Horrid whiney little boy, always pestering her….

“Miss Claythorne, why can’t I swim out to the rock? I can. I know I can.” Was it her voice that had answered?

“Of course, you can, Cyril, really. I know that.”

“Can I go then, Miss Claythorne?”

“Well, you see, Cyril, your mother gets so nervous about you. I’ll tell you what. Tomorrow you can swim out to the rock. I’ll talk to your mother on the beach and distract her attention. And then, when she looks for you, there you’ll be standing on the rock waving to her! It will be a surprise!” “Oh, good egg, Miss Claythorne! That will be a lark!”

She’d said it now. Tomorrow! Hugo was going to Newquay. When he came back—it would be all over.

Yes, but supposing it wasn’t? Supposing it went wrong? Cyril might be rescued in time. And then—then he’d say, “Miss Claythorne said I could.” Well, what of it? One must take some risk! If the worst happened she’d brazen it out. “How can you tell such a wicked lie, Cyril? Of course, I never said any such thing!” They’d believe her all right. Cyril often told stories. He was an untruthful child. Cyril would know, of course. But that didn’t matter … and anyway nothing would go wrong. She’d pretend to swim out after him. But she’d arrive too late … Nobody would ever suspect….

Had Hugo suspected? Was that why he had looked at her in that queer far-off way?… Had Hugo known?

Was that why he had gone off after the inquest so hurriedly?

He hadn’t answered the one letter she had written to him….

Hugo.…

Vera turned restlessly in bed. No, no, she mustn’t think of Hugo. It hurt too much! That was all over, over and done with … Hugo must be forgotten.

Why, this evening, had she suddenly felt that Hugo was in the room with her?

She stared up at the ceiling, stared at the big black hook in the middle of the room.

She’d never noticed that hook before.

The seaweed had hung from that.

She shivered as she remembered that cold clammy touch on her neck.

She didn’t like that hook on the ceiling. It drew your eyes, fascinated you … a big black hook….

V Ex-Inspector Blore sat on the side of his bed.

His small eyes, red-rimmed and bloodshot, were alert in the solid mass of his face. He was like a wild boar waiting to charge.

He felt no inclination to sleep.

The menace was coming very near now … Six out of ten!

For all his sagacity, for all his caution and astuteness, the old judge had gone the way of the rest.

Blore snorted with a kind of savage satisfaction.

What was it the old geezer had said?

“We must be very careful….”

Self-righteous smug old hypocrite. Sitting up in court feeling like God Almighty. He’d got his all right … No more being careful for him.

And now there were four of them. The girl, Lombard, Armstrong and himself.

Very soon another of them would go … But it wouldn’t be William Henry Blore. He’d see to that all right.

(But the revolver … What about the revolver? That was the disturbing factor—the revolver!) Blore sat on his bed, his brow furrowed, his little eyes creased and puckered while he pondered the problem of the revolver….

In the silence he could hear the clocks strike downstairs.

Midnight.

He relaxed a little now—even went so far as to lie down on his bed. But he did not undress.

He lay there thinking. Going over the whole business from the beginning, methodically, painstakingly, as he had been wont to do in his police officer days. It was thoroughness that paid in the end.

The candle was burning down. Looking to see if the matches were within easy reach of his hand, he blew it out.

Strangely enough, he found the darkness disquieting. It was as though a thousand age-old fears woke and struggled for supremacy in his brain. Faces floated in the air—the judge’s face crowned with that mockery of grey wool—the cold dead face of Mrs. Rogers—the convulsed purple face of Anthony Marston.

Another face—pale, spectacled, with a small straw-coloured moustache.

A face that he had seen sometime or other—but when? Not on the island. No, much longer ago than that.

Funny that he couldn’t put a name to it … Silly sort of face really—fellow looked a bit of a mug.

Of course!

It came to him with a real shock.

Landor!

Odd to think he’d completely forgotten what Landor looked like. Only yesterday he’d been trying to recall the fellow’s face, and hadn’t been able to.

And now here it was, every feature clear and distinct, as though he had seen it only yesterday.

Landor had had a wife—a thin slip of a woman with a worried face. There’d been a kid, too, a girl about fourteen. For the first time, he wondered what had become of them.

(The revolver. What had become of the revolver? That was much more important.) The more he thought about it the more puzzled he was … He didn’t understand this revolver business.

Somebody in the house had got that revolver….

Downstairs a clock struck one.

Blore’s thoughts were cut short. He sat up on the bed, suddenly alert. For he had heard a sound—a very faint sound—somewhere outside his bedroom door.

There was someone moving about in the darkened house.

The perspiration broke out on his forehead. Who was it, moving secretly and silently along the corridors? Someone who was up to no good, he’d bet that!

Noiselessly, in spite of his heavy build, he dropped off the bed and with two strides was standing by the door listening.

But the sound did not come again. Nevertheless Blore was convinced that he was not mistaken. He had heard a footfall just outside his door. The hair rose slightly on his scalp. He knew fear again….

Someone creeping about stealthily in the night.

He listened—but the sound was not repeated.

And now a new temptation assailed him. He wanted, desperately, to go out and investigate. If he could only see who it was prowling about in the darkness.

But to open his door would be the action of a fool. Very likely that was exactly what the other was waiting for. He might even have meant Blore to hear what he had heard, counting on him coming out to investigate.

Blore stood rigid—listening. He could hear sounds everywhere now, cracks, rustles, mysterious whispers—but his dogged, realistic brain knew them for what they were—the creations of his own heated imagination.

And then suddenly he heard something that was not imagination. Footsteps, very soft, very cautious, but plainly audible to a man listening with all his ears as Blore was listening.

They came softly along the corridor (both Lombard’s and Armstrong’s rooms were farther from the stairhead than his). They passed his door without hesitating or faltering.

And as they did so, Blore made up his mind.

He meant to see who it was! The footsteps had definitely passed his door going to the stairs. Where was the man going?

When Blore acted, he acted quickly, surprisingly so for a man who looked so heavy and slow. He tiptoed back to the bed, slipped matches into his pocket, detached the plug of the electric lamp by his bed and picked it up, winding the flex round it. It was a chromium affair with a heavy ebonite base—a useful weapon.

He sprinted noiselessly across the room, removed the chair from under the door handle and with precaution unlocked and unbolted the door. He stepped out into the corridor. There was a faint sound in the hall below. Blore ran noiselessly in his stockinged feet to the head of the stairs.

At that moment he realized why it was he had heard all these sounds so clearly. The wind had died down completely and the sky must have cleared. There was faint moonlight coming in through the landing window and it illuminated the hall below.

Blore had an instantaneous glimpse of a figure just passing out through the front door.

In the act of running down the stairs in pursuit, he paused.

Once again, he had nearly made a fool of himself! This was a trap, perhaps, to lure him out of the house!

But what the other man didn’t realize was that he had made a mistake, had delivered himself neatly into Blore’s hands.

For, of the three tenanted rooms upstairs, one must now be empty. All that had to be done was to ascertain which!

Blore went swiftly back along the corridor.

He paused first at Dr. Armstrong’s door and tapped. There was no answer.

He waited a minute, then went on to Philip Lombard’s room.

Here the answer came at once.

“Who’s there?”

“It’s Blore. I don’t think Armstrong is in his room. Wait a minute.” He went on to the door at the end of the corridor. Here he tapped again.

“Miss Claythorne. Miss Claythorne.”

Vera’s voice, startled, answered him.

“Who is it? What’s the matter?”

“It’s all right, Miss Claythorne. Wait a minute. I’ll come back.”

He raced back to Lombard’s room. The door opened as he did so. Lombard stood there. He held a candle in his left hand. He had pulled on his trousers over his pyjamas. His right hand rested in the pocket of his pyjama jacket. He said sharply: “What the hell’s all this?”

Blore explained rapidly. Lombard’s eyes lit up.

“Armstrong—eh? So he’s our pigeon!” He moved along to Armstrong’s door. “Sorry, Blore, but I don’t take anything on trust.” He rapped sharply on the panel.

“Armstrong—Armstrong.”

There was no answer.

Lombard dropped to his knees and peered through the keyhole. He inserted his little finger gingerly into the lock.

He said:

“Key’s not in the door on the inside.”

Blore said:

“That means he locked it on the outside and took it with him.”

Philip nodded.

“Ordinary precaution to take. We’ll get him, Blore… This time, we’ll get him! Half a second.” He raced along to Vera’s room.

“Vera.”

“Yes.”

“We’re hunting Armstrong. He’s out of his room. Whatever you do, don’t open your door. Understand?” “Yes, I understand.”

“If Armstrong comes along and says that I’ve been killed, or Blore’s been killed, pay no attention. See? Only open your door if both Blore and I speak to you. Got that?” Vera said:

“Yes. I’m not a complete fool.”

Lombard said:

“Good.”

He joined Blore. He said:

“And now—after him! The hunt’s up!”

Blore said:

“We’d better be careful. He’s got a revolver, remember.”

Philip Lombard racing down the stairs chuckled.

He said:

“That’s where you’re wrong.” He undid the front door, remarking, “Latch pushed back—so he could get in again easily.” He went on:

“I’ve got that revolver!” He took it half out of his pocket as he spoke. “Found it put back in my drawer tonight.” Blore stopped dead on the doorstep. His face changed. Philip Lombard saw it.

“Don’t be a damned fool, Blore! I’m not going to shoot you! Go back and barricade yourself in if you like! I’m off after Armstrong.” He started off into the moonlight. Blore, after a minute’s hesitation, followed him.

He thought to himself:

“I suppose I’m asking for it. After all—”

After all he had tackled criminals armed with revolvers before now. Whatever else he lacked, Blore did not lack courage. Show him the danger and he would tackle it pluckily. He was not afraid of danger in the open, only of danger undefined and tinged with the supernatural.

VI

Vera, left to await results, got up and dressed.

She glanced over once or twice at the door. It was a good solid door. It was both bolted and locked and had an oak chair wedged under the handle.

It could not be broken open by force. Certainly not by Dr. Armstrong. He was not a physically powerful man.

If she were Armstrong intent on murder, it was cunning that she would employ, not force.

She amused herself by reflecting on the means he might employ.

He might, as Philip had suggested, announce that one of the other two men was dead. Or he might possibly pretend to be mortally wounded himself, might drag himself groaning to her door.

There were other possibilities. He might inform her that the house was on fire. More, he might actually set the house on fire … Yes, that would be a possibility. Lure the other two men out of the house, then, having previously laid a trail of petrol, he might set light to it. And she, like an idiot, would remain barricaded in her room until it was too late.

She crossed over to the window. Not too bad. At a pinch one could escape that way. It would mean a drop—but there was a handy flower bed.

She sat down and picking up her diary began to write in it in a clear flowing hand.

One must pass the time.

Suddenly she stiffened to attention. She had heard a sound. It was, she thought, a sound like breaking glass. And it came from somewhere downstairs.

She listened hard, but the sound was not repeated.

She heard, or thought she heard, stealthy sounds of footsteps, the creak of stairs, the rustle of garments—but there was nothing definite and she concluded, as Blore had done earlier, that such sounds had their origin in her own imagination.

But presently she heard sounds of a more concrete nature. People moving about downstairs—the murmur of voices. Then the very decided sound of someone mounting the stairs—doors opening and shutting—feet going up to the attics overhead. More noises from there.

Finally the steps came along the passage. Lombard’s voice said:

“Vera. You all right?”

“Yes. What happened?”

Blore’s voice said:

“Will you let us in?”

Vera went to the door. She removed the chair, unlocked the door and slid back the bolt. She opened the door. The two men were breathing hard, their feet and the bottom of their trousers were soaking wet.

She said again:

“What’s happened?”

Lombard said:

“Armstrong’s disappeared.…”

VII

Vera cried:

“What?”

Lombard said:

“Vanished clean off the island.”

Blore concurred:

“Vanished—that’s the word! Like some damned conjuring trick.”

Vera said impatiently:

“Nonsense! He’s hiding somewhere!”

Blore said:

“No, he isn’t! I tell you, there’s nowhere to hide on this island. It’s as bare as your hand! There’s moonlight outside. As clear as day it is. And he’s not to be found.” Vera said:

“He doubled back to the house.”

Blore said:

“We thought of that. We’ve searched the house, too. You must have heard us. He’s not here, I tell you. He’s gone—clean vanished, vamoosed….” Vera said incredulously:

“I don’t believe it.”

Lombard said:

“It’s true, my dear.”

He paused and then said:

“There’s one other little fact. A pane in the dining room window has been smashed—and there are only three little soldier boys on the table.”

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