فصل 03

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Three

I Dinner was drawing to a close.

The food had been good, the wine perfect. Rogers waited well.

Every one was in better spirits. They had begun to talk to each other with more freedom and intimacy.

Mr. Justice Wargrave, mellowed by the excellent port, was being amusing in a caustic fashion, Dr. Armstrong and Tony Marston were listening to him. Miss Brent chatted to General Macarthur, they had discovered some mutual friends. Vera Claythorne was asking Mr. Davis intelligent questions about South Africa. Mr. Davis was quite fluent on the subject. Lombard listened to the conversation. Once or twice he looked up quickly, and his eyes narrowed. Now and then his eyes played round the table, studying the others.

Anthony Marston said suddenly:

“Quaint, these things, aren’t they?”

In the centre of the round table, on a circular glass stand, were some little china figures.

“Soldiers,” said Tony. “Soldier Island. I suppose that’s the idea.” Vera leaned forward.

“I wonder. How many are there? Ten?”

“Yes—ten there are.”

Vera cried:

“What fun! They’re the ten little soldier boys of the nursery rhyme, I suppose. In my bedroom the rhyme is framed and hung up over the mantelpiece.” Lombard said:

“In my room, too.”

“And mine.”

“And mine.”

Everybody joined in the chorus. Vera said:

“It’s an amusing idea, isn’t it?”

Mr. Justice Wargrave grunted:

“Remarkably childish,” and helped himself to port.

Emily Brent looked at Vera Claythorne. Vera Claythorne looked at Miss Brent. The two women rose.

In the drawing room the French windows were open on to the terrace and the sound of the sea murmuring against the rocks came up to them.

Emily Brent said, “Pleasant sound.”

Vera said sharply, “I hate it.”

Miss Brent’s eyes looked at her in surprise. Vera flushed. She said, more composedly: “I don’t think this place would be very agreeable in a storm.”

Emily Brent agreed.

“I’ve no doubt the house is shut up in winter,” she said. “You’d never get servants to stay here for one thing.” Vera murmured:

“It must be difficult to get servants anyway.”

Emily Brent said:

“Mrs. Oliver has been lucky to get these two. The woman’s a good cook.” Vera thought:

“Funny how elderly people always get names wrong.”

She said:

“Yes, I think Mrs. Owen has been very lucky indeed.”

Emily Brent had brought a small piece of embroidery out of her bag. Now, as she was about to thread her needle, she paused.

She said sharply:

“Owen? Did you say Owen?”

“Yes.”

Emily Brent said sharply:

“I’ve never met anyone called Owen in my life.”

Vera stared.

“But surely—”

She did not finish her sentence. The door opened and the men joined them. Rogers followed them into the room with the coffee tray.

The judge came and sat down by Emily Brent. Armstrong came up to Vera. Tony Marston strolled to the open window. Blore studied with naïve surprise a statuette in brass—wondering perhaps if its bizarre angularities were really supposed to be the female figure. General Macarthur stood with his back to the mantelpiece. He pulled at his little white moustache. That had been a damned good dinner! His spirits were rising. Lombard turned over the pages of Punch that lay with other papers on a table by the wall.

Rogers went round with the coffee tray. The coffee was good—really black and very hot.

The whole party had dined well. They were satisfied with themselves and with life. The hands of the clock pointed to twenty minutes past nine. There was a silence—a comfortable replete silence.

Into that silence came The Voice. Without warning, inhuman, penetrating….

“Ladies and gentlemen! Silence please!”

Everyone was startled. They looked round—at each other, at the walls. Who was speaking?

The Voice went on—a high clear voice:

“You are charged with the following indictments:

“Edward George Armstrong, that you did upon the 14th day of March, 1925, cause the death of Louisa Mary Clees.

“Emily Caroline Brent, that upon the 5th of November, 1931, you were responsible for the death of Beatrice Taylor.

“William Henry Blore, that you brought about the death of James Stephen Landor on October 10th, 1928.

“Vera Elizabeth Claythorne, that on the 11th day of August, 1935, you killed Cyril Ogilvie Hamilton.

“Philip Lombard, that upon a date in February, 1932, you were guilty of the death of twenty-one men, members of an East African tribe.

“John Gordon Macarthur, that on the 4th of January, 1917, you deliberately sent your wife’s lover, Arthur Richmond, to his death.

“Anthony James Marston, that upon the 14th day of November last, you were guilty of the murder of John and Lucy Combes.

“Thomas Rogers and Ethel Rogers, that on the 6th of May, 1929, you brought about the death of Jennifer Brady.

“Lawrence John Wargrave, that upon the 10th day of June, 1930, you were guilty of the murder of Edward Seton.

“Prisoners at the bar, have you anything to say in your defence?”

II

The voice had stopped.

There was a moment’s petrified silence and then a resounding crash! Rogers had dropped the coffee tray!

At the same moment, from somewhere outside the room there came a scream and the sound of a thud.

Lombard was the first to move. He leapt to the door and flung it open. Outside, lying in a huddled mass, was Mrs. Rogers.

Lombard called:

“Marston.”

Anthony sprang to help him. Between them, they lifted up the woman and carried her into the drawing room.

Dr. Armstrong came across quickly. He helped them to lift her on to the sofa and bent over her. He said quickly: “It’s nothing. She’s fainted, that’s all. She’ll be round in a minute.” Lombard said to Rogers:

“Get some brandy.”

Rogers, his face white, his hands shaking, murmured:

“Yes, sir,” and slipped quickly out of the room.

Vera cried out:

“Who was that speaking? Where was he? It sounded—it sounded—”

General Macarthur spluttered out:

“What’s going on here? What kind of a practical joke was that?”

His hand was shaking. His shoulders sagged. He looked suddenly ten years older.

Blore was mopping his face with a handkerchief.

Only Mr. Justice Wargrave and Miss Brent seemed comparatively unmoved. Emily Brent sat upright, her head held high. In both cheeks was a spot of hard colour. The judge sat in his habitual pose, his head sunk down into his neck. With one hand he gently scratched his ear. Only his eyes were active, darting round and round the room, puzzled, alert with intelligence.

Again it was Lombard who acted. Armstrong being busy with the collapsed woman, Lombard was free once more to take the initiative.

He said:

“That voice? It sounded as though it were in the room.”

Vera cried:

“Who was it? Who was it? It wasn’t one of us.”

Like the judge, Lombard’s eyes wandered slowly round the room. They rested a minute on the open window, then he shook his head decisively. Suddenly his eyes lighted up. He moved forward swiftly to where a door near the fireplace led into an adjoining room.

With a swift gesture, he caught the handle and flung the door open. He passed through and immediately uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.

He said:

“Ah, here we are.”

The others crowded after him. Only Miss Brent remained alone sitting erect in her chair.

Inside the second room a table had been brought up close to the wall which adjoined the drawing room. On the table was a gramophone—an old-fashioned type with a large trumpet attached. The mouth of the trumpet was against the wall, and Lombard, pushing it aside indicated where two or three small holes had been unobtrusively bored through the wall.

Adjusting the gramophone he replaced the needle on the record and immediately they heard again “You are charged with the following indictments—” Vera cried:

“Turn it off! Turn it off! It’s horrible!”

Lombard obeyed.

Dr. Armstrong said, with a sigh of relief:

“A disgraceful and heartless practical joke, I suppose.”

The small clear voice of Mr. Justice Wargrave murmured:

“So you think it’s a joke, do you?”

The doctor stared at him.

“What else could it be?”

The hand of the judge gently stroked his upper lip.

He said:

“At the moment I’m not prepared to give an opinion.”

Anthony Marston broke in. He said:

“Look here, there’s one thing you’ve forgotten. Who the devil turned the thing on and set it going?” Wargrave murmured:

“Yes, I think we must inquire into that.”

He led the way back into the drawing room. The others followed.

Rogers had just come in with a glass of brandy. Miss Brent was bending over the moaning form of Mrs. Rogers.

Adroitly Rogers slipped between the two women.

“Allow me, Madam, I’ll speak to her. Ethel—Ethel—it’s all right. All right, do you hear? Pull yourself together.” Mrs. Rogers’ breath came in quick gasps. Her eyes, staring frightened eyes, went round and round the ring of faces. There was urgency in Rogers’ tone.

“Pull yourself together, Ethel.”

Dr. Armstrong spoke to her soothingly:

“You’ll be all right now, Mrs. Rogers. Just a nasty turn.” She said: “Did I faint, sir?”

“Yes.”

“It was the voice—that awful voice—like a judgment—”

Her face turned green again, her eyelids fluttered.

Dr. Armstrong said sharply:

“Where’s that brandy?”

Rogers had put it down on a little table. Someone handed it to the doctor and he bent over the gasping woman with it.

“Drink this, Mrs. Rogers.”

She drank, choking a little and gasping. The spirit did her good. The colour returned to her face. She said: “I’m all right now. It just—gave me a turn.”

Rogers said quickly:

“Of course it did. It gave me a turn, too. Fair made me drop that tray. Wicked lies, it was! I’d like to know—” He was interrupted. It was only a cough—a dry little cough but it had the effect of stopping him in full cry. He stared at Mr. Justice Wargrave and the latter coughed again. Then he said: “Who put on that record on the gramophone. Was it you, Rogers?”

Rogers cried:

“I didn’t know what it was. Before God, I didn’t know what it was, sir. If I had I’d never have done it.” The judge said dryly:

“That is probably true. But I think you’d better explain, Rogers.”

The butler wiped his face with a handkerchief. He said earnestly:

“I was just obeying orders, sir, that’s all.”

“Whose orders?”

“Mr. Owen’s.”

Mr. Justice Wargrave said:

“Let me get this quite clear. Mr. Owen’s orders were—what exactly?” Rogers said:

“I was to put a record on the gramophone. I’d find the record in the drawer and my wife was to start the gramophone when I’d gone into the drawing room with the coffee tray.” The judge murmured:

“A very remarkable story.”

Rogers cried:

“It’s the truth, sir. I swear to God it’s the truth. I didn’t know what it was—not for a moment. It had a name on it—I thought it was just a piece of music.” Wargrave looked at Lombard.

“Was there a title on it?”

Lombard nodded. He grinned suddenly, showed his white pointed teeth. He said: “Quite right, sir. It was entitled Swan Song.…”

III

General Macarthur broke out suddenly. He exclaimed:

“The whole thing is preposterous—preposterous! Slinging accusations about like this! Something must be done about it. This fellow Owen whoever he is—” Emily Brent interrupted. She said sharply:

“That’s just it, who is he?”

The judge interposed. He spoke with the authority that a lifetime in the courts had given him. He said: “That is exactly what we must go into very carefully. I should suggest that you get your wife to bed first of all, Rogers. Then come back here.” “Yes, sir.”

Dr. Armstrong said:

“I’ll give you a hand, Rogers.”

Leaning on the two men, Mrs. Rogers tottered out of the room. When they had gone Tony Marston said: “Don’t know about you, sir, but I could do with a drink.”

Lombard said:

“I agree.”

Tony said:

“I’ll go and forage.”

He went out of the room.

He returned a second or two later.

“Found them all waiting on a tray outside ready to be brought in.”

He set down his burden carefully. The next minute or two was spent in dispensing drinks. General Macarthur had a stiff whisky and so did the judge. Every one felt the need of a stimulant. Only Emily Brent demanded and obtained a glass of water.

Dr. Armstrong reentered the room.

“She’s all right,” he said. “I’ve given her a sedative to take. What’s that, a drink? I could do with one.” Several of the men refilled their glasses. A moment or two later Rogers reentered the room.

Mr. Justice Wargrave took charge of the proceedings. The room became an impromptu court of law.

The judge said:

“Now then, Rogers, we must get to the bottom of this. Who is this Mr. Owen?” Rogers stared.

“He owns this place, sir.”

“I am aware of that fact. What I want you to tell me is what you yourself know about the man.” Rogers shook his head.

“I can’t say, sir. You see, I’ve never seen him.”

There was a faint stir in the room.

General Macarthur said:

“You’ve never seen him? What d’yer mean?”

“We’ve only been here just under a week, sir, my wife and I. We were engaged by letter, through an agency. The Regina Agency in Plymouth.” Blore nodded.

“Old established firm,” he volunteered.

Wargrave said:

“Have you got that letter?”

“The letter engaging us? No, sir. I didn’t keep it.”

“Go on with your story. You were engaged, as you say, by letter.”

“Yes, sir. We were to arrive on a certain day. We did. Everything was in order here. Plenty of food in stock and everything very nice. Just needed dusting and that.” “What next?”

“Nothing, sir. We got orders—by letter again—to prepare the rooms for a house party, and then yesterday by the afternoon post I got another letter from Mr. Owen. It said he and Mrs. Owen were detained and to do the best we could, and it gave the instructions about dinner and coffee and putting on the gramophone record.” The judge said sharply:

“Surely you’ve got that letter?”

“Yes, sir, I’ve got it here.”

He produced it from a pocket. The judge took it.

“H’m,” he said. “Headed Ritz Hotel and typewritten.”

With a quick movement Blore was beside him.

He said:

“If you’ll just let me have a look.”

He twitched it out of the other’s hand, and ran his eye over it. He murmured: “Coronation machine. Quite new—no defects. Ensign paper—the most widely used make. You won’t get anything out of that. Might be fingerprints, but I doubt it.” Wargrave stared at him with sudden attention.

Anthony Marston was standing beside Blore looking over his shoulder. He said: “Got some fancy Christian names, hasn’t he? Ulick Norman Owen. Quite a mouthful.” The old judge said with a slight start:

“I am obliged to you, Mr. Marston. You have drawn my attention to a curious and suggestive point.” He looked round at the others and thrusting his neck forward like an angry tortoise, he said: “I think the time has come for us all to pool our information. It would be well, I think, for everybody to come forward with all the information they have regarding the owner of this house.” He paused and then went on: “We are all his guests. I think it would be profitable if each one of us were to explain exactly how that came about.” There was a moment’s pause and then Emily Brent spoke with decision.

“There’s something very peculiar about all this,” she said. “I received a letter with a signature that was not very easy to read. It purported to be from a woman I had met at a certain summer resort two or three years ago. I took the name to be either Ogden or Oliver. I am acquainted with a Mrs. Oliver and also with a Miss Ogden. I am quite certain that I have never met, or become friendly with any one of the name of Owen.” Mr. Justice Wargrave said:

“You have that letter, Miss Brent?”

“Yes, I will fetch it for you.”

She went away and returned a minute later with the letter.

The judge read it. He said:

“I begin to understand … Miss Claythorne?”

Vera explained the circumstances of her secretarial engagement.

The judge said:

“Marston?”

Anthony said:

“Got a wire. From a pal of mine. Badger Berkeley. Surprised me at the time because I had an idea the old horse had gone to Norway. Told me to roll up here.” Again Wargrave nodded. He said:

“Dr. Armstrong?”

“I was called in professionally.”

“I see. You had no previous acquaintanceship with the family?”

“No. A colleague of mine was mentioned in the letter.”

The judge said:

“To give verisimilitude … Yes, and that colleague, I presume, was momentarily out of touch with you?” “Well—er—yes.”

Lombard, who had been staring at Blore, said suddenly:

“Look here, I’ve just thought of something—”

The judge lifted a hand.

“In a minute—”

“But I—”

“We will take one thing at a time, Mr. Lombard. We are at present inquiring into the causes which have resulted in our being assembled here tonight. General Macarthur?” Pulling at his moustache, the General muttered:

“Got a letter—from this fellow Owen—mentioned some old pals of mine who were to be here—hoped I’d excuse informal invitation. Haven’t kept the letter, I’m afraid.” Wargrave said: “Mr. Lombard?”

Lombard’s brain had been active. Was he to come out in the open, or not? He made up his mind.

“Same sort of thing,” he said. “Invitation, mention of mutual friends—I fell for it all right. I’ve torn up the letter.” Mr. Justice Wargrave turned his attention to Mr. Blore. His forefinger stroked his upper lip and his voice was dangerously polite.

He said:

“Just now we had a somewhat disturbing experience. An apparently disembodied voice spoke to us all by name, uttering certain precise accusations against us. We will deal with those accusations presently. At the moment I am interested in a minor point. Amongst the names recited was that of William Henry Blore. But as far as we know there is no one named Blore amongst us. The name of Davis was not mentioned. What have you to say about that, Mr. Davis?” Blore said sulkily:

“Cat’s out of the bag, it seems. I suppose I’d better admit that my name isn’t Davis.” “You are William Henry Blore?”

“That’s right.”

“I will add something,” said Lombard. “Not only are you here under a false name, Mr. Blore, but in addition I’ve noticed this evening that you’re a first-class liar. You claim to have come from Natal, South Africa. I know South Africa and Natal and I’m prepared to swear that you’ve never set foot in South Africa in your life.” All eyes were turned on Blore. Angry suspicious eyes. Anthony Marston moved a step nearer to him. His fists clenched themselves.

“Now then, you swine,” he said. “Any explanation?”

Blore flung back his head and set his square jaw.

“You gentlemen have got me wrong,” he said. “I’ve got my credentials and you can see them. I’m an ex-CID man. I run a detective agency in Plymouth. I was put on this job.” Mr. Justice Wargrave asked:

“By whom?”

“This man Owen. Enclosed a handsome money order for expenses and instructed me as to what he wanted done. I was to join the house party, posing as a guest. I was given all your names. I was to watch you all.” “Any reason given?”

Blore said bitterly:

“Mrs. Owen’s jewels. Mrs. Owen my foot! I don’t believe there’s any such person.” Again the forefinger of the judge stroked his lip, this time appreciatively.

“Your conclusions are, I think, justified,” he said. “Ulick Norman Owen! In Miss Brent’s letter, though the signature of the surname is a mere scrawl the Christian names are reasonably clear—Una Nancy—in either case you notice, the same initials. Ulick Norman Owen—Una Nancy Owen—each time, that is to say, U. N. Owen. Or by a slight stretch of fancy, UNKNOWN!” Vera cried:

“But this is fantastic—mad!”

The judge nodded gently.

He said:

“Oh, yes. I’ve no doubt in my own mind that we have been invited here by a madman—probably a dangerous homicidal lunatic.”

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