فصل 04

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Four

I There was a moment’s silence. A silence of dismay and bewilderment. Then the judge’s small clear voice took up the thread once more.

“We will now proceed to the next stage of our inquiry. First however, I will just add my own credentials to the list.” He took a letter from his pocket and tossed it on to the table.

“This purports to be from an old friend of mine, Lady Constance Culmington. I have not seen her for some years. She went to the East. It is exactly the kind of vague incoherent letter she would write, urging me to join her here and referring to her host and hostess in the vaguest of terms. The same technique, you will observe. I only mention it because it agrees with the other evidence—from all of which emerges one interesting point. Whoever it was who enticed us here, that person knows or has taken the trouble to find out a good deal about us all. He, whoever he may be, is aware of my friendship for Lady Constance—and is familiar with her epistolary style. He knows something about Dr. Armstrong’s colleagues and their present whereabouts. He knows the nickname of Mr. Marston’s friend and the kind of telegrams he sends. He knows exactly where Miss Brent was two years ago for her holiday and the kind of people she met there. He knows all about General Macarthur’s old cronies.” He paused. Then he said:

“He knows, you see, a good deal. And out of his knowledge concerning us, he has made certain definite accusations.” Immediately a babel broke out.

General Macarthur shouted:

“A pack of dam’ lies! Slander!”

Vera cried out:

“It’s iniquitous!” Her breath came fast. “Wicked!”

Rogers said hoarsely:

“A lie—a wicked lie … we never did—neither of us….”

Anthony Marston growled:

“Don’t know what the damned fool was getting at!”

The upraised hand of Mr. Justice Wargrave calmed the tumult.

He said, picking his words with care:

“I wish to say this. Our unknown friend accuses me of the murder of one Edward Seton. I remember Seton perfectly well. He came up before me for trial in June of the year 1930. He was charged with the murder of an elderly woman. He was very ably defended and made a good impression on the jury in the witness-box. Nevertheless, on the evidence, he was certainly guilty. I summed up accordingly, and the jury brought in a verdict of Guilty. In passing sentence of death I concurred with the verdict. An appeal was lodged on the grounds of misdirection. The appeal was rejected and the man was duly executed. I wish to say before you all that my conscience is perfectly clear on the matter. I did my duty and nothing more. I passed sentence on a rightly convicted murderer.” Armstrong was remembering now. The Seton case! The verdict had come as a great surprise. He had met Matthews, KC on one of the days of the trial dining at a restaurant. Matthews had been confident. “Not a doubt of the verdict. Acquittal practically certain.” And then afterwards he had heard comments: “Judge was dead against him. Turned the jury right round and they brought him in guilty. Quite legal, though. Old Wargrave knows his law. It was almost as though he had a private down on the fellow.” All these memories rushed through the doctor’s mind. Before he could consider the wisdom of the question he had asked impulsively: “Did you know Seton at all? I mean previous to the case.”

The hooded reptilian eyes met his. In a clear cold voice the judge said:

“I knew nothing of Seton previous to the case.”

Armstrong said to himself:

“The fellow’s lying—I know he’s lying.”

II

Vera Claythorne spoke in a trembling voice.

She said:

“I’d like to tell you. About that child—Cyril Hamilton. I was nursery governess to him. He was forbidden to swim out far. One day, when my attention was distracted, he started off. I swam after him … I couldn’t get there in time … It was awful … But it wasn’t my fault. At the inquest the Coroner exonerated me. And his mother—she was so kind. If even she didn’t blame me, why should—why should this awful thing be said? It’s not fair—not fair….” She broke down, weeping bitterly.

General Macarthur patted her shoulder.

He said:

“There there, my dear. Of course it’s not true. Fellow’s a madman. A madman! Got a bee in his bonnet! Got hold of the wrong end of the stick all round.” He stood erect, squaring his shoulders. He barked out:

“Best really to leave this sort of thing unanswered. However, feel I ought to say—no truth—no truth whatever in what he said about—er—young Arthur Richmond. Richmond was one of my officers. I sent him on a reconnaissance. He was killed. Natural course of events in wartime. Wish to say resent very much—slur on my wife. Best woman in the world. Absolutely—Cæsar’s wife!” General Macarthur sat down. His shaking hand pulled at his moustache. The effort to speak had cost him a good deal.

Lombard spoke. His eyes were amused. He said:

“About those natives—”

Marston said:

“What about them?”

Philip Lombard grinned.

“Story’s quite true! I left ’em! Matter of self-preservation. We were lost in the bush. I and a couple of other fellows took what food there was and cleared out.” General Macarthur said sternly:

“You abandoned your men—left them to starve?”

Lombard said:

“Not quite the act of a pukka sahib, I’m afraid. But self-preservation’s a man’s first duty. And natives don’t mind dying, you know. They don’t feel about it as Europeans do.” Vera lifted her face from her hands. She said, staring at him:

“You left them—to die?”

Lombard answered:

“I left them to die.”

His amused eyes looked into her horrified ones.

Anthony Marston said in a slow puzzled voice:

“I’ve just been thinking—John and Lucy Combes. Must have been a couple of kids I ran over near Cambridge. Beastly bad luck.” Mr. Justice Wargrave said acidly:

“For them, or for you?”

Anthony said:

“Well, I was thinking—for me—but of course, you’re right, sir, it was damned bad luck on them. Of course it was a pure accident. They rushed out of some cottage or other. I had my licence suspended for a year. Beastly nuisance.” Dr. Armstrong said warmly:

“This speeding’s all wrong—all wrong! Young men like you are a danger to the community.” Anthony shrugged his shoulders. He said:

“Speed’s come to stay. English roads are hopeless, of course. Can’t get up a decent pace on them.” He looked round vaguely for his glass, picked it up off a table and went over to the side table and helped himself to another whisky and soda. He said over his shoulder: “Well, anyway it wasn’t my fault. Just an accident!”

III

The manservant, Rogers, had been moistening his lips and twisting his hands. He said now in a low deferential voice: “If I might just say a word, sir.”

Lombard said:

“Go ahead, Rogers.”

Rogers cleared his throat and passed his tongue once more over his dry lips.

“There was a mention, sir, of me and Mrs. Rogers. And of Miss Brady. There isn’t a word of truth in it, sir. My wife and I were with Miss Brady till she died. She was always in poor health, sir, always from the time we came to her. There was a storm, sir, that night—the night she was taken bad. The telephone was out of order. We couldn’t get the doctor to her. I went for him, sir, on foot. But he got there too late. We’d done everything possible for her, sir. Devoted to her, we were. Anyone will tell you the same. There was never a word said against us. Not a word.” Lombard looked thoughtfully at the man’s twitching face, his dry lips, the fright in his eyes. He remembered the crash of the falling coffee tray. He thought, but did not say: “Oh yeah?” Blore spoke—spoke in his hearty bullying official manner.

He said:

“Came into a little something at her death, though? Eh?”

Rogers drew himself up. He said stiffly:

“Miss Brady left us a legacy in recognition of our faithful services. And why not, I’d like to know?” Lombard said:

“What about yourself, Mr. Blore?”

“What about me?”

“Your name was included in the list.”

Blore went purple.

“Landor, you mean? That was the bank robbery—London and Commercial.” Mr. Justice Wargrave stirred. He said:

“I remember. It didn’t come before me, but I remember the case. Landor was convicted on your evidence. You were the police officer in charge of the case?” Blore said:

“I was.”

“Landor got penal servitude for life and died on Dartmoor a year later. He was a delicate man.” Blore said:

“He was a crook. It was he who knocked out the night watchman. The case was quite clear against him.” Wargrave said slowly:

“You were complimented, I think, on your able handling of the case.”

Blore said sulkily:

“I got my promotion.”

He added in a thick voice.

“I was only doing my duty.”

Lombard laughed—a sudden ringing laugh. He said:

“What a duty-loving law-abiding lot we all seem to be! Myself excepted. What about you, doctor—and your little professional mistake? Illegal operation, was it?” Emily Brent glanced at him in sharp distaste and drew herself away a little.

Dr. Armstrong, very much master of himself, shook his head good-humouredly.

“I’m at a loss to understand the matter,” he said. “The name meant nothing to me when it was spoken. What was it—Clees? Close? I really can’t remember having a patient of that name, or being connected with a death in any way. The thing’s a complete mystery to me. Of course, it’s a long time ago. It might possibly be one of my operation cases in hospital. They come too late, so many of these people. Then, when the patient dies, they always consider it’s the surgeon’s fault.” He sighed, shaking his head.

He thought:

Drunk—that’s what it was—drunk … And I operated! Nerves all to pieces—hands shaking. I killed her all right. Poor devil—elderly woman—simple job if I’d been sober. Lucky for me there’s loyalty in our profession. The Sister knew, of course—but she held her tongue. God, it gave me a shock! Pulled me up. But who could have known about it—after all these years?

IV

There was a silence in the room. Everybody was looking, covertly or openly, at Emily Brent. It was a minute or two before she became aware of the expectation. Her eyebrows rose on her narrow forehead. She said: “Are you waiting for me to say something? I have nothing to say.”

The judge said: “Nothing, Miss Brent?”

“Nothing.”

Her lips closed tightly.

The judge stroked his face. He said mildly:

“You reserve your defence?”

Miss Brent said coldly:

“There is no question of defence. I have always acted in accordance with the dictates of my conscience. I have nothing with which to reproach myself.” There was an unsatisfied feeling in the air. But Emily Brent was not one to be swayed by public opinion. She sat unyielding.

The judge cleared his throat once or twice. Then he said: “Our inquiry rests there. Now Rogers, who else is there on this island besides ourselves and you and your wife?” “Nobody, sir. Nobody at all.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Quite sure, sir.”

Wargrave said:

“I am not yet clear as to the purpose of our Unknown host in getting us to assemble here. But in my opinion this person, whoever he may be, is not sane in the accepted sense of the word.

“He may be dangerous. In my opinion it would be well for us to leave this place as soon as possible. I suggest that we leave tonight.” Rogers said:

“I beg your pardon, sir, but there’s no boat on the island.”

“No boat at all?”

“No, sir.”

“How do you communicate with the mainland?”

“Fred Narracott, he comes over every morning, sir. He brings the bread and the milk and the post, and takes the orders.” Mr. Justice Wargrave said:

“Then in my opinion it would be well if we all left tomorrow morning as soon as Narracott’s boat arrives.” There was a chorus of agreement with only one dissentient voice. It was Anthony Marston who disagreed with the majority.

“A bit unsporting, what?” he said. “Ought to ferret out the mystery before we go. Whole thing’s like a detective story. Positively thrilling.” The judge said acidly:

“At my time of life, I have no desire for ‘thrills’ as you call them.” Anthony said with a grin:

“The legal life’s narrowing! I’m all for crime! Here’s to it.”

He picked up his drink and drank it off at a gulp.

Too quickly, perhaps. He choked—choked badly. His face contorted, turned purple. He gasped for breath—then slid down off his chair, the glass falling from his hand.

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