فصل 06

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Six

I Dr. Armstrong was dreaming….

It was very hot in the operating room….

Surely they’d got the temperature too high? The sweat was rolling down his face. His hands were clammy. Difficult to hold the scalpel firmly….

How beautifully sharp it was….

Easy to do a murder with a knife like that. And of course he was doing a murder….

The woman’s body looked different. It had been a large unwieldy body. This was a spare meagre body. And the face was hidden.

Who was it that he had to kill?

He couldn’t remember. But he must know! Should he ask Sister?

Sister was watching him. No, he couldn’t ask her. She was suspicious, he could see that.

But who was it on the operating table?

They shouldn’t have covered up the face like that….

If he could only see the face….

Ah! that was better. A young probationer was pulling off the handkerchief.

Emily Brent, of course. It was Emily Brent that he had to kill. How malicious her eyes were! Her lips were moving. What was she saying?

“In the midst of life we are in death….”

She was laughing now. No, nurse, don’t put the handkerchief back. I’ve got to see. I’ve got to give the anaesthetic. Where’s the ether? I must have brought the ether with me. What have you done with the ether, Sister? Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Yes, that will do quite as well.

Take the handkerchief away, nurse.

Of course! I knew it all the time! It’s Anthony Marston! His face is purple and convulsed. But he’s not dead—he’s laughing. I tell you he’s laughing! He’s shaking the operating table.

Look out, man, look out. Nurse, steady it—steady it—

With a start Dr. Armstrong woke up. It was morning. Sunlight was pouring into the room.

And someone was leaning over him—shaking him. It was Rogers. Rogers, with a white face, saying: “Doctor—doctor!” Dr. Armstrong woke up completely.

He sat up in bed. He said sharply:

“What is it?”

“It’s the wife, doctor. I can’t get her to wake. My God! I can’t get her to wake. And—and she don’t look right to me.” Dr. Armstrong was quick and efficient. He wrapped himself in his dressing gown and followed Rogers.

He bent over the bed where the woman was lying peacefully on her side. He lifted the cold hand, raised the eyelid. It was some few minutes before he straightened himself and turned from the bed.

Rogers whispered:

“Is—she—is she—?”

He passed a tongue over dry lips.

Armstrong nodded.

“Yes, she’s gone.”

His eyes rested thoughtfully on the man before him. Then they went to the table by the bed, to the washstand, then back to the sleeping woman.

Rogers said:

“Was it—was it—’er ’eart, doctor?”

Dr. Armstrong was a minute or two before replying. Then he said:

“What was her health like normally?”

Rogers said:

“She was a bit rheumaticky.”

“Any doctor been attending her recently?”

“Doctor?” Rogers stared. “Not been to a doctor for years—neither of us.” “You’d no reason to believe she suffered from heart trouble?”

“No, doctor. I never knew of anything.”

Armstrong said:

“Did she sleep well?”

Now Rogers’ eyes evaded his. The man’s hands came together and turned and twisted uneasily. He muttered: “She didn’t sleep extra well—no.”

The doctor said sharply:

“Did she take things to make her sleep?”

Rogers stared at him, surprised.

“Take things? To make her sleep? Not that I knew of. I’m sure she didn’t.” Armstrong went over to the washstand.

There were a certain number of bottles on it. Hair lotion, lavender water, cascara, glycerine of cucumber for the hands, a mouth-wash, toothpaste and some Elliman’s.

Rogers helped by pulling out the drawers of the dressing table. From there they moved on to the chest of drawers. But there was no sign of sleeping draughts or tablets.

Rogers said:

“She didn’t have nothing last night, sir, except what you gave her….” II

When the gong sounded for breakfast at nine o’clock it found everyone up and awaiting the summons.

General Macarthur and the judge had been pacing the terrace outside, exchanging desultory comments on the political situation.

Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard had been up to the summit of the island behind the house. There they had discovered William Henry Blore, standing staring at the mainland.

He said:

“No sign of that motorboat yet. I’ve been watching for it.”

Vera said smiling:

“Devon’s a sleepy county. Things are usually late.”

Philip Lombard was looking the other way, out to sea.

He said abruptly:

“What d’you think of the weather?”

Glancing up at the sky, Blore remarked:

“Looks all right to me.”

Lombard pursed up his mouth into a whistle.

He said:

“It will come on to blow before the day’s out.”

Blore said:

“Squally—eh?”

From below them came the boom of a gong.

Philip Lombard said:

“Breakfast? Well, I could do with some.”

As they went down the steep slope Blore said to Lombard in a ruminating voice: “You know, it beats me—why that young fellow wanted to do himself in! I’ve been worrying about it all night.” Vera was a little ahead. Lombard hung back slightly. He said:

“Got any alternative theory?”

“I’d want some proof. Motive, to begin with. Well-off I should say he was.” Emily Brent came out of the drawing room window to meet them.

She said sharply:

“Is the boat coming?”

“Not yet,” said Vera.

They went into breakfast. There was a vast dish of eggs and bacon on the sideboard and tea and coffee.

Rogers held the door open for them to pass in, then shut it from the outside.

Emily Brent said:

“That man looks ill this morning.”

Dr. Armstrong, who was standing by the window, cleared his throat. He said: “You must excuse any—er—shortcomings this morning. Rogers has had to do the best he can for breakfast single-handed. Mrs. Rogers has—er—not been able to carry on this morning.” Emily Brent said sharply:

“What’s the matter with the woman?”

Dr. Armstrong said easily:

“Let us start our breakfast. The eggs will be cold. Afterwards, there are several matters I want to discuss with you all.” They took the hint. Plates were filled, coffee and tea was poured. The meal began.

Discussion of the island was, by mutual consent, tabooed. They spoke instead in a desultory fashion of current events. The news from abroad, events in the world of sport, the latest reappearance of the Loch Ness monster.

Then, when plates were cleared, Dr. Armstrong moved back his chair a little, cleared his throat importantly and spoke.

He said:

“I thought it better to wait until you had had your breakfast before telling you of a sad piece of news. Mrs. Rogers died in her sleep.” There were startled and shocked ejaculations.

Vera exclaimed:

“How awful! Two deaths on this island since we arrived!”

Mr. Justice Wargrave, his eyes narrowed, said in his small precise clear voice: “H’m—very remarkable—what was the cause of death?”

Armstrong shrugged his shoulders.

“Impossible to say offhand.”

“There must be an autopsy?”

“I certainly couldn’t give a certificate. I have no knowledge whatsoever of the woman’s state of health.” Vera said:

“She was a very nervous-looking creature. And she had a shock last night. It might have been heart failure, I suppose?” Dr. Armstrong said dryly:

“Her heart certainly failed to beat—but what caused it to fail is the question.” One word fell from Emily Brent. It fell hard and clear into the listening group.

“Conscience!” she said.

Armstrong turned to her.

“What exactly do you mean by that, Miss Brent?”

Emily Brent, her lips tight and hard, said:

“You all heard. She was accused, together with her husband, of having deliberately murdered her former employer—an old lady.” “And you think?”

Emily Brent said:

“I think that the accusation was true. You all saw her last night. She broke down completely and fainted. The shock of having her wickedness brought home to her was too much for her. She literally died of fear.” Dr. Armstrong shook his head doubtfully.

“It is a possible theory,” he said. “One cannot adopt it without more exact knowledge of her state of health. If there was cardiac weakness—” Emily Brent said quietly:

“Call it if you prefer, an Act of God.”

Everyone looked shocked. Mr. Blore said uneasily:

“That’s carrying things a bit far, Miss Brent.”

She looked at them with shining eyes. Her chin went up. She said:

“You regard it as impossible that a sinner should be struck down by the wrath of God! I do not!” The judge stroked his chin. He murmured in a slightly ironic voice:

“My dear lady, in my experience of ill-doing, Providence leaves the work of conviction and chastisement to us mortals—and the process is often fraught with difficulties. There are no short cuts.” Emily Brent shrugged her shoulders.

Blore said sharply:

“What did she have to eat and drink last night after she went up to bed?” Armstrong said:

“Nothing.”

“She didn’t take anything? A cup of tea? A drink of water? I’ll bet you she had a cup of tea. That sort always does.” “Rogers assures me she had nothing whatsoever.”

“Ah,” said Blore. “But he might say so!”

His tone was so significant that the doctor looked at him sharply.

Philip Lombard said:

“So that’s your idea?”

Blore said aggressively:

“Well, why not? We all heard that accusation last night. May be sheer moonshine—just plain lunacy! On the other hand, it may not. Allow for the moment that it’s true. Rogers and his Missus polished off that old lady. Well, where does that get you? They’ve been feeling quite safe and happy about it—” Vera interrupted. In a low voice she said:

“No, I don’t think Mrs. Rogers ever felt safe.”

Blore looked slightly annoyed at the interruption.

“Just like a woman,” his glance said.

He resumed:

“That’s as may be. Anyway there’s no active danger to them as far as they know. Then, last night, some unknown lunatic spills the beans. What happens? The woman cracks—she goes to pieces. Notice how her husband hung over her as she was coming round. Not all husbandly solicitude! Not on your life! He was like a cat on hot bricks. Scared out of his life as to what she might say.

“And there’s the position for you! They’ve done a murder and got away with it. But if the whole thing’s going to be raked up, what’s going to happen? Ten to one, the woman will give the show away. She hasn’t got the nerve to stand up and brazen it out. She’s a living danger to her husband, that’s what she is. He’s all right. He’ll lie with a straight face till kingdom comes—but he can’t be sure of her! And if she goes to pieces, his neck’s in danger! So he slips something into a cup of tea and makes sure that her mouth is shut permanently.” Armstrong said slowly:

“There was no empty cup by her bedside—there was nothing there at all. I looked.” Blore snorted.

“Of course there wouldn’t be! First thing he’d do when she’d drunk it would be to take that cup and saucer away and wash it up carefully.” There was a pause. Then General Macarthur said doubtfully:

“It may be so. But I should hardly think it possible that a man would do that—to his wife.” Blore gave a short laugh.

He said:

“When a man’s neck’s in danger, he doesn’t stop to think too much about sentiment.” There was a pause. Before any one could speak, the door opened and Rogers came in.

He said, looking from one to the other:

“Is there anything more I can get you?”

Mr. Justice Wargrave stirred a little in his chair. He asked:

“What time does the motorboat usually come over?”

“Between seven and eight, sir. Sometimes it’s a bit after eight. Don’t know what Fred Narracott can be doing this morning. If he’s ill he’d send his brother.” Philip Lombard said:

“What’s the time now?”

“Ten minutes to ten, sir.”

Lombard’s eyebrows rose. He nodded slowly to himself.

Rogers waited a minute or two.

General Macarthur spoke suddenly and explosively:

“Sorry to hear about your wife, Rogers. Doctor’s just been telling us.” Rogers inclined his head.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

He took up the empty bacon dish and went out. Again there was a silence.

III

On the terrace outside Philip Lombard said:

“About this motorboat—”

Blore looked at him.

Blore nodded his head.

He said:

“I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Lombard. I’ve asked myself the same question. Motorboat ought to have been here nigh on two hours ago. It hasn’t come? Why?” “Found the answer?” asked Lombard.

“It’s not an accident—that’s what I say. It’s part and parcel of the whole business. It’s all bound up together.” Philip Lombard said:

“It won’t come, you think?”

A voice spoke behind him—a testy impatient voice.

“The motorboat’s not coming,” it said.

Blore turned his square shoulder slightly and viewed the last speaker thoughtfully.

“You think not too, General?”

General Macarthur said sharply:

“Of course it won’t come. We’re counting on the motorboat to take us off the island. That’s the meaning of the whole business. We’re not going to leave the island… None of us will ever leave … It’s the end, you see—the end of everything….” He hesitated, then he said in a low strange voice:

“That’s peace—real peace. To come to the end—not to have to go on … Yes, peace….” He turned abruptly and walked away. Along the terrace, then down the slope towards the sea—obliquely—to the end of the island where loose rocks went out into the water.

He walked a little unsteadily, like a man who was only half awake.

Blore said:

“There goes another one who’s barmy! Looks as though it’ll end with the whole lot going that way.” Philip Lombard said:

“I don’t fancy you will, Blore.”

The ex-Inspector laughed.

“It would take a lot to send me off my head.” He added dryly: “And I don’t think you’ll be going that way either, Mr. Lombard.” Philip Lombard said:

“I feel quite sane at the minute, thank you.”

IV

Dr. Armstrong came out on to the terrace. He stood there hesitating. To his left were Blore and Lombard. To his right was Wargrave, slowly pacing up and down, his head bent down.

Armstrong, after a moment of indecision, turned towards the latter.

But at that moment Rogers came quickly out of the house.

“Could I have a word with you, sir, please?”

Armstrong turned.

He was startled at what he saw.

Rogers’ face was working. Its colour was greyish green. His hands shook.

It was such a contrast to his restraint of a few minutes ago that Armstrong was quite taken aback.

“Please sir, if I could have a word with you. Inside, sir.”

The doctor turned back and reentered the house with the frenzied butler. He said: “What’s the matter, man, pull yourself together.”

“In here, sir, come in here.”

He opened the dining room door. The doctor passed in. Rogers followed him and shut the door behind him.

“Well,” said Armstrong, “what is it?”

The muscles of Rogers’ throat were working. He was swallowing. He jerked out: “There’s things going on, sir, that I don’t understand.”

Armstrong said sharply:

“Things? What things?”

“You’ll think I’m crazy, sir. You’ll say it isn’t anything. But it’s got to be explained, sir. It’s got to be explained. Because it doesn’t make any sense.” “Well, man, tell me what it is. Don’t go on talking in riddles.”

Rogers swallowed again.

He said:

“It’s those little figures, sir. In the middle of the table. The little china figures. Ten of them, there were. I’ll swear to that, ten of them.” Armstrong said:

“Yes, ten. We counted them last night at dinner.”

Rogers came nearer.

“That’s just it, sir. Last night, when I was clearing up, there wasn’t but nine, sir. I noticed it and thought it queer. But that’s all I thought. And now, sir, this morning. I didn’t notice when I laid the breakfast. I was upset and all that.

“But now, sir, when I came to clear away. See for yourself if you don’t believe me.

“There’s only eight, sir! Only eight! It doesn’t make sense, does it? Only eight.…”

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