فصل 07

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Seven

I After breakfast, Emily Brent had suggested to Vera Claythorne that they should walk to the summit again and watch for the boat. Vera had acquiesced.

The wind had freshened. Small white crests were appearing on the sea. There were no fishing boats out—and no sign of the motorboat.

The actual village of Sticklehaven could not be seen, only the hill above it, a jutting out cliff of red rock concealed the actual little bay.

Emily Brent said:

“The man who brought us out yesterday seemed a dependable sort of person. It is really very odd that he should be so late this morning.” Vera did not answer. She was fighting down a rising feeling of panic.

She said to herself angrily:

“You must keep cool. This isn’t like you. You’ve always had excellent nerves.” Aloud she said after a minute or two:

“I wish he would come. I—I want to get away.”

Emily Brent said dryly:

“I’ve no doubt we all do.”

Vera said:

“It’s all so extraordinary … There seems no—no meaning in it all.” The elderly woman beside her said briskly:

“I’m very annoyed with myself for being so easily taken in. Really that letter is absurd when one comes to examine it. But I had no doubts at the time—none at all.” Vera murmured mechanically: “I suppose not.”

“One takes things for granted too much,” said Emily Brent.

Vera drew a deep shuddering breath.

She said:

“Do you really think—what you said at breakfast?”

“Be a little more precise, my dear. To what in particular are you referring?” Vera said in a low voice:

“Do you really think that Rogers and his wife did away with that old lady?” Emily Brent gazed thoughtfully out to sea. Then she said:

“Personally, I am quite sure of it. What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think.”

Emily Brent said:

“Everything goes to support the idea. The way the woman fainted. And the man dropped the coffee tray, remember. Then the way he spoke about it—it didn’t ring true. Oh, yes, I’m afraid they did it.” Vera said:

“The way she looked—scared of her own shadow! I’ve never seen a woman look so frightened … She must have been always haunted by it….” Miss Brent murmured:

“I remember a text that hung in my nursery as a child. ‘Be sure thy sin will find thee out.’ It’s very true, that. Be sure thy sin will find thee out.” Vera scrambled to her feet. She said:

“But, Miss Brent—Miss Brent—in that case—”

“Yes, my dear?”

“The others? What about the others?”

“I don’t quite understand you.”

“All the other accusations—they—they weren’t true? But if it’s true about the Rogerses—” She stopped, unable to make her chaotic thought clear.

Emily Brent’s brow, which had been frowning perplexedly, cleared.

She said:

“Ah, I understand you now. Well, there is that Mr. Lombard. He admits to having abandoned twenty men to their deaths.” Vera said: “They were only natives….”

Emily Brent said sharply:

“Black or white, they are our brothers.”

Vera thought:

“Our black brothers—our black brothers. Oh, I’m going to laugh. I’m hysterical. I’m not myself….” Emily Brent continued thoughtfully.

“Of course, some of the other accusations were very far fetched and ridiculous. Against the judge, for instance, who was only doing his duty in his public capacity. And the ex-Scotland Yard man. My own case, too.” She paused and then went on:

“Naturally, considering the circumstances, I was not going to say anything last night. It was not a fit subject to discuss before gentlemen.” “No?”

Vera listened with interest. Miss Brent continued serenely.

“Beatrice Taylor was in service with me. Not a nice girl—as I found out too late. I was very much deceived in her. She had nice manners and was very clean and willing. I was very pleased with her. Of course, all that was the sheerest hypocrisy! She was a loose girl with no morals. Disgusting! It was some time before I found out that she was what they call ‘in trouble.’” She paused, her delicate nose wrinkling itself in distaste. “It was a great shock to me. Her parents were decent folk, too, who had brought her up very strictly. I’m glad to say they did not condone her behaviour.” Vera said, staring at Miss Brent:

“What happened?”

“Naturally I did not keep her an hour under my roof. No one shall ever say that I condoned immorality.” Vera said in a lower voice:

“What happened—to her?”

Miss Brent said:

“The abandoned creature, not content with having one sin on her conscience, committed a still graver sin. She took her own life.” Vera whispered, horror-struck:

“She killed herself?”

“Yes, she threw herself into the river.”

Vera shivered.

She stared at the calm delicate profile of Miss Brent. She said:

“What did you feel like when you knew she’d done that? Weren’t you sorry? Didn’t you blame yourself?” Emily Brent drew herself up.

“I? I had nothing with which to reproach myself.”

Vera said:

“But if your—hardness—drove her to it.”

Emily Brent said sharply:

“Her own action—her own sin—that was what drove her to it. If she had behaved like a decent modest young woman none of this would have happened.” She turned her face to Vera. There was no self-reproach, no uneasiness in those eyes. They were hard and self-righteous. Emily Brent sat on the summit of Soldier Island, encased in her own armour of virtue.

The little elderly spinster was no longer slightly ridiculous to Vera.

Suddenly—she was terrible.

II

Dr. Armstrong came out of the dining room and once more came out on the terrace.

The judge was sitting in a chair now, gazing placidly out to sea.

Lombard and Blore were over to the left, smoking but not talking.

As before, the doctor hesitated for a moment. His eye rested speculatively on Mr. Justice Wargrave. He wanted to consult with someone. He was conscious of the judge’s acute logical brain. But nevertheless, he wavered. Mr. Justice Wargrave might have a good brain but he was an elderly man. At this juncture, Armstrong felt what was needed was a man of action.

He made up his mind.

“Lombard, can I speak to you for a minute?”

Philip started.

“Of course.”

The two men left the terrace. They strolled down the slope towards the water. When they were out of earshot Armstrong said: “I want a consultation.”

Lombard’s eyebrows went up. He said:

“My dear fellow, I’ve no medical knowledge.”

“No, no, I mean as to the general situation.”

“Oh, that’s different.”

Armstrong said:

“Frankly, what do you think of the position?”

Lombard reflected a minute. Then he said:

“It’s rather suggestive, isn’t it?”

“What are your ideas on the subject of that woman? Do you accept Blore’s theory?” Philip puffed smoke into the air. He said:

“It’s perfectly feasible—taken alone.”

“Exactly.”

Armstrong’s tone sounded relieved. Philip Lombard was no fool.

The latter went on:

“That is, accepting the premise that Mr. and Mrs. Rogers have successfully got away with murder in their time. And I don’t see why they shouldn’t. What do you think they did exactly? Poisoned the old lady?” Armstrong said slowly:

“It might be simpler than that. I asked Rogers this morning what this Miss Brady had suffered from. His answer was enlightening. I don’t need to go into medical details, but in a certain form of cardiac trouble, amyl nitrite is used. When an attack comes on an ampoule of amyl nitrite is broken and it is inhaled. If amyl nitrite were withheld—well, the consequences might easily be fatal.” Philip Lombard said thoughtfully:

“As simple as that. It must have been—rather tempting.”

The doctor nodded.

“Yes, no positive action. No arsenic to obtain and administer—nothing definite—just—negation! And Rogers hurried through the night to fetch a doctor and they both felt confident that no one could ever know.” “And even if any one knew, nothing could ever be proved against them,” added Philip Lombard.

He frowned suddenly.

“Of course—that explains a good deal.”

Armstrong said, puzzled:

“I beg your pardon.”

Lombard said:

“I mean—it explains Soldier Island. There are crimes that cannot be brought home to their perpetrators. Instance the Rogerses’. Another instance, old Wargrave, who committed his murder strictly within the law.” Armstrong said sharply: “You believe that story?”

Philip Lombard smiled.

“Oh, yes, I believe it. Wargrave murdered Edward Seton all right, murdered him as surely as if he’d stuck a stiletto through him! But he was clever enough to do it from the judge’s seat in wig and gown. So in the ordinary way you can’t bring his little crime home to him.” A sudden flash passed like lightning through Armstrong’s mind.

“Murder in Hospital. Murder on the Operating table. Safe—yes, safe as houses!” Philip Lombard was saying:

“Hence—Mr. Owen—hence—Soldier Island!”

Armstrong drew a deep breath.

“Now we’re getting down to it. What’s the real purpose of getting us all here?” Philip Lombard said:

“What do you think?”

Armstrong said abruptly:

“Let’s go back a minute to this woman’s death. What are the possible theories? Rogers killed her because he was afraid she would give the show away. Second possibility: she lost her nerve and took an easy way out herself.” Philip Lombard said:

“Suicide, eh?”

“What do you say to that?”

Lombard said:

“It could have been—yes—if it hadn’t been for Marston’s death. Two suicides within twelve hours is a little too much to swallow! And if you tell me that Anthony Marston, a young bull with no nerves and precious little brains, got the wind up over having mowed down a couple of kids and deliberately put himself out of the way—well, the idea’s laughable! And anyway, how did he get hold of the stuff? From all I’ve ever heard, potassium cyanide isn’t the kind of stuff you take about with you in your waistcoat pocket. But that’s your line of country.” Armstrong said:

“Nobody in their senses carries potassium cyanide. It might be done by someone who was going to take a wasps’ nest.” “The ardent gardener or landowner, in fact? Again, not Anthony Marston. It strikes me that that cyanide is going to need a bit of explaining. Either Anthony Marston meant to do away with himself before he came here, and therefore came prepared—or else—.” Armstrong prompted him.

“Or else?”

Philip Lombard grinned.

“Why make me say it? When it’s on the tip of your own tongue. Anthony Marston was murdered, of course.” III

Dr. Armstrong drew a deep breath.

“And Mrs. Rogers?”

Lombard said slowly:

“I could believe in Anthony’s suicide (with difficulty) if it weren’t for Mrs. Rogers. I could believe in Mrs. Rogers’ suicide (easily) if it weren’t for Anthony Marston. I can believe that Rogers put his wife out of the way—if it were not for the unexpected death of Anthony Marston. But what we need is a theory to explain two deaths following rapidly on each other.” Armstrong said:

“I can perhaps give you some help towards that theory.”

And he repeated the facts that Rogers had given him about the disappearance of the two little china figures.

Lombard said:

“Yes, little china figures … There were certainly ten last night at dinner. And now there are eight, you say?” Dr. Armstrong recited:

“Ten little soldier boys going out to dine;

One went and choked himself and then there were Nine.

“Nine little soldier boys sat up very late;

One overslept himself and then there were Eight.”

The two men looked at each other. Philip Lombard grinned and flung away his cigarette.

“Fits too damned well to be a coincidence! Anthony Marston dies of asphyxiation or choking last night after dinner, and Mother Rogers oversleeps herself with a vengeance.” “And therefore?” said Armstrong.

Lombard took him up.

“And therefore another kind of soldier. The Unknown Soldier! X! Mr. Owen! U. N. Owen! One Unknown Lunatic at Large!” “Ah!” Armstrong breathed a sigh of relief. “You agree. But you see what it involves? Rogers swore that there was no one but ourselves and he and his wife on the island.” “Rogers is wrong! Or possibly Rogers is lying!”

Armstrong shook his head.

“I don’t think he’s lying. The man’s scared. He’s scared nearly out of his senses.” Philip Lombard nodded.

He said:

“No motorboat this morning. That fits in. Mr. Owen’s little arrangements again to the fore. Soldier Island is to be isolated until Mr. Owen has finished his job.” Armstrong had gone pale. He said:

“You realize—the man must be a raving maniac!”

Philip Lombard said, and there was a new ring in his voice:

“There’s one thing Mr. Owen didn’t realize.”

“What’s that?”

“This island’s more or less a bare rock. We shall make short work of searching it. We’ll soon ferret out U. N. Owen, Esq.” Dr. Armstrong said warningly:

“He’ll be dangerous.”

Philip Lombard laughed.

“Dangerous? Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? I’ll be dangerous when I get hold of him!” He paused and said:

“We’d better rope in Blore to help us. He’ll be a good man in a pinch. Better not tell the women. As for the others, the General’s ga-ga, I think, and old Wargrave’s forte is masterly inactivity. The three of us can attend to this job.”

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