فصل 08

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Eight

I Blore was easily roped in. He expressed immediate agreement with their arguments.

“What you’ve said about those china figures, sir, makes all the difference. That’s crazy, that is! There’s only one thing. You don’t think this Owen’s idea might be to do the job by proxy, as it were?” “Explain yourself, man.”

“Well, I mean like this. After the racket last night this young Marston gets the wind up and poisons himself. And Rogers, he gets the wind up too and bumps off his wife! All according to U.N.O’s plan.” Armstrong shook his head. He stressed the point about the cyanide. Blore agreed.

“Yes, I’d forgotten that. Not a natural thing to be carrying about with you. But how did it get into his drink, sir?” Lombard said:

“I’ve been thinking about that. Marston had several drinks that night. Between the time he had his last one and the time he finished the one before it, there was quite a gap. During that time his glass was lying about on some table or other. I think—though I can’t be sure, it was on the little table near the window. The window was open. Somebody could have slipped a dose of the cyanide into the glass.” Blore said unbelievingly:

“Without our all seeing him, sir?”

Lombard said dryly:

“We were all—rather concerned elsewhere.”

Armstrong said slowly:

“That’s true. We’d all been attacked. We were walking about, moving about the room. Arguing, indignant, intent on our own business. I think it could have been done….” Blore shrugged his shoulders.

“Fact is, it must have been done! Now then, gentlemen, let’s make a start. Nobody’s got a revolver, by any chance? I suppose that’s too much to hope for.” Lombard said:

“I’ve got one.” He patted his pocket.

Blore’s eyes opened very wide. He said in an overcasual tone:

“Always carry that about with you, sir?”

Lombard said:

“Usually. I’ve been in some tight places, you know.”

“Oh,” said Blore and added: “Well, you’ve probably never been in a tighter place than you are today! If there’s a lunatic hiding on this island, he’s probably got a young arsenal on him—to say nothing of a knife or dagger or two.” Armstrong coughed.

“You may be wrong there, Blore. Many homicidal lunatics are very quiet unassuming people. Delightful fellows.” Blore said:

“I don’t feel this one is going to be of that kind, Dr. Armstrong.”

II

The three men started on their tour of the island.

It proved unexpectedly simple. On the northwest side, towards the coast, the cliffs fell sheer to the sea below, their surface unbroken.

On the rest of the island there were no trees and very little cover. The three men worked carefully and methodically, beating up and down from the highest point to the water’s edge, narrowly scanning the least irregularity in the rock which might point to the entrance to a cave. But there were no caves.

They came at last, skirting the water’s edge, to where General Macarthur sat looking out to sea. It was very peaceful here with the lap of the waves breaking over the rocks. The old man sat very upright, his eyes fixed on the horizon.

He paid no attention to the approach of the searchers. His oblivion of them made one at least faintly uncomfortable.

Blore thought to himself:

“ ’Tisn’t natural—looks as though he’d gone into a trance or something.” He cleared his throat and said in a would-be conversational tone:

“Nice peaceful spot you’ve found for yourself, sir.”

The General frowned. He cast a quick look over his shoulder. He said:

“There is so little time—so little time. I really must insist that no one disturbs me.” Blore said genially:

“We won’t disturb you. We’re just making a tour of the island so to speak. Just wondered, you know, if someone might be hiding on it.” The General frowned and said:

“You don’t understand—you don’t understand at all. Please go away.” Blore retreated. He said, as he joined the other two:

“He’s crazy … It’s no good talking to him.”

Lombard asked with some curiosity:

“What did he say?”

Blore shrugged his shoulders.

“Something about there being no time and that he didn’t want to be disturbed.” Dr. Armstrong frowned.

He murmured:

“I wonder now….”

III

The search of the island was practically completed. The three men stood on the highest point looking over towards the mainland. There were no boats out. The wind was freshening.

Lombard said:

“No fishing boats out. There’s a storm coming. Damned nuisance you can’t see the village from here. We could signal or do something.” Blore said:

“We might light a bonfire tonight.”

Lombard said, frowning:

“The devil of it is that that’s all probably been provided for.”

“In what way, sir?”

“How do I know? Practical joke, perhaps. We’re to be marooned here, no attention is to be paid to signals, etc. Possibly the village has been told there’s a wager on. Some damn’ fool story anyway.” Blore said dubiously:

“Think they’d swallow that?”

Lombard said dryly:

“It’s easier of belief than the truth! If the village were told that the island was to be isolated until Mr. Unknown Owen had quietly murdered all his guests—do you think they’d believe that?” Dr. Armstrong said:

“There are moments when I can’t believe it myself. And yet—”

Philip Lombard, his lips curling back from his teeth said:

“And yet—that’s just it! You’ve said it, doctor!”

Blore was gazing down into the water.

He said:

“Nobody could have clambered down here, I suppose?”

Armstrong shook his head.

“I doubt it. It’s pretty sheer. And where could he hide?”

Blore said:

“There might be a hole in the cliff. If we had a boat now, we could row round the island.” Lombard said:

“If we had a boat, we’d all be halfway to the mainland by now!”

“True enough, sir.”

Lombard said suddenly:

“We can make sure of this cliff. There’s only one place where there could be a recess—just a little to the right below here. If you fellows can get hold of a rope, you can let me down to make sure.” Blore said:

“Might as well be sure. Though it seems absurd—on the face of it! I’ll see if I can get hold of something.” He started off briskly down to the house.

Lombard stared up at the sky. The clouds were beginning to mass themselves together. The wind was increasing.

He shot a sideways look at Armstrong. He said:

“You’re very silent, doctor. What are you thinking?”

Armstrong said slowly:

“I was wondering exactly how mad old Macarthur was….”

IV

Vera had been restless all the morning. She had avoided Emily Brent with a kind of shuddering aversion.

Miss Brent herself had taken a chair just round the corner of the house so as to be out of the wind. She sat there knitting.

Every time Vera thought of her she seemed to see a pale drowned face with seaweed entangled in the hair … A face that had once been pretty—impudently pretty perhaps—and which was now beyond the reach of pity or terror.

And Emily Brent, placid and righteous, sat knitting.

On the main terrace, Mr. Justice Wargrave sat huddled in a porter’s chair. His head was poked down well into his neck.

When Vera looked at him, she saw a man standing in the dock—a young man with fair hair and blue eyes and a bewildered frightened face. Edward Seton. And in imagination she saw the judge’s old hands put the black cap on his head and begin to pronounce sentence….

After a while Vera strolled slowly down to the sea. She walked along towards the extreme end of the island where an old man sat staring out to the horizon.

General Macarthur stirred at her approach. His head turned—there was a queer mixture of questioning and apprehension in his look. It startled her. He stared intently at her for a minute or two.

She thought to herself:

“How queer. It’s almost as though he knew.…”

He said:

“Ah, it’s you! You’ve come….”

Vera sat down beside him. She said:

“Do you like sitting here looking out to sea?”

He nodded his head gently.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s pleasant. It’s a good place, I think, to wait.” “To wait?” said Vera sharply. “What are you waiting for?”

He said gently:

“The end. But I think you know that, don’t you? It’s true, isn’t it? We’re all waiting for the end.” She said unsteadily:

“What do you mean?”

General Macarthur said gravely:

“None of us are going to leave the island. That’s the plan. You know it, of course, perfectly. What, perhaps, you can’t understand is the relief!” Vera said wonderingly:

“The relief?”

He said:

“Yes. Of course, you’re very young … you haven’t got to that yet. But it does come! The blessed relief when you know that you’ve done with it all—that you haven’t got to carry the burden any longer. You’ll feel that too, someday….” Vera said hoarsely:

“I don’t understand you.”

Her fingers worked spasmodically. She felt suddenly afraid of this quiet old soldier.

He said musingly:

“You see, I loved Leslie. I loved her very much….”

Vera said questioningly:

“Was Leslie your wife?”

“Yes, my wife … I loved her—and I was very proud of her. She was so pretty—and so gay.” He was silent for a minute or two, then he said:

“Yes, I loved Leslie. That’s why I did it.”

Vera said:

“You mean—” and paused.

General Macarthur nodded his head gently.

“It’s not much good denying it now—not when we’re all going to die. I sent Richmond to his death. I suppose, in a way, it was murder. Curious. Murder—and I’ve always been such a law-abiding man! But it didn’t seem like that at the time. I had no regrets. ‘Serves him damned well right!’—that’s what I thought. But afterwards—” In a hard voice, Vera said:

“Well, afterwards?”

He shook his head vaguely. He looked puzzled and a little distressed.

“I don’t know. I—don’t know. It was all different, you see. I don’t know if Leslie ever guessed … I don’t think so. But, you see, I didn’t know about her anymore. She’d gone far away where I couldn’t reach her. And then she died—and I was alone….” Vera said:

“Alone—alone—” and the echo of her voice came back to her from the rocks.

General Macarthur said:

“You’ll be glad, too, when the end comes.”

Vera got up. She said sharply:

“I don’t know what you mean!”

He said:

“I know, my child. I know.…”

“You don’t. You don’t understand at all….”

General Macarthur looked out to sea again. He seemed unconscious of her presence behind him.

He said very gently and softly:

“Leslie …?”

V When Blore returned from the house with a rope coiled over his arm, he found Armstrong where he had left him staring down into the depths.

Blore said breathlessly:

“Where’s Mr. Lombard?”

Armstrong said carelessly:

“Gone to test some theory or other. He’ll be back in a minute. Look here, Blore, I’m worried.” “I should say we were all worried.”

The doctor waved an impatient hand.

“Of course—of course. I don’t mean it that way. I’m thinking of old Macarthur.” “What about him, sir?”

Dr. Armstrong said grimly:

“What we’re looking for is a madman. What price Macarthur?”

Blore said incredulously:

“You mean he’s homicidal?”

Armstrong said doubtfully:

“I shouldn’t have said so. Not for a minute. But, of course, I’m not a specialist in mental diseases. I haven’t really had any conversation with him—I haven’t studied him from that point of view.” Blore said doubtfully:

“Ga-ga, yes! But I wouldn’t have said—”

Armstrong cut in with a slight effort as of a man who pulls himself together.

“You’re probably right! Damn it all, there must be someone hiding on the island! Ah! here comes Lombard.” They fastened the rope carefully.

Lombard said:

“I’ll help myself all I can. Keep a lookout for a sudden strain on the rope.” After a minute or two, while they stood together watching Lombard’s progress, Blore said: “Climbs like a cat, doesn’t he?”

There was something odd in his voice.

Dr. Armstrong said:

“I should think he must have done some mountaineering in his time.”

“Maybe.”

There was a silence and the ex-Inspector said:

“Funny sort of cove altogether. D’you know what I think?”

“What?”

“He’s a wrong ’un!”

Armstrong said doubtfully:

“In what way?”

Blore grunted. Then he said:

“I don’t know—exactly. But I wouldn’t trust him a yard.”

Dr. Armstrong said:

“I suppose he’s led an adventurous life.”

Blore said:

“I bet some of his adventures have had to be kept pretty dark.” He paused and then went on: “Did you happen to bring a revolver along with you, doctor?” Armstrong stared.

“Me? Good Lord, no. Why should I?”

Blore said:

“Why did Mr. Lombard?”

Armstrong said doubtfully:

“I suppose—habit.”

Blore snorted.

A sudden pull came on the rope. For some moments they had their hands full. Presently, when the strain relaxed, Blore said: “There are habits and habits! Mr. Lombard takes a revolver to out of the way places, right enough, and a primus and a sleeping-bag and a supply of bug powder no doubt! But habit wouldn’t make him bring the whole outfit down here! It’s only in books people carry revolvers around as a matter of course.” Dr. Armstrong shook his head perplexedly.

They leaned over and watched Lombard’s progress. His search was thorough and they could see at once that it was futile. Presently he came up over the edge of the cliff. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

“Well,” he said. “We’re up against it. It’s the house or nowhere.” VI

The house was easily searched. They went through the few out-buildings first and then turned their attention to the building itself. Mrs. Rogers’ yard measure discovered in the kitchen dresser assisted them. But there were no hidden spaces left unaccounted for. Everything was plain and straightforward, a modern structure devoid of concealments. They went through the ground floor first. As they mounted to the bedroom floor, they saw through the landing window Rogers carrying out a tray of cocktails to the terrace.

Philip Lombard said lightly:

“Wonderful animal, the good servant. Carries on with an impassive countenance.” Armstrong said appreciatively:

“Rogers is a first-class butler, I’ll say that for him!”

Blore said:

“His wife was a pretty good cook, too. That dinner—last night—”

They turned in to the first bedroom.

Five minutes later they faced each other on the landing. No one hiding—no possible hiding place.

Blore said:

“There’s a little stair here.”

Dr. Armstrong said:

“It leads up to the servants’ room.”

Blore said:

“There must be a place under the roof—for cisterns, water tank, etc. It’s the best chance—and the only one!” And it was then, as they stood there, that they heard the sound from above. A soft furtive footfall overhead.

They all heard it. Armstrong grasped Blore’s arm. Lombard held up an admonitory finger.

“Quiet—listen.”

It came again—someone moving softly, furtively, overhead.

Armstrong whispered:

“He’s actually in the bedroom itself. The room where Mrs. Rogers’ body is.” Blore whispered back:

“Of course! Best hidingplace he could have chosen! Nobody likely to go there. Now then—quiet as you can.” They crept stealthily upstairs.

On the little landing outside the door of the bedroom they paused again. Yes, someone was in the room. There was a faint creak from within.

Blore whispered:

“Now.”

He flung open the door and rushed in, the other two close behind him.

Then all three stopped dead.

Rogers was in the room, his hands full of garments.

VII

Blore recovered himself first. He said:

“Sorry—er—Rogers. Heard someone moving about in here, and thought—well—” He stopped.

Rogers said:

“I’m sorry, gentlemen. I was just moving my things. I take it there will be no objection if I take one of the vacant guest chambers on the floor below? The smallest room.” It was to Armstrong that he spoke and Armstrong replied:

“Of course. Of course. Get on with it.”

He avoided looking at the sheeted figure lying on the bed.

Rogers said:

“Thank you, sir.”

He went out of the room with his arm full of belongings and went down the stairs to the floor below.

Armstrong moved over to the bed and, lifting the sheet, looked down on the peaceful face of the dead woman. There was no fear there now. Just emptiness.

Armstrong said:

“Wish I’d got my stuff here. I’d like to know what drug it was.”

Then he turned to the other two.

“Let’s get finished. I feel it in my bones we’re not going to find anything.” Blore was wrestling with the bolts of a low manhole.

He said:

“That chap moves damned quietly. A minute or two ago we saw him in the garden. None of us heard him come upstairs.” Lombard said:

“I suppose that’s why we assumed it must be a stranger moving about up here.” Blore disappeared into a cavernous darkness. Lombard pulled a torch from his pocket and followed.

Five minutes later three men stood on an upper landing and looked at each other. They were dirty and festooned with cobwebs and their faces were grim.

There was no one on the island but their eight selves.

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