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Ten Little Niggers


Ten Little Niggers: Page 11


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Nothing of what had happened seemed to matter any
more.

It made life lonely, though. He'd taken to shunning his old Army friends.


(If Armitage had talked, they'd know about it.)



And now - this evening - a hidden voice had blared out that old hidden story.

Had he dealt with it all right? Kept a stiff upper lip? Betrayed the right amount
of feeling - indignation, disgust - but no guilt, no discomfiture? Difficult to tell.

Surely nobody could have taken the accusation seriously. There had been a pack
of other nonsense, just as far-fetched. That charming girl - the voice had accused
her of drowning a child! Idiotic! Some madman throwing crazy accusations about!

Emily Brent, too - actually a niece of old Tom Brent of the Regiment. It had
accused her of murder! Any one could see with half an eye that the woman was
as pious as could be - the kind that was hand and glove with parsons.

Damned curious business the whole thing! Crazy, nothing less.

Ever since they had got there - when was that? Why, damn it, it was only this
afternoon! Seemed a good bit longer than that.

He thought: "I wonder when we shall get away again."

Tomorrow, of course, when the motor boat came from the mainland.

Funny, just this minute he didn't want much to get away from the island... To go
back to the mainland, back to his little house, back to all the troubles and
worries. Through the open window he could hear the waves breaking on the rocks
- a little louder now than earlier in the evening. Wind was getting up, too.

He thought: "Peaceful sound. Peaceful place..."

He thought: "Best of an island is once you get there - you can't go any further...
you've come to the end of things..."



He knew, suddenly, that he didn't want to leave the island.



VI

Vera Claythorne lay in bed, wide awake, staring up at the ceiling.

The light beside her was on. She was frightened of the dark.

She was thinking:

"Hugo... Hugo... Why do I feel you're so near to me tonight?... Somewhere quite
close...

"Where is he really? I don't know. I never shall know. He just went away - right
away - out of my life!"

It was no good trying not to think of Hugo. He was close to her. She had to think
of him - to remember...

Cornwall...

The black rocks, the smooth yellow sand. Mrs. Hamilton, stout, good-humoured.
Cyril, whining a little always, pulling at her hand.

"I want to swim out to the rock. Miss Claythorne. Why can't I swim out to the
rock?"

Looking up - meeting Hugo's eyes watching her.



The evenings after Cyril was in bed...

"Come out for a stroll, Miss Claythorne."

"I think perhaps I will."

The decorous stroll down to the beach. The moonlight - the soft Atlantic air.

And then, Hugo's arm round her.

"I love you, I love you. You know I love you, Vera?"

Yes, she knew.

(Or thought she knew.)



"I can't ask you to marry me. I've not got a penny. Its all I can do to keep myself.
Queer, you know, once, for three months I had the chance of being a rich man to
look forward to. Cyril wasn't born until three months after Maurice died. If he'd
been a girl..."

If the child has been a girl, Hugo would have come into everything. He'd been
disappointed, he admitted.

"I hadn't built on it, of course. But it was a bit of a knock. Oh, well, luck's luck!
Cyril's a nice kid. I'm awfully fond of him."

And he was fond of him, too. Always ready to play games or amuse his small
nephew. No rancour in Hugo's nature.



Cyril wasn't really strong. A puny child - no stamina. The kind of child, perhaps,
who wouldn't live to grow up...

And then -?

"Miss Claythorne, why can't I swim to the rock?"

Irritating whiney repetition.

"It s too far, Cyril."

"But, Miss Claythorne..."

Vera got up. She went to the dressing-table and swallowed three aspirins.

She thought:

"I wish I had some proper sleeping stuff."

She thought:

"If I were doing away with myself I'd take an overdose of veronal - something like
that - not cyanide!"

She shuddered as she remembered Anthony Marston's convulsed purple face.

As she passed the mantelpiece, she looked up at the framed doggerel.



Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;

One choked his little self and then there were nine.



She thought to herself:

"It's horrible -just like us this evening..."

Why had Anthony Marston wanted to die?

She didn't want to die.

She couldn't imagine wanting to die...

Death was for - the other people...




Chapter 6



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? ChBteau Neuf 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 some one 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 mouthwash, 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 every one 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.

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