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Ten Little Niggers


Ten Little Niggers: Page 21


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Dr. Armstrong dropped his head in his hands and groaned.

He said:

"And in the meantime we may all be murdered in our beds?"

"I hope not," said Mr. Justice Wargrave. "I intend to take every possible
precaution against such a thing happening."


It flashed across Dr. Armstrong's mind that an old man like the judge, was far
more tenacious of life than a younger man would be. He had often marvelled at
that fact in his professional career. Here was he, junior to the judge by perhaps
twenty years, and yet with a vastly inferior sense of self-preservation.

Mr. Justice Wargrave was thinking:

"Murdered in our beds! These doctors are all the same - they think in clichiis. A
thoroughly commonplace mind."

The doctor said:

"There have been three victims already, remember."

"Certainly. But you must remember that they were unprepared for the attack.
We are forewarned."

Dr. Armstrong said bitterly:

"What can we do? Sooner or later -"

"I think," said Mr. Justice Wargrave, "that there are several things we can do."



Armstrong said:

"We've no idea, even, who it can be -"

The judge stroked his chin and murmured:

"Oh, you know, I wouldn't quite say that."

Armstrong stared at him.

"Do you mean you know?"

Mr. Justice Wargrave said cautiously:

"As regards actual evidence, such as is necessary in court, I admit that I have
none. But it appears to me, reviewing the whole business, that one particular
person is sufficiently clearly indicated. Yes, I think so."

Armstrong stared at him.

He said:

"I don't understand."



IV

Miss Brent was upstairs in her bedroom.

She took up her Bible and went to sit by the window.



She opened it. Then, after a minute's hesitation, she set it aside and went over to
the dressing-table. From a drawer in it she took out a small black-covered
notebook.

She opened it and began writing.

"A terrible thing has happened. General Macarthur is dead. (His cousin married
Elsie MacPherson.) There is no doubt but that he was murdered. After luncheon
the judge made us a most interesting speech. He is convinced that the murderer
is one of us. That means that one of us is possessed by a devil. I had already
suspected that. Which of us is it? They are all asking themselves that. I alone
know..."

She sat for some time without moving. Her eyes grew vague and filmy. The pencil
straggled drunkenly in her fingers. In shaking loose capitals she wrote:

THE MURDERER'S NAME IS BEATRICE TAYLOR...

Her eyes closed.

Suddenly, with a start, she awoke. She looked down at the notebook. With an
angry exclamation she scored through the vague unevenly scrawled characters of
the last sentence.

She said in a low voice:

"Did I write that? Did I? I must be going mad..."



V



The storm increased. The wind howled against the side of the house.

Every one was in the living-room. They sat listlessly huddled together. And,
surreptitiously, they watched each other.

When Rogers brought in the tea-tray, they all jumped.

He said:

"Shall I draw the curtains? It would make it more cheerful like."

Receiving an assent to this, the curtains were drawn and the lamps turned on.
The room grew more cheerful. A little of the shadow lifted. Surely, by tomorrow,
the storm would be over and some one would come - a boat would arrive... Vera
Claythorne said:

"Will you pour out tea, Miss Brent?"

The elder woman replied:

"No, you do it, dear. That tea-pot is so heavy. And I have lost two skeins of my
grey knitting-wool. So annoying."

Vera moved to the tea-table. There was a cheerful rattle and clink of china.
Normality returned.

Tea! Blessed ordinary everyday afternoon tea! Philip Lombard made a cheery
remark. Blore responded. Dr. Armstrong told a humorous story. Mr. Justice
Wargrave, who ordinarily hated tea, sipped approvingly.



Into this relaxed atmosphere came Rogers.

And Rogers was upset. He said nervously and at random:

"Excuse me, sir, but does any one know what's become of the bathroom curtain?"

Lombard's head went up with a jerk.

"The bathroom curtain? What the devil do you mean, Rogers?"

"It's gone, sir, clean vanished. I was going round drawing all the curtains and the
one in the lav - bathroom wasn't there any longer."

Mr. Justice Wargrave asked:

"Was it there this morning?"

"Oh, yes, sir."

Blore said:

"What kind of a curtain was it?"

"Scarlet oilsilk, sir. It went with the scarlet tiles."

Lombard said:

"And it's gone?"

"Gone, sir."



They stared at each other.

Blore said heavily:

"Well - after all - what of it? It's mad - but so's everything else. Anyway, it doesn't
matter. You can't kill anybody with an oilsilk curtain. Forget about it."

Rogers said:

"Yes, sir, thank you, sir."

He went out, shutting the door behind him.

Inside the room, the pall of fear had fallen anew.

Again, surreptitiously, they watched each other.



VI

Dinner came, was eaten, and cleared away. A simple meal, mostly out of tins.

Afterwards, in the living-room, the strain was almost too great to be borne.

At nine o'clock, Emily Brent rose to her feet.

She said:

"I'm going to bed."

Vera said:



"I'll go to bed too."

The two women went up the stairs and Lombard and Blore went with them.
Standing at the top of the stairs, the two men watched the women go into their
respective rooms and shut the doors. They heard the sound of two bolts being
shot and the turning of two keys.

Blore said with a grin:

"No need to tell 'em to lock their doors!"

Lombard said:

"Well, they're all right for the night, at any rate!" He went down again and the
other followed him.



VII

The four men went to bed an hour later. They went up together. Rogers, from the
dining-room where he was setting the table for breakfast, saw them go up. He
heard them pause on the landing above.

Then the judge's voice spoke:

"I need hardly advise you, gentlemen, to lock your doors."

Blore said:



"And, what's more, put a chair under the handle. There are ways of turning locks
from the outside."

Lombard murmured:

"My dear Blore, the trouble with you is you know too much!"

The judge said gravely:

"Good-night, gentlemen. May we all meet safely in the morning!"

Rogers came out of the dining-room and slipped halfway up the stairs. He saw
four figures pass through four doors and heard the turning of four locks and the
shooting of four bolts.

He nodded his head.



"That's all right," he muttered.

He went back into the dining-room. Yes, everything was ready for the morning.
His eye lingered on the centre plaque of looking-glass and the seven little china
figures.

A sudden grin transformed his face.

He murmured:

"I'll see no one plays tricks tonight, at any rate."



Crossing the room he locked the door to the pantry. Then going through the other
door to the hall he pulled the door to, locked it and slipped the key into his
pocket.

Then, extinguishing the lights, he hurried up the stairs and into his new
bedroom.

There was only one possible hiding-place in it, the tall wardrobe, and he looked
into that immediately. Then, locking and bolting the door, he prepared for bed.

He said to himself:

"No more Indian tricks tonight I've seen to that..."




Chapter 11



Philip Lombard had the habit of waking at daybreak. He did so on this particular
morning. He raised himself on an elbow and listened. The wind had somewhat
abated but was still blowing. He could hear no sound of rain...

At eight o'clock the wind was blowing more strongly, but Lombard did not hear it.
He was asleep again.

At nine-thirty he was sitting on the edge of his bed looking at his watch. He put
it to his ear. Then his lips drew back from his teeth in that curious wolf-like
smile characteristic of the man.

He said very softly:



"I think the time has come to do something about this."

At twenty- five minutes to ten he was tapping on the closed door of Blore's room.

The latter opened it cautiously. His hair was tousled and his eyes were still dim
with sleep.

Philip Lombard said affably:

"Sleeping the clock round? Well, shows you've got an easy conscience."

Blore said shortly:



"What's the matter?"

Lombard answered:

"Anybody called you - or brought you any tea? Do you know what time it is?"

Blore looked over his shoulder at a small travelling clock by his bedside.

He said:

"Twenty-five to ten. Wouldn't have believed I could have slept like that. Where's
Rogers?"

Philip Lombard said:

"It's a case of echo answers where?"



"What d'you mean?" asked the other sharply.

Lombard said:

"I mean that Rogers is missing.

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