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Ten Little Niggers


Ten Little Niggers: Page 5


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Vera thought:

"I wish I'd seen the Owens... I wish I knew what they were like."

She got up and walked restlessly about the room.

A perfect bedroom decorated throughout in the modern style. Off-white rugs on
the gleaming parquet floor - faintly tinted walls - a long mirror surrounded by
lights. A mantelpiece bare of ornaments save for an enormous block of white
marble shaped like a bear, a piece of modern sculpture in which was inset a
clock. Over it, in a gleaming chromium frame, was a big square of parchment - a
poem.

She stood in front of the fireplace and read it. It was the old nursery rhyme that
she remembered from her childhood days.

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;

One choked his little self and then there were nine.



Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;

One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon;

One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.

Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;

One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;

A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Indian boys going in for law;

One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Indian boys going out to sea;

A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;

A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;

One got frizzled up and then there was one.

One little Indian boy left all alone;

He went and hanged himself and then there were none.



Vera smiled. Of course! This was Indian Island!

She went and sat again by the window looking out to sea.

How big the sea was! From here there was no land to be seen anywhere - just a
vast expanse of blue water rippling in the evening sun.

The sea... So peaceful today - sometimes so cruel... The sea that dragged you
down to its depths. Drowned... Found drowned... Drowned at sea... Drowned -
drowned - drowned...



No, she wouldn't remember... She would not think of it!



All that was over...



VII



Dr. Armstrong came to Indian Island just as the sun was sinking into the sea. On
the way across he had chatted to the boatman - a local man. He was anxious to
find out a little about these people who owned Indian Island, but the man
Narracott seemed curiously ill informed, or perhaps unwilling to talk.

So Dr. Armstrong chatted instead of the weather and of fishing.

He was tired after his long motor drive. His eyeballs ached. Driving west you
were driving against the sun.

Yes, he was very tired. The sea and perfect peace - that was what he needed. He
would like, really, to take a long holiday. But he couldn't afford to do that. He
could afford it financially, of course, but he couldn't afford to drop out. You were
soon forgotten nowadays. No, now that he had arrived, he must keep his nose to
the grindstone.

He thought:

"All the same, this evening, I'll imagine to myself that I'm not going back - that
I've done with London and Harley Street and all the rest of it."

There was something magical about an island - the mere word suggested fantasy.
You lost touch with the world - an island was a world of its own. A world,
perhaps, from which you might never return.



He thought:

"I'm leaving my ordinary life behind me."

And, smiling to himself, he began to make plans, fantastic plans for the future.

He was still smiling when he walked up the rock cut steps.

In a chair on the terrace an old gentleman was sitting and the sight of him was
vaguely familiar to Dr. Armstrong. Where had he seen that frog-like face, that
tortoise-like neck, that hunched up attitude - yes, and those pale shrewd little
eyes? Of course - old Wargrave. He'd given evidence once before him. Always
looked half asleep, but was shrewd as could be when it came to a point of law.
Had great power with a jury - it was said he could make their minds up for them
any day of the week.
He'd got one or two unlikely convictions out of them. A
hanging judge, some people said.

Funny place to meet him... here - out of the world.



VIII



Mr. Justice Wargrave thought to himself:

"Armstrong? Remember him in the witness box. Very correct and cautious. All
doctors are damned fools. Harley Street ones are the worst of the lot." And his
mind dwelt malevolently on a recent interview he had had with a suave
personage in that very street.

Aloud he grunted:



"Drinks are in the hall."

Dr. Armstrong said:

"I must go and pay my respects to my host and hostess."

Mr. Justice Wargrave closed his eyes again, looking decidedly reptilian, and said:

"You can't do that."

Dr. Armstrong was startled.

"Why not?"

The judge said:

"No host and hostess. Very curious state of affairs. Don't understand this place."

Dr. Armstrong stared at him for a minute. When he thought the old gentleman
had actually gone to sleep, Wargrave said suddenly:

"D'you know Constance Culmington?"

"Er - no, I'm afraid I don't."

"It's of no consequence," said the judge. "Very vague woman - and practically
unreadable handwriting. I was just wondering if I'd come to the wrong house."

Dr. Armstrong shook his head and went on up to the house.



Mr. Justice Wargrave reflected on the subject of Constance Culmington.
Undependable like all women.

His mind went on to the two women in the house, the tight-lipped old maid and
the girl. He didn't care for the girl, cold-blooded young hussy. No, three women, if
you counted the Rogers woman. Odd creature, she looked scared to death.
Respectable pair and knew their job...

Rogers coming out on the terrace that minute, the Judge asked him:

"Is Lady Constance Culmington expected, do you know?"

Rogers stared at him.

"No, sir, not to my knowledge."

The judge's eyebrows rose. But he only grunted.

He thought:

"Indian Island, eh? There's a nigger in the woodpile."



IX



Anthony Marston was in his bath. He luxuriated in the steaming water. His
limbs had felt cramped after his long drive. Very few thoughts passed through
his head. Anthony was a creature of sensation - and of action.



He thought to himself:



"Must go through with it, I suppose," and thereafter dismissed everything from
his mind.

Warm steaming water - tired limbs - presently a shave - a cocktail - dinner.

And after -?



X

Mr. Blore was tying his tie. He wasn't very good at this sort of thing.

Did he look all right? He supposed so.

Nobody had been exactly cordial to him... Funny the way they all eyed each other
- as though they knew...

Well, it was up to him. He didn't mean to bungle his job.

He glanced up at the framed nursery rhyme over the mantelpiece.

Neat touch, having that there!

He thought:

"Remember this island when I was a kid. Never thought I'd be doing this sort of a
job in a house here. Good thing, perhaps, that one can't foresee the future..."



XI



General Macarthur was frowning to himself. Damn it all, the whole thing was
deuced odd! Not at all what he'd been led to expect...

For two pins he'd make an excuse and get away... Throw up the whole business...

But the motor boat had gone back to the mainland.

He'd have to stay.

That fellow Lombard now, he was a queer chap.

Not straight. He'd swear the man wasn't straight.



XII



As the gong sounded, Philip Lombard came out of his room and walked to the
head of the stairs. He moved like a panther, smoothly and noiselessly. There was
something of the panther about him altogether. A beast of prey - pleasant to the
eye.



He was smiling to himself.



A week - eh?



He was going to enjoy that week.



XIII



In her bedroom, Emily Brent, dressed in black silk ready for dinner, was reading
her Bible.

Her lips moved as she followed the words:

"The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid
is their own foot taken. The Lord is known by the judgement which he executeth:
the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. The wicked shall be turned
into hell."

Her tight lips closed. She shut the Bible.

Rising, she pinned a cairngorm brooch at her neck, and went down to dinner.




Chapter 3



Dinner was drawing to a close.

The food had been good, the wine perfect. Rogers waited well.

Every one was in better spirits. They had begun to talk to each other with more
freedom and intimacy.

Mr. Justice Wargrave, mellowed by the excellent port, was being amusing in a
caustic fashion; Dr. Armstrong and Tony Marston were listening to him. Miss
Brent chatted to General Macarthur; they had discovered some mutual friends.

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