And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

  The AC said:

  ‘I always thought so. But he was clever enough to get away with it. It’s my opinion that he committed black perjury in the Landor case. I wasn’t happy about it at the time. But I couldn’t find anything. I put Harris on to it and he couldn’t find anything but I’m still of the opinion that there was something to find if we’d known how to set about it. The man wasn’t straight.’

  There was a pause, then Sir Thomas Legge said:

  ‘And Isaac Morris is dead, you say? When did he die?’

  ‘I thought you’d soon come to that, sir. Isaac Morris died on the night of August 8th. Took an overdose of sleeping stuff—one of the barbiturates, I understand. There wasn’t anything to show whether it was accident or suicide.’

  Legge said slowly:

  ‘Care to know what I think, Maine?’

  ‘Perhaps I can guess, sir.’

  Legge said heavily:

  ‘That death of Morris’s is a damned sight too opportune!’

  Inspector Maine nodded. He said:

  ‘I thought you’d say that, sir.’

  The Assistant Commissioner brought down his fist with a bang on the table. He cried out:

  ‘The whole thing’s fantastic—impossible. Ten people killed on a bare rock of an island—and we don’t know who did it, or why, or how.’

  Maine coughed. He said:

  ‘Well, it’s not quite like that, sir. We do know why, more or less. Some fanatic with a bee in his bonnet about justice. He was out to get people who were beyond the reach of the law. He picked ten people—whether they were really guilty or not doesn’t matter—’

  The Commissioner stirred. He said sharply:

  ‘Doesn’t it? It seems to me—’

  He stopped. Inspector Maine waited respectfully. With a sigh Legge shook his head.

  ‘Carry on,’ he said. ‘Just for a minute I felt I’d got somewhere. Got, as it were, the clue to the thing. It’s gone now. Go ahead with what you were saying.’

  Maine went on:

  ‘There were ten people to be—executed, let’s say. They were executed. U. N. Owen accomplished his task. And somehow or other he spirited himself off that island into thin air.’

  The AC said:

  ‘First-class vanishing trick. But you know, Maine, there must be an explanation.’

  Maine said:

  ‘You’re thinking, sir, that if the man wasn’t on the island, he couldn’t have left the island, and according to the account of the interested parties he never was on the island. Well, then the only explanation possible is that he was actually one of the ten.’

  The AC nodded.

  Maine said earnestly:

  ‘We thought of that, sir. We went into it. Now, to begin with, we’re not quite in the dark as to what happened on Soldier Island. Vera Claythorne kept a diary, so did Emily Brent. Old Wargrave made some notes—dry legal cryptic stuff, but quite clear. And Blore made notes too. All those accounts tally. The deaths occurred in this order. Marston, Mrs Rogers, Macarthur, Rogers, Miss Brent, Wargrave. After his death Vera Claythorne’s diary states that Armstrong left the house in the night and that Blore and Lombard had gone after him. Blore has one more entry in his notebook. Just two words. “Armstrong disappeared.”

  ‘Now, sir, it seemed to me, taking everything into account, that we might find here a perfectly good solution. Armstrong was drowned, you remember. Granting that Armstrong was mad, what was to prevent him having killed off all the others and then committed suicide by throwing himself over the cliff, or perhaps while trying to swim to the mainland?

  ‘That was a good solution—but it won’t do. No, sir, it won’t do. First of all there’s the police surgeon’s evidence. He got to the island early on the morning of August 13. He couldn’t say much to help us. All he could say was that all the people had been dead at least thirty-six hours and probably a good deal longer. But he was fairly definite about Armstrong. Said he must have been from eight to ten hours in the water before his body was washed up. That works out at this, that Armstrong must have gone into the sea sometime during the night of the 10th–11th—and I’ll explain why. We found the point where the body was washed up—it had been wedged between two rocks and there were bits of cloth, hair, etc., on them. It must have been deposited there at high water on the 11th—that’s to say round about 11 o’clock a.m. After that, the storm subsided, and succeeding high water marks are considerably lower.

  ‘You might say, I suppose, that Armstrong managed to polish off the other three before he went into the sea that night. But there’s another point and one you can’t get over. Armstrong’s body had been dragged above high water mark. We found it well above the reach of any tide. And it was laid out straight on the ground—all neat and tidy.

  ‘So that settles one point definitely. Someone was alive on the island after Armstrong was dead.’

  He paused and then went on.

  ‘And that leaves—just what exactly? Here’s the position early on the morning of the 11th. Armstrong has “disappeared” (drowned ). That leaves us three people. Lombard, Blore and Vera Claythorne. Lombard was shot. His body was down by the sea—near Armstrong’s. Vera Claythorne was found hanged in her own bedroom. Blore’s body was on the terrace. His head was crushed in by a heavy marble clock that it seems reasonable to suppose fell on him from the window above.’

  The AC said sharply:

  ‘Whose window?’

  ‘Vera Claythorne’s. Now, sir, let’s take each of these cases separately. First Philip Lombard. Let’s say he pushed over that lump of marble on to Blore—then he doped Vera Claythorne and strung her up. Lastly, he went down to the seashore and shot himself.

  ‘But if so, who took away the revolver from him? For that revolver was found up in the house just inside the door at the top of the stairs—Wargrave’s room.’

  The AC said:

  ‘Any fingerprints on it?’

  ‘Yes, sir, Vera Claythorne’s.’

  ‘But, man alive, then—’

  ‘I know what you’re going to say, sir. That it was Vera Claythorne. That she shot Lombard, took the revolver back to the house, toppled the marble block on to Blore and then—hanged herself.

  ‘And that’s quite all right—up to a point. There’s a chair in her bedroom and on the seat of it there are marks of seaweed same as on her shoes. Looks as though she stood on the chair, adjusted the rope round her neck and kicked away the chair.

  ‘But that chair wasn’t found kicked over. It was, like all the other chairs, neatly put back against the wall. That was done after Vera Claythorne’s death—by someone else.

  ‘That leaves us with Blore and if you tell me that after shooting Lombard and inducing Vera Claythorne to hang herself he then went out and pulled down a whacking great block of marble on himself by tying a string to it or something like that—well, I simply don’t believe you. Men don’t commit suicide that way—and what’s more Blore wasn’t that kind of man. We knew Blore—and he was not the man that you’d ever accuse of a desire for abstract justice.’

  The Assistant Commissioner said:

  ‘I agree.’

  Inspector Maine said:

  ‘And therefore, sir, there must have been someone else on the island. Someone who tidied up when the whole business was over. But where was he all the time—and where did he go to? The Sticklehaven people are absolutely certain that no one could have left the island before the rescue boat got there. But in that case—’

  He stopped.

  The Assistant Commissioner said:

  ‘In that case—’

  He sighed. He shook his head. He leaned forward.

  ‘But in that case,’ he said, ‘who killed them?’

  A manuscript document sent to Scotland Yard by the master of the Emma Jane fishing trawler

  From my earliest youth I realized that my nature was a mass of contradictions. I have, to begin with, an incurably romantic imagination. The practice of throwing a bottle into the se
a with an important document inside was one that never failed to thrill me when reading adventure stories as a child. It thrills me still—and for that reason I have adopted this course—writing my confession, enclosing it in a bottle, sealing the latter, and casting it into the waves. There is, I suppose, a hundred to one chance that my confession may be found—and then (or do I flatter myself?) a hitherto unsolved murder mystery will be explained.

  I was born with other traits besides my romantic fancy. I have a definite sadistic delight in seeing or causing death. I remember experiments with wasps—with various garden pests…From an early age I knew very strongly the lust to kill.

  But side by side with this went a contradictory trait—a strong sense of justice. It is abhorrent to me that an innocent person or creature should suffer or die by any act of mine. I have always felt strongly that right should prevail.

  It may be understood—I think a psychologist would understand—that with my mental make-up being what it was, I adopted the law as a profession. The legal profession satisfied nearly all my instincts.

  Crime and its punishment has always fascinated me. I enjoy reading every kind of detective story and thriller. I have devised for my own private amusement the most ingenious ways of carrying out a murder.

  When in due course I came to preside over a court of law, that other secret instinct of mine was encouraged to develop. To see a wretched criminal squirming in the dock, suffering the tortures of the damned, as his doom came slowly and slowly nearer, was to me an exquisite pleasure. Mind you, I took no pleasure in seeing an innocent man there. On at least two occasions I stopped cases where to my mind the accused was palpably innocent, directing the jury that there was no case. Thanks, however, to the fairness and efficiency of our police force, the majority of the accused persons who have come before me to be tried for murder, have been guilty.

  I will say here that such was the case with the man Edward Seton. His appearance and manner were misleading and he created a good impression on the jury. But not only the evidence, which was clear, though unspectacular, but my own knowledge of criminals told me without any doubt that the man had actually committed the crime with which he was charged, the brutal murder of an elderly woman who trusted him.

  I have a reputation as a hanging judge, but that is unfair. I have always been strictly just and scrupulous in my summing up of a case.

  All I have done is to protect the jury against the emotional effect of emotional appeals by some of our more emotional counsel. I have drawn their attention to the actual evidence.

  For some years past I have been aware of a change within myself, a lessening of control—a desire to act instead of to judge.

  I have wanted—let me admit it frankly—to commit a murder myself. I recognized this as the desire of the artist to express himself! I was, or could be, an artist in crime! My imagination, sternly checked by the exigencies of my profession, waxed secretly to colossal force.

  I must—I must—I must—commit a murder! And what is more, it must be no ordinary murder! It must be a fantastical crime—something stupendous—out of the common! In that one respect, I have still, I think, an adolescent’s imagination.

  I wanted something theatrical, impossible!

  I wanted to kill…Yes, I wanted to kill…

  But—incongruous as it may seem to some—I was restrained and hampered by my innate sense of justice. The innocent must not suffer.

  And then, quite suddenly, the idea came to me—started by a chance remark uttered during casual conversation. It was a doctor to whom I was talking—some ordinary undistinguished GP. He mentioned casually how often murder must be committed which the law was unable to touch.

  And he instanced a particular case—that of an old lady, a patient of his who had recently died. He was, he said, himself convinced that her death was due to the withholding of a restorative drug by a married couple who attended on her and who stood to benefit very substantially by her death. That sort of thing, he explained, was quite impossible to prove, but he was nevertheless quite sure of it in his own mind. He added that there were many cases of a similar nature going on all the time—cases of deliberate murder—and all quite untouchable by the law.

  That was the beginning of the whole thing. I suddenly saw my way clear. And I determined to commit not one murder, but murder on a grand scale.

  A childish rhyme of my infancy came back into my mind—the rhyme of the ten little soldier boys. It had fascinated me as a child of two—the inexorable diminishment—the sense of inevitability.

  I began, secretly, to collect victims…

  I will not take up space here by going into details of how this was accomplished. I had a certain routine line of conversation which I employed with nearly every one I met—and the results I got were really surprising. During the time I was in a nursing home I collected the case of Dr Armstrong—a violently teetotal Sister who attended on me being anxious to prove to me the evils of drink by recounting to me a case many years ago in hospital when a doctor under the influence of alcohol had killed a patient on whom he was operating. A careless question as to where the Sister in question had trained, etc., soon gave me the necessary data. I tracked down the doctor and the patient mentioned without difficulty.

  A conversation between two old military gossips in my Club put me on the track of General Macarthur. A man who had recently returned from the Amazon gave me a devastating résumé of the activities of one Philip Lombard. An indignant memsahib in Majorca recounted the tale of the Puritan Emily Brent and her wretched servant girl. Anthony Marston I selected from a large group of people who had committed similar offences. His complete callousness and his inability to feel any responsibility for the lives he had taken made him, I considered, a type dangerous to the community and unfit to live. Ex-Inspector Blore came my way quite naturally, some of my professional brethren discussing the Landor case with freedom and vigour. I took a serious view of his offence. The police, as servants of the law, must be of a high order of integrity. For their word is perforce believed by virtue of their profession.

  Finally there was the case of Vera Claythorne. It was when I was crossing the Atlantic. At a late hour one night the sole occupants of the smoking-room were myself and a good-looking young man called Hugo Hamilton.

  Hugo Hamilton was unhappy. To assuage that unhappiness he had taken a considerable quantity of drink. He was in the maudlin confidential stage. Without much hope of any result I automatically started my routine conversational gambit. The response was startling. I can remember his words now. He said:

  ‘You’re right. Murder isn’t what most people think—giving someone a dollop of arsenic—pushing them over a cliff—that sort of stuff.’ He leaned forward, thrusting his face into mine. He said, ‘I’ve known a murderess—known her, I tell you. And what’s more I was crazy about her…God help me, sometimes I think I still am…It’s hell, I tell you—hell. You see, she did it more or less for me…Not that I ever dreamed…Women are fiends—absolute fiends—you wouldn’t think a girl like that—a nice straight jolly girl—you wouldn’t think she’d do that, would you? That she’d take a kid out to sea and let it drown—you wouldn’t think a woman could do a thing like that?’

  I said to him:

  ‘Are you sure she did do it?’

  He said and in saying it he seemed suddenly to sober up:

  ‘I’m quite sure. Nobody else ever thought of it. But I knew the moment I looked at her—when I got back—after…And she knew I knew…What she didn’t realize was that I loved that kid…’

  He didn’t say any more, but it was easy enough for me to trace back the story and reconstruct it.

  I needed a tenth victim. I found him in a man named Morris. He was a shady little creature. Amongst other things he was a dope pedlar and he was responsible for inducing the daughter of friends of mine to take to drugs. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-one.

  During all this time of search my plan had been gradually maturing i
n my mind. It was now complete and the coping stone to it was an interview I had with a doctor in Harley Street. I have mentioned that I underwent an operation. My interview in Harley Street told me that another operation would be useless. My medical adviser wrapped up the information very prettily, but I am accustomed to getting at the truth of a statement.

  I did not tell the doctor of my decision—that my death should not be a slow and protracted one as it would be in the course of nature. No, my death should take place in a blaze of excitement. I would live before I died.

  And now to the actual mechanics of the crime of Soldier Island. To acquire the island, using the man Morris to cover my tracks, was easy enough. He was an expert in that sort of thing. Tabulating the information I had collected about my prospective victims, I was able to concoct a suitable bait for each. None of my plans miscarried. All my guests arrived at Soldier Island on the 8th of August. The party included myself.

  Morris was already accounted for. He suffered from indigestion. Before leaving London I gave him a capsule to take last thing at night which had, I said, done wonders for my own gastric juices. He accepted unhesitatingly—the man was a slight hypochondriac. I had no fear that he would leave any compromising documents or memoranda behind. He was not that sort of man.

  The order of death upon the island had been subjected by me to special thought and care. There were, I considered, amongst my guests, varying degrees of guilt. Those whose guilt was the lightest should, I decided, pass out first, and not suffer the prolonged mental strain and fear that the more cold-blooded offenders were to suffer.

  Anthony Marston and Mrs Rogers died first, the one instantaneously the other in a peaceful sleep. Marston, I recognized, was a type born without that feeling of moral responsibility which most of us have. He was amoral—pagan. Mrs Rogers, I had no doubt, had acted very largely under the influence of her husband.

  I need not describe closely how those two met their deaths. The police will have been able to work that out quite easily. Potassium cyanide is easily obtained by householders for putting down wasps. I had some in my possession and it was easy to slip it into Marston’s almost empty glass during the tense period after the gramophone recital.

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