The butler and his wife directed each of us to our rooms, advising that lunch would be served in the dining hall at one o’clock. If either of them noticed they had an extra guest in the shape of my own dear wife, they made no mention of it. Strange too, that our names and those of our companions did not appear to be ticked off any list or schedule and no-one spoke any of our names aloud. This struck me as doubly odd in my case and I wondered if Rogers had already been alerted to my true identity, or if he simply presumed the matter was none of his business. Of course, it may be that, in true country-house-murder style, ‘the butler did it’, in which case he would be all too aware that Doctor Armstrong was not among the guests.
Our room proved to be adjacent to the one where I had observed the face at the window, so as soon as I’d unpacked, I took the liberty of unlocking the connecting door that led to the other room, and peeked in.
“Doctor Watson!” yelped Miss Bent, grabbing a towel and clutching it to her bare chest. “How very dare you.”
“Ahm, Miss Bent. Do excuse me, I was just…” But there was no explanation under which I could conceal my blunder. However, I did have one point in my favour. Having glimpsed the woman’s unclothed form, I now knew something none of our companions knew – Miss Emily Bent was a man.
“Oh, I say,” murmured Mary, who had appeared at my elbow. “Did I just see what I thought I saw?”
Miss Bent dropped the towel, revealing her nakedness, including the large appendage dangling between her legs. “Oh, what’s the bloody use,” she said with a tearful sigh.
“Come, come,” said I, grasping a blanket and wrapping it about her. “It seems Mary and I aren’t the only ones masquerading as other people.”
She sat down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. “I knew it’d never work,” she sobbed through her tears.
“Don’t be silly,” said Mary, sitting down beside her and sliding a protective arm around the woman’s shoulders. “If Johnny wasn’t such a nosy bugger, we’d never have known.”
“Really?” she sobbed.
“Really,” said Mary. She gave me a meaningful look and mouthed, ‘Say something nice’.
“Yes, indeed,” I began. “We’d never had guessed. A master of disguise.” I paused, then, “Nevertheless, I’d be interested to learn how you came to be invited to the island and why you chose this particular, er, outfit.”
Within a few minutes the whole story poured out, amid several more bouts of sobbing and much nose-blowing. It transpired that the real Emily Bent, a spinster with no known relatives, had died suddenly a few weeks earlier. Her maid Beatrice, realising she would be out of a job if the truth came out, had buried the old dear in the back garden and adopted the guise of Miss Bent in order to take over her employer’s house and the small, but regular, income from a long-established annuity. The fact that Beatrice too, was not, and quite clearly never had been, a woman, was omitted from the tale until I pointed it out.
“Oh, that,” she said, glumly. “Well, you’re the detective – you tell me.” She gave me a defiant look and would say no more, so with a glance at Mary (which offered no clue, though I suspected she had already formulated an explanation), I sat on the end of the bed and rubbed my chin the way Holmes always does when he’s ruminating on a problem. Recalling a case the Great Detective solved some years ago (The Adventure of the Poncing Man), I decided to put forward the same argument Holmes had on that occasion.
“Well,” I said, finally. “You are not a young woman, er, man, though you do hide your age well. From the structure of your face – high cheekbones, small mouth, rather petite nose, together with your slight build and smallish feet, I’d say you had discovered a talent for female impersonation, perhaps in one of those seedy Londen clubs where such things are popular. However, such work would be humiliating, and the ahm, carnal favours customers would naturally expect may have troubled you, so you sought out a more socially acceptable role.” I raised a questioning eyebrow. “Am I on the right track?”
Emily Beatrice nodded. “Near enough. Except that, a few weeks ago, a distant relative of Miss Bent’s turned up and I was forced to leave the house before they discovered my deception. But by then, I’d received the invitation to provide spiritual and religious support to Mr Owen, and with nowhere else to go, I thought I may as well give it a try.” Then with an imploring look, she said, “You won’t say anything to the others, will you?”
I glanced at Mary and said, “No. Provided you don’t kill anyone.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Why would I do that?” She looked at me, at Mary, then her eyes widened. “Oh God. You think the person who killed Mister Marston is here, on the island? That’s why you’re really here, isn’t it?”
It seemed appropriate to change the subject, so I said, “When you first came into this room, was anyone else present?”
She frowned and shook her head. “Only the butler.”
I walked across to the window and looked down to the place I’d been standing earlier. “Just wondered.”
Mary stood up and gestured that we should go. To Emily Beatrice, she said, “Why don’t you get changed and we’ll see you downstairs for lunch?”
Back in our own room, with the connecting door firmly closed, I said, “You think she’s telling the truth?
“If not, it’s an awfully convoluted tale.” She patted my arm. “Well done with your explanation for her disguise.”
I sniffed and puffed out my chest. “Yes, I thought so.”
“Almost sounded like one of Sherlock’s theories.” She gave me a sly wink and I knew she’d seen through my ploy. “Anyway, we should change for lunch.”
“Yes, I want to see the dining room before the others appear.”
And so a few minutes later, we made our way downstairs and entered the dining hall – a pleasant room with large windows looking across the lawn. On one side were the usual cabinets containing cutlery and silverware and on the other a long highly-polished table with twelve chairs arranged around it. Nine places had been set for lunch and in the centre of the table stood a line of miniature carvings, exactly like the one we had found on Marston’s body, each one depicted holding a bow and arrow and sporting a small feather in his headgear. The one furthest away from us had a small metal nail pushed through his chest.
“Marston,” I murmured.
“That’s funny,” said Mary. “In the book there are ten, but here there’s eleven.”
I nodded. “Eight invited people. Plus Rogers and his wife and…” I looked at her. “And you.”