“If only I could get a job at some decent school.” And then, with a cold feeling round her heart, she thought, “But I’m lucky to have even this. After all, people don’t like a Coroner’s Inquest, even if the coroner did acquit me of all blame!” He had even complimented her on her presence of mind and courage, she remembered. For an inquest it couldn’t have gone better. And Mrs. Hamilton had been kindness itself to her—only Hugo—but she wouldn’t think of Hugo!
While traveling to the island, Vera wishes she could get a job at a school before feeling the harsh reality check of her past. She revisits an event that implicated her in a child’s death but absolved her of blame. While she notes that she was not held responsible, the child’s father Hugo seems to have held a different opinion. Readers gain more insight into Vera’s inner thoughts as the novel progresses than to any other character’s, which makes her, seemingly, the novel’s protagonist and the one to whom readers can most relate.
“I’ve never been here before.” She added quickly, conscientiously determined to make her position clear at once, “I haven’t even seen my employer yet…. I’m Mrs. Owen’s secretary…. Her own secretary was suddenly taken ill and she wired to an agency for a substitute and they sent me.”
Vera has come to the island—she believes—to be secretary to Mrs. Owen, the owner’s wife. She intends to take her job seriously, which includes clarifying her presence as a member of the staff rather than a guest. If guests were to make incorrect assumptions about her class or her intimacy with their hosts, she knows her conduct might be called into question by the Owens or their friends. Vera’s concern with propriety shows an uneasy state of mind.
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….
The houseguests at this point believe Anthony Marston committed suicide. Vera finds his choice mystifying. She views herself as a mentally and physically healthy young woman who loves life. While she accepts that other people die, she doesn’t feel her own mortality. Later, she’ll need her strong will to live to survive the strange events on the island.
“Why did I make a hysterical fool of myself? That was a mistake. Keep calm, my girl, keep calm.” After all, she’d always prided herself on her levelheadedness!... They had praised her courage and her sangfroid…. But not Hugo. Hugo had just—looked at her…. God, how it hurt, even now, to think of Hugo….
Vera chastises herself for a brief moment of hysteria, knowing that panicking goes against both her nature and her self-perception. Reflecting on her cool temperament reminds her again of a child’s death and her own attempt to save him. The recording everyone heard accused Vera of killing the boy, and although others exonerated her, apparently the boy’s father Hugo didn’t feel so sure. At this point, readers don’t know what to make of Hugo’s suspicions.
“Don’t be a fool,” Vera Claythorne urged herself. “It’s all right. The others are downstairs. All four of them. There’s no one in the room. There can’t be. You’re imagining things, my girl.” But that smell—that smell of the beach at St. Tredenthick… That wasn’t imagined. It was true.… And then, as she stood there, listening—a cold, clammy hand touched her throat—a wet hand, smelling of the sea…. Vera screamed.
Vera tries to calm herself. The combination of the recorded accusation and Vera’s own conscience put the drowning of her charge at St. Tredennick increasingly in Vera’s mind. Now she stands in her room, alone, and she smells the sea. When something touches her throat, between guilt and the fear of a murderer, she can’t help but believe at that moment that the drowned Cyril has come for revenge. Vera’s slowly losing her grip on reality.
Horrid whiney little boy, always pestering her…. Was it her voice that had answered?... “Well, you see, Cyril, your mother gets so nervous about you. I’ll tell you what. Tomorrow you can swim out to the rock. I’ll talk to your mother on the beach and distract her attention. And then, when she looks for you, you’ll be standing on the rock waving to her! It will be a surprise!”… She’d said it now. Tomorrow! Hugo was going to Newquay. When he came back—it would be all over.
Here Vera remembers, and reveals to the reader, that she planned and caused Cyril’s drowning to occur while his father Hugo was traveling. She intended him never to realize that the boy’s death was deliberate, but he immediately suspected her and held to those suspicions despite her legal exoneration. Without proof, he can’t realistically accuse her, but he cuts her out of his life. Vera regrets the loss of Hugo, not Cyril.
She stretched out her hands, murmuring: “It’s lovely—to feel the sun again….” She thought: “How odd… I’m almost happy. And yet I suppose I’m actually in danger… Somehow—now—nothing seems to matter… not in daylight… I feel full of power—I feel that I can’t die….”
Vera reflects on her odd state of mind, considering her circumstances with a murderer at large. She, Blore, and Lombard believe that Armstrong is the murderer, but the combination of having a known enemy and being outside in the open after surviving another night in the house leaves Vera feeling happy and powerful. In reality, she consistently fights against panic and exists in a constant state of suspicion and fear. Her inappropriate exuberance indicates a rapidly destabilizing mind that will resolve its conflicts in madness.
The sun was setting, the sky to the west was streaked with red and orange. It was beautiful and peaceful…. Vera thought…. “The whole thing might be a dream….” How tired she was—terribly tired. Her limbs ached, her eyelids were dropping. Not to be afraid anymore… To sleep. Sleep… sleep… sleep… To sleep safely since she was alone on the island. One little soldier boy left all alone.
Vera believes that she managed to outsmart the murderer who killed everyone else. At first, she experiences a sense of unreality as the only one left. However, fatigue quickly overtakes her relief at surviving. Her exhaustion reflects both the desperate measures she took to survive and her fixation on feeling safe. Her goal to sleep takes on a more sinister meaning, especially after she remembers that the final soldier boy hangs himself. In fact, the murderer hopes this combination of influences will finish Vera off.