Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 2, Chapter 12 : The Evidence (The Evidence of the Lady's Maid) | Summary

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Summary

Hercule Poirot, M. Bouc, and Dr. Constantine discuss Mary Debenham's interview. Poirot explains he was trying to get under her skin because he wanted "to shake her sangfroid," or coolness. Bouc and Constantine think Poirot suspects her, and Poirot says he has two reasons for doing so. One is a conversation he overheard, which he proceeds to relay to the other men. The other is her "cool, intelligent, resourceful brain"—she has the right psychological makeup to commit a crime. Yet he doubts she did so with Colonel Arbuthnot, the man with whom she had the suspicious conversation. Both Arbuthnot and Debenham have alibis, but not provided by each other, which is what Poirot would expect if they had jointly committed the murder.

He next interviews Hildegarde Schmidt, Princess Dragomiroff's maid. She appears placid, respectable, and somewhat unintelligent. He asks her to write her name and address. Before he asks her any questions, he attempts to put her at ease; he gently explains he wants to learn as much as possible about the prior night and hopes she may have seen or heard something that will help the investigation. Rather than asking her to describe her movements that night, he asks her to confirm her mistress sent for her. He then segues into several nonthreatening questions.

Schmidt reports she was sleeping when an attendant summoned her to Dragomiroff's compartment. She dressed, went to Dragomiroff's compartment, gave her a massage, and read to her until she was sleepy. She then returned to her own compartment. At first she says she met no one in the corridor, but when Poirot asks additional questions, she recalls seeing a conductor come out of one of the middle compartments. He almost ran into her and apologized. He went down the corridor as another bell rang, but she did not think he was going to answer it. Poirot makes a comment about the poor, busy conductor waking her and attending to bells. Schmidt says he was not the conductor who awakened her. Poirot whispers in Bouc's ear, and Bouc goes to the door and gives someone an order. Three conductors shortly arrive in the dining car. Schmidt says she saw none of these men last night. She describes the conductor she saw as small and dark and with a weak, womanly voice. Under Poirot's further questioning Schmidt reveals she knows the murdered man's true identity and thinks his crime was abominable; she also says the dropped handkerchief is not hers.

Analysis

Hercule Poirot adapts his interviewing method to Hildegarde Schmidt's psychology. He is nonconfrontational and nonthreatening. But he must repeatedly prompt her for more information because she seems overly placid and unaware. For example he asks whether she saw anyone in the corridor, to which she replies she had not. Yet he keeps probing. Two additional questions reveal she had seen someone—the conductor—and several more interchanges reveal he was not the usual conductor. Poirot has to shake the information out of her, not because she is likely concealing something, like Mary Debenham, but because of her lack of wits and intelligence.

Schmidt cannot provide times for any of her movements, which matches her general inattention to details. Her face remains set in "placid stupidity." She certainly doesn't fit the profile of someone who could methodically plan a murder. Her apparent respectability and goodness are reinforced by her comments about Samuel Ratchett, whose crime she describes as abominably wicked. She says people are not as wicked in Germany as in America; she believes German society is safer and more orderly.

Schmidt's information about the conductor provides a new clue and verifies information provided by another witness. Cyrus Hardman reported that Ratchett was threatened by a small, dark man with a womanish voice. Schmidt reports seeing and hearing such a man around the time of the murder. Although she cannot provide a time, she provides something even more useful—the man appeared in the corridor at the exact time a bell rang, but he did not appear to move in the direction of the bell. Because the man does not match the description of any of the conductors, he most likely was the killer—or at least one of them.

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