Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 2, Chapter 15 : The Evidence (The Evidence of the Passenger's Luggage) | Summary

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Summary

Hercule Poirot, Dr. Constantine, and M. Bouc go to each compartment to search the passengers' luggage. They begin with Cyrus Hardman, who eagerly agrees to the search. The search reveals a large number of liquor bottles but nothing of significance. Poirot and Hardman get into a discussion about America, which leads Poirot to comment he is put off by American women and finds them less charming than French and Belgian women. Hardman looks out the window for a minute before replying he guesses "every nation likes its own girls best."

They go to Colonel Arbuthnot's compartment next. He agrees to the search, which reveals nothing of significance other than a package of pipe cleaners of the same type found at the crime scene. Poirot asks Arbuthnot if he always uses the same kind. Arbuthnot affirms he does, when he "can get 'em." As soon as they leave his compartment, Constantine points out the match to the pipe cleaner found at the crime scene. Poirot responds, "Tout de méme (all the same)." Then he adds he can hardly believe it: "it is not dans son caractère," or not in keeping with his nature.

Bouc is the spokesperson when they go to Princess Dragomiroff's compartment. Dragomiroff agrees to the search only because it is necessary. Her luggage is locked, and her maid, Hildegarde Schmidt, has the keys. Poirot asks if the maid always carries the keys on her, and Dragomiroff says she does. Poirot comments Dragomiroff must trust Schmidt implicitly, leading to a discussion on trust and on why the princess has a homely maid rather than a chic one. Dragomiroff reiterates Schmidt is devoted to her. They continue their conversation in the corridor while Bouc searches the luggage. Poirot assures her the search is just a formality. Dragomiroff questions how he can be so sure; she "knew and loved Sonia Armstrong," which gives her a strong motive for killing Samuel Ratchett. Poirot tells her "your strength is in your will—not in your arm." She abruptly ends this conversation and returns to her compartment.

The men come next to the shut doors of the count and countess's compartments. Bouc suggests they be omitted from the search because he is convinced "they can have nothing to do with the matter." He is worried a search of a diplomat and his wife could cause "needless trouble for himself." Poirot disagrees and knocks on the door before Bouc can object further. When the count answers the door, Poirot explains their mission. He also gives him the opportunity to opt out of the search if he so chooses, based on his diplomatic passport. The count refuses to take an exemption and agrees to the search. They discover nothing of significance in the luggage. Poirot attempts to make small talk and tells the countess her suitcase has a wet label. The countess refuses to be drawn into conversation, and the men leave after the search.

They arrive in Mary Debenham and Greta Ohlsson's compartment next. Poirot repeats "his formula" about the search being a formality. Ohlsson appears upset, while Debenham maintains her customary indifference. Poirot suggests Ohlsson go see how Mrs. Hubbard is getting on after her shock from finding the murder weapon. Ohlsson willingly leaves to offer her support. When Debenham asks Poirot why he wanted to get her alone, they spar for a while, and Poirot eventually gets to the point. He asks her to explain what she meant when she said, "Not now. Not now. When it's all over. When it's behind us," the words he overheard when she was talking with Colonel Arbuthnot on the platform at Konya.

Debenham grows very quiet and asks if he thinks she was talking about murder. Poirot asks her to explain. She admits the words have meaning, but she cannot tell him what it is. She gives her word she had never seen Ratchett before the train journey. When Poirot presses her, she says the words "had to do with—with a task I had undertaken." Poirot notices the use of the past tense and asks her if the task is now ended. She skirts his question and never answers it. Instead Poirot asks her a series of questions about why she was so agitated when she thought she might miss her connection to this train. He points out it does not match her typical calmness and self-controlled nature. Debenham explains she was worried for her friends' sake, as they would be meeting her at her destination and would be inconvenienced. Poirot asks why she is not agitated at the current delay, which will also inconvenience those friends waiting at the station. Debenham stops smiling, bites her lip, and flushes. Poirot asks again for "the explanation of your change of attitude," and she says he is making a bigger deal out of this than it deserves. Poirot explains it's part of his job to look for consistent behavior; when people's moods change, it attracts a detective's attention. He then changes the topic and asks a series of questions about Arbuthnot. She again says she first met him on the train. She vouches for his integrity and says he cannot be the killer because he is not the type. After they leave, Bouc asks Poirot if it was wise to put her on guard. Poirot says it was; to catch a rabbit, it is necessary to "put a ferret into the hole." The ferret will make the rabbit run.

They next search Hildegarde Schmidt's unlocked luggage. Inside they find the brown wagon-lit conductor's uniform. It is missing a button. Schmidt is shocked and claims the uniform is not hers and she did not put it in the suitcase. Poirot gently takes her arm and reassures her. He tells her he is as sure she did not put the uniform in the suitcase as he is she is a good cook. He asks, "You are a good cook, are you not?" The bewildered woman smiles and admits she is, as all the ladies she has worked for have told her so. She suddenly stops talking and looks frightened. Poirot provides an explanation for how the uniform got in her suitcase: The killer came out of Ratchett's compartment, bumped into her, and then sought a place to hide his costume. He saw her open door and rushed in, removed the uniform, and hid it in her unlocked suitcase.

Poirot searches the uniform's pocket and produces a pass key. Bouc concludes the pass key is how the killer got through the locked doors, and he dismisses the earlier supposition about Hubbard's unbolted connecting door. Satisfied that all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together to explain how the murder happened and the killer's movements after it, Bouc states they only need to find the scarlet kimono. They search the luggage of the last three passengers, Hector MacQueen, Antonio Foscarelli, and Edward Masterman, without finding anything related to the murder. Poirot says they now have all the evidence from the passengers' interviews, the baggage search, and their own observations. The time for gathering evidence is over, and they need to "use our brains" to interpret the evidence and solve the crime. Poirot decides to take a cigarette break before starting the analytical stage. He returns to his room for his cigarettes, which he keeps in a valise. Inside the valise, he finds the scarlet kimono.

Analysis

Hercule Poirot uses the search as an opportunity to learn more about the passengers. By making seemingly meaningless comments, or small talk, he gets the passengers to open up and say things they would be less willing to if asked directly. For example, his comment about not preferring American women is an intentional statement to prompt Cyrus Hardman to reveal something about his thoughts of women based on their nationalities. What does Poirot hope to learn from this? It isn't clear, but he may be trying to provoke Hardman into revealing his sentiments toward French women to learn if he had any connection to the French woman who committed suicide after the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping. Hardman's delay in answering shows the question affects him. His behavior also changes. Prior to the question, he had been chatty, eager to talk about the investigation, and very much at ease. After answering it, he blinks hard and tells the men it's getting on his nerves.

Poirot exploits M. Bouc's eagerness to handle the search of Princess Dragomiroff's luggage by grasping the opportunity to talk with her alone. She is less guarded and brings up how she has a motive for the murder. She is very intelligent and may be trying to learn what Poirot thinks as much as he is trying to learn more about her. Poirot's comment about her will reveals his belief in her ability to plan such a murder even if her body is not strong enough to execute it. Dragomiroff abruptly ends the conversation shortly after Poirot's comment, showing she did not want to talk with him any further in case she unwittingly revealed something more. But her reaction reveals plenty to Poirot, suggesting she is not as innocent as she has appeared. But this compounds the mystery. Why would both Hardman and Dragomiroff be unsettled by Poirot's comments? Neither supposedly knew each other before the train journey, so how could they have partnered to murder Samuel Ratchett?

Poirot is unsuccessful in getting the countess to open up and talk, so he learns nothing new from her. The search does turn up a new clue, however: the wet label on the countess's suitcase. As Christie is unlikely to include anything in her novel unless it has some significance, this must have some meaning. It is possible she included it as a false clue, to send readers off on the wrong track. But she did not add enough information to create a path to follow. Instead it is presented as merely a comment to encourage conversation. This suggests its seeming insignificance is a cover and it is important. Coupled with the fact the countess has a smear of grease on her passport, the clue becomes more evident. What is the Countess trying to conceal by a wet label and a splotchy passport? The only things the two have in common are her name and perhaps her address or destination.

Poirot uses a direct approach with Mary Debenham and asks her outright the meaning of the words he overheard earlier. A more subtle and indirect method is ineffective with her as she is more attuned to the underlying meaning of his questions and comments than other passengers appear to be. She knows she is under suspicion, and she attempts to give enough information to mollify Poirot without really admitting anything. Poirot later explains his method to Bouc. By letting Debenham know why he is suspicious, he is hoping to provoke her to an action he can catch her in.

Poirot's comment to Hildegarde Schmidt about being a good cook proves to be very productive. She admits that all her ladies have said she was a good cook. Poirot used his technique of making a statement that includes something he does not know but pretends to know and passes off as true. Schmidt is currently working as a maid, not a cook, but he gets her to confirm his guess. Because she immediately realizes she has slipped up and said something she shouldn't have, she is concealing something about her history.

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