Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 3, Chapter 9 : Poirot Sits Back and Thinks (Poirot Propounds Two Solutions) | Summary

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Summary

The passengers assemble in the restaurant car. Pierre Michel asks if he can join them, and Poirot welcomes him to stay. Poirot tells the group he will present two possible solutions to the murder of Samuel Ratchett, also known as Cassetti. M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine will determine which solution is correct.

The First Solution

An unknown intruder entered the train at Belgrade or Vincovci by a door left open when passengers went outside to the platform. Someone gave him a wagon-lit uniform, which he wore over his clothes, and a pass key, which he used to enter Ratchett's compartment. He stabbed Ratchett and left his compartment via the connecting door and entered Mrs. Hubbard's compartment. He slipped the knife into the toiletries bag hanging on her door and unknowingly lost a button from the uniform. He slipped out into the corridor, took off the uniform, and stuffed it into a suitcase in Poirot's next-door compartment. Then he stepped off the train before it left the station in Belgrade or Vincovci using the unbolted door near the dining car.

The stopped watch said 1:15 a.m., but it really stopped at 12:15 a.m.; Ratchett had forgotten to change the time when the train entered a new time zone. The person who called out in French was someone who had gone to see Ratchett, found him dead, and rang the bell to tell the conductor but then decided not to, afraid of being accused of the crime.

While she was sleeping, Mrs. Hubbard heard the intruder in her compartment, but it was at 12:15 a.m. Then she had a nightmare about it, woke, and rang for the conductor at 1:15 a.m., thinking the intruder was still in her compartment.

After Poirot describes part of the first solution, Bouc calls it absurd, but when Poirot completes his explanation, Bouc is satisfied with the solution and admits it is possible. Dr. Constantine is not satisfied and says it "will not hold water" and "is deficient in a dozen minor points." He not only disagrees with the solution but asserts Poirot knows it is not what happened. Poirot tells him to wait to hear the second solution before he forms his decision.

The Second Solution

Poirot says Bouc's comment about all the passengers representing all classes and nationalities got him thinking. He realized how unlikely it was to have such an assembly of people together. The only other conditions in which there would be such a group would be a household in America that employed people of different nationalities. He describes such a household as having an Italian chauffeur, an English governess, a Swedish nurse, and a French maid. He then examined the evidence he gathered from each interview. When he spoke with Hector MacQueen, the latter began a statement with the words "but surely," before pausing and completing the sentence. Poirot suspects he meant to say, "But surely that was burnt," revealing his knowledge of the note mentioning Daisy Armstrong. Thus he had to be involved.

Edward Masterman also made a statement that seemed false to Poirot. He claimed Ratchett always took sleeping medicine when he traveled by train. Yet Ratchett suspected someone was going to harm him and would do so on the second or third night of the journey. Thus it was unlikely he would take sleeping medicine that night, as he would want to stay alert. The automatic pistol under his pillow demonstrated his intent to use it against an assailant, which he would not have been able to do if drugged. So Ratchett did not take the medicine knowingly, and it was given to him by either MacQueen or Masterman.

One of Cyrus Hardman's actions seemed suspect to Poirot. His plan to protect Ratchett only allowed him to watch for someone entering the coach. If he truly wanted to protect Ratchett, he should have stood guard in his compartment or where he could watch the door to it.

It was clear to Poirot that Mary Debenham and Colonel Arbuthnot also were not who they pretended to be. Arbuthnot called her Mary, which is not how a British colonel would address a young woman he had just recently met. Thus they knew each other well and were lying about it. When Debenham used the term long distance, an American term for a certain type of phone call, he knew she had been in America and was lying about it. It was evident Mrs. Hubbard lied about the toiletries bag hiding the bolt between the connecting doors. In the odd-numbered compartments, such as her No. 3 compartment, the bolts were above the door's handle.

The watch's location also drew Poirot's attention. Few, if any, people willingly sleep with such a bulky item in their pajamas. This indicated the watch was staged and its time was faked as well. Furthermore, a drugged Ratchett would not have been able to call out to the conductor. Because MacQueen made a point, twice, that Ratchett knew no French, he obviously wanted Poirot to know it was not Ratchett who had spoken to the conductor at 1:15 a.m. Instead he wanted Poirot to assume Ratchett had already died by that time. Poirot believes Ratchett was probably killed after the person in his compartment called out in French, closer to 2:00 a.m.

The fact that everyone had an alibi, and in most cases an alibi from someone considered an "unlikely person," made Poirot focus on the extraordinariness of such alibis. He realized a person could give a false alibi to protect someone, but why would strangers do so? And why would so many strangers do so? It was then he realized all the passengers were involved in the crime. It was no coincidence that so many people associated with the Armstrongs were traveling on the same train. It had to be by design. This is his true discovery of mutual motivation and action.

He then remembered Arbuthnot's remark about a trial by jury and concludes a group of people were acting as "a self-appointed jury of twelve people who condemned [Cassetti] to death" and took on the role of executioners. There are 12 passengers on the Istanbul-Calais carriage, but he realizes Michel is part of the jury. His daughter Susanne was the young French nurserymaid who committed suicide. That brings the total number of people involved to 13, but Countess Andrenyi does not participate in the murder. She is the most likely suspect, so Count Andrenyi takes her place.

This matches his earnest vow that his wife had not murdered Ratchett. Cyrus Hardman most likely had been in love with Susanne, as tears came to his eyes when Poirot talked about how foreign women were more charming than American women. Poirot suspects Colonel Armstrong was a close friend of the family and Hildegarde Schmidt was the Armstrongs' cook. He realizes Mrs. Hubbard is really Linda Arden, and her presentation of herself as a "slightly ridiculous American fond mother" was a stellar performance by a talented actress.

The group chose the Orient Express as the crime scene because it allowed Michel to participate. They planned every detail, but the stalled train threw a glitch in their careful planning. They decided to go ahead with the execution but planted the handkerchief and pipe cleaner as false clues to throw suspicion on people who have rock-solid alibis. They further confused the scene by adding a decoy, a woman wearing a scarlet kimono—most likely the countess's, as she had no dressing gown in her luggage. Everyone agreed in advance to deny any association with the Armstrong family. They considered drawing lots to see who would kill Ratchett but decided to do it as a group. Eleven passengers and Michel each stabbed Cassetti once, with none knowing which stab caused his death.

The Conclusion

After Poirot presents his second solution, Mrs. Hubbard, who is indeed Linda Arden, speaks in a "soft rich dreamy voice, quite unlike the one she had used all the journey," and states she always craved being in a comedy. She acknowledges the error of the toiletries bag and says they should have rehearsed more. She had been in an even-numbered compartment when they did try it out. She acknowledges Poirot knows "all about it" but says he cannot possibly know what the court's acquittal of Cassetti had been like. She says she, the servants, and Colonel Arbuthnot—Colonel Armstrong's best friend—had all been there and were stricken with grief. They "decided then and there" to carry out the sentence Cassetti should have received. They planned the details and arranged it so Masterman and MacQueen got hired by Ratchett/Cassetti. MacQueen then scheduled Ratchett's travel on the Orient Express at a time Michel was on duty, and everyone else booked their travel on it as well.

Hubbard asks Poirot what he is going to do now that he knows everything. She says she is willing to take all the blame and Poirot should spare the others. She admits she would have gladly stabbed Ratchett/Cassetti 12 times herself—and not just because he caused the death of her child, grandchild, and unborn grandchild, but also because he killed "other children before Daisy" and was likely to kill children in the future.

Poirot asks M. Bouc what his decision is. He says he believe the first solution is the "correct" one and it is the solution they should offer to the Yugoslavian police once they arrive. Dr. Constantine agrees, adding he has a few suggestions about the medical evidence. Poirot concludes the meeting by saying he is retiring from the case, ending the story.

Analysis

Hercule Poirot is a firm believer in law and order, but he deviates from his typical practice of turning over the murderer to the authorities after he learns who murdered Samuel Ratchett. Instead he offers two solutions—one of which gives the murderers an "out"—and asks M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine to select the most correct solution they can accept. In this rare case he abdicates his role as the final arbiter and judge. Although Poirot considers his detecting skills superior to those of Bouc and Constantine, he evidently considers them fit to determine what is just. Most likely he wants to make sure the men agree with his decision to let the murderers in essence go unpunished.

Poirot makes his decision because he agrees with all those involved that justice was not served in the Daisy Armstrong case. This crime was not one of impulsive and passionate revenge. It was as orderly and methodical as a death-penalty execution conducted by state-sanctioned employees. Poirot agrees with Princess Dragomiroff that now "strict justice has been done."

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