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Murder on the Orient Express, Page 2

Agatha Christie

  There were three waiting for him and a telegram. His eyebrows rose a little at the sight of the telegram. It was unexpected.

  He opened it in his usual neat, unhurried fashion. The printed words stood out clearly.

  “Development you predicted in Kassner Case has come unexpectedly please return immediately.”

  “Voilà ce qui est embêtant,” murmured Poirot vexedly. He glanced up at the clock.

  “I shall have to go on tonight,” he said to the concierge. “At what time does the Simplon Orient leave?”

  “At nine o’clock, Monsieur.”

  “Can you get me a sleeper?”

  “Assuredly, Monsieur. There is no difficulty this time of year. The trains are almost empty. First-class or second?”


  “Très bien, Monsieur. How far are you going?”

  “To London.”

  “Bien, Monsieur. I will get you a ticket to London and reserve your sleeping car accommodation in the Stamboul-Calais coach.”

  Poirot glanced at the clock again. It was ten minutes to eight.

  “I have time to dine?”

  “But assuredly, Monsieur.”

  The little Belgian nodded. He went over and cancelled his room order and crossed the hall to the restaurant.

  As he was giving his order to the waiter a hand was placed on his shoulder.

  “Ah! mon vieux, but this is an unexpected pleasure,” said a voice behind him.

  The speaker was a short, stout elderly man, his hair cut en brosse. He was smiling delightedly.

  Poirot sprang up.

  “M. Bouc.”

  “M. Poirot.”

  M. Bouc was a Belgian, a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, and his acquaintance with the former star of the Belgian Police Force dated back many years.

  “You find yourself far from home, mon cher,” said M. Bouc.

  “A little affair in Syria.”

  “Ah! And you return home—when?”


  “Splendid! I, too. That is to say, I go as far as Lausanne, where I have affairs. You travel on the Simplon-Orient, I presume?”

  “Yes. I have just asked them to get me a sleeper. It was my intention to remain here some days, but I have received a telegram recalling me to England on important business.”

  “Ah!” sighed M. Bouc. “Les affaires—les affaires! But you—you are at the top of the tree nowadays, mon vieux!”

  “Some little success I have had, perhaps.” Hercule Poirot tried to look modest but failed signally.

  Bouc laughed.

  “We will meet later,” he said.

  Hercule Poirot addressed himself to the task of keeping his moustaches out of the soup.

  That difficult task accomplished, he glanced round him whilst waiting for the next course. There were only about half a dozen people in the restaurant, and of those half-dozen there were only two that interested Hercule Poirot.

  These two sat at a table not far away. The younger was a likeable-looking man of thirty, clearly an American. It was, however, not he but his companion who had attracted the little detective’s attention.

  He was a man of between sixty and seventy. From a little distance he had the bland aspect of a philanthropist. His slightly bald head, his domed forehead, the smiling mouth that displayed a very white set of false teeth, all seemed to speak of a benevolent personality. Only the eyes belied this assumption. They were small, deep set and crafty. Not only that. As the man, making some remark to his young companion, glanced across the room, his gaze stopped on Poirot for a moment, and just for that second there was a strange malevolence, and unnatural tensity in the glance.

  Then he rose.

  “Pay the bill, Hector,” he said.

  His voice was slightly husky in tone. It had a queer, soft, dangerous quality.

  When Poirot rejoined his friend in the lounge, the other two men were just leaving the hotel. Their luggage was being brought down. The younger was supervising the process. Presently he opened the glass door and said:

  “Quite ready now, Mr. Ratchett.”

  The elder man grunted an assent and passed out.

  “Eh bien,” said Poirot. “What do you think of those two?”

  “They are Americans,” said M. Bouc.

  “Assuredly they are Americans. I meant what did you think of their personalities?”

  “The young man seemed quite agreeable.”

  “And the other?”

  “To tell you the truth, my friend, I did not care for him. He produced on me an unpleasant impression. And you?”

  Hercule Poirot was a moment before replying.

  “When he passed me in the restaurant,” he said at last, “I had a curious impression. It was as though a wild animal—an animal savage, but savage! you understand—had passed me by.”

  “And yet he looked altogether of the most respectable.”

  “Précisément! The body—the cage—is everything of the most respectable—but through the bars, the wild animal looks out.”

  “You are fanciful, mon vieux,” said M. Bouc.

  “It may be so. But I could not rid myself of the impression that evil had passed me by very close.”

  “That respectable American gentleman?”

  “That respectable American gentleman.”

  “Well,” said M. Bouc cheerfully. “It may be so. There is much evil in the world.”

  At that moment the door opened and the concierge came towards them. He looked concerned and apologetic.

  “It is extraordinary, Monsieur,” he said to Poirot. “There is not one first-class sleeping berth to be had on the train.”

  “Comment?” cried M. Bouc. “At this time of year? Ah, without doubt there is some party of journalists—of politicians—?”

  “I don’t know, sir,” said the concierge, turning to him respectfully. “But that’s how it is.”

  “Well, well,” M. Bouc turned to Poirot. “Have no fear, my friend. We will arrange something. There is always one compartment—the No. 16, which is not engaged. The conductor sees to that!” He smiled, then glanced up at the clock. “Come,” he said, “it is time we started.”

  At the station M. Bouc was greeted with respectful empressement by the brown-uniformed Wagon Lit conductor.

  “Good evening, Monsieur. Your compartment is the No. 1.”

  He called to the porters and they wheeled their load half-way along the carriage on which the tin plates proclaimed its destination:


  “You are full up tonight, I hear?”

  “It is incredible, Monsieur. All the world elects to travel tonight!”

  “All the same, you must find room for this gentleman here. He is a friend of mine. He can have the No. 16.”

  “It is taken, Monsieur.”

  “What? The No. 16?”

  A glance of understanding passed between them, and the conductor smiled. He was a tall, sallow man of middle age.

  “But yes, Monsieur. As I told you, we are full—full—everywhere.”

  “But what passes itself?” demanded M. Bouc angrily. “There is a conference somewhere? It is a party?”

  “No, Monsieur. It is only chance. It just happens that many people have elected to travel tonight.”

  M. Bouc made a clicking sound of annoyance.

  “At Belgrade,” he said, “there will be the slip coach from Athens. There will also be the Bucharest-Paris coach—but we do not reach Belgrade until tomorrow evening. The problem is for tonight. There is no second-class berth free?”

  “There is a second-class berth, Monsieur—”

  “Well, then—”

  “But it is a lady’s berth. There is already a German woman in the compartment—a lady’s maid.”

  “Là, là, that is awkward,” said M. Bouc.

  “Do not distress yourself, my friend,” said Poirot. “I must travel in an ordinary carriage.”

  “Not at
all. Not at all.” He turned once more to the conductor. “Everyone has arrived?”

  “It is true,” said the man, “that there is one passenger who has not yet arrived.”

  He spoke slowly with hesitation.

  “But speak then?”

  “No. 7 berth—a second-class. The gentleman has not yet come, and it is four minutes to nine.”

  “Who is it?”

  “An Englishman,” the conductor consulted his list. “A M. Harris.”

  “A name of good omen,” said Poirot. “I read my Dickens. M. Harris, he will not arrive.”

  “Put Monsieur’s luggage in No. 7,” said M. Bouc. “If this M. Harris arrives we will tell him that he is too late—that berths cannot be retained so long—we will arrange the matter one way or another. What do I care for a M. Harris?”

  “As Monsieur pleases,” said the conductor.

  He spoke to Poirot’s porter, directing him where to go.

  Then he stood aside the steps to let Poirot enter the train. “Tout à fait au bout, Monsieur,” he called. “The end compartment but one.”

  Poirot passed along the corridor, a somewhat slow progress, as most of the people travelling were standing outside their carriages.

  His polite “Pardons” were uttered with the regularity of clockwork. At last he reached the compartment indicated. Inside it, reaching up to a suitcase, was the tall young American of the Tokatlian.

  He frowned as Poirot entered.

  “Excuse me,” he said. “I think you’ve made a mistake.” Then, laboriously in French, “Je crois que vous avez un erreur.”

  Poirot replied in English.

  “You are Mr. Harris?”

  “No, my name is MacQueen. I—”

  But at that moment the voice of the Wagon Lit conductor spoke from over Poirot’s shoulder. An apologetic, rather breathless voice.

  “There is no other berth on the train, Monsieur. The gentleman has to come in here.”

  He was hauling up the corridor window as he spoke and began to lift in Poirot’s luggage.

  Poirot noticed the apology in his tone with some amusement. Doubtless the man had been promised a good tip if he could keep the compartment for the sole use of the other traveller. However, even the most munificent of tips lose their effect when a director of the company is on board and issues his orders.

  The conductor emerged from the compartment, having swung the suitcases up on to the racks.

  “Voilà Monsieur,” he said. “All is arranged. Yours is the upper berth, the number 7. We start in one minute.”

  He hurried off down the corridor. Poirot reentered the compartment.

  “A phenomenon I have seldom seen,” he said cheerfully. “A Wagon Lit conductor himself puts up the luggage! It is unheard of!”

  His fellow traveller smiled. He had evidently got over his annoyance—had probably decided that it was no good to take the matter other than philosophically.

  “The train’s remarkably full,” he said.

  A whistle blew, there was a long, melancholy cry from the engine. Both men stepped out into the corridor.

  Outside a voice shouted.

  “En voiture.”

  “We’re off,” said MacQueen.

  But they were not quite off. The whistle blew again.

  “I say, sir,” said the young man suddenly, “if you’d rather have the lower berth—easier, and all that—well, that’s all right by me.”

  “No, no,” protested Poirot. “I would not deprive you—”

  “That’s all right—”

  “You are too amiable—”

  Polite protests on both sides.

  “It is for one night only,” explained Poirot. “At Belgrade—”

  “Oh, I see. You’re getting out at Belgrade—”

  “Not exactly. You see—”

  There was a sudden jerk. Both men swung round to the window, looking out at the long, lighted platform as it slid slowly past them.

  The Orient Express had started on its three-days’ journey across Europe.



  M. Hercule Poirot was a little late in entering the luncheon-car on the following day. He had risen early, breakfasted almost alone, and had spent the morning going over the notes of the case that was recalling him to London. He had seen little of his travelling companion.

  M. Bouc, who was already seated, gesticulated a greeting and summoned his friend to the empty place opposite him. Poirot sat down and soon found himself in the favoured position of the table which was served first and with the choicest morsels. The food, too, was unusually good.

  It was not till they were eating a delicate cream cheese that M. Bouc allowed his attention to wander to matters other than nourishment. He was at the stage of a meal when one becomes philosophic.

  “Ah!” he sighed. “If I had but the pen of a Balzac! I would depict this scene.”

  He waved his hand.

  “It is an idea, that,” said Poirot.

  “Ah, you agree? It has not been done, I think? And yet—it lends itself to romance, my friend. All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other. At the end of three days they part, they go their several ways, never, perhaps, to see each other again.”

  “And yet,” said Poirot, “suppose an accident—”

  “Ah no, my friend—”

  “From your point of view it would be regrettable, I agree. But nevertheless let us just for one moment suppose it. Then, perhaps, all these here are linked together—by death.”

  “Some more wine,” said M. Bouc, hastily pouring it out. “You are morbid, mon cher. It is, perhaps, the digestion.”

  “It is true,” agreed Poirot, “that the food in Syria was not, perhaps, quite suited to my stomach.”

  He sipped his wine. Then, leaning back, he ran his eye thoughtfully round the dining car. There were thirteen people seated there and, as M. Bouc had said, of all classes and nationalities. He began to study them.

  At the table opposite them were three men. They were, he guessed, single travellers graded and placed there by the unerring judgment of the restaurant attendants. A big, swarthy Italian was picking his teeth with gusto. Opposite him a spare, neat Englishman had the expressionless disapproving face of the well-trained servant. Next to the Englishman was a big American in a loud suit—possibly a commercial traveller.

  “You’ve got to put it over big,” he was saying in a loud nasal voice.

  The Italian removed his toothpick to gesticulate with it freely.

  “Sure,” he said. “That whatta I say alla de time.”

  The Englishman looked out of the window and coughed.

  Poirot’s eye passed on.

  At a small table, sitting very upright, was one of the ugliest old ladies he had ever seen. It was an ugliness of distinction—it fascinated rather than repelled. She sat very upright. Round her neck was a collar of very large pearls which, improbable though it seemed, were real. Her hands were covered with rings. Her sable coat was pushed back on her shoulders. A very small expensive black toque was hideously unbecoming to the yellow, toad-like face beneath it.

  She was speaking now to the restaurant attendant in a clear, courteous but completely autocratic tone.

  “You will be sufficiently amiable to place in my compartment a bottle of mineral water and a large glass of orange juice. You will arrange that I shall have chicken cooked without sauces for dinner this evening—also some boiled fish.”

  The attendant replied respectfully that it should be done.

  She gave a slight gracious nod of the head and rose. Her glance caught Poirot’s and swept over him with the nonchalance of the uninterested aristocrat.

  “That is Princess Dragomiroff,” said M. Bouc in a low tone. “She is a Russian. Her husband realized all this money before the R
evolution and invested it abroad. She is extremely rich. A cosmopolitan.”

  Poirot nodded. He had heard of Princess Dragomiroff.

  “She is a personality,” said M. Bouc. “Ugly as sin, but she makes herself felt. You agree?”

  Poirot agreed.

  At another of the large tables Mary Debenham was sitting with two other women. One of them was a tall middle-aged woman in a plaid blouse and tweed skirt. She had a mass of faded yellow hair unbecomingly arranged in a large bun, wore glasses, and had a long, mild, amiable face rather like a sheep. She was listening to the third woman, a stout, pleasant-faced, elderly woman who was talking in a slow clear monotone which showed no signs of pausing for breath or coming to a stop.

  “…And so my daughter said, ‘Why,’ she said ‘you just can’t apply Amurrican methods in this country. It’s just natural to the folks here to be indolent,’ she said. ‘They just haven’t got any hustle in them.’ But all the same you’d be surprised to know what our college there is doing. They’ve gotten a fine staff of teachers. I guess there’s nothing like education. We’ve got to apply our Western ideals and teach the East to recognize them. My daughter says—”

  The train plunged into a tunnel. The calm monotonous voice was drowned.

  At the next table, a small one, sat Colonel Arbuthnot—alone. His gaze was fixed upon the back of Mary Debenham’s head. They were not sitting together. Yet it could easily have been managed. Why?

  Perhaps, Poirot thought, Mary Debenham had demurred. A governess learns to be careful. Appearances are important. A girl with her living to get has to be discreet.

  His glance shifted to the other side of the carriage. At the far end, against the wall, was a middle-aged woman dressed in black with a broad expressionless face. German or Scandinavian, he thought. Probably a German lady’s maid.

  After her came a couple leaning forward and talking animatedly together. The man wore English clothes of loose tweed—but he was not English. Though only the back of his head was visible to Poirot, the shape of it and the set of the shoulders betrayed him. A big man, well made. He turned his head suddenly and Poirot saw his profile. A very handsome man of thirty odd with a big fair moustache.

  The woman opposite him was a mere girl—twenty at a guess. A tight-fitting little black coat and skirt, white satin blouse, small chic black toque perched at the fashionable outrageous angle. She had a beautiful foreign-looking face, dead white skin, large brown eyes, jet-black hair. She was smoking a cigarette in a long holder. Her manicured hands had deep red nails. She wore one large emerald set in platinum. There was coquetry in her glance and voice.