Murder on the Orient Express Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary

Agatha Christie

Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary

A Woman

The passports and tickets arrive, and the conductor is dismissed. The officer goes to clear the dining car so that Hercule Poirot can conduct his interviews there.

The first person he interviews is Hector MacQueen; the young man is confused by the commotion and commands, all in French, but finally asks if something has happened. When Poirot tells him the shocking news that Ratchett is dead, MacQueen shows no surprise and says, “So they got him after all.” He assumes that Ratchett has been murdered, something that surprises Poirot.

Now MacQueen hesitates, asking who exactly Poirot is; Poirot introduces himself as a detective representing the train line. (MacQueen has heard of Poirot’s name but thought he was a women’s dressmaker.) MacQueen has been Ratchett’s secretary for just over a year. They met in Persia and have traveled the world together since then.

Poirot asks MacQueen to tell him everything about his employer. MacQueen says that the only thing he knows is that Samuel Edward Ratchett is an American citizen; Ratchett never spoke of himself or his life in America. MacQueen theorizes that Ratchett was not the man’s real name and that he probably left America to escape something. He apparently was successful at doing so until recently, when he began receiving threatening letters. The first one arrived two weeks ago, and MacQueen still has several of them in his files; Ratchett tore the rest up in a rage.

MacQueen retrieves the two letters, written on rather dirty notepaper. One letter accuses Ratchett of being a double-crosser and promises to “get him.” The other letter says, “We’re going to take you for a ride, Ratchett. Some time soon. We’re going to GET you—see?”

Neither letter is signed. Poirot observes that the letters were written by more than one person, each of them writing one letter of each word at a time. MacQueen says that Ratchett seemed unconcerned about the letters, though MacQueen sensed that perhaps his employer was more disturbed than he appeared to be.

Poirot asks MacQueen bluntly if he liked Ratchett; after a slight hesitation, MacQueen tells the inspector that Ratchett seemed a cruel and dangerous man, and he neither liked nor trusted him. MacQueen last saw Ratchett alive at ten o’clock the prior evening, and Ratchett received the last threatening letter on the morning they left Constantinople. He and Ratchett were on perfectly good terms. Poirot asks for MacQueen’s address in America and then dismisses him, asking MacQueen not to discuss the murder with anyone else.

After the secretary leaves, Poirot tells Bouc that MacQueen seems like an honest young man who is telling the truth. Although he will not eliminate MacQueen as a suspect, Poirot thinks the level-headed secretary does not seem likely to have lost his temper and brutally stabbed his employer. Bouc suggests that it does seem more like the act of a woman.