Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary
The Evidence of Colonel Arbuthnot
After establishing Colonel Arbuthnot’s age, home address, and military standing, Poirot asks if the Colonel is on leave. He is, and he chose to travel overland for personal reasons. From India, he stopped for one night to see Ur of the Chaldees and for three days in Baghdad to visit an old friend. Poirot wonders if he has met an English lady, Miss Debenham, who also came from Baghdad. The Colonel says they met on a railway convoy car from Kirkuk to Nissibin.
Poirot becomes persuasive, asking Arbuthnot what he thinks of Debenham since they are the only two English passengers on the train; although it is unusual to ask, Poirot explains the murderer may have been a woman so he really must know the answer. English women are particularly reserved, so Poirot needs to know what kind of person she is.
The Colonel assures the inspector that Debenham is a lady and never saw Ratchett before getting on this train. In fact she commented to Arbuthnot on Ratchett’s rather unpleasant appearance. Poirot hints that Arbuthnot may have tender feelings for Debenham, but the Colonel does not respond.
At one fifteen, Arbuthnot was in Macqueen’s compartment talking politics; he left at one forty-five and saw the conductor sitting at his little table. Macqueen rang for the conductor just then to come make up his bed. After Arbuthnot and Macqueen got off the train for a moment at Vincovci, they returned to Macqueen’s carriage.
Arbuthnot smoked a pipe and talked with Macqueen, but he cannot remember specifics about anyone who walked by them. Poirot presses and eventually Arbuthnot remembers “just a rustle and sort of smell of scent,” a “rather fruity” smell. She probably passed by during the last half hour of the conversation.
Although he has heard of the Armstrong kidnapping, the Colonel only knew of Toby Armstrong by reputation; Poirot tells Arbuthnot that Ratchett is the man responsible for the murder of Colonel Armstrong’s child. Arbuthnot is glad Ratchett got what he deserved, although he prefers “law and order to private vengeance.”
The only other odd occurrence Arbuthnot noticed last night was the man in compartment sixteen who furtively peered out of his door and then quickly closed it.
As he leaves, the Colonel tells Poirot that Debenham is “all right.” Poirot muses that Arbuthnot is the only man they have interviewed who smokes a pipe. He knew of—perhaps even knew—Colonel Armstrong. Despite that, Poirot is confident that the “honorable, slightly stupid, upright Englishman” would not have viciously stabbed Ratchett. It is not the Colonel’s signature.