Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie
Contributed by Ariane Heyne

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Part 3 Chapter 4-6
Summary

Chapter 4

Poirot goes to Count and Countess Andrenyi and informs the Countess that he’s aware of her true identity: Helena Goldenberg, sister of Mrs. Armstrong. The Count immediately falls into denial of this accusation, but Helena eventually confesses. She explains that she attempted to conceal her identity because she was the one of all the passengers with the most motive to kill Ratchett, as she was closely connected to the Armstrong family. Ratchett murdered her niece, as well as her sister, and he devastated her brother-in-law’s life. Helena declares that she has never tried to hurt Ratchett, and that she never deserted her compartment. The handkerchief discovered in Ratchett’s compartment does not belong to her, even though there is an “H” on it. Poirot questions the Countess with regard to the Armstrong case, especially about Suzanne’s death. Suzanne was Daisy’s nursery maid. Helena is unable to remember Suzanne’s surname, but knows that she was a Frenchwoman. Suzanne killed herself because she believed that she was under suspicion. Poirot asks Helena questions about Daisy’s nurse. Helena informs Poirot that she had the name of Stengleberg, and that she was a trained hospital nurse. Helena herself had Miss Freebody, described as a dragon and a secretary to Sonia. Miss Freebody was “English—or rather Scotch, a bit red-haired woman.” With the exception of Princess Dragomiroff, Helena hasn’t recognized any individual on the train. 

Chapter 5

After she has heard the Countess Andrenyi speak, M. Bouc feels sure that she is guilty. Poirot, however, isn’t certain of this. He believes that the Count could be telling the truth, and that the Countess might well be innocent. Princess Dragomiroff comes into the car and comes directly over to Poirot, “I believe, Monsieur…that you have a handkerchief of mine.” Poirot is triumphant when handing the handkerchief to the Princess, as his assumptions were correct. The Princess says that the “H” present on the handkerchief is actually the Russian character “N.” The Princess has no explanation as to how the cloth ended up in the room of the murdered man. She declares that she is telling the truth, in spite of the reality that she hid the identity of the Countess Andrenyi. The doctor gives Poirot his assurances that the Princess couldn’t possibly have killed Ratchett. He says, “never, never could anyone with so frail a physique inflict” the wounds. Poirot recalls something the Princess said while being interviewed. She had said that her arm that had more strength than her will. She looked down at her arms after saying this. M. Bouc is surprised by the number of lies the passengers have told both him and Poirot. Poirot has a cheerful countenance as he declares, “there are still more to discover.”

Chapter 6

Colonel Arbuthnot is asked to come for a second interview. He sits down, and Poirot immediately questions him about the pipe cleaners that were discovered in Ratchett’s compartment. Arbuthnot declares that he did not drop them there, and that he had never even spoken to Ratchett. Poirot asks whether even though he had never spoken to him, he could have murdered him. Arbuthnot says that he did not. Poirot asks again about what Mary meant by what she said at the Koya station: “Not now. When it’s all over. When it’s behind us.” Arbuthnot will not tell him the meaning.

Analysis

In Chapters 4 through 6, we see Poirot moving in ever more precisely on the Armstrong family. He is now aware of what the solution to the case is, and he is now only confirming his suspicions. In these chapters, we see the beginning of the final progression to Chapter 9’s denouement. At this point in the story, readers are still unsure about how much Poirot knows. It is later shown that he almost entirely had the case put together by this time, but, to maintain the interest of the reader, it is important that this be a secret. In doing this, the author mixes together discovery and detection to move the novel forward and allow the mystery to gradually be unraveled. Chapter 4’s “unraveling,” when Countess Andreny’s identity is revealed, isn’t very surprising. The audience is already aware that there is something suspicious about her. While the only real suspicious bit of evidence connected to the Count and Countess is a wet luggage label and a spot of grease on the Countess’ passport, both of these things are out of characters for the Count and Countess, who are both prim and proper. Neither the husband or wife appears the type who would in any way soil their luggage or passports. There is no elaboration on the grease spot or wet label, but these bits of evidence stay in the minds of readers specifically because they are so out of character and because the title of Chapter 4 is “The Grease Spot on the Hungarian Passport.” This chapter has a balanced mixture of detection and discovery. Poirot finds out the Countess’ real identity. He uses this new information when asking additional questions regarding the Armstrongs, and we see him again enter detection mode.

There is a surprising discovery in Chapter 5: this is that the handkerchief adorned with a letter “H” belongs to Princess Dragomiroff. It is clear that this is a discovery, as Princess Dragomiroff marches in and demands that her handkerchief be returned. It is unknown whether Poirot is aware that the handkerchief belongs to the princess at this point in this story, although he does show a “glance of triumph” that is directed at the doctor and M. Bouc when she reveals the truth. After this revelation, Poirot again descends into detective mode.  He questions the princess, asking why she failed to tell him this earlier. Poirot had not asked her whether or not the handkerchief was hers earlier because he didn’t remember the characteristics of the Russian character “N.” It appears that Poirot had knowledge that she had involvement in the crime, but was unsure of whether she owned the handkerchief. Therefore, while this is a discovery, it fails to be a surprise. 

There are fewer discoveries in Chapter 6. Poirot appears to already know all the answers to the questions he poses to Colonel Arbuthnot. Poirot declares to the man, “I think there is some information that I think you might be able to give us.” Poirot knows that the conversation that took place between Arbuthnot and Debenham was in relation to Ratchett, but he still desires to ask the two questions about it. If there were no better reason for this, he would still want to do it to show off to Dr. Constantine and M. Bouc. Getting more answers will make him look better and impress the others. Of course, this isn’t the only reason why Poirot continues in his investigation. He is a good detective, and therefore he is obliged to prove his case in a thorough manner. He must stay in detective mode in order to be successful.

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