11. The Evidence of Miss Debenham
When Mary Debenham entered the dining-car she confirmed Poirot’s previous estimate of her. She was very neatly dressed in a little black suit with a French grey shirt, and the smooth waves of her dark head were neat and unruffled. Her manner was as calm and unruffled as her hair.
She sat down opposite Poirot and M. Bouc and looked at them inquiringly.
“Your name is Mary Hermione Debenham and you are twenty-six years of age?” began Poirot.
“Will you be so kind, Mademoiselle, as to write down your permanent address on this piece of paper?”
She complied. Her writing was clear and legible.
“And now, Mademoiselle, what have you to tell us of the affair last night?”
“I am afraid I have nothing to tell you. I went to bed and slept.”
“Does it distress you very much, Mademoiselle, that a crime has been committed on this train?”
The question was clearly unexpected. Her grey eyes widened a little.
“I don’t quite understand you?”
“It was a perfectly simple question that I asked you, Mademoiselle. I will repeat it. Are you very much distressed that a crime should have been committed on this train?”
“I have not really thought about it from that point of view. No, I cannot say that I am at all distressed.”
“A crime-it is all in the day’s work to you, eh?”
“It is naturally an unpleasant thing to have happen,” said Mary Debenham quietly.
“You are very Anglo-Saxon, Mademoiselle. Vous n’eprouvez pas d’emotion.”
She smiled a little. “I am afraid I cannot have hysterics to prove my sensibility. After all, people die every day.”
“They die, yes. But murder is a little more rare.”
“You were not acquainted with the dead man?”
“I saw him for the first time when lunching here yesterday.”
“And how did he strike you?”
“I hardly noticed him.”
“He did not impress you as an evil personality?”
She shrugged her shoulders slightly. “Really, I cannot say I thought about it.”
Poirot looked at her keenly.
“You are, I think, a little bit contemptuous of the way I prosecute my inquiries,” he said with a twinkle. “Not so, you think, would an English inquiry be conducted. There everything would be cut and dried-it would be all kept to the facts-a well-ordered business. But I, Mademoiselle, have my little originalities. I look first at my witness, I sum up his or her character, and I frame my questions accordingly. just a little minute ago I am asking questions of a gentleman who wants to tell me all his ideas on every subject. Well, him I keep strictly to the point. I want him to answer yes or no. This or that. And then you come. I see at once that you will be orderly and methodical. You will confine yourself to the matter in hand. Your answers will be brief and to the point. And because, Mademoiselle, human nature is perverse, I ask of you quite different questions. I ask what you feel, what you think. It does not please you, this method?”
“If you will forgive my saying so, it seems somewhat of a waste of time. Whether or not I liked Mr. Ratchett’s face does not seem likely to be helpful in finding out who killed him.”
“Do you know who the man Ratchett really was, Mademoiselle?”
She nodded. “Mrs. Hubbard has been telling everyone.”
“And what do you think of the Armstrong affair?”
“It was quite abominable,” said the girl crisply.
Poirot looked at her thoughtfully.
“You are travelling from Baghdad, I believe, Miss Debenham?”