15. The Evidence of the Passengers’ Luggage
Having delivered himself of various polite insincerities, and having told Mrs. Hubbard that he would order coffee to be brought to her, Poirot was able to take his leave accompanied by his two friends.
“Well, we have made a start and drawn, a blank,” observed M. Bouc. “Whom shall we attack next?”
“It would be simplest, I think, just to proceed along the train, carriage by carriage. That means that we start with No. 16-the amiable Mr. Hardman.”
Mr. Hardman, who was smoking a cigar, welcomed them affably.
“Come right in, gentlemen. That is, if it’s humanly possible. It’s just a mite cramped in here for a party.”
M. Bouc explained the object of their visit, and the big detective nodded comprehendingly.
“That’s O. K. To tell the truth I’ve been wondering you didn’t get down to it sooner. Here are my keys, gentlemen,
and if you like to search my pockets too, why, you’re welcome. Shall I reach the grips down for you?”
“The conductor will do that. Michel!”
The contents of Mr. Hardman’s two “grips” were soon examined and passed. They contained, perhaps, an undue proportion of spirituous liquor. Mr. Hardman winked.
“It’s not often they search your grips at the frontiers-not if you fix the conductor. I handed out a wad of Turkish notes right away, and there’s been no trouble so far.”
Mr. Hardman winked again. “By the time I get to Paris,” he said, “what’s left over of this little lot will go into a bottle labelled hairwash.”
“You are not a believer in Prohibition, Monsieur Hardman,” said M. Bouc with a smile.
“Well,” said Hardman, “I can’t say Prohibition has ever worried me any.”
“Ah!” said M. Bouc. “The speakeasy.” He pronounced the word with care, savouring it. “Your American terms are so quaint, so expressive,” he said.
“Me, I would much like to go to America,” said Poirot.
“You’d learn a few go-ahead methods over there,” said Hardman. “Europe needs waking up. She’s half asleep.”
“It is true that America is the country of progress,” agreed Poirot. “There is much that I admire about Americans. Only-I am perhaps old-fashioned-but me, I find the American women less charming than my own countrywomen. The French or the Belgian girl, coquettish, charming-I think there is no one to touch her.”
Hardman turned away to peer out at the snow for a minute.
“Perhaps you’re right, M. Poirot,” he said. “But I guess every nation likes its own girls best.” He blinked as though the snow hurt his eyes.
“Kind of dazzling, isn’t it?” he remarked. “Say, gentlemen, this business is getting on my nerves. Murder and the snow and all. And nothingdoing. Just hanging about and killing time. I’d like to get busy after someone or something.”
“The true Western spirit of hustle,” said Poirot with a smile.
The conductor replaced the bags and they moved on to the next compartment. Colonel Arbuthnot was sitting in a corner smoking a pipe and reading a magazine.
Poirot explained their errand. The Colonel made no demur. He had two heavy leather suitcases.
“The rest of my kit has gone by long sea,” he explained.
Like most Army men the Colonel was a neat packer. The examination of his baggage took only a few minutes. Poirot noted a packet of pipe-cleaners.
“You always use the same kind?” he asked. “Usually. If I can get ’em.”
“Ah!” Poirot nodded.