6. A Second Interview With Colonel Arbuthnot
Colonel Arbuthnot was clearly annoyed at being summoned to the dining-car for a second interview. His face wore a most forbidding expression as he sat down and said:
“All my apologies for troubling you a second time,” said Poirot. “But there is still some information that I think you might be able to give us.”
“Indeed? I hardly think so.”
“To begin with, you see this pipe-cleaner?”
“Is it one of yours?”
“Don’t know. I don’t put a private mark on them, you know.”
“Are you aware, Colonel Arbuthnot, that you are the only man amongst the passengers in the Stamboul-Calais carriage who smokes a pipe?”
“In that case it probably is one of mine.”
“Do you know where it was found?”
“Not the least idea.”
“It was found by the body of the murdered man.”
Colonel Arbuthnot raised his eyebrows.
“Can you tell us, Colonel Arbuthnot, how it is likely to have got there?”
“If you mean, did I drop it there myself, no, I didn’t.”
“Did you go into Mr. Ratchett’s compartment at any time?”
“I never even spoke to the man.”
“You never spoke to him and you did not murder him?”
The colonel’s eyebrows went up again sardonically.
“If I had, I should hardly be likely to acquaint you with the fact. As a matter of fact Ididn’t murder the fellow.”
“Ah, well,” murmured Poirot. “It is of no consequence.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said that it was of no consequence.”
“Oh!” Arbuthnot looked taken aback. He eyed Poirot uneasily.
“Because, you see,” continued the little
man, “the pipe-cleaner, it is of no importance. I can myself think of eleven other excellent explanations of its presence.”
Arbuthnot stared at him.
“What I really wished to see you about was quite another matter,” went on Poirot. “Miss Debenham may have told you, perhaps, that I overheard some words spoken to you at the station of Konya?”
Arbuthnot did not reply.
“She said, ‘Not now. When it’s all over. When it’s behind us!’ Do you know to what those words referred?”
“I am sorry, M. Poirot, but I must refuse to answer that question.”
The Colonel said stiffly, “I suggest that you ask Miss Debenham herself for the meaning of those words.”
“I have done so.”
“And she refused to tell you?”
“Then I should think it would have been perfectly plain-even to you-that my lips are sealed.”
“You will not give away a lady’s secret?”
“You can put it that way, if you like.”
“Miss Debenham told me that they referred to a private matter of her own.”
“Then why not accept her word for it?”
“Because, Colonel Arbuthnot, Miss Debenham is what one might call a highly suspicious character.”
“Nonsense,” said the Colonel with warmth.
“It is not nonsense.”
“You have nothing whatever against her.”
“Not the fact that Miss Debenham was companion governess; in the Armstrong household at the time of the kidnapping of little Daisy Armstrong?”
There was a minute’s dead silence.
Poirot nodded his head gently.
“You see,” he said. “We know more than you think. If Miss Debenham is innocent, why did she conceal that fact? Why did she tell me that she had never been in America?”
The Colonel cleared his throat. “Aren’t you possibly making a mistake?”
“I am making no mistake. Why did Miss Debenham lie to me?”
Colonel Arbuthnot shrugged his shoulders. “You had better ask her.