3. Poirot Refuses a Case
M. Hercule Poirot was a little late in entering the luncheon-car on the following day. He had risen early, had breakfasted almost alone, and had spent the morning going over the notes of the case that was recalling him to London. He had seen little of his travelling companion.
M. Bouc, who was already seated, gated a greeting and summoned his friend to the empty place opposite him. Poirot sat down and soon found himself in the favoured position of being at the table which was served first and with the choicest morsels. The food, too, was unusually good.
It was not till they were eating a delicate cream cheese that M. Bouc allowed his attention to wander to matters other than nourishment. He was at the stage of a meal when one becomes philosophic.
“Ah!” he sighed. “If I had but the pen of a Balzac! I would depict this scene.” He waved a hand.
“It is an idea, that,” said Poirot.
you agree? It has not been done, I think? And yet-it lends itself to romance, my friend. All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other. At the end of three days they part, they go their several ways, never perhaps to see each other again.”
“And yet,” said Poirot, “suppose an accident-“
“Ah, no, my friend-“
“From your point of view it would be regrettable, I agree. But nevertheless let us just for one moment suppose it. Then, perhaps, all these here are linked together-by death.”
“Some more wine,” said M. Bouc, hastily pouring it out. “You are morbid, mon cher. It is, perhaps the digestion.”
“It is true,” agreed Poirot, “that the food in Syria was not perhaps quite suited to my stomach.”
He sipped his wine. Then, leaning back, he ran his eye thoughtfully round the dining-car. There were thirteen people seated there and, as M. Bouc had said, of all classes and nationalities. He began to study them.
At the table opposite them were three men. They were, he guessed, single travellers graded and placed there by the unerring judgment of the restaurant attendants. A big swarthy Italian was picking his teeth with gusto. Opposite him a spare neat Englishman had the expressionless disapproving face of the well-trained servant. Next to the Englishman was a big American in a loud suit-possibly a commercial traveller.
“You’ve got to put it overbig,” he was saying in a loud, nasal voice.
The Italian removed his toothpick to gesticulate with it freely.
“Sure,” he said. “That whatta I say alla de time.”
The Englishman looked out of the window and coughed.
Poirot’s eye passed on.
At a small table, sitting very upright, was one of the ugliest old ladies he had ever seen. It was an ugliness of distinction-it fascinated rather than repelled. She sat very upright. Round her neck was a collar of very large pearls which, improbable though it seemed, were real. Her hands were covered with rings. Her sable coat was pushed back on her shoulders. A very small and expensive black toque was hideously unbecoming to the yellow, toad-like face beneath it.
She was speaking now to the restaurant attendant in a clear, courteous, but completely autocratic tone.
“You will be sufficiently amiable to place in my compartment a bottle of mineral water and a large glass of orange juice. You will arrange that I shall have chicken cooked without sauces for dinner this evening-also some boiled fish.