9. Poirot Propounds Two Solutions
The passengers came crowding into the restaurant car and took their seats round the tables. They all bore more or less the same expression, one of expectancy mingled with apprehension. The Swedish lady was still weeping, and Mrs. Hubbard was comforting her.
“Now you must just take a hold on yourself, my dear. Everything’s going to be perfectly all right. You mustn’t lose your grip on yourself. If one of us is a nasty murderer, we know quite well it isn’t you. Why, anyone would be crazy even to think of such a thing. You sit here, and I’ll stay right by you-and don’t you worry any.” Her voice died away as Poirot stood up.
The Wagon Lit conductor was hovering in the doorway. “You permit that I stay, Monsieur?”
Poirot cleared his throat.
“Messieurs et mesdames, I will speak in English since I think all of you know a little of that language. We are here to investigate the death of Samuel Edward Ratchett-alias Cassetti. There are two possible solutions of the crime. I shall put them both before you, and I shall ask M. Bouc, and Dr. Constantine here to judge which solution is the right one.
“Now you all know the facts of the case. Mr. Ratchett was found stabbed this morning. He was last known to be alive at 12.37 last night when he spoke to the Wagon Lit conductor through the door. A watch in his pyjama pocket was found to be badly dented, and it had stopped at a quarter past one. Dr. Constantine, who examined the body when found, puts the time of death as having been between midnight and two in the morning. At half an hour after midnight, as you all know, the train ran into a snowdrift. After that timeit was impossible for anyone to leave the train.
“The evidence of Mr. Hardman, who is a member of a New York detective agency-” (Several heads turned, to look at Mr. Hardman.)-“shows
that no one could have passed his compartment (No. 16 at the extreme end) without being seen by him. We are therefore forced to the conclusion that the murderer is to be found among the occupants of one particular coach-the Stamboul-Calais coach.
“That, I will say, was our theory.”
“Comment?” ejaculated M. Bouc, startled.
“But I will put before you an alternative theory. It is very simple. Mr. Ratchett had a certain enemy whom he feared. He gave Mr. Hardman a description of this enemy and told him that the attempt, if made at all, would most probably be made on the second night out from Stamboul.
“Now I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen, that Mr. Ratchett knew a good deal more than he told. The enemy, as Mr. Ratchett expected, joined the trainat Belgrade or else at Vincovci by the door left open by Colonel Arbuthnot and Mr. MacQueen, who had just descended to the platform. He was provided with a suit of Wagon Lit uniform, which he wore over his ordinary clothes, and a pass-key which enabled him to gain access to Mr. Ratchett’s compartment in spite of the door’s being locked. Mr. Ratchett was under the influence of a sleeping draught. This man stabbed him with great ferocity and left the compartment through the communicating door leading to Mrs. Hubbard’s compartment-“
“That’s so,” said Mrs. Hubbard, nodding her head.
“He thrust the dagger he had used into Mrs. Hubbard’s sponge-bag in passing. Without knowing it, he lost a button of his uniform. Then he slipped out of the compartment and along the corridor.