5. The Crime
He found it difficult to go to sleep again at once. For one thing he missed the motion of the train. If itwas a station outside, it was curiously quiet. By contrast the noises on the train seemed unusually loud. He could hear Ratchett moving about next door-a click as he pulled down the washbasin, the sound of the tap running, a splashing noise, then another click as the basin shut to again. Footsteps passed up the corridor outside, the shuffling footsteps of someone in bedroom slippers.
Hercule Poirot lay awake staring at the ceiling. Why was the station outside so silent? His throat felt dry. He had forgotten to ask for his usual bottle of mineral water. He looked at his watch again. Just after a quarter past one. He would ring for the conductor and ask for some mineral water. His finger went out to the bell, but he paused as in the stillness he heard a ting. The man couldn’t answer every bell at once.
Ting… Ting… Ting…
sounded again and again. Where was the man? Somebody was getting impatient.
Whoever it was, was keeping a finger solidly on the push-button.
Suddenly with a rush, his footsteps echoing up the aisle, the man came. He knocked at a door not far from Poirot’s own.
Then came voices-the conductor’s, deferential, apologetic; and a woman’s, insistent and voluble.
Poirot smiled to himself.
The altercation-if it was one-went on for some time. Its proportions were ninety per cent of Mrs. Hubbard’s to a soothing ten per cent of the conductor’s. Finally the matter seemed to be adjusted. Poirot heard distinctly a “Bonne nuit, Madame,” and a closing door.
He pressed his own finger on the bell.
The conductor arrived promptly. He looked hot and worried.
“De l’eau minerale, s’il vous Pla it.”
“Bien, Monsieur.” Perhaps a twinkle in Poirot’s eye led him to unburden himself. “La dame americaine -“
He wiped his forehead. “Imagine to yourself the time I have had with her! She insists-butinsists – that there is a man in her compartment! Figure to yourself, Monsieur. In a space of this size.” He swept a hand round. “Where would he conceal himself? I argue with her. I point out that it is impossible. She insists. She woke up, and there was a man there. And how, I ask, did he get out and leave the door bolted behind him? But she will not listen to reason. As though there were not enough to worry us already. This snow-“
“But yes, Monsieur. Monsieur has not noticed? The train has stopped. We have run into a snowdrift. Heaven knows how long we shall be here. I remember once being snowed up for seven days.”
“Where are we?”
“Between Vincovci and Brod.”
“La-la,”said Poirot vexedly.
The man withdrew and returned with the water.
“Bon soir, Monsieur.”
Poirot drank a glass of water and composed himself to sleep.
He was just dropping off when something again woke him. This time it was as though something heavy had fallen with a thud against the door.
He sprang up, opened it and looked out. Nothing. But to his right, some distance down the corridor, a woman wrapped in a scarlet kimono was retreating from him. At the other end, sitting on his little seat, the conductor was entering up figures on large sheets of paper. Everything was deathly quiet.
“Decidedly I suffer from the nerves,” said Poirot and retired to bed again. This time he slept till morning.
When he awoke the train was still at a standstill. He raised a blind and looked out. Heavy banks of snow surrounded the train.