Agatha christie murder on the orient express part16

8. The Evidence of Colonel Arbuthnot

Poirot roused himself with a slight start. His eyes twinkled a little as they met the eager ones of M. Bouc.
“Ah! my dear old friend,” he said, “you see I have become what they call the snob! The first class, I feel it should be attended to before the second class. Next, I think, we will interview the good-looking Colonel Arbuthnot.”
Finding the Colonel’s French to be of a severely limited description, Poirot conducted his interrogatory in English.
Arbuthnot’s name, age, home address and exact military standing were all ascertained. Poirot proceeded:
“It is that you come home from India on what is called the leave-what we can callen permission ?”
Colonel Arbuthnot, uninterested in what a pack of foreigners called anything, replied with true British brevity, “Yes.”
“But you do not come home on the P. amp; O. boat?”
“Why not?”
“I chose to come by the overland route for reasons of my own.”
(“And that,” his manner seemed to say, “is one for you, you interfering little jackanapes.”)
“You came straight through from India?”
The Colonel replied drily: “I stopped for one night to see Ur of the Chaldees, and for three days in Baghdad with the A.O.C., who happens to be an old friend of mine.”
“You stopped three days in Baghdad. I understand that the young English lady, Miss Debenham, also comes from Baghdad. Perhaps you met her there?”
“No, I did not. I first met Miss Debenham when she and I shared the railway convoy car from Kirkuk to Nissibin.”
Poirot leaned forward. He became persuasive and a little more foreign than he need have been.
“Monsieur, I am about to appeal to you. You and Miss Debenham are the only two English people on the train. It is necessary that I should ask you each your opinion of the other.”
“Highly irregular,” said Colonel Arbuthnot coldly.
“Not so. You see, this crime, it was most probably committed by a woman. The man was stabbed no fewer than twelve times. Even thechef de train said at once, ‘It is a woman.’ Well, then, what is my first task? To give all the women travelling on the Istanbul-Calais coach what Americans call the ‘once-over.’ But to judge of an Englishwoman is difficult. They are very reserved, the English. So I appeal to you, Monsieur, in the interest of justice. What sort of person is this Miss Debenham? What do you know about her?”
“Miss Debenham,” said the Colonel with some warmth, “is a lady.”
“Ah!” said Poirot with every appearance of being much gratified. “So you do not think that she is likely to be implicated in this crime?”
“The idea is absurd,” said Arbuthnot. “The man was a perfect stranger-she had never seen him before.”
“Did she tell you so?”
“She did. She commented at once upon his somewhat unpleasant appearance. If a woman is concerned, as you seem to think (to my mind without any evidence but on a mere assumption), I can assure you that Miss Debenham could not possibly be implicated.”
“You feel warmly in the matter,” said Poirot with a smile.
Colonel Arbuthnot gave him a cold stare. “I really don’t know what you mean,” he said.
The stare seemed to abash Poirot. He dropped his eyes and began fiddling with the papers in front of him.
“All this is by the way,” he said. “Let us be practical and come to facts. This crime, we have reason to believe, took place at a quarter past one last night.