Early the next morning, the steamer arrives at the temple of Ez-Zebua. Cornelia, in high spirits, rushes ashore. She comes upon Hercule Poirot, dressed in a flashy white suit and alone. She tells Poirot that her older cousin, Miss Van Schuyler, didn’t get up early enough to come, and her nurse Miss Bowers stayed backed with her to help her with whatever she needed. Cornelia discusses the many places she’s been on with her cousin on the trip so far.
Unlike many of the novel’s other characters, Cornelia isn’t entitled or spoiled—rather than complaining about her vacation, she’s genuinely interested in seeing new places. Miss Van Schuyler’s absence has also noticeably lightened Cornelia’s mood, emphasizing how her cousin’s poor treatment affects her.
Poirot and Cornelia notice Rosalie. Cornelia calls her good-looking, although not quite as good-looking as Linnet. A tour guide interrupts and begins telling a gathered group of travelers about the temple. Dr. Bessner complains about how the tour is being run, while Mrs. Allerton makes small talk with Mr. Fanthorp. Meanwhile, Andrew Pennington stands with Linnet and remarks that she looks well—better than she’s been looking lately. Soon the whole party returns to the steamer, which continues up the Nile, and all the passengers seem to be in a better mood.
Again, as characters mingle, they form connections with one another that could play a role in the titular “death on the Nile” that the reader knows is bound to happen.
Later, in the saloon, Pennington asks if it’s okay to bring up a business issue with Linnet (who is with Simon), even though it’s her honeymoon. The only other passengers in the saloon are Ferguson, Poirot, and Miss Van Schuyler. Linnet agrees to look over some papers to sign, so Pennington leaves, then comes back with a big stack of papers.
This scene is important—in the first chapter, it was revealed that Pennington had to settle a business matter related to Linnet’s recent marriage. Despite him acting casual, it’s clear that this moment is actually the entire reason that he boarded the Karnak in the first place.
As Pennington leafs through the papers for Linnet and Simon, Fanthorp comes into the saloon. After signing the first document, Linnet begins reading through the documents thoroughly, despite Pennington’s assurances that this is unnecessary. Simon tells Pennington that Linnet is far more careful than he is when it comes to signing documents. Fanthorp interrupts to say how much he admires Linnet’s businesslike manner, annoying Pennington. Pennington suggests finishing up signing the papers some other time. Linnet says they should go outside, and she leaves the saloon with Simon and Pennington.
Again, this scene might seem fairly innocuous, but since it was also revealed in the first chapter that Fanthorp’s law firm has an interest in Linnet (and that they sent him specifically because of a letter in which she mentioned seeing Pennington), it seems clear that Fanthorp’s intervention here is very purposeful. Pennington’s annoyance drives home the fact that he and Fanthorp have competing interests, though Linnet and Simon both seem unaware of this.
Still in the saloon, Poirot surveys his surroundings and sees Miss Van Schuyler chastising her younger cousin Cornelia again. Miss Bowers, the nurse, enters with Miss Van Schuyler’s medicine. They all leave.
Though no crime has been committed yet, Poirot always surveys his surroundings, so that when there is a crime, he can verify alibis.
Mr. Ferguson remarks to Poirot that he’d like to “scrag that dame” (meaning Miss Van Schuyler). He calls her a parasite, then says that Linnet is just as bad because she became one of the richest women in England without doing any work. Poirot asks how Ferguson knows she’s so rich, and Ferguson angrily replies that he heard it from a working-class man that a “fop” like Poirot would never speak to. Ferguson remarks that all the idle rich deserve to be shot, startling Poirot.
Ferguson’s exclamation that he’d like to shoot the rich might seem like a serious red flag in a murder novel, but because he is often all talk, it’s not sure how seriously the claim should be taken.
Ferguson asks Poirot what he does for a living, and if he’s a middle man. Poirot replies he’s actually a top man, since he’s an independent detective. Ferguson accuses him of being on Linnet’s payroll, but Poirot maintains he has no connection to her or Simon, he’s just on vacation. Ferguson responds that he himself is on the boat to “study conditions.”
Though Poirot is generally a heroic and humble character, this is one moment where he shows his pride. Ferguson’s insults prompt Poirot to defend himself and his vocation as a detective.
Poirot decides to leave the saloon and wander around the boat. He sees a woman with “a dark, piquant, Latin face” talking guiltily with a muscular engineer, but he can’t hear the conversation. As he continues, he’s surprised by Mrs. Otterbourne coming out of a cabin door. She complains about seasickness and how Rosalie has left her alone. Poirot urges her to return to her cabin so that she doesn’t get swept overboard, and she follows his advice.
It’s unclear who the woman talking to the engineer is, but the fact that she’s speaking “guiltily” could point to her involvement in something nefarious. On another note, Mrs. Otterbourne’s complaining and her dependence on her daughter may seem insignificant, but these details will determine later events.
Poirot continues walking and finds Rosalie sitting with Tim and Mrs. Allerton. Rosalie looks happy, until Poirot tells her that her mother needs her. She leaves. Mrs. Allerton and Tim discuss how Rosalie swings between being friendly and rude—Tim suggests she’s spoiled, but Mrs. Allerton argues maybe she’s just unhappy.
The way Rosalie’s happiness dissipates at the mention of Mrs. Otterbourne establishes that much of her sulkiness can be attributed to her relationship with her mother. As predicted earlier, Tim and Rosalie spend time together because they are some of the only young people on board.
II. That night, Poirot sees Mrs. Allerton sitting next to Miss Van Schuyler, discussing aristocratic matters. Cornelia is out on the deck, listening to Dr. Bessner discuss Egyptology. Tim and Rosalie are at the deck rail, discussing how awful the world is. Poirot feels glad that he’s not young anymore.
This short section intentionally sets a wistful mood. The characters are enjoying one final moment of peace before the action picks up and things start to get more intense.