At eleven o’clock the next morning, Simon and Linnet head off toward Philae (with the plan that they will ultimately go to Shellal to catch the Nile steamer boat the Karnak). Jacqueline, on the hotel balcony, watches them go. She does not, however, notice that a car is also departing the hotel, taking their luggage and their maid, Louise Bourget, to Shellal.
Simon and Linnet’s escape seems to be successful. Clearly, however, this problem can’t be resolved so easily, so the book builds suspense about how Jacqueline, Linnet, and Simon, will come into conflict again.
Poirot decides to spend a couple of hours before lunch on Elephantine, an island reachable by boat that’s right across from the hotel. He notes two other men making the same boat journey to the island. The men don’t know each other: one is a dark-haired young man, looking ready for a fight, with clothes that look out of place in Egypt. The other is a pudgy, middle-aged man, with a slight accent, and he immediately starts talking to Poirot, taking particular interest in their skilled Nubian boatman.
Poirot meets two characters who will play a role in the coming events, though their names are not revealed at first. There is also a brief mention of a Nubian character who isn’t named and who plays no role other than to facilitate things for European characters. Taken in isolation, the boatman isn’t a particularly racist portrayal, but he is part of a pattern in the novel of African characters being totally ignored, except for how they relate to the European or American characters.
Soon after the boat reaches the island of Elephantine, the middle-aged man introduces himself to Poirot as Signor Guido Richetti, an archeologist. He walks with Poirot to a museum, speaking first in Italian, then in French. The dark-haired young man loiters near them at first, before eventually going his own way.
It isn’t clear yet what role Richetti will play, but his occupation as an archaeologist helps connect the events of the story to the rich history of ancient Egypt, where death was surrounded by elaborate rituals. Agatha Christie’s husband was an archaeologist, and she herself was interested in the field.
Later, Poirot and Signor Richetti see the dark-haired young man again near some ruins on the island. Poirot is distracted, however, when he sees a green sun umbrella that he recognizes as Mrs. Allerton’s. She’s sitting on a big rock with a sketchbook. He greets her politely. Mrs. Allerton complains about “these awful children,” meaning a group of “small black figures” surrounding her, all of whom are holding out a hand and asking for “bakshish” (money, like a charitable donation or a tip). She is annoyed by their persistence and finds their staring faces “disgusting.” Poirot tries to get rid of them, but they keep coming back. Mrs. Allerton says she’d prefer Egypt if she could just get some peace.
The African children in this scene are another example of racism in the novel. While there are some elements of truth to Agatha Christie’s portrayal (there would certainly have been poverty in Egypt at the time), the description of the children as “small black figures” and the way Mrs. Allerton reacts to them are demeaning. As with the street vendors earlier, here all the Africans are portrayed in a racist way, as one faceless mass of poverty. It is particularly strange that Poirot, who is depicted as an impartial defender of justice throughout the book, shoos the children away and takes Mrs. Allerton’s side.
Poirot asks Mrs. Allerton why her son, Tim, isn’t with her this morning. She says Tim has letters to send before they take a trip to the Second Cataract (the same Nile boat trip that Poirot and many other characters will be taking). She then mentions her and Tim’s recent visit to Majorca, where her friend Mrs. Leech lost a ruby ring. She wishes Poirot had been there to help her find it.
Christie hints pretty clearly that Tim is involved in some sort of jewelry theft, though it’s clear that Mrs. Allerton has no idea about it, or else she wouldn’t be telling Poirot. It seems like too much of a coincidence that jewelry just keeps disappearing where he goes, and his absence on the tour suggests he might be up to something again.
Mrs. Allerton then reveals that from her window at the hotel, she saw Poirot walking and talking with Simon Doyle. She talks about Simon’s recent marriage to Linnet and the earlier rumors that Linnet would marry Lord Windlesham instead. Mrs. Allerton says she doesn’t know Linnet well but that her cousin, Joanna Southwood, is one of Linnet’s best friends. Poirot is also aware of Joanna, from having read her name in the news. Mrs. Allerton makes a snide comment about how Joanna really knows how to “advertise herself,” then admits that she doesn’t like Joanna, even though Joanna and Tim are good friends.
This passage doesn’t add much new information, but it reminds the reader of how the Allertons fit in with the Linnet Doyle business—their cousin Joanna is a good friend of Linnet’s. This detail will be important later in the story.
Mrs. Allerton changes the subject, saying that pretty much the only young person she’s seen around is “that pretty girl with the chestnut hair [Rosalie] and the appalling mother in the turban [Mrs. Otterbourne]”. Mrs. Allerton and Tim find Rosalie “sulky,” but Mrs. Allerton says they may have to act friendly toward her, since she and her mother will be taking the same Nile trip, and they’ll all be stuck on the same steamer.
This passage sets up that Tim and Rosalie are some of the only young people on board the Karnak, suggesting that the two of them will probably be forced to interact with each other, whether they want to or not.
Mrs. Allerton then says that Tim told her that “that dark girl” (i.e., Jacqueline) was engaged to Simon Doyle and that it must be awkward for them to meet in Egypt as they did. Mrs. Allerton says she found Jacqueline almost scary. Poirot agrees, saying “A great force of emotion is always frightening.”
Despite references to Jacqueline being “dark” or “Latin,” it’s unclear whether she’s actually Latina or simply has darker hair and skin than other white characters in the novel. Still, it is telling that Christie uses racially coded language most often when describing Jacqueline’s violence, as this perpetuates racist stereotypes that were prevalent at the time.
Changing the subject a little, Mrs. Allerton asks Poirot if all people interest him or if he only takes an interest in “potential criminals.” Poirot replies, “Madam—that category would not leave many people outside it,” an idea that surprises Mrs. Allerton. Poirot adds that he thinks most people would commit a crime if given the right motivation. They discuss several hotel guests—Mrs. Allerton herself, Simon, Linnet, Jacqueline, Pennington, and Mrs. Otterbourne—and come to the conclusion that all of them could commit murder for different reasons.
Though Poirot is a very generous person, he is also capable of extreme cynicism—or perhaps just realism. His belief that almost anyone can commit murder is likely shaped in part by his long history of solving unusual crimes. It’s also worth noting that this novel was written between the two World Wars—the carnage of WWI was still fresh in the mind of many Britons and the warning signs for WWII were already on the horizon for anyone paying attention to news from Europe. This global climate could lead to a darker outlook on human nature, even for someone as selfless as Poirot.
Mrs. Allerton asks about the most common motives for murder and Poirot replies, “Most frequent—money. That is to say, gain in its various ramifications. Then there is revenge—and love, and fear, and pure hate, and beneficence…” He goes on to discuss murders he’s seen in the past, how murderers often take it upon themselves to play God. Mrs. Allerton jokes that if there are so many motives for murder, it’s a wonder that anyone survives at all.
Poirot’s overview of murders he’s seen foreshadows the eventual murder (or murders) that will take place on the Nile. While his speech would seem to suggest that money will be involved (perhaps implicating Simon, or maybe Pennington), many murders in Agatha Christie novels don’t follow obvious logic, so it is too early to tell.
Finally, Mrs. Allerton declares that they must start getting back from Elephantine to the hotel for lunch, so she and Poirot go back to the boat, where they see the dark-haired young man and Signor Richetti. Poirot makes a friendly comment to the dark-haired young man about all the great wonders of Egypt, but the young man responds that they make him sick. Poirot asks him to elaborate.
The book builds mystery around the dark-haired young man by withholding his name long after his introduction. The young man is angry and seems as if he might be hiding something, although it isn’t clear what.
The dark-haired young man tells Poirot and Mrs. Allerton that he feels ill thinking of all the suffering workers who built the Pyramids in order to stroke the ego of some old king. Mrs. Allerton asks if he’d prefer a world without ancient architectural wonders, if the only thing that mattered was “that people got three meals a day and died in their beds.” The young man scowls and replies, “I think human beings matter more than stones.” Poirot comments that stones are more durable, but the young man insists he’d prefer a well-fed worker over any supposed art. Signor Richetti, the archeologist, overhears and gives a passionate but incomprehensible speech in opposition to the young man, who continues to rail against capitalism.
This is one of many passages in the novel where characters with different backgrounds and philosophies are forced to interact. The book seems to align with Poirot in the argument between him and the young man about the value of building monuments, though it’s also poking fun at archaeologists through Signor Richetti’s character.
The boat finally arrives back at the hotel, and Mrs. Allerton, Poirot, Signor Richetti, and the dark-haired young man all disembark. In the hall of the hotel, Poirot meets Jacqueline, who is on her way out to go donkey riding. Poirot warns her not to buy any expensive native knick-knacks along the way (which are really cheap imports from Europe), and Jacqueline says she’s smarter than that and then goes about her business. Poirot finishes packing his things, takes an early lunch, then takes a hotel bus to a local station, beginning his journey to Shellal, where he’ll catch the Nile steamer. Mrs. Allerton, Tim, the dark-haired young man, and Signor Richetti travel along with Poirot. Mrs. Otterbourne and Rosalie took a different route but will also meet the steamer at Shellal.
Christie builds suspense with the appearance of Jacqueline—it seems likely that she’ll find some way to catch up with Simon and Linnet again, but this scene makes it seem as though she has other things on her mind.
At the busy train station, Poirot is separated from Mrs. Allerton and Tim, and ends up in a compartment with a disdainful, aristocratic old woman (Miss Van Schuyler) and her clumsy, disheveled young companion (Cornelia). For the whole train trip, Miss Van Schuyler snaps orders at Cornelia. The train ride is brief, though, and they soon arrive at the S.S. Karnak, where Rosalie and Mrs. Otterbourne have already boarded.
Again, the book creates more connections (and thus, opportunities for crime) by throwing different characters together. The bustle of travel builds anticipation for the upcoming boat ride.
The Karnak passengers are shown their rooms. Poirot makes sure his possessions are taken care of in his cabin, then goes out to watch the steamer depart and finds Rosalie at the deck rail, looking out at the Nile. Rosalie says she’ll be glad to be getting away from people, to which Poirot replies “Except those of our own number, Mademoiselle?” Rosalie replies, “There’s something about this country that makes me feel—wicked. It brings to the surface all the things that are boiling inside one. Everything’s so unfair—so unjust.” Poirot encourages her not to repress these feelings, to let them come up so that they can be skimmed away like scum on the surface of jam.
This is one of many times when Christie draws a parallel between the setting of the story and what it causes the characters to do. Though the suggestion that being in Egypt makes people more likely to commit murder could be read as racist (as this may imply that there’s something inherently violent about Egypt or Egyptian people), it is true that being in an enclosed area like the Karnak will force the characters into new conflicts.
Rosalie tells Poirot she had no idea Linnet and Simon would be on the trip, and just as she says it, the two of them come out of their cabin, looking pleased with themselves and talking excitedly about their plans. But just as the steamer pulls away to begin their seven-day trip on the Nile to the Second Cataract, they hear Jacqueline laughing. Instantly, they lose their good humor. Jacqueline claims it’s a surprise to see them, and Linnet says likewise. Linnet and Simon pull away from the group muttering about escape, then in a louder voice, Simon says something about stopping running and about needing to “go through with it now.”
This is the moment that many of the previous sections have been building up toward—Jacqueline finally reveals that she’s found a way to continue tracking Simon and Linnet. Her claim that it’s a surprise to see them is obviously a lie, as all the characters know. Meanwhile, Simon’s line at the end about having to “go through with it now” is deliberately ambiguous and meant to build more suspense.
Later, at dusk, the Karnak passes through a narrow gorge. Poirot, watching from the “observation saloon” (a glass enclosed area on the front part of the deck, where passengers can see the river) notices rocks falling down into the Nile as the steamer crosses into Nubia.
Christie gives some details about the setting—falling rocks are potentially dangerous and could foreshadow what’s to come.
Suddenly, Linnet appears beside Poirot and says that she is afraid—the violently falling rocks make her nervous, and she feels she is surrounded by enemies. She feels trapped, and Poirot is sympathetic. She says she’ll never escape Jacqueline, but Poirot suggests something she hasn’t considered yet: hiring out a private boat. Linnet says the problem is, while they’d have enough money, Simon is “sensitive” about things he sees as needless expenses. She hesitates, wondering if she was too open with Poirot, then apologizes for “talking a lot of foolish nonsense.”
Christie goes back and forth between depicting Linnet as selfish and depicting her as something of a victim whom the reader (and Poirot) can sympathize with. Still, it’s significant that Poirot suggests a very logical way to escape her current problem, and Linnet turns it down. This suggests that she still has some character flaw (perhaps pride) that prevents her from listening to reason.