At the Cataract Hotel in Egypt, Mrs. Allerton points out the famous detective Hercule Poirot to her son Tim. They’re both excited and watch Poirot talk with a good-looking girl, who is revealed to be Rosalie Otterbourne. She looks to be in a bad temper as she walks with Poirot (standing three inches taller than him). Rosalie complains to him that there are no other young people around except Tim, who Rosalie finds conceited and who is always with his mother, Mrs. Allerton. When Poirot asks if she also finds him conceited, she comments that she doesn’t know but she’s not interested in crime. Poirot says he’s glad she doesn’t have a guilty secret—she seems surprised by the statement. They discuss Mrs. Otterbourne, who Rosalie reveals doesn’t like their current location, and then they comment that they will all go on the same trip to Wadi Halfa and the Second Cataract.
Now that Christie has introduced the novel’s many characters, she builds suspense by showing them in Egypt but not yet on the Nile. This scene does not at first seem particularly important—Poirot meets some of the other characters, but they don’t do much beyond exchange pleasantries. But in a whodunnit, sometimes important information is dropped during seemingly inconsequential moments. In this passage, it’s worth paying attention to the relationship between Tim and Rosalie, which will change over the course of the novel.
As they talk, Rosalie and Hercule Poirot pass some local street vendors who swarm close trying to sell them cheap souvenirs and tours, but they both make an effort to ignore them. Rosalie says that it’s best to “pretend to be deaf and blind.” Rosalie and Poirot reach a row of proper shops, and Rosalie goes in one of them to hand over some rolls of film to get developed. Then they watch passengers departing from the Nile steamer boats.
Though Christie was astute at pointing out the racism of characters like Mrs. Otterbourne, here she uses a racist stereotype, describing the Egyptian street vendors as if they’re all one nameless mass of buzzing insects. Likening people to insects or vermin is a common technique used to dehumanize certain groups.
Tim Allerton joins Rosalie and Poirot as they watch the passengers. Suddenly, Tim excitedly notices Linnet, dressed in white and accompanied by a tall man, her new husband, Simon Doyle. They comment on how rich and beautiful she is, how she really seems to have everything. Rosalie watches Linnet with “a queer grudging expression.”
Linnet’s grand entrance emphasizes how famous she is, as even a completely unrelated character like Tim knows about her. Rosalie’s grumpy expression could be ominous, but it can also be easily explained away, given her sulky personality so far.
Linnet disembarks with the grace of a famous actress, treating the gangplank like a stage, conscious that everyone is looking at her. As Linnet and Simon Doyle pass, Poirot hears Simon say that they can “make time for it” and can spend a week or two in the area if she likes. Tim notes Simon’s luck while Rosalie remarks that the couple seem happy and then enviously adds, “It isn’t fair.”
The idea of fairness comes up several times in the novel—though not all characters voice it aloud, many of them believe on some level that it isn’t really fair that Linnet has so many extravagant things. Rosalie, meanwhile, seems more envious of Linnet’s relationship than her material possessions.
Tim leaves, and Poirot and Rosalie head back toward the hotel. After they pass the street vendors again, Poirot asks Rosalie about what made her say that things were unfair. She says Linnet has everything, but Poirot asks if she saw what he did: that Linnet had “dark lines” under her eyes and a white-knuckled grip on her parasol. He reminds Rosalie that all that glitters is not gold, suggesting that all may not be as it seems beneath her successful exterior. In fact, Poirot remarks that he even remembers hearing Doyle’s voice somewhere before, but he can’t place it.
This passage humanizes Linnet by implying that she isn’t as happy as she might seem. Poirot demonstrates, as he will many more times in the novel, that he can perceive things that other characters can’t, easily looking beyond the surface.
Rosalie suddenly says, “I’m odious. I’m quite odious. ['m just a beast through and through. I'd like to tear the clothes off her back [Linnet] and stamp on her lovely, arrogant, self-confident face.” Poirot is surprised but tries to joke with her about it, telling her she must feel better after getting that off her chest. After recovering from her outburst, Rosalie laughs too. Once they reach the hotel, Rosalie leaves to find her mother, Mrs. Otterbourne.
Rosalie’s outburst of hatred toward Linnet is surprising, particularly because of its intensity. It could even suggest a hidden motive for murder—in a whodunnit, the central crime is usually foreshadowed by little comments that read differently the second time around. Then again, there are a lot of characters in Death on the Nile, and Agatha Christie gives many of them motives to commit a crime—some of which are red herrings (purposely misleading clues) and others that relate to totally different secrets.
Poirot walks alone along a terrace and spots some tennis players. He recognizes a girl sitting on a bench near the tennis courts and recognizes her from months earlier at Chez Ma Tante a few months earlier. He notices that the girl seems paler and much more tired than she was the first time Poirot saw her. Poirot shrinks back and tries to keep watching her without being seen. She looks out at the boats on the Nile with a pained but triumphant look in her eyes.
Poirot’s memories of Chez Ma Tante are clearly important, since that is where his character was introduced. Still, Christie does not yet reveal why that scene is important—she just builds the mystery by bringing it up again and adding new details.
Suddenly, Poirot hears voices from above. Linnet and Simon are walking down the path. Jacqueline greets them, and they both react with shock and dismay. Simon looks as if he’s about to hit Jacqueline. But then, when Jacqueline glances to the side, Simon notices Poirot and tries (unconvincingly) to greet Jacqueline as if everything is normal. Jacqueline tells them it must be a surprise to see her, then walks off. Poirot hears Linnet say “Simon—for God’s sake! Simon—what can we do?”
Chapter Two ends with a classic cliffhanger and the promise of more conflict to come. The tension in this scene introduces the possibility that whatever crime is eventually committed will involve the love triangle of Jacqueline, Linnet, and Simon, who seem to have unfinished business among themselves—likely related to Simon’s abrupt breakup with Jacqueline and marriage to Linnet.