The next interview is with Mrs. Hubbard, the older American woman, who immediately demands to see the person “in authority.” Mrs. Hubbard claims that the murderer was in her room last night. She woke to the presence of a shadowy figure and pretended to be asleep, worrying about “these nasty trains…and all the outrages I’ve read of.” Soon, she gathered the courage to ring the conductor’s bell. After Pierre Michel turned on the lights, they found no one there, which “seemed to Mrs. Hubbard to be a dramatic climax rather than an anticlimax.”
Mrs. Hubbard has already established a reputation for herself as impertinent and gossipy, so her story about a shadowy figure in her room comes off as the product of an overactive imagination. Additionally, her complaints characterize her as a privileged and naïve American. Her arrogant demands for someone “in authority” and her reference to “the outrages I’ve read of” describe a worldview animated by fear of other cultures and social milieus.
After Pierre Michel checked her cabin and found nothing, Mrs. Hubbard reports that she was frustrated that he kept trying to “soothe” her rather than taking her seriously. She asked him to check the door into Ratchett’s room, which wasn’t bolted. Telling her story, Mrs. Hubbard quickly grows impatient with the investigators’ skepticism. But she offers a piece of evidence, a button from a train conductor’s uniform which she found near her bed, and is gratified when Poirot accepts it, saying “that, madame, I call evidence.”
Mrs. Hubbard appears understandably upset that she isn’t being taken seriously. The investigators have, maybe prematurely, categorized her as prone to exaggeration, a conclusion that clearly draws from her nationality, background, and gender. But here, as before with Pierre Michel, Poirot attempts to keep her engaged by affirming her, especially when she produces the button.
Poirot asks her whether the door to Ratchett’s room was bolted when she went to sleep, and Mrs. Hubbard says that she had asked the Swedish woman to confirm that it was locked. She couldn’t see the lock herself because she had hung a bag over the lock.
Poirot had spoken briefly to Mrs. Hubbard the previous night, when she volunteered that she was particularly scared of Ratchett and would not be surprised if he were a “murderer.” Given that, it seems strange that she wouldn’t check the bolt for herself.
Mrs. Hubbard had spoken to the Swedish woman, who was upset because she had mistakenly entered Ratchett’s room. Ratchett made a cruel sexual joke about her being “too old.”
This anecdote illustrates that Ratchett’s cruelty was not just criminal but casual, expressed even where there’s no advantage for Ratchett. This, in turn, backs up Poirot’s initial perception of him as an “animal” and a “malevolent’ force.
Poirot then tells Mrs. Hubbard about Ratchett’s connection to the Armstrong case, and while she’s familiar with it, calling Cassetti a “monster,” she doesn’t have a personal connection. He follows up on the scarlet kimono, but she denies owning one. Mrs. Hubbard rises to leave and Poirot suggests she forgot her handkerchief, holding the one with an “H” found in Ratchett’s cabin, but she says that it isn’t hers. She uses less expensive, more practical handkerchiefs.
Again, the gravity of the Armstrong case is such that each passenger has an instinctive revulsion to the idea that the perpetrator was a passenger on the train. Poirot asks about the scarlet kimono in a straightforward way, but he offers the handkerchief to Mrs. Hubbard as if assuming it’s hers, trying to prompt an automatic response. This illustrates how Poirot alternately reassures and surprises witnesses in order to coax information that they might otherwise hide.