Chapters 13 & 14 Summary
That evening, Dr. Sheppard visits Poirot at his home and they discuss the case. Dr. Sheppard accuses Poirot of getting information about his patients from Caroline. Poirot confesses that he was interested in one of Sheppard’s patients that morning. Assuming that Poirot refers to Miss Russell, Sheppard wonders if Poirot also finds her suspicious.
Poirot explains that he confirmed that a mysterious stranger approached Fernly Park around 9 pm the night of the murder – a maid of a local woman in town ran into him as well that night on his way there. After inquiring at the local inn, Poirot learns that the stranger drank there and mentioned he just came over from the United States.
Poirot brings out the goose quill he found in the summerhouse, which he recognized as a tool used to take heroin. This method of sniffing heroin from a goose quill is very popular in the United States, which leads Poirot to believe that the stranger may have gone to the summerhouse in Fernly Park once he arrived on the grounds that night. He will not explain to Dr. Sheppard what he believes the scrap of cambric he found there means.
Instead, he mentions Ursula Bourne again – he doesn’t believe that it would have taken a half hour for her to discuss quitting with Ackroyd over moving some papers on his desk. He also reminds Dr. Sheppard that she is the one person in Fernly Park whose alibi was not verified for the time that Ackroyd was said to have been murdered.
Dr. Sheppard brings up his own theories. Based on the fact that Ralph Paton was in some kind of trouble, was seen approaching Fernly Park that night, and they found footprints that matched his shoes outside of the window, he argues everything points to Ralph Paton being the person that Ackroyd was talking to at 9:30 pm. However, since Ackroyd was not murdered until 9:45, he believes Ralph left, and someone else – the American stranger – came in and committed the murder.
Poirot acknowledges that this is a good theory, but that it leaves too much unaccounted for, like the phone call from the train station, the pushed out chair and Major Blunt’s belief that Ackroyd was talking to Raymond at 9:30 pm. Plus, it is also strange, then, that Ralph Paton remains missing.
Poirot explains that there seem to be three possible motives for Ralph to have committed the murder. First, someone was blackmailing Mrs. Ferrars, and according to the lawyer, even though Ralph always needed money, he hadn’t asked him for money recently. Now the blackmailer had been exposed, and if it was Ralph, he would need to silence Ackroyd before the truth came out. Second, he was clearly in some kind of trouble that he was afraid of his uncle finding out about. Third, he stood to inherit a lot of money from his uncle’s death.
Dr. Sheppard confesses that these three motives make him fear that Ralph really is guilty, but Poirot counters mysteriously that the three motives are “almost too much” (p. 154), and makes him believe that Ralph may actually be innocent.
As Dr. Sheppard explains, after this meeting he and Poirot’s paths began to diverge more. Early Tuesday morning, Mrs. Ackroyd summons Dr. Sheppard to her. She is beside herself with distress over the events of the previous days, and complains about Poirot’s accusations that she (and everyone else) was hiding something.
After carrying on for a while, she finally arrives at her point: she confesses to Dr. Sheppard what she could not admit to Poirot at the earlier meeting. She asks Sheppard to explain it all to Poirot for her: the day of Ackroyd’s death, stressed about debt, she snuck into Ackroyd’s study and searched his desk for his will to see what provisions he’d made for her in it. As she was looking though, the parlormaid Ursula Bourne walked in and caught her in the act. Later, Ackroyd came in, and she heard Ursula asking Ackroyd to speak to him, and she worried that Bourne may have told him what she saw.
She also confesses to Dr. Sheppard that she left the lid of the silver table open the day of Ackroyd’s murder – she had noticed a valuable piece of silver in it, and claims that she’d removed it to get it appraised. She forgot to lower the lid of the table because she heard footsteps on the terrace outside and fled the room. Dr. Sheppard is able to deduce from this that the footsteps must have been Miss Russell’s, which leads him to conclude that Miss Russell must have entered the study via the window before he ran into her leaving it a few minutes later. Dr. Sheppard considers the cambric that Poirot found in the summerhouse, and wonders if it might have come from Miss Russell’s handkerchief, meaning she had been in the summerhouse earlier in the day.
As he leaves, Dr. Sheppard runs into Ursula Bourne, who has been crying. He asks her why she told them that Roger Ackroyd summoned her on the day she decided to quit, when Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd just stated that she asked to speak to him. Bourne replies vaguely that she had intended to quit before anything happened with Ackroyd and the papers. She also asks Dr. Sheppard if he has any news of Ralph Paton, and tells him significantly that Paton ought to return.
Dr. Sheppard returns home, where Caroline announces that she has had another visit from Poirot, who asked her to find out whether Ralph Paton’s boots were black or brown. She has used her network of servants to determine that the boots were black.
Chapters 13 & 14 Analysis
In Chapter 13, Sheppard confronts Poirot about the snooping that he did earlier in the day. He is clearly resentful and nervous that Poirot seems to be investigating him as much as any other character. Although he takes for granted that Poirot’s comment about only being interested in one of his patients refers to Miss Russell, the reader will later learn that this is not the patient Poirot was interested in. Poirot was actually more interested in another patient of Dr. Sheppard - the American steward.
Later in this Chapter, Poirot gives Sheppard and the reader another taste of his investigative technique. “The first thing is to get a clear history of what happened that evening – always bearing in mind that the person who speaks may be lying” (p. 149) he says. Although Sheppard comments that this is “rather a suspicious attitude” (p. 149), Poirot insists that it is necessary.
Indeed, by taking nothing for granted Poirot can arrive at the truth. Were he to assume that all the things people told him were true, he runs the risk of building a theory on a lie, which would take him away, rather than towards, the truth. By assuming that everything he is told could be a lie, Poirot is forced to investigate all leads and verify all statements. Only when he can independently verify a statement does he truly accept it as part of the truth of what happened. In this way, painstakingly, he uses logic to build the true story of what occurred the night of the murder.
Towards the end of Chapter 13, Poirot lists all the possible motives that Ralph Paton has for committing the murder. He comes up with three – a damning number to Dr. Sheppard, but curiously, to Poirot, three motives “is almost too much” (p. 154). To Poirot, three motives is cause for suspicion. If someone wanted to set Ralph up, they did too convincing a job of it. It makes him suspect that Ralph is actually the perfect scapegoat, rather than the most obvious murderer.
Chapter 14, as Dr. Sheppard explains, represents a break in the traditional detective story form that the novel has thus far taken. “As I say, up till the Monday evening, my narrative might have been that of Poirot himself. I played Watson to his Sherlock. But after Monday our ways diverged” (p. 155) Sheppard recounts, making reference to the similarities between the story so far and a Sherlock Holmes-type detective story.
Of course, although Sheppard has been at Poirot’s side up until this point, Poirot has nonetheless managed to do some surreptitious investigating into his “Watson” (something Sherlock Holmes, of course, would never do, as Watson would never be a suspect in a Holmes novel). As of Chapter 14, though, their paths diverge even more broadly, with each attending to their own business, and Sheppard (and thus, the reader) having less access to Poirot’s ministrations.
Dr. Sheppard’s reflections in this chapter offer a great deal of foreshadowing of what is to come. He hints at the knowledge Poirot cultivated that he never could have expected. He ominously mentions “the black boots” (p. 156) and explains how everyone did their small part to elucidate the mystery.
Although Dr. Sheppard has stated that he dislikes Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, he does go to her when summoned and listens to her lengthy confession about snooping for Roger Ackroyd’s will and leaving the silver table lid open. Although Sheppard expresses frustration with and distaste for Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd throughout this conversation, it is interesting to realize that of all the characters accused of hiding something, it is she who admits her guilt first – and in this way, deserves the most respect. Sheppard himself, on the other hand, will turn out to be the novel’s least respectable character.