Chapters 21 & 22 Summary
The next day, the article on Ralph’s capture is published in the paper. Caroline, ignorant to its falsity, proudly proclaims that she knew all along Ralph was going to flee. Meanwhile, Dr. Sheppard asks her about Poirot’s “imbecile” nephew, and she responds that it’s a great grief to Poirot’s family, and they may have to institutionalize him. Caroline also mentions that she saw a mysterious stranger arriving at Poirot’s home early in the morning, although his face was covered and she couldn’t see who it was.
Later, Poirot comes over, but Caroline cannot get him to reveal the identity of his mystery guest. He and Dr. Sheppard go for a walk, and Poirot asks Dr. Sheppard to invite Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, Flora, Major Blunt and Mr. Raymond to his house that night for a “little conference” (p. 238). He does not want to ask them himself, because he doesn’t want to be peppered with questions about his plans.
They arrive at Fernly Park, and Poirot refuses to go in with Dr. Sheppard, explaining that he will wait on the grounds while Sheppard makes his request.
Inside, Dr. Sheppard learns from Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd that Flora Ackroyd and Major Blunt are now engaged. Dr. Sheppard invites her to Poirot’s home that night, and she accepts. She agrees to tell the others, and Dr. Sheppard departs to meet up with Poirot. They return home.
There, they meet Caroline, who announces that Ursula Bourne has arrived and insisted on seeing Poirot at once. They immediately go to see her, and notice that she has been crying. Poirot addresses her as Mrs. Ralph Paton. At first, she does not respond, but then she accepts the title, bursting into tears. She confesses to Poirot that she sought him out after reading of Ralph’s capture in the newspaper, which has led her to decide to reveal the truth.
Born a “lady”, but to a very poor family, Ursula had to make a living for herself, and decided to become a parlormaid even though it represented a step-down in class. Mrs. Folliott was actually her sister, who simply pretended Ursula was a former servant in order to act as a reference.
While working at Fernly Park, Ursula Bourne met Ralph Paton and they fell in love. Knowing that his uncle would never approve of such a match, Paton and Ursula married in secret, and Ralph vowed to tell his uncle at a later date. Meanwhile, he fell further and further into debt.
Roger Ackroyd called Ralph to him to announce that he wanted Ralph to marry Flora. Flora accepted, seeing freedom from her financial strain, and Ralph, knowing that his uncle would pay off his debts if he agreed to marry Flora, accepted as well, but kept it a secret from Ursula. When Ackroyd announced the engagement, however, Ursula found out, and Ralph came down from London to try and calm her down. They met in the wood, where Caroline overheard part of their conversation.
Furious, Ursula met with Ackroyd to tell him the truth of her marriage to Ralph, which prompted her decision to quit her job at Fernly Park. Later that night, she met Ralph in the summerhouse, where they fought. She left the house at 9:30 pm to meet him, and was back in her room by 9:45. She explains that she left the summerhouse first, leaving Ralph behind her, and worries that now both she and Ralph are potential suspects. She had been trying to pass along a message to Ralph through Dr. Sheppard when she told him that Ralph “ought to return” a few days before.
Chapters 21 & 22 Analysis
One of Poirot’s most revealing lines in the novel comes towards the beginning of Chapter 21. “My friend Hastings, he of whom I told you, used to say of me that I was a human oyster. But he was unjust. Of facts, I keep nothing to myself. But to everyone his own interpretation of them” (p. 238).
This is the exact truth of Poirot’s method – he freely shares the facts that he has gathered with all, but he keeps his own brilliant interpretation of them, which allows him to actually understand the truth of the matter, to himself until he’s solved the whole case.
Throughout the novel, when Sheppard asks Poirot a question about his theories or suspicions, he often responds with a fact, which does not help Sheppard and the reader in terms of solving the case. To Poirot, facts are neutral enough to be shared, but interpretations are subjective, and until he has proven his own interpretations as fact, he keeps them to himself so he can continue to revise his own theories.
Despite the fact that both servants and masters are presented as suspects of Roger Ackroyd’s murder, there is still a great deal of class division with the novel. Although Parker, Miss Russell and Ursula Bourne are all presented as potentially the murderer, they are considered separately from the upper-class members of the Fernly Park household. Indeed, when Poirot gathers the suspects to a meeting and announces they are all hiding something from him, it is only the “upstairs” upper-class suspects that he addresses. Later, when he bids the suspects come to his home for the novel’s climax, he again only publically invites the upper-class suspects. Miss Russell and Parker enter after the fact, a nod to their lower status.
Perhaps the greatest example of the rigid class system in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the character of Ursula Bourne. Born a “lady”, but to a very poor family, Ursula was forced to make a living for herself, and decided to become a parlormaid even though it represented a step-down in class. Thus her love for Ralph was forbidden, causing the secrecy between them that led to so much trouble for Ralph. The challenge of her predicament was due entirely to her perceived class. Ackroyd’s fury at learning that his stepson had married a penniless servant is what caused her to tender her resignation.
Once Ursula Bourne is revealed to have been born a member of a higher class (and married to Ralph Paton), she is suddenly introduced at reunion in Poirot’s home (that takes place in Chapter 23) that had until that point only included upper-class members of the household. And indeed, Poirot begins the meeting by justifying Bourne’s presence there, explaining that she is married to Ralph. (Miss Russell and Parker are snuck in later.)