Chapters 9 & 10 Summary
Poirot and Sheppard wander the grounds of Fernly Park until they reach a recessed seat that overlooks a goldfish pond. There, they overhear a conversation between a buoyant Flora Ackroyd and Major Blunt. Flora has just learned that her uncle’s will left her a huge inheritance. She is joyful. She is now free from the burden of financial dependence on her relatives.
Poirot and Sheppard reveal themselves, and Poirot asks Major Blunt about the events of the night before. Blunt tells him he was walking on the terrace when he overheard Ackroyd talking to someone in his study. He got close enough to the study to hear Ackroyd because he thought he noticed a woman in white disappearing into the bushes, and had moved closer to see. Blunt assumed that Ackroyd was talking to his secretary, Raymond. He also insists that he didn’t move the grandfather chair.
Meanwhile, Flora assures them that when she was examining the silver table with Dr. Sheppard before dinner, the dagger was not there. She is frustrated because the inspectors believe she is just saying that to protect Ralph Paton, who they believe snuck into the drawing room later in the night to take the dagger from the table.
Poirot changes the subject by attempting to fetch something shiny from the bottom of the goldfish pond that Major Blunt had spotted earlier. He claims he cannot find it, but later, when the four are walking back to lunch, he secretly shows Sheppard what he found. It is a wedding ring, inscribed with the phrase “From R, March 13”.
Before lunch, Poirot and Sheppard meet Ackroyd’s lawyer, Mr. Hammond, who explains that the terms of Ackroyd’s will grant a small living stipend to Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, 20,000 pounds to Flora Ackroyd, 1000 pounds to Miss Russell, 500 pounds to Raymond, and the rest – a considerable sum – to Ralph Paton. Hammond also confirms that Ralph is perpetually in want of money.
Poirot asks Dr. Sheppard to conduct a private conversation with Major Blunt about Mrs. Ferrars. He wants Dr. Sheppard to ask if Major Blunt was around when Mrs. Ferrars’ husband died. He is particularly interested in Major Blunt’s response.
Dr. Sheppard carries out the plan, but finds nothing suspicious in Major Blunt’s reaction to his question. He does learn that Blunt is currently a bit hard up for money, having invested poorly, but otherwise reports nothing suspicious to Poirot.
After lunch, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd complains to Dr. Sheppard about the financial strain of dependence on Roger Ackroyd for herself and Flora. She further complains about Ackroyd’s decision to will 1000 pounds to Miss Russell. Mr. Hammond asks her if she’s all set for money for a few days, and she informs him that she’s fine – Ackroyd had cashed a check for 100 pounds just a few days before.
The group next goes up to Ackroyd’s bedroom to confirm that the 100 pounds that Ackroyd cashed a few days before remains intact. The inspector unlocks the door to Ackroyd’s wing of the house, and Raymond counts the money, which Ackroyd kept in an unlocked drawer near his bed. They discover that forty pounds have been removed from the stack.
The inspector questions whether any of the servants could have removed the money. Mrs. Ackroyd does not think so, but she does share that the parlormaid, Ursula Bourne, had given notice that she was quitting just the day before. They seek out Miss Russell, who confirms that the housemaid Elise Dale, who was in charge of Ackroyd’s room, was a trustworthy girl. Miss Russell further comments that she does not know why Ursula Bourne decided to quit, but that she’d had an argument with Ackroyd about disarranging some papers on his desk and given notice shortly after that.
They question Ursula Bourne. She confirms that she decided to quit after Ackroyd got annoyed with her for moving the papers on his desk. Poirot asks her how long the conversation about her dismissal lasted, and she tells him it was probably twenty to thirty minutes.
They question Elise Dale, the housemaid, and find nothing suspicious about her. Later, Poirot and Dr. Sheppard leave, and Poirot brings up his doubt that Ackroyd would have dismissed a parlormaid over something as trivial as the papers on his desk. He also brings up the fact that on Inspector Raglan’s list, Ursula Bourne was the only person whose alibi had no confirmation from anyone else. He requests that Sheppard travel to the home of Ursula Bourne’s employers the following day to find out what he can about her.
Poirot confesses that all signs point to Ralph Paton as the murderer, but since he promised Flora he’d leave no stone unturned, he will keep investigating.
Chapters 9 & 10 Analysis
One of the most interesting facts about Ackroyd’s murder – and one of the reasons it makes for such a good murder mystery – is how many people stood to benefit from it. This can be observed with Flora, who, in Chapter 9, is thrilled by the news of her inheritance after her uncle’s death. Although she is clearly grief-striken by the news, his death nonetheless represents freedom for her – with the inheritance money, she finally attains freedom from the hold that financial worries placed on her her whole life.
Although just a small point in the novel, it clearly illustrates one of Christie’s major themes: in life, nothing is as it seems. Although Flora appears as one of the “freer” characters in the play – an upper-class woman who lives off her Uncle’s generosity – she is actually one of the most trapped. Her position as a dependent female means she has to beg her uncle for every cent that she gets, and the societal pressure she faces to maintain a certain image necessitates spending a lot of money she doesn’t have. Ironically, although he was her benefactor in life, his death actually frees her from the prison of this relationship – she no longer has to beg him for everything, and instead has the means to provide for herself.
The ring that Poirot discovers at the bottom of the lake is later revealed to be a wedding ring that Ralph Paton gave to his secret lover, Ursula Bourne. The ring, a clear symbol of their relationship, has been dropped in the mud, just as their relationship is currently experiencing difficulties and not in the most pristine shape. Should the truth of their relationship come out, their names, just like the ring, will surely be dragged through the mud of town gossip.
As Poirot continues to investigate, the reader again can see the thorough method he employs in his inquiries. In Chapter 8, he refers to his “little grey cells” (p. 93), referencing the logic and analysis that he uses to deduce the truth of a case, and in Chapters 9 and 10 Sheppard observes him putting his "grey cells" to use. Although Raglan, chasing clues, tediously collected alibis from every member of the house, he wasn’t able to then analyze his data to realize that only Ursula Bourne had an alibi that wasn’t confirmed or witnessed by anyone else. Poirot, instead, makes that connection, causing him to consider Bourne more carefully as a potential suspect.
This leads him to get Sheppard to visit her former employers’ home, where he will have more cause for suspicion. Eventually, by following this one thread of the case, Poirot will crack a major component (Bourne’s relationship with Ralph) wide open, which will help exonerate Ralph. This is the “method” that Poirot constantly references throughout the novel, which somewhat contrasts with the obsession over physical clues like fingerprints and footprints that the other inspectors have. Ultimately, the truth of both the fingerprints on the dagger as well as the footprints outside Ackroyd’s office will not illuminate the murderer, but Poirot’s comprehensive and methodical logic will.