Two taxis wait at the Sticklehaven train station to drive the guests to the dock. Justice Wargrave and Emily Brent share a cab, while Philip Lombard and Vera Claythorne wait together for the second taxi, which cannot leave until General Macarthur arrives on the slower train. The two make small talk until Macarthur’s train appears, and then the three of them drive to the dock, where Wargrave and Emily are waiting with a man who introduces himself as “Davis.” Just before they set out in the boat, Tony Marston’s car appears. In the twilight, he looks like a “a young god” as he drives toward them.
A man named Fred Narracott ferries the group from Sticklehaven to Indian Island. He reflects on what an odd party these guests constitute, since they do not seem to know each other at all and do not seem like friends of a millionaire, which Mr. Owen must be. When the guests arrive at the island, they go up to the house, a large, modern-style building, and are greeted by the butler, Mr. Rogers, and his wife, Mrs. Rogers, who serves as cook and housekeeper. Mr. Rogers tells them that Mr. Owen has been delayed but that they should make themselves at home. Their rooms are prepared, drinks are made, and dinner is on its way.
Each of the guests goes to his or her room. Vera finds her room well appointed. A statue of a bear sits on the mantelpiece, and a nursery rhyme hangs on the wall. Vera recognizes the nursery rhyme from her childhood. In the rhyme, “Ten Little Indians” get killed one by one: the first chokes, the second never wakes up, and so forth until none is left alive. Vera reflects that the poem is appropriate since they are staying on Indian Island. She then looks out at the sea, which makes her think of drowning.
Dr. Armstrong arrives in the evening, passing Wargrave as he goes into the house. He remembers giving medical testimony in front of the judge once or twice, and recalls that Wargrave had a reputation for convincing juries to convict. The two men speak to one another, and Wargrave asks Armstrong about Constance Culmington, who supposedly invited him to the island. He learns that no one by that name is expected. He remarks on the oddity of the host’s absence.
Upstairs, Marston takes a bath. Blore ties his tie and notices the “Ten Little Indians” rhyme over his mantelpiece. He resolves not to bungle his job. Macarthur has misgivings about the weekend. He wishes he could leave, but the motorboat has already left. Lombard, coming down for dinner, decides to enjoy the weekend. Upstairs, Emily reads a Bible passage about sinners being judged and cast into hell, and then goes down to dinner.
Having placed her characters in this peculiar situation, Christie seems intent on making each one seem as suspicious as possible. As in the first chapter, she grants us access to the characters’ thoughts, but in a way that makes each of them seem slightly sinister—an impression that only increases when we realize that one of them is a murderer. This lack of a single clearly guilty character is one of the ways that And Then There Were None subverts the conventions of the traditional mystery story, in which the reader is given a set of clues to work with and can try to solve the case alongside the detective. Christie is not interested in having us solve the case: instead, she seems intent on toying with us, offering plenty of false leads and filling the novel with many potential murderers in order to make it difficult for us to solve the case before the novel’s end.
As in the first chapter, the second chapter follows the thoughts of each character in turn. Everyone’s musings come across as slightly sinister. Dr. Armstrong, for example, arrives at the island and finds it “magical,” and it inspires him to “make plans, fantastic plans”—possibly plans for murder. Tony Marston, in his bath, thinks to himself that he must go through with an unspecified “it,” which could refer to the unpleasant weekend or to acts of violence. Mr. Blore, tying his tie, thinks about the “job” he must do, one that he must not bungle. Macarthur wishes he could “make an excuse and get away. . . . Throw up the whole business.” He could mean either the business of the weekend or the business of crime. Lombard, coming down for dinner, resembles a beast of prey. He thinks that he will enjoy this weekend, perhaps because he will enjoy preying on others. Finally, Emily Brent reads about the just punishment of sinners with tight-lipped satisfaction, perhaps because she plans to punish sinners herself. With these glimpses we begin to distrust the characters, which makes the mystery more intriguing, more difficult to solve, but ultimately more satisfying to uncover.
This chapter also introduces the “Ten Little Indians” poem, the novel’s dominant motif. The use of a childhood nursery rhyme as a schematic model for the murders is one of the novel’s most artful touches, since it establishes an atmosphere of dread as the childish verses are transformed into an eerie countdown. The playful verses, then, perversely lead toward the “and then there were none” of the novel’s title (the novel’s original title was, in fact, Ten Little Indians). It is significant that Vera is the first to notice the poem, since it ultimately has the strongest psychological impact on her, eventually driving her to hysterics.