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.