The Girl in the Train is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the Grand Magazine in February 1924. In the U.K. the story was subsequently collected and published as part of the anthology The Listerdale Mystery which came out in 1934. In the U.S. the story was not published in any collection until 1971 when it came out as part of The Golden Ball and Other Stories.
George Rowland leads a mildly dissolute life entirely dependent on the kindness of his rich uncle. When the two quarrel, George leaves home and takes a journey on a slow train to a random location he had picked out of the railway guide. The action hots up very soon when a beautiful girl rushes into his train compartment and asks him to help hide her from someone who is pursuing her.
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George Rowland is a mildly dissolute young man who is dependent on his rich uncle for both his keep and his job at the family city firm. Annoyed with his nephew's late night carousing, his uncle sacks him. Annoyed in turn with his uncle, George makes plans to leave home. Abandoning ambitious plans to go to the colonies, George decides instead to travel by train from Waterloo to a place he spots in an ABC guide called Rowland's Castle where he is sure he will be welcomed with open arms by the feudal inhabitants. Happily alone in the first class carriage, a girl jumps onto the train begging to be hidden. George chivalrously hides her under the train seat before a moustached foreign man appears at the window and "demands" his niece back. George calls a platform guard who detains the foreign man and the train departs.
The girl introduces herself as Elizabeth but tells George that she can't give him an explanation of her actions. At the next station, she gets off the train. Speaking to George through the window, she spots a man with a small dark beard further down the platform getting into the train and tells George to keep an eye on him and to guard safely a package that she hands to him.
George follows the bearded man down to Portsmouth where he books into the same commercial hotel as him and watches him carefully. He is aware that there is another ginger-haired man carefully watching both of them. He follows the bearded man as he goes on a quick walk through the streets, which ends up taking them both back to their hotel with no sign of any assignation. George wonders if the bearded man has spotted that he is being watched. His suspicions grow further when the ginger-haired man returns to the hotel, also seemingly after a night's walk. His puzzlement increases when two foreign men call at the hotel and ask George (although calling him "Lord Rowland") where the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Catonia, a small Balkan state, has gone to. The younger of the two men grows violent but George is able to subdue him with Jujutsu. The two men leave uttering threats.
That night, George watches the black-bearded man as he secretes a small packet behind the skirting board in the bathroom. Returning to his own room, George finds the package Elizabeth gave him has gone from its hiding place under the pillow. After breakfast, the package has returned to his room but, investigating its contents at last, George finds only a box with a wedding ring inside it. He hears from the chambermaid that she is unable to gain access to the black-bearded man's room and decides to gain access himself via a parapet outside the window. He deduces that the man escaped via the fire escape just before he hears a noise from inside the wardrobe and investigating is attacked from within by the ginger-haired man. He identifies himself as DI Jarrold of Scotland Yard. The black-bearded man was called Mardenberg and was a foreign spy who secreted the plans of Portsmouth harbour defences behind the skirting board. His accomplice is a young girl and George wonders if this could have been Elizabeth? He is on the train back to London when he reads of a secret wedding between the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Catonia and Lord Roland Gaigh. At the next station Elizabeth gets onto the train and explains events to George. She was acting as a decoy for Anastasia to throw her uncle, who opposed the romance, off the scent and the black-bearded man and the packet was simply a ruse to distract George – another wedding ring could easily have been procured and George's adventures with the spy were a remarkable coincidence. George realises Elizabeth is actually Lord Gaigh's sister. He proposes to her. His uncle will be delighted he is marrying into aristocracy and Elizabeth's parents, with five daughters, will be delighted that she is marrying into money. She accepts.
- George Rowland
- William Rowland
- Grand Duchess Anastasia of Catonia
- Inspector Jarrold
- Betty Brighteyes
- Lord Roland Gaigh
- Prince Karl
- Prince Osric