When the train arrives at Oakbridge station, a taxi driver asks if any of the four recent arrivals Wargrave, Claythorne, Brent and Lombard is waiting for transportation to Indian Island. All are surprised that they are traveling to the same destination. The driver notes that there are two taxis at the station, and one must remain until the slow train arrives; he then suggests that one of them remain behind. Claythorne immediately consents to say behind, and Lombard agrees to keep her company. The two older passengers, Brent and Wargrave, depart together, and small talk reveals that neither has been to this part of the country before. While Claythorne and Lombard await the arrival of the later train, they chat, with Claythorne revealing that she is going to the island to serve as secretary to Mrs. Owen. When Claythorne inquires what the Owens are like, Lombard isn’t sure whether he is supposed to have met them before and quickly diverts the conversation.
When Macarthur arrives on the slow train, Claythorne introduces herself as Mrs. Owens secretary and also introduces Lombard. Macarthur detects something wrong about Lombard. When Macarthur suggests that Lombard must have traveled much of the world, Lombard replies that he has knocked about some. Lombard guesses that Macarthur will ask if he was in the war, but the general doesnt inquire.
As they arrive in the small fishing village of Sticklehaven, Claythorne remarks that the island seems far away and senses something sinister about it. Claythorne, Lombard, and Macarthur rejoin Brent and Wargrave, as well as a third man, who introduces himself as Mr. Davis, from Natal, South Africa. Brent and Wargrave take an immediate disliking to Davis. Davis inquires if anyone would like to have a drink before they head to the island, and when no one speaks, he notes that they should be going then, as their hosts are probably awaiting their arrival. Davis signals for a local seaman, who states that two others who are arriving by car will also be making the trip to the island, but that his orders were not to wait for the others arrival. Brent and Wargrave express some concern over the small size of the boat that awaits them, but the sailor assures them the craft is up to the job. As they board, each guest silently contemplates the others. Just as the boat is about to depart, a powerful car roars into view, honking its horn. Marstons arrival is flashy and makes a powerful impression on the others.
Fred Narracott, the sailor conveying the party to Indian Island, considers the group to be an odd assortment, having expected Mr. Owens guests to be more of the rich yachting crowd. He smiles as he recalls the exploits of the guests of the islands former owner. He finds it funny that he has yet to see Mr. or Mrs. Owen, noting that all of his dealings with the Owens have been through Mr. Morris. The only one who impresses Narracott in any way is Marston.
The boat travels to the south side of the island, which slopes gently to the sea. There a large, modern-looking house faces the sea. As Narracott kills the boats engine and guides it between rocks into a natural inlet, Lombard comments that it must be tough to arrive at the island during bad weather. Narracott notes that it is impossible to travel to the island during stormy weather and for that reason the island is sometimes cut off for a week or more. Macarthur proclaims the house to be in a delightful spot, but in truth he feels uneasy about it. However, when the group climbs the rocks to a terrace higher above, their sense of apprehension fades. A butler greets the arrivals and escorts them to the house, where a wide selection of drinks awaits them. The butler notes that Mr. Owen has been detained but is scheduled to arrive the following morning. He states that dinner will be served at eight and suggests that they get settled into their rooms.
Mrs. Rogers, one of the caretakers, takes Claythorne to her room, which Claythorne finds to be very appealing. Claythorne also notes that Mrs. Rogers seems frightened. When Claythorne asks if Mrs. Rogers knows that she is to serve as Mrs. Owens secretary, Rogers replies that she only knows the names of the guests and their rooms; she then adds that she hasnt even met Mrs. Owen, having arrived just two days prior. When Claythorne inquires about the other staff, Mrs. Rogers informs her that the only staff is herself and Mr. Rogers.
Claythorne is somewhat disturbed by Mrs. Rogers revelations and other aspects of the situation. As she examines the room, she finds a large, framed poem of an old nursery rhyme she remembers from her youth; its a gruesome poem relating the deaths of ten little Indian boys. After reading the poem Claythorne sits facing the sea, noting the wonder and power it evokes. Her thoughts turn to the young boy who drowned while in her care, and she attempts to push them from her mind.
Dr. Armstrong arrives at the island as the sun is setting. During the boat ride he attempts to elicit some information about the island from Narracott, but Narracott has nothing to offer. Armstrong ponders how badly he needs a short vacation, but knows that this trip is also a working affair. He climbs the rocky steps to the house and encounters Wargrave on the terrace. Armstrong recognizes Wargrave from previous testimony in his courtroom. He recalls Wargraves reputation as a hanging judge. Wargrave too recalls Armstrong, considering him correct and cautious but a fool nonetheless. Wargrave informs Armstrong that drinks are available inside, and when Armstrong inquires about the hosts, Wargrave replies that they arent present, adding that its a very curious situation. Wargrave asks if Armstrong knows a Constance Culmington, and when Armstrong replies that he doesnt, Wargrave reflects that her failure to appear is typical of women. As he considers the other women at the house, he marks Brent as an old maid, Claythorne as a young hussy, and Mrs. Rogers as respectable but frightened. Mrs. Rogers appears, and the judge asks if Culmginton is expected. Rogers replies that she doesnt believe so. The judge senses that something is not quite right about the setting.
As Marston bathes, he considers that he must go through with it, though what he must do isnt revealed. As Blore dresses for dinner, he is somewhat unsure of himself, wondering if hell be able to pull off his job. Blore also notices the poem in his room. Macarthur is upset that the situation wasnt what he was led to believe it would be. He contemplates returning home, but knows that he has to remain because the boat to the mainland has already departed. He ponders how odd Lombard seems to be. Meanwhile, Lombard is fully enjoying himself, believing that it will prove to be a very enjoyable week. Alone in her room, Brent reads her Bible and settles on a passage describing how the wicked are eventually snared in a trap of their own making.
The initial pairing of the guests, with Lombard and Claythorne remaining together while Wargrave and Brent travel by taxi, seems natural, since the parings appear to be based on age. The fact that Wargrave and Brent are allowed to take the first taxi indicates a certain amount of respect Lombard and Claythorne hold for the older guests. The pairings also hint at specific alliances that may form later in the story.
Wargraves characterization of Brent as an old maid and Claythorne as a hussy, as well as Armstrongs memory of Wargrave as a hanging judge offer the first instances of the guests passing judgment on each other, an action that will play a significant role in the narrative.
Macarthurs feeling that something is wrong with Lombard offers the first instance of mistrust among the guests, and Blores attempt to pass himself off as Mr. Davis furthers the theme of concealment.
Claythorns observation that the island is quite far from the coast introduces the theme of isolation, a theme that is furthered by Narracotts comments about the island, as well as the boats tricky course to the island.