PROBLEM AT POLLENSA
BAY. Agatha Christie.
The steamer from Barcelona to Majorca
(1) landed Mr. Parker Pyne at Palma
in the early hours of the morning – and straightway he met with
disillusionment. The hotels were full! The best that could be done for him was
an airless cupboard overlooking an inner court in a hotel in the center of the
town – and with that Mr. Parker Pyne was not prepared to put up. The proprietor
of the hotel was indifferent to his disappointment.
«What will you?», he observed with a shrug.
Palma was popular now! The exchange
(2) was favorable! Everyone – the English, the Americans – they all came to Majorca in the winter. The whole place was crowded. It
was doubtful if the English gentleman would be able to get in anywhere – except
perhaps at Formentor where the prices were so ruinous that even foreigners blenched
Mr. Parker Pyne partook of some coffee and a roll and went out to view
the cathedral, but found himself in no mood for appreciating the beauties of architecture.
He next had a conference with a friendly taxi driver in inadequate
French interlarded with native Spanish (3) and they discussed the merits
and possibilities of Soller, Alcudia, Pollensa and Formed – where there were fine
hotels but very expensive.
Mr. Parker Pyne was goaded to inquire how expensive.
They asked, said the taxi driver, an amount that it would be absurd and
ridiculous to pay – was it not well known that the English came here because
prices were cheap and reasonable?
Mr. Parker Pyne said that that was quite so, but all the same what sums did they charge at Formentor?
A price incredible!
Perfectly – but WHAT PRICE EXACTLY?
The driver consented at last to reply in terms of figures.
Fresh from the exactions (4) of hotels in Jerusalem
the figure did not stagger Mr. Parker Pyne unduly.
A bargain was struck, Mr. Parker Pyne’s suitcases were loaded on the
taxi in a somewhat haphazard manner, and they started off to drive round the
island, trying cheaper hostelries en route (5) but with the final
objective of Formentor.
But they never reached the final abode of plutocracy, for after they had
passed through the narrow streets of Pollensa and were following the curved
line of the seashore, they came to the Hotel Pino d’Oro – a small hotel
standing on the edge of the sea looking out over a view that in the misty haze
of a fine morning had the exquisite vagueness of a Japanese print. At once Mr.
Parker Pyne knew that this, and this only, was what he was looking for. He
stopped the taxi, passed through the painted gate with the hope that he would
find a resting place.
The elderly couple to whom the hotel belonged knew no English or French.
Nevertheless the matter was concluded satisfactorily. Mr. Parker Pyne was
allotted a room overlooking the sea, the suitcases were unloaded, the driver
congratulated his passenger upon avoiding the monstrous exigencies of «these
new hotels», received his fare and departed with a cheerful Spanish salutation.
Mr. Parker Pyne glanced at his watch and perceiving that it was, even
now, but a quarter to ten, he went out onto the small terrace now bathed in a
dazzling morning light and ordered, for the second time that morning, coffee
There were four tables there, his own, one from which breakfast was being
cleared away and two occupied ones. At the nearest him sat a family of father
and mother and two elderly daughters – Germans. Beyond them, at the corner of
the terrace, sat what were clearly an English mother and son.
The woman was about fifty-five. She had gray hair of a pretty tone – was
sensibly but not fashionably dressed in a tweed coat and skirl – and had that
comfortable self-possession which marks an Englishwoman used to much traveling
The young man who sat opposite her might have been twenty-five and he
too was typical of his class and age. He was neither good-looking nor plain,
tall nor short. He was clearly on the best of terms with his mother – they made
little jokes together – and he was assiduous in passing her things.
As they talked, her eye met that of Mr. Parker Pyne. It passed over him
with well-bred nonchalance, but he knew that he had been assimilated and
He had been recognized as English and doubtless, in due course, some
pleasant non-committal remark would be addressed to him.
Mr. Parker Pyne had no particular objection. His own countrymen and
women abroad were inclined to bore him slightly, but he was quite willing to
pass the time of day in an amiable manner. In a small hotel it caused
constraint if one did no do so. This particular woman, he felt sure, had
excellent «hotel manners», as he put it.
The English boy rose from his seat, made some laughing remark and passed
into the hotel. The woman took her letters and bag and settled herself in a
chair facing the sea. She unfolded a copy of the Continental Daily Mail. Her back was to Mr. Parker Pyne.
As he drank the last drop of his coffee, Mr. Parker Pyne glanced in her direction,
and instantly he stiffened. He was alarmed – alarmed for the peaceful
continuance of his holiday! That back was horribly expressive. In his time he
had classified many such backs. Its rigidity – the tenseness of its poise –
without seeing her face he knew well enough that the eyes were bright with unshed
tears – that the woman was keeping herself in hand by a rigid effort.
Moving warily, like a much-hunted animal, Mr. Parker Pyne retreated into
the hotel. Not half an hour before he had been invited to sign his name in the
book lying on the desk. There it was – a neat signature – C. Parker Pyne, London.
A few lines above Mr. Parker Pyne noticed the entries: Mrs. R. Chester,
Mr. Basil Chester – Holm Park, Devon.
Seizing a pen, Mr. Parker Pyne wrote rapidly over his signature. It now
read (with difficulty) Christopher Pyne.
If Mrs. R. Chester was unhappy in Pollensa Bay,
it was not going to be made easy for her to consult Mr. Parker Pyne.
Already it had been a source of abiding wonder to that gentleman that so
many people he had come across abroad should know his name and have noted his
advertisements. In England
many thousands of people read the Times
every day and could have answered quite truthfully that they had never heard
such a name in their lives. Abroad, he reflected, they read their newspapers
more thoroughly. No item, not even the advertisement columns, escaped them.
Already, his holidays had been interrupted on several occasions. He had dealt
with a whole series of problems from murder to attempted blackmail. He was
determined in Majorca to have peace. He felt
instinctively that a distressed mother might trouble that peace considerably.
Mr. Parker Pyne settled down at the Pino d’Oro very happily. There was a
larger hotel not far off, the Mariposa, where a good many English people
stayed. There was also quite an artist colony living all round. You could walk
along by the sea to the fishing village where there was a cocktail bar where
people met – there were a few shops. It was all very peaceful and pleasant.
Girls strolled about in trousers with brightly colored handkerchiefs tied round
the upper halves of their bodies. Young men in berets with rather long hair
held forth in «Mac’s Bar» on such subjects as plastic values and abstraction in
On the day after Mr. Parker Pyne’s arrival, Mrs. Chester made a few
conventional remarks to him on the subject of the view and the likelihood of
the weather keeping fine. She then chatted a little with the German lady about
knitting, and had a few pleasant words about the sadness of the political
situation with two Danish gentlemen who spent their time rising at dawn and
walking for eleven hours.
Mr. Parker Pyne found Basil Chester a most likeable young man. He called
Mr. Parker Pyne «sir» and listened most politely to anything the older man
said. Sometimes the three English people had coffee together after dinner in
the evening. After the third day, Basil left the party after ten minutes or so
and Mr. Parker Pyne was left tête-à-tête (6) with Mrs. Chester.
They talked about flowers and the growing of them, of the lamentable
state of the English pound and of how expensive France had become, and of the
difficulty of getting good afternoon tea.
Every evening when her son departed, Mr. Parker Pyne saw the quickly
concealed tremor of her lips, but immediately she recovered and discoursed
pleasantly on the above-mentioned subjects.
Little by little she began to talk of Basil – of how well he had done at
school – «he was in the First XI (7), you know» – of how everyone liked
him, of how proud his father would have been of the boy had he lived, of how
thankful she had been that Basil had never been «wild». «Of course I always
urge him to be with young people, but he really seems to prefer being with me».
She said it with a kind of nice modest pleasure in the fact.
But for once Mr. Parker Pyne did not make the usual tactful response he
could usually achieve so easily. He said instead:
«Oh! well, there seem to be plenty of young people here – not in the
hotel, but roundabout».
At that, he noticed, Mrs. Chester stiffened. She said: Of course there were
a lot of Artists. Perhaps she was
very old-fashioned – real art, of course,
was different, but a lot of young people just made that sort of thing an excuse
for lounging about and doing nothing – and the girls drank и lot too much.
On the following day Basil said to Mr. Parker Pyne:
«I’m awfully glad you turned up here, sir – especially for my mother’s
sake. She likes having you to talk to in the evenings».
«What did you do when you were first here?».
«As a matter of fact we used to play piquet (8)».
«Of course one gets rather tired of piquet. As a matter of fact I’ve got
some friends here – frightfully cheery crowd. I don’t really think my mother approves
of them –». He laughed as though he felt this ought to be amusing. «The mater’s
(9) very old-fashioned ... Even girls in trousers shock her!».
«Quite so», said Mr. Parker Pyne.
«What I tell her is – one’s got to move with the times ... The girls at
home round us are frightfully dull ...».
«I see», said Mr. Parker Pyne.
All this interested him well enough. He was a spectator of a miniature
drama, but he was not called upon to take part in it.
And then the worst – from Mr. Parker Pyne’s point of view – happened. A gushing
lady of his acquaintance came to stay at the Mariposa. They met in the tea shop
in the presence of Mrs. Chester.
The new-comer screamed:
«Why – if it isn’t Mr. Parker Pyne – the one and only Mr. Parker Pyne! And
Adela Chester! Do you know each other? Oh, you do? You’re staying at the same
hotel? He’s the one and only original wizard, Adela – the marvel of the century
– all your troubles smoothed out while you wait! What? Didn’t you know? You must have heard about him? Haven’t you read his advertisements? «Are you in trouble? Consult Mr. Parker Pyne». There’s just nothing he can’t do.
Husbands and wives flying at each other’s throats and he brings ’em together – if
you’ve lost interest in life he gives you the most thrilling adventures. As I
say the man’s just a wizard!».
It went on a good deal longer – Mr. Parker Pyne at intervals making
modest disclaimers. He disliked the look that Mrs. Chester turned upon him. He
disliked even more seeing her return along the beach in close confabulation
with the garrulous singer of his praises».
The climax came quicker than he expected. That evening, after coffee,
Mrs. Chester said abruptly,
«Will you come into the little salon (10), Mr. Pyne. There is
something I want to say to you».
He could but bow and submit.
Mrs. Chester’s self-control had been wearing thin – as the door of the
little salon closed behind them, it snapped. She sat down and burst into tears.
«My boy, Mr. Parker Pyne. You must save him. We must save him. It’s breaking my heart!».
«My dear lady, as a mere outsider –».
«Nina Wycherley says you can anything.
She said I was to have the utmost confidence in you. She advised me to tell you
everything – and that you’d put the whole thing right».
Inwardly Mr. Parker Pyne cursed the obtrusive Mrs. Wycherley.
Resigning himself he said:
«Well, let us trash the matter out (11). A girl, I
«Did he tell you about her?».
Words poured in a vehement stream from Mrs. Chester. «The girl was dreadful.
She drank, she swore – she wore no clothes to speak of. Her sister lived out here
– was married to an artist – a Dutchman. The whole set was most undesirable.
Half of them were living together without being married. Basil was completely
changed. He had always been so quiet, so interested in serious subjects. He had
thought at one time of taking up archaeology –» .
«Well, well», said Mr. Parker Pyne. «Nature will have her revenge».
«What do you mean?».
«It isn’t healthy for a young man to be interested in serious subjects.
He ought to be making an idiot of himself over one girl after another».
«Please be serious, Mr. Pyne».
«I’m perfectly serious. Is the young lady, by any chance, the one who
had tea with you yesterday?».
He had noticed her – her gray flannel trousers – the scarlet handkerchief
tied loosely around her vermilion mouth and the fact that she had chosen a
cocktail in preference to tea.
«You saw her? Terrible! Not the kind of girl Basil has ever admired».
«You haven’t given him much chance to admire a girl, have you?».
«He’s been too fond of your company!
Bad! However, I daresay he’ll get over this – if you don’t precipitate matters».
«You don’t understand. He wants to marry this girl – Betty Gregg – they’re
«It’s gone as far as that?».
«Yes. Mr. Parker Pyne, you must
do something. You must get my boy out of this disastrous marriage! His whole
life will be ruined».
«Nobody’s life can be ruined except by themselves».
«Basil’s will be», said Mrs. Chester positively.
«I’m not worrying about Basil».
«You’re not worrying about the girl?».
«No, I’m worrying about you. You’ve
been squandering your birthright».
Mrs. Chester looked at him, slightly taken aback.
«What are the years from twenty to forty? Fettered and bound by personal
and emotional relationships. That’s bound to be. That’s living. But later there’s
a new stage. You can think, observe life, discover something about other people
and the truth about yourself. Life becomes real – significant. You see it as a
whole. Not just one scene – the scene you, as an actor, are playing. No man or
woman is actually himself (or herself) till after forty-five. That’s when
individuality has a chance».
Mrs. Chester said:
«I’ve been wrapped up in Basil. He’s been everything to me».
«Well, he shouldn’t have been. That’s what you’re paying for now. Love
him as much as you like – but you’re Adela Chester, remember, a person – not
just Basil’s mother».
«It will break my heart if Basil’s life is ruined», said Basil’s mother.
He looked at the delicate lines of her face, the wistful droop of her mouth.
She was, somehow, a lovable woman. He did not want her to be hurt. He said:
«I’ll see what I can do».
He found Basil Chester only too ready to talk, eager to urge his point
«This business is being just hellish. Mother’s hopeless – prejudiced, narrow-minded.
If only she’d let herself, she’d see
how fine Betty is».
«Betty’s being damned difficult! If she’d just conform a bit – I mean leave
off the lipstick for a day – it might make all the difference. She seems to go
out of her way to be – well – modern – when Mother’s about».
Mr. Parker Pyne smiled.
«Betty and Mother are two of the dearest people in the world, I should
have thought they would have taken to each other like hot cakes (12)».
«You have a lot to learn, young man», said Mr. Parker Pyne.
«I wish you’d come along and see Betty and have a good talk about it all».
Mr. Parker Pyne accepted the invitation readily.
Betty and her sister and her husband lived in a small dilapidated villa
a little way back from the sea. Their life was of a refreshing simplicity.
Their furniture comprised three chairs, a table and bed. There was a cupboard
in the wall that held the bare requirements of cups and plates. Hans was an
excitable young man with wild blond hair that stood up all over his head. He
spoke very old English with incredible rapidity, walking up and down as he did
so. Stella, his wife, was small and fair. Betty Gregg had red hair and freckles
and a mischievous eye. She was, he noticed, not nearly so made up as she had
been the previous day at the Pino d’Oro.
She gave him a cocktail and said with a twinkle:
«You’re in on the big bust-up (13)?».
Mr. Parker Pyne nodded.
«And whose side are you on, big boy? The young lovers – or the disapproving
«May I ask you a question?».
«Have you been very tactful over all this?».
«Not at all», said Miss Gregg frankly. «But the old cat put my back
up (14)» (she glanced round to make sure that Basil was out of earshot).
«That woman just makes me feel mad. She’s kept Basil tied to her apron
strings (15) all these years – that sort of thing makes a man look a fool. Basil
isn’t a fool really. Then she’s so terribly pukka
«That’s not really such a bad thing. It’s merely «unfashionable» just at
Betty Gregg gave a sudden twinkle.
«You mean it’s like putting Chippendale chairs (17) in the attic
in Victorian days (18)? Later you get them down again and say, «Aren’t
«Something of the kind».
Betty Gregg considered.
«Perhaps you’re right. I’ll be honest. It was Basil who put my back up –
being so anxious about what impression I’d make on his mother. It drove me to
extremes. Even now I believe he might give me up – if his mother worked on him
good and hard».
«He might», said Mr. Parker Pyne. «If she went about it the right way».
«Are you going to tell her the right way? She won’t think of it herself,
you know. She’ll just go on disapproving and that won’t do the trick. But if
you prompted her –».
She bit her lip – raised frank blue eyes to his.
«I’ve heard about you, Mr. Parker Pyne. You’re supposed to know
something about human nature. Do you think Basil and I could make a go of it – or
«I should like an answer to three questions».
«Suitability test? All right, go ahead».
«Do you sleep with your window open or shut?».
«Open. I like lots of air».
«Do you and Basil enjoy the same kind of food?».
«Do you like going to bed early or late?».
«Really, under the rose (19), early. At half-past ten I yawn – and
I secretly feel rather hearty in the mornings – but of course I’d aren’t admit it».
«You ought to suit each other very well», said Mr. Parker Pyne.
«Rather a superficial test».
«Not at all. I have known seven marriages at least entirely wrecked,
because the husband liked sitting up till midnight and the wife fell asleep at
half-past nine and vice versa».
«It’s a pity», said Betty, «that everybody can’t be happy. Basil and I,
and his mother giving us her blessing».
Mr. Parker Pyne coughed.
«I think», he said, «that that could possibly be managed».
She looked at him doubtfully.
«Now I wonder», she said, «if you’re double crossing me?».
Mr. Parker Pyne’s face told nothing.
To Mrs. Chester he was soothing, but vague. An engagement was not
marriage. He himself was going to Soller for a week. He suggested that her line
of action should be non-committal. Let her appear to acquiesce.
He spent a very enjoyable week at Soller.
Oh his return he found that a totally unexpected development had arisen.