As he entered the Pino d’Oro the first thing he saw was Mrs. Chester and
Betty Gregg having tea together. Basil was not there. Mrs. Chester looked
haggard. Betty, too, was looking off color (20). She was hardly made up
at all, and her eyelids looked as though she had been crying.
They greeted him in a friendly fashion, but neither of them mentioned Basil.
Suddenly he heard the girl beside him draw in her breath sharply as
though something had hurt her. Mr. Parker Pyne turned his head.
Basil Chester was coming up the steps from the sea front. With him was a
girl so exotically beautiful that it quite took your breath away. She was dark
and her figure was marvelous. No one could fail to notice the fact since she
wore nothing but a single garment of pale blue crepe. She was heavily made up
with ocher powder and an orange scarlet mouth – but the unguents only displayed
her remarkable beauty in a more pronounced fashion. As for young Basil, he
seemed unable to take his eyes from her face.
«You’re very late, Basil», said his mother. «You were to have taken Betty
«My fault», drawled the beautiful unknown. «We just drifted». She turned
to Basil. «Angel –get me something with a kick (21) in it!».
She tossed off her shoe and stretched out her manicured toenails which were
done emerald green to match her fingernails.
She paid no attention to the two women, but she leaned a little towards
Mr. Parker Pyne.
«Terrible island this», she said. «I was just dying with boredom before
I met Basil. He is rather a pet!».
«Mr. Parker Pyne – Miss Ramona», said Mrs. Chester.
The girl acknowledged the introduction with a lazy smile.
«I guess I’ll call you Parker almost at once», she murmured. «My name’s
Basil returned with the drinks. Miss Ramona divided her conversation (what
there was of it – it was mostly glances) between Basil and Mr. Parker Pyne. Of
the two women she took no notice whatever. Betty attempted once or twice to
join in the conversation but the other girl merely stared at her and yawned.
Suddenly Dolores rose.
«Guess I’ll be going along now. I’m at the other hotel. Anyone coming to
see me home?».
Basil sprang up.
«I’ll come with you».
Mrs. Chester said: «Basil, my dear –».
«I’ll be back presently, Mother».
«Isn’t he the mother’s boy?», Miss Ramona asked of the world at large.
«Just toots ’round (22) after her, don’t you?».
Basil flushed and looked awkward. Miss Ramona gave a nod in Mrs.
Chester’s direction, a dazzling smile to Mr. Parker Pyne and she and Basil
moved off together.
After they had gone there was rather an awkward silence. Mr. Parker Pyne
did not like to speak first. Betty Gregg was twisting her fingers and looking
out to sea. Mrs. Chester looked flushed and angry.
Betty said: «Well, what do you think of our new acquisition in Pollensa Bay?». Her voice was not quite steady.
Mr. Parker Pyne said cautiously:
«A little – er – exotic».
«Exotic?», Betty gave a short bitter laugh.
Mrs. Chester said: «She’s terrible – terrible. Basil must be quite mad».
Betty said sharply: «Basil’s all right».
«Her toenails», said Mrs. Chester with a shiver of nausea.
Betty rose suddenly.
«I think, Mrs. Chester, I’ll go home and not stay to dinner after all.
«Oh, my dear – Basil will be so disappointed».
«Will he?», asked Betty with a short laugh. «Anyway, I think I will.
I’ve got rather a headache».
She smiled at them both and went off. Mrs. Chester turned to Mr. Parker
«I wish we had never come to this place – never!».
Mr. Parker Pyne shook his head sadly.
«You shouldn’t have gone away», said Mrs. Chester. «If you’d been here
this wouldn’t have happened».
Mr. Parker Pyne was stung to respond.
«My dear lady, I can assure you that when it comes to a question of a
beautiful young woman, I should have no influence over your son whatever. He – er
– seems to be of a very susceptible nature».
«He never used to be», said Mrs. Chester tearfully.
«Well», said Mr. Parker Pyne with an attempt at cheerfulness, «this new
attraction seems to have broken the back of (23) his infatuation for
Miss Gregg. That must be some satisfaction to you».
«I don’t know what you mean», said Mrs. Chester. «Betty is a dear child
and devoted to Basil. She is behaving extremely well over this. I think my boy
must be mad».
Mr. Parker Pyne received this startling change of face (24) without
wincing. He had met inconsistency in women before. He said mildly:
«Not exactly mad – just bewitched».
«The creature’s a Dago (25). She’s impossible».
«But extremely good-looking».
Mrs. Chester snorted.
Basil ran up the steps from the sea front.
«Hullo, Mater, here I am. Where’s Betty?».
«Betty’s gone home with a headache. I don’t wonder».
«Sulking, you mean».
«I consider, Basil, that you are being extremely unkind to Betty».
«For God’s sake, Mother, don’t jaw (26). If Betty is going to
make a fuss every time I speak to another girl a nice sort of life we’ll lead
«You are engaged».
«Oh, we’re engaged all right. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to
have any friends of our own. Nowadays people have to lead their own lives and
try to cut out jealousy».
«Look here, if Betty isn’t going to dine with us – I think I’ll go back to
the Mariposa. They did ask me to dine...».
«Oh, Basil –».
The boy gave her an exasperated look, then ran off down the steps.
Mrs. Chester looked eloquently at Mr. Parker Pyne.
«You see», she said.
Matters came to a head (27) a couple of days later. Betty and
Basil were to have gone for a long walk, taking a picnic lunch with them. Betty
arrived at the Pino d’Oro to find that Basil had forgotten the plan and gone
over to Formentor for the day with Dolores Ramona’s party.
Beyond a tightening of the lips the girl made no sign. Presently, however,
she got up and stood in front of Mrs. Chester (the two women were alone on the
«It’s quite all right», she said. «It doesn’t matter. But I think – all the same – that we’d better call the whole thing off (28)».
She slipped from her finger the signet ring (29) that Basil had given her – he would buy the real engagement ring later.
«Will you give him back this, Mrs. Chester? And tell him it’s all right – not to worry...».
«Betty dear, don’t! He does love you – really».
«It looks like it, doesn’t it?», said the girl with a short laugh. «No – I’ve got some pride. Tell him everything’s all right
and that I – I wish him luck».
When Basil returned at sunset he was greeted by a storm.
He flushed a little at the sight of his ring.
«So that’s how she feels, is it? Well, I daresay it’s the best thing».
«Well, frankly, Mother, we don’t seem to have been hitting it off (30) lately».
«Whose fault was that?».
«I don’t see that it was mine particularly. Jealousy’s beastly and I really don’t see why you should get all worked up about
it. You begged me yourself not to marry Betty».
«That was before I knew her. Basil – my dear – you’re not thinking of marrying this other creature».
Basil Chester said soberly:
«I’d marry like a shot (31) if she’d have me – but I’m afraid she won’t».
Cold chills went down Mrs. Chester’s spine (32). She sought and found Mr. Parker Pyne, placidly reading a book in a
«You must do something! You must do something! My boy’s life will be ruined».
Mr. Parker Pyne was getting a little tired of Basil Chester’s life being ruined.
«What can I do?».
«Go and see this terrible creature. If necessary buy her off».
«It may come very expensive».
«I don’t care».
«It seems a pity. Still there are, possibly, other ways».
She looked a question. He shook his head.
«I’ll make no promises – but I’ll see what I can do. I have handled that kind before. By the way, not a word to Basil – that
would be fatal».
«Of course not».
Mr. Parker Pyne returned from the Mariposa at midnight. Mrs. Chester was sitting up for him.
«Well?», she demanded breathlessly.
His eyes twinkled.
«The Señorita Dolores Ramona will leave Pollensa tomorrow morning and the island tomorrow night».
«Oh, Mr. Parker Pyne! How did you manage it?».
«It won’t cost a cent», said Mr. Parker Pyne. Again his eyes twinkled. «I rather fancied I might have a hold over her – and
I was right».
«You are wonderful. Nina Wycherley was quite right. You must let me know – er – your fees –».
Mr. Parker Pyne held up a well-manicured hand.
«Not a penny. It has been a pleasure. I hope all will go well. Of course the boy will be very upset at first when he finds
she’s disappeared and left no address. Just go easy with him for a week or two».
«If only Betty will forgive him –».
«She’ll forgive him all right. They’re a nice couple. By the way, I’m leaving tomorrow, too».
«Oh, Mr. Parker Pyne, we shall miss you».
«Perhaps it’s just as well I should go before that boy of yours gets infatuated with yet a third girl».
Mr. Parker Pyne leaned over the rail of the steamer and looked at the lights of Palma. Beside him stood Dolores Ramona.
He was saying appreciatively:
«A very nice piece of work, Madeleine. I’m glad I wired you to come out. It’s odd when you’re such a quiet stay-at-home
Madeleine de Sara, alias Dolores Ramona, alias Maggie Sayers, said primly: «I’m glad you’re pleased, Mr. Parker Pyne.
It’s been a nice little change. I think I’ll go below now and get to bed before the boat starts. I’m such a bad sailor».
A few minutes later a hand fell on Mr. Parker Pyne’s shoulder. He turned to see Basil Chester.
«Had to come and see you off, Mr. Parker Pyne, and give you Betty’s love and her and my best thanks. It was a grand
stunt of yours. Betty and Mother are as thick as thieves (33). Seemed a shame to deceive the old darling – but she was being
difficult. Anyway it’s all right now. I must be careful to keep up the annoyance stuff (34) a couple of days longer. We’re no
end grateful to you, Betty and I».
«I wish you every happiness», said Mr. Parker Pyne.
There was a pause, then Basil said with somewhat overdone carelessness:
«Is Miss – Miss de Sara – anywhere about? I’d like to thank her, too».
Mr. Parker Pyne shot a keen glance at him.
«I’m afraid Miss de Sara’s gone to bed».
«Oh, too bad – well, perhaps I’ll see her in London sometime».
«As a matter of fact she is going to America on business for me almost at once».
«Oh!», Basil’s tone was blank. «Well», he said. «I’ll be getting along ... ».
Mr. Parker Pyne smiled. On his way to his cabin he tapped on the door of Madeleine’s.
«How are you, my dear? All right? Our young friend has been along. The usual slight attack of Madeleinitis (35). He’ll
get over it in a day or two, but you are rather distracting».
Agatha Christie (1891-1976), an English writer of
detective stories. Her first novel The
Mysterious Affair at Styles came out in 1920. That was the first appearance
of Hercule Poirot, who was to become one of the most popular detectives since
Sherlock Holmes. Among her other detectives are Mr. Parker Pyne and Miss
1. Majorca (or Mallorca): one of the Balearic Islands
which also include Minorca, Iviza and Formentera; the capital of the Balearic Islands is Palma.
2. exchange: the foreign
currency exchange rate.
3. native Spanish: the
Spanish language as spoken locally on the Balearic Islands.
4. exactions: the much too
high charges, exorbitant prices.
5. en route (Fr.): on the way (to, for, somewhere).
6. tête-à-tête (Fr.): in close conversation.
7. the First XI: the leading
cricket team at the public school.
8. piquet (Fr.): a game of cards for two persons,
played with 32 cards.
9. mater (Br coll): mother; often preceded by the.
10. salon (Fr.): reception room.
11. thrash out: clear up (a
matter, problem, etc.) by thorough discussion.
12. like hot cakes: here at once. Generally speaking, the
use of this particular simile in the given context is somewhat unusual, it
ordinarily occurs in the following phrase: «to sell like hot cakes».
13. bust-up (sl): a violent quarrel.
14. put (get, set) somebody’s back up: make a person
angry, antagonize him.
15. tied to her apron strings:
fully dependent, under her thumb.
16. pukka sahib: here the true gentlewoman (in a
pejorative sense), an out and out snob. Literally, it means «a true gentleman»,
«sahib» being an Indian title for a man.
17. Chippendale chairs:
chairs designed by Thomas Chippendale (1717-1779), a celebrated designer of
furniture. He was a native of Worcestershire, but made his name in London, having a shop in St. Martin’s
18. Victorian days: the years
or the reign of Queen Victoria
which lasted from 1837 to 1901.
19. under the rose: secretly;
20. off color: unwell.
21. kick (sl): here
22. toot ’round (toot around)
(coll): follow somebody about, be at
somebody’s beck and call.
23. break the back of: here put an end to.
24. change of face: complete
reversal of attitude (position, etc.).
25. dago (pej): a person of Spanish, Portuguese,
or Italian origin.
26. jaw (sl): talk at length; preach at, give a moral talk to.
27. come to a head: reach a
crisis or decisive stage.
28. call off: cancel; not
carry out what was agreed upon.
29. signet ring: a finger ring containing a signet, i.e. a small seal,
often in the form of an initial.
30. hit it off: get on well (with
31. like a shot: gladly, willingly.
32. Cold chills went down Mrs. Chester’s spine: Mrs. Chester was
suddenly terrified, overcome with great fear.
33. as thick as thieves: very
34. keep up the annoyance stuff:
keep up the pretence of being annoyed.
35. Madeleinitis: here infatuation for Madeleine. The word
is a combination of the name «Madeleine» and the noun-forming suffix «-itis»,
meaning «inflammatory disease» or «inflammation of», as in «bronchitis»,
1. What disappointments awaited Mr. Parker Pyne on his arrival in Palma?
2. Where did he finally stop?
3. What other guests were there at the Pino d’Oro?
4. Why was Mr. Parker Pyne suddenly alarmed for the peaceful continuance
of his holiday?
5. What precautions did he take to conceal his identity?
6. How well did he come to know Mrs. Chester and her son during the first
few days of his stay at the hotel?
7. Why did Mrs. Chester suddenly decide to consult Mr. Parker Pyne?
8. What was Mrs. Chester’s problem?
9. Why did Mrs. Chester believe that Betty was the wrong kind of girl
10. What was Basil’s side of the story?
11. What did Betty think to be the root of all trouble?
12. What made Mrs. Chester change her mind about Betty?
13. What did Mrs. Chester find particularly objectionable in Miss
14. Why did Betty break off her engagement with Basil?
15. How did it all end?
(b) Read through the
story once again and see if you can find facts to prove that:
1. Mrs. Chester had all the prejudices of her class.
2. Mr. Parker Pyne knew Mrs. Chester’s kind only too well.
3. There will always be a generation gap.
4. Miss Ramona, alias Maggie Sayers, was extremely successful in her
role of femme fatal.
(c) Talking points:
1. Character-sketches of: a) Mrs. Chester; b) Basil Chester; c) Betty
2. Tell the story as if you were: a) Dolores Ramona; b) Betty Gregg; c)
3. Imagine what might have happened had Dolores Ramona, alias Maggie
Sayers, stayed on.
4. Explain how Mr. Parker Pyne managed to arrange things to everybody’s
5. Say whether you believe Mr. Parker Pyne took Basil Chester fully into
his confidence. How much did Betty Gregg know and how much was left for her to
6. What made the Chesters so unmistakably English?
7. What did Mr. Parker Pyne have in mind when he said «Nature will have
8. Say whether you believe suitability tests can make for happier
9. Dating machines. Do you think they have a future?
10. The generation gap. How does it manifest itself in the conflict
described in the story?
11. Comment on the following: «It is comparison that makes man happy or