The Case of the Distressed Lady is a Parker Pyne short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in Cosmopolitan in August 1932. In the U.K. it was first published in Woman's Pictorial in October 1932. It was later gathered and included as the third story in the collection Parker Pyne Investigates, published in 1934 in the U.K. In the U.S., the collection also came out in 1934 under the title Mr Parker Pyne, Detective.
A young lady is very unhappy and seeks Parker Pyne's help. She has stolen a diamond ring and has been feeling guilty and wants to return it.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
A young lady calls at Parker Pyne’s office. Her name is Mrs. Daphne St. John and she says she is in a great deal of trouble and needs help. She produces a diamond ring that Pyne examines and declares it to be worth at least two thousand pounds. Daphne tells him that she stole it from a friend of hers because she was in desperate straits.
The background is that Daphne's husband is careful with money and doesn’t know that she has got herself into debt because of her extravagant lifestyle. She went with friends to Le Touquet to try to win back some money but lost even more at the casino. Soon afterwards she went to stay in the country at the house of Sir Reuben Dortheimer whose wife, Naomi, was at school with Daphne. During the visit the setting of Naomi's diamond ring became loose and she asked Daphne to help take it to Bond Street to get it fixed. Instead, Daphne had a paste copy made and pawned the real ring for money to pay off her debts, the paste ring being sent to Lady Dortheimer.
Soon after, Daphne came into some money when a cousin died and has now redeemed the real ring. However she cannot return it as the husbands have quarrelled and the two couples are no longer on speaking terms. In addition, Naomi’s character wouldn’t allow forgiveness of such an act of theft if Daphne was to confess and she has heard news that Lady Dortheimer is thinking of having the stone reset. The jeweller she will send it to is bound to notice that it is a paste copy.
Asked for ideas, Daphne admits that she has heard that the Dortheimers are going to be having a party on the coming Wednesday and she needs some exhibition dancers. After she has left the office, Pyne calls in Claude Luttrell and Madeleine de Sara and tells them they are going to be famous dancers...
The party and the exhibition dance goes well. Lady Naomi Dortheimer is very taken with Jules, the dancer (in reality, Claude) and they are on the dancefloor when the lights in the hall suddenly go out, as arranged by Madeleine. In the darkness, Lady Naomi’s ring "slips" from her finger but is soon replaced by Claude.
Daphne calls at Pyne’s office the next morning. He passes her his bill for expenses which she pays in cash and he gives her the ring. He has had it examined and it is definitely a paste copy. Daphne seems a little put out at this and Pyne tells her that he knows that she is in reality Ernestine Richards, the secretary of Lady Dortheimer. The ring she brought in the previous visit to show Parker Pyne was indeed a genuine one. Later she went to get it reset as Lady Dortheimer wanted and the jeweller returned it to the owner. Ernestine then went make a paste copy. This she passed to Claude Luttrell just as he was departing on the train to the Dortheimer ball. She hoped thereby to get the fake one substituted for the real one. She would be absolved from the crime and Claude would be implicated for it.
Fortunately, Parker Pyne had seen through the plot. He arranged for an expert on the train to examine the diamond on the train and proved it was a fake. Lady Dortheimer wore the real ring at the ball. When Claude slipped the real one off in the dark, he put the same real one back on her again.
He does not charge her a fee as he has not made her happy as his advert had promised, but he does warn her about dishonesty. As a statistician, he knows that in 87% of the cases dishonesty does not pay. The angry young lady storms out of the office.
- Parker Pyne
- Felicity Lemon
- Daphne St John
- Sir Reuben Dortheimer
- Lady Naomi Dortheimer
- Claude Luttrell
- Madeleine de Sara
- The Dortheimer house is in Cobham. Major Charles Wilbraham from The Case of the Discontented Soldier had a cottage in a village near Cobham.
- The dancers Michael and Juanita were from the Red Admiral nightclub. In The Case of the Middle-aged Wife, Claude Luttrell brought Maria Packington to the same nightclub.
- 1932: Cosmopolitan, issue 554, August 1932 with four other stores under the banner "Are You Happy? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne". Illustrated by Marshall Frantz.
- 1932: Woman's Pictorial, issue 615, 22 October 1932 with a subtitle "Faked!". Illustrated by J.A. May.
- 1934: Parker Pyne Investigates, William Collins & Sons (London), November 1934
- 1934: Mr Parker Pyne, Detective, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934
- 1957: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 30 no. 4, whole no. 167, Oct 1957, as "The Cat and the Chestnut".
- 1957: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (UK), no. 57, Oct 1957, as "The Cat and the Chestnut".
- 1957: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (Australia), no. 126, Dec 1957, as "The Cat and the Chestnut".
- Nigel Cawthorne, A Brief Guide to Agatha Christie, (London: Constable and Robinson, 2014), 119, ebook edition.
- Agatha Christie, Parker Pyne Investigates, (London: William Morrow, 2010). Unique to this edition, where the story was originally published in the UK is stated at the beginning of each story.
- See this listing at Galactic Central