The Case of the Rich Woman is a Parker Pyne short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in Cosmopolitan in August 1934. It was later gathered and included as the sixth story in the collection Parker Pyne Investigates, published in 1932 in the U.K. In the U.S., the collection also came out in 1934 under the title Mr Parker Pyne, Detective.
A rich widow is desperately unhappy in spite of all her wealth and turns to Parker Pyne for help. For him, however, this isn't a straight forward "Schedule A" involving Claude Luttrell. (see The Case of the Middle-aged Wife). This is a difficult case and he needs to take some risks and attempt the unusual.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Parker Pyne receives an original problem from his latest customer: Mrs Amelia Rymer is the widow of a man who worked out a new engineering process which made him a rich man. She was a farmgirl who was courted by Rymer and married him when they had no money and lived through years of gruelling poverty. When he first struck his riches the two people at first enjoyed their new life of luxury but the novelty of servants, foreign trips, expensive clothes and food soon wore off. Abner Rymer was a weak man physically but his new-found wealth couldn't reverse his deterioration and he died at the relatively young age of forty-three some five years ago. Mrs Rymer has no friends now; her old friends are shy of her new lifestyle and her newer acquaintances are always after subscriptions and, she feels sure, are snobbish about her behind her back. She basically wants help in spending money in an enjoyable way but without giving it away. Pyne promises to restore her interest in life and charges her one thousand pounds up-front for his service. After she has gone, Pyne tells Claude Luttrell that the services of Dr. Antrobus will be needed...
A week later he calls Mrs Rymer back to his office and introduces her to Nurse de Sara who takes the lady up one floor to the waiting Dr. Constantine. He appears to be of eastern extraction and the room is decorated in oriental fashion. Mrs Rymer is told she has a sickness of the mind, not of the body and is given a cup of coffee to drink. She soon falls asleep...
...and wakes up in bed in a somewhat bare room. She is soon attended by a plump little woman in an apron called Mrs Gardner and an elderly doctor who both call her "Hannah" and say that she had a seizure two days previously and has been unconscious ever since. She will soon be up and about but she's not to worry about her work as a Mrs Roberts has been helping Mrs Gardner. When they have gone, Mrs Rymer goes to the window and sees that she is in a farmhouse. Later she questions Mrs Gardner who tells her that she has lived there for five years and even shows her a photograph of her and the other residents together. She keeps her thoughts to herself for the moment and soon sees a newspaper which confirms that some three days have passed since she was in Pyne's office and also sees a report that Mrs Abner Rymer has been removed to a private nursing home having delusions that she is a servant girl named Hannah Moorhouse. She also sees in another column a report that a Dr. Constantine has given a lecture stating that it is possible to transfer the soul of a person into the body of another. Mrs Rymer is furious with Pyne but, bearing in mind the newspaper story of her transfer to a nursing home for mental delusions, she is not sure just what she can do or say that will be believed.
She bides her time at the farm, carrying out "Hannah"'s duties which, in themselves, take her back to her old life with some ease. When, after several weeks, she has saved up enough money to be able to afford the trip back to London and confront Pyne, she hesitates, again afraid of what the result might be and also mindful that a change of scene does a person good.
Months go by and Mrs Rymer becomes good friends with Joe Welsh, a widowed farmhand. They enjoy the lambing season in Spring, walks in the Summer and the harvest in October. It is on the eighth of that month, and almost a year has passed since her new life started, when she looks up from her work in the vegetable patch and sees Pyne watching her from over a fence. She starts to curse him and he admits to all the deceptions. He agrees that Hannah Moorhouse never existed and tells her that Mrs Gardner is in on the act. Pyne has had Mrs Rymer's power of attorney for the past year and her fortune has been safe and actually improved in the interim. He asks her a simple question: "Are you happy?"
Mrs Rymer stops at this question and admits that she is. She and Joe have become engaged and she is satisfied with having her old life back. She tells Pyne she wants just seven hundred pounds of her fortune to buy her and Joe a farm they want and Pyne can distribute the rest to hospitals but her new husband is never to know of her previous life. Pyne agrees and leaves another satisfied client behind him.
- Parker Pyne
- Mrs Amelia Rymer, a rich widow
- Abner Rymer, deceased
- Claude Luttrell
- Madeleine de Sara
- Ariadne Oliver - mention only
- Dr Antrobus
- Joe Welsh
- Mrs Gardner
- Mrs Roberts
- Mr Gardner
- In the foreword to Parker Pyne Investigates, Agatha Christie writes that this is one of her two favourite Parker Pyne stories. It was inspired by an actual incident when a rich woman confronted her "with the utmost venom" and asked: "I'd like to know what I can do with all the money I've got...."
- For some reason, this story did not appear in The Strand Magazine. It is not known if it ever saw publication in a U.K. periodical before coming out in book form.
- 1932 Cosmopolitan, issue 554, August 1932 with a sub-heading "Are You Happy? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne". Illustrated by Marshall Frantz. Under the title "The Rich Woman Who Wanted Only to be Happy".
- 1934, Parker Pyne Investigates, William Collins & Sons (London), November 1934
- 1934, Mr Parker Pyne, Detective, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934