An Excerpt from ‘The Complete, Annotated Mysterious Affair at Styles’

Here’s Chapter One from The Complete, Annotated Mysterious Affair at Styles. Note that the links that lead to word definitions are underlined, while those that give deeper descriptions are footnoted.


By Agatha Christie and Bill Peschel



The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as “The Styles Case” has now somewhat subsided. Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we trust, will effectually silence the sensational rumours which still persist.

I will therefore briefly set down the circumstances which led to my being connected with the affair.

I had been invalided home from the Front;1 and, after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home,2 was given a month’s sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, I was trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across John Cavendish. I had seen very little of him for some years. Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good fifteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-five years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at Styles, his mother’s place in Essex.

We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his inviting me down to Styles to spend my leave there.

“The mater will be delighted to see you again–after all those years,” he added.

“Your mother keeps well?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. I suppose you know that she has married again?”

I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Mrs. Cavendish, who had married John’s father when he was a widower with two sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now. I recalled her as an energetic, autocratic personality, somewhat inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own.

Their country-place, Styles Court, had been purchased by Mr. Cavendish early in their married life. He had been completely under his wife’s ascendancy, so much so that, on dying, he left the place to her for her lifetime, as well as the larger part of his income; an arrangement that was distinctly unfair to his two sons. Their step-mother, however, had always been most generous to them; indeed, they were so young at the time of their father’s remarriage that they always thought of her as their own mother.

Lawrence, the younger, had been a delicate youth. He had qualified as a doctor but early relinquished the profession of medicine, and lived at home while pursuing literary ambitions; though his verses never had any marked success.

John practiced for some time as a barrister, but had finally settled down to the more congenial life of a country squire.3 He had married two years ago, and had taken his wife to live at Styles, though I entertained a shrewd suspicion that he would have preferred his mother to increase his allowance, which would have enabled him to have a home of his own. Mrs. Cavendish, however, was a lady who liked to make her own plans, and expected other people to fall in with them, and in this case she certainly had the whip hand, namely: the purse strings.

John noticed my surprise at the news of his mother’s remarriage and smiled rather ruefully.

“Rotten little bounder too!” he said savagely. “I can tell you, Hastings, it’s making life jolly difficult for us. As for Evie–you remember Evie?”


“Oh, I suppose she was after your time. She’s the mater’s factotum, companion, Jack of all trades!4 A great sport–old Evie! Not precisely young and beautiful, but as game as they make them.”

“You were going to say?”

“Oh, this fellow! He turned up from nowhere, on the pretext of being a second cousin or something of Evie’s, though she didn’t seem particularly keen to acknowledge the relationship. The fellow is an absolute outsider, anyone can see that. He’s got a great black beard, and wears patent leather boots in all weathers! But the mater cottoned to him at once, took him on as secretary–you know how she’s always running a hundred societies?”

I nodded.

“Well, of course the war has turned the hundreds into thousands. No doubt the fellow was very useful to her. But you could have knocked us all down with a feather when, three months ago, she suddenly announced that she and Alfred were engaged! The fellow must be at least twenty years younger than she is! It’s simply bare-faced fortune hunting; but there you are–she is her own mistress, and she’s married him.”

“It must be a difficult situation for you all.”

“Difficult! It’s damnable!”

Thus it came about that, three days later, I descended from the train at Styles St. Mary, an absurd little station, with no apparent reason for existence, perched up in the midst of green fields and country lanes. John Cavendish was waiting on the platform, and piloted me out to the car.

“Got a drop or two of petrol still, you see,” he remarked. “Mainly owing to the mater’s activities.”

The village of Styles St. Mary was situated about two miles from the little station, and Styles Court lay a mile the other side of it. It was a still, warm day in early July. As one looked out over the flat Essex country, lying so green and peaceful under the afternoon sun, it seemed almost impossible to believe that, not so very far away, a great war5 was running its appointed course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world. As we turned in at the lodge gates, John said:

“I’m afraid you’ll find it very quiet down here, Hastings.”

“My dear fellow, that’s just what I want.”

“Oh, it’s pleasant enough if you want to lead the idle life. I drill with the volunteers6 twice a week, and lend a hand at the farms. My wife works regularly ‘on the land’7 She is up at five every morning to milk, and keeps at it steadily until lunchtime. It’s a jolly good life taking it all round–if it weren’t for that fellow Alfred Inglethorp!” He checked the car suddenly, and glanced at his watch. “I wonder if we’ve time to pick up Cynthia. No, she’ll have started from the hospital by now.”

“Cynthia! That’s not your wife?”

“No, Cynthia is a protégée of my mother’s, the daughter of an old schoolfellow of hers, who married a rascally solicitor. He came a cropper, and the girl was left an orphan and penniless. My mother came to the rescue, and Cynthia has been with us nearly two years now. She works in the Red Cross Hospital at Tadminster, seven miles away.”

As he spoke the last words, we drew up in front of the fine old house. A lady in a stout tweed skirt, who was bending over a flower bed, straightened herself at our approach.

“Hullo, Evie, here’s our wounded hero! Mr. Hastings–Miss Howard.”

Miss Howard shook hands with a hearty, almost painful, grip. I had an impression of very blue eyes in a sunburnt face. She was a pleasant-looking woman of about forty, with a deep voice, almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible square body, with feet to match?these last encased in good thick boots. Her conversation, I soon found, was couched in the telegraphic style.

“Weeds grow like house afire. Can’t keep even with ’em. Shall press you in. Better be careful.”

“I’m sure I shall be only too delighted to make myself useful,” I responded.

“Don’t say it. Never does. Wish you hadn’t later.”

“You’re a cynic,8 Evie,” said John, laughing. “Where’s tea to-day?9–inside or out?”

“Out. Too fine a day to be cooped up in the house.”

“Come on then, you’ve done enough gardening for to-day. ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire’,10 you know. Come and be refreshed.”

“Well,” said Miss Howard, drawing off her gardening gloves, “I’m inclined to agree with you.”

She led the way round the house to where tea was spread under the shade of a large sycamore.

A figure rose from one of the basket chairs, and came a few steps to meet us.

“My wife, Hastings,” said John.

I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any other woman’s that I have ever known; the intense power of stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilised body–all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.

She greeted me with a few words of pleasant welcome in a low clear voice, and I sank into a basket chair feeling distinctly glad that I had accepted John’s invitation. Mrs. Cavendish gave me some tea, and her few quiet remarks heightened my first impression of her as a thoroughly fascinating woman. An appreciative listener is always stimulating, and I described, in a humorous manner, certain incidents of my Convalescent Home, in a way which, I flatter myself, greatly amused my hostess. John, of course, good fellow though he is, could hardly be called a brilliant conversationalist.

At that moment a well remembered voice floated through the open French window near at hand:

“Then you’ll write to the Princess after tea, Alfred? I’ll write to Lady Tadminster for the second day, myself. Or shall we wait until we hear from the Princess? In case of a refusal, Lady Tadminster might open it the first day, and Mrs. Crosbie the second. Then there’s the Duchess–about the school fête.”11

There was the murmur of a man’s voice, and then Mrs. Inglethorp’s rose in reply:

“Yes, certainly. After tea will do quite well. You are so thoughtful, Alfred dear.”

The French window swung open a little wider, and a handsome white-haired old lady, with a somewhat masterful cast of features, stepped out of it on to the lawn. A man followed her, a suggestion of deference in his manner.

Mrs. Inglethorp greeted me with effusion.

“Why, if it isn’t too delightful to see you again, Mr. Hastings, after all these years. Alfred, darling, Mr. Hastings–my husband.”

I looked with some curiosity at “Alfred darling”. He certainly struck a rather alien note. I did not wonder at John objecting to his beard. It was one of the longest and blackest I have ever seen. He wore gold-rimmed pince-nez, and had a curious impassivity of feature. It struck me that he might look natural on a stage, but was strangely out of place in real life. His voice was rather deep and unctuous. He placed a wooden hand in mine and said:12

“This is a pleasure, Mr. Hastings.” Then, turning to his wife: “Emily dearest, I think that cushion is a little damp.”

She beamed fondly on him, as he substituted another with every demonstration of the tenderest care. Strange infatuation of an otherwise sensible woman!

With the presence of Mr. Inglethorp, a sense of constraint and veiled hostility seemed to settle down upon the company. Miss Howard, in particular, took no pains to conceal her feelings. Mrs. Inglethorp, however, seemed to notice nothing unusual. Her volubility, which I remembered of old, had lost nothing in the intervening years, and she poured out a steady flood of conversation, mainly on the subject of the forthcoming bazaar which she was organizing and which was to take place shortly. Occasionally she referred to her husband over a question of days or dates. His watchful and attentive manner never varied. From the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike to him, and I flatter myself that my first judgments are usually fairly shrewd.

Presently Mrs. Inglethorp turned to give some instructions about letters to Evelyn Howard, and her husband addressed me in his painstaking voice:

“Is soldiering your regular profession, Mr. Hastings?”

“No, I was in Lloyd’s.”

“And you will return there after it is over?”

“Perhaps. Either that or a fresh start altogether.”

Mary Cavendish leant forward.

“What would you really choose as a profession, if you could just consult your inclination?”13

“Well, that depends.”

“No secret hobby?” she asked. “Tell me–you’re drawn to something? Every one is–usually something absurd.”

“You’ll laugh at me.”

She smiled.


“Well, I’ve always had a secret hankering to be a detective!”

“The real thing–Scotland Yard? Or Sherlock Holmes?”

“Oh, Sherlock Holmes by all means. But really, seriously, I am awfully drawn to it. I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inflamed me. He was a marvellous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his–though of course I have progressed rather further. He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever.”

“Like a good detective story myself,” remarked Miss Howard. “Lots of nonsense written, though. Criminal discovered in last chapter. Every one dumbfounded. Real crime–you’d know at once.”

“There have been a great number of undiscovered crimes,” I argued.

“Don’t mean the police, but the people that are right in it. The family. You couldn’t really hoodwink them. They’d know.”

“Then,” I said, much amused, “you think that if you were mixed up in a crime, say a murder, you’d be able to spot the murderer right off?”

“Of course I should. Mightn’t be able to prove it to a pack of lawyers. But I’m certain I’d know. I’d feel it in my fingertips if he came near me.”

“It might be a ‘she,’” I suggested.

“Might. But murder’s a violent crime. Associate it more with a man.”

“Not in a case of poisoning.” Mrs. Cavendish’s clear voice startled me. “Dr. Bauerstein was saying yesterday that, owing to the general ignorance of the more uncommon poisons among the medical profession, there were probably countless cases of poisoning quite unsuspected.”

“Why, Mary, what a gruesome conversation!” cried Mrs. Inglethorp. “It makes me feel as if a goose were walking over my grave.14 Oh, there’s Cynthia!”

A young girl in V.A.D.15 uniform ran lightly across the lawn.

“Why, Cynthia, you are late to-day. This is Mr. Hastings–Miss Murdoch.”

Cynthia Murdoch was a fresh-looking young creature, full of life and vigour. She tossed off her little V.A.D. cap, and I admired the great loose waves of her auburn hair, and the smallness and whiteness of the hand she held out to claim her tea. With dark eyes and eyelashes she would have been a beauty.

She flung herself down on the ground beside John, and as I handed her a plate of sandwiches she smiled up at me.

“Sit down here on the grass, do. It’s ever so much nicer.”

I dropped down obediently.

“You work at Tadminster, don’t you, Miss Murdoch?”

She nodded.

“For my sins.”

“Do they bully you, then?” I asked, smiling.

“I should like to see them!” cried Cynthia with dignity.

“I have got a cousin who is nursing,” I remarked. “And she is terrified of ‘Sisters’.”

“I don’t wonder. Sisters are, you know, Mr. Hastings. They simply are! You’ve no idea! But I’m not a nurse, thank heaven, I work in the dispensary.”

“How many people do you poison?” I asked, smiling.

Cynthia smiled too.

“Oh, hundreds!” she said.

“Cynthia,” called Mrs. Inglethorp, “do you think you could write a few notes for me?”

“Certainly, Aunt Emily.”

She jumped up promptly, and something in her manner reminded me that her position was a dependent one, and that Mrs. Inglethorp, kind as she might be in the main, did not allow her to forget it.

My hostess turned to me.

“John will show you your room. Supper is at half-past seven. We have given up late dinner for some time now. Lady Tadminster, our Member’s wife–she was the late Lord Abbotsbury’s daughter–does the same. She agrees with me that one must set an example of economy. We are quite a war household; nothing is wasted here–every scrap of waste paper, even, is saved and sent away in sacks.”16

I expressed my appreciation, and John took me into the house and up the broad staircase, which forked right and left half-way to different wings of the building. My room was in the left wing, and looked out over the park.

John left me, and a few minutes later I saw him from my window walking slowly across the grass arm in arm with Cynthia Murdoch. I heard Mrs. Inglethorp call “Cynthia” impatiently, and the girl started and ran back to the house. At the same moment, a man stepped out from the shadow of a tree and walked slowly in the same direction. He looked about forty, very dark with a melancholy clean-shaven face. Some violent emotion seemed to be mastering him. He looked up at my window as he passed, and I recognized him, though he had changed much in the fifteen years that had elapsed since we last met. It was John’s younger brother, Lawrence Cavendish. I wondered what it was that had brought that singular expression to his face.

Then I dismissed him from my mind, and returned to the contemplation of my own affairs.

The evening passed pleasantly enough; and I dreamed that night of that enigmatical woman, Mary Cavendish.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny, and I was full of the anticipation of a delightful visit.

I did not see Mrs. Cavendish until lunch-time, when she volunteered to take me for a walk, and we spent a charming afternoon roaming in the woods, returning to the house about five.

As we entered the large hall, John beckoned us both into the smoking-room. I saw at once by his face that something disturbing had occurred. We followed him in, and he shut the door after us.

“Look here, Mary, there’s the deuce of a mess. Evie’s had a row with Alfred Inglethorp, and she’s off.”

“Evie? Off?”

John nodded gloomily.

“Yes; you see she went to the mater, and — Oh, here’s Evie herself.”

Miss Howard entered. Her lips were set grimly together, and she carried a small suit-case. She looked excited and determined, and slightly on the defensive.

“At any rate,” she burst out, “I’ve spoken my mind!”

“My dear Evelyn,” cried Mrs. Cavendish, “this can’t be true!”

Miss Howard nodded grimly.

“True enough! Afraid I said some things to Emily she won’t forget or forgive in a hurry. Don’t mind if they’ve only sunk in a bit. Probably water off a duck’s back, though. I said right out: ‘You’re an old woman, Emily, and there’s no fool like an old fool. The man’s twenty years younger than you, and don’t you fool yourself as to what he married you for. Money! Well, don’t let him have too much of it. Farmer Raikes has got a very pretty young wife. Just ask your Alfred how much time he spends over there.’ She was very angry. Natural! I went on, ‘I’m going to warn you, whether you like it or not. That man would as soon murder you in your bed as look at you. He’s a bad lot. You can say what you like to me, but remember what I’ve told you. He’s a bad lot!’“

“What did she say?”

Miss Howard made an extremely expressive grimace.

“‘Darling Alfred’–‘dearest Alfred’–‘wicked calumnies’ –‘wicked lies’–‘wicked woman’–to accuse her ‘dear husband’! The sooner I left her house the better. So I’m off.”

“But not now?”

“This minute!”

For a moment we sat and stared at her. Finally John Cavendish, finding his persuasions of no avail, went off to look up the trains. His wife followed him, murmuring something about persuading Mrs. Inglethorp to think better of it.

As she left the room, Miss Howard’s face changed. She leant towards me eagerly.

“Mr. Hastings, you’re honest. I can trust you?”

I was a little startled. She laid her hand on my arm, and sank her voice to a whisper.

“Look after her, Mr. Hastings. My poor Emily. They’re a lot of sharks–all of them. Oh, I know what I’m talking about. There isn’t one of them that’s not hard up and trying to get money out of her. I’ve protected her as much as I could. Now I’m out of the way, they’ll impose upon her.”

“Of course, Miss Howard,” I said, “I’ll do everything I can, but I’m sure you’re excited and overwrought.”

She interrupted me by slowly shaking her forefinger.

“Young man, trust me. I’ve lived in the world rather longer than you have. All I ask you is to keep your eyes open. You’ll see what I mean.”

The throb of the motor came through the open window, and Miss Howard rose and moved to the door. John’s voice sounded outside. With her hand on the handle, she turned her head over her shoulder, and beckoned to me.

“Above all, Mr. Hastings, watch that devil–her husband!”

There was no time for more. Miss Howard was swallowed up in an eager chorus of protests and good-byes. The Inglethorps did not appear.

As the motor drove away, Mrs. Cavendish suddenly detached herself from the group, and moved across the drive to the lawn to meet a tall bearded man who had been evidently making for the house. The colour rose in her cheeks as she held out her hand to him.

“Who is that?” I asked sharply, for instinctively I distrusted the man.

“That’s Dr. Bauerstein,” said John shortly.

“And who is Dr. Bauerstein?”

“He’s staying in the village doing a rest cure,17 after a bad nervous breakdown. He’s a London specialist; a very clever man–one of the greatest living experts on poisons, I believe.”

“And he’s a great friend of Mary’s,” put in Cynthia, the irrepressible.

John Cavendish frowned and changed the subject.

“Come for a stroll, Hastings. This has been a most rotten business. She always had a rough tongue, but there is no stauncher friend in England than Evelyn Howard.”

He took the path through the plantation, and we walked down to the village through the woods which bordered one side of the estate.

As we passed through one of the gates on our way home again, a pretty young woman of gipsy type coming in the opposite direction bowed and smiled.

“That’s a pretty girl,” I remarked appreciatively.

John’s face hardened.

“That is Mrs. Raikes.”

“The one that Miss Howard?”

“Exactly,” said John, with rather unnecessary abruptness.

I thought of the white-haired old lady in the big house, and that vivid wicked little face that had just smiled into ours, and a vague chill of foreboding crept over me. I brushed it aside.

“Styles is really a glorious old place,” I said to John.

He nodded rather gloomily.

“Yes, it’s a fine property. It’ll be mine some day–should be mine now by rights, if my father had only made a decent will. And then I shouldn’t be so damned hard up as I am now.”

“Hard up, are you?”

“My dear Hastings, I don’t mind telling you that I’m at my wit’s end for money.”

“Couldn’t your brother help you?”

“Lawrence? He’s gone through every penny he ever had, publishing rotten verses in fancy bindings. No, we’re an impecunious lot. My mother’s always been awfully good to us, I must say. That is, up to now. Since her marriage, of course?” he broke off, frowning.

For the first time I felt that, with Evelyn Howard, something indefinable had gone from the atmosphere. Her presence had spelt security. Now that security was removed–and the air seemed rife with suspicion. The sinister face of Dr. Bauerstein recurred to me unpleasantly. A vague suspicion of every one and everything filled my mind. Just for a moment I had a premonition of approaching evil.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles Footnotes

Front: Captain Hastings had been wounded on the Western Front. Styles is set during World War I (1914-1918) when Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire fought Russia on the Eastern Front, France and Great Britain on the Western Front, and Italy on the Southern Front. Return

Convalescent Home: A hospital for wounded soldiers. During the war, many country homes were turned into convalescent homes where patients received medical treatment and could recuperate in pleasant surroundings. Return

Essex: A county northeast of London. Return

yarn: Swapping stories. The word was inspired by sailors during the age of sail, who would pass the time during the tedious process of making ropes by telling tales. Return

mater: British schoolboy slang for mother, from the Latin word mater.Return

Lady Bountiful: A character from the romantic comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707) by George Farquhar. Lady Bountiful was a charitable but patronizing woman from an aristocratic family. Return

ascendancy: Controlling influence. Return

barrister: With solicitor, one of two classes of lawyers in the British legal system. The solicitor works with the client and communicates the facts of the case to the barrister, who speaks on the client’s behalf in court. In other words, barristers stand at the bar before the judge and solicitors solicit work from clients. Return

congenial: Pleasant. Return

country squire: The word squire has changed drastically in meaning since its origins in medieval times as a stage a boy moves through to become a knight. By the late 17th century, the squire was the head of the family that owned much of the land around a village. Over time, it mutated into an informal title for men who were not members of the nobility but who still commanded authority or respect, then as a role (e.g., “playing the country squire”). Return

whip hand: A colloquial phrase meaning to hold an advantage over another. Probably derived from the way drivers of wagons or carriages use a whip to direct their horses. Return

bounder: A socially unacceptable or ill-mannered man, probably derived from the idea that the miscreant has stepped beyond the boundary of good behavior. Return

factotum: A general servant with wide-ranging responsibilities. From the Latin for “do everything.” Return

Jack of all trades: A person capable of performing many skills. The phrase appears in print as early as 1612 in a book of prison experiences that talks of “Some broken Cittizen, who hath plaid Jack of all trades.” Soon afterwards, it began its path toward the derogatory variation “Jack of all trades, master of none.” The name Jack has been used to represent the common man as early as the 14th century. The name shows up in folklore — Jack Spratt, little Jack Horner, Jack Frost — and a number of trades, such as lumberjack and steeplejack. Return

game: Eager to do anything. Return

patent leather boots in all weathers: Patent leather is a fine-grained cow hide that’s been polished to a waterproof glossy finish. The locals would never think to wear such fancy shoes and would be suspicious of anyone who did. Return

cottoned: To take a fancy to or agree with. Possibly derived from the habit of cotton threads to adhere to rough or napped material. Return

great war: The term was in common use before it was applied to what we now call World War I. After Germany won the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the next “great war” was anticipated by a genre of invasion literature with England as the target. Germany played the villain in George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871), but in William Le Queux’s The Great War in England in 1897 (1894), it was a coalition of French and Russian troops that attacked and Germany who came to England’s rescue. Return

lodge: A small house or cottage on the grounds of a large home reserved for the gatekeeper, gardener or other workers. Derived from the medieval Latin lobia or laubia for a hall or lobby (that is, a room near the entrance of a building). Return

drill with the volunteers: The Volunteer Training Corps was a militia formed during the war to repel a possible German invasion. The government issued uniform guidelines and regulations, but required the units to provide their own clothing and, until 1917, their own weapons. Return

on the land: Mary Cavendish was working as a volunteer helping a farmer with the chores. The war caused a severe shortage of agricultural workers, and women were recruited to fill the gap. See the essay An Army of Land Girls in the appendix for more details. Return

protégée: The female form of protégé, meaning a person who is guided by another. From the French word protéger for “protected.” Return

solicitor: A class of lawyer that did legal work outside of court. When an advocate was needed in the courtroom, the solicitor would call in a barrister and “instruct” him on the particulars of the case. Return

came a cropper: To fall. Derived from falling “neck and crop,” a variation of “head over heels.” The phrase eventually became applied to a major failure or a fatal injury. Return

Tadminster: A fictional village. Christie rarely set her books in identifiable locations, apart from major cities such as London and her native Devon. Return

stout: Fat in this case, although the word could also mean firm, brave and sturdy. Return

tweed: A rough woolen fabric woven in a check or herringbone (V-shaped) pattern. Return

stentorian: A very loud and powerful voice. Inspired by Stentor, the herald in the Iliad whose voice, according to Homer, “was as powerful as fifty voices of other men.” In Book 7 of Politics, Aristotle wrote, “For who can be the general of such a vast multitude, or who the herald, unless he have the voice of a Stentor?” Return

telegraphic: Concise or terse. A telegraph is any device used to send messages through signals seen by sight. (It was Samuel Morse who took the word and applied it to his invention that used electricity and wires to send signals). The need to send messages fast and accurately required boiling down the message to as few words as possible. Return

cynic: Someone who believes a person is motivated solely by self-interest. Named for the Cynics, the school of philosophers in ancient Greece who believed in living a simple life free of possessions, rejecting sex, wealth, power and fame. The Cynics’ habit of lecturing and scorning others for not following their example probably inspired the negative attitude that we regard as cynicism. Return

to-day: The word “today” was originally two words that over time was melded into one. People speaking Old English, an early form of the English language from roughly 650 to 1150, would say “to dæge” for “on (the) day.” Sometime during the 16th century, the word came to be written with the hyphen and would stay that way until the early 20th century. The same process happened with “tomorrow,” which you will see written as “to-morrow” (or, in the Old English, as “to morgenne” for “on (the) morrow”). Return

Labourer is worthy of his hire: From Luke 10:7, in which Jesus appointed 70 disciples — 72 in some versions — and told them to travel “as lambs among wolves” to spread his message: “And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire.” A similar phrase also appears in 1 Timothy 5:18: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his reward.” Return

basket chairs: A chair for outdoor or porch use made from woven rattan or wicker. Return

tawny: A warm, sandy color. From the Anglo-French word for “tanned.” Return

French window: A single or matching pair of frames with panes of glass set in an outside wall that are large enough to act as either doors or windows. Return

school fête: We see Mrs. Inglethorp playing the Lady Bountiful as she plans two events: a charity bazaar — a two-day affair in which donated items will be sold — and a school fête — an event featuring entertainment activities to raise money for the local school. For the bazaar, she plans to ask a princess to officially open the event the first day and Lady Tadminster, who she identifies later as the wife of the local member of Parliament, to perform the same duty on the second. Princess: A title bestowed on the wife of a prince, the daughter of the sovereign or the granddaughter of the sovereign through the male line. In 1917, there were at least 20 princesses for Mrs. Inglethorp to ask, including several daughters and granddaughters of Queen Victoria. Duchess: The wife of a duke, the highest rank in the English peerage. Even though she doesn’t have a title, Mrs. Inglethorp’s comfort in inviting duchesses and princesses to open her charity bazaar says something about the firmness of her character. Return

deference: Showing respect or esteem to a superior or elder. Return

effusion: Unrestrained or heartfelt. Return

pince-nez: A pair of glasses consisting of two lenses connected by a metal bridge, sometimes with a string attached that is looped around the neck or a vest button. They stay on the face by pinching the upper part of the nose. Not surprisingly then, the word is derived from the French pincer, “to pinch,” and nez, for “nose.” Return

impassivity: No appearance of emotion. unctuous: Smooth and greasy, from the Latin unctus for “anointing.” wooden hand: Not literally a hand made of wood, but a handshake that is very stiff and without emotion. Christie loves to emphasize unpleasant people, to draw your attention to them as potential suspects, and this paragraph nicely portrays Alfred Inglethorp as a villain. Return

volubility: Capable of a rapid flow of speech. Return

Lloyd’s: An insurance and reinsurance market. Not a company in the traditional sense, but a corporate body where its members pool their money and spread the risk of providing insurance. Founded at Edward Lloyd’s coffee house about 1689, it was more formally organized in 1774 as the Society of Lloyd’s and incorporated in 1871 by Parliament. Return

consult your inclination: Although she was in her mid-twenties when she wrote Styles, Christie sometimes used phrases more familiar to earlier generations. “Consult your inclination” — meaning considering what you want — was commonly in use from 1820 to 1850 but also appears in the Colonial-era papers of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Return

Scotland Yard: London’s Metropolitan Police. Although its original location was at 4 Whitehall Place, its rear entrance opened onto Great Scotland Yard, hence the name. Return

dandy: A man who pays considerable attention to his appearance and is willing to spend money and time to always appear better dressed than you. Derived possibly from the 17th century phrase “Jack-a-dandy” for a conceited fellow. Return

hoodwink: To deceive. Its earliest known use from 1562 suggests blinding or obscuring a person’s vision with a hood as in during a robbery. In Elizabethan times, blind man’s buff was called the “hoodwinke game,” adding the elements of groping about and deception to the definition. Return

walking over my grave: Mrs. Inglethorp is shivering. In medieval times, the connection between the living and the dead was closer, and it was believed that a person’s final resting place was predetermined. The earliest recorded use of “somebody walking over my grave” was by Jonathan Swift in 1738. The use of a goose is a contemporary variant from America — interesting, since Christie’s father was born there — to add the implication of feeling goose bumps on one’s skin. Return

V.A.D.: Voluntary Aid Detachment. An organization founded by the Red Cross and the Order of St. John in 1909 to provide nursing services, particularly in hospitals, during wartime. Drawn from the middle and upper classes and given only a few weeks of training, volunteers worked at local hospitals, auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes. Their duties included changing linen, sterilizing equipment, serving meals and assisting doctors and senior nurses. These genteel women — Christie included — found that nursing was not as romantic as the propaganda portrayed it, but a rough profession that exposed them to war’s horrible consequences. Christie served in the V.A.D. from 1914 to 1918. Return

Sisters: A senior nurse. The name survives from the early Christian era, when nuns took care of the sick and injured. Return

dispensary: A room where medicines are stored and prepared. From the Latin dispensare for “to weigh out” or “to disburse.” Return

dependent one: A person who needs financial support from another, especially a family member. Return

Member’s wife: A member of Parliament, Britain’s legislative body. Return

sent away in sacks: To help the war effort, households were encouraged to recycle as much as possible. Wastepaper was reused for various forms of packaging, including corrugated containers. Return

park: A tract of land that could include lawns, woodlands and pastures used for recreation and as a game preserve. Return

started: Give a sudden jerking movement out of surprise or alarm. Return

melancholy: A feeling of sadness, sometimes from no particular cause. Return

enigmatical: Someone or something difficult to understand. Return

Smoking-room: A room set aside in a home or club for that purpose. Smoking rooms were generally for men only, which served the dual purpose of keeping the smell away from the rest of the place and giving men an excuse to gather away from the ladies. Return

deuce of a mess: Devil. A way of invoking Satan without being blasphemous. Return

row: Argument. Of unknown origin. Return

water off a duck’s back: Duck feathers are very resistant to water, so the phrase implies that the hurtful remark did not wound Mrs. Inglethorp’s feelings. Return

no fool like an old fool: A very old proverb, implying that, if people gain wisdom through age, an old fool is worse than a young fool. The phrase was first recorded in 1546 as ”But there is no foole to the olde foole, folke saie.” Return

a bad lot: A group or person of an unsavory kind. Return

calumnies: False accusations intended to damage someone’s reputation. Return

look up the trains: Examine the train schedule. Return

overwrought: Anxious or excited and nervous. Return

rest cure: Although Dr. Bauerstein doesn’t seem to be following the regime, a rest cure was a medical treatment developed during the 19th century to treat mental disorders, especially post-childbirth depression in women. Patients would be required to stay in bed and be fed, clothed, massaged and washed by a nurse. Their diet would emphasize fatty dairy products in the belief that it would revitalize them. It was found that the treatment did not help, and could hurt the patient by causing the muscles to atrophy through lack of exercise and creating blood clots in the legs. Return

irrepressible: Unable to be controlled or restrained. Return

plantation: An area set aside to cultivate plants, particularly trees. Return

gipsy type: A European ethnic group also called the Romani, believed to originate in the Indian subcontinent from about the 11th century. Their ethnicity and apartness — traits shared with Jews — has subjected them to curiosity, suspicion and sometimes exclusion and persecution. Return

impecunious: Habitually poor. Formed by adding “in-” (meaning “not”) to the Latin word pecunia for “wealthy.” Over time, the word evolved to impecunious.

premonition: A feeling, without reason, that something will happen, most likely unpleasant. Return

(c) 1995-2016 by Bill Peschel