Chapter 1 Summary
Major Pettigrew, a man in his late sixties, has been widowed for several years. Early one morning, he received a phone call where he learned that his brother, Bertie, died unexpectedly. When the doorbell rang, he went to the door without remembering that he had put on his deceased wife’s housecoat. The caller at the door was Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani widow who ran the village shop and was looking for the payment for his paper delivery. In the middle of their discussion, Major Pettigrew blurted out that his brother had died, and then suddenly began to pass out. Mrs. Ali propped the Major up and took him into his house to sit down. The Major reflected on the racial tensions that had greeted the Alis when they first moved to the village and opened up their business. Many of the local youths would vandalize the outside of the store or call them racial slurs like “Paki.” In time, the tension had subsided, and certain members of the village went out of their way to demonstrate their tolerance. When Mrs. Ali brought tea, the Major carelessly mentioned that Bertie had died of a heart attack, forgetting that Mr. Ali had died of the same thing. When the Major tried to explain his housecoat, Mrs. Ali mentioned that she too sometimes put on some of her husband’s clothes that still smelled like him.
After she left, the Major made some phone calls. The first was to his son, Roger, who had a high-power job at an equity firm. Roger had already heard the news from Bertie’s emotional daughter, Jemima, and seemed unsure if he would be able to make it to the funeral. The Major later talked to Marjorie, Bertie’s widow, a crass woman he had never liked. He was struck that she had scheduled the funeral around her own beauty appointments. The Major also wanted to talk to her about a very valuable vintage rifle belonging to Bertie (which had been in the family for generations), but Marjorie avoided the topic and hinted at passing along some of Bertie’s...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The reception after the funeral was typical of Marjorie’s low standards, and the Major could barely disguise his disdain. He was very surprised when his son, Roger, made a tardy entrance; the Major had not expected him to come at all. The Major was relieved when his son wanted to talk about the rifles, but he soon discovered his son had an ulterior motive. Roger had spoken to Jemima and they wanted to sell the rifles and split the profit; Roger’s reasoning was that he would eventually inherit the money from the Major anyway. Roger then said the he wanted to drive the Major home despite the arrangements made with Mrs. Ali. Marjorie let the Major know that Mrs. Ali had arrived, and was obviously displeased with her presence, making a note of her skin color.
The Major headed out to the driveway and asked Mrs. Ali to come in for tea and cake, which she politely declined. Full of regret, the Major explained his son’s change of plans and apologized for her inconvenience. After thanking her profusely, the Major watched Mrs. Ali leave, wishing he were going with her. Just then, a large black car roared into the driveway, and Sandy Dunn, Roger’s new girlfriend emerged. Looking every bit the brassy American with a short skirt and ample décolletage, she greeted the Major without fully grasping who he was, and he inwardly recoiled at her lack of manners. Inside the house, the Major was introduced to Sandy, who insisted on calling him Ernest, rather than addressing him by his military title. As Roger and Sandy bragged about her huge London loft and Roger’s knack for expensive decorating, the Major recalled Roger as a child and wondered if his late wife, Nancy, had spoiled him.
On the ride home, the Major discovered that the two had missed the funeral not because of Roger’s work obligations, but because he and Sandy had been looking at weekend cottages. Citing social obligations and a long drive, Roger and Sandy declined to come into the Major’s house for a visit; however, Roger walked him inside. The Major sensed that Roger was lingering for a response to his proposition about the guns, but the Major decided to let him roil about for awhile without giving him the satisfaction of a response. During a brief, awkward hug, the Major remembered Roger as a young boy. Upon leaving, Roger promised to return and visit soon with Sandy, but did not catch his father’s icy regard for his attractive new companion.
Chapter 3 Summary
The Major noticed that two days had passed since Mrs. Ali had stopped by and he was disappointed not to see her. Instead, he suffered through a series of unwelcome visits. The first was from his neighbor, Alice Pierce, who delivered an organic vegetarian lasagna the Major found highly distasteful. More painfully, he was visited by Daisy Green, the Vicar’s wife, along with Alma Shaw and Grace DeVere. The Major was keenly aware of efforts on behalf of the women to pair him with Grace, who was also single. The Major had enjoyed casual conversations with her, but soon found himself forced into a luncheon date with Grace, who found it impossible to be herself during the lunch. As they visited, all three struggled to make conversation with the Major while inquiring about his brother’s passing. Alma and Daisy also left Grace alone with the Major, to no avail. In addition to the awkward silences, the Major lamented the weak tea and the hyper-sugary biscuits; he could not help wondering what combination of ritual obligation and genuine concern had motivated the women to come to see him. When the painful afternoon finally ended, the Major bid them farewell at his doorstop and they promised to visit again. Inside, the Major found himself thinking about Bertie, lamenting his passing and considering his own mortality. He also found himself thinking again about Mrs. Ali, and decided to walk down to her store.
The Major was a longtime resident of his village, Edgecombe St. Mary, and knew the area well. As he approached the store he noticed that Mrs. Ali’s stern-looking nephew was in the store and almost considered abandoning the trip. While pretending to peruse the items, the Major not-so-secretly scouted for signs of Mrs. Ali, who eventually emerged from the office. The Major tried to again thank her and apologize for the events at Bertie’s funeral, but her nephew hovered just behind them. As a cover, the Major thanked the both of them for their condolences on his loss. After Mrs. Ali dispatched the nephew with a store-related task, she confessed that she did not want to talk about their time together because her nephew did not know she was driving again. The Major claimed to be interested in ordering tea, but really wanted to ask Mrs. Ali if she was free to drive him to his solicitor’s appointment. The Major walked back through the village feeling much better after his encounter with the charming Mrs. Ali.
Chapter 4 Summary
The morning of his solicitor’s appointment, the Major was disgruntled to find that it was raining outside. While he acknowledged the frequency of rainy weather in England, he was disappointed because of his plans for the day. The drive to the solicitor’s was merely an errand; his real goal was asking Mrs. Ali was so that he might bookend some kind of social visit with her—perhaps a walk along the water. Despite the lousy weather, the Major decided to make the best of it and began to fuss about his appearance. He noticed his age in the mirror and wanted to pick out an outfit that would impress Mrs. Ali. He selected a sweater that Roger gave him that he had never worn because he thought it too young for a man his age. His friend Alec, who was Alma’s husband, called him and set up a golf date. He apologized for not calling him sooner and the Major recalled how he used to rely on Nancy to deal with other people’s grief and losses.
When Mrs. Ali picked him up, he was surprised to find some sophisticated books in her passenger seat, including one in French. Mrs. Ali shared that she could speak several languages, even though her father emphasized the importance of English and discouraged her native language, Urdu. All along the ride the Major tried to avoid staring at Mrs. Ali and roiled about the best segue to ask her out. Before he could think of anything, she dropped him off for his appointment with the understanding that she would return in an hour and a half.
The Major’s appointment was with the law firm of Tewkesbury and Teale. The Tewkesbury family had been practicing law for generations, and Teale was a relatively new addition, having married Mr. Tewkesbury’s daughter. The Major was not very fond of Mortimer Teale, but continued to do business because of his own family’s legacy with the firm. The Major met with Mortimer to go over Bertie’s will, for which the Major was the executor. The contents of the will were short and relatively simple, but the Major noticed that no mention of the family rifles was included. When Teale deferred to the will’s dictate that Marjorie should handle all material goods, the Major sensed that Marjorie made demands when Bertie finalized his will. Mortimer asked the Major to discuss the matter of the rifle with Marjorie as he would need to recuse himself as executor if they could not reach an agreement.
Chapter 5 Summary
After the meeting with his solicitor, the Major waited for Mrs. Ali in the park and found himself stewing about the rifles. As he waited, he recalled his father dying of emphysema; he had called the family together and announced his intention to split the rifles between the two of them. The Major’s belief in primogeniture made this decision difficult to swallow. The Major prided himself on the orderliness of his own updated will and further lamented Bertie’s lack of planning. His devotion to keeping things in the family forced him to recall his courtship with Nancy. She was much more liberal and free spirited than he was, and they often playfully argued about material wealth.
The Major was stirred out of his reverie...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
The Major met Alec for golf and Alec grumbled about his wife, Alma, as they played their round. Alma was on several committees for the golf club and this morning they were meeting about the theme for the annual dance. The Major lamented a themed dance, which he had always felt was more dignified as a black-tie affair. The previous year’s party had gotten out of control by the Major’s standards, and he did not want the club’s reputation sullied. On the way into the club for lunch and a drink, Alma waved in Alec and the Major and asked them to help decide the theme. When the Major suggested they return to the old format of the party, Daisy, who led the community seemed initially miffed. She then turned the Major’s comment...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The Major drove out to Marjorie’s house to discuss the gun and instantly regretted not calling ahead of time. He knocked and rang several times before Jemima, Marjorie and Bertie’s surly daughter, answered. Jemima told the Major that Marjorie was resting, but insisted he stay for tea when the Major attempted to beg off. When the Major politely inquired about Marjorie, Jemima bitterly noted that people frequently asked about her mother’s condition but not her own. Shortly thereafter, Marjorie joined them, greeting the Major politely if not warmly. The Major mentioned his meeting with Mortimer and explained in vague terms that he wanted to sort out a few matters that the will did not specify. At the mention of the will and...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The Major and Mrs. Ali had arranged for a Sunday meeting at his house because she had the afternoon off and her nephew was accustomed to her being out. As the Major fussed over the tea set, he came across two cups that he and Nancy had acquired early in their marriage. It reminded him of Nancy, but he convinced himself he felt no sense of conflict in his growing attachment to Mrs. Ali. To busy himself until Mrs. Ali’s arrival, the Major began to work on the restoration of Bertie’s gun. He was dismayed to find it in very different condition than his own meticulously cleaned rifle. He knew that a slow and laborious restoration would be required to convince Ferguson that the two were a set.
The Major’s efforts were...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Major Pettigrew drove Grace and Mrs. Ali to the Taj Mahal Palace, a venue owned by friends of Mrs. Ali that the golf club was considering as a potential caterer for their theme party. The Major noted that Grace had rather awkwardly angled to sit in the front seat with him, consigning Mrs. Ali to the back. At Taj Mahal, they were greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Rasool, the owners. When they headed back to a private table to sample food and discuss pricing, they were joined by Mr. Rasool’s aged parents. Although Mr. Rasool insisted on their presence, the Major detected Mrs. Rasool’s efforts to remove them from the luncheon. When Grace attempted to launch right into a discussion of pricing, the elder Rasools balked and were offended....
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
The Major had intended to drop Grace and Mrs. Ali at a yarn shop while he met Roger and Sandy at the cottage they were considering; however, it quickly became clear that Grace had taken ill from the Indian cuisine. At Mrs. Ali’s suggestion, the Major took them with him to the appointment so that Grace could get some fresh air while the Major looked at the cottage with Roger and Sandy. Upon arriving, the Major was introduced to Mrs. Augerspier, a dowdy old woman wearing a large, ridiculous feathered hat. The Major noticed that Roger was working very hard to impress the incorrigible old woman while Sandy acted far more laid back about everything. During the tour, it became clear that Mrs. Augerspier was very particular about what...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The Major mulled over the increasingly public nature of his connection to Mrs. Ali as he headed to the club to meet Alec for a round of golf. Just inside, he saw Amina, the young mother of George, attempting to teach the female kitchen staff some traditional dances.
During a break, she asked the Major for a ride home and the Major obliged, but worried about wagging tongues should anyone see Amina and George getting into his car. She also asked the Major about his relationship with Mrs. Ali. He attempted to defer, but she stated that she was hoping to get a part-time job at her store. During his golf game, Alec mentioned that the secretary was initially disturbed that Roger had shown up unannounced expecting to be made a...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
The Major was out in his yard the next morning when he observed his hippie neighbor, Alice, crouched behind some bushes spying at workers who seemed to be surveying the land. Alice insisted they were surveying for a development project, and when she mentioned a possible American connection, the Major thought of Ferguson and decided to interrogate the workers. By pretending he already knew about the project, the Major found out that Lord Dagenham was indeed having his lands surveyed for a major development project. Disheartened, the Major returned to his yard and declined Alice’s offer to get involved in guerrilla tactics to drive away the surveyors. Alice displayed an unexpected tenderness towards the Major, noting his attachment...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Saturday morning, the Major was working in his garden when a flustered Roger emerged from the house. The Major had been taken by surprise by Roger’s abrupt visit and realized he would not know what to make of Abdul Wahid. With Sandy keeping Abdul Wahid busy in conversation, Roger made several statements to his father that hinted a distrust of Abdul Wahid based on his race. When Roger and Sandy went to the car to get lunch, Abdul Wahid told the Major he should leave because Roger and Sandy wanted to stay the weekend. The Major deflected any hasty decisions and invited Abdul Wahid to lunch; he accepted, but noted that most of the pork-based dishes would be off limits to him for religious reasons.
After lunch, Abdul...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
On Sunday, the Major took Mrs. Ali and George to the park; the Major did not want to miss another Sunday with her and she had already agreed to take George to the park. The Major helped the boy put together a new kite and soon he was running through the park with the kite high in the air. Mrs. Ali fussed about George’s playing as the park was very close to some dangerous cliffs. As he played, the Major and Mrs. Ali walked through the park reading poetry. At the end of the day, the three stopped for tea and cakes. Mrs. Ali was heartened that Abdul Wahid had taken some interest in George and Amina; she again expressed her gratitude to the Major for allowing Abdul Wahid to stay with him. She confessed that she had written a letter...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
The morning of the hunting party, the Major chose to walk across the field behind his house to Lord Dagenham’s estate. Along the way, he ran into an unruly boy from the school that was part of Lord Dagenham’s house. The boy was corralled by Alice Pierce, the Major’s neighbor, who worked at the school. Dagenham’s niece, Gertrude, was bustling about overseeing the food arrangements and the Major registered his son Roger’s arrival; however, Roger was busy working the crowd to create new business contacts. The big entrance was Frank Ferguson wearing a loud interpretation of a hunting ensemble. When the men set up in a line beside the hedge to begin the shoot, the Major noticed he was seated next to Ferguson. As they shot some...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
The night of the theme party, the Major arrived at Grace’s house, lamenting to himself that he had to escort her as well as Mrs. Ali. Mrs. Ali answered the door looking absolutely stunning in a blue ensemble and explained that Grace had left early to set up. The Major had initially wanted to bring a dozen roses for Mrs. Ali, but felt obligated to provide something for both Mrs. Ali and Grace, so he opted for single rose for each woman—a choice he now regretted. Despite wanting to do more, the Major only managed to kiss her hand. Along the way they picked up Sandy, who had been abandoned by Roger—he had to arrive early for rehearsal since he was playing his own grandfather in the theatrical presentation at the club. The Major...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
The Major and Mrs. Ali were placed at a prominent table near the staging area with the Khans and Grace. The table noticed the entrance of Roger, in his grandfather’s uniform, which did not fit him well. The Major was struck by how out of place the military uniform looked on his son. He recalled trying to interest his son in the possibility of joining the military, but Roger was interested in finance even then; he told his father in no uncertain terms that a military career was beneath him. That Roger was trailing an overdressed Ferguson, making a grand entrance, only underscored the Major’s disapproval. In the middle of the chaotic dinner, the Major ran into Ferguson at the bar. Ferguson had invited Marjorie, Bertie’s widow,...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Mrs. Ali left, and the Major wasn’t able to say goodbye to her. Right after the disastrous party, the Major caught a cold that laid him up in bed. Meanwhile, the Christmas holidays were approaching and the village was gearing up for them with lots of decorations. When the Major finally mustered up the courage to stop by the village shop, he was greeted by another one of Abdul Wahid’s aunts, who was surly and unfriendly. When Abdul Wahid himself finally appeared, the Major was surprised and hurt by the level of formality in Abdul Wahid’s voice. The Major could not comprehend why the young man wanted to keep him at such a distance. Although Abdul Wahid expressed gratitude again for the Major’s hospitality, he also made it...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
On Christmas Eve, the Major stopped by Roger and Sandy’s house, which appeared to be deserted. After much knocking, Sandy answered the door and invited him in; the Major noticed Sandy had done a lot of work renovating the place. Sandy explained Roger’s absence as a party up at the Dagenham house and then began crying. When the Major inquired what the matter was, Sandy revealed that she was leaving Roger. She had packed up a few boxes and was determined to leave, despite the Major’s protests about the impending holidays. Sandy had decided to drive to London and then fly back to the United States. Although she would not go into great detail about their split, Sandy talked fondly about the cottage she had renovated. It seemed...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
After the holidays, the Major found himself spending more and more time with Grace. There were dinners, lunches, teas, and other social assignations. It occurred to the Major that his friendship with Grace was starting to develop into a relationship; he would need to decide if he wanted to go forward with it. One night after dinner, the Major resolved himself to move things with Grace to the next step. As she was washing dishes, she mentioned she had contacted Mrs. Ali and the Major started at the sound of her first name: Jasmina. Trying his best to sound casual, the Major attempted to pump Grace for information. She had very little contact from Mrs. Ali, but Grace thought Mrs. Ali would not make the trip for Amina and Abdul...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
The Major had to search the streets of Mrs. Ali’s new neighborhood. Grace had only given him her address, and he had to comb through the unfamiliar locations in search of her street name and number. When he found the correct house and knocked, a young pregnant woman answered cautiously. The Major introduced himself and explained he was here to see Mrs. Ali; after initially thinking he meant her mother, the woman asked him to come in and wait while she called her father. After an uncomfortable silence in a sitting room with some halfhearted tea, Major Pettigrew heard the arrival of a man who identified himself as Dave. Dave was Abdul Wahid’s father, and his pleasantries and small talk seemed to be loaded with some kind of...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
The Major knew he couldn’t make Ferguson’s party, nor did he wish to go home. Instead, he stopped at a payphone and called Helena, the caregiver of Colonel Preston. Preston had been Pettigrew’s commanding officer in the military. The Colonel now suffered from dementia and other ailments, and the Major visited him on a regular basis. Helena agreed to let them use the Colonel’s fishing lodge for their getaway; she also promised she wouldn’t share his whereabouts with anyone.
The lodge was not in ideal condition and was in desperate need for a good cleaning. Now that Colonel’s health was deteriorating, he had not been to the lodge in several years and the Major doubted if the Colonel would ever be well enough...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
As they drove back to the Major’s house, he and Jasmina (no longer "Mrs. Ali" anymore) both felt uneasy. When they returned to the house, they found it uncharacteristically messy and soon realized someone had been there. That someone turned out to be Roger, who came into the kitchen looking surly and was rather impolite about Jasmina accompanying his father. When the Major inquired about the trip to Ferguson’s castle in Scotland, Roger said his whole life fell apart up there. First, he proposed to Gertrude, who declined his offer; apparently, she had already accepted an offer from Frank Ferguson. Theirs was no more a marriage of romance than one between her and Roger would have been; she impressed Ferguson by whipping his...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
The Major drove inordinately fast with Jasmina in the passenger seat. They headed back to the very same park where he and Jasmina had gone for a walk and ran into George and Amina for the first time. The Major remembered the steep cliffs at the edge of the park (which had worried all of the mothers at the park the day he and Jasmina went for a walk). They arrived as a considerable storm was building. As they raced on foot to the park, the two were stopped by Jim, a town official who forbade them from heading into the park where the storm winds could blow them off the edge. Jim happened to be a member of a local suicide prevention team and promised to call help. The three were soon joined by Brian, another townie with experience...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 25 and Epilogue Summary
The Major awoke in the hospital under the haze of a lot of medication which still did not mask the pain in both of his legs. He slipped in and out of consciousness and eventually awoke to the sight of Roger at his side. Roger had sat vigil at the Major’s side awaiting his recovery. The Major was concerned about Amina, but Roger revealed that she was coming out of surgery and would pull through; the aunt’s knitting needle had missed her heart. Roger also helped the Major piece together his own rescue. The bullet had fortuitously missed the Major’s femoral artery (and, as Roger noted with some irony, his testicle). Abdul Wahid dove after the Major to prevent him from falling over the cliff. As Abdul Wahid began to slip, Brian...
(The entire section is 497 words.)