A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.Mr Satterthwaite bumps into his old friend Mr Quin at the opera, where they spot a distressed-looking girl in the audience. Later, they discover that she is in real danger and decide to rescue her…
The Face of Helen
A Short Story
by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk)
Copyright © 2008 Agatha Christie Ltd.
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Source ISBN: 9780007438983
Ebook Edition © MARCH 2014 ISBN: 9780007560127
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‘The Face of Helen’ was first published as ‘The Magic of Mr Quin No. 5’ in The Storyteller, April 1927.
Mr Satterthwaite was at the Opera and sat alone in his big box on the first tier. Outside the door was a printed card bearing his name. An appreciator and a connoisseur of all the arts, Mr Satterthwaite was especially fond of good music, and was a regular subscriber to Covent Garden every year, reserving a box for Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the season.
But it was not often that he sat in it alone. He was a gregarious little gentleman, and he liked filling his box with the élite of the great world to which he belonged, and also with the aristocracy of the artistic world in which he was equally at home. He was alone tonight because a Countess had disappointed him. The Countess, besides being a beautiful and celebrated woman, was also a good mother. Her children had been attacked by that common and distressing disease, the mumps, and the Countess remained at home in tearful confabulation with exquisitely starched nurses. Her husband, who had supplied her with the aforementioned children and a title, but who was otherwise a complete nonentity, had seized at the chance to escape. Nothing bored him more than music.
So Mr Satterthwaite sat alone. Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci were being given that night, and since the first had never appealed to him, he arrived just after the curtain went down, on Santuzza’s death agony, in time to glance round the house with practised eyes, before everyone streamed out, bent on paying visits or fighting for coffee or lemonade. Mr Satterthwaite adjusted his opera glasses, looked round the house, marked down his prey and sallied forth with a well mapped out plan of campaign ahead of him. A plan, however, which he did not put into execution, for just outside his box he cannoned into a tall dark man, and recognized him with a pleasurable thrill of excitement.
‘Mr Quin,’ cried Mr Satterthwaite.
He seized his friend warmly by the hand, clutching him as though he feared any minute to see him vanish into thin air.
‘You must share my box,’ said Mr Satterthwaite determinedly. ‘You are not with a party?’
‘No, I am sitting by myself in the stalls,’ responded Mr Quin with a smile.
‘Then, that is settled,’ said Mr Satterthwaite with a sigh of relief.
His manner was almost comic, had there been anyone to observe it.
‘You are very kind,’ said Mr Quin.
‘Not at all. It is a pleasure. I didn’t know you were fond of music?’
‘There are reasons why I am attracted to – Pagliacci.’
‘Ah! of course,’ said Mr Satterthwaite, nodding sapiently, though, if put to it, he would have found it hard to explain just why he had used that expression. ‘Of course, you would be.’
They went back to the box at the first summons of the bell, and leaning over the front of it, they watched the people returning to the stalls.
‘That’s a beautiful head,’ observed Mr Satterthwaite suddenly.
He indicated with his glasses a spot immediately beneath them in the stalls circle. A girl sat there whose face they could not see – only the pure gold of her hair that fitted with the closeness of a cap till it merged into the white neck.
‘A Greek head,’ said Mr Satterthwaite reverently. ‘Pure Greek.’ He sighed happily. ‘It’s a remarkable thing when you come to think of it – how very few people have hair that fits them. It’s more noticeable now that everyone is shingled.’
‘You are so observant,’ said Mr Quin.
‘I see things,’ admitted Mr Satterthwaite. ‘I do see things. For instance, I picked out that head at once. We must have a look at her face sooner or later. But it won’t match, I’m sure. That would be a chance in a thousand.’
Almost as the words left his lips, the lights flickered and went down, the sharp rap of the conductor’s baton was heard, and the opera began. A new tenor, said to be a second Caruso, was singing that night. He had been referred to by the newspapers as a Jugo Slav, a Czech, an Albanian, a Magyar, and a Bulgarian, with a beautiful impartiality. He had given an extraordinary concert at the Albert Hall, a programme of the folk songs of his native hills, with a specially tuned orchestra. They were in strange half-tones and the would-be musical had pronounced them ‘too marvellous’. Real musicians had reserved judgment, realizing that the ear had to be specially trained and attuned before any criticism was possible. It was quite a relief to some people to find this evening that Yoaschbim could sing in ordinary Italian with all the traditional sobs and quivers.
The curtain went down on the first act and applause burst out vociferously. Mr Satterthwaite turned to Mr Quin. He realized that the latter was waiting for him to pronounce judgment, and plumed himself a little. After all, he knew. As a critic he was well-nigh infallible.
Very slowly he nodded his head.
‘It is the real thing,’ he said.
‘You think so?’
‘As fine a voice as Caruso’s. People will not recognize that it is so at first, for his technique is not yet perfect. There are ragged edges, a lack of certainty in the attack. But the voice is there – magnificent.’
‘I went to his concert at the Albert Hall,’ said Mr Quin.
‘Did you? I could not go.’