The Dead Harlequin: An Agatha Christie Short Story
‘As a matter of fact, I am not,’ said Mr Bristow, still with no overdone appearance of graciousness.
‘Then shall we say eight o’clock?’ said Mr Satterthwaite. ‘Here is my card with the address on it.’
‘Oh, all right,’ said Mr Bristow. ‘Thanks,’ he added as a somewhat obvious afterthought.
‘A young man who has a poor opinion of himself and is afraid that the world should share it.’
Such was Mr Satterthwaite’s summing up as he stepped out into the sunshine of Bond Street, and Mr Satterthwaite’s judgment of his fellow men was seldom far astray.
Frank Bristow arrived about five minutes past eight to find his host and a third guest awaiting him. The other guest was introduced as a Colonel Monckton. They went in to dinner almost immediately. There was a fourth place laid at the oval mahogany table and Mr Satterthwaite uttered a word of explanation.
‘I half expected my friend, Mr Quin, might drop in,’ he said. ‘I wonder if you have ever met him. Mr Harley Quin?’
‘I never meet people,’ growled Bristow.
Colonel Monckton stared at the artist with the detached interest he might have accorded to a new species of jelly fish. Mr Satterthwaite exerted himself to keep the ball of conversation rolling amicably.
‘I took a special interest in that picture of yours because I thought I recognized the scene of it as being the Terrace Room at Charnley. Was I right?’ As the artist nodded, he went on. ‘That is very interesting. I have stayed at Charnley several times myself in the past. Perhaps you know some of the family?’
‘No, I don’t!’ said Bristow. ‘That sort of family wouldn’t care to know me. I went there in a charabanc.’
‘Dear me,’ said Colonel Monckton for the sake of saying something. ‘In a charabanc! Dear me.’
Frank Bristow scowled at him.
‘Why not?’ he demanded ferociously.
Poor Colonel Monckton was taken aback. He looked reproachfully at Mr Satterthwaite as though to say:
‘These primitive forms of life may be interesting to you as a naturalist, but why drag me in?’
‘Oh, beastly things, charabancs!’ he said. ‘They jolt you so going over the bumps.’
‘If you can’t afford a Rolls Royce you have got to go in charabancs,’ said Bristow fiercely.
Colonel Monckton stared at him. Mr Satterthwaite thought:
‘Unless I can manage to put this young man at his ease we are going to have a very distressing evening.’
‘Charnley aways fascinated me,’ he said. ‘I have been there only once since the tragedy. A grim house – and a ghostly one.’
‘That’s true,’ said Bristow.
‘There are actually two authentic ghosts,’ said Monckton. ‘They say that Charles I walks up and down the terrace with his head under his arm – I have forgotten why, I’m sure. Then there is the Weeping Lady with the Silver Ewer, who is always seen after one of the Charnleys dies.’
‘Tosh,’ said Bristow scornfully.
‘They have certainly been a very ill-fated family,’ said Mr Satterthwaite hurriedly. ‘Four holders of the title have died a violent death and the late Lord Charnley committed suicide.’
‘A ghastly business,’ said Monckton gravely. ‘I was there when it happened.’
‘Let me see, that must be fourteen years ago,’ said Mr Satterthwaite, ‘the house has been shut up ever since.’
‘I don’t wonder at that,’ said Monckton. ‘It must have been a terrible shock for a young girl. They had been married a month, just home from their honeymoon. Big fancy dress ball to celebrate their home-coming. Just as the guests were starting to arrive Charnley locked himself into the Oak Parlour and shot himself. That sort of thing isn’t done. I beg your pardon?’
He turned his head sharply to the left and looked across at Mr Satterthwaite with an apologetic laugh.
‘I am beginning to get the jimjams, Satterthwaite. I thought for a moment there was someone sitting in that empty chair and that he said something to me.
‘Yes,’ he went on after a minute or two, ‘it was a pretty ghastly shock to Alix Charnley. She was one of the prettiest girls you could see anywhere and cram full of what people call the joy of living, and now they say she is like a ghost herself. Not that I have seen her for years. I believe she lives abroad most of the time.’
‘And the boy?’
‘The boy is at Eton. What he will do when he comes of age I don’t know. I don’t think, somehow, that he will reopen the old place.’
‘It would make a good People’s Pleasure Park,’ said Bristow.