The Mysterious Mr Quin
‘No, I never met him.’
So fiercely and defensively did he say it, that Mr Satterthwaite looked up in surprise.
‘I always hate it when Laura brings up the subject,’ said Evesham slowly. ‘After the tragedy, you know, this place was sold to a big manufacturer fellow. He cleared out after a year–didn’t suit him or something. A lot of tommy rot was talked about the place being haunted of course, and it gave the house a bad name. Then, when Laura got me to stand for West Kidleby, of course it meant living up in these parts, and it wasn’t so easy to find a suitable house. Royston was going cheap, and–well, in the end I bought it. Ghosts are all tommy rot, but all the same one doesn’t exactly care to be reminded that you’re living in a house where one of your own friends shot himself. Poor old Derek–we shall never know why he did it.’
‘He won’t be the first or the last fellow who’s shot himself without being able to give a reason,’ said Alex Portal heavily.
He rose and poured himself out another drink, splashing the whisky in with a liberal hand.
‘There’s something very wrong with him,’ said Mr Satterthwaite, to himself. ‘Very wrong indeed. I wish I knew what it was all about.’
‘Gad!’ said Conway. ‘Listen to the wind. It’s a wild night.’
‘A good night for ghosts to walk,’ said Portal with a reckless laugh. ‘All the devils in Hell are abroad tonight.’
‘According to Lady Laura, even the blackest of them would bring us luck,’ observed Conway, with a laugh. ‘Hark to that!’
The wind rose in another terrific wail, and as it died away there came three loud knocks on the big nailed doorway.
‘Who on earth can that be at this time of night?’ cried Evesham.
They stared at each other.
‘I will open it,’ said Evesham. ‘The servants have gone to bed.’
He strode across to the door, fumbled a little over the heavy bars, and finally flung it open. An icy blast of wind came sweeping into the hall.
Framed in the doorway stood a man’s figure, tall and slender. To Mr Satterthwaite, watching, he appeared by some curious effect of the stained glass above the door, to be dressed in every colour of the rainbow. Then, as he stepped forward, he showed himself to be a thin dark man dressed in motoring clothes.
‘I must really apologize for this intrusion,’ said the stranger, in a pleasant level voice. ‘But my car broke down. Nothing much, my chauffeur is putting it to rights, but it will take half an hour or so, and it is so confoundedly cold outside–’
He broke off, and Evesham took up the thread quickly.
‘I should think it was. Come in and have a drink. We can’t give you any assistance about the car, can we?’
‘No, thanks. My man knows what to do. By the way, my name is Quin–Harley Quin.’
‘Sit down, Mr Quin,’ said Evesham. ‘Sir Richard Conway, Mr Satterthwaite. My name is Evesham.’
Mr Quin acknowledged the introductions, and dropped into the chair that Evesham had hospitably pulled forward. As he sat, some effect of the firelight threw a bar of shadow across his face which gave almost the impression of a mask.
Evesham threw a couple more logs on the fire.
Evesham brought it to him and asked as he did so:
‘So you know this part of the world well, Mr Quin?’
‘I passed through it some years ago.’
‘Yes. This house belonged then to a man called Capel.’
‘Ah! yes,’ said Evesham. ‘Poor Derek Capel. You knew him?’
‘Yes, I knew him.’
Evesham’s manner underwent a faint change, almost imperceptible to one who had not studied the English character. Before, it had contained a subtle reserve, now this was laid aside. Mr Quin had known Derek Capel. He was the friend of a friend, and, as such, was vouched for and fully accredited.
‘Astounding affair, that,’ he said confidentially. ‘We were just talking about it. I can tell you, it went against the grain, buying this place. If there had been anything else suitable, but there wasn’t you see. I was in the house the night he shot himself–so was Conway, and upon my word, I’ve always expected his ghost to walk.’
‘A very inexplicable business,’ said Mr Quin, slowly and deliberately, and he paused with the air of an actor who has just spoken an important cue.
‘You may well say inexplicable,’ burst in Conway. ‘The thing’s a black mystery–always will be.’
‘I wonder,’ said Mr Quin, non-committally. ‘Yes, Sir Richard, you were saying?’
‘Astounding–that’s what it was. Here’s a man in the prime of life, gay, light-hearted, without a care in the world. Five or six old pals staying with him. Top of his spirits at dinner, full of plans for the future. And from the dinner table he goes straight upstairs to his room, takes a revolver from a drawer and shoots himself. Why? Nobody ever knew. Nobody ever will know.’
‘Isn’t that rather a sweeping statement, Sir Richard?’ asked Mr Quin, smiling.
Conway stared at him.
‘What d’you mean? I don’t understand.’
‘A problem is not necessarily unsolvable because it has remained unsolved.’
‘Oh! Come, man, if nothing came out at the time, it’s not likely to come out now–ten years afterwards?’
Mr Quin shook his head gently.
‘I disagree with you. The evidence of history is against you. The contemporary historian never writes such a true history as the historian of a later generation. It is a question of getting the true perspective, of seeing things in proportion. If you like to call it so, it is, like everything else, a question of relativity.’
Alex Portal leant forward, his face twitching painfully.
‘You are right, Mr Quin,’ he cried, ‘you are right. Time does not dispose of a question–it only presents it anew in a different guise.’
Evesham was smiling tolerantly.
‘Then you mean to say, Mr Quin, that if we were to hold, let us say, a Court of Inquiry tonight, into the circumstances of Derek Capel’s death, we are as likely to arrive at the truth as we should have been at the time?’
‘More likely, Mr Evesham. The personal equation has largely dropped out, and you will remember facts as facts without seeking to put your own interpretation upon them.’