The Mysterious Mr Quin
Evesham frowned doubtfully.
‘One must have a starting point, of course,’ said Mr Quin in his quiet level voice. ‘A starting point is usually a theory. One of you must have a theory, I am sure. How about you, Sir Richard?’
Conway frowned thoughtfully.
‘Well, of course,’ he said apologetically, ‘we thought–naturally we all thought–that there must be a woman in it somewhere. It’s usually either that or money, isn’t it? And it certainly wasn’t money. No trouble of that description. So–what else could it have been?’
Mr Satterthwaite started. He had leant forward to contribute a small remark of his own and in the act of doing so, he had caught sight of a woman’s figure crouched against the balustrade of the gallery above. She was huddled down against it, invisible from everywhere but where he himself sat, and she was evidently listening with strained attention to what was going on below. So immovable was she that he hardly believed the evidence of his own eyes.
But he recognized the pattern of the dress easily enough–an old-world brocade. It was Eleanor Portal.
And suddenly all the events of the night seemed to fall into pattern–Mr Quin’s arrival, no fortuitous chance, but the appearance of an actor when his cue was given. There was a drama being played in the big hall at Royston tonight–a drama none the less real in that one of the actors was dead. Oh! yes, Derek Capel had a part in the play. Mr Satterthwaite was sure of that.
And, again suddenly, a new illumination came to him. This was Mr Quin’s doing. It was he who was staging the play–was giving the actors their cues. He was at the heart of the mystery pulling the strings, making the puppets work. He knew everything, even to the presence of the woman crouched against the woodwork upstairs. Yes, he knew.
Sitting well back in his chair, secure in his role of audience, Mr Satterthwaite watched the drama unfold before his eyes. Quietly and naturally, Mr Quin was pulling the strings, setting his puppets in motion.
‘A woman–yes,’ he murmured thoughtfully. ‘There was no mention of any woman at dinner?’
‘Why, of course,’ cried Evesham. ‘He announced his engagement. That’s just what made it seem so absolutely mad. Very bucked about it he was. Said it wasn’t to be announced just yet–but gave us the hint that he was in the running for the Benedick stakes.’
‘Of course we all guessed who the lady was,’ said Conway. ‘Marjorie Dilke. Nice girl.’
It seemed to be Mr Quin’s turn to speak, but he did not do so, and something about his silence seemed oddly provocative. It was as though he challenged the last statement. It had the effect of putting Conway in a defensive position.
‘Who else could it have been? Eh, Evesham?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Tom Evesham slowly. ‘What did he say exactly now? Something about being in the running for the Benedick stakes–that he couldn’t tell us the lady’s name till he had her permission–it wasn’t to be announced yet. He said, I remember, that he was a damned lucky fellow. That he wanted his two old friends to know that by that time next year he’d be a happy married man. Of course, we assumed it was Marjorie. They were great friends and he’d been about with her a lot.’
‘The only thing–’ began Conway and stopped.
‘What were you going to say, Dick?’
‘Well, I mean, it was odd in a way, if it were Marjorie, that the engagement shouldn’t be announced at once. I mean, why the secrecy? Sounds more as though it were a married woman–you know, someone whose husband had just died, or who was divorcing him.’
‘That’s true,’ said Evesham. ‘If that were the case, of course, the engagement couldn’t be announced at once. And you know, thinking back about it, I don’t believe he had been seeing much of Marjorie. All that was the year before. I remember thinking things seemed to have cooled off between them.’
‘Curious,’ said Mr Quin.
‘Yes–looked almost as though someone had come between them.’
‘Another woman,’ said Conway thoughtfully.
‘By jove,’ said Evesham. ‘You know, there was something almost indecently hilarious about old Derek that night. He looked almost drunk with happiness. And yet–I can’t quite explain what I mean–but he looked oddly defiant too.’
‘Like a man defying Fate,’ said Alex Portal heavily.
Was it of Derek Capel he was speaking–or was it of himself? Mr Satterthwaite, looking at him, inclined to the latter view. Yes, that was what Alex Portal represented–a man defying Fate.
His imagination, muddled by drink, responded suddenly to that note in the story which recalled his own secret preoccupation.
Mr Satterthwaite looked up. She was still there. Watching, listening–still motionless, frozen–like a dead woman.
‘Perfectly true,’ said Conway. ‘Capel was excited–curiously so. I’d describe him as a man who had staked heavily and won against well nigh overwhelming odds.’
‘Getting up courage, perhaps, for what he’s made up his mind to do?’ suggested Portal.
And as though moved by an association of ideas, he got up and helped himself to another drink.
‘Not a bit of it,’ said Evesham sharply. ‘I’d almost swear nothing of that kind was in his mind. Conway’s right. A successful gambler who has brought off a long shot and can hardly believe in his own good fortune. That was the attitude.’
Conway gave a gesture of discouragement.
‘And yet,’ he said. ‘Ten minutes later–’
They sat in silence. Evesham brought his hand down with a bang on the table.
‘Something must have happened in that ten minutes,’ he cried. ‘It must! But what? Let’s go over it carefully. We were all talking. In the middle of it Capel got up suddenly and left the room–’
‘Why?’ said Mr Quin.
The interruption seemed to disconcert Evesham.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I only said: Why?’ said Mr Quin.
Evesham frowned in an effort of memory.
‘It didn’t seem vital–at the time–Oh! of course–the Post. Don’t you remember that jangling bell, and how excited we were. We’d been snowed up for three days, remember. Biggest snowstorm for years and years. All the roads were impassable. No newspapers, no letters. Capel went out to see if something had come through at last, and got a great pile of things. Newspapers and letters. He opened the paper to see if there was any news, and then went upstairs with his letters. Three minutes afterwards, we heard a shot…Inexplicable–absolutely inexplicable.’
‘That’s not inexplicable,’ said Portal. ‘Of course the fellow got some unexpected news in a letter. Obvious, I should have said.’
‘Oh! Don’t think we missed anything so obvious as that. It was one of the Coroner’s first questions. But Capel never opened one of his letters. The whole pile lay unopened on his dressing-table.’
Portal looked crestfallen.
‘You’re sure he didn’t open just one of them? He might have destroyed it after reading it?’
‘No, I’m quite positive. Of course, that would have been the natural solution. No, every one of the letters was unopened. Nothing burnt–nothing torn up–There was no fire in the room.’
Portal shook his head.
‘It was a ghastly business altogether,’ said Evesham in a low voice. ‘Conway and I went up when we heard the shot, and found him–It gave me a shock, I can tell you.’
‘Nothing to be done but telephone for the police, I suppose?’ said Mr Quin.