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Rating: Archive Warning: Category: Fandom: Relationship: Character: Stats: General Audiences No Archive Warnings Apply Gen, M/M Mysterious Mr. Quin - Agatha Christie Mr. Satterthwaite/Mr. Harley Quin Mr. Satterthwaite, Mr. Harley Quin (Agatha Christie) Published: 2013-03-14 Words: 4657

The Harlequin Mask

by athena_crikey Summary

Mr. Satterthwaites fertile imagination immediately seized hold of the mask, and with no prompting whatsoever drew up the man whom it would fit perfectly a tall, dark man with a narrow back, a lithe step, and a sardonic smile.


Takes place sometime after Harlequin's Lane.

It was winter in London. Mr. Satterthwaite, an elderly gentleman with the bones of a bird and currently the expression of a rather peevish hen, hurried down the busy streets of Picadilly. His winter clothing, consisting of an impeccable and expensive dark coat, leather gloves and a somewhat old-fashioned hat, was already sprinkled with a coating of snow as fine as icing sugar. He had been disappointed by the selection in the sweet shop from which he was accustomed to purchase Christmas gifts for the two godchildren in his charge who had yet to reach their majority, and was now hurrying through the worsening weather to a second shop while muttering unkind words to himself. Really to have run out of stock quite preposterous Christmas, of all times Next year What Mr. Satterthwaite would or would not have done the next year was left unforetold, as at this moment he stopped sharply on the pavement, his tongue echoing his feet. He had halted in front of the window of a small and rather pretentious-looking boutique, the type which sold dainty articles for womens toilette, pretty-pretty ornaments to adorn the mantles of the undiscerning and items of jewelry ostensibly for both sexes but which only a woman would ever purchase. The majority of the merchandise in the window was of this type, strewn about haphazardly on a bed of peach silk. The one item which had caught Mr. Satterthwaites eye was raised above this melange on a

plain white square of faux-marble. Considered head-on, it was a simple black domino mask fashioned from silk with a narrow nose, rising into points at either side. But a shift in the light or a tilt of the viewers head revealed that rather than being a single length of silk it was formed from hundreds of tiny fabric diamonds in shades from deep crimson to coal. It was the clever stitching together of these stiff diamonds which gave the mask its shape, and some quality of the fabric that led it to appear different tints from different angles. Mr. Satterthwaites fertile imagination immediately seized hold of the mask, and with no prompting whatsoever drew up the man whom it would fit perfectly a tall, dark man with a narrow back, a lithe step, and a sardonic smile. Mr. Harley Quin, an acquaintance of several years whose unpredictable appearances always heralded the playing out of some dramatic scene on whatever stage he materialized: a country mansion, Monte Carlo, a Greek island. His breath catching in his throat, Mr. Satterthwaite glanced up and down the pavement as if expecting Mr. Quin to step out of one of the many doorways lining the street. But while there were many men of all descriptions hurrying through the snow, none of them had Mr. Quins peculiar sinuous walk. Disappointed, Mr. Satterthwaite stepped into the shop, removing his hat and instinctively holding his breath against the wave of scent which he knew would assail him. The shop was heated to what seemed a ridiculous temperature after the chill of the street, and the air was just as heavily perfumed as Mr. Satterthwaite had expected. A girl in an unflattering shade of yellow slid over on apparently knee-less legs to ask him if she could assist him. Eager to conclude his business as soon as possible, Mr. Satterthwaite indicated the display window with a wave. The black domino mask in the window. I wonder if I might see it? The girl blinked, leaving Mr. Satterthwaite to wonder momentarily if she had taken him for a husband or father here to purchase some fancy bauble for his wife it might just conceivably be possible that a girl who could believe the colour she wore to be flattering to her dark features could mistake the confirmed bachelor for a family man. Oh yes, thats been very popular, sir. Many of our customers have asked to see it. Its one-of-a kind, really only intended to be a display. We dont go in for fancy dress here, except what you might call a turban-type of hat in silk. No, this was made up special by one of our sculptors; she does the little figurines on the shelf there. Sweet, I think them. The girl pointed and Mr. Satterthwaite looked briefly, managing not to shudder at the twee smiles and rosy cheeks. Very nice, he muttered, as the girl opened the back of the display and reached inside. She did quite a lot of sewing when she was younger, and she suddenly had an urge to make something again after seeing some show or the other, an Italian comedy, she said. Not to sell, just to display. But no gallery would take anything like this, of course. So we offered to buy it for our window its a pretty thing. Catches the eye, somehow. The girl turned around with the mask sitting neatly in her hands like a young crow, sleek and delicate. Mr. Satterthwaite took it and turned it over in his hands. It was, as he had known the moment he saw it in the window, perfect. A beautiful thing, its hues shifted like the scales of a fish as he moved it. Although soft-sided it had a definite shape to it, moulded to a certain face. Lots of people have wanted to try it on. But funnily enough, it doesnt seem to fit anyone. Our sculptress said she didnt use a dummy; made it from her minds eye. Maybe for you, sir? she finished, with an innocent smile calculated to charm an old man. Mr. Satterthwaite, who was immune to undesired charm, merely shook his head. No, it wouldnt fit me. But I fancy I know who it would fit. He looked up, ignoring the girls rather confused expression. I will buy this mask, please. I can give you a fair price.

The girl nodded slowly. Its been here for two months now; weve been thinking of changing he display anyway. But if it doesnt fit? It is a beautiful thing, and that is reason enough. But he asked her to wrap it as a present, nevertheless. *** Mr. Quin had many defining characteristics, but the most prominent and currently unfortunate was his mysterious nature. Mr. Satterthwaite, always entirely correct in matters of etiquette, had never dared to pose any question which might seem personal or prying, but the result was that he in fact knew very little about a man with whom he felt a curiously strong bond of friendship. He did not have Mr. Quins address nor telephone number, nor in fact even his home county; Mr. Quin always gave the impression of being from everywhere and nowhere. Even Mr. Satterthwaites nearly flawless ability to read a persons character and circumstances from a single introduction could not place Mr. Quin he was utterly unquantifiable. Mr. Satterthwaites only interactions with Mr. Quin came about by chance, and he had accepted now that this was the only way he would ever meet him. Consequently, the only thing he could do was store the wrapped mask away in a corner of his car, and hope that if when he came across Mr. Quin again, he would be with his automobile. *** Christmas came and went; a bachelor at Mr. Satterthwaites time of life drew some enjoyment from the holiday by proxy, but it had ceased to have any deep meaning for him personally. He attended a number of parties in town, and if for him the winter wasnt much brightened by the ubiquitous holly and mistletoe, he beyond a doubt appreciated the comfortable indoor heating and hot water of the modern home. The culmination of the holiday parties was to be the masked ball held at the Elsegood mansion. Although outside the limits of London proper it was still a convenient distance for those living in town, and boasted of a full-sized ballroom with a balcony that overlooked what in the summer was a marvelous garden. In the winter the full-length glass doors were left propped open all the same, to cool the large group of dancers the Elsegoods inevitably invited. Mr. Satterthwaite was always on the guest list, and although he did not do much dancing these days he took great pleasure in the beautifully dressed women in their silks and jewels. Mr. Satterthwaite was a great admirer of well-dressed women, and knew far more of the secrets behind their beauty than was good for him. Despite his anticipation of what would be without fail a night full of enjoyment, Mr. Satterthwaite was feeling peevishly annoyed as he sped through the dark streets on his way to the Elsegoods. Christmas had come and gone, and the one thing he had hoped for the chance to give Mr. Quin a gift that was undeniably meant for him before that holiday had gone with it. As has already been said, Mr. Satterthwaites imagination was a fertile and accurate one, and he had painted for himself a picture of Mr. Quin receiving the present with ardent surprise and genuine appreciation. He had been thwarted in this one simple desire, and he was feeling pettily irritated. Masters manoeuvered the car smoothly around a blind corner, and made a low noise in his throat. Mr. Sattherthwaite looked forward through the windshield, and saw that traffic was blocked solid up ahead by a little two-seater with the hood open. He glanced back at the same time as Masters, just in time to see another car pull in behind them. Trapped. Mr. Satterthwaite sighed; he was in one of those moods where the very stars seem to align against him.

And then, lo and behold, the stars realigned themselves into a providential pattern. Looking out the window, Mr. Satterthwaite spotted a familiar spine for an instant among the passers-by. Wait here, he instructed Masters, redundantly, and darted out onto the pavement with the thin box in his pocket. It was but the work of a moment to hurry through the crowd and touch the familiar shoulder. Mr. Quin. Mr. Quin turned, and his handsome face took on an expression of pleasant surprise. My dear Mr. Satterthwaite. An unexpected pleasure. I am simply passing through, as you would say. In fact, I am on my way to a ball at the Elsegoods, only Ive been held up. He waved at the motionless traffic. I hope I wont be too late. But really, its quite a stroke of luck to find you here. I was just thinking of you, in fact. Oh? Mr. Quins eyes twinkled sedately in the twilight; Mr. Satterthwaite gave him a look of minor exasperation. I do believe you were here on purpose. You always show up at just the right moment. Only Only not for my benefit, Mr Satterthwaite might have said, had he been a more straightforward type of man. Only Im alone. He felt the stiff outline of the cardboard box in his pocket, and enlightenment came. Of course! The ball. You are going? To the Elsegoods? No, I do not have an invitation. Mr. Satterthwaite waved away his friends protest. Nonsense, you must come with me. Its why youre here, is it not? Mr. Quin shook his head gently. According to the paper it is to be a masked ball, and I am not properly outfitted. Smiling like a benevolent magician performing some impressive feat, Mr. Satterthwaite pulled the box from his pocket. Mr. Quin often seemed to possess an almost mystical foresight; being able to reverse their positions for once was surprisingly satisfying. I had hoped I might meet you before Christmas, but we are only three days late. Mr. Quin said the proper things as he took the box with a wry mouth. The gift was unwrapped and revealed, black silk lying lustrous and beautiful against a bed of white tissue-paper. Mr. Quin tilted it to better admire its shape and structure in the buttery streetlights, and the black turned to ruby. This is truly a masterpiece. A work of beauty. His praise was honest and unconditional, firm appreciation apparent in both his voice and eyes, and Mr. Satterthwaite preened slightly. Does it fit? he asked, without any uncertainty in his tone. Somehow, it had never occurred to him that the mask could not fit. Mr. Quin raised it out of the box and held it to his face with one hand, pulling the ties tight with the other. It sat perfectly, the sharp curves rising smoothly over the planes of his face to highlight his cheekbones and bright, sardonic eyes. Glinting black and red under the streetlights, he suddenly seemed too real, full of all the intensity and vivacity of hearts blood an immeasurable strength and forcefulness trapped behind a silk mask. It seemed as though, rather than hiding his face, the mask had somehow revealed more of him. I oh. Mr. Satterthwaite looked away, shocked, his heart pounding uncomfortably in his chest. When he looked back, though, it was just Mr. Quin, smiling gently as he removed the mask. I thank you for the gift, Mr. Satterthwaite. Unlike yourself I am not by nature a collector, but I shall treasure this. Youre most welcome, answered Mr. Satterthwaite, with a funny little old-fashioned bow. And now, you will be able to come to the Elsegoods ball. He looked back to his car and found it hadnt

now, you will be able to come to the Elsegoods ball. He looked back to his car and found it hadnt moved, although further ahead the broken engine was beginning to make some hopeful noises. As you say, I will come to the ball, agreed Mr. Quin, and allowed himself to be escorted to the car. *** In a way, the ball was a disappointment. Mr. Satterthwaite stood at the edge of the ballroom near the French doors, basking in the refreshing breeze and watching couples turn sedately on the polished parquet floor. The Elsegoods were more traditional than most, and there was no Jazz to be had here. True, many of the women were superbly turned-out it was an event for which many had new frocks, or showed off the recent Christmas extravagance of their husbands. And many more young men and women made equally good showings with the simple fresh beauty of youth. But underlying it all, Mr. Satterthwaite sensed no thread of intrigue or drama. There were of course the usual unpleasant undercurrents of any large social gathering Tristan Adcock who drank too much, Marianne Hewitt who disappeared for intervals with a string of different men, the Olsons who fought in public. But that was the stuff of tawdry novels and the cinema. It held no interest for Mr. Satterthwaite, who expected both subtlety and exceptionality in his drama. The sole source of interest for him, robbed of the spectacle he had anticipated, was Mr. Quin. It was of course no surprise that his friend should dance well, or that he would be a sought-after partner. But of all the beautiful women and handsome men gliding gracefully over the shining floor, Mr. Satterthwaite would not have predicted that it would be Mr. Quin he could not seem to stop watching. Every time he glanced at the brilliant mix of colours that was the dance floor, his eyes were immediately drawn to that one dark form that lithe back and wry face, hidden behind the multi-hued mask. He had seen Mr. Quin dance once, as Harlequin, and as the eternal magician he had been awesome and terrifying. Now, in the more mundane steps of a waltz, although he was no longer a figure of fear he was somehow just as captivating. The current song was coming to an end, and the guests along the walls were beginning to move in search of their partners or to meet the dancers. Mr. Satterthwaite considered fetching a drink for himself, but could not tear himself away from the enticing coolness of the balcony. In the slight decrease in sound as the band finished the tune, his keenly-trained ears picked up the sound of angry voices from outside. He stepped out into the relative darkness of the long balcony, moving with the quiet trepidation of improper inquisitiveness. Outside, the air was cool and fresh with just the smallest hint of impending snow. Only in the sudden quiet could Mr. Satterthwaite realise fully the background cacophony of the ballroom, and he sighed gratefully for the sudden unexpected peace. The ballroom doors looked out onto just one section of the balcony, which ran the length of the mansion. The light pouring out from indoors lit up that stretch, but beyond it the stone path was in shadows. On the edge of the semi-circle of light, Mr. Satterthwaite could just make out two forms, one in black and the other a lighter colour. As he approached surreptitiously he heard the voice he had noticed from within the ballroom, a low, snarling rasp. hell dyou think youre doing, you wretched little whore? Think no one saw you? Think I didnt notice? Youre making me a laughingstock, thats what youre doing, a laughingstock The woman standing on the other side of the raging man, pinned against the railing of the balcony, shook a pale blonde head. No, Tristan, thats not it youre wrong I How many men did you dance with? Four? Five? You think I didnt see you?

Tristan, youve been drinking too much, please Mr. Satterthwaite pressed his lips together tightly. Tristan Adcock and his wife, Clarice. Adcock had been a drinker before his whirlwind marriage to the young American the more optimistic of his acquaintances had hoped that the marriage might put a stop to that. Mr. Satterthwaite, with the dubious benefit of long experience with such situations, had held out no such hopes. Dont you tell me what to do, you little He moved to raise his hand, and Mr. Satterthwaite stepped over quickly, shoes echoing on the stone. Excuse me, Adcock. I believe youre wanted inside, he said, in the most neutral tone he could muster. Adcock whirled around, face furious, and straightened. He was a tall man with broad shoulders, radiating the dangerously undirected rage of a whipped animal. His face and neck were red, hands fisted and teeth bared as he towered like a giant over Mr. Satterthwaites shrunken form. The hell you pinch-faced eavesdropping little snot he took a swing at Mr. Satterthwaite. Drunk and off-balance, he missed, his arm passing just past Mr. Satterthwaites ear with a low thrum. Mr. Satterthwaite, hurrying backwards as he stammered, caught his heel in a crack in the pavement and fell, landing hard enough to jar his bones. He sat, wide-eyed and shaking as Adcock strode forward, fist raised again. Whether it was the speed or a trick of the light, somehow Mr. Satterthwaite didnt see the shadow appear behind Adcock until it was directly over his shoulder. A white hand closed over the drunk mans wrist, catching and holding it unmoving. Adcocks face twisted from rage to pain and he tried to pull back, but his arm was held immobile. You bastard lemme go Ill make you Thats enough. The two words cut through Adcocks almost incoherent snarling like a blade, cold and steely. For a moment Mr. Satterthwaite saw as though through Adcocks eyes, and although at arms length seemed to feel an echo of what the drunken man felt as he swiveled to fight the man holding him. Hard, depthless eyes stared down from behind a terrifying mask of crimson and black. It shone wetly, bloodstained through and through and yet concealing a still greater terror the staring, bottomless eyes behind that bore through his flimsy soul and cast it aside as transient, worthless, a single unremarkable particle in a universe of particles. Under the relentless glaring eyes Adcock suddenly twisted and whimpered, shifting from furious to terrified. Mr. Quin released his arm and Adcock scrambled away, falling after only a few steps. The spell of his horror disappeared, and Mr. Satterthwaite saw with clearing vision that a small crowd had gathered, several mixed pairs. Some of the men pulled Adcock up and led him off through the adjacent library door; he was snivelling now, fearful and wretched. Several of the women, led by Lisa Elsegood, took Clarice Adcock away with their arms around her shaking shoulders. Mr. Quin lent down beside Mr. Satterthwaite and offered him his arm. Still shaking, his heart skipping madly in his chest, Mr. Satterthwaite allowed his friend to help him gently to his feet and guide him into the study, far enough from the ballroom that only the faintest whisper of the sound drifted in. Mr. Quin led him to a chair and sat him down in it, then disappeared briefly only to return with a glass of brandy. He tasted nothing on his tongue, but as it burned its way down his throat some of the sharpness returned to the world. Mr. Quin, still looking down at him, reached back with one hand and pulled the strings to undo his mask, slipping it from his face. While dancing in it he had appeared elegant and dashing, but just now in the shadows it had lent him a kind of primeval terror. Mr. Satterthwaite shivered just a little as it disappeared into a pocket, strangely relieved. You are not well, said Mr. Quin, with concern in his voice. Mr. Satterthwaite twisted his face into a kind of smile, although he felt cold and sick under his black suit. The brandy cut through the shock in his mind, but didnt slow his racing heart or stop his trembling.

I am not used to taking such an active part in the drama, if you could glorify such mundaneness with that title. And I am an old man, after all. Usually he would add a caveat, not so old as all that, or but it is an interesting age. But at the moment, he felt every one of his 70 years. I would not call it drama, not in the sense you mean. Although it is so often what love or lust deteriorates into, it has no originality or art. I am surprised it brought you here. Clarice Adcock may once have been in love with her husband, but she did not know him long before their marriage and it has been a hard two years. As for Adcock, I always believed he married her for her wealth and because he could not find a woman of his status in this country who would have him. Mr. Quins lips twitched into a sardonic smile. It was not for them that I came. As you say, whatever spark may once have burned there, they are not endangered lovers. Mr. Satterthwaite frowned and passed a shaky hand over his forehead; there was a cold sweat there. He really felt quite ill, his chest aching and left arm sending out shooting, shivery pains probably jammed in his fall. But there was no one else Mr. Quin reached out to take Mr. Satterthwaites hand in both of his; they were warm and strong, their firmness reassuring. No more than that. As they pressed his trembling hand, Mr. Satterthwaite began to feel better. His heart slowed and the pain in his shoulder and chest faded; as he felt himself warming, the trembling in his bones stopped. Mr. Quin raised an eyebrow. Was there not? I I? His stuttering turned to a question as he looked up into Mr. Quins face. In the warm flickering of the study fire, he saw there some of the intensity he had seen it once before, in Lovers Lane with Anna Denham lying dead behind them. But there was now only one facet of what then had been a shifting, roiling display: a rich, pure compassion. You said some time ago that you wished to do more than just observe the drama that you wished to play a role. But one may not do so for long before becoming part of it, and there is only one type of drama which calls to me. And to you, as well. If his words were not plain enough, the warm intimacy in his gaze was enough to speak for his heart. But I am no Columbine, protested Mr. Satterthwaite, pulling his hand back shakily, nor even Pierette. If anything, I am Pantaloon old and wrinkled and quite, quite blinded by you. He had not intended to voice the last thought, but it was the very foundation of his image of Mr. Quin, so much so that he had stopped even consciously noting it, and as such it slipped out. I am no no match for you. Mr. Quin shook his head slowly, self-deprecatingly, an amused glint in his eye. On the stage youth seeks out youth, and beauty beauty. But in truth, it is wisdom which seeks out wisdom, and clear eyes which seek out another who see the world as they do. Despite your kind words, I am not young, and I am not beautiful. Behind him a log in the fireplace cracked in half, showering red embers and bright sparks. Shadows flitted over Mr. Quins face, and the smooth planes of his jaw and cheeks and his clean, high forehead twisted and distorted. Only his eyes remained unchanged, dark and fathomless. The impression created was not repulsive it was one of mystery and complexity but the magnetic attraction of simple beauty was not there. Mr. Satterthwaite stiffened, but did not move. The shadows died back as the fire buried its teeth in the newly exposed dry heart of its fuel, and Mr. Quin was there again, as he always had been. He continued in the same voice: In you, I have found something that calls to me. We look at the world with the same eyes. He shook

his head as Mr. Satterthwaite began to protest. No, it is true. My eyes see farther than yours, but yours grow keener with each passing day. What draw could youth or beauty, which only diminish over time, possess? Mr. Satterthwaite blinked, and then gave a slow, yielding smile. That is not the ordinary perspective. You and I are far from the ordinary, Mr. Quin replied. Mr. Satterthwaite flushed with the compliment. We may at least say that where you go I endeavor to follow, he amended nevertheless, with fussy politeness; Mr. Quin gave a wry bow. And also, added Mr. Satterthwaite, more seriously, where I would very much like to follow. You are always disappearing, just when I wish you would stay, he finished, helplessly. Rising out of his bow Mr. Quin glanced at him, eyes bright beneath the shadow of his brow. It is a fault of mine; I cant help but make an exit. But after all, exeunt omnes has its own dramatic strengths. He extended his hand as he spoke in a smooth gesture. Would you allow me to take you home? You have a car here? Mr. Satterthwaite started to look around, then stopped himself. Im being foolish, arent I? Mr. Quin smiled silently, for once without a trace of sardonicism. If I do this, you will will stay for a while. Wont you? asked Mr. Satterthwaite, hesitantly hopeful. I will stay tonight, said Mr. Quin, solemnly. After that, I cannot say. But I will return. Many, many people need my help. But you are the only one who needs me. A pleasant shiver ran down Mr. Satterthwaites spine, his heart leaping in an anticipation he hadnt felt in decades. I do not believe I could disappoint you, he said, almost wonderingly, knowing the words to be true as he spoke them. It was more than enough to make his decision for him. Mr. Satterthwaite reached out, and took Mr. Quins hand. *** Sometime later, when the maid unlocked the door to bank down the fire for the night, she found the room empty save for a half-full brandy glass. END

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