Monday, September 24, 2018

"He Drew a Small Revolver from His Pocket and Laid It with a Light Clink on the Table Before Him"

"The Room of Mirrors—A Story of Hate, Told by the Pursuer."
By Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944).
First appearance: Ainslee’s Magazine, September 1899.
Reprinted in Q's Mystery Stories (1937) (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at FadedPage (HERE; go down to page 191).

     "As it was, I had put the whip into his hand, and must follow him like a cur. The distance he kept assured me that the similitude had not escaped him. He strode on without deigning a single glance behind, still in cold derision presenting me his broad back and silently challenging me to shoot. And I followed, hating him worse than ever, swearing that the last five minutes should not be forgotten, but charged for royally when the reckoning came to be paid."

Strong emotion can be transformative—love, for example, can convert a sinner into a saint; on this bitter winter's night, Reg Travers will find out what hate can turn a man into, and it's something he'll wish he never knew . . .

~ Reg:

  "The door of the house opposite had been free to me once—and not six months ago; freer 
to me perhaps than to any other. Did I long to pass behind it again? I thrust both hands into my pockets for warmth, and my right hand knocked against something hard. Yes . . . just once. . . ."
~ Gervase:
  "I have one truth more for you. I swear I believe that what we have hated, we two, is not each other, but ourselves or our own likeness. I swear I believe we two have so shared natures in hate that no power can untwist and separate them to render each his own."
~ Elaine:
  "It’s not Gervase! It’s Reg—Mr. Travers. I beg your pardon. I thought——"
~ A woman:
  "She drew a shuddering breath back through her teeth, but still held out her hand. I felt for my last coin, and her fingers closed on it so sharply that their long nails scraped the back of mine."
~ The two policemen:
  "A sovereign passed from hand to hand. The other constable had discreetly drawn off a pace or two."

Comment: It's easy to regard "The Room of Mirrors" as a neat variation on a certain novella that we've already dealt with (HERE), but we think it's closer to one of Poe's tales of the grotesque and arabesque (HERE).

- According to FictionMags, two of Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's stories saw reprintings in latter-day mystery digests: "The Two Householders" (1891), in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1949; and "The Roll-Call of the Reef" (1895), in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November 1984. For more on the author, see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Strauss the Younger's "Wiener Blut" (HERE) threads its way through the story. You've heard the tune if you've ever seen Hitchcock's film Suspicion (1941):

   "A musical leitmotif is introduced in Suspicion. Whenever Lina is happy with Johnny — starting with a ball organised by General McLaidlaw — Johann Strauss's waltz 'Wiener Blut' is played in its original, light-hearted version. At one point, when she is suspicious of her husband, a threatening, minor-key version of the waltz is employed, metamorphosing into the full and happy version after the suspense has been lifted. At another, Johnny is whistling the waltz. At yet another, while Johnny is serving the drink of milk, a sad version of 'Wiener Blut' is played again. By placing a lightbulb in the milk, the film-makers made the contents appear to glow as the glass is carried upstairs by Johnnie, further enhancing the audience's fear that it is poisoned."
   — Wikipedia (HERE)


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