At the 'Bells and Motley' is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in The Grand Magazine in 1925 and then in Flynn's Weekly in July 1926. It was later compiled and published as the third story in the collection The Mysterious Mr. Quin in 1930. Over the years it has also appeared in a number of other pulp fiction magazines.
A punctured tyre forces Mr Satterthwaite to spend some time at "The Bells and Motley". There he unepectedly meets Harley Quin and goes on to solve the mystery of a man who disappeared from the locality several months earlier.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Mr Satterthwaite is held up one night in the village of Kirklington Mallet when his car suffers three punctures in a row. Leaving his chauffeur to effect repairs in the local garage, he goes to the local pub – the "Bells and Motley" – to eat and shelter from an oncoming storm. There he is delighted to find Mr. Quin waiting in the coffee room of the inn. The landlord makes reference to the storm as being similar to the one that broke on the night that a Captain Harwell came back with his bride and Satterthwaite realises why the name of the village is familiar and what has brought him here to meet Quin. They are to talk over a mystery and solve it.
Just over a year ago, a large local house, Ashley Grange, was bought by Miss Eleanor Le Couteau, a rich young French Canadian. She resisted the advances of all of the eligible local young men for her hand in marriage, most of who were declared to be fortune hunters. One day, Captain Richard Harwell stayed at the inn to take part in a fox hunt. Miss Le Couteau fell for him, two months later they were engaged and after three months they married. After a two-week honeymoon they returned to Ashley Grange on the stormy night referred to and early the next morning, after being seen walking in the garden by John Mathias, a gardener, the Captain totally disappeared. Suspicion fell on Stephen Grant, a young lad in charge of Harwell's horses who had recently been discharged by the Captain and who was seen in the vicinity on the morning of the disappearance. Nothing could be proved against him however. A further mystery came to light when no next-of-kin of Captain Harwell could be traced, nor any connections with his past life. The police suspected an imposter but were mystified when it was proven that Harwell hadn't received a penny of his wife's fortune. Heartbroken, she soon sold the Grange and all of its contents, jewellery included, to an American millionaire.
Another suspect was John Mathias himself, a middle-aged man who was frequently laid up with rheumatism and who had been employed at the Grange for just a month together with his wife. He returned to their cottage twenty-five minutes after the Captain left the house which would have been time enough to dispose of the body but no motive could be found. The couple, tired of the suspicions of the locals, have since moved on.
Quin's questioning of Satterthwaite once again enables him to see events in a new light. In this instance, prompted to remember the news events of the time in question, Satterthwaite recalls a cat burglary from a French Château where a valuable collections of jewels were stolen and the chief suspects were a family of three acrobats called the Clondinis. They talk of Harwell's disappearance as being like a conjuring trick where the audience's attention is diverted from what is really happening by some other event.
In the case of Harwell, could the sale of the Grange and all of its valuable contents for cash have been the real trick played and Harwell's disappearance the diversion? Quin points out that Miss Le Couteau's past was as little known as that of Harwell's and she, her supposed husband and Mrs Mathias could easily have been the Clondinis in disguise, staging this elaborate laundering of the proceeds of their crime, especially as Mathias and Harwell were never actually seen by anyone together at the same time. An examination of the jewels bought by the American millionaire could provide proof if they matched the ones stolen in France and Satterthwaite agrees to set the wheels in motion. The daughter of the landlord of the "Bells and Motley", in love with Stephen Grant, will have her mind put at rest.
- Mr Satterthwaite
- Harley Quin
- Sir George Foster
- William Jones
- Mary Jones
- Captain Richard Harwell
- Eleanor Le Couteau
- John Mathias
- Stephen Grant
- Lord Leccan
- Mrs St Clair
- Cyrus G. Bradburn
The story was adapted for radio and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Thu 17 Sep 2009, read by Martin Jarvis.
- 1926: Flynn's Weekly, vol. XVI, No. 6, The Frank A. Munsey Co. (New York), 17 July 1926, as "A Man of Magic".
- 1927: The Story-Teller magazine, issue 239, Cassell & Co. (London), March 1927
- 1930: The Mysterious Mr. Quin, William Collins and Sons (London), 14 April 1930, Hardcover, 288 pp
- 1930: The Mysterious Mr. Quin, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1930, Hardcover, 290 pp
- c. 1930: The Mysterious Mr. Quin, Abridged edition, Lawrence E. Spivak, 126 pp ?
- 1943: Triple Threat, Dodd Mead and Company (New Yor), 1943, omnibus with Poirot Investigates and Partners in Crime), Hardcover
- 1954: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 23 no. 122, Jan 1954, as "The Disappearance of Captain Harwell".
- 1956: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (UK), no. 40, May 1956, as "The Disappearance of Captain Harwell".
- 1956: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Australia), no. 108, Jun 1956, as "The Disappearance of Captain Harwell".
- 1974: Argosy (US), Vol. 379 No. 4, Popular Publications (New York), April 1974, as "People Who Come and Go".