A Question of Trust by Victor Canning
Horace Derby (50) was a bachelor, who made locks for a living. He had two helpers to aid him in his trade. Summer brought him bouts of hay fever that made his housekeeper worry about him. Although he was perceived to be an honest and decent man, he was not so, in reality. He had been jailed fifteen yeas ago in a prison library. This was his first and last incarceration.
He loved to posses rare expensive books. He hatched a novel pan to pursue his hobby. Every year, he used to steal a safe, and would sell away its contents to make just enough money to suffice for a year. Later, he would buy back the books that he most liked through an agent.
Read and find out ..
- What does Horace Danby like to collect? Horace was particularly fond of rare and expensive books.
- Why does he steal every year? He wanted to acquire books that were either too expensive or were simply not available. He committed a robbery once a year, so that he had enough books to read for a yer, and got some extra cash to supplement his earning.It was July. He was walking blithely thinking that this year’s stealing adventure would be as successful as before. For two weeks, he conducted a recce of the house at Shotover Grange. He eyed all the details like the rooms, electric wiring, the passages and the garden. The two care-taker servants of the huse had gone to the market, and the owners had gone to London. His eyes followed the two servants as they vanished out of sight. With his bag of tools on his back, he sneaked into the house through the garden wall.The safe in the Grange had a rich haul of jewels worth fifteen thousand pounds. He was elated. Even if he managed to sell them in bits and pieces at discounted prices, he could still make five thousand pounds, he calculated. That would be god enough to sustain him comfortable for a year.He had noticed that the housekeeper hung the key for the kitchen door on a hook outside. Wearing a pair of gloves to preempt detection, he used the key to the door and went in.
A dog sleeping on the floor got up, made not a very loud noise, and wagged its tail in a friendly way. He knew how to befriend dogs. He called the dog by its name Sherry, and that comforted the dog.
The safe he was looking for was behind a a poor painting. For some time, he couldn’t decide if he would take the pictures or the books. But, he chose to take the books.
Horace still had not been cured of his hay fever attack. There was a big flower vase on the table. The pollens possibly tickled his nose. He sneezed lightly, put down his bag, and began to arrange the tools. There were clear four hours before the servants returned.
He made short work of the safe’s lock. After all, he had a whole life’s experience in the trade. He disconnected the burglar’s alarm. The pollens began to irritate his nose. He sneezed loudly.
Shotover Grange was a signature building of the area. A magazine had described its interior in great detail, even the fact that behind the painting there was a safe. The owners were too rich to remember the minimum caution.
He covered his face with a handkerchief to keep the flowers’ pollens away.
To his surprise, he heard a voice from the pathway asking, “Is it cold or hay fever?’ Quite nonchalantly, Horace replied ‘Hay fever’. The voice began to advise in a cool unruffled manner asking Horace to go and see a doctor. The speaker said that she had heard him working from the floor above.
She was quiet, but firm. She was a young lady dressed in red. She came near the fire place and arranged the ornaments there.
Read and find out …Who is speaking to Horace Danby? .. It is the woman who is also a robber who has entered the house coincidentally in the same time.
Who is the real culprit in the story? Both Horace and the lady are culprits, but the latter appears to me the more hideous one.
She said, ‘Down Sherry’. “Anyone would think that I have been away for a month, but I returned in time, though I didn’t expect to see a burglar.”
Horace tried to remain unfazed. Her lack of horror made Horace assume that he could still wriggle out of the tight situation. He said that he too didn’t expect to see a family member either.
The lady told Horace rather apologetically that she had disturbed him. She asked what he was up to.
Horace told her that he had thought of fleeing the house. She told him that running away would be futile as she would call the police by phone, and he could apprehend him quite easily.
Horace said he would cut off the telephone wire to prevent the police being summoned, and that would give him some time, may be a few hours to fi ish his job.
The lady asked Horace if he planned to harm her. Horace assured her that he was only frightening her. Then he suggested that she should assume that she hadn’t see him at all, and let him leave.
The lady now appeared quite stern. She said letting him escape would only embolden him to rob someone else. That would be bad for the society.
Horace tried to look innocent. He said he robbed only those who had enough, and the motive behind his robbing was noble. Horace began to evoke some sympathy in her, so that she allowed him to escape. He said he hated going to prisons.
She eyed him keenly before asking him if he really dreaded going to prisons. She said to herself that she always liked the wrong type of people.
There was a sudden change in the scene. She came near Horace and shook his head with her hand. She took out a cigarette from a silver box kept on the table. Horace lost no time to take out his own lighter and light her cigarette.
Horace thought his escape was perhaps easier now. Quite surprisingly for him, she said she could let him go on one condition. He had to do a job for her. Horace was excited, and readily agreed.
She told him that she was to carry her jewels to London when on a trip to the city with her husband, but had left them in the safe inadvertently. She wanted to wear them to a party that night, but couldn’t open the safe as she had forgotten the number keys.
Horace jumped at the opportunity and assured her that he could break open the safe so that she could take her ornaments out. The job would be over in an hour.
She was relieved, and told Horace that she would have the broken safe repaired before her husband returned in a month’s time.
Horace broke open the safe, and she got her jewels. Horace fled the scene. The thought of robbery didn’t occur to him for two days. On the third day, the mischievous temptation to rob returned. He thought of robbing a safe.
Horace’s luck ran out soon. One afternoon, not long after this escape, police arrived and arrested him from his house on the charge of robbing at Shotover Grange. Horace remonstrated vigorously pleading that the lady had asked him to break the safe, and that’s why his finger prints were there all over the safe.
The wife of the owner of the luxury home, a sharp-tongued woman in her sixties, rubbished his version. It became clear that Horace had been tricked by a woman-thief of great notoriety.
Horace went to a prison and worked in the prison library ruminating bitterly about the wicked woman-thief who had escaped with the booty at his cost.
Horace became a embittered man, and got very angry when someone suggested that there is honor among thieves.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ..
Think about it.
- Did you begin to suspect ……. No owner of a house will remain calm and composed on seeing an intruder in the house. They will scream, and call for help by calling in the police. In this case, the lay’s cool and polite response on discovering Horace in the room creates enough doubt in the minds of the reader. Secondly, when she wants to get hold of the jewelry even by having the safe broken confirms her criminal intent.
- What are the subtle ways ………The lady appears in a charming red gown. She, at one point, threatens to call the police, and says that robbers like Horace need to be in the prisons. She talks of her husband and the trip to London, and also her plant o go a party. Horace gets carried away by these words and thinks the lady is indeed the landlady, and not a thief.
- “Horace Derby was good and respectable” ……………………. Horace Derby made his living as a locksmith. He didn’t rob to make a living, but his craze to own rare and expensive books drove him to thievery, So, categorizing him as a common thief may not be a correct description of him.
- Horace Derby was a meticulous ……….. To his ill luck, another robber, a woman, happened to be in the same house at the same time. She outwitted Horace by her sharper presence of mind and trickery. Because of these two factors, Horace was trapped.
Talk about it ….
- Do you think Horace Danby …………. No doubt Horace was a robber. He deserved the punishment he got, because stealing other’s property can’t be justified under any pretext.
- Do intentions justify … There are well-defined rules that ensure civilized existence in society. Breaking into someone’s house is a vicious criminal act. Horace’s love for books might be noble, but he can’t claim leniency because his motive was intellectual. Just as he loved rare and expensive books, the owners who possessed it also loved them. So, its ridiculous to treat Horace with sympathy.
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