Margery Sharp’s general output of work has been described as ‘insightful, witty, deft, light, comic, sly, affectionate, humane, unexpected’, and so on. In the short story that is the subject of this post–Winning Sequence–Margery Sharp does not disappoint!
Are you in the mood to read something brief, brilliantly crafted, and wittily told?
‘Up to the ages of sixty-one and sixty-three the Misses Pye had never told an untruth.
‘Since their father had been a clergyman and their mother a deaconess, this was only right and natural; but it made their one lapse, which occurred on the first Saturday in September, all the harder to excuse.
‘Even so, they did not actually tell the lie-the sin was a tacit one-and it is only fair to add that they were neither of them quite themselves at the time.’
Two penny-pinching spinsters–Miss Pye and her sister Miss Roberta–lead a simple life of moral rectitude as would befit their impeccable pedigree; materially poor, yes, but rich in good deeds toward the less fortunate.
They have but two treasures in the world: their nephew, Henry Pye, and secondly, a miniature of their great, great grandmother. The miniature, given pride of place on the mantel (‘but only on Saturday, to grace the weekend’) was not only proof of ‘their breeding’, but it is materially valuable in its own right.
“It was not everyone in Paddington who had fifty pounds lying idle on the mantelpiece.”
Thus, when their dearest nephew—Henry—falls into a desperate situation and needs fifty pounds, (knowing as he does that his soft-hearted aunts have access to such an amount) it takes only the slightest hesitation and heart searching; they know what they must do.
‘There was a short, horrified silence.
“Whatever it is,” said Miss Roberta firmly, “we’ve got to get it for him.”
“Of course,” said Miss Pye.
Their eyes flew to the mantelpiece. From her little easel the lady of the miniature smiled heartlessly back.’
If this reminds you, ever so slightly, of O. Henry and the dilemma of love in Gift of the Magi, the resemblance soon dissolves, for though the Misses Pye are resolved to sell the valuable family heirloom to save their nephew, circumstances take a slightly chaotic turn.
If it hadn’t been for that rash decision, born of urgency, to hop in a cab….
‘It was at this point in their journey,’ our author soberly informs us, ‘that they definitely took the wrong turning.’
What follows is a series of misadventures, Unexpected Developments, and a brief but profitable brush with the reckless side of life; a story as delightful as any Margery Sharp has given us.
One truth emerges; when it comes to saving Henry Pye, as a ‘certain dapper little gentleman in a check suit’ found out, these aunts are a force to be reckoned with.
‘They were a cross between old ladies and blood-hounds, and there was no escaping them….’
Full story can be read here:
According to the IMDb website, they list Winning Sequence as a ‘TV’ episode, produced in 1956 for the Rheingold Theatre Series, hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.