‘The worst part about stealing time is that it is so hard to give back.’
Thief of Time — short story by Margery Sharp
As a reader and writer, I tend to be more preoccupied with timeless than timely. This is well illustrated by contrasting the reading habits of my husband and myself: he reads the Times, (now via his daily news app), I read articles in the 1911 Britannica for classic ‘news’.
When Margery Sharp wrote her brilliant short story Thief of Time, she little knew just how many thieves of time would be available in our modern age. To be timely, to be up-to-date, to be #widn (What I’m Doing Now) or to be hashtag anything, can all be harmless diversions, or a modern thief of time. We give our time freely to these diversions, it must be admitted, but in Sharp’s little gem of a story, the meticulous Mr. Rickaby had fifteen precious minutes stolen from him right out from under his nose.
This delightful short story is in an out-of-print collection called The Lost Chapel Picnic and Other Stories. It comes in either a green or [tasteless] hot pink cover, and deserves a reprint. Originally, the story was released in 1952, in Collier’s magazine, a publication that printed several of Sharp’s short stories. (note: many of Margery Sharp’s full length novels are now available in e-book format from Open Road Media.)
Margery Sharp is one of those classic British writers who maintained a crisp, clear writing style down to the end of her career. I am so impressed by her wit and brevity, even if I haven’t always loved every novel she ever wrote. Each one has its merits–they all have stunning prose and refreshingly original story lines. You can read more about Margery Sharp at the website I author here.
In Thief of Time, Margery Sharp builds an unusual chain of events from a harmless childish prank. In 1911, a ten year old girl in a quiet Dorset village in England steals fifteen minutes from a retired mathematics professor. Her conscience beats her unmercifully, and thus her attempt to undo the evil deed–to give back the fifteen minutes–results in astonishing and delightful consequences.
‘I did not as a child give much thought to such major abstractions as life, death and eternity. I hadn’t the leisure: I had four brothers and a baby sister, a half-share in a pony, two Sealyhams and a fluctuating number of Belgian hares. In my tenth year, however…circumstances forced me for some weeks to grapple with the phenomenon of time.
‘These circumstances were of my own making, and the result of a crime: I had stolen fifteen minutes belonging to our esteemed friend and neighbor, Mr. Rickaby.
‘Even today , forty years later, I am still astounded by the far-reaching consequences of my attempts to give them back.’
If you can find a copy of this book in your travels, every story in it is a gem. In the meantime, if you would like to see a Bibliography of Margery Sharp’s other works–including other short stories, which are little masterpieces in miniature, click here.