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C. Hare

...

 

John Franklin, with whom I was at Oxford, invited me to stay with his people at Markhampton for the Markshire Hunt Ball'. He and his sister were arranging a small party for it, he said.

"I've never met your sister," I remarked. "What is she like?"

"She is a beauty," said John, seriously and simply.

I thought at the time that it was an odd, old-fashioned phrase, but it turned out to be strictly and literally true. Deborah Franklin was beautiful in the grand, classic manner. She didn't look in the least like a film star or a model. But looking at her you forgot everything. It was the sheer beauty of her face that took your breath away.

With looks like that, it would be asking too much to expect anything startling in the way of brains, and I found Deborah, a trifle dull. She was of course well aware of her extraordinary good looks, and was perfectly prepared to discuss them, just as a man seven feet high might talk about the advantages and inconveniences of being tall.

Most of our party were old friends of the Franklins, who took Deborah for granted as a local phenomenon, but among them was a newcomer – a young man with a beard named Aubrey Melcombe, who had latelytaken charge of the local museum. As soon as he set eyes on Deborah he said:

"We have never met before, but your face, of course, is perfectly familiar."

Deborah had evidently heard that one before.

"I never give sitting to photographers," she said, "but people will snap me in the street. It's such a nuisance."

"Photographs!" said Aubrey. "I mean your portrait – the one that was painted four hundred years ago. Has nobody ever told you that you are the living image of the Warbeck Titian?"

"I've never heard of the Warbeck Titian," said Deborah, "You shall judge for yourself," – said Aubrey. "I'll send you a ticket for the opening of the exhibition."

Then he went off to dance with Rosamund Clegg, his assistant at the museum, who was said to be his fiance'e.

I did not care much' for Aubrey, or for his young woman, but I had to admit that they knew, their job when I came to the opening of the exhibition a few months later. They had gathered in treasures of every sort from all over the county and arranged them admirably. The jewel of the show was, of course, the great Titian. It had a wall to itself at the end of the room and I was looking at it when Deborah came in.

The likeness was fantastic. Lord Warbeck had never had his paintings cleaned, so that Titian's flesh tints were golden and carmine, in vivid contrast to Deborah's pink and white. But the face behind the glass might have been hev mirror image. By a happy chance she had chosen to wear a very plain black dress, which matched up well to the portrait's dark clothes. She stood there still and silent, staring at her centuries-old likeness. I wondered what she felt.


...

A pressman's camera flashed and clicked. First one visitor and then another noticed the resemblance and presently the rest of the gallery was deserted. Everyone was crowding round the Titian to stare from the painted face to the real one and back again. The only clear space was round Deborah herself. People were moving to get a good view of her profile, without losing sight of the Titian, which fortunately was in profile also. It must have been horribly embarrassing for Deborah, but she never seemed to notice them. She went on peering into the picture, for a very long time. Then she turned round and walked quickly out of the building. As she passed me I saw that she was crying – a surprising display of emotion in one so calm.

About ten minutes later Aubrey discovered that a pair of Degas' statuettes was missing from a stand opposite the Titian. They were small objects and very valuable. The police were sent for and there was a considerable fuss, but nothing was found. I left as soon as I could and went to the Franklins. Deborah was in.

"Have you got the statuettes?" I asked.

She took them out of her handbag.

"How did you guess?"

"It seemed to me that your reception in front of the Titian was a performance," I explained. "It distracted attention from everything else in the room while the theft took place."

"Yes," said Deborah, "Aubrey arranged it very cleverly, didn't he? He thought of everything. He even helped me choose this dress to go with the one in the picture, you know."

"And the press photographer? Had he been laid on too?"

"Oh, yes. Aubrey arranged for someone to be there to photograph me. He thought it would help to collect a crowd."

Her coolness was astonishing. Even with the evidence of the statuettes in front of me I found it hard to believe that I was talking to a thief.


...

"It was a very clever scheme altogether," I said. "You and Aubrey must have put a lot of work into it. Ihad no idea that you were such friends."

There was a flush on her cheeks as she replied:

"Oh yes, I've been seeing a good deal of him lately.

Ever since the Hunt Ball, in fact."

After that there didn't seem to be much more to say.

"There's one thing I don't quite understand," I said finally. "People were surroundin'g you and staring at you up to the moment you left the gallery. How did Aubrey manage to pass the statuettes to you without anyone seeing?"

She rounded on me in a fury of surprise and indignation.

"Pass the statuettes to me?" she repeated. "Good God! Are you suggesting that I helped Aubrey to steal them?"

She looked like an angry goddess, and was about as charming.

"But – but – " I stammered. "But if you didn't who will?

"Rosamund, of course. Aubrey gave them to her while all was going on in front of the Titian. She simply put them in her bag and walked out. I'd only just gotthem back from her when you came in."

"Rosamund!" It was my turn to be surprised. "Then the whole thing was a put-up job between them?"

"Yes. They wanted to get married and hadn't any money, and she knew a dealer who would give a price for things like these with no questions asked and –and there you are."

"Then how did you come into it?" I asked.

"Aubrey said that if I posed in front of the Titian it would be wonderful publicity for the exhibition – and,of course, I fell for it." She laughed. "I've only just remembered. When Aubrey wanted to make fun of me he used to say I'd make a wonderful cover girl. That's just what I was – a cover girl for him and Rosamund."

She stood up and picked up the statuettes.

"These will have to go back to the gallery, I suppose," she said, "Can it be done without too much fuss? It's silly of me, I know, but I'd rather they didn't prosecute Aubrey."

I made sympathetic noises.

"It was Rosamund's idea in the first place," she went on. "I'm sure of that. Aubrey hasn't the wits to think of anything so clever."

"It was clever enough," I said. "But you saw through it at once. How was that?"

Deborah smiled.

"I'm not clever," she said. "But that old dark picture with the glass on it made a perfect mirror. Aubrey told me to stand in front of it, so I did. But I'm not interested in art, you know. I was looking at myself.And of course I couldn't help seeing what was happening just behind me..."

 

NOTES:

Markshire Hunt Ball –

the Warbeck Titian –

didn't care much –

 

II Give Russian equivalents for the following words and expressions from the texf and use them in the sentences of your own:

turn out to be true, sheer beauty, arrange a party, take for granted, local phenomenon, set eyes on, not care much for smb, arrange admirably, the jewel of the show, match up well (to), get a good view of smth/ smb, peer into the picture, display of emotion, astonishing coolness, wonderful publicity, without much fuss, prosecute.

III

Questions on the text:

1) Why did the author come to the Franklins?

2) Describe Deborah.

3) Why didn't the author expect Deborah to be a clever girl?

4) What did Aubrey Melcombe say about Deborah's face?

5) Where did he invite the girl?

6) Why did the author say that Aubrey and his fiance knew their job when he came to the opening of the exhibition?

7) Why did everybody crowd round the picture?

8) Describe Deborah's behaviour at the exhibition.

9) What surprised the author in the way Deborah left he exhibition?

10) What was discovered some time later?

11) How did the author guess that the theft had been carefully planned?

12) Why was Deborah indignant?

13) Who had stolen the statuettes?

14) How had Aubrey make Deborah act as a cover girl?

 

Discuss the following:

1) Give a character sketch of a) Deborah, b) Aubrey.

2) Do you agree with the author that if a person has good appearance "it would be asking too much to expect anything startling in the way of brains"? Was Deborah really such stupid?

3) Analyse Aubrey's behaviour. Do you think he be longs to the sort of people who make use of othersfor their own sake?

4) Why did Deborah say "I'd rather they didn't prosecute him"?

5) What's the author's attitude to the heroine of the story?

 

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