Charity begins at home. How many times did you hear this phrase in your life? A number of times, right? It tells us that we should take care of our own needs at first before helping others. But there was a Henry Preston who once took the meaning of this phrase to a whole new level. Jeffrey Archer talks about Mr. Preston, an employee of Pearson, Clutterbuck & Reynolds in his short story CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME ! Once I read the story, I felt like I had to share it.
Henry Preston, an extremely shy guy and with an almost nil social life, joined Pearson, Clutterbuck & Reynolds as a clerk. Neither Henry had any hobby nor he had any addiction to sex or drugs. His only indulgence was occasional gin and tonic and that too on Saturdays. In Jeffrey’s words – frankly, if there was a club for introverts, Henry would be elected chairman – reluctantly.
But Henry’s dull life changed forever just few years before his retirement from Pearson. He got the task of managing the accounts of Angela Forster’s company, Events Unlimited. Angela, after her husband left her for a younger woman, opened a small business that specialised in organising events – from annual dinners to Balls. Her natural organising skills made her business eventually more successful than she had expected it to be.
‘Why don’t you come along to one of my functions, Mr Preston?’ Angela one day asked after her meeting with Henry.
Henry accepted her invitation for a ball for African famine relief on Saturday evening. In his mind, Henry, a born introvert, was regretting as attending the event would mean missing his regular Chinese takeaway with gin and tonic that tops his priority list while watching the film of the week in television. Moreover, he had to be in time on Sunday morning for checking the church collection.
Still on Saturday, Henry found himself in the town hall for the ball, dressed in an old-fashioned jacket his mother gifted on his 21st birthday. Once Henry got the chance to slip away, he met Ms Forster. After few moments of conversation, he realised Ms Foster took back home a meagre amount of what her company earned from all the events annually. Ms Forster said she was unable to increase her income. Whenever she demanded a hike in her fees, her clients reminded they ran a charity. Henry thought something, asked Angela out for dinner and hatched a plan.
Henry commented, ‘Don’t forget that any winnings made from gambling are tax-free.’
Angela’s Westminster and City Conservative Association’s annual ball saw Henry entering the ballroom with an empty Gladstone bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. The ball fetched £22,370 that evening. Henry gave Angela a receipt in exchange of £19,400 cash (which he later dropped in the nearest HSBC bank’s safe deposit) and entered the Black Ace Casino with the remaining £2,970 cash.
At the roulette table, he exchanged £2,970 for blue and white chips in the next three hours. After leaving the table, he reached the bar, carefully put all the chips from his pocket into the open handbag of a woman sitting next to him and made an exit from the casino. Angela, who sat showing no interest on Henry all the while took her bag and exchanged the coins for a cheque in the name of Mrs Ruth Richards at the cash counter.
In next three years, Angela managed to make £267,900, £311,150 and £364,610 annually as a charity to herself. Upon Henry’s advice, she transferred her first million to an offshore bank in the Cook Islands.
It was Miss Florence Blenkinsopp who discovered a shortage of £820 from an event’s earnings after an uninvited guest with a Gladstone bag entered the ballroom. Miss Blenkinsopp didn’t doubt Angela, her ex-pupil from St Catherine’s Convent, and reported the matter to chief constable. Detective Sergeant Janet Seaton was assigned the task of investigating the issue.
Janet followed the old man with the Gladstone bag from one of the events at Bebbington Hall to the casino. She understood Henry’s addiction to gambling and cracked his plan of exchanging cash at the roulette table for chips in return. What she could not understand was if the lady sitting on a stool near Henry was also involved in the plan or not. Was she Angela? Janet wasn’t sure.
However, police arrested Henry and his lawyer suggested him to plead guilty. The Special Crime Unit spent days trying to confirm Angela’s involvement in the crime. But they failed to trace any cheques made in the name of Angela Forster even after enquiring in all the casinos across London. Her bank account also didn’t reflect any suspicious transactions.
Henry, on the other side, admitted his gambling addiction and got three years sentence in prison. They released him 18 months later. Henry took his personal belongings in a Gladstone bag and headed towards the local railway station. Nobody saw him after that day.
Mr and Mrs Graham Richards have a happening social life in the island of Majorca. Mr Richards, the owner of a small and front-line villa overlooking the Bay of Palma, manages the accounts of the Royal Overseas Club in Palma. The chairman boasts the accounts of the club is well-managed ever since Mr Richards took the position as treasurer. He also informs the club’s AGM that Graham’s wife, Mrs Ruth Richards has agreed to organise their annual ball.
How do you find this act of charity that begun at home? Let me know in the comments.