Reclaiming the Jackal
Chapter 4: Why One Should Keep Proper Records
Sir Algernon Blakeney had left Blakeney Manor in the summer of 1770, removing young Percy from boarding school and hiring tutors to complete his son’s education abroad--this we have already alluded to, and gone over in painful detail. This prolonged absence from the estate left unfinished business in its wake; servants who were to continue to remain in service, to keep the house and outlying lands in immaculate condition, but who now had no one to serve.
Sir Algernon was moderately accomplished in business matters, and kept a sufficient presence of mind throughout the next eleven years to send orders to the head butler concerning how much was to be paid each servant every month, and how to handle requests for more pay regarding each. He wrote these himself every month, unfailingly, until his wife’s death, when he himself lost his reason. At that point, Percy took over this task, addressing such mundane subjects as wages and holiday bonus pay with every bit as much precision as his father. After Sir Algernon’s death, of course, Sir Percy (for thus is how we must address him from now on) assumed responsibility in full for all the business matters concerning his staff. But he tended at this young age to be slightly absent-minded; he never thought to keep copies of these letters, or receipts for the wages paid.
When Sir Percy returned again to the home of his fathers in the autumn months of 1781, he was still suffering from shock at the sudden deaths of both parents, each one dying in the cruel embrace of mental illness. He was very distant, saying little and staring at nothing in particular. This odd behavior did not escape the notice of those under his employ; and presently, one of the more malicious of them decided he could take advantage of it.
Edwin Stephens had been a footman for the Blakeney household for fifteen years, and he was none the better for it. Once an actor on the London stage but cast off by the fickle public, he resented the low station thrust upon him, not heeding the fact that it was only the influence of a friend that allowed him to take a position in such a prestigious household in the first place. Always considering himself better than his peers, he avoided the company of the other servants, and they treated him in like manner. He was never spoken to, acknowledged, or aided at all; and the long years of solitude among these “low-class scum” embittered him. While he had a master to attend to, residents to serve, he could distract himself from his own sorry plight and pretend he was on the stage again, simply acting the part of a footman in a play for His Majesty. But once the other actors left, he was forced to face the facts. It was in facing these facts that he decided he deserved more from life, and vowed to one day get it.
When the new master arrived, young and distracted, he saw his chance.
He requested private audience with Sir Percy as soon as may be, and on a dreary April afternoon, he knocked on the door of the master’s study, prepared to collect his due.
Affecting the most deferent attitude he could--for it was always to one’s best interests to seem as respectful as one could--he obeyed the curt word of command and bowed before the young baronet.
“I understand you desired to speak with me, Edwin,” Sir Percy said calmly, plainly enough. It was only in Edwin’s mind that his voice took on an undeniable tone of disgust.
“Yes, my lord,” Edwin answered quietly, bowing again somewhat unnecessarily.
After a moment of silence between them Sir Percy spoke again. “Well? And what is it?”
“I wish to offer you my resignation, my lord.” Edwin’s face remained impassive, imperturbable. If any emotion was to be shown here this day, he wanted to make sure that it was on Sir Percy’s part, not his.
Sir Percy sighed briefly. “Have you ought to complain of? Mistreatment, perhaps?”
“No, my lord. There is nothing I would complain of.”
“Has anything happened, to cause your sudden wish to leave--anything that I might have prevented?”
“No, my lord--I have been offered a position elsewhere, and wish to accept it.”
“Then why do you come to me with your resignation,” Sir Percy queried almost impatiently--he did wish the footman would come to the point--”instead of properly bringing it to Gergers’ attention?”
Edwin hesitated for exactly two seconds. “My lord, there is the matter of wages . . .”
“Ah, yes.” Sir Percy turned his eyes once more to the papers on his desk while he spoke. “Gergers will pay you the wages you are due since the last payment . . .”
“Begging your pardon, sir,” Edwin interrupted, making sure to speak clearly--for he didn’t want Sir Percy Blakeney to miss a word--”but I am due more than that.”
Sir Percy looked up at him in incredulity--and utter confusion. “More? Speak plainly, what do you mean?”
“I received no wages, for eleven years--the years during which your noble father, may he rest in peace, was absent from the estate. Thanks to the generosity of others and the support of my only sister--who, sadly, lived in such abject poverty herself because of providing for us both that she died of pneumonia last winter--I was able to survive without wages for that long time. I kept my peace for those years, trusting in my lord’s honor that he would pay me my due when he saw fit--and now, when I am about to leave your honored employ, I ask that I should be paid those wages now. I receive the sum of ten shillings a week for my labor; I am due eleven years and six months’ back wages; my wages should come to something on the order of three hundred pounds.”
Sir Percy was speechless. He could think of nothing to say to this man, who so very obviously believed that he should get what he was due . . . but surely, surely he must be mistaken!
And when he found his tongue at last, he said as much to the footman, who stood with perfect outward calm before his desk.
“No, sir, there is no mistake,” he returned. “If you will kindly write out the orders to Mr. Gergers, my lord . . .”
Now, under most any other circumstances, Sir Percy would have done what his footman asked without further question; for he was not a closefisted man, nor an oppressive master, and three hundred pounds was as pocket change compared to the wealth in his possession. But here he would not do it. It was not a matter of stubbornness, or of penny-pinching, but a simple matter of truth--Sir Percy knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Edwin Stephens was lying.
But he had nothing in his possession to prove it.
Nothing? At all? But what of receipts and vouchers, what of records of account? Surely there was some sort of written proof that Edwin had been paid all those years . . .
Alas, how much simpler things would have been if there was. But Sir Percy was still young, not yet twenty-five, and rather absent-minded, still grieving the deaths of his parents and dazed at the sudden position of importance thrust upon him; he had not yet learned the art and the necessity of keeping immaculate records, which he would become so proficient in, as proficient as he would eventually become at leadership itself . . .
But do we not get ahead of ourselves? We shall come to that presently. For now, Sir Percy was in a difficulty he would not be able to get out of on his own. He needed a hand to pull him out of this pit of deception that another had prepared for him, and that he had fallen into in the dark night of his grief and oblivion.
And it is one of the great paradoxes of human interaction that there is none better to offer that hand than one who is in the pit himself.