Reclaiming the Jackal
Chapter 5: Two Scandals, One of Which Overwrites the Other
There is nothing the world loves so much as scandal.
How they poured into the courtroom, this hot day in June, the year of our Lord seventeen hundred and eighty-three! They filled the galleries above, crowding each other, fighting for space here in the shady presence of such a vicious legal battle. A member of the gentry accused of dishonesty! Accused by a servant of withholding wages! An open and shut case, they say! The idle crowd thrives on such material as this.
As for the accused man, well, he certainly was rich, and influential besides; these two characteristics most often walk hand in hand. But there was no real esteem attached to him. His father had been too reclusive to attract either friends or respect, and this his son was too young yet to earn them for himself--so what harm was there in taking interest of his downfall? Low enough socially to be excluded from the peerage, yet deep enough in the pockets to be an important personage in society, he was a perfect subject for such a scandal. No hope for his social influence now! The evil hag Disgrace had attached herself to his name forever.
He had a pair of lawyers to plead his case, though where he managed to hire him, heaven only knew. The only lawyers who would plead this case would have to be desperate--they had no hope of winning. Furthermore, from the look of one of the pair, they had to live in deep squalor--his robes hung on his body limply, his wig set askew on his head, he sat far back in the chair with hands shoved among the folds of his robes; he seemed asleep at every point until the lord chief justice appeared, and then he roused himself sufficiently to at least come to his feet.
It was the other barrister who did all the presentation and questioning of the worthy witness against the accused, who now stood respectfully to be interrogated.
“You have served in the household of Sir Percy Blakeney for quite some
time, is that so?”
“Have you aught to complain of in your employment, perhaps? Anything besides the complaint placed before this worthy court?”
“Nothing, sir; nothing, that is, excepting a feeling of great uselessness.”
“Uselessness?” the advocate queried. “And why is that?”
“Because, sir, more often than not the manor was empty of a master.”
“Ah, yes,” the lawyer said, quite agreeably. “For several years, my worthy client’s late father travelled abroad with his family, and upon the sudden death of both his parents in France, my client returned to the manor as its sole resident and master; is that not so?”
Again, he received an answer in the affirmative.
“And what, pray, did the servants of the household do in those several years?”
“We kept the manor and its grounds in order, sir; none of us knew whether or when the master was returning, and we had to be ready.”
“Ah--so you were working, then?”
“And did you receive wages for this work, on a regular basis?”
As the worthy witness had already been privileged to point out to the court, he did not.
“None, whatsoever? None of you received any such wages?”
The worthy witness replied that this was not the case.
“The others received their wages, sir,” he explained obsequiously, “but not I.”
“An unusual oversight, don’t you think?”
The witness agreed that it was, indeed, an unusual oversight.
“And what did you do about this oversight?”
Why, he did nothing, of course; he stayed silent, as behooved his inferior
position, believing that he would receive his due wages in the end.
“You approached my client, informing him of your due resignation, and asking to be paid the wages you were due, is that correct?”
It was correct.
“And did you receive wages?”
He did; he was given the wages due him for the few weeks since the last quarterly payment.
“But no sign of the wages due you for those long years?”
No sign whatsoever.
“Why was this, think you?”
“I can only assign to this action a reason of malice, sir.”
“Yes; Sir Percy never approved of me, it seems. He disliked me from the very beginning.”
“And did you return this malice?”
Of course not; the witness hoped he would never bear bad feelings against his betters.
“No malice at all, then? No repulsion, as a result of his dislike?”
The witness supposed that every man feels a token animosity when he knows he is hated by another; but, besides that most human emotion, held Sir Percy in the very highest regard.
A sudden slight sound behind him caused the worthy advocate to turn round. His friend, the one sitting behind the defense’s bench with powdered wig askew, had hastily scribbled something on a scrap of paper and passed it across the bench for the barrister’s perusal.
The accused sat quietly in his place the entire time. He, too, noticed the rustle of that little note the learned friend with crooked wig had suddenly produced. He watched as the interrogating lawyer read the note, began to smile a very little, and then turned to the witness to question him again. There was a curious gleam in his eye, a hunger . . . a triumph.
Sir Percy looked back to the bench; the man had leaned back in his seat again, and even now looked on the point of falling asleep. He kept his eyes on this man; there was something about him that was not right; something more than appearance; something he kept hidden . . .
And the worthy advocate continued to pick the witness apart.
“You maintain that the accused refused to pay you the full wages due, when you requested resignation?”
The witness repeated that he did.
“And you attribute this to malice on his part?”
“I do; I can think of nothing else that might have caused it.”
“Why, then, did he pay you the wages due you since the last pay period?”
The witness was uncomfortably silent.
“If Sir Percy indeed held malice against you,” the lawyer continued more forcefully, “why did he not refuse to pay you at all? And why had he continued to pay you your due wages from the time he returned to the manor?”
“I--I suppose he wanted to cover up his hatred of me . . .”
“A little late for that, since he had already singled you out as the sole servant not receiving wages in his absence. There is no reason for this, is there?”
“I--I suppose not . . .”
“No. There is not. And I submit to the court, that there is no reason for it, because it never happened. I submit to the court that the accused is innocent of the charges brought against him, and thee witness is twice guilty, of accusing an innocent gentleman in spite, and lying upon the honored bench of this Court.”
A hushed murmur of excitement rippled around the gallery. What skill that lawyer held! To turn every word the witness spoke against him . . . to think, he had been lying all this time, and under oath, too . . .
Sir Percy Blakeney was quickly cleared of the charges, and Mr. Edwin Stephens, the worthy witness, as quickly left the country for friendlier shores. And the crowd spilled out of the courtroom eagerly, ready to spread word of the outrageous scandal--that a lowly servant would dare to falsely accuse his master!
In the infamous courtroom, the hag Disgrace quietly fell away from Sir Percy, and as Mr. Stryver, the interrogation attorney, had withdrawn to share his victory with influential comrades, he was left alone with the strange and silent Mr. Sydney Carton of the slack robe and crooked wig.
To be continued . . .