Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 4

     Roderick was given a bedchamber in the west wing where his trunk was already delivered and his   wardrobe and toiletries already placed inside of a dark cherry french armoire. He took stock of his situation.  He would sleep in a 4-poster bed with a wooden canapy.  The mattress was somewhat lumpy from muskiness and moisture in the house and his pillow was a wooden bolster designed to maintain coiffures.
    After three years at Oxford, he possessed the accent of any high-bred gentleman and dressed accordingly. But when the money ran out he found himself scrimping and counting his shillings. He considered himself in good fortune to be resident of such a lavish estate and employed  as the manager of  the earl's assets. Obviously there was a great deal of trust and secrecy involved of which he was to learn more of such pecularities during the coming months.  The earl observed the staunch traditions of the true englshman who never spoke publicly of his personal preferences and especially never shared his interests with the marquess.  They existed in two different worlds, Lady Matilda in a constant flutter of entertaining her peers and the nobility.  The earl likened her flamboyant display of the hereditary jewels strung around her neck as a a precious stone in a sow's ear.  As for himself he was yet taunted by fearful memories of losing his duchy and after the long years of waiting for the death o Matilda's brother so that she could inherit, was determined not to fritter away an earldom.  It was his
attention to details which caused the fiefdom to prosper. So it was that as the months passed the earl's plan was drawn into Roderick's thinking.  Whether he waited to find Roderick trustworthy and capable before he revealed it or it was because the physicians said that Matilda had a weak heart, he did not know.  It simply took time to craft it.
     Late one afternoon the earl called Roderick into his rooms.
     "You may have heard me recount my genealogy as being the last heir to a badly mismanged and spoilt dukedom in Cornwall."
     "Yes, your lordship."
     "Before I attained the title of Lord Neville, I was known as Sir George Manigault, duke of Cornwall." He paused to see if Roderick recognized the name and when he did not, continued.  "Thus, in order to handle my personal affairs expeditiously outside of Abergenney, I assumed an alias. George Mans. It is this alias that I prefer when you establish certain accounts for me in London."
     "Quite so. An alias is sometimes used by the nobility as a means to privacy. The uncertainty of us all!  I wish for you to attend Mr. Biggers personally and establish an account for George Mans.  He is to be told nothing, except that I am a british entrepreneur and adventurer on the high seas. Your deposits into this account will always be made in person. No one else will share the knowledge of this enterprise nor accompany you on your journeys to London.  The deposits will be recorded in your own handwriting and you will  hide the ledger in your room."
    "Is this my primary employment?"  Roderick asked, wrinkling his brow.
    "Yes, all other duties take homage to it.  However, to satisfy your curiousity a wee bit, I shall tell you this.  Such deposits are the means of preserving a future income for my person. Remember what I told you.  My estates and titles are only symbolic so long as the marquess lives.  When she dies, it all reverts back to the king."
     Roderick had already surmised that even though the earl used a cane to support himself, his mental accuities were sharp and he was in far better health than the marquess. Yes sir, there was a great deal of living left for the earl!
     "I should expect Mr. Biggers to make wise investments for Mr. George Mans and to build upon his account with the profits.  Yours is the utmost precaution.  You must select your verbage carefully and no one, especially Mr. Biggers, must suspect my true identity.  Do you understand me, Roderick?"
     The new responsibility commenced the next morning when Roderick was sent to London with a purse full of pound notes and without the personal seal of George Mans.  The earl did not express it, but Biggers would have to establish an account based solely upon his word.  To go unnoticed, he rode in an unmarked coach and refrained from conversation with strangers.  Once in London, he went directly to the Sow's Ear where he arranged to spend the night.  Then walked across the bridge to a row of warehouses facing the river front.  The street was crowded with peasants delivering their crops to auctioneers, local merchants readying to auction and representatives from various factoring houses preparing to purchase or sell for their clientele.  It was something which Mr. Biggers had done so well for his father's rice crops.  The earl had venture capital to invest in the burgeoning agricultural markets.
     No one seemed to notice him as the commoners and traders knocked him about in the streets. It was a familiar scene to him. This was his favorite haunt when he needed college funds.  He found Mr. Biggers bidding on a substantial stack of brightleaf tobacco recently arrived from a Virginia plantation. His eyes were studying the quality of the fire-cured leaves in still in good condition for auction considering its long delay at sea passing through the blockades.  It was a lucrative investment which would easily sell at a premium price.  Roderick observed  Biggers'  excitement and his bobbling head as he experienced the joy of bidding in the tobacco at a satisfactory price. He was a short unassuming statue of a man easily recognized and respected by his peers by his traditional well-worn gray peruke wig and a pair of round spectacles on his nose.
     "Roderick?" He said, first supposing that the boy wanted to arrange to be paid from the empty account of his father.  "Why are you not at Abergenney?"
     "May I have a private audience with you, sir?"
     "You are in good time. Early this morning a letter was delivered from one of the vessels.  It was addressed to you," he said walking ahead as Roderick, wedged in the crowd,  followed from behind.
     "A letter for me?" He shouted.
     "That is what I said!"  Biggers answered, his head bouncing ahead through the crowd. When he reached the wharf he paused momentarily to provide some instructions for the captain of a dutch vessel. His office was located inside one of the high-storied warehouses adjoining the wharf.   "This is a busy season, everyone wants a cargo shipped to the West Indies.  Some vessels were lost in the hurricane which ravaged your South Carolina and Georgia coast.  The rice crops failed to get through. This news, commensurate with the Americans blockading Charleston is causing panic in the markets.  Luckily a cargo of brightleaf Virginia tobacco got through in satisfactory condition, which needs transportation.  Perhaps you should return in a day or so, my boy."
     Saying nothing, Roderick drew out the earl's heavy purse and laid it on the table.  Biggers lifted it and weighing it in his hand, reconsidered.  "You are on the earl's business."
    "Well no.  Actually, I am come in behalf of Mr. George Mans, a wealthy entrepreneur and adventurer."
    Biggers nodded.  He wasn't fooled.  "Cash is a much needed commodity in today's markets, especially to bribe ship's captains to take risks. Exactly who is this George Mans?"
     "He is an international figure who wishes to remain anonymous and whose plans are to leave England at some time in the future.  In the meanwhile, he is willing to place his money at risk for the sake of profits.  He wishes for you to place this money into speculative investments and accumulate the proceeds in his name and he is willing to pay the optimum commission for your services."
     Biggers scratched his head.  "Who is this George Mans?"
    "I can assure you that he is an honorable gentleman of economic wisdom and  ...."
     "Yes, yes," he said impatiently.  The boy had pestered him for extra shillings while at Oxford and spent frivolous amounts on entertaining himself.  He knew Roderick like the back of his hand... he was the typical spoilt child of an American planter impressed by English traditions and titles but ignorant that it was the tradesmen who were the economic backbone of society.  Also, he tended to rattle on while searching for the appropriate message. "You never were a good liar, my boy. Given your recent employment at Abergenny, the logical assumption is that Lord Neville hath taken an alias."  He provided space for Roderick to answer when he paused and raised a thin hairy eyebrow over his right eye.
     "I am sworn to secrecy, sir."    
     "Nobless oblige."
     "Yes sir. My schedule is to deliver another purse next Monday.  I am required to review your written accounting of the investments. Might I add that Mr. George Mans is generous and will pay whatever commission that you ask."
     "Agreed. Twenty per cent," Biggers said quickly aware that the earl's funds would enable him to double the declining war-time profits of his factoring business.
     Roderick opened his hand to seal the bargain with a handshake, but Biggers thrust the letter into it instead.
     "This is from my mother," he said.  "I wonder why she did not address me at Abergenny."
       Roderick fell silent as he read the letter several times over.
     "How is your mother?" Mr. Biggers asked.
     "She is well, but my father....but my father," his voice trembled as he choked back tears. "My father is dead.  Twas an accident when he was on militia duty protecting the Charleston harbor...when the hurricane struck."
     "Tsk. Tsk.  The casualties of war.  I for one am nought happy with this little war...all that it does is impede trade and drive up prices.  Before that, your father's rice plantation was forging ahead as a most profitable venture.  He  was a genius at turning a profit.  And now your dear father is gone.  I am sorry, my boy."
     "He was the bravest soldier....was at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered...but now, when he arose one last time to defend his country, gave his life for it."
     "Yes, the loss of trade is a financial loss for your family also.  When this war ends, you best consider returning to Ashley Loche and recouping the losses.  I shall be here, my boy, cheering you on."


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