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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Touch (the sense of touch) (08/05/10)

TITLE: What the Butler Saw...and What He Did About It
By Kate Oliver Webb


The year was 1910. The place, San Francisco, California. Specifically, a neighborhood of mansions in Pacific Heights where nouveau riche gentlemen enjoyed the fruits of new technology and the building boom in the West.

They lived with their families in the supreme assurance that they not only deserved the elegance and comfort that wealth brings, but were due the accompanying adulation and status.

Perhaps some were.

In the household of Jeremiah Ledyard, the staff--consisting of housekeeper, butler, two housemaids, a valet, his wife’s personal maid and a cook--knew first-hand that he was no “gentleman.” The status and public recognition that came with his newfound wealth brought to mind “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

The staff’s description was not nearly that mild.

To say that Mr. Ledyard was the master of his domain was to say the sun contributed to daylight. He ruled tyrannically.

Bailey had been butler in the household for some eight years, and had seen and heard, he was sure, everything there was to know about the Ledyard family. During his tenure, three more children joined the four which comprised the family when he joined the staff, and the mistress of the house had, for the most part, taken to her bed either to recuperate from child-bearing, or to avoid the possibility of having to bear more.

In the process of bringing the existing seven children into the family, she had lost three others, either before or during birth. She was not a happy woman.

Troubling Bailey at this point was not just the fact that his overbearing master was difficult to be around, and made life troublesome in the extreme for the entire household. Mr. Ledyard had recently been seen by the housemaids to be touching his daughters inappropriately. This activity was not news to Bailey; however, until now, Ledyard had been fairly discreet about it.

Having to question the housemaids as to exactly what they meant by “touching” had been embarrassing and had taken days to complete. He still was unsure what their oblique references actually meant, as males and females simply didn’t speak of those things with one another.

But Bailey had seen enough himself, and much worse than his housemaids revealed.

For example, Ledyard habitually wrapped his arms around his young daughters--and in normal circumstances this would be taken as a warm and fatherly hug. But this hug was from behind, and his hands regularly strayed where they shouldn’t, seeming to feel the lace and ruffling across the bodices of the girls’ dresses.

Because staff was generally thought to be deaf and blind, things considerably worse than this went on within sight and sound of the help that would curdle the blood of any discerning person. So Bailey was not surprised at the content of these reports; he was, however, humiliated that his staff had seen such abuses.

It shamed Bailey to think that it had taken the housemaids’ anguish and fear to goad him into putting himself at risk.

This at last found him sitting in the office of the assistant to the Police Chief. It had taken some days to get the appointment to talk with the busy man, and Bailey knew that Ledyard’s penchants were common among men of that generation and status (although certainly not limited to that group).

Bailey was relieved to be getting the words out without stammering in anxiety and embarrassment.

“What would you have us do, Mr. Bailey?” the assistant asked.

“Is there not some statute, some law, which prohibits such fondling?”

“Not in a man’s own home, among members of his own family. Now, were he to be taking liberties with his household staff, we might look into that. But proving anything of that nature, well….”

The assistant sat back, tented his fingers, and cleared his throat. Bailey took the hint. He thanked the man for his time and found his way back out to the street.

He paused at the door of the police station. Glancing around the neighborhood, he found himself down the street from the newspaper office.

Without giving it a second thought, he strode into the building, found the office of the editor, and walked straight in with only the shortest of raps on the door.

He surprised himself (and the editor) by leaning on the editor’s desk and without hesitation or stumbling, told his story.

The editor stared, his eyes wide. Bailey scarcely breathed.

“Sit down, Mr. Bailey. We need to talk.”

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This article has been read 404 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sarah Heywood08/13/10
Wow! I was assuming that, in the end, the butler would be accused of Ledyard's crime, and my heart was already hurting for him. But your ending was quite the surprise - what a brave man! I never thought about there not being laws in place to protect family members at that time in history, either. Very good writing - this kept my interest.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/14/10
This story was so well-told. My heart was hurting for all of the characters. It reminded me of a fact that my daughter dug up while doing her paper on child abuse. The first case of child abuse was reported to the ASPCA At that time there were laws protecting animals, but not children. Excellent writing.
Joyce Morse08/16/10
Excellent story. From the title, this was not what I was expecting. I enjoyed the fact that you took an issue that is often seen as a problem with today and showed that it has been around for a long time.
Amy Michelle Wiley 08/16/10
Wow, I never thought about that kind of laws not being around then, either. That would have been hard to know what to do about it back then. Well told!
Maria Egilsson08/17/10
What superb writing and especially about a difficult topic. The mc was believable and his integrity shone as he took a step to correct a "moral" wrong (as there was no law yet) even knowing that he could be fired without recourse and not find employment again as a butler.
I felt like cheering for him... people standing up and standing out to say that something isn't right and it needs to be addressed. Good job.
Rachel Phelps08/17/10
Great take on the topic, unique and well-portrayed. I think the beginning could have been tightened to leave more words for character development for Bailey, but overall, the story is excellent.
Caitlyn Meissner08/17/10
A hard topic, but I think you handled it well. I'm glad Bailey persevered to the end. Good job.
Catrina Bradley 08/17/10
WOW! This is REALLY good! I love the voice, the language, and the subtlety with which you told of the horrors in the household. I wanted to smack that policeman, and cheer at the "what the Butler did" at the end. Kudos!!
Catrina Bradley 08/17/10
Oops - I loved it so much, forgot the ink. Only one little stumble for me - in the 4th paragraph. It took a little thought to realize who the "he" is here: "knew first-hand that he was no “gentleman.”" Replacing "he" with "Mr. Ledyard" would clear it right up.

Oh, and I wanted to mention how much I liked this line: "To say that Mr. Ledyard was the master of his domain was to say the sun contributed to daylight."