IN THESE days of expensive labour it is heartening to know that there are still loyal and faithful servants who demand no wages and who regularly express servility to their masters. You don’t believe me. Alright, but I have proof of what I say.
Before me on the table is a letter from a firm of solicitors who acts on behalf of the English landlord to whom I annually pay the sum of two pounds in rent. They remind me that the money is now due and that payment would be appreciated. The letter is signed “Your obedient servants.” In this day and age when retainers no longer serve families, I feel strangely elated that I have obedient servants at my beck and call.
It would seem, of course, that they are more the servants of the English landlord than of yours truly. After all it is he who they really serve. It is he who pays them. However, in the letter they state that they are my obedient servants and or want of evidence to the contrary I have no option but to believe them.
Really, though, isn’t it touching: “Your obedient servant.” It is not the first time I have received epistles so signed. Some years ago I received a letter from another firm, not of solicitors, but of watch repairers. They stated in their letter that I had not paid in full for repairs committed on my timepiece and told me that if I didn’t fork up they would do terrible things to me after seven days. They signed the letter “Your humble servants.”
I replied stating that I had paid the price they had originally quoted and if they had made a mistake it was their fault, not mine. I heard from them again and this time they assured that this time the mistake was theirs and they would continue to be my humble servants. All very fine the man said, but then the years passed and I found myself one night in the bar of a theatre waiting for the curtain to go up. I was with a friend who knew everybody and anybody who frequented the theatre.
“There’s Lady This and That,” she would say now and then or “there’s Mr So and So, the horsey man.” As the bar filled before the show I was told the names of several distinguished people. I’m afraid I wasn’t paying much attention as the play about to be staged was my own and I was somewhat worried about how it might be received.
“Ah,” said my friend. “There’s Mr So and So. He’s the managing director of such a place.”
Immediately memory nudged me and I remembered that the name of the newcomer was familiar. I thought hard and sure enough I recalled that it was the name of the firm who had repaired my watch. At long last I was face to face with my humble servant. It is always refreshing to have one’s retainers at hand during times of crisis. I explained to my friend that the man she had mentioned was my humble servant, but she told me to sit down that I probably had too much to drink.
I got up and addressed myself to the managing director:
“My loyal friend,” I said, “it’s good to see you.”
I was astonished when he cocked his nose up in the air and turned his back on me. What a way for a servant to behave. What was the world coming to? How dare servants ignore their masters. The bell rang for the opening of the play and I made a second attempt to address my humble servant. He frowned and went straight into the theatre without as much as a smile at me. If he was truly my humble servant as he said when he sent me the bill for the watch he would have bowed courteously and asked me if I would like a drink.
I was disillusioned but so what. It was the fashion of the age. Everywhere all over the civilised world, servants were kicking off the traces and rising against their masters.
The play moved along nicely and finally it finished. In the bar afterwards I was introduced to the managing director of the watch firm. His attitude had changed. I don’t mean that he was his usual servile self, but at least he smiled as he congratulated me on the success of the play. He told me he thoroughly enjoyed it.
“You’re too late,” I told him.
“Too late for what?” he asked in bewilderment.
“Never mind it now,” I said, “but that’s the last watch you’ll repair for me.”