In today’s blog I would like to introduce you to Sir Edward Jamieson. He is an important figure in the area of Broad Oak. He owns farmhouses in this locality and the surrounding land and rents these houses and land to farmers who come into the neighbourhood trying to make a name for themselves. But it is a hard life and it is not for everyone. Only the toughest survive.
There is a diversity of opinion about Sir Edward. The farmers who rent out his farmhouses and land think very highly of him. To them he is a respected figure who is fair and considerate in his dealings with his tenants. Sir Edward’s land agent, however, holds a quite different view on the squire. He looks upon him as a man who has come by his money easily and is out of touch with what goes on right in front of his very nose. He believes his boss is so much in love with his popularity in the neighbourhood that he overlooks the finer points of his business dealings. To Robert Jacobs’ mind, Sir Edward wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to be thought of highly by the local farmers but is not prepared to crack the whip when it is needed. Jacobs thinks the squire lacks the required firmness with his tenants and lets them get away with murder.
The land agent’s view of his employer is clearly evidenced with regard to James Franklin a farmer I have already touched upon in a previous character study. At the beginning of the novel Jacobs informs Franklin that Sir Edward was willing to allow him to miss three rent payments because he knew he was enduring some difficulties in the carrying out of his farming duties. These difficulties included machinery becoming obsolete and workforce leaving to explore city life. The weather had been bad also which had resulted in a lack of produce to sell at the market place. However, Jacobs had been quick to remind Sir Edward that if he gave special treatment to one farmer then it could create a snowball effect which would result in him being taken advantage of by his tenants. So in the end Sir Edward acceded to Jacobs’ proposal that he handed out eviction orders to the Franklin family because they could not pay what they owed to the squire.
When told of this proceeding James Franklin informs Jacobs he does not hold Sir Edward responsible for the decision which was made. This astonishes Jacobs, but Franklin insists that Sir Edward was not to blame for the predicament the Franklins found themselves in. He knew it was Jacobs and Jacobs alone who had brought this situation about and was not slow to inform Jacobs of this.
Sir Edward finds himself in a difficult position as the story proceeds. Whilst he appreciates the work Robert Jacobs does for him in collecting the rent payments which are owed to him, he does not think much of the way he goes about it. There is no respect or regard from Jacobs to the farmers he deals with. He treats them on occasion with base discourtesy, exhibiting a threatening manner towards them which unsettles his employer. But what is to be done about it? The ends justify the means in this instance, something Sir Edward is all too aware of.
It is not long before Sir Edward is faced with a serious dilemma. How can he continue to turn a blind eye to all that Jacobs does on his behalf? It is one thing, after all, for the land agent to use heavy-handed means to drag payments out of these farmers, but when matters start to get out of hand then a decision has to be made one way or another. This occurs when there is a war of words between Jacobs and Franklin, an altercation which has tragic consequences. Then Sir Edward has to look to his conscience and ask himself some very important questions. Will he continue to side with his employee or will fair play and justice take over? This is a difficult prospect the squire is faced with and the way he deals with it will have an important part to play in the rest of the novel and what transpires from that moment on.
Sir Edward will return in the modern day as a ghost to try to repair some of the damage he had caused in his lifetime. His was not a wilful act of cruelty as Jacobs had been guilty of. No, his crime had been one of weakness, of not picking the right side, of looking the other way when he should have stood up for justice and doing the right thing.
I spoke earlier in this blog about Sir Edward’s conscience and this is a key point to the whole storyline of ‘Evil Deeds.’ It will trouble him a great deal that he did not show more moral fibre when he was placed in what was most certainly a terrible dilemma. He allowed himself to be talked around by Jacobs’ conniving ways which was something he later came to regret. But the opportunity was still there for him to offer reparation. The question was would he grasp this opportunity with both hands or would he be found wanting once again? Only he could answer this question conclusively.