In the first half of the eighteenth century the well-known family of Harris of Heyne made their
permanent headquarters at their ancient seat in Devon, not far from the borders of Cornwall.
Though not ennobled, the Harrisses were a wealthy family and their broad acres stretched for
several miles on every side of the mansion. they occupied a prominent place among the West
Country gentry and were greatly respected by the discerning inhabitants of Devon and the
At this time, the head of the family, Mr. George Harris, held an appointment at the Court
of King George II, which obliged him to spend a part of the year in his town house in Sloane
Square. When his attendance at Court was required, it was Mr. Harris's custom to move a greater
part of his establishment to London, leaving only a few servants behind in Devon in the charge of
Richard Morris, who had been butler to the family for many years.
While in London to perform his duties in 1730, Mr. Harris found among his post one day a
letter from Richard Morris. Since he had instructed his butler that he need not bother to
communicate except on a matter of urgency, Mr. Harris broke the seals with some slight degree of trepidation and with a strong premonition that the butler's letter could only contain bad news. His premonition proved right. The news was of a kind which made him summon his carriage and
hurry to the office of the Lord Great Chamberlain, whom he begged to act as his intercessor with
His Majesty for permission to absent himself from Court for two or three weeks as he had totally
unexpected personal affairs to attend to at his home in Devon.
When the Lord Great Chamberlain heard the nature of this business, he agreed at once to
seek an audience of the King, and having sent in his request, was informed that His Majesty
would receive him at once. The King, too, was sympathetic to his petitioner's request, and early
next morning Mr. Harris set out for Devon, and arrived at his home five days later.
As soon as he had refreshed himself after his journey, he summoned the half-dozen
servants, headed by Morris, to him in the study.
'Now, Morris,' he said, when the two footmen, the cook and two housemaids were drawn
up before him. 'Tell me what happened.'
'One night some three weeks ago, sir,' the butler began, 'I was wakened in the night by
noises which I was sure were coming from my pantry, which I do not need to tell you is below the
room in which I sleep. At first I thought I must be mistaken, for immediately before I had retired
for the night I had made my rounds of the house, as I always do, and checked that every window
and door were secure. However, when the noises continued and it was certain that someone was
in the room below, thinking it must be one of the servants who had no business to be there, I
decided to go down to see what was afoot.
'When I came to the passage outside my pantry, it was clear to me that I had not been
mistaken, for a light in the pantry was shining under the door. I also heard men's voices talking
quietly, and was convinced that Eames and Barnwell, the two footmen, were going about some
act, which I believe to be nefarious because of the time of the night, the fact that no one is allowed
in the pantry without first having asked my permission, and because of other sounds issuing from
'What sounds?' Mr. Harris interrupted him.
'Sounds which seemed to indicate to me, sir,' the butler continued, 'that one of the
strong-boxes in which the silver plate is stowed was being broken into.'
'Did you really suspect that the voices you heard were those of the footmen?' Harris
again interrupted him.
'There were two men's voices, sir, and they were talking low so that I could not recognize
them, but I fear that the thought came at once in my mind that it must be the footmen, because I
could not imagine who else it could be. I am sorry now that I should have harbored such
suspicions, since I realize that in thinking so I slandered their good names. I have apologized
again and again, sir, but both of them have insisted on handing in their notices.'
'Is that so?' Harris asked the two young men sternly. They looked embarrassed and
nodded. 'Then you are being very foolish. Morris has apologized, but you must admit that it was
a justifiable mistake in the circumstances.'
'With respect, sir, I do not think so,' Eames replied. 'Mr. Morris, by his suspicions, has
virtually accused us of being thieves, or at least of being capable of dishonesty and of treachery to
you and the family.'
'What have you to say to that, Barnwell?'
'I agree, sir, with every word. We have been in your service now, myself for two years
and Eames for nearly five,' Barnwell replied. 'Mr. Morris should know us well enough by this
time to realize that our loyalty to the family, sir, is no less than his own, for all he has served you
upwards of thirty years.'
'I still think it was a justifiable mistake,' Harris told them. 'Will you reconsider your
decision if I add my apologies ti his? I do so abominate having to engage new servants. Well?'
'I don't know, sir,' Eames said stubbornly.
'Well think about it, and we will talk of it again later. Continue, Morris.'