Summer Reading: The Story of Jane Lathrop Stanford (6)

I wrote this in 1999.

This is the story of Jane Lathrop Stanford and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death in the early 1900s.

Part 6

Intrigue, double-dealing and downright dishonesty pervaded the Stanford household staff in 1904. Jane Lathrop Stanford, now 77, did not know that her butler, Albert Beverly, took commissions by doubling or triplingprices on expensive items she purchased on travels around the world, including art for Stanford University’s museum.

Later, Beverly admitted he offered Mrs. Stanford’s longtime private secretary, Bertha Berner, one-half of the “profits” to approve the altered invoices. This, according to newspaper reports.

To make the scheme work, Albert Beverly had to keep track of what Mrs. Stanford bought, requiring that he closely follow the widow, a practice she discouraged.

While visiting Colombia in 1904, Albert Beverly and Bertha Berner accompanied Mrs. Stanford to a shop. Mrs. Stanford asked the butler to wait outside for her, but he did not obey the order.

It became Bertha’s responsibility to convey Mrs. Stanford’s irritation, and she told the butler not to annoy Mrs. Stanford.

If you don’t want me to follow you,” replied Beverly, “then inform me of what Mrs. Stanford purchases.” The butler also reminded her, “You don’t think I am traveling for pleasure, do you? It costs me to travel almost as much as I can earn, and I am determined to make a commission whenever I can.”

Perhaps Bertha had grown tired of covering up the large commissions and wanted it to cease. Before traveling overseas they had argued bitterly over an exorbitant “rake-off” taken by Beverly for the entertainment he arranged for an outdoor fete hosted by Mrs. Stanford at the Palo Alto Farm.

While they were traveling in Australia, Bertha felt compelled to reveal the butler’s “household graft” to Mrs Stanford. Bertha did not want Albert Beverly dismissed and sent home, but as Mrs. Stanford’s “spiritualistic companion,” she felt confident she could manipulate the outcome.

The disclosure saddened Mrs. Stanford. Her first impulse was to let Beverly go, but after a lengthy discussion, she said, “Commissions or no commissions, I will take Beverly with me.”

(Next Part 7)