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Excerpt for The Earl of Klesamor Hall by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Earl of Klesamor Hall

By Adella J. Harris


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After being arrested at a molly house and serving two years’ hard labor, accounting clerk William Hamond knows work will be hard to come by, so when Lord Hartley offers him the position of secretary to his father, the reclusive Earl of Trenwych, he’s eager to accept the position and devastated to discover that Lord Trenwych does not want or need a secretary. But he’s been promised a salary as long as he stays six months, and Lord Trenwych seems content to have him do so. Then he witnesses an attempt on Lord Trenwych’s life, an attempt that could objectively have been made by Lord Hartley, and William realized he has another reason to stay, to try to save Lord Trenwych.



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Copyright (c) 2018 Adella J. Harris



  1. Table of Contents


Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

About the Author





Prologue


The Swan’s Nest had been a new molly house. One of my best friends, Sir Arthur Holden, had been the first to go there and declare it a respectable place. That had been enough for my other best friend, Thomas Brook, and he convinced me to go along with him. We weren’t planning on requesting the services of any of the rent boys that roamed the downstairs pub, but Arthur had been right, the place was clean and friendly and as respectable as a place that was by its very nature against the law could be, so we rented a room upstairs for a couple of hours planning to have a bit of fun together.

The room was surprisingly nice, with clean sheets, an ewer of water and soft cloths to clean up with, and a surprisingly tasteful print of a reclining Hercules—nude of course; we were in a molly house. Thomas and I had just finished undressing and were getting to the interesting bit of the evening—I was on my knees in front of Thomas, his hands in my hair, my tongue ready to stroke his cock—when the door burst open and the room was filled with watchmen. I said the first thing that popped into my head, “You’re not the girl.” That sounded good, so I continued on with as much outrage as I could muster. “What sort of trick is this? We paid for a girl.”

Thomas caught on quickly and added, “And a fair bit of coin it was too. We were promised she’d do two at once. Where is she?”

But it didn’t work. Either we weren’t convincing enough, or they’d seen enough of the rest of the house to know we couldn’t possibly be waiting for a girl. Even the best efforts of the owner and some light-skirts he’d managed to bring in from somewhere nearby weren’t enough to convince them to let us go. We’d barely had time to struggle back into our clothes before we were dragged away.


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It ended much as I’d imagined it would. A slow slog to trial, locked in a small cell alone while I waited to be taken to court, then the sentence: an hour in the pillory followed by two years’ hard labor. It was the expected outcome.

The night before we were set to go to the pillory, I realized I couldn’t bear the thought of two years in prison with my hair filled with whatever muck was thrown at me, so I asked the guard who brought the greasy stew that passed for dinner if I might have a pair of scissors. He laughed and was about to refuse until I told him what I wanted them for. Then he happily brought them and hacked off all my hair for me. I watched the locks pile up on the prison floor—greasy from my months in the small, hot cell—and told myself not to cry, that it was for the best, that it was going to be worse in the morning, and I was silly to be so vain over my hair. When he’d finished, I ran my hand over the stubble left behind and knew I was properly a prisoner. I wasn’t going to escape. There would be the humiliation of the pillory then two years’ hard labor, if I was stubborn enough to survive two years.


The pillory was worse than I imagined. It started in the open wagon as we rode to the site. Thomas was beside me, that was something. But the entire route was lined with people come to stare and throw whatever muck they could find at us. At least my newly shorn head meant there was less for it to stick to. No rocks, I noticed, and I suspected that had been Arthur’s doing. He was always one for managing things.

I was in the first group called up. My head and hands were locked into the restraints, and we began the slow march in a circle. No rocks again, but plenty of mud and manure and leavings of butcher shops and fishmongers. I tried not to think as I made the slow, plodding circuit, feeling things splatter against my skin and drip down while the sun beat against my back and soaked my shirt with sweat and made everything smell even worse.

Then it was over, and I was brought back to the wagon while the guard laughed at my reaction and my soft hands. Thomas was looking at me with such pity that I knew it was at least as awful as it felt. But just as they were unchaining the next group to bring them up, the crowd pushed in, eager for the next batch to pelt with filth. The guards had to turn from us to control the crowd, and, in their haste, they didn’t chain Thomas up properly. He noticed at once, and I saw him glance at me and hesitate. This was no time for him to be honorable and stay for my sake, not when he could avoid the misery of it all. “Run,” I hissed. “Go.”

He hesitated again and tugged on my chains, but I wasn’t so lucky. Mine held firm.

There was no way I could escape. One look at me and everyone would know I’d been in the pillory. Thomas was filthy from the ride over, but he could pass for some poor fellow who’d been sleeping in alleyways. He had a chance to get away from the pillory and the two years of prison. If I was stuck with my sentence, I was glad he would be free. “Go. At least one of us will be out. Hurry, though, before they get back.”

Thomas squeezed my hand, glanced at the guards who were still preoccupied with the crowd, slithered out of the wagon, and disappeared into the crowd.

By the time the guards had settled the crowd and turned their attention back to us, Thomas had disappeared. The guards didn’t notice as they unchained the other prisoners and brought them up to the pillory, but once they had them in place, I heard someone yell, “Where’s the last one?”

Thomas was out of sight, but he couldn’t have gotten far enough yet to escape detection. There was only one thing for it. I slid over one spot to his seat. We were all so dirty already, it would be hard to tell us apart even if the guards had been paying attention.

They hadn’t. “He’s here! Just a minute.” And my hands were unchained again, and I was dragged back up to the pillory, my neck and hands locked back in place for the second hour of slow marching in front of the riotous crowd. As I passed the front of the pillory, the side nearest the wagon, I risked a glance at the street, and I spotted Thomas at the edge of a nearby alleyway. He met my gaze, and I managed a small smile for him. He gave me the smallest of waves and then turned and ran down the alley. At least one of us was free.


An hour later, the pillory was over—that was something at least—and we were driven in the wagon back through the crowd eager to pelt us with the last of their missiles. Now would come the unending drudgery of prison, and it started as soon as we were through the prison gates. The guard who refastened my chains after I climbed out of the wagon took one look at my hands and laughed. “Too nice for mucking about in the fields, I’d wager. Not done a day of work in your life, have you? What were you, hmm? Solicitor?”

“Accounting clerk,” I answered. No point in getting on his worse side.

“No accounts here for you. Picking oakum to start, that should settle those hands nicely. Then I’d bet the quarries at Broadhill, set you to breaking rocks.”

I didn’t respond. I had always been a scholar who was more comfortable with books than sports. I was fastidious, disliking to sweat on a playing field or to tumble in the mud with the other boys. I’d known that would not serve me well in prison.

“Here now, can’t put that away in that state!” the fellow who I took to be the commander of the group said as the wagon that had brought us back was being moved.

The guard who was adjusting my chains grinned. “I’ve got just the fellow to muck it out for you.” He grabbed my arm and dragged me over. “Good practice for you, getting that all cleaned out. What did they throw at you lot? Stinks like shit and old fish. That’ll drum the niceness out of you.”

The commander barely looked at me. “Get him a shovel and get him to work.”

I knew better than to argue.



Chapter 1


Somehow I survived two years in prison. It would have been simpler if the pillory had drummed the niceness out of me as the first guard had predicted, but I remained fastidious to the end, falling into a sort of numbness as I ripped apart ropes and cleaned the prison common rooms then broke rocks and dredged canals, even helping to dredge the Thames at one point. Arthur came to visit me when it was allowed and paid for whatever small luxuries money could buy, even though I told him he needn’t bother, by which I really meant he shouldn’t put himself in danger considering he was as guilty as I was of what I had been arrested for. He ignored that and continued to visit and to pay.

And then I was moved back to Newgate, which meant my time was almost up. And then there was a long lecture from the chaplain, where I nodded at all the right places, then a rubdown with paraffin oil to kill whatever was crawling on me and what passed for a proper bath with lots of carbolic soap and a suit of clothes that didn’t fit, and then I was led to the prison gates and allowed to cross to the outside a free man—a free man with no family who would speak to him or hope of a position in anything he was remotely qualified for, but a free man nonetheless.

The buildings around the prison were almost as depressing as the prison itself, crowding around the narrow streets and blocking whatever weak light the fog let through. It was not an area of London I had been to before I’d been arrested, and I had no idea which of the narrow streets would lead me to someplace I recognized.

“Will!”

I recognized the voice at once. Arthur. I was tempted to pretend I hadn’t heard him—even out of prison I was still a danger to him—but I knew he’d still go looking for me, and his carriage would get me away from the prison faster than my own feet could, so I went to the open door of his carriage and climbed in. Arthur pounded on the roof and we were away.

“I am so glad to see you,” Arthur said grabbing my arm in a quick sort of embrace. “You’re staying with me, of course, until you get yourself sorted out. Or as long as you like. I’d be happy of the company.”

“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say. It had been so long since I’d been able to have a proper conversation with a friend.

“And Mrs. Russell is making you a nice dinner. She wasn’t sure what you’d like, so nothing fancy tonight. We’ll celebrate tomorrow with whatever you’ve been missing.”

I smiled at that. I wasn’t sure I could manage anything too fancy after two years of prison food, and I suspected that had been the real reason for the simpler meal.

“And there’s a room waiting for you. You can see what’s there then decide what you need. I managed to get some of your things from your rooms before your family got there. Not as much as I’d hoped, I’m afraid, but I did salvage most of your books, so that’s something.”

“That’s more than something. Thank you.”

“Well, your family wasn’t terribly interested in those.”

“They wouldn’t be. You didn’t manage my watch, did you?” I’d been very fond of my watch. From his grin, I could tell he had.

“Smuggled it out in one of my gloves. Bought the books off of them cheap.”

“I’ll pay you back.”

“No hurry.”

“Good, since I haven’t any money.” Might as well get used to saying it. “I suppose I ought to get in touch with them and tell them I’m not dead.”

Arthur shrugged. “No hurry, I would think.”

I smiled at that. “Let them believe I might not survive to embarrass them a little longer?”

“Something like that.”

And now for the important question, the one I hadn’t wanted to ask while we were still in the shadow of the prison, even safe inside Sir Arthur Holden’s carriage. “And what became of Thomas? You hinted that he was all right.”

“He is. He escaped to Yorkshire and is living with the Marquess of Elmsby there as a sort of man of business, among other things.” Arthur grinned in a way that told me exactly what those other things were.

“So, he’s happy then?”

“Very, and in love, if his letters are anything to go by. That was a kind thing you did for him.”

“No sense us both being there.” I turned to the window to avoid talking about it and enjoyed watching the streets pass, knowing I could walk down any of them whenever I pleased now. Arthur kept up a relaxing chatter of gossip about friends, books that had come out, a gallery showing he’d been to—nothing taxing or needing me to answer.


Arthur’s butler and housekeeper were waiting for us in the foyer of his townhouse. Russell bowed as he always had. “Pleased to see you again, Mr. Hamond.”

Mrs. Russell smiled at me. “Indeed we are, Mr. Hamond.”

They seemed genuinely pleased that I was there, which was a relief. I had known that a warm welcome was the last thing I should expect after prison, even from old friends, so knowing there was at least one place in England where I wouldn’t be shunned was a relief. “Thank you. I’m glad to be here.”

“When you gentlemen are ready, I had the breakfast room table set for you as there are only the two of you. And there’s clear soup and roast chicken, and a strawberry tart for dessert.”

That was also welcome news, all of it. The breakfast room was smaller and less intimidating than the dining room, and the menu sounded just the thing for someone who was no longer used to rich foods, or even to wholesome, unspoiled foods.

Arthur smiled at Mrs. Russell and said, “That sounds just the thing for us. Come, William, let’s get you settled in your room.”

The guest room in Arthur’s townhouse had a large tub waiting for me, with jugs of steaming water and lots of soap. I soaked and scrubbed until I had either scrubbed off prison or most of my skin, then I lounged in the water until it became cold and uncomfortable. Arthur had salvaged a couple of my suits, so I was able to dress in something familiar, even if it no longer fit. And then there was the mirror at the end of the room. I supposed I could avoid it, but then I wouldn’t be able to tie my cravat, and that would tell Arthur that I had avoided it and make him worry. I sighed, collected up one of the long pieces of starched linen that had been left out for me, and went to confront what two years in prison had done.

I had never been a hale and hearty sort of fellow, but two years of hard labor and barely adequate food had left me thinner than I’d ever been, scrawny to the point of being sickly, despite the hard work I had done. Surely breaking rocks should have left me with muscles as it ruined my hands. My suit hung on my thin frame in a way that seemed to emphasize my thinness. My hair, which I had always worn rather long as I was a bit vain over the color—a lovely shade of blond, not too light or too red—was cropped close to my head out of fear of lice. I’d done that to myself before the pillory, not wanting to think about the sorts of muck they’d throw getting matted in it, then kept it in prison for much the same reason. It didn’t suit my face, making my cheeks look even more hollow than the thinness did. As I had spent much of the last year out of doors, I didn’t have the fabled prison pallor, which would have been closer to my normal coloring and therefore more myself. Instead I was as tanned as any cricket-playing, curricle-driving Corinthian, or perhaps as a farmhand was more accurate.

I picked up the cravat and started to tie a proper mathematical, something I had always managed quite neatly before. Now, every time I saw my hands I was distracted by their state—made more obvious now that I was properly dressed again—hard, cracked, and calloused with ragged nails and a variety of cuts and other injuries. And they had been such nice hands before, slim and long and able to tie a proper cravat or play the piano or write a neat line of figures with no smudges or ambiguity. I wasn’t sure they could manage any of that now. I looped the cravat into a simpler Byron knot and went down to the breakfast room. At least I would have proper food at Arthur’s.


In the end, I did decide to let my family know I had survived. My middle sister, Mildred, had always been the easiest for me to talk to, so I composed a short note to her, telling her I had been released as scheduled and was staying with friends in town while I sorted myself out, so she would know I wasn’t asking for a place to stay or money. I didn’t tell her it was Arthur I was staying with, but I did tell the footman to wait and see if there was a reply and to tell her where he’d come from if she asked. She didn’t ask, but she did send a reply saying she was pleased to know I’d survived, although no invitation to visit was included or implied.

With duty to family completed, it was time to sort myself out.

I had received a letter from Lord Elmsby in Yorkshire shortly before my release offering me an unspecified position. It had confused me at the time as our family cloth business had a done a bit of work with him before he’d become the marquess but I doubted he knew who I was, until Arthur had given me the details of what had happened to Thomas after he’d escaped the pillory and found refuge with Lord Elmsby. That meant I couldn’t accept the offer, as kind as it was. If Thomas was safely away, I wouldn’t do anything that might bring him to the attention of the authorities. I had just spent two years in prison, and it was not a fate I would wish on anyone, least of all one of my best friends, so I would not do anything that might connect me to him—and me suddenly receiving an offer of employment from someone I’d never met was just the sort of thing to invite speculation.

However, with no possibility of returning to my old position as an accounts clerk in my family’s shipping business, I still had to look for work. There were several registry offices in town that helped people find positions. Our family had used them on occasion when we needed to hire clerks, so I was somewhat familiar with the procedure. I asked Arthur if he knew of any nearby—I had no intention of using any of the ones my family used—and then asked Russell the same in case any of the servants’ registries also catered to clerks and other business work. Armed with the list of addresses, I set out.

I left the first two offices I tried without speaking to anyone. It was foolish, I knew, but I couldn’t face sitting across from the strict-looking men seated at the desks and telling them about the past two years while they made notes in the files and looked down their noses at me. I resolved that I would enter the third office no matter what and do the best I could. There were three men behind desks there, one of whom looked like someone I might be able to speak to. He was dressed as severely as the others, but his hair was a bit rumpled and he wasn’t glaring at the man seated across from him the way the other two did when their clients spoke. I sat on the long bench beside the other job seekers and waited.

The rumpled man was still with his client when it was my turn, but there were three men who had arrived after me, and I told the next he could go ahead while I worked up my nerve. I did the same with the man who’d come after him. I could tell the third man was expecting me to do the same with him, but the rumpled man was free, so I got to my feet when he said, “Next,” in a calm voice that carried easily through the room.

I wasn’t sure of the procedure, so I stayed standing when I approached him. He smiled at me, not too friendly, just enough to seem less threatening. “Name, please?”

“William Hamond.”

“Very well, Mr. Hamond. I am Mr. Dorsey. Please sit and tell me what you were looking for today.”

I took a deep breath and sat across from him. “Any job, really, but my background is clerical.”

I could see he was starting a new page in his ledger book for me, my name written neatly across the top, clerical beneath it. “I see. Very well. And what was your last position?”

“I was a clerk in my family’s shipping firm. An accounting clerk, although I did help out in other areas.”

More notes in his neat hand. “And you left that position because?”

I swallowed. At least I was getting this bit over with quickly. I leaned in so I wouldn’t have to raise my voice more than absolutely necessary. “You heard of the arrests at the Swan’s Nest? I was one of those arrested. I’ve spent the last two years in prison, and my family will have nothing to do with me now.”

“I see.” This time his pen did not move. “I will be required to tell any employer this information.”

“I understand. I mean, I expected it. And I realize it will make finding a position for me difficult. I would prefer to work in an office, but in prison I did perform many other tasks. If it would be easier to find me something building a road or digging a canal...” I realized I was babbling and stopped myself.

“I don’t think it will come to that. Not yet anyway. Have you any references?”

“I’m assisting my friend Sir Arthur Holden at the moment. I’m sure he’d be willing to write me one.” And I was certain could figure out something to help him with so he could do so honestly.

Mr. Dorsey’s pen started moving across the page again. “Good, good, a knighthood and a well-known businessman. That will count for something provided it is specific and glowing.” He looked up at me. “I assume it will be specific and glowing?”

“I’m sure it will.”

“Good, good. Then I will do my best. I take it you can do figures and write in a good clear hand?” When I nodded, he passed a few papers over to me which were covered in lines of sums to work out and standard sort of letters to copy. It felt quite a bit like being tested at school, but I filled them all out in my best handwriting, answered a few more questions about the kinds of work I’d done for my family, and then Mr. Dorsey extended his hand. “I will look through our files and try to find something suitable. Where can I send word?”

I gave him Arthur’s address. “Not to rush you, but when should I begin to expect something?”

He smiled. “If you haven’t heard from me in a week, stop by, and we’ll have a word.”

“Thank you.” I gave him a small bow and left the office. At least I had made a little progress.



Chapter 2


I spent most of the following week in Arthur’s library, reading novels. I went to see Mr. Dorsey but was not surprised to find he had nothing for me. My second full week out of prison, Arthur tried to ask me to go with him to the theater or a gallery, but I politely declined. I was still too thin, with stubble for hair and ruined hands; there was no way to pretend I hadn’t been in prison, and besides, I didn’t want to see anyone I had known before. I took to reading the positions to be filled sections of the newspapers, noting anything that I might be qualified for, including the calls for men to help build roads or railroad lines. My third visit to Mr. Dorsey again proved fruitless, although he still seemed optimistic. I knew Arthur was worried about me, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept his invitations anywhere, not even to his tailor, where I knew he would insist on ordering me something and paying for it.

As I went to see Mr. Dorsey on the third week since I’d applied to him, I was fully prepared to tell him the time had come for me to start considering the sorts of jobs prison had prepared me for. It was not what I wanted, but it was what I expected. The office was the same as always, with the long bench filled with job applicants and the three men at their desks interviewing them. At least I had a good excuse to let people go ahead of me until Mr. Dorsey was free to see me. He was smiling as I approached.

“Mr. Hamond, I was expecting you.”

“Hello, Mr. Dorsey. I was thinking that perhaps I should start considering other sorts of work.”

“I wouldn’t be too hasty, Mr. Hamond.” Mr. Dorsey produced a letter from his desk drawer. “This is what I was waiting on for you. I wasn’t sure it would come; after all, he may have given up on us and tried somewhere else or even filled the position, but here it is, on schedule, just as you are.” He placed the letter on the desk between us. “This same position comes up every six months, and every six months we send someone to fill it, and they leave exactly six months later. It would be quite a feather in my cap to fill it permanently.”

“I’ll take it,” I said at once.

“Perhaps you should ask what it is first.”

“All right, what is the position I’m accepting?”

Mr. Dorsey smiled. “Personal secretary to Lord Trenwych. He lives in Cornwall. His son, Lord Hartley, is here twice a year to have the position filled.”

“Is there something about the position that makes it so difficult? Cornwall doesn’t seem so far or so remote.”

“It isn’t, and there doesn’t seem to be anything. When the unsuccessful candidates return to find their next position, they say it is an acceptable household.”

“Then is there some mistake they are making that I should avoid?”

“Not so far as I can tell. They all receive perfectly acceptable references, both from the earl and Lord Hartley.”

That was a bit disappointing. I had hoped I could get some advantage, some advance information that would make Lord Trenwych consider me indispensable. “I see.”

Mr. Dorsey seemed to understand my predicament. “As I said, if you could get this position off of our books permanently, it would be quite a coup for me. But even if you don’t, three references from titled men will help you search for another position.”

So he wasn’t expecting me to manage where others hadn’t, merely hoping I would. “Thank you. And thank you for all your help. I do want to try the position at least.”

“Good. I had hoped you’d say that, so I arranged for you to meet Lord Hartley tomorrow. He’s staying in his rooms in Mayfair. I have all of the particulars here.” He handed me a sheet of paper with an address of a very respectable set of rooms in Mayfair and a description of the job, which was very short, really nothing more than he’d already told me other than the fact that the earl’s name was Edgar Thorson and he lived at Klesamor Hall, and a few notes I assumed came from the previous holders of the position. I confirmed the time and thanked him again for his help.


When I arrived back at the townhouse, Arthur was just coming out of the study. From the way Russell’s eyes darted in his direction as I came through the door, I suspected he’d done the same thing repeatedly while I’d been gone. “Back already, William?”

As he’d obviously been waiting for me, I didn’t want to make him wait for my news. “Good news. Mr. Dorsey has found me a position.”

“What sort?” From his tone of voice, I could tell he’d realized I was getting desperate enough to take anything. “If you don’t like it, you’re welcome here as long as you like.”

“It’s the best I’m going to get, I think. Secretary to Lord Trenwych in Cornwall. I’m to be interviewed by his son tomorrow.”

Arthur broke into a genuine grin at those words. “That does sound very suitable, provided you don’t mind going to Cornwall.”

“For me, that’s an advantage, I think. I won’t run into anyone there.”

“Then have you everything you need? Something to wear? What’s the address? Do you need the carriage ready?”

I started with the easiest to turn down first. “It’s not very far. Probably faster to walk.” I held out the paper with the address so he could see I wasn’t making it up.

“So, there is money there, then. That’s good. Now about clothes.”


In the end, I managed to convince Arthur that there wasn’t enough time for me to have a new suit made, not that I would have allowed it anyway as he would have been the one paying for it, but I did accept the offer of his valet’s services to dress me for my meeting with Lord Hartley. My clothes would still be ill-fitting and slightly out of fashion, but at least I would look as if I’d made an effort. The building Lord Hartley rented rooms in was indeed near Arthur’s townhouse, an easy ten-minute walk to a white-columned building facing a lovely square. There was a doorman, but Lord Hartley had sent his valet down to wait in the entryway and see that I was shown up directly. I had a glimpse of him and the doorman chatting before I knocked, and they both immediately became serious and professional. I took both actions as signs that Lord Hartley would be a good employer then reminded myself I would be working for the father, not the son.

The valet led me through an elegant lobby to a sweeping staircase and up to Lord Hartley’s rooms, which were spacious, taking up two floors of the building, and elegantly and expensively furnished. They were also untidy, as the valet was required to move a pair of riding boots blocking the doorway and collect an overcoat and walking stick from the chair he was expecting me to sit in. “I will inform his lordship you’re here. I’m sure he will have some refreshments sent up when he arrives.”

“Thank you.” I wondered if he always told guests they’d be fed, or if I looked like someone in desperate need of feeding up. I sat in the chair I’d been shown to and tried to see what I could determine about the room’s owner from my seat, but as I seemed to be in a formal sitting room, it was hard to tell what was his and what had been put in the room to impress guests. I was just wondering if it would be permissible to get up and look out of the window, which I was fairly certain faced the square and had a lovely view of people walking past, when the door opened again.

“Hello. You must be Mr. Dorsey’s latest. Either that or Harris just brought the wrong fellow up, and you’ll be very confused.”

I quickly got to my feet. “William Hamond, my lord.”

Lord Hartley was younger than I was. I put him at about twenty-four, blond, blue-eyed, dressed in the height of fashion for one of the sporting set. In fact, he looked the sort who would drive his curricle to the inch around corners and clip any buggy in his way, although when he crossed the room to me, he gave me a dazzling smile that made me think he would at least go back and offer to pay for any damage. I found myself wondering how old Lord Trenwych was and if Lord Hartley was a late in life child.

“So, you are the newest one old Dorsey has sent. That’s good. I’d hate to have to tell Harris he made a mistake. I don’t think he’s ever done that before. I take it he’s given you the basic picture of the thing?” Lord Hartley gestured to the chairs by the window and went to the cabinet, where he produced a bottle of something and two glasses.

I sat where he pointed and noticed there was a table between us with a sheaf of papers in what I recognized as Mr. Dorsey’s hand. So Lord Hartley had prepared for this interview. “Yes, Mr. Dorsey gave me some details.”

“So, you know you’d be going to Cornwall, to Klesamor Hall, to be secretary to my father. Nothing too taxing, just keep him in order, reject invitations for him, that sort of thing.”

I nodded. I desperately wanted to know what sort of man his father was—was he merely a recluse or was he beginning to dodder like Fenning’s father had when he’d gotten old?

“That seem like something you could manage?”

“Yes, my lord, I’m sure I could.”

Lord Hartley sat across from me, put the glasses between us, and poured out. “Good, good. Now old Dorsey says you were in prison, and he’s not the sort to make jokes, at least in the office. I rather fancy he’s got quite the life outside. Chorus girls seem to be in his line, I would think. But he was rather short on details here. So, did you kill a man? Self-defense I would assume. Or protecting a fair maiden?” Lord Hartley seemed more interested in getting the drinks poured properly than in my answer, although I suspected he was watching me from under his lashes.

So we were getting straight to the point. That was good. I hadn’t known how to bring it up. And Mr. Dorsey had left it to me to explain the details, which, upon reflection, I appreciated. It allowed me to tell the story in my own way, although the truth seemed wisest. “Do you remember the Swan’s Nest scandal?”

“The molly house? You were caught up in that?”

I nodded.

“Well, I hope the fellows were worth it.” He looked up and seemed to read my expression. “Don’t tell me you didn’t even get to have a bit of fun first.”

“I was there with a friend. We took a room.” It was more than I had planned to say, but something about Lord Hartley, despite his being just the sort of fellow I would have avoided at school, made me think it was all right to tell him. He certainly didn’t seem the least bit bothered by the idea that I had gone to a molly house to have a bit of fun.

“Worse luck that. And they gave you two years for it?”

I nodded. “And the pillory.”

“Well, at least no one has to worry you’ll murder them in their beds or make off with the family silver. Hideous stuff, you’d be welcome to it. And Mrs. Peyton won’t have to worry about you bothering the maids. Only fellow that got sent home early was one who was bothering the maids. Mrs. Peyton won’t stand for that, and Father likes to keep Mrs. Peyton happy. Not that he’d stand for it either. Go on, drink up. And qualifications?”

It seemed the question of my prison sentence was concluded once it was determined I wasn’t a thief or a murderer, which was much easier than I had feared. I took a grateful sip from my glass, which was a very good whiskey and quite welcome after discussing prison, and answered his question. “I was an accounts clerk in my family’s business.” I went on to describe my responsibilities, although I’m not sure Lord Hartley was paying much attention.

When I’d finished, he hadn’t written a word on his papers. “And Sir Arthur Holden is giving you a reference?”

“That’s correct.”

“Glowing, I’d assume? Couldn’t trust a fellow if his friends won’t give him glowing references.”

“I’ll mention that to him,” I said without thinking.

“See that you do. It seems you’re well qualified then. The arrangement is this, six months’ trial on both sides. At the end of that time, if you’re still at the house, you get your full salary and a bonus of fifty pounds as well as a reference from me and possibly one from my father if he sees fit—he usually does—and the option to stay on if both sides are agreeable at terms we agree upon then. Leave before the six months is up and no bonus or reference from me, although you would be paid for the work you’ve done. Unless you’re bothering the maids, but that won’t apply here. Simple enough, I’d think. Have you any questions?”

I wanted to ask why no one had stayed beyond the six months, but I couldn’t quite find the words, so I settled for, “How many people have held this position?”

“You’re the seventh, I believe. I’ve rather lost count.”

I nodded, but I didn’t know what to make of that.

“You’re interested, then?’

“Yes, indeed, definitely.”

“Then you’re hired. Is it convenient for you to leave next Wednesday?”

I would have agreed to any date from immediately to three months from tomorrow. “Yes, that will be quite convenient.”

“Then I’ll meet you at the Red Lion on the North Road. You know it? I was planning on traveling post-chaise on Wednesday to fetch my curricle anyway. Axle got bent last time I was down, and Father’s man was fixing it for me. We’ll travel down together if that suits.”

“It suits quite well.”

He looked me up and down. “You’ll probably want an advance on your salary. Not much to spend it on down at Trefield anyway, may as well spend it in London. Would twenty guineas suit?”

I was quickly calculating in my mind and determining that that sum would be quite enough to purchase a good suit, a spare pair of trousers, enough shirts to be getting on with, and a pair of proper shoes, provided I went to some of the cheaper places in town and managed to find the suit second-hand. “It’s most kind of you.”

“Excellent. I have some guineas in the study. You’ll sign a receipt, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Excellent.” He put the ink pot and a sheet of letter paper in front of me. “And you’ll write it out as well?”

I couldn’t help smiling at the way he said it. He wasn’t quite sure how to do it properly and was hoping he didn’t have to admit it. While he went for the money, I wrote out the receipt and signed it. There was a bit more discussion of meeting times and such, and then I was on my way back to Arthur’s house with a new position and twenty guineas in my pocket.


{--*--}


The days until Wednesday passed quickly as I replenished my wardrobe with the money I’d been advanced and made what arrangements were needed with Arthur. I turned down Arthur’s offer to see his tailor, knowing that would be beyond my still-meager means and he would insist on paying or quietly tell the man to charge me half and make up the difference himself. Instead, I went to a respectable fellow in Cheapside and had both of the suits Arthur had rescued altered to fit my new shape, asking him to keep as much of the fabric intact as possible so they could be let out again if needed, and purchased an uncollected suit that had been made up and was almost my size. Then I went down the street purchasing what else I’d need, things which had seemed commonplace before prison and now seemed like indulgences—shaving soap, a new razor, lavender bath soap—one could not possibly imagine one was still in prison when one smelled of lavender—and my final indulgence, a jar of Rimmel’s Hand Salve in the hopes that my hands were not completely unsalvageable.

To his credit, Arthur did not insist on outfitting me or forcing me to take money at all. He contented himself with reminding me that I could return to his house at any time and he would cover any expenses to bring me back to London should Lord Trenwych prove to be some sort of Bluebeard murdering his secretaries or if I simply became tired of rusticating in the country. I thanked him, stopped myself from mentioning that in prison I’d been in more remote and less comfortable places than anything a manor house in Cornwall could produce, and decided that if the Bluebeard prediction proved true, then I would most definitely take advantage of Arthur’s offer.

After that, Arthur seemed content to help me by digging through his library for every book that might contain information on the Thorsons, their family connections, their house, and most importantly, the current earl. As he had an aunt obsessed with such things, there were plenty of books on the subject, and we spent our evenings with volumes spread across the library hearth rug, reading and speculating on what I would find when I arrived.

There was plenty of information on the house; unfortunately, there was far less on its current master. He had been married to a woman of good family, distantly related to a Marquess, and had had a son a little too soon after. That would be Lord Hartley. She had since died. There were no other children, so whatever eagerness for the marriage bed they had experienced before the wedding, it seemed to have faded after. None of that told me about my new employer or why the other secretaries might have left, although it did seem to put Arthur’s mind at ease.


I did accept Arthur’s offer to drive me to the Red Lion and see me off on Wednesday. It would be good to have a friend there if nothing else. The Red Lion was a comfortable pub with a coaching inn. The ostlers in the yard seemed to have been told to expect me as they were not surprised when I told them I was there to meet Lord Hartley. My trunk was wheeled off, hopefully to the carriage he was renting, without a word. Arthur clasped my hand. “Good luck. Write when you get there. And if it doesn’t look like it will work out, I can send a carriage for you at any time.”

I smiled and tried to look certain as I said, “Thank you, but Lord Hartley seems very nice, and the job doesn’t seem too taxing. I think it will be fine.”

He nodded and patted my arm. There didn’t seem to be much else to say, so he got into his carriage, and I waved as he pulled out of the yard. When Arthur was out of sight, I turned to the pub and went to meet Lord Hartley.

As soon as I walked through the door, I spotted Lord Hartley at a table. It helped that he began waving in a way that resembled a small bird trying to fly. I waved back in a more restrained manner and made my way to his table.

Lord Hartley seemed eager to be a good host. At least, he started speaking before I’d even approached the table. “Have you eaten already? I can have something ordered for you. I’ll have someone get your baggage loaded into the carriage.”

“I’m fine. I had breakfast at Arthur’s, my friend’s. And the ostlers took my bags when I arrived. Thank you, though.”

“Then let’s get underway. I’d like to get down there so I can pick up my curricle and get back. My future fiancée is having a dinner party, and I need to be back for it. Well, her mother is having the party, but she’ll be there, you see. And their father won’t let Miss Maria marry anyone until her older sister does, you see. And Miss Lanyon’s a horse-faced old bitch. Horse-faced I could manage, plenty of fellows I know would be happy with a large dowry and an amiable companion, but she’s an interfering old biddy, and not even twenty, so no prospects at all.”

“I see,” I said when he stopped for breath. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to say more, but Lord Hartley was already leading me towards the door.

“So, you see, I have to get back for it. I wouldn’t want her to think I was abandoning her.”

I nodded and followed him out.


Lord Hartley had rented a very comfortable carriage to take us to Cornwall, and I was relieved to see my trunk strapped to the top with his things. Belatedly, I wondered if I was supposed to ride with the driver as I was an employee now, but Lord Hartley was cheerfully climbing in and called, “Didn’t forget anything, did you?”

“No, no, just wanted to be sure my trunk was loaded on the right carriage,” I answered and climbed inside. Lord Hartley had taken the forward-facing seat, so I settled into the other one and leaned back as I heard the horn blast, signaling we were leaving. The carriage jerked forward, and I watched London fly past my window.

Once we were underway, I found I was remarkably relaxed, despite not knowing where I was going or who would be meeting us in Cornwall. It couldn’t be worse than prison, and if I could figure out where the other fellows had gone wrong, perhaps I could keep the position and spend the next few years as a secretary to a lord. No matter how remote a place, it would suit me better than digging ditches, and I would certainly be better at it. I leaned back against the cushions and wondered what the correct procedure was for traveling down with the son of your future employer. Was one supposed to make conversation or stay silent and invisible? Lord Hartley startled me out of my thoughts by saying, “One thing you will notice, I do not resemble my father at all.”

That seemed to require some response, and perhaps I could find out a little of my new employer. “In looks or temperament?”

“Neither.”

“So, you resemble your mother then?”

“Not in the least.” He grinned at my confusion. “I’m sure the village is rife with rumors, so I wanted you to hear it from me first. I was already preparing to come into the world when Father married Mother.”

“I see.” He seemed so casual about what ought to have been quite the scandal that I wasn’t certain I was even understanding correctly.

“I think you do. Mother never did tell me who he was. I asked Father once, but he never asked her either. We didn’t like to; she was such a nice person, you see, that we didn’t want her to think the scandal mattered. Not that there was a scandal; Father marrying her took care of that, but still...”

So Lord Trenwych was not Lord Hartley’s natural father but had married his mother and taken him as his own. “And that is why he stays at Klesamor Hall?”

“I think it was, but Mother has been gone awhile now, so he could come to Town if he wanted. But then Klesamor Hall is a very nice house. I lived there until I went away to school. That was when Mother moved to London.” He shrugged. “As I said, better you hear it from me than the village. I shudder to think what stories they’d tell.”

“Thank you.” But I couldn’t help wondering why he cared what I thought of him. Or was it his mother’s reputation he was worried about? When it was clear he had said his piece for the moment, I settled back in my seat and tried to figure out what that story told me about the personality of my new employer until the motion of the coach lulled me to sleep.



Chapter 3


We made good time. Lord Hartley had spared no expense in planning our journey, so there were good horses waiting for us at every posting inn. As neither of us minded sleeping in the carriage, we only stopped to stretch our legs and accept baskets of food at the better inns. It meant I barely had time to start worrying before we were stopping in a small town where Lord Hartley hopped down with a cheerful smile and began scanning the area in front of the inn as the driver was unstrapping the luggage. I climbed down beside him and got my first glimpse of the area around my new home. Arthur and I had pored over maps, so I knew this was probably Penmor, the nearest town of any size to Klesamor Hall. There was a village called Trefield within walking distance of the manor house, but this is where I would come if I needed anything that couldn’t be found there.

There wasn’t much I could see from where we were. The inn yard was bustling, but it was impossible to tell who was from the town and who was visiting. Still, most of the people, with the exception of two drunks sprawled by the door to the taproom, looked happy and well-fed. I hoped that was due to my new employer’s sensible policies or something equally flattering to him. The village would no doubt be a better place to judge. Most of the people passing looked at Lord Hartley with curiosity, but it was cheerful curiosity; there was nothing hostile in their looks. The arrival of the heir to the title would always be a source of interest to the locals, but they seemed pleased to have him visit. I took that as a good sign. They regarded me with more open curiosity, but that was only to be expected as I was new and they were no doubt unsure of how I fit into the life of the manor house.

“There he is,” Lord Hartley said and began frantically waving, again making me think of some odd little bird trying to take flight. I couldn’t tell if he was speaking to me or himself, so I said nothing and turned in the direction he was looking. There was only one person he could be waving at, a man standing near the entrance to the inn, scanning the faces passing through the yard with the look of someone expecting to see someone specific. There was no doubt in my mind that his lordship had come to collect his son and I was looking at my new employer.

Lord Trenwych was not at all what I was expecting. Far from being old or doddering, he was no more than a few years older than I was, not much beyond forty. He was dressed fashionably but not overly so, someone who had gone for quality tailoring over the fad of the Season, and his clothes had been cut expertly to conform to the plains of his chest, showing off the broadness of his shoulders and leanness of his waist. I forced my eyes upward before they became too interested in the cut of his breeches. His hair was dark, a bit longer than fashionable, thick, and slightly curled. It reminded me of a dark and less styled version of what my own hair had looked like before I’d hacked it all off that night before I’d been sent to the pillory. I couldn’t see the color of his eyes, but they were finely shaped and intelligent. Then he spotted Lord Hartley and started towards us, and I forced my mind into more professional thoughts, or tried to at least.

Lord Hartley was already hurrying towards him. “Father, you did get my message.”

“All three of them.” He sounded a bit gruff, but Lord Hartley didn’t seem to think that worth worrying over.

“Then you’ll know this is Mr. Hamond, here to be your secretary.”

“And I take it you told him I don’t need one.”

I could feel my legs freezing in place. It had never occurred to me that Lord Trenwych might not want me.

“I thought I’d let you tell him that to his face, and explain that it has nothing to do with his past.”

Lord Trenwych turned to look at me. I tried to hide my disappointment. Without this position, I was sure I’d be digging canals or clearing fields.

“Besides I’ve already advanced him twenty guineas against his salary, and I think he spent it all in London but will insist on paying it back, and how is he to do that if you don’t need him?”

Lord Trenwych glared at his son, but all he said was, “Might as well come to the house, as you’ve come this far,” and started towards a phaeton that was waiting.

I glanced back at my trunk but saw that two of the inn’s servants had already collected it and were bringing it to the phaeton.

Lord Trenwych was sitting in the driver’s seat when I arrived. Lord Hartley climbed up beside him, so I took the seat behind. My trunk was loaded in without question, Lord Trenwych absently handed the two men some coins for their trouble before I could even wonder if I ought to, and we were on our way.

I sat silently, trying to interest myself in the countryside, but there was a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I had been counting on this post, counting on impressing Lord Trenwych with my abilities and making it into a permanent position, one that would have me back at a desk doing the sort of work I was good at. Had I been going to Klesamor Hall with that hope intact, I might have enjoyed the landscape we passed—rugged, as it was near the coast, but dotted with flowers in places and showing all the signs of care and good planning. Now I was looking at it with an eye towards work, the sort of backbreaking jobs I’d had in prison, surrounded by men who would ridicule my small size and delight in sending the worst jobs to someone with my accent and bearing, but I would be paid. Surely there was land to clear or canals or roads or something for me here. I didn’t want to go back to London, to Arthur and Mr. Dorsey, with nothing to show for my journey.

Lord Hartley didn’t seem to mind his lordship’s lack of interest in his plans. He kept up a cheerful stream of banter, which occasionally reached me. “You know I could drive, Father.”


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