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The Marquess of Gorsewall Manor

After the Swan’s Nest Book 1

Adella J. Harris


After being caught up in a raid on a molly house, Thomas Brook escapes on his way to the pillory. Collapsing from exhaustion on the moors of Yorkshire, he's rescued by the handsome Lord Elmsby and taken to Gorsewall Manor. As he recovers, Lord Elmsby offers him a position cataloging the library. It would be an ideal situation, isolated, with a hansom, solitary lord and servants who don't ask many questions, except for the strange sounds in the corners of the library and the feeling he's being watched. And then a body is found on the moors, a body that could be the long missing fiancee of Lord Elmsby, and Thomas must find out the truth of what happened at Gorsewall Manor.


Copyright (c) 2018 Adella J. Harris

  1. Table of Contents

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

Chapter 15

About the Author

Chapter 1

If you had asked anyone who knew me to describe Thomas Brook, they would have prevaricated a bit to avoid hurting my feelings, then said something along the lines of “a nice fellow, but a bit dull,” the a bit being added for politeness’s sake. I’d always been a good son. Even my rebellions were neatly contained. Father was a well-known barrister, my oldest brother followed in his footsteps, the next was distinguishing himself in the army, and I was expected to be a junior to my oldest brother. The only trouble was that I couldn’t stand to argue in court, so I insisted I would study to be a solicitor. There were a few calm arguments at supper, which I hated, and in the end, Father declared my arguments on my own behalf so poor that I could never do well by a client and at least I was studying the law. A neat, quiet, dull rebellion.

I was even more circumspect in my own more personal interests. At school, it wasn’t so hard; a dormitory full of young men meant there was plenty of barely repressed desire, and so long as I occasionally moaned a woman’s name, no one thought it odd that I was willing to help a fellow out in exchange for the same. Despite my caution, I managed to make a few close friends who shared my proclivities, and by few I mean two, both discreet, both careful, and despite that, quite amusing to spend time with.

And so I managed to work out a neat, respectable life. Acceptable to my family even if they were not always best pleased with my choices, and acceptable to me even if it was a bit dull. I was set up as a clerk in the office of a solicitor my father often worked with, handling dull but respectable clients and contracts and not needing to argue cases. I advanced more slowly than I might have at other firms, but it was an old, plodding sort of place, and I didn’t particularly mind not having the added responsibilities. I took rooms that were suggested near the inns of court in a building with other clerks, none of whom I was friendly with.

The bright spot was the time I spent with William and Arthur. They were also quite respectable, Arthur even gaining a knighthood for his service to the Crown financing trading vessels and William working as an accounts clerk in his family cloth business. We met twice a week at a club in St. James, and at least as often at one flat or another. We shared interests outside of men, which made our friendship seem both natural and respectable, although we did also share that interest and similar tastes in how we satisfied that need.

I knew I would never marry, much to the chagrin of my parents, but I also had too much sense to do something as scandalous as form an attachment to, or even worse, fall in love with, a man. Not that there was much chance of that as my dullness extended to my looks, which were monochromatic to be kind, sandy hair, light-brown eyes, average height, average-to-slightly-scrawny build; there was nothing to distinguish me, no feature that would attract someone’s eye, nothing out of the ordinary way. I contented myself with occasional evenings of fun with William and Arthur or trips to very discreet molly houses with them, often outside of London. As I said, a neat, respectable, dull life.

So when Arthur mentioned he’d been to a new molly house in town that seemed quite respectable, I had no hesitation in agreeing to accompany William there. Arthur was nothing if not methodical, and I knew if he said the place seemed well run, he knew who the landlord was and had checked everything from the staff to the hiring practices to where the linens were sent to be laundered.

William and I went there on a Wednesday night when we thought it might not be crowded. It turned out to be a worthy place, with a good-natured landlord and drinks that were passable and not watered down. The rent boys wandering around plying their trade were discreet enough and good-looking enough and appeared well-fed. The gambling in the back room was noisy but seemed free of cheating. Even fastidious William warmed to the place enough that we agreed to split the cost of a room and have a bit of fun together.

We had undressed and William was kneeling on the rug in front of me while I tangled my fingers in his soft, gold curls, worn a little long because they suited him so well, when the door burst open and three members of the watch marched in. From the combination of sneers and grins, they knew exactly what to expect of the clientele of the Swan's Nest.

I was shocked into silence, but William had the sense to turn and say, “You’re not the girl. What sort of trick is this? We paid for a girl.”

I followed his lead. “And a fair bit of coin it was too. We were promised she’d do two at once. Where is she?”

The guards weren’t fooled though, and it was all we could do to grab our shirts and trousers as they shoved us towards the door, both of us still insisting there was supposed to be a girl coming to the room.

As we were dragged to the staircase, a serving girl did come running out of the staff staircase. From the glimpse I had of her, she’d probably been working in the kitchens, but she was a game one and started to make a fuss at once. “Hey! Where’re you taking my clients? They haven’t paid yet, and I get triple for two at once!”

It fit our story perfectly, but the guards ignored her and shoved past. I turned back to try and express my thanks only to see her mouth “Sorry” in our direction.

Downstairs was chaos, with the landlord insisting that he had been assigning girls to rooms and it wasn’t his fault if his girls were so well-known for their willingness to try anything that the waiting punters had been impatient and resorting to “something to take the edge off.” It was a good bluff, but not one the guards were falling for. While we were struggling into our clothes I heard one of the men of the watch say, “You should be more careful who you try to extort money from when you run a place like this,” and the landlord began to shout that he made more than enough in his business to make him a fool if he tried it, while turning a shade of purple that told me he was genuinely outraged.

William and I were separated at the prison and locked in small cells, each alone to prevent any “unnatural acts,” as the warden put it. It was a miserable two days with no one but the guards bringing bad food for company. I was allowed to send word to my father and beg him to take my case. I was not surprised when he never responded. I’d done the thing I was not supposed to do, stepped outside of our neat, respectable existence, and in the worst way possible.

On the third day, the guard came to collect the plate he’d brought my meal on and said, “Your brother’s here to see you.”

I felt a flicker of hope. Father had ignored my plea, and I hadn’t expected him to do otherwise, but if George had seen it, perhaps he could help.

But it wasn’t my barrister brother who came down the stairs but Fred, in his full army uniform. “Disappointed I’m not George?” he asked.

“Disappointed you’re not a barrister. But I’m glad to see anyone.”

Fred smiled. “I did try to convince them, you know, pointed out that you’ve always been a credit to the family.”

“Thank you. I take it it didn’t work?”

He shook his head. “Even if it had been a plain brothel, I don’t think Father would have relented.”

I nodded. “How bad is it?”

“Bad. Someone spotted someone important there a few nights ago and attempted to blackmail them. The person in question retaliated by ordering a raid on the place. Someone I know from the army now works in the right department to know things like this, no names, you understand, so I went to see him and see what could be done. The blackmailer was in the gambling room, not staff, and he wasn’t there the night you were arrested, so it was all for naught anyway. Not that it makes this any better. The prosecution is going forward.”

“There’s no hope then?”

“The landlord was in court yesterday. He has a chance, I think, and he tried to help you lot, but it didn’t work.”

“What did he try?”

Fred laughed. “There were ten girls of shall we say easy virtue there, all insisting you lot were their clients, and it was a sort of theme night, and they were getting astronomical sums for two at once.”

“Why were they all late then?” I asked, hoping he understood it wasn’t a criticism of them for not getting to us in time but curiosity and caution in case we were being observed.

“Two of the girls got into a fight over one’s best corset and the others were watching it unfold in the alley behind the house. They all told a hair-raising, or perhaps I should say cock-raising, accounts of it, and two of them offered to demonstrate what happened. I’ve never seen so many brains flow south at once. If that didn’t get you lot off, it must have been a powerful man at the center.”

So Arthur had been right; it had been a good molly house, with the landlord trying to insist we weren’t doing what they had seen and probably paying the workers at a nearby brothel to help. I hoped he got free of the charges at least. “I was there with my friend, William.”

“I remember him. Blond, looked like some Renaissance painting, more clean linen than any ten fellows I know. He was arrested too? Poor fellow. I’ll try to see him for you.”

“Don’t put yourself in danger.”

“I was at Salamanca. No one is going after me. And if they do, my commander will go after them, and with the medals he’s got, they don’t stand a chance. I just wish I had some influence somewhere that would get you out.”

“It means a lot that you’re trying.” I wanted to change the subject, so I asked, “How are things at home?”

“I’ll almost be glad to be back in Portugal.”

Justice rolled slowly for us, and it was months before we were finally given trial dates, not that it helped anything. The trial was nothing but a show. I didn’t see any of my family in the courtroom, although I hadn’t really expected to. Arthur was there, looking grim but smiling at me when our eyes met. That had been a kind gesture. It was good to have one friendly face in the crowd. My barrister did his best, reminding the court of the story that we’d been waiting for a woman to join us and calling on the prostitutes who’d testified before to tell their story of the stolen corset and high wages again. It was a decent case, and might have worked, but the judge looked bored, and I could tell the court had made its mind up before I’d even been led to the dock. The sentence was read in a loud, bored voice. An hour in the pillory followed by two years’ hard labor. At least it wasn’t transportation, I told myself as I was led back to my cell.

After the trial, things moved quickly enough, and a week later I was being brought to the courtyard where an open wagon and a troop of guards waited to take us through the hostile crowds I could hear already gathered outside to the pillory. As we were loaded into the wagon, I saw William for the first time since the molly house. He managed to get seated next to me, and I almost didn’t recognize him, not only because I’d never seen him exhausted and unwashed, but because his beautiful hair had been cropped close to his scalp. I couldn’t tell if it had been done to humiliate him—he was justly proud of his guinea-gold locks—or if he’d done it himself in fear of prison lice. Either way, it made him look wrong, even when he managed a shaky smile for me. He had never been able to hide his emotions, and I could see he was miserable and terrified. I was about to say something comforting to him, but before I could come up with anything that sounded even remotely helpful, the guards took up their positions around the wagon One was quite near us, so I did my best to smile back and stayed silent as the wagon pulled out of the prison gates and met the crowd of spectators waiting for us.

No rocks were thrown. At first, I took that as a good sign, a sign that perhaps the crowd was less hostile than we’d been led to believe, but then someone threw what looked like the remains of a fishmonger’s task, and I realized it was only that the crowd hadn’t found anything more lethal. I turned to William as a volley of something vile flew at us. “At least it isn’t rocks,” I murmured as we were both pelted by some filth that smelled like rotted vegetables and dung.

“Arthur’s doing, I’d wager,” he whispered back as he winced and tried to hide it.

He was probably right. I could almost imagine Arthur sending out a flock of street urchins promising to pay them for every stone gathered from our path.

By the time we arrived at the pillory, the wagon had become so vile, the prospect of the pillory almost seemed a welcome escape from it. Almost, particularly when I saw the crowds gathered, most already having some sort of missile to throw at us, expecting a good afternoon of entertainment at our expense.

William was in the first group sent up. I managed to squeeze his hand in spite of the manacles as he was led out of the wagon. The grateful look he gave me almost broke my heart. If I’d had any doubt of the crowd’s viciousness, it was put to rest at once. There were no rocks here either, but plenty of filth in the street to throw, and a succession of urchins selling everything from offal taken from the butcher shops to dung collected from other parts of the city for the crowds to throw, and finding many eager customers.

I meant to watch, to smile at William if he looked my way, to offer him what little support I could, but when the first of the crowd threw their missiles at him, when he shuddered and kept walking as he had no choice, I couldn’t bear it and stared down at my hands, at the manacles holding them together, at the chains, at anything but the crowd. For an hour I sat there, hearing the creak of the pillory as it turned, the monotonous tread of feet moving in their endless circle, the splatter of things I didn’t want to think about hitting the pillory and the prisoners and William, while the sun beat down on us and made everything sweat and rot and stink even more which hadn’t seemed possible only moments before.

And there was a pause in the sounds, all but the screams and taunts of the crowd which became louder. I looked up as the guards put the first group back in their seats and chained their legs together again. William flopped beside me, looking miserable, filth dripping down his face and covering the stubble of his hair. “At least that’s over,” his whispered as the guard came by and fastened his hands together and his ankles to the wagon.

The guard must have heard him as he said, “Now you get two years hard labor. How do you think those soft hands’ll like picking oakum, eh Mary Ann?”

William didn’t answer, just stared down at his hands, probably wondering that very thing.

The guard turned his attention to me. “You’re next.” He unlocked the chains on my ankles.

The spectators had been getting steadily louder as the first group was led away, and now they pushed in, eager for more entertainment and impatient for the next group to begin. The guards watching the perimeter of the pillory went to deal with the worst of the crowd, then called for more assistance as the crowd pushed further into the barriers and there was the risk of those in front being crushed or trampled. The two guards collecting us shoved my shackles in place and went to help their colleagues. I rattled the chains half-heartedly as I’d done many times that hour, not expecting anything different, but the guards had been in too much of a hurry to help control the crowd and hadn’t locked my shackles properly. They fell off my ankles easily, leaving only my hands chained together. I turned to William, but he was looking at me excitedly. “Run,” he hissed. “Go.”

I felt terrible leaving him there, but he looked so genuinely pleased for me, and he had just been through what I was certain was the worst hour of his life. I tugged on his chains, but they held firm.

“Go,” he whispered again. “At least one of us will be out. Hurry though, before they get back.”

He was serious and looked so pleased at the thought that I would escape. I took one more look at the guards to see they were still busy, one final pull on William’s chains to be sure, then a squeeze of his hand in thanks, and I slipped out of the cart and ran around the side of the pillory and into the crowd. No one noticed as I darted along. I made it to a nearby alleyway and paused to listen. I heard a guard yell, “Isn’t there one more?” but no sounds of pursuit. Then the crowd began to jeer again and I heard the creak of the pillory and the cries of the urchins selling their disgusting wares and risked a glance back at the pillory.

The second group was walking in the same slow circle the first had made, all of the spaces filled. One figure caught my attention at once. William. He was there, making the same humiliating circuit he had just made. He glanced up and spotted me and met my eyes, and I understood. He’d moved to my seat and given himself an extra hour in the pillory to give me an hour to escape. I gave him the smallest wave and ran down the alley.

At first, I just ran. I wanted to get away from the crowd, away from the pillory, away. I ducked down any alleyway I could find, the sort of places I would never have gone before for fear of everything from footpads to disease. Six months in Newgate made both prospects far less worrisome. When the sounds of the crowd had faded, I slowed and began to think. The first task was to get the shackles off of my wrists. I wouldn’t get far with them. The second was to get out of London. I had a vague idea of how to do that.

The first proved easier than I’d anticipated. Most of the businesses around the pillory had emptied out as the workers went to enjoy our disgrace, so when I passed a blacksmith’s shop, I peered through the window and found the place empty. The door had been latched but not well, and I was able to get inside. I’d spent the afternoon staring at my restraints, so I knew them well. The lock was sturdy, but the hinge was a metal pin shoved through metal loops on the two halves of the bracelets and flattened at the top and bottom. The length of the pin was not perfect for the loops, so with a bit of effort, I could slide the two halves of the bracelet apart enough to expose the thinner shaft of the pin. The blacksmith’s shop had many tools, and it was simply a question of finding something capable of cutting through the pin and thin enough to fit in the space I could make for it. A pair of some sort of cutters handled the job nicely, and once I got myself arranged properly, I was able to cut away my restraints with only a small scratch on the top of my right wrist. I left the remains of the manacles in a pile of scrap metal and slipped out again to complete my escape.

Free of my shackles and hopefully looking more like a poor wanderer than an escaped prisoner, I made for the coach road leading out of London. When I’d been a very young fellow, before I’d gone to school and met William and Arthur, Fred and his friends had amused themselves by catching rides on passing coaches and carriages, clinging to the back of them, trying to stay on as long as they could before they were caught. As they were all clearly well-born, being caught normally meant little more than yelling and threats to tell Father, so the game had gone on for most of a summer, and I’d even been allowed to participate on occasion. I had been eager to impress the older, more worldly fellows—most of them spent the bulk of the year away at school while I had still been at the local grammar school—so I had practiced and studied the motion of the coaches, and even tried my hand at calculations, although as I had no idea what I was supposed to calculate, that hadn’t been very helpful. But I had become quite good at catching rides. The trick, I’d learned, was to time the jump just so, so that the coach was going slowly enough to allow the jump to be successful and at a point where the coachman wouldn’t feel the carriage move and realize something was wrong.

And so I waited, just past the coaching inn, where there would be no one to see me, until one of the fliers came by, not yet at full speed, bouncing along the road. I watched and chose my moment and scrambled out and onto the thoroughbrace at the back of the coach. I wedged myself against the coach, resting my legs on the splasher, and held my breath. But the coach didn’t slow at all; in fact, it sped up. I relaxed as best I could while clinging for my life and watched London sink into the distance.


When the outrider blew his horn signaling they were preparing to stop, I kept my attention on the coach’s speed. As it slowed to round a corner, I allowed myself to fall off onto the side of the road. The ground was soft and kicked up from the animals passing by, so I was uninjured and able to walk the last bit of the way to the coaching inn.

The inn was in a village I’d been through before but didn’t know well. I could hear the driver telling a passenger he’d taken the wrong coach and would have to wait until the 6:00 to Brighton after dinner. I wandered around the yard, wondering if the advantages of having a coach driver unable to see me after dark would outweigh the disadvantages of not being able to see clearly myself and considered what I would do while waiting. There was no pawn shop in the village, not that I had anything to pawn. I’d barely escaped with the clothes on my back, and even those weren’t worth anything now. I passed the alley where I knew men plied their particular trade just as my belly was protesting the fact that the smells of baking from the inn were no closer to filling its emptiness. I turned my steps to the alley.

It proved to be simple to find a man willing to pay for the use of my mouth, to beg a little and act as if I wanted him, and simple to kneel in the slime of the cobbles and allow it. And it was easier still in the next town the coach stopped in, and somewhere in the towns after, I stopped even thinking about the filthy cobbles, the rough handling, the sordidness of it all. I quite surprised myself with my facility for back-alley subterfuge, but then after almost more than six months of the weak gruel and gristly broth that served as prison food, I was quite prepared to do anything for a proper meal. I quickly learned that I would find a mark quicker if I used my proper, educated accent—it seemed they liked the idea of shoving their cocks into a well-to-do mouth—but that it also meant muckier cobbles and more often than not a hard slap across the face when they’d finished. The food varied in quality with the inns, but my belly was mostly full and I wasn’t in prison, so I kept hopping coaches heading north, walking when there were no coaches I could safely hop on, sleeping anywhere I could find a sheltered spot under a hedgerow or a dry ditch by the side road, and hoping to find somewhere to stop.


I thought I’d been traveling about three days when I started to think maybe I was really escaping detection. We were passing through great open swaths of land, places where you could walk for hours if not days without seeing another person. It seemed just the part of the world for me to hide in and sort myself out. The coach stopped at an inn near a small town, and I managed to find a client, the blacksmith from the forge across the way who was willing to pay enough for two meals for the rough use of my mouth and throat and the treat of saying how much the filthy little lord loved a thick cock down his gullet. I didn’t correct him on any point. I’d just finished my task and was trying to think how to wipe my mouth without offending the man when there was a flash of movement, or at least I thought there had been. It had been quick and only glimpsed from the corner of my eye. “Did you see that?”

“You trying something?” The man glared down at me, and I realized just how strong a blacksmith was.

“Not at all. I thought I saw...but it was probably just a bird. A crow or something. There were a lot of them in the yard.”

He glared at me. “Not trying for more money then?”

“No more than what we already agreed to.”

He nodded and flung the coins in the muck by my knees. I bent to pick them up, saying, “Thank you kindly, sir, for everything,” as I knew he would like hearing that from my lips, then went to purchase a meat pie that I didn’t look at too closely while I ate it, and continued on to find a good spot to jump the 4:15 to York.

Catching the coaches was beginning to feel routine. I waited in a sheltered place outside of town and, as the coach flew past, made my jump and got aboard. I fancied I was getting rather good at sneaking rides. If I didn’t think too hard about what I did to fill my belly, it could be seen as a sort of adventure. But eventually, I would have to settle somewhere. We were entering Yorkshire and the moors, vast stretches of land now shrouded in mist, with no one but sheep and the occasional cow for company. Not that I wanted the company of cows or sheep, but it was remote, and it might be possible to hide out in some small village, or perhaps a mid-sized town would be wiser, less to notice. The vast emptiness meant people would hopefully take scant interest in the world outside.

That led to the question of what I was to do with myself. It was all well and good meeting men in alleys for the price of a meal, but I had no desire to do that for one second longer than need be let alone forever. So I would need some source of income. I knew nothing of farm work, and while I thought I could learn, it seemed quickest to find work as a clerk of some sort, only I had no references. If I told them to write to Arthur, I knew he would write me a sterling one, but then I would have to give my own name. It was possible he would figure it out if I could come up with a nom de guerre that he would understand, but I didn’t want to put him at risk. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he hopped a mail coach in the more traditional way the moment he knew where I was, and I knew him well enough to be sure his guilt had already led him to take too many risks for us.

Perhaps I could offer to work somewhere for room and board. A nice vicarage perhaps. Perhaps they wouldn’t ask too many questions. I could lead them to believe I’d served my time for some petty crime and wanted to make amends and start anew.

I was just starting to consider what sort of crime would elicit sympathy from a kindly vicar when the coach jolted, nearly shaking me loose. I wondered if there had been some obstruction in the road as the driver had been remarkably steady before that, but we passed nothing that could be a likely culprit, although in the misty fog that surrounded us it was hard to tell. I settled back and tried to regain my train of thought when something hit me from above. A rock, I thought. How on earth could that have happened? I’d had plenty of bumps and bruises from rocks tossed up by the carriage wheels, but none from above. I was prepared to say I was mistaken and return to my planning when another fell, hitting me on the shoulder.

One I could have mistaken, but two? I looked up, hoping to see the source. Unfortunately, I did. The coachman was staring down at me over the edge of the luggage rack. He must have allowed the young fool sitting in the box to hold the ribbons. Probably put them all in a ditch. Seeing he had my attention, he pulled out a long cane with a metal hook on the end and swung it at me. I leaned back and clung to the side of the coach.

“Get off now and stay off,” he yelled down at me as he readied himself for another blow, this one sliding along the back of the coach so I had no choice but to leap off. As I landed in the muck of the road, I heard him yell, “And stay away, or I’ll tell the watch how you earn your coins!”

So there had been someone watching in the last town, and the coachman had stumbled upon the one threat that would really scare me. If the watch arrested me for engaging in unnatural acts, it wouldn’t be long before they connected me to my escape in London. I shoved myself to my feet and took off running across the moor.

When the coach had sped out of sight, I went back to the main road and followed it on foot. There had to be a turning before I reached the coach’s next stop. Someplace too small to have a coaching inn, where I could earn some coins and eat and plan what to do next. I’d seen coachmen talking to the innkeepers and each other over the past few days. No doubt this old screw would tell the lot of them to be on the lookout for me and what to say to the watch if I was spotted sneaking a ride.

The walk took longer than I’d hoped, but I did eventually reach a village. It was far too small for a coaching inn, barely big enough for a regular inn attached to the tavern, but at least it was a village. And there was an inn next to the pub. And a dark alley not too far away. I was too tired to hunt for a client, so when I saw the tanner who’d leered at me as I’d passed his workshop on the outskirts of the village, I sidled up to him and using my most plummy tones offered him whatever he’d like for a bit of coin. We retired to the alley, and I knelt and let him have use of my mouth, making sure to moan prettily as he pounded his balls against my face. He was just reaching his crises when I heard someone walking down the alley. I’d learned my lesson outside of the last town and kept quiet, but I could see a fine pair of Hessian boots walk past and the edge of a travel cloak, dark grey with an elaborate patterned silk lining, bright green and blue birds against a violet background. I shifted my knees in the muck of the alley and tried to keep my face hidden as best I could without alerting the tanner to the fact I wasn’t paying attention to his cock any longer. If the man didn’t recognize me, he couldn’t report me to the watch.

It seemed to work, or the tanner was so far along that he noticed nothing but what was happening between his legs. He spent down my throat and pulled out, slapping my cheek with his limp cock. “Not bad for a posh fellow.”

I knew the sort of thing he wanted by now and said, “Thank you for the compliment, sir.”

He reached into his coat pocket and tossed a few coins on the cobbles, then pulled up his trousers enough for him to turn towards the wall and began to empty his bladder. I collected the coins from the ground and hurried towards the square without counting them.

I tried to slip out of the alley without being noticed, but I wasn’t terribly successful. At least three people looked my way, one of which was a good candidate for the Hessian boots being tall and cloaked. I kept my head down and started for the pub, but it was tempting to see if Hessian boots might be interested in a bit of trade. Something about the steps in the alley, the beautiful cloak perhaps, something told me he would taste better than the men I’d become accustomed to, and wouldn’t slap me when he’d finished or push me back into the muck of the alley. He’d be polite, even while using me. I shoved that thought out of my head and reminded myself that I had money for a meal now. That should please my mouth more than anything.

As I approached the pub, I heard a sound I knew all too well; the hum of a crowd on the verge of becoming a mob. That sound had followed the wagon all the way to the pillory. I shoved my hands in my pockets and hoped I could skirt the group and get to the pub before they turned on whoever the poor fellow was.

I had no such luck. The group was beginning to coalesce into a mob at the small stand outside of the pub that served hot food to workers in a hurry. I kept my head down and made as straight a line as I could for the pub door. If I’d learned anything in prison, it was that other people’s problems weren’t mine; I had more than enough of my own.

And then I made my mistake. It seemed curiosity was another fault of mine. As I passed the group, I glanced over to see what the excitement was about. There was a lad in the middle of the crowd, a pair of meat pies in his hands, looking guilty as a cat with feathers in his paw. He wasn’t a child—the mob wasn’t the sort to turn on a child—but he was still young, not more than sixteen, I would have guessed, and trying to look defiant as he stood there.

“Eddie Welcher, I never took you for a thief,” a man in an apron snapped. I guessed he was the owner of the meat pie stand.

“I’m not a thief,” the lad said with as much conviction as I’d shown insisting I’d been waiting for a lightskirt.

“Then why haven’t those pies been paid for?”

“Call the watch!” someone in the crowd yelled.

“Not the watch,” young Eddie pleaded. “I did have the money, honest.”

No one believed him, but then he didn’t even believe himself.

“Where is it then?” the stand owner asked.

“I must have dropped it.”

“Call the watch!” the same voice as before yelled, only this time there were echoing calls. The lad looked around, panicked, not that I blamed him. The pies weren’t worth enough for hanging or transportation, but he’d be locked away in prison, and from personal experience, I could say that that was a terrible enough fate.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Hessian boots moving towards the group, shrouded in his cloak, watching but doing nothing. I wanted to be mad at him for his indifference, but I couldn’t be, not when I myself would have been as indifferent a mere six months before.

So much for minding my own problems. I dropped the coins I’d earned from the tanner in the mud near the path, and when the lad insisted for the third time that he’d had money and lost it, I called out in the rougher accent I’d managed to mimic over the last few days, “Young fellow, is this it?”

Eddie turned in my direction and saw where I was pointing with my boot. He ran forward and gave me a good look. I couldn’t blame him for being suspicious. He probably thought I’d knock him down or use him for some other sport for the amusement of the crowd. I pointed again, and he knelt, carefully balancing the pies in his left hand as he reached for the coins.

“Yes, that’s it, exactly what I thought I had. It must have fallen out of my pocket. I bet there’s a hole.”

“You’re paying, then?” the pie seller asked, although his tone was less hostile now.

“Yes, yes, here you are. That should cover it.”

There was a boring sort of transactional discussion which caused the crowd to remember whatever reason they’d actually come to town square for, and they began to wander off, gossiping about Welcher’s father’s drinking and the missing heiress from Tyneridge and how Mrs. Ayer had cheated at the fair. There was nothing more for me to do. After that display, I was too noticeable to ply my new trade, and I had no more money for food, so I started for the road out of town, telling myself I’d gone longer without a proper meal in prison and there was no reason to feel sorry for myself. There had to be another town close by, with its own form of the tanner who’d pay, and a pub where I could spend what I earned.

But I’d forgotten where I was. The wide stretches of open space that had seemed so safe when I’d been thinking of escape also meant that there was nowhere to escape to. I kept walking, one foot in front of the other, being careful of rocks and marshy places along my path, with no sign of another village of any size anywhere along the road.

I’d been wrong about my belly as well. While I no doubt had gone longer on less food, I had not been walking miles over hilly and overgrown moors, and any energy I’d stored was long ago used up. I could feel a small tremor in my legs if I wasn’t careful, a little weakness in the knees. The next town, I promised myself, the first likely man then a proper meal. As if my luck weren’t bad enough, the mist that had seemed if not friendly then at least not terrible while I’d been riding on the back of a coach, decided to join together and form raindrops, soaking my coat and making the ground beneath my feet muddy and slippery.

And cold. It was cold. I was cold. I’d been arrested in late spring, and the only clothes I had were what I’d been wearing to the molly house that night, which had been meant for a warm spring evening, not a rainy fall afternoon. Every so often, a shiver would go through me. And walking was hot work. I could feel sweat on my back, mixing with the damp soaking through my clothes and dripping down to collect in the waistband of my trousers, making it moist and clammy. Another shiver and there was sweat on my brow as well, mixing with the rain and dripping down. The valley around me shifted in and out of focus, like a reflection in a pool of water that was constantly being disturbed by the wind. If I could just rest a moment and make it make sense.

But I didn’t need to rest to know what it meant. If I hadn’t been so hungry and tired and fever-muddled, I would have realized sooner that I was becoming feverish. I felt a certain detachment as I said the words to myself. I was feverish. Was it some prison illness that hadn’t manifested symptoms until now, or had I caught some sort of pox in the short time I’d plied my trade as a prostitute? Funny I’d never said that word to myself even though I’d known that was what I was. Or perhaps these moors didn’t want to shelter me and so were finding a way to do me in. I knew that was being fanciful, but I couldn’t help thinking that anyone else, anyone not with me on the moor, would say better to die free than live imprisoned or some other such nonsense, but I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want to be imprisoned, and if I could just find a place to sit for a minute, I would begin to feel better. If my legs would just carry me to the shelter of the next ridge, I could rest and gather my strength and see how far it was to the next town. But my legs wouldn’t cooperate. They had worked too long on too little nourishment, and I had no choice but to sit where I was, in the mud of the shelterless path, and then I could rest and think of where to go.

I lost consciousness before I reached the ground.

Chapter 2

I was troubled by strange dreams as I hovered on the edge of consciousness. A flock of ridiculously colored blue and green birds swooped down out of a deep-purple sky and covered me. Then there was the feeling of flying above the moors, floating but with a direction and a purpose. And then a nightmare of being back in prison, of having my boots stolen from my feet and someone trying to wrest my coat away. And then nothing, and I slept.

When I woke next, I felt clear-headed and hungry. I was lying on a bed with proper sheets, although they were somewhat old and threadbare. Soft, though, not the coarse cloth of prison sheets, and there was a thick mattress beneath me, not the thin pallet of a prison bed. Hand-me-downs of some well-off household, I deduced, which gave me more questions than it answered. I held still, trying to sort out what it meant. I’d collapsed on the moors, that was obvious, and now I was indoors, in bed, and not tied down or restrained in any way, so perhaps not caught by the watch.

I could hear sounds coming from the other side of the door. There was the definite sound of metal clanking. It didn’t seem hostile, but then I wasn’t quite certain what hostile sounds would sound like outside of prison. So it was a choice of awaiting my fate or confronting it. In the end, it was the smell that decided me. There was the unmistakable scent of hot soup wafting under the door. I pulled myself out of the bed and found I was wearing only my shirt and trousers. My coat, cravat, and boots had been removed. I looked around the room but didn’t see them. So had they been stolen or so horrendously ragged that my benefactor had thought I wouldn’t want them, and what did I think of that? Did I want them so I could continue on? I supposed it depended on what those sounds were. And the only way to know that was to try the door.

I was almost afraid to turn the knob. The last time I’d slept under a proper roof and not in trees or a ditch by the road, I’d been locked in prison, and there was the slight fear, no matter how irrational I knew it was, that the knob would not turn, and I would find myself trapped once again.

But the knob did turn. And on the other side of the door was a large stone kitchen, the sort commonly found in large country manor houses. I had been in some sort of scullery off the kitchen, most likely put on their oldest mattress with sheets meant for the poor box, not that I blamed them one bit. Some of the mud covering me seemed to have been removed with my clothes, but I was far from clean.

“You’re awake. Well, that’s a relief.” The woman who spoke was just shy of plump with a warm, open face, wearing a blue dress and a large white apron, and if she wasn’t the cook then she ought to be. The metal sounds I’d heard must have been the pots and pans she was moving around. She smiled at me and pulled out a chair that I assumed I was to sit in then went to whatever was boiling on the hob and returned with a bowl of hot broth. “Just the thing for a recovering lad. Now eat up, and I’ll get some tea going.”

I didn’t need to be told twice and attacked the broth with alacrity. I’d finished almost half of it, which is to say barely five minutes had gone by, when the door to the outside opened, and a woman I assumed was a kitchen maid came in. “Ralph says he can come later, but no one else.”

“Not needed. He’s up on his own.”

The new woman spotted me then. “Well, that’s good to see.”

I realized I’d been wolfing down the broth like a starving man and tried to pace myself. “Was Ralph going to try to get me out of bed?”

“Oh no, we weren’t sure you were ready,” the cook explained. “But we thought you’d feel better if you were clean, and we certainly couldn’t ask the master again.”

“Not that we asked him the first time. He simply, well, got to it.”

I tried sorting that out and deduced that it had been the master who had undressed me. As deplorable and disgusting were two of the politer ways to describe the clothes I’d worn through prison, the ride to the pillory, a flight across the country, and working on my knees in various back alleys, I was both grateful and mortified.

“And Mr. Connelly would help, but he’s in York for his sister’s wedding. And Mr. Grant, well, he’s too high in the instep for anything but the master’s orders.”

I assumed Mr. Connelly and Mr. Grant were the butler and the valet. From her tone, I placed Mr. Connelly as the butler.

“And we could ask Simon, but he’d likely drown you as soon as wash you.”

“Hey now, I know which way dunk him in the tub; that’s enough to be getting on with.” The newcomer had come down the kitchen stairs with a serving tray. So it was dinner time; that was worth knowing. He was wearing the slightly outdated uniform common among footmen in larger houses where they liked the men waiting table dressed as if they’d stepped out of the last century. “Glad you’re awake.”

“Thank you.”

“And glad you’re here,” the cook snapped. “Get the tub and put it in the room. I’ll get some water boiling while he eats. Moira, get him another bowl. And you, sit and eat. Dr. Barton said he didn’t think there was anything wrong that rest and hot meals wouldn’t fix, but that means you’re to rest.”

So a doctor had been called to see me and pronounced me well enough. No pox or prison fever. That was a relief. As I tucked into my second bowl of broth with a bit more care as I was feeling self-conscious, the cook kept up her stream of patter, whether because she thought I was listening or she simply liked to talk while she worked, I couldn’t tell. “I’m Mrs. Hopkins, the cook at Gorsewall Manor, as you probably guessed. And that’s Moira, my right hand, and Simon, the first footman. You’ll meet the rest soon enough. What shall we call you, dear?”

“Thomas Brook,” I answered before remembering it might be best to give a false name if I planned to start over here.

“Very pleased to meet you properly, Mr. Brook. His lordship found you out on the moors. He said he thinks you were waylaid by highwaymen.” She gave me a look that told me she thought no such thing, nor did his lordship, in her opinion, but she wouldn’t argue with him.

“Were you terrified?” Moira asked. Apparently, at least some of the staff did believe the story.

“I don’t remember much of it.” That seemed safe enough.

“Not surprised,” Mrs. Hopkins said as she did something by the open hearth. “You were feverish when he brought you in, and that’s enough to make anyone forget. Lord Elmsby won’t press you for details, but it would be good to thank him for all the trouble he took.”

Lord Elmsby. I’d heard the name, but it hadn’t interested me enough to listen to the details. “I assure you, I am very grateful for any assistance I received.”

I must have sounded sincere as Mrs. Hopkins came back and refilled my cup with tea and gave me a hunk of bread and cheese to go with the broth. “See if that seems to appeal.”

It definitely appealed, particularly as the bread was warm and soft and the cheese a good strong cheddar. All it needed was a toasting fork and a bit of pickle to be perfect, but I certainly wouldn’t say that. While I ate, Simon went in and out of the room I’d woken up in with buckets of water while Moira hurried in and out with armfuls of things Mrs. Hopkins seemed to be handing her. They had disappeared to other parts of the kitchen by the time I’d finished, leaving only Mrs. Hopkins to keep an eye on me.

“Now you’ll want a bath while it’s all warm. Come along, let’s see how those two managed on their own.”

I wiped the crumbs from my hands on my trousers, although I’m not sure which made the other dirtier at that point, and followed Mrs. Hopkins back into the storeroom. The bath had been set up by the small fireplace, with several extra steaming jugs of hot water nearby. Mrs. Hopkins looked over the arrangement with a critical eye. “There’s soap and drying sheets, and Moira and I managed to find some clothes we think will fit you. They aren’t much, but they’ll do until you get yourself sorted out. Just leave those by the fire, and we’ll deal with them.”

By that, I assumed she meant burn them, but I doubted there was much else to be done with my clothes, and I had no desire to see them again, so I nodded, and as soon as she was out of the room, stripped and went to take advantage of the tub.

I gave myself over to the luxury of immersing myself in warm water and lavender-scented soap and washed away all traces of prison, the pillory, and my brief foray into prostitution. I was rinsing my hair for the third time when I felt a pang of guilt as I thought about William, still in prison, not allowed anything but the cold, brackish water and harsh carbolic soap of the prison, if that, to wash away the filth of the pillory. I wondered if there was anything to be done for him, but unless I wanted to be caught, I could not contact him. I had to trust that Arthur had managed something. I hurried to finish, guilt stripping some of the pleasure from the bath, and got out to dry myself.

The clothing I found folded on the chair was quite a mix, with trousers that were a bit snug but fit, and a voluminous shirt that was new, and a jacket that clearly wasn’t. As it looked quite similar to the out-of-style one Simon wore, I assumed it had been borrowed from another footman or left behind by Simon’s predecessor. The waistcoat was a hideous shade of green and too small to button anyway, so I left it off. The cravat had been poorly starched but did well enough for a simple knot. After I used the razor and comb that had been set out—clearly, Mrs. Hopkins had thought of everything—I went back out into the kitchen to thank my hosts.

Mrs. Hopkins looked up as I came out. “I suppose those will do. We’ll find you something that fits better tomorrow. And once you’re settled, you can go into town for something proper. Now sit down and eat.”

She seemed determined to ply me with food, but I was in no position to argue and happily accepted the cheese on toast she handed over.

I was wondering if I ought to offer to help empty the tub when Simon walked past me, dragging it by one of the handles straight through the kitchen to the back door without seeming to so much as notice the weight.

“Show off,” Moira said, but I could hear in her tone that she was impressed.

Mrs. Hopkins looked at the clock on the wall. “I think his lordship should be in the study now. I’ll show you the way.”

“The way?” I supposed I’d known I’d have to meet my host sooner or later, but I had been hoping for later. At least until I knew if he was someone who would know me from town, either London or one of the places I’d been on my knees in alleys lately.

“He’s been anxious about you. He’ll want to know you’re awake.”

I fumbled for some excuse to put off the meeting. If I said I was tired so soon after I’d woken up, that would worry everyone and most likely lead to another call from the doctor. I didn’t think I could eat anymore. I allowed my gaze to drift around the room, hoping for some inspiration. That was when I noticed it. A travel cloak was spread out by the fire. Fine dark wool with a lining of blue and green birds. It had been stained with mud and muck, badly in some places, and someone in the kitchen had been doing their best to sponge it clean and was letting it dry before their next attempt.

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