A Debt of Dishonor


London, April 1818

The scarlet carriage belonging to the Earl of Farnsworth pulled up at the residence of Viscount Newell, and the groom leaped to open the door and put down the steps. The butler, who had been warned to watch for the earl’s arrival, opened the door as the earl approached. His eyes widened at the earl’s smile, and he could not restrain a shiver. He had never seen the earl pleased before. It was not a pleasant sight.

Still smiling, Farnsworth paused for a moment before the somewhat dingy mirror in the hall to examine himself. He was not an ugly man. Taken individually, his features were not unpleasing, except for the strange redness of his nose. He was well set up, his clothes needing no padding or other tailor’s tricks. He always wore gloves, and few could know this was to cover a persistent sore. His hair was his own, and though it had become patchy, it was still brown with no gray showing. His eyes, also brown, were reasonably clear. It would be difficult to fault his appearance.

Newell came into the hall to greet him, looking like a man who has not yet recovered from the previous night’s debauch. He rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth and nodded a greeting to Farnsworth without actually speaking. 

“And where is your sister? Is she not ready for our little outing?”

Newell shrugged and looked away. “She’s locked herself into her room and won’t come out.”

Farnsworth froze. The smile faded. “And why would she do that?” he asked icily.

Newell shrugged again, without looking at Farnsworth.

The earl spoke with exaggerated patience. “Newell, do not tell me you were so foolish as to tell your sister about our arrangement.” 

Newell flushed. “I didn’t tell her. I…” He pursed his mouth and looked away. “It’s not my fault. She was in the library last night and overheard us.”

“She overheard us.” Farnsworth’s voice was flat. “Would I be correct in concluding that she took some exception to our agreement?”

Newell said nothing. He simply stood there, head turned aside, looking both mulish and sulky.

Farnsworth spun away from the viscount, looked off at some sight he alone could see, a muscle in his jaw twitching. After a moment, he turned back. “I should have known better than to leave anything in the hands of an idiot like you. Now what should have been a pleasant little excursion will of necessity turn into an ugly scene.”

Newell said nothing. 

But then, thought Farnsworth, what could the idiot say? “Have you at least the key to her room?”

Newell shook his head. “She has it in there with her. I’ve told her she has to come out, but she won’t answer when I talk to her.” He sounded resentful.

Farnsworth made a sound that seemed half disgusted and half amused. “Well then, order your largest footman to break down the door. I am afraid I do not intend to wait for your efforts at persuasion to have effect.”

The largest footman, who was also the only footman, did not set about the task he was ordered to perform with any enthusiasm. He had not been paid in the past two quarters for the ordinary footman duties he performed. He could not really see why he should be expected to do something that was clearly out of the usual run of footman duties. However, one look from Farnsworth was enough to persuade him to make an effort.

It was not a painless effort. Though the footman was large, the door was sturdy, and when he ran at it, he bounced right off. That he tried three more times, with equal lack of success, was a tribute to the power of Farnsworth’s glare. He was standing there rubbing his shoulder and wondering which would shatter first, wood or bone, when the housemaid appeared. 

She had been drawn by curiosity, wondering what the thuds and grunts portended. The butler, who had been peering around the corner of the corridor, trusting that he was too old to be asked to help, whispered to her what was afoot, or rather, ashoulder.

Now the housemaid had nothing against Miss Russell, the viscount’s sister, but she had nothing for her either. On the other hand, she did have a bit of a soft spot for the footman, so she tweaked the butler’s sleeve and whispered in his ear. He looked at her in surprise, and she nodded vigorously.

The butler approached the viscount and cleared his throat. When he had Newell’s attention, he said, “Excuse me, my lord, but this young person reminds me that the keys in this house are interchangeable.”

Newell looked at him blankly.

Farnsworth barked a laugh. “That means, my dear Newell, that any key in the house will open any lock in the house. So if you can produce a key, any key, we can bring this farce to an end.”

Newell flushed. “Fetch a key.”

While the butler hurried off to do just that, the other two servants backed quietly away and vanished around the corner. Once he had produced the key, the butler prepared to do the same, but Farnsworth waved him to unlock the door. He did so and stepped aside.

Farnsworth stepped in, followed more slowly by Newell. Both were prepared for a storm of fury. Neither was expecting an empty room. Farnsworth was the first to recover his equilibrium, and strolled around the room, using his cane to peer behind curtains and into the armoire in a fair imitation of indifference. It was he who noticed the letter propped up on the writing table. 

It was folded and sealed, with only “Humphrey” written across it. Who but Katherine could have left it? Farnsworth had no hesitation about opening it. Then he laughed. It was not a pleasant sound.

“Your sister does not appear to hold either of us in great esteem,” he said, with apparent casualness. “She calls you a ‘pusillanimous pander’ and says you are welcome to starve in the gutter for all she cares, and she would rather die than be sold to a ‘disgusting, diseased degenerate.’ That would be me, I presume. She is a trifle overfond of alliteration, but one cannot fault her characterizations. How well she knows us both.” He turned to Newell with a look of barely controlled fury. “You bungling fool.”

Newell looked appalled. “She would rather die? My God, has she killed herself?”

“Do not be an idiot. You will notice that there are no clothes in this room, with the exception of that rather tawdry thing you dressed her in to display her at the opera. She has obviously packed her bag and run away. Now you will need to retrieve her.”

“How the devil am I supposed to do that? I don’t know where she went.”

Farnsworth looked at him. 

Newell blustered, “Well, I don’t. How could I know?”

Farnsworth sighed the sigh of an intelligent man forced to deal with fools. “Does she have any friends in London? Does she know anyone in London?”

Newell shook his head. “She’s only been here a few weeks and never met anyone except friends of mine here, and she don’t like them any more than she likes you.”

Farnsworth gave him an impatient look. “Does she have any friends anywhere? She is twenty years old, after all. She must have known people before you brought her here.”

“Well, I suppose she has friends back in Yorkshire. Leastways there were people there with her at our mother’s funeral.” Farnsworth looked at Newell, and got a shrug in reply. “I don’t know where else she’d go. She’s lived there all her life, so she won’t know anyone anyplace else.”

“Then you will be taking a trip to Yorkshire to retrieve my property, won’t you?”

“But she’s run away. She’s not going to want to come back, and if she’s with friends…”

“That is your problem. You will have to deal with it. We both know you have no other way to pay what you owe me.” Newell opened his mouth to protest, but Farnsworth glared at him. “You will leave at once and let me know of your success immediately on your return. You really do not want to disappoint me.”

The click of his footsteps on the marble of the stairs and hall was the only sound in the house as Farnsworth departed.

Newell felt sick. How in hell was he supposed to get to Yorkshire without any money? He needed a drink.


A few miles south of London a farmer’s wagon was heading for home, the load of cheeses having been delivered. The aging cart horse plodded along slowly but steadily. On the back of the wagon, munching on apples, sat the farmer’s son, a cheerful boy of about ten, and a young woman to whom the farmer had given a ride. A few strands of blond hair peeked out from beneath her bonnet, a somewhat battered thing, devoid of decoration. The farmer had at first thought her too delicate, too fragile for the Yorkshire farm girl she claimed to be, but her sturdy brown dress and cloak, and the boots on her feet, to say nothing of her roughened hands, all looked familiar with hard work.

She tilted her head back to feel the warmth of the springtime sun and took a deep breath of the fresh air. Her eyes closed and the corners of her mouth tipped up in a faint smile.

Miss Katherine Russell had escaped.