?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
11 September 2013 @ 06:41 pm
death comes to haslewood hall - chapter two [whitechapel au bigbang]  
Chapter Two

Chandler scrubbed as hard as he could, until the skin on his hands was raw.



In the end they had to cut him down.
Miles had done most of the work, along with Mansell and Kent, but at some point he still had come in contact with the corpse. He had touched it with his bare hands. There was no blood or dirt that he could see and yet he felt like there was an invisible residue of the dead man still clinging to his skin. Again, he reached for the bar of soap and the hand-brush to begin the procedure all over. He felt as if he would never get rid of the smell of decay.

The others didn’t make much of a fuss about the dreadful incident. Lady Riley was a bit flustered, but Lady Llewellyn didn’t seem to mind being that close to a dead body. On the contrary, she wanted to take a closer look once they had laid the poor boy out on the table in the cellar. Buchan, though sympathetic, was more interested in the how and why and even went so far as to examine the body as best he could.

Kent was a slightly different matter. After Chandler had finally dried his hands and headed back into the drawing room, he immediately sensed the young man’s distress. Kent was clearly shaken by what had happened, perhaps more so than anyone else. A sensitive soul that was what he was. No wonder, considering his age. For a moment Chandler just stood by the door, gazing at Kent, before recollecting himself: »Right, who wants a drink?«

Rounds of brandy and sherry followed. Even the ladies didn’t object when handed a glass. His steward, Miles, unlocked the cabinet where the spirits were kept. »I’ll have single malt instead, if you don’t mind,« he stated, going in search of the bottle.

Chandler didn’t know what to say. His father had always allowed Miles to share a glass with him and who was he to refuse at such a moment as this?

Personally, he didn’t drink much and even at a time like this, he was merely nursing his glass of brandy.       

»So what do we do now?« Buchan asked after he had finished his own glass. Though he hadn’t addressed anyone in particular, Chandler felt it was his duty as a host to assume the leading role.

»I sent one of my servants to town in order to call on the local magistrate. Although we shouldn’t expect him here before tomorrow morning. The body is taken care of so far…« he stumbled over the words, imagining the bruised and battered body down in his cellar. After clearing his throat he went on: »The first thing we need to establish is why someone would do this to the boy.«

»Might I ask who he was?« Lady Riley piped up.

»His name was Peter. He was a stable boy. I didn’t see much of him. Miles, can you tell us more?«

His steward set aside his glass of whiskey and stepped closer.

»He has been working on the estate for nearly six months now. A good lad. I used to know his mother, before she passed away last winter. Susan Barnes that was her name. Peter was her only child, as far as I know.«

Chandler took a moment to let the words sink in. It weighed on his conscience that he had never bothered to inquire about the boy’s background.

»Peter Barnes. Right. Do you know of anyone who might have had anything against the boy? Someone he quarrelled with perhaps?« Chandler still couldn’t wrap his mind around the whole nasty business.

»Not that I can think of,« Miles answered. »Everyone liked Peter. He never had much to say, but he always carried out his duties. As far as I know, he hadn’t made any close friends yet. More of a solitary lad if you ask me.«

»Perhaps that’s the reason,« Kent suddenly spoke up. Chandler immediately turned his look at the young man. »Go on,« he encouraged him.

»Well, I mean what if the murderer chose him because he knew the boy had no attachments to anyone. No family, no friends. No one would miss him. He was just a stable boy after all. Easy to replace. His death would almost go unnoticed.«

»That’s a good point.« Buchan interjected.

»But then why hang him from a tree in the garden? Surely, that was extremely noticeable,« Lady Riley said.

»Another fair point,« Chandler had to admit. »It could be of course that the culprit never imagined anyone would go out there in this weather. Maybe he just placed him there because it was the easiest way to strangle him and cut him open afterwards.«

»You mean like when you hang up a dead pig to let it bleed out?« Mansell threw in. The vivid image now in Chandler’s head made him slightly nauseous. But Mansell was right. The scene in the garden had looked exactly like that.    

»Well, it doesn’t really matter why some bastard strung poor Peter up and gutted him, does it?« Miles argued. »I mean, it seems much more important to me to try and find out who could have done it.«

»Yes, of course.« Chandler closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed his temples with his fingers. It was his preferred method to keep himself calm and concentrate. But right now, even that didn’t seem to help much.

*

Kent could see how Chandler was struggling. The poor man. Somehow he had made it his duty to come up with all the answers. Kent could only imagine the pressure he must be under.

Buchan interrupted Kent’s musings on the Earl by declaring that he another theory concerning the grisly murder.

»I have heard of such a murder before.«

Everyone in the room focused their attention towards the former tradesman.

»I have travelled much, as you know. A few years ago, my journeys took me all across the continent. I spent much time in Italy, Spain and France. It was there that I heard the story of similar murders. The name of the man who committed the crimes was Gilles de Rais. He was a commander-in-chief for the French King and an earl I believe. A highly respected man who recorded many military successes in his lifetime, a rich and wealthy man who sadly used his power to do terrible things. It was said that he wanted to be an alchemist. He became obsessed with the world of magic and the occult. Servants of his had to abduct children, mostly boys and young men, for his experiments, as he called them. They were mostly farmer’s sons or orphans. Boys that wouldn’t be missed. It is said that he did terrible things to them, unspeakable things.«

 Here Buchan paused. Kent tried to imagine what the man was insinuating.

»You don’t mean buggery?« Mansell bluntly asked, clearly forgetting that there were ladies present.

Kent watched as Buchan tried to hush Mansell even while he nodded his agreement.

»Buggery,« Chandler repeated quietly, »dear God.«

»But that was not his only crime. Afterwards he strangled them, or sometimes he cut their throats,« Buchan continued. »He then cut them open and looked into their bodies to find the answers he sought. The inner organs were vital for his occult practices, they say. Afterwards his servant would help him to get rid of the bodies, mostly by burning them.«

Kent had to close his eyes. He felt dizzy all of a sudden. The images that were forming in his mind made him almost sick. But he wasn’t the only one affected by Buchan’s tale. It also took a moment for Chandler to find his voice again. With a stricken expression on his face he said: »Well, that is a very gruesome tale. But I do see at least some of the parallels.«

»How many boys did he kill?« Kent dared to ask.

»Well no one can be certain, as many of the victims’ remains were never found. The numbers are estimated to range from 150 up to as high as 800.«

»Dear God!« Lady Llewellyn cried out. Miles reacted immediately by pouring her another glass of sherry.

»And when did these murders take place?« Chandler asked.

»About a hundred years ago.«

That fact seemed to lighten the mood, if only a bit.

»Well, then it can’t be the same guy,« Mansell concluded, which was already painfully clear to most present.

»I never said it was. This is England after all, and not France. I’m just saying that such gruesome murders haven’t occurred for the first time. And sadly the motives are sometimes very weird and bizarre, so much so that a normal human mind couldn’t hope to understand them.«

»You mean this killer could have acted out of some weird compulsion? Like maybe he believed in alchemy or something?« Mansell asked.

Miles piped up again as well. »Could be something like that. Remember tonight is the 21st of December.«

Miles’ proclamation drew only blank stares.

»It’s the night of the winter solstice. A pagan festival,« Chandler explained.

Kent had heard about winter solstice before. People in his town still celebrated it, though without really worshipping the pagan gods. It was more of a simple seasonal celebration.

Following that remark, Mansell, Miles and Chandler discussed the possibility that there was more to the murder than met the eye. But it wasn’t until Lady Riley cut in that the discussion became really heated.

»Do we know of any other murders? I mean here in this area. Has something like this ever happened before?«

Silence. It seemed everyone was trying to comb through their memories for reports of similar horrific crimes. And then Miles spoke out: »I can remember one, though it was a while back. A year ago, I would say.«

»Who was the victim?« Chandler demanded to know.

»A boy from the village. Aged about 15 or 16. The poor lad was also strangled, as far as I recall. And he seemed to have been interfered with before his death.«

The unspeakable had been uttered again. Kent knew that ‘buggery’ was utterly wrong and sinful, yet he couldn’t feel that way about it. Somewhere deep within he had long suspected that he himself was not adverse to…well buggery. Not the murderous type of buggery obviously. And of course, he would never choose a lad so young. He much preferred men who were a bit more mature.
Before he knew what he was doing, his mind was running wild with the idea. Glancing around him, he noticed that almost everyone seemed disgusted by the subject. To them buggery was almost as sinful as murder itself. Mansell and the ladies seemed the most disturbed by this topic. Chandler was the hardest to read, his expression neutral.

»Did they discover who committed the crime?« The Earl ventured of Miles.

»Not really. There were rumours that the village idiot might have done it, but nothing substantial. No hard evidence.«

»The village idiot?« Chandler asked as if he had never heard that phrase before.

»Yes, Calvin. He’s not right in the head, poor sod. He gets violent sometimes, but I don’t think he could kill anyone. Let alone…well you know.«

»Why not?« Mansell asked. »This looks like the work of a madman. Who is to say that Calvin didn’t sneak into the garden earlier to kill the servant boy? The village is only a few miles away after all.«

All eyes were once again trained on Chandler, as if awaiting his opinion on this latest theory.

Chandler cleared his throat. »Well, let’s not go around accusing people too soon. There is no evidence to suggest that this man…Calvin? That Calvin perpetrated any crime. And after all, no stranger was seen on the grounds of Haslewood Hall. I’m sure one of the servants would have alerted me if someone had been sneaking around.«

Mansell let out a frustrated sigh. »Well, who else could it be then?«

Kent could tell that Chandler was almost at his breaking point. He didn’t have all the answers, although his guests seemed to think otherwise. The poor man. In the end, he did the only thing he could do in this situation.

»It’s been a long evening, for all of us. I say we go to bed and try to get some rest. Perhaps we can shed some more light on the matter in the morning.«

»I agree,« Lady Riley said. Buchan only nodded. It seemed best to let matters rest for tonight.

Kent was glad to abide by Chandler’s decision, though he doubted he would be able to sleep at all. He’d always been a worrier.
After all guests had emptied their glasses, they got ready to retire for the night. Miles called the servant girl, Laurel, but when she failed to show up, he quickly decided to escort the guests to their rooms on his own.

»Has the servant girl been missing for long?« Buchan asked, as the whole party made their way upstairs. »Since before we went into the garden, along with the Duke,« Miles replied, leading the way.

»Oh, I see. I wonder what they can be up to.«

Miles sniggered. »Believe me, you don’t want to know, sir.«

»Really? I dare say I do,« Buchan answered. »As of right now they both appear to be very suspicious. Disappearing like that just moments before we find a murdered boy hanging from a tree. For their sake I hope they can provide us with an alibi.«

Kent listened to their conversation with astonishment. Although he didn’t care for the Duke, he would have never suspected him of anything as horrible as this murder. But Buchan did have a point. No one had seen Cazenove for the last few hours. And Buchan had mentioned that the notorious Gilles des Rais had also been a nobleman. Thus, it was quite possible that even someone with the honourable title of duke could be a murderer.

Lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t noticed that the Earl was walking right next to him. It was only when Chandler spoke that he realised how close they were.

»Dear me, I still have to tell Morgan.«

»I’m sure that can wait until morning, sir.« Kent tried to reassure Chandler.

»Quite right,« Chandler agreed, his lips stretching into a thin smile. »I don’t want to cause any more distress tonight. God knows we’ve already had enough of that in this house for one night.«

Miles first led the ladies to their adjacent chambers, followed by Buchan and Mansell. In the end there was no one left except for himself and Chandler. Miles was about to escort him down a corridor before Chandler stepped in.

»It’s alright Miles. I can take it from here. You may retire for the night.«

»I prepared the small chamber right next to yours for the young baronet. I thought it convenient,« Miles said.
The steward had a strange gleam in his eyes as he spoke. Kent had no idea what it meant.

»Yes, thank you. That will be all.«

»Then I bit you good night, sirs.« He bowed briefly and then turned around and headed back towards the staircase.

Chandler opened the door to the small guest bedchamber. »And this is your guestroom for the night. I hope it suits you.«

Kent was greeted by a room almost double the size of his room back home. There was a large four-poster bed, an even larger fireplace with two leather-bound chairs in front of it, a finely carved armoire and a beautifully woven tapestry along the high wall facing the bed.

»It’s beautiful,« Kent exclaimed, unable to hide his delight at his accommodations.

Chandler met his gaze and for a second they both just smiled at each other. It lightened the mood for a bit.

»I mean, it’s very nice, my Lord. Thank you.«

The older man leaned in a bit closer. His voice was hardly more than a whisper as he spoke: »There’s no need to stand on protocol now, not when there’s just the two of us.«

He smiled again, as if to reassure Kent.

»Well, then, I bid you good night…«

»Joe. It’s Joe or Joseph, though I prefer Joe.«

Kent could feel this throat tightening. He had never addressed an earl by his given name. Perhaps it had just been the events of this evening. Someone had once told him that in a moment of crisis people often feel closer to each other than they normally would, sometimes the feeling would even breech the gap of social classes. Whatever the reason, he was more than thankful for it.

»And I’m Emerson. Though most people still call me Kent, even my father.«

There was a flicker in Chandler’s eyes that Kent couldn’t decipher.

»Alright Emerson, I hope you have a good night’s rest. And try not to let thoughts of the murder disturb you. These things sadly do happen sometimes. But I’m sure we will get to the bottom of this. All we need is a clear mind.«

»I believe you, Joe…« the name tumbled from his lips more easily than he would have thought.

»Good night.«

With that, the Earl closed the door.

*

After Chandler retired to his own room, he exhaled deeply. What had he been thinking? He should have never allowed himself to get that close to the young baronet. In the past such actions had always caused him to suffer deeply. And he was engaged now, for heaven’s sake! It just made the whole sorry affair seem that much worse. Luckily for him, the baronet Emerson, would be on his way tomorrow and he might never have to meet him in private again. So no harm done.

Chandler began removing his clothes. Normally a man of his position would have servants to wait on him hand and foot, but Chandler had always despised that practice. He was after all perfectly capable of dressing and undressing himself. Drawing a hot bath or gathering up the dirty shirts, well that was a different matter.

As he washed his face, he thought about the events of the evening. Duke Cazenove did seem a suspicious character, he had to agree with Buchan on that matter. However, the Duke was the last person he could openly accuse. And just because he had disappeared for a while didn’t make him guilty. And all of his other guests hardly had the opportunity or a reason for killing the servant boy. He recalled the rumours about Mansell and Lady Riley. Both had outlived quite a few marriage partners. But again, that didn’t mean anything. If they really had helped their spouses along to the great beyond, then it had clearly been for financial gain. Killing a servant boy in such a gruesome manner was not profitable in the least.           

The longer he thought about the murder and the wounds that had been inflicted, the more he came to the conclusion that the murderer must be someone who enjoyed such perversions. He killed and mutilated because it caused him pleasure. So surely he could rule out all female guests and servants of Haslewood Hall. The murderer had to be a man, a strong man. Again the Duke matched this description, but was he perverse enough to commit such a crime? In all honesty, he knew too little about the man behind the title to form any firm opinion.

Kent and Buchan were the least suspicious, so Chandler ruled them out from the start. Despite being in the garden when the body had been found, all of his guests would have had the time to kill the boy at some point during the evening. Some had briefly excused themselves during dinner, and the ladies had gone to freshen up before the entertainment had begun. The only one Chandler had always had an eye on throughout the night was the young baronet.       

Come to think of it, he was the only one who really seemed completely innocent and incapable of causing any sort of harm. Kent seemed so delicate, even if Chandler was certain that the young man was stronger than he looked. Still, he was the only one he could completely rule out at the moment.

Shortly before going to bed, he remembered that Morgan’s brother Louis hadn’t been seen all night long. How could he have forgotten about him? A bad cough had made him stay in his room; at least that was what his fiancée had told everyone. But who was to say that at some point he didn’t get up to seek out the servant boy. It was an intriguing thought, though he knew he would have to act with the extreme caution if he wanted to interrogate his future brother-in-law. It looked like he had his work cut out for him.


Chapter Three - Master Post