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11 September 2013 @ 06:48 pm
death comes to haslewood hall - chapter three [whitechapel au bigbang]  
Chapter Three
A strong gust of wind rattled the window of his room.


The first beams of the weak winter sunlight struggled to chase away the dark. What might the hour be? Sometime around 5am, he guessed. With a frustrated sigh, Kent swung his bare legs out of bed and got up. The thin nightgown didn’t offer much in the way of warmth and he shivered as he approached the window. Drawing the curtains further apart, he looked out into the garden. The scene looked worse than on the night before. More snow had fallen, at least 10 inches. The paths below looked as if they were covered in solid ice. He doubted the magistrate would come under such conditions. A look towards the dark grey sky confirmed his suspicions that another snowstorm was on its way.

As his gaze came to rest on the tall tree that had born the macabre fruit the evening before, he shied away. He fled back under the warm bedcovers. There really was no need to get up yet anyway.

*

Breakfast was served at 9am. As Chandler made his way downstairs, he was greeted by Buchan who was heading to the dining room.

»Good morning, sir.«

»And good morning to you, Buchan. I hope you slept well.«

»Indeed I did, sir, despite the corpse in the cellar and all that horrible business.«

Buchan smiled awkwardly, but Chandler failed to see the humour in the situation.

»Right, well breakfast should be served by now.«

The Earl of Haslewood led the way. As he entered the room, he was pleased to see all his guests had already assembled. Even Morgan and her brother Louis were present. Remembering his speculations of the night before, Chandler took a good long look at the young, slender man. His soon to be brother-in-law was still coughing and seemed quite pale. He looked truly ill. Well, that ruled him out.

Next it was the Duke’s turn. He was seated at the opposite end of the long table. As far as Chandler could tell, he simply looked exhausted. It was only when the servant girl Laurel served him his bowl of hot porridge that he managed to smile. It was obvious that something had happened between two of them, but had the Duke been up to anything else besides an inappropriate liaison the night before? Impossible to tell.

Chandler was beginning to feel like he was back to square one. How frustrating! He tried to put on a brave face although he knew it wouldn’t look convincing. In the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the young baronet. Kent looked tired and distressed. Had he even slept at all last night? The poor lad.

It was Morgan who finally pulled him from his thoughts. »My dear, might I ask what is going on? You look as if someone has died.«
Now that was almost funny. Chandler bit his lip before saying something improper. He needed a moment to gather his thoughts.

»My dear, there is something I’ve been meaning to tell you. And not just you.«

After gently tapping his spoon against his glass, he stood up.

»May I have everyone’s attention? There is some rather important bit of news I have to share with you all…«

Morgan took the news better than he’d expected. She was very calm and asked a few, simple questions as to how and where. Shortly after Chandler had finished, Louis excused himself and returned to his room. He had had another coughing attack and wanted to lie down. Perhaps the news of a dead man lying in the cellar beneath their feet got to him.

The Duke, in contrast, didn’t seem affected by the news. He continued to eat his breakfast as if nothing had happened. After washing everything down with a good glass of ale, he cleared his throat before addressing the round: »I’ve seen much worse in my day, especially in the new colonies. Brutality is in the nature of those savages. And I hear that some of them have been brought to England as servants. Perhaps some nobleman around these parts has done the same and now that savage is running free, killing people at will and indulging in his animalistic nature.«

From the blank stares directed at the Duke Chandler gathered that they were more than sceptical of his outlandish theory. Still, no one dared to disagree. Chandler also thought the Duke’s theory to be totally absurd and he was about to say as much when Buchan asked after the magistrate.

»Has he been called yet?«

»This morning,« Chandler replied. »Though I fear we have not the slightest idea as to when he might arrive. Until then, I would like to ask you all to remain on the estate.«

»And how long might that be?« Mansell asked, clearly taken aback.

»I have things to attend to, you know.«

»I’m sure we all do,« Lady Riley cut in, trying to calm the baron. »It’ll only be for a few hours, I’m sure. Isn’t that right, Chandler?«

»Yes, indeed. I would just like for the magistrate to speak with each one of you when he arrives.«

Lady Llewellyn rose from the table.

»That sounds as if you’re accusing us!«

»No, not at all! I promise, my lady. I simply need your statements.«

»Statements of the witnesses you mean?« Cazenove interrupted. »Of the ones who found the body?«

Chandler turned his attention to the Duke.   

»I knew nothing of the murder until this morning. So I guess that rules me out as a witness.«

A sly smile crossed the man’s face that made Chandler’s stomach turn.

»Quite the contrary, I assure you. After all, you had gone missing for a couple hours last night. No one knew where you were or what you were getting up to.«

Still making eye contact, the Duke slowly rose from his seat and leaned forward slightly. He was like a wild cat, staking out his prey, ready to attack any moment.

»Are you saying that I could have done this? Me, the Duke of York, a murderer of a common servant boy?«

His voice was calm and controlled, even though his face was turning purple with anger.

The Duke’s outburst gave Chandler pause. The murder of the boy was a horrendous crime and the culprit needed to be brought to justice, but it wouldn’t do to anger such a powerful man as Cazenove for no reason.

»I’m not insinuating anything of the sort. I’ll leave that to the magistrate,« Chandler answered calmly.

There was little Cazenove could do. So he swallowed his anger and his pride and sat back down.

Chandler immediately eased up a bit.

»Until then I say we all remain within the house.«

Kent, who had been silent almost all morning, spoke up: »You don’t think the murderer is still on the estate? Wouldn’t he have fled last night under the cover of darkness?«

»Perhaps, but we cannot be certain.«

Chandler tried his best to look reassuring as his eyes met Kent’s, but the young baronet didn’t seem to be comforted that easily.
»Sir,« Buchan interrupted, waiting to be acknowledged.

»I say we take a closer look at the body to determine just what happened to the poor boy. Perhaps that can give us some of the answers we seek.«

Although Chandler felt queasy just at the thought of seeing the mutilated body up close again, he agreed.

»Right. Who will join us?«

*

It was dark, damp, and freezing in the cellar. The further down they went, the worse it got. Kent could feel his teeth chatter. Wasn’t a cellar supposed to be warmer than this? Especially one located beneath such a grand estate as Haslewood Hall. Then again, it was the perfect temperature for a corpse. A long corridor led from the narrow winding staircase towards a larger room with a low arched ceiling. Miles lit the torches that were mounted on the wall. They managed to illuminate the dreary chamber somewhat. It still reminded Kent more of a mausoleum than of a wine cellar.

Peter, the slaughtered servant boy, was laid out on a stone table in the middle of the room. His skin was almost white, some of the blood on his body having been washed away the night before after they had brought him down here. The body looked almost clean now. One could now see the bruises that hadn’t been visible before. The worst bruising was around the neck. Patches of skin had turned an alarming shade of purple. The deeper wounds were also better visible and seemed even more grotesque than they had the night before. There was a long cut to the upper right thigh, coming dangerously close to the boy’s genitals. Three further slashes on the abdomen and a final cut where the heart could be seen. These wounds hadn’t been inflicted to cause death that much was clear to Kent. It was unclear, however, if they had been carried out before or after the poor boy’s demise. Only a closer examination could bring forth the answer.

Buchan seemed rather keen to get started right away. Chandler leaned over the body with obvious distaste. Not that Kent could blame him. At the moment he felt much the same.

»Except for the bruising around the neck, I can see no further signs of any pressure being used,« Buchan said.

»Meaning?« Chandler inquired.

»That the victim didn’t struggle when the cuts were being made. Therefore, I would say that they must have been made after death, just like in the case of Gilles des Rais.«

Kent looked at Buchan in amazement. The man whom he had initially not held in too high a regard had managed to impress him once again. A former tradesman he might be, but Buchan really seemed to know what he was talking about in this case. Then he remembered the tale Buchan had shared with them the night before and he shivered, and not from the cold. Even if it was clear that their killer wasn’t the Frenchman Gilles des Rais, surely the killer of this boy had to be similarly deranged? The longer Kent looked at the pale body before him, the more he became assured that this was the work of a skilled hand rather than that of a novice. This madman had killed before.

»But for what reason?« Mansell asked, pulling Kent out of his reverie.

»That, we sadly don’t know. Perhaps if we could take a closer look inside to see…«

Buchan leaned directly over the body.

»Now that the body has been cleaned we could perhaps determine what sort of weapon caused these wounds.«

Buchan pointed towards the deep gash on the thigh. Chandler at this point seemed to have forcibly gotten over his fears and also dared to take a closer look at the corpse.

»Most certainly a knife,« he stated, trying his best to hide his disgust. Kent grimaced in sympathy. The stench was already beginning to spread throughout the cellar despite the low temperatures. In a day or two the whole place would probably reek of death and decay.

»But what sort of a knife?« Buchan asked. »Was it a hunter’s knife, with a long sharp blade, or perhaps a kitchen knife, a larger and blunter weapon?«

Kent followed the discussion with great interest. Again, Buchan seemed to have a point. A moment later he himself voiced his thoughts: »So you mean if we can find out what sort of knife was used that will bring us closer to finding the killer?«

Chandler turned around, looking approvingly at Kent.

»Exactly,« Buchan concluded.

Suddenly the five men heard footsteps coming down the stairs to the cellar. Rather loud and fast footsteps. Someone was running down the stairs. When the door to the cellar flew open, Lady Riley burst in.

»Come quick!« She shouted hysterically. »There’s a madman about!«

Everybody dropped what they were doing and rushed upstairs immediately.

»Where? I want to catch the bastard!« Mansell declared, running ahead of the others. He seemed determined to be the first to reach the perpetrator.

»Who is it?« Chandler tried to inquire, following right behind Lady Riley who was somewhat out of breath. They had almost reached the top landing before she answered.

»A madman…in the garden.«

»Then it must be the murderer returned to the scene of his crime!« Mansell shouted as he picked up his pace. He was the first to reach the pavilion door and charge through it.

By the time Chandler, Buchan, Miles and Kent made it into the garden, Mansell had a man already pinned to the ground. He was crushing the man’s face into the solid ice. Kent could only imagine how painful that must be. But if he really was their man, then he got nothing less than he deserved.

»You bastard! You killed him, didn’t you?« Mansell shouted into the man’s ear.

The supposed madman tried to scream, but barely had enough air in his lungs to cry out. All he could do was whimper. He tried to wriggle himself out of Mansell’s grasp without success. Mansell used his larger body to his advantage and pressed the man even harder into the ground. Kent was slightly appalled by the brutality of it. Even if this man was guilty of murder, there was no need to crush him to death before they had even spoken to him.

»Mansell, get off of him! We must deal with him in the proper manner,« Chandler shouted. »We won’t get any answers out of him as long as you’re sitting on top of him.«

Finally, the baron saw sense and slowly got up. Still gripping the man’s collar and pulling him up as well.

»There, you have him!«

He pushed him towards the others. Blood ran down on the side of the man’s face and it looked as if he had taken a strong blow to the temple. Kent almost felt sorry for him.

»My God, it’s Calvin!« Miles called out.

»The town idiot?« Buchan asked, trying to take a closer look at the light-haired man who looked frightened and confused.

»Indeed. He isn’t our man. Calvin’s too stupid to do such a thing.«

Calvin began to shake his head violently and babble something no one could understand. At the moment he didn’t at all look like a dangerous killer, but more like a scared animal.

»He is a madman, isn’t he? And we find him out here where the body was found, correct? I say that makes him look pretty guilty in my eyes.«

Mansell did have a point, even though it pained Kent to admit it.

»Murder, murder,« Calvin cried out suddenly, as if in anguish, while he kept twisting and turning his body in an unnatural way. There was no mistaking those words. And then there was a strange gleam in his eyes. Kent felt a chill run through down his spin.

»You don’t think he’s…« Kent struggled to put his fears into words, »obsessed or something like that?«

»Nonsense,« Buchan reasoned. »He was disturbed by something, but I promise you that something it is not the devil, nor a demon.«

»Who cares about that? Can’t you hear what’s he’s shouting? That’s a confession to my ears!«

Mansell was smiling triumphantly until Chandler stepped forward.

Chandler approached Calvin slowly.

»Look, we’re not going to harm you. No one here will. We just want to ask you a few questions.«

The shouting stopped abruptly. Calvin looked at the earl questioningly.

»Now, can you tell me what happened? Why did you shout ›murder‹? Is that what you did yesterday? Murder someone out here?«

Calvin, who seemed to have the understanding of a child, looked Chandler up and down before answering, this time in proper English: »He was shorter than you, but just as high.«

Kent frowned. Judging from Chandler’s expression, he could make just as little sense of the remark as he could.

Chandler tried again. »Calvin, listen to me. Did you kill the boy, Peter?«

Calvin shook his head and half turned towards the house. »Not the work of a small man, but of one much higher. Up there.«
He pointed towards the sky. It all made very little sense, if any at all.

»Well, what did I say?«  Mansell cut it. »Lunatic.«

»But an innocent one,« Miles added. »He didn’t say he did it.«

Mansell just shook his head in disbelief.

»Miles is right,« Chandler said. »Until he gives his statement to the magistrate, we cannot charge him with the murder.«

»So what do we do with him?« Kent dared to ask.

Safely back inside the house, Chandler decided the only sensible thing to do was to lock Calvin in a room until the magistrate showed up. They chose one of the smaller servant’s rooms on the ground floor. It was located off the back kitchen with a tiny window, too narrow for any man to fit through, just in case Calvin thought about escaping. But Chandler thought that highly unlikely. Calvin hardly seemed to understand what was happening to him at all. At least he didn’t object to being locked up.

The man’s behaviour was puzzling, to say the least, but it didn’t convince Chandler of his guilt. There was definitely something wrong with him, but he didn’t appear to be a crazed murderer who was capable of such a despicable act. Chandler normally prided himself on being a good judge of character. He just hoped that he was right in this case.

No sooner had he locked the door on Calvin that his steward approached him.

»Sir, if I may speak.«

»Certainly.« Miles had a stern look upon his face, making it clear that he wasn’t backing down in this matter.

»Calvin isn’t our man. You’ve seen him. He’s not right in the head, true, but that doesn’t make him a killer.«

Chandler sighed. »And yet he knows something about it, you can’t deny that. How could he know about the murder otherwise?«

Miles fell silent. Chandler could almost see the wheels grinding away inside his head.

»Maybe he saw something he can’t make sense of.«

»He witnessed the murder you mean?« It was a possibility, Chandler had to concede. He tried to remember what Calvin had said earlier. ›Not work of a small man‹ – was he himself the small man? Perhaps Calvin had meant a simple man, small in wit and intelligence rather than in size. He’d also spoken of a higher man. Maybe God? Somehow that didn’t make sense.

»Well, if he really is a witness than the magistrate will surely be able to determine that.«

»If he comes,« Miles added in a dour tone of voice.

Chandler frowned. He knew the weather conditions were worsening. It was already storming outside with gale force winds sweeping across the open land.

»He will, sooner or later. He has to. Until then we keep Calvin locked up.«

He was the Earl of Haslewood, he got to make the final decision. It was as simple as that. And no amount of Miles grinding his teeth would change that.

Having finished their conversation, the two men were making their way towards the drawing room when Miles spoke up again.

»There is another strong suspect, sir. A person of higher status, just like Calvin said.«

Chandler was immediately alert. Could Calvin have tried to tell them that a nobleman was the murderer?

»Someone who is renowned for mistreating servants, sometimes even by using brutal force.«

»Who are you talking about Miles?«

His steward took a deep breath. »The Duke of York, sir.«

Cazenove. Chandler might have guessed as much.

»Where did you hear these rumours?«

»Oh, they’re no rumours, sir. I knew one of the servant boys on his estate. A young boy, beaten within an inch of his life for simply forgetting to clean out the stables one morning. Folk say that the Duke takes pleasure in such acts of violence.«

It seemed like another session of rubbing his temples was in order, Chandler thought to himself.

»Right, so we have one madman – who Baron Mansell swears is the killer – locked safely away and one nobleman – who you say is the most likely killer – still roaming around freely on the estate. Great…just great.«

They had reached the door to the drawing room.

»Miles, I don’t want anyone to know about the Duke, is that understood? I don’t care for the man myself, and I must admit that I already considered him a potential suspect before all of this came to light. But we cannot openly accuse him. I already got too close to that this morning. We must tread with care. I do not want to question him about the murder until the magistrate is present.«

»Understood, sir.«

»Oh, and Miles, just this once, please do as you’re told.«

His steward grinned. »Don’t I always, sir?«


Chapter Four - Master Post