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11 September 2013 @ 06:54 pm
death comes to haslewood hall - chapter four [whitechapel au bigbang]  
Chapter Four
They waited all afternoon for the magistrate.


Shortly before nightfall a messenger arrived. He declared that the magistrate could not come until the following morning.

Icy roads had caused one of the wheels on his carriage to be damaged and one could hardly expect the magistrate to come on horseback in the middle of a snowstorm. It was as Chandler had feared; they would all have to spend another night at Haslewood Hall with a corpse, a madman, a brutal killer, and now, the messenger boy. Well at least there was enough room for everyone.

Dinner was a quiet affair. Almost everyone seemed to be in a bad mood. Mansell because he wanted to leave; Lady Llewellyn and Lady Riley because they dreaded having to spend yet another night in a house marked by death; Miles because Calvin was still locked up, in his mind, without reason, and Kent because…well…might it be fear? Chandler couldn’t be certain, though he had to admit that the young man looked distressed, even scared. His complexion was even paler than usual. During the course of the meal, Chandler allowed himself to observe the young man more closely. There was little conversation and everyone just seemed to be concentrating on their food. Even Kent seemed to be so engrossed by his pear custard that he didn’t take notice of Chandler’s glances – glances, that Chandler conceded, would have been highly inappropriate at a normal dinner.

Cazenove excused himself after he had finished his main course. Although no one said anything, a few of the guests shared Chandler’s suspicions about the Duke’s role in their murder mystery.

»Do you think we should have a servant keep an eye on him?« Buchan asked after the Duke had left the room.

»I don’t think that’s necessary. He would probably take it as a personal offence. No, we’ll wait and let the magistrate deal with it in the morning. But I would advise you all, as I did my servants, to take certain precautions for the coming night.«

»What sort of precautions?«

Before Chandler could answer Lady Riley, Miles, who was standing behind him with a tray in his hand, said: »He means that we should all lock ourselves in our rooms for tonight.«

»Is that really necessary?« Lady Llewellyn wanted to know. Chandler sighed. He hated having to ask this of his guests, but truth be told, he couldn’t guarantee their safety.

»I fear it is. Our murderer may still be on the loose and who is to say that he won’t try again.«

Gasps could be heard all around the dining table.

»And if he doesn’t, then we know Calvin is our man after all,« Mansell concluded, before taking another sip from his goblet.

Chandler couldn’t condemn the Baron for having his own opinion in the matter. Calvin, despite Miles’ arguments in favour of his innocence, was still a viable suspect.

After dinner, silence descended on the house. Morgan and the ladies had retired early and nobody had seen much of Louis all day. After a quick glass of brandy, it was the gentlemen’s turn to retire for the night. Chandler made sure that every one of his guests locked themselves into their rooms before doing the same.

He had just slipped out of his jerkin and was about to remove his linen shirt when a knock sounded on his door. He froze and waited. There was no further sound. Had he just imagined it? A moment later another hesitant knock followed.

»Yes?« he asked in a voice which wavered just a bit. For a brief moment he feared that it might be the Duke coming to confront him about his accusations.

But as he slowly opened the door, it was Kent’s face that greeted him. The young baronet looked nervous.

»I know it’s late, and I am truly sorry for disturbing you at this hour.«

He dropped his gaze as he spoke.

»It’s alright. Although I wouldn’t advise you to go strolling around the corridor at this time at night. It’s really not safe.«

Kent nodded. He almost looked like a child who had just been scolded. That wasn’t what Chandler had intended. He felt like he had to make it up to him.

»What can I assist you with?« He asked, making an effort to sound a bit more accommodating.

Kent looked up again and gently bit his lip. His pale cheeks were slowly beginning to show colour. Chandler was instantly reminded of their little chat from the night before. He suddenly felt his heart start to race. Whatever the reason for Kent’s visit, they were sure to be safe as long as they remained out on the hallway. Chandler knew he couldn’t trust himself if he invited Kent into this bedchamber. So he stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind lest he succumb to temptation.

»It’s just…well, I thought about everything that has been said today and somehow I don’t think that Calvin or the Duke is guilty of the murder.«

»Oh?« Now that drew Chandler’s attention into a different direction.

»I mean, Calvin just doesn’t seem capable of such an act,« Kent went on.

»I know, I feel the same way. And the Duke?«

»The Duke…well…despite the stories of his violent behaviour, do we have any proof? And then there is the fact that he clearly seems to fancy women.«

He dropped his gaze once more, this time to hide a full-on blush.

Chandler couldn’t help but to be drawn in by such charming innocence.

»Go on,« he pressed, wanting to hear more words spill from those beautiful lips. When their eyes met again, he could see that Kent wasn’t just struggling with finding the right words. It seemed as if there was something else he had to overcome. Something more serious.

»Well, the killer clearly takes a perverse pleasure in boys,« he spoke very slowly, letting each word sink in, »Somehow I don’t think boys are to the Duke’s taste.«

Chandler could hardly breathe. Did the young baronet have any idea how dangerous this conversation was? Suddenly the fact that they were still standing in a hallway didn’t seem to matter that much. It was dark enough and it was just the two of them.
»I see,« Chandler replied after a moment of silence, his voice hoarse.

»And who do you think would prefer boys?« He felt his body react almost instantly and was powerless to stop it. They were suddenly talking about something completely different. The pressure within his breeches was almost unbearable. There was no point denying it. He only hoped that Kent didn’t notice his momentary distress.

*

He knew he was blushing; he was probably a deep crimson red by now. How could he have brought up such a delicate matter? What must the Earl think of him now? He was inwardly cursing himself when he noticed Chandler leaning in closer to him. In an almost husky voice he heard the Earl say: »And who do you think prefers boys?«

Oh dear God, he had said it! To hear those words from the Earl’s lips nearly made Kent faint. He knew he couldn’t hide his emotions very well. That had always been one of his weaknesses. Would the Earl condemn him for such impure thoughts? Would he even go so far as to suspect him of the murder? So many wild ideas began to swirl around in his head that he could hardly think straight. And then he heard his name spoken out loud.

»Emerson. Look at me.«

Had he dreamt it? When he looked up once more he realised that it wasn’t a dream. The Earl had just called him by his given name - for the second time.

»Emerson, do you…« Chandler’s voice broke off before uttering what Kent feared most. What should he say? Take a leap and speak the truth? Would he be thrown off the estate? Or even locked into a room for the magistrate to deal with?

For a moment it that seemed that time itself had come to a standstill. Kent could barely breathe.

To his shock, he felt Chandler had gently grabbed a hold of his right wrist. It was only the ghost of a touch and yet it was enough to send shivers down his spine. Kent noticed the other man trembling and threw all caution to the wind.

Taking a step closer, his body finally came into contact with Chandler’s. They both quivered.

»Emerson,« Chandler whispered, closing his eyes.

All thoughts about the murder were forgotten as Kent leaned in closer, pressing himself against the taller man. For once, Kent dared to let himself be led by his instincts. He laid a hand over Chandler’s and squeezed it. That was all the response that was needed at this point.

They moved as if in sync; Chandler leaning down and the Kent almost tiptoeing. When their lips finally met it was soft and slow and still.

Realisation hit him after a few seconds. He was kissing the Earl of Haslewood! Before panic could set in, Kent grabbed the other man’s collar, pulling him even closer. A startled sound emerged from Chandler’s lips before there was no more room to even breathe. The timid touch of lips soon became heated. Open mouths allowed tongues to act out an age-old dance of passion. It was a totally new experience for Ken; emotions were arising which he’d before only dreamt about.

As Chandler let one his hands wander down Kent’s spine, the younger man pressed even closer. He could feel the warmth of both their bodies. Through Chandler’s thin shirt, Kent could also feel every muscle of the other man’s finely shaped body. He was a real man, not a skinny boy like himself. What did the Earl see in him? Doubts threatened to overwhelm Kent until Chandler deepened the kiss once again. All of Kent’s worries melted away. All he could do now was feel. And there was nothing he wanted more. Only perhaps to open his eyes to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.

And he did just that. What he saw left him frozen to the spot. Drawing away from Chandler, Kent tried to look further into the darkness of the hallway, trying to figure out what it was he was seeing.

»Someone is here,« he whispered. Alarmed, the Earl immediately let go of him and turned around to see what Kent had seen. They both heard the footsteps at the same time. Someone was running away.

»Who was it?« Chandler asked. Kent shook his head.

»I didn’t get a good look, I’m afraid. It’s too dark out here. I just saw a shadow, a figure. I fear it could have been anyone.«

Whatever had just been between them had come to an abrupt end. As Chandler backed away even further, Kent swallowed. Neither of them seemed able to grasp the seriousness of the situation. It had all happened so fast, too fast to digest.

Then Chandler cleared his throat: »We’ll find out who it was sooner or later, but for now I think we should retire. It’s pretty late.«

He turned around a bit stiffly and returned to his bedchamber. Kent could feel his heart drop. Of course this was going to happen, what else had he expected?

Just before the Earl could shut the door to his chambers, he spoke in low, quiet tone: »No one can know about this. I think it best we just forget our little indiscretion. Agreed?«

Kent didn’t trust his voice. He simply nodded when Chandler glanced back at him.

»Well, then good night. Be sure you return to your room immediately, just in case.«

After Chandler had shut his door, Kent heard him turn the lock. »Goodnight,« he whispered into the empty hallway. Feeling as if he had been put through the wringer, Kent turned on his heel and made his way towards his own bedchamber. As he locked himself in for the night, he rested his head against the cold, wooden door and let a single teardrop run down his face.  What had he done?

*
As soon as he had locked his door, Chandler banged his head against it. He couldn’t believe how impulsive he’d just acted, how utterly out of control he had been. Years of holding himself back; years of restraint and self-control… they had all been for nothing. He had given into his shameful weakness within less than 48 hours of meeting the fetching young baronet. Never before in his life had he ever come so close to indulging his sinful nature. What was wrong with him?

He wanted to put it down to the emotional strain they had all been under over the last 24 hours, but he knew it wasn’t just that. Blaming it on the situation was turning a blind eye to his own weakness, was something he couldn’t do that. The boy was partly to blame - those innocent, brown eyes which reminded him of a lost deer in the woods, those sharp cheek bones he wanted to nip at, and finally that mop of dark, unruly hair he wanted to run his hands through…they were all to blame for his catastrophic loss of control. Enough! This had already gone too far. And even worse, someone had seen them!

Whoever it had been, they were sure to report it to the magistrate come morning. And then what? Could a man of the law overlook such a ‘minor’ indiscretion? Chandler hoped and prayed for it. And not just for his own sake. The last thing he wanted was for Kent to suffer because of one moment of madness.

Chandler had of course noticed how eager the young man had been in responding to the kiss. Oh yes, he had been very eager indeed. But one could hardly blame him for what had happened. Chandler decided to take full responsibility in this matter. If there was to be an inquiry, he would be the one to deal with it, not young Kent. He would try to protect the young baronet as best he could.

After washing himself down, scrubbing hard to try and get the imaginary filth from his skin, he slipped into his nightshirt and crawled under the heavy blanket. It was pitch dark in the room, the only light coming from the moon, which cast a strange shadow across the floor. For a long while Chandler didn’t dare to close his eyes. He feared the dreams that might come chasing after him. The kiss was still too fresh on his mind. His gaze turned to the window and he could see little ice-flowers forming on the thin glass. He knew he should get up and get a fire going, or have one of the servant’s do it for him, but he was too exhausted to even get up and call for someone. Instead he remained in his bed, tossing and turning, unable to find a comfortable position.

A noise next door startled him. He listened more closely. It almost sounded like something heavy had been dropped. He waited. The minutes ticked by and everything remained silent. Chandler sat up against the headboard and put his ear against the wall separating his chamber from the guest room. He heard a muffled noise. Almost like someone coughing, but it only lasted for a second. However, it was enough to alarm Chandler.

He can’t breathe. The pressure around his neck is slowly, but steadily increasing. Very soon now he will simply pass out and then die. Kent has given up trying to throw off his assailant.

It’s painfully clear he isn’t strong enough, not in this position anyway. His attacker is sitting on his back, pressing his whole weight down upon him. The man’s hands are around his neck, trying to squeeze the life out of him. It will end soon enough. After Kent accepts that fact it becomes easy to let go, to stop struggling and just give in to the feeling of heaviness spreading through his limbs. Suddenly there is more pain, no more fear. It is almost like falling asleep. And then he hears a loud banging noise and everything goes black.

Chandler jumped out of bed, grabbed the candle from his nightstand and unlocked his door. By the time he reached Kent’s bedchamber, he thought he recognised the voice making the sounds. It was Kent, it had to be. Perhaps he was only having a nightmare?

Chandler lingered in front of the closed door for a moment, just listening. Suddenly he heard a loud thump.

»Kent?« he softly called out, not wanting to alarm anyone else. He waited, but there was no answer. He trembled as he slowly moved forward and pressed his ear firmly to the door.

»Kent? Is everything alright?«

Chandler heard a faint moan and something that almost sounded like someone was choking. He had to take immediate action! He tried the door first, which of course was locked. If Kent were really in danger then was no time to lose. He stepped back and charged the door, throwing his full weight against the solid oak. It didn’t yield at first and was only after the third attempt when Chandler’s shoulder was crying out in pain that the lock finally gave way.

As soon as he burst through the door he noticed a shadowy figure in the room. And it wasn’t Kent. The mysterious figure seemingly looked up at Chandler before turning around and fleeing out the window, which stood wide open.

Chandler was stunned. He could not move and he could not think straight. His eyes sought out the bed where he was barely able to make out Kent. Chandler’s heart stopped.

It was only when he got closer that his worst fears were laid to rest. Kent was still breathing, if only just. There were red marks around his neck from where he had obviously been choked. Chandler wanted nothing more than to stay and check on him, but there wasn’t any time. He’d already lost valuable minutes. He put the candle down, crossed the room and followed the assailant out the window into the cold winter night. Thankfully, the bedchambers were located on the first floor. He climbed down the timber beans, which framed the house, careful not to lose his footing. When he reached the frozen ground he could see the attacker in the distance. The man was still running! Chandler picked up his pace, trying to catch up. The culprit was almost at the end of the garden when he turned sharply to the right. Chandler was panting by now, but he couldn’t give up. With sweat trickling down his forehead, he pursued the stranger.

Suddenly he realised where the man was headed. Straight back to the house! Chandler didn’t have the time to analyse this turn of events. He followed as fast has he could, until he was approaching the house from the East. When he turned the corner towards the main entrance, he discovered with dismay that the man had vanished. Chandler ran the entire length of the house, down the other side, in the search of him. But the scoundrel was nowhere to be found. Chandler stopped for a second, just to catch his breath. The man couldn’t have just disappeared into thin air! If he’d taken the main path from the entrance, Chandler should still be able to see him. The road towards the village, his second option, was on the other side of the house, at the end of the garden, but it was clear that he hadn’t taken that route. So where had he gone to? There was only one logical conclusion: he must have somehow entered the house!

Chandler hastened back to the main door, banging against it.

»Miles, open up!«

The moments that passed until the door was opened felt like an eternity.

»What on Earth? Is that you, sir?«

Miles was holding a candle up to get a closer look.

»Yes, now let me in!«

»What happened?« his steward demanded to know in an alarmed voice.

»There was another attack. Upstairs in one of the guest bedrooms. I managed to chase the man who did it, but then I lost him.«

Chandler hung his head down in frustration, his fists balled at his sides. He needed to tell Miles that the perpetrator might be inside the house at this very moment. But first things first.

»Another murder?« Miles asked, a stern expression creasing his brow.

»No, thankfully not. Only an attempted one. But I must check on the young baronet. See how badly he is injured.«

»Young Kent was the victim? Understood. I’ll send up some hot water and maybe something to numb the pain?«

Chandler nodded. There was little else to be done at this point. Before he went upstairs he turned to Miles. »And can you get the footmen perhaps and have a look around the house? See if any windows or doors have been opened.«

»You think the attacker is in the house?«

»He might be.«

*

Kent was fuzzy on the details of what had happened tonight. There was Chandler’s face leaning in to kiss him and then there was the dark shape of a man pressing down on him, suffocating him.

Everything went dark.

When he opened his eyes again it was to see Chandler’s terrified face. They shared a moment of silent communication before Chandler nodded and headed towards the open window. It felt surreal and dreamlike. Was he still asleep? It didn’t feel like it.
Kent raised his head and then immediately dropped back down onto the mattress. Everything was spinning around him. He felt as if he might be sick, so he just settled back down and closed his eyes. Whatever it was that had just happened, he could wait for an explanation. Exhausted he let himself drift back into the world of comforting darkness.

Someone was touching him. A soft pressure on his left arm. Nothing to alarm him, nothing like before. Still, his mind was forced to resurface from the comforting depths of nothingness.

»I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m sorry.«

It was Chandler. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, hand extended towards Kent, which he now slowly pulled back. There was a candle on the nightstand, which bathed the room in a warm, hazy light.

»What…« he started to ask, his throat to dry to talk. »What happened?«

Chandler passed him a glass of water.

»I was hoping you could tell me that.«

He took a few sips and then put the glass down next to the candle.

»It looks like there was another attempted murder,« Chandler continued after a moment of silence. Kent frowned. And then he realised what Chandler meant.

»Me? He tried to kill me?«

A slow nod was all the answer Kent needed. He closed his eyes for a second, willing his breath to even out and  to stop himself from having a panic attack.

»He tried to strangle me.« Kent started to understand what had happened to him earlier. It was all still a blurry haze and he felt like a captain having to navigate a ship through the mist. He needed to find a passage, needed to work through all of his emotions and fears and just concentrate on what he could remember.

»I woke up and I felt this dead weight upon me. Someone was crushing me.«

»Did you see who it was?«

Kent sighed. »No, I didn’t. I was lying on my stomach at the time and he was strangling me from behind. I only saw his hands as they…« he broke off. Anxiety rose up in him like bile.

He noticed that Chandler wasn’t pressuring him on the matter. They both remained silent for a while as Kent turned his attention to the window, which was now locked. Chandler’s eyes followed his gaze.

»He must have gotten in through there. It wasn’t latched, was it?«

Kent shook his head. He hadn’t thought about it, to be honest. The potential threat was something that hadn’t really occurred to him.
»Thank you,« Kent said, turning back to look at the other man. »For saving my life, I mean,« he added quickly.

Chandler seemed to be at a loss for words. Their eyes met and Kent could almost see the older man starting to blush. He swallowed.

»It was the least I could do,« Chandler replied after a few seconds.

An awkward silence fell between them and Kent blamed himself for it. He shouldn’t have said anything to make Chandler feel uncomfortable, which he now clearly was. At least he could have waited until morning.

Chandler got up and walked towards the window. Just when Kent thought Chandler was about to inspect it, he turned towards the bed again.

»Kent, there are some other questions I fear I have to ask you. Some rather personal and not very pleasant questions.«

Kent took a deep breath. He knew this was coming and tried to prepare himself as best he could.

»Of course. What do you need to know?«

Chandler hesitated for a moment, searching for the right words.

»Your attacker, did he…I mean he tried to choke you, that much we know for certain, but was there anything else? Before, perhaps, when you woke up? Did he try and do anything else?«

A fierce blush spread across Chandler’s cheeks. Kent couldn’t blame him for being embarrassed. The thought alone of the topic they were about to discuss was enough to almost turn his stomach upside down. He remembered the injuries on the servant boy, recalled the information they had gathered from their investigation. Buggery. The assailant had brutally forced himself upon Peter before choking him to death. Had he done the same to Kent?

»I…I only know that when I woke up he was already in the room. He was sitting on my back, pressing me down with full force.«

Kent closed his eyes, trying to remain calm although he could feel his head beginning to throb painfully.

»I think he tried to pull my nightshirt up, but I struggled and he had to use both his hands to control me. I don’t think that he…well that he…«

»It’s alright,« Chandler quickly interjected, approaching the bed once more. He reached out and gently squeezed Kent’s arm for reassurance.

»You don’t need to say more. We can talk about this in the morning, if you want to that is. For now I think you should rest. You’ve been through a lot.«

Chandler had just about made it to the door when Kent sat up and quietly said: »Stay…please.«

Chandler turned around to face him. The Earl was clearly trembling, and this time Kent knew that it had nothing to do with the attack on him.

He watched as Chandler let his shoulders drop in defeat. »I can’t.«

Kent nodded in understanding, although he felt like it is tearing him apart. »I understand.«

Kent turned to face the window and pulled the blankets up all the way to his chin.

So absorbed was he in his misery that it took him a moment to realize that the bed had dipped. Chandler was sitting on the other side, a sympathetic smile on his face. They didn’t talk after that. The candle was blown out before they settled themselves down into the bed. Kent knew that this was wrong on so many levels, perhaps even worse than the kiss they had shared in the hallway, but right now he didn’t care. He needed this, needed to feel the warmth and strength of Chandler as he gently rested his head on the older man’s broad chest and breathed in deeply. He could smell a slightly earthy aroma mixed with a trace of thyme. He wondered briefly where that scent had come from. Had Chandler bought it into the room with him? Somehow that seemed unlikely. He thought about it for a while and then it simply didn’t seem to matter anymore. Just as he was drifting away he felt a big hand come to rest at his waist.


Chapter Five - Master Post