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The Mystery of the Hunting Cottage

Chapter Text

1923, Hunting Cottage on the Moors, Derbyshire

Lord Thorington and his charming young wife had been married for four months, when they were to host a grouse shooting party. The weather at the moors was cold and windy, and it seemed that most of the company were in foul mood. Mr. Balinson, Lord Thorington’s barrister was suffering from aches in his legs; the London guests of the Thoringtons - including a famous theatre actor, known by the name Archibald Baggins, and a well-known psychiatrist Ian McGrey - had lost interest into the hunt quite quickly, due to the biting wind climbing under their clothes, and water squelching under their boots; and despite the efforts of Graham Dwalinson, Thorington’s gamekeeper, little was achieved. Everyone hurried to the big house, to warm up at the log fire, and to partake to food and punch.

Lady Thorington was a young Irish woman, petite and lively, but not liked by Thorington’s close circle. She was a daughter of Thorington’s business associates, and the marriage was told to be more of a convenience, than of passionate nature. Their behaviour in public had always been perfectly civilised, if a bit cold. After their wedding they had spent two weeks in Egypt, and after that they had settled in a perfectly proper social life, each of them rotating in their respective circles, both perfectly respectable and respected by those around them.

The shooting party, on the other hand, continued to disappoint. Upon arrival to the house the company had discovered that the preparations hadn’t been complete yet. As it turned out, the temporary staff sent by the agency was incompetent, while Mrs. Dorison, the housekeeper was ill, bedridden in her small cottage in the nearest village.

Once again, Lady Thorington had shown herself a perfect example of a woman of proper class, and food and drinks were organised in the dining room within half an hour. She was known to be strict but fair with staff, and loved by the latter. The punch and the sandwiches were followed by a dinner promptly, and everyone seemed content, and the hunt was quickly forgotten.

While men left for the gun room with their drinks, Lady Thorington and other ladies had tea and a pleasant conversation in the small library.

And that was when the maid came to inform Lady Thorington that the central heating system of the main house had broken down, and in the nearest two hours the temperature in all rooms was expected to drop.

Once again, with her usual composure and dignified bearing, Lady Thorington organised rooms for all the guests in the small inn in the village, as well as with a few well-respected local families. She also allowed the staff to go back to their families, and somehow in two hours her husband and Lady Thorington were the only two people left in the house. A repairman for the boiler was to come in the evening of the next day, as he would have to take train from the nearest town. On the other hand, both the master and the mistress’ bedrooms had large fireplaces in them, and after a short discussion the Thoringtons decided they could try their luck with staying in their house overnight.

***

Lady Leary climbed under the heap of blankets she had gathered on her bed. She had taken off her corset, but decided against changing into the silk pajamas she had brought with her. The thought of the cold silk on her skin made her shiver. She had kept her brasserie, the tap pants, the slip, and the stockings, and then pulled over a large button-up sweater. At the moment, the fireplace was providing her with sufficient warmth in these garments, but she was feeling rather pessimistic regarding early morning hours. She had an unfortunately slender built, and tended to be cold in the best of accommodations. The house was hardly one of them at the moment.

Lady Thorington pulled her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around her legs, and ordered herself to go to sleep. And then a polite but decisive knock came to her door.

Lady Gwendolen, known to her closest friends as Wren, felt astonished. Unless the visitor was a burglar - who would hardly bother to knock - that would be her husband standing behind that door. And that would be most unusual.

There was only one reason why Lord Thorington would come to his wife’s bedroom at this hour. It wasn’t a matter out of the ordinary, but the circumstances didn’t point at such possibility. Lord Thorington indeed visited his wife’s bedroom, and it were conjugal duties that he would seek in this case. In accordance with his general even and methodical disposition, Lord Thorington would come at the same time, half past eleven, unless otherwise occupied, and always on Thursdays. It could perhaps be explained that it was caused by their wedding and consequently wedding night having taken place on a Thursday. Lord Thorington was after all a man of habit and admirable internal discipline.

It was Wednesday, and a quick look at the clock by the wall informed Lady Leary that it was ten to ten. That was indeed confusing.

She then shook her head and smiled to her own silly musings. Clearly, there was some other, much more probable matter that her husband needed her to attend to. Perhaps, he was looking for a warm water bottle, or another blanket.

“Come in, please,” Wren called to him, and sat up on the bed, pressing the blankets to her chest, feeling to her own astonishment rather shy.

They had been married for almost four months after all, and that would amount to eleven Thursdays. And during their first two weeks, on their trip in Egypt, they shared the bedroom, and there were three ‘Thursdays’ during each of those weeks. To summarise, they had had intimate encounters fifteen times, and he was very much familiar with her in a state of undress. And there was a thick sweater on her at the moment. She couldn’t quite explain the blush torturing her cheekbones even to herself.

The door opened, and John Thorington walked into her bedroom. He was a large man, wide shouldered, with a stately, proud posture, and a confident bearing. He had dark hair, silver starting to frost his temples and the soft waves above his forehead; piercing blue eyes; and a patrician profile.

“I seem to be encountering problems with my fireplace,” he pronounced in a low voice, in his habitual manner addressing the main point from the start. “It has filled my room with smoke.” His tone was full of indignation. “And even before it, it hadn’t provided sufficient warmth.”

Wren quickly asked herself whether he expected her to address the chimney conundrum herself and immediately; and she felt a small inappropriate giggle to rise in her. She of course suppressed it, but she had to admit to herself that the view of him in his pajamas and the robe, his hair disheveled, face displeased, was somehow amusing. It was surely the strangeness of the situation that was affecting her.

“Would you like to join me in my bed, John?” she asked, and he nodded quickly and approached her. She then noticed a bottle and two glasses he held in his hands.

Lady Gwendolen had an unfortunate inability to drink spirits. She could indulge in a small amount of brandy - which was what her husband had brought with him - but nothing more than a few sips would be wise for her to partake.

She shifted, freeing room for him on the right side of the bed, and saw him frown lightly.

“Do you mind if I take the left side?” he asked, and Wren gave him a studying look.

She now recalled that indeed in those two weeks in Egypt he had slept on the left side, which served her perfectly, since she always prefered the right side. She also now remembered how uncomfortable sharing bed with him was. There were two reasons for her predicament. Firstly, she was feeling endlessly uneasy in his presence, their bodies separated only with two layers of thin undergarments. Secondly, her husband had an immensely high body temperature. Even lying on the very edge of the bed in the resort hotel, she could feel the heat radiating from his skin. The latter, to think of it, would be most fortunate at the moment.

He climbed under her blankets, and Wren picked up a pillow offering it to him.

“I sleep without one,” he said, in a surprised and slightly peevish tone, and the same strange hysterical amusement rose in her.

“Well, I wouldn’t know, would I?” she joked, and he gave her a side glance and for some reason took the pillow. He tucked it behind his back, and settled, sitting up, his back leaned onto the headboard.

“I feel frozen to my bones,” he grumbled. “I think we should have a drink first.”

“Isn’t it what they suggest to skiers in Alps? I reckon, that’s what those rescue dogs have in their little barrels,” Wren answered, and then saw him slowly turn his head to her to give her a disbelieving look. “In actuality, the St. Bernard dogs do not wear those barrels on their collars. It’s an invention of a painter named Edwin Landseer, about a century ago...” Wren trailed away, having understood the preposterousness of her behaviour about fifteen words ago, but unfortunately unable to stop.

She did have an overall unfortunate habit of becoming immensely talkative when nervous, but she had managed to conceal this fact from her husband or any other acquaintance of hers until now. Her family knew and found it endlessly entertaining. Judging by the slightly raised eyebrow, Lord Thorington didn’t.

“Shall we have this drink?” Wren asked in a feigned cheery tone. “The sooner we fall asleep, the more chance we have to sleep till morning.”

He studied her for a few more seconds, and then poured the brandy to both glasses. One was half full, clearly prepared for him; hers contained just enough for her to feel its effect but not to lose consciousness.

He was still lifting it to his lips, when Wren toppled the content of hers into her mouth. To say that she wasn’t trying to conclude their day as quickly as possible would be an erroneous statement. The drink burnt her palate and then the throat, and she couldn’t hold back a small raspy cough. Her husband froze with his lips on the rim of the glass. Gwendolen hastily put the glass on the bedside table and slid down, under the blankets.

It was probably quite inappropriate just to turn her back at him, but she decided that the situation was queer enough for some formalities to be abandoned.

“Well, good night, John,” she muttered, and was ready to turn to face the other way, when his low voice stopped her.

“What about those Alpine dogs and small barrels?”

Wren looked at him in shock. She had slid down so much by then that it was only the upper half of her face that was sticking out from under the blanket. He had a bored expression on his face and was seemingly preoccupied with studying the content of his glass, half of the brandy having been drunk already.

“They portray St. Bernard dogs with barrels of brandy on their collars, but that’s not true… They don’t… wear them… And alcohol would cause only greater and faster damage to a person stranded in snow...” Wren muttered, and he gave her a quick look from the corner of his eye.

“How do you know? Are you particularly fond of St. Bernard dogs?” His tone was still even and disinterested. Wren wasn’t quite sure what to think of his odd attempts to continue their conversation.

“I am not. I’m not fond of dogs in general,” she answered slowly, but then quickly corrected herself, “I do like them as a species. They are… loyal and a pleasant company. But I have a reaction to dog’s hair. I just read it somewhere. I do read a lot… And then remember it all since I have this peculiar memory...” She realised that the brandy she had so unwisely gobbled up was starting to affect her.

He took another small sip, his eyes still distant, and she decided that was the end of it. She mumbled some more ‘good night’s’ and turned on her side, her back to him. He hadn’t moved, still drinking his brandy, and she wanted to remind him to turn off the lamp near him, but decided against.

She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep. It proved quite ineffective. Firstly, one of her stockings slid down and was now bunched up around her leg, unpleasantly pressing under her knee. Secondly, her thoughts whirred, one replacing another; perhaps, from the drink; or perhaps, from just how bizarre the situation was. Thirdly, she felt a little bit sad. Clearly, her marriage wasn’t quite the most successful kind, considering that she had just called sharing a bed with her husband “bizarre.” Fourthly, she felt acutely aware of his presence, starting from the fact that the bed keeled under his weight; and although it was perhaps only her imagination, she was as if keeping herself from rolling down towards him, all her muscles tense. She could also feel the warmth they shared under the covers; as well as the smell of his cologne had found its way into her sensitive nose. She was familiar with it of course; but in her bedraggled state it didn’t remind her of the instances when she’d catch it during their social outings, for example, in an opera loge. She was suddenly overwhelmed with intrusive memories of Thursdays.

The proceedings were more or less repeating themselves every week. He would knock politely at her door, and wait for her to let him in. Once she had her “special time of the month,” so as soon as he stepped into the room, she informed him that she wasn’t well. He just nodded, wished her quick recovery, and left the same way.

As for the other nine times he would come in, sit on the edge of the bed, and give her a questioning look. She would give him a nod, or a smile, or both. After which, he would toe off his slippers, untie his robe, fold it carefully, and put it on the chair near the bed. She’d move, giving him a chance to lie down, and he would slide under the covers. She was dressed in a nightgown and not pajamas, since she was aware of what was to transpire, since she owed a calendar. He would then take off his trousers wiggling under the covers, with the same reserved, slightly peevish expression as he wore at any hour of any day, and then he would lie on top of her. Another questioning look would follow. All nine times Wren would give him a nod, or a smile; but she secretly wondered what he would do if she didn’t. And then she would answer to herself with firmly certainty that he would just roll off, put his trousers back on, and calmly leave through the door. But she always agreed, and shift her knees, and pull up her nightgown - and for one simple reason.

It is important to note here, that Lady Thorington didn’t consider herself an amorous, or passionate woman. She was in no way resistent either. Since early age, she had been accepting the view her family had on her character: she had been considered meticulous, somewhat fastidious, but compassionate. She had approached her marriage with Lord Thorington in her usual manner, and accepted their conjugal duties just as any task her marital life had put in front of her. She wanted to do well, but she was not going to lose her head over it.

And everything in the Thursday night seemed to agree with her conviction. After a light pleasant kiss on her lips, her husband would press his member to her vulva, push in, not roughly but decisively, and then would start moving in rhythmical deep thrusts. It was rather pleasant, if not somewhat repetitive.

Gwendolen wasn’t naive either. She knew that physical aspect of marriage varied from couple to couple, and that there were people out there who not only craved such pleasures, but were unhealthily addicted to them. Lady Gwendolen Elizabeth Thorington, Marchioness of Enedwaith was in no way one of such depraved people.

And yet there was this one little thing.

She was shaken out of her stubborn attempts not to think about ‘that one thing’ by a soft clank of a glass being put on the bedside table, and then the room grew dark. Her husband shifted, invisible but nonetheless very much present; the bed moved; and then he pulled at the blankets a bit, without taking an unfair amount, but clearly trying to find a comfortable position, and then he grew quiet and still. Gwendolen slowly released the breath she didn’t know she was holding.

They lay in silence for a few minutes, and Gwendolen realised that was quite enough. All her composure and upbringing aside, she just couldn’t stand this torture anymore. She twisted her body, grabbed the stocking, and jerked it up her thigh - consequently, pressing her backside into the fully erect member of her husband.

“Oh dear, I’m sorry… It’s just that my stocking slid, and I...” she mumbled, mortified, and then slowly retracted her backside, straightening up her body under the sheets.

“It’s quite alright,” he answered in a strangely hoarse voice. “No harm done...”

“Good night, John,” she hastily added.

“Good night, Gwendolen.”

Sadly, that was the aforementioned ‘that one thing.’ After about seven minutes of thrusting in her, his torso supported on his elbows, his eyes closed, and his face serene - she had to confess to sometimes peeking - his movements would grow faster, rougher; and that was when she would start feeling the pressure growing in her lower stomach. Again, she was hardly naive, and was aware of how some women received some sort of rapture like pleasure from fulfilling their marital duties. Wren doubted she was one of them, but these few minutes at the end of their coition were very much rewarding. He then would make the last few, already jerky movements, and then freeze for an instant, or two; and then she would feel the warm splurge of his semen inside her. He sometimes just groaned, sometimes it seemed that he almost spoke, his lips moving; and then he would fall on her, his nose pressing to her shoulder - with a coarse ‘oh Gwendolen’ exhaled into her skin, his heavy scorching body suddenly pressing her into the sheets. These fifteen ‘oh Gwendolen’s’ and the surge of some unfamiliar, unidentifiable emotional ecstasy she felt in those moments was exactly what she was trying so hard not to ponder at the moment. Unfortunately, she heard him pronounce her full name so rarely that the task proved itself impossible. He said ’Gwendolen,’ and her body reacted.

She squeezed her eyes, and started taking shallow measured breaths in. It helped little. Combined with her name pronounced in his low masculine voice, the memories of that instant that her backside came in contact with his erection were just too much for her to put her mind onto something else. It was none of her business, and quite an odd question to consider for a proper woman; but she suddenly wondered what the mechanism and the schedule of male arousal could be. Surely, based on observations of other natural process, she could hardly imagine an organ to follow a calendar, which meant it was her husband’s mind that arranged for their duties to be fulfilled so regularly. And since she could hardly have misinterpreted what she felt in his trousers, it meant that, firstly, he did experience sexual excitement on other days of the week; and secondly, that he was aroused currently. The latter led her to an interesting consideration. Was it possibly that he wasn’t just aroused due to biological reasons, but it was caused by her proximity? Wren tried to remind herself that she had drunk, and surely, that was the reason for her current preoccupation with all these inappropriate questions, but what harm could come from thoughts?

Lord Thorington shifted heavily near her, with a displeased noise, and then the mattress bobbed gently, making Wren instinctively sink her nails into her pillow. It was indeed a bizarre sensation, she had to admit. She had only shared bed once in her life, in the weeks in Egypt with him. She would have assumed before she’d be irritated, feeling out of control, intruded on, just as she did in Egypt; but with him here she felt warmer, and even his weight nearby felt comforting. She felt a sudden urge to touch him, and discarded the thought as preposterous. What would she do? Turn around and put her hand on his shoulder? Kiss him? Or she could stay the way she was… but if she shifted her body, her backside could once again press to his erection. Once the realisation came that she was indeed indulging in unrealistic sensual fantasies, she scolded herself, reminded herself that it was indeed the brandy that was causing it and nothing else; and with this thought she decided to put this ridiculous transgression behind her.

And then with a small displeased noise Lord Thorington rolled off the bed, making his wife’s body jump up, and stomped somewhere. She discreetly opened one eye and peeked. He was leaning down to the fireplace, rummaging in the logs with the poker. Two things struck her. Firstly, she was oddly mesmerised by the view of his backside. Secondly, none of his actions made sense, or was even remotely necessary. He was, put simply, flogging the poor logs in a bout of bad temper.

“What in the Lord’s name are you doing?” she asked, her tongue loosened and mind muddled by brandy and the firm buttocks encased in tight pajama trousers.

Lord Thorington froze, still in the shape of an upside down capital letter L, poker mid air.

“I was… cold. I’m adding more logs.” His tone was as cantankerous as ever.

Wren was torn between pointing out that he hadn’t been doing any such thing, and going back to pretending to sleep.

He neatly placed the poker on the stand, and headed back to bed full of dignity. He climbed under the blankets, but didn’t go back to sleep. Instead, he poured more brandy in his glass, and proceeded to drink it, his eyes trained on the fire.

“Is there something bothering you, John?” Wren decided it was her wifely duty to inquire.

“I’m perfectly alright,” he answered, and she asked herself why she expected a different answer.

“Alright, then. Good night, John.” That would be the third time she was saying it.

“Good night, Gwendolen.” Wren sighed, and resumed her position under the blankets.

“Would you like another drink?” Wren’s eyes flew open from the sound of his voice. That was getting ridiculous! Except for some momentarily odd thoughts, she was behaving most properly, while he seemed to be affected by some sort of absent-minded madness. He certainly knew she didn’t drink, and in any social occasion he had always made sure she was not forced by circumstances into it. And they had already said their ‘goodnight’s’ - thrice!

Wren sat up and gave him a judging look. She was going to remind him of her reaction, when he suddenly muttered in an even, bleak tone, “Could we pretend it’s Thursday?”

It took Gwendolen two purposeful blinks, and a small head shake to fully perceive the meaning of his question.

“I beg your pardon?” she breathed out, and he finally turned his head to meet her eyes.

“Would it be agreeable for you to pretend today is Thursday?”

To be continued...