Hello, and welcome to my 2023 A to Z Blogging Challenge! For a detailed explanation of what I’m up to this year, see my Theme Reveal. But basically, I’m taking all the suspects I made up for my A to Z last year (with help from several commenters!) and putting them all into an actual murder mystery. See the sidebar for links to last year’s posts; if your device doesn’t display sidebars (if, for example, you are visiting on your phone), the links will be under the comment section, right under my A to Z 2023 participation badge.
Chapter Seven: Gregory
Gregory winced. “Yes, my brother wasn’t quite himself that night. I expect that was my fault. We’d had another one of our little arguments before dinner. And Sir Adam,” he infused the title with gentle irony, “hated being defied. But I won’t go into that; it’s been said already.” And then he turned to Meghan, and spoke quite gently, “it was about you, my dear. About us, I mean. And—well! This is as good a time as any—will you marry me?”
At this, the room was full of anguished cries. Bruce, Annabelle, and (to Crowner’s surprise) Meghan all howled like wolves. It was, thought Crowner, almost harmonious. Then Meghan spoke.
“I suppose—oh, I don’t know! You’ve been so wonderful, Gregory. And I owe you so much. But…oh, I can’t marry anyone, I don’t deserve it! Don’t press me now—perhaps I shall have the strength to explain later, when we’re alone. I know you’re kind, and perhaps you’ll even not hate me after you know. That is the best I can hope for, and more than I deserve. Please! No more now, I can’t stand it!” And she looked around wildly, as if seeking the nearest exit.
From his position by the fire, Leonard stirred. “Really, you know, such a union is—inadvisable,” he said, looking with stern disapproval at Meghan.
Gregory scowled at the family solicitor. “You have no right to—”
“Oh please, not now! Not now!” Meghan cried.
Gregory looked sulky and thwarted. “Very well, my dear. Very well. I suppose this wasn’t really the right time to ask. I thought—but never mind. We’ll talk about it later, shall we?” And he looked at Meghan in a loving way that, oddly, rather made Crowner’s skin crawl. And Crowner was all for love, as a rule. Perhaps it was the fact that Meghan herself seemed merely tormented by the intensity of the feelings she saw in Gregory’s handsome face. Yes, Crowner decided, time to change the subject. Murder would be more comfortable than this. He’d talk about murder.
“So you quarreled with your brother before dinner on the day of his death?” Crowner asked.
“Yes,” said Gregory. “And I doubt I have a firm alibi for the time between ten thirty and eleven. The roof of the Elizabethan wing collapsed about then, and we were all firefighting like mad. But in the confusion, I could have slipped away. I didn’t happen to, and I wouldn’t poison my brother anyway, but I doubt I can prove it, not absolutely.”
Crowner opened his eyes wide. “Let me get this quite clear: Sir Adam left the firefighting at eleven? Shortly after the roof collapsed? And… went to bed? That didn’t seem odd?”
Gregory smiled slightly. “Not at the time, no. He was… how to put this… ostentatiously regular in his habits. He made a fetish of it. He liked to perform, too, and he was performing then. He saw that everyone else was fussing, so he made a point of being quite cool.”
Crowner frowned. “How sure could he be that the house wouldn’t catch fire?”
“Not absolutely, though the wind had shifted again by then and it didn’t look like the main house would go. But I can guess what my brother did when he went inside. I expect he got his glass of whiskey, all right, and took it up to his room. Then I think he sat there, sipping it, waiting nervously to see what happened. He was probably peeking out at us through his curtains, too, though he’d take trouble not to be seen doing it. When he fell out of his window, he was fully dressed, wasn’t he? Yes, I thought so. No, he didn’t plan to retire to bed until he was damn sure he was safe. All bluster and bravado, my late brother.”
“It still seems odd,” said Crowner. “Very odd. I wonder… but we’ll leave that, for the moment. What of Miss Polly’s death? Do you have an alibi for that?”
Gregory nodded. “I think so, yes. I was searching for Nightmare with some other local horse-riding chaps. Quinton was there, and his father, and Philip, who I believe is some friend of Quinton’s from school—and there were some other local farmers and landowners along, too. We were across the stream from the village that evening, searching the woods and fields. But we didn’t find a trace of her anywhere. Not a hoofprint.”
“All in a lump, or spread out?” Crowner asked.
“Well, I suppose we were spread out. Within hail, you know.”
“Within hail. Hm. And your quarrel with your brother was about…”
“I think,” said Gregory, eying Meghan’s strained face, “we’ll leave that.” And then he spoke hastily, in an obvious attempt to change the subject. “Anyway, I wasn’t the only one to quarrel with him before dinner. There was almost a line, outside the office, of people who wanted to row with my brother. As I was leaving, I almost ran smack into cousin Hattie, on her way in. She looked pretty determined, I can tell you.”
And everyone turned to look at Hattie.