Alice’s lack of compassion for the young man was understandable, perhaps, given her strong likelihood of being married to him in the very near future. But surely the sight of his pale visage peering round the door would have stirred the sympathies of any heart not already obdurate to his welfare. Of course, a conversation of even five minutes would easily have remedied that initial stirring, for Arthur Boylett was an inveterate bore.
There was no subject on which he could not wax mind-numbingly, tediously dull. And most subjects of his choosing inclined sharply in the direction of boring—land management schemes, tax redundancies and the obscure minutia of the lives of the long dead kings. Alice could scarcely conceal her tendency to yawn when Arthur got going on the effects of adding furrows to increase drainage or spoke at length on Edward the Confessor’s collection of holy relics and spoons.
However, this time Arthur managed to be brief. “Is the doctor on his way?” he exhaled wearily.
Janet was the first to answer, which was handy as she was the only one with first-hand knowledge of the issue. “Yes, sir,” Janet said with another little curtsey. “He should be here directly. Oughtn’t you be sitting down, Mister Boylett?”
Rather than respond, Arthur simply sank to the floor. As he fell, his arm flew out, revealing the rather large stain of blood that had soaked through his shirt. Alice gasped and Lizzie once again blurted, “Heavens!”
Mrs. Perkins, however, was quick to act and dragged the unfortunate young man toward a chair. “Help me, dear” she said to Janet, who stepped forward eagerly enough but gingerly tried to avoid touching the blood-soaked shirt.
“You don’t mean to say my mother shot Arthur, do you?” Alice was impressed. She had certainly never thought of doing that.
Janet tried to curtsey as they lifted Arthur to the chair, causing Mrs. Perkins to grumble. “Yes, Miss, she did, but I don’t think she did it on purpose.”
Alice wisely kept her thoughts to herself. She knew all too well that her mother did not share her father’s keenness on Arthur as a suitor. “Poor mother—she must be terribly upset.”
Lizzie nodded. “We must go to her at once. Two shocks like this will be quite dangerous even for a woman of her robust health.”
She grabbed Alice’s hand and the two walked swiftly to the morning room where they found Lady Mangrove bent over her needlepoint before a large mass covered by a table cloth. Alice was just thinking “Why I’ve never noticed that there before,” when it occurred to her that this was no doubt the body of her father, now frozen in the curious posture Mrs. Perkins had described. She thought perhaps it wouldn’t be quite the right thing to remove the covering to see her father in an attitude he would never have chose to take in life, but her hand inched toward the tablecloth as if on its own.
Before she got to it, Lizzie interrupted her morbid fascination by shrieking, “How are you, Lady Mangrove?” at very nearly the top of her vocal capacity. Why is she shouting, Alice thought, derailing her mind from the curiosity about her father.
Lady Mangrove failed to react, however, sewing away deftly with her needle and thread. It was only when Lizzie touched her shoulder that Lady Mangrove looked up, smiled and announced “I can’t hear a thing. That damn pistol is much too loud for indoors.” She cast a glance at the instrument itself, lying innocently on the small oak table. “Is Boylett dead?” she asked Lizzie.
Lizzie answered no, and made sure to shake her head as well.
“Pity,” Lady Mangrove said, echoing her daughter’s desire. “Though I didn’t mean to shoot him. I thought he was someone else when he walked in.”
“Who?” Alice asked, suddenly realizing that she did not really know her mother all that well. But her mother had not heard her. She was about to attempt a louder shout when the door flew open and Doctor Ponsonby entered, exclaiming, “No one must touch that body! The constable is on his way to investigate this murder!”