‘My name’s Old Mundin.’ A man aged about twenty-five got up. He was impossibly handsome with curly dark hair, chiseled, rugged face, and a body that spoke of lots of lifting. Beauvoir shot Gamache a look both amused and confused. Was this man’s name really ‘Old’ Mundin? He wrote it down but without conviction.
‘Yes, Mr Mundin?’
‘I heard as that Lucy weren’t with Jane when she died. Is that right?’
‘Yes. I understand that’s very unusual.’
‘You’re right there, boy. She went everywhere with that dog. She wouldn’t have gone into the woods without Lucy.’
‘For protection?’ Gamache asked.
‘No, just because. Why would you have a dog and not take it on your walk? And first thing in the morning, when a dog yearns to run and do its business. No, sir. Makes no sense.’
Gamache turned to the gathering. ‘Can any of you think why Jane would leave Lucy behind?’
Clara was impressed by the question. Here was the head of the investigation, a senior Sûreté officer, asking for their opinion. There was suddenly a shift, from mourning and a kind of passivity, to involvement. It became ‘their’ investigation.
‘If Lucy was sick or in heat Jane might leave her,’ Sue Williams called out.
‘True,’ called Peter, ‘but Lucy’s fixed and healthy.’
‘Could Jane have seen some hunters and put Lucy back in the house so they didn’t shoot her by mistake?’ Wayne Robertson asked, then a coughing jag caught him and he sat down. His wife Nellie put her generous arm around him, as though flesh could ward off sickness.
‘But’, asked Gamache, ‘would she go back alone into the woods to confront a hunter?’
‘She might,’ Ben said. ‘She’s done it before. Remember a couple of years ago when she caught -’ he stopped and grew flustered. Some uncomfortable laughter and a hum followed his aborted remarks. Gamache raised his brows and waited.
‘That was me, as you all know.’ A man rose from his seat. ‘My name’s Matthew Croft.’ He was in his mid-thirties, Gamache guessed, medium build, pretty nondescript. Beside him sat a slim, tense woman. The name was familiar.
‘Three years ago I was hunting illegally on the Hadley property. Miss Neal spoke to me, asked me to leave.’
‘Why were you there at all?’
‘My family has been here for hundreds of years and we were raised to believe that private property doesn’t exist in hunting season.’
‘That’s not right,’ a voice resonated from the back of the room. Beauvoir busily made notes.
Croft turned to face the interruption. ‘That you, Henri?’
Henri Lariviere, the stone artist, rose majestically to his feet.
‘It’s the way I was raised,’ Croft continued. ‘I was taught it was only right to be able to hunt where you chose, since your very survival depended upon getting enough meat for the season.’
‘Grocery stores, Matthew. Loblaws not good enough?’ Henri said, quietly.
‘IGA, Provigo,’ others yelled.
‘Me,’ said Jacques Beliveau, the owner of the local general store. Everyone laughed. Gamache was letting this go on, watching, listening, seeing where it would go.
‘Yes, times change,’ an exasperated Croft agreed. ‘It’s no longer necessary, but it’s a fine tradition. And a fine philosophy of neighbor helping neighbor. I believe in that.’
‘No one says you don’t, Matt,’ said Peter, stepping forward. ‘And I can’t think you have to justify yourself or your actions, especially from years ago.’
‘He does, Mr Morrow,’ Gamache broke in just as Beauvoir handed him a note. ‘Jane Neal was probably killed by a hunter trespassing on Mr Hadley’s property. Anyone with a history of this needs to explain.’ Gamache glanced at the note. In block letters Beauvoir had printed, ‘Philippe Croft threw manure. Son?’ Gamache folded the note and put it in his pocket.
‘Do you still hunt where you choose, Mr Croft?’
‘No, sir, I don’t.’
‘Because I respected Miss Neal, and because I finally heard what people have been telling me for years and years. And I agreed. In fact I don’t hunt at all anymore, anywhere.’
‘Do you own a bow-hunting set?’
‘Yes sir, I do.’
Gamache looked around the room, ‘I’d like everyone here who owns a bow hunting set, even if you haven’t used it in years, to give your name and address to Inspector Beauvoir here.’