The Long Way Home

Page 125


“To the Graves?” she asked.

“No. Further along the coast. To the Île aux demons.”

“Demon Island,” said Clara. “This place is just one big fun park.”

Gamache smiled. “I didn’t believe her, of course. Until I came here myself.”

He looked across, at the shoreline. Barren. Without a sign of life.

But he knew that wasn’t true. Lots of things lived here. Unseen.

“I’d love to draw it,” she said. “If this ever calms.”

“I envy you your art,” he said. “It must be therapeutic.”

They lurched back to the bench.

“You think I need therapy?”

“I think everyone on this boat probably does.”

She laughed. “The Voyage of the Demented.”

Clara watched as Gamache reached into the innermost pocket of his coat. And brought out The Balm in Gilead.

“I found this by my father’s bedside,” he said, looking down at it. “When I was nine years old. The night my parents died. I was inconsolable. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I always did when I was frightened. I went into their bedroom. And I crawled into bed. And I waited for the nightmare to be over. To wake up, and there they’d be. On either side of me. Protecting me. But of course, there was no sleep and there was no waking.”

He paused, to gather himself. Wave after wave pounded the windows in front of them, as though the river was throwing itself against it on purpose. Trying to get in. Trying to get at them. Trying, perhaps, to shelter from its own storm.

“They’d been killed in a car accident. But not just an accident though, I learned later. When I first joined the Sûreté I looked up their file. I don’t know why.”

“You needed to know,” said Clara. “It’s natural.”

“A lot of things are natural, but not good. Like asbestos. This was like asbestos. It burrowed into me. I wish now I hadn’t looked. My grandmother hadn’t told me that my parents had been killed by a drunk driver. He survived, of course.”

Clara looked at Gamache. Over the years she’d heard many things in his voice. Tenderness, wonder, rage, disappointment. Warning. But never bitterness. Until now.

“Anyway,” he said, as though what he’d just told her was trivial, “I found this book on my father’s bedside table. The bookmark exactly where he left it. I took it and put it in a box with other things.”

Treasures from childhood. Old keys to old homes he no longer lived in. Pennants from races won. A particularly fine chestnut. A piece of wood someone assured him was from Jean Béliveau’s hockey stick. Relics from the saints of childhood. Talismans.

He’d been given the crucifix his father always wore, and had been wearing when he died. They’d wanted to bury him with it, but his grandmother had retrieved it, Armand didn’t know how and never asked.

She’d given it to him when his first child, Daniel, had been born.

He’d cherished it. And given it, in turn, to Daniel when Florence was born.

But this book he’d kept. Just for himself. Safe in the box. Sealed in the box.

Always there but never touched. The box was brought out and looked at sometimes, but never opened.

Until he and Reine-Marie had moved to Three Pines.

Until he’d stopped hunting killers. He’d done his duty by the souls of the dead and the souls of the damned. And he could, at long last, rest in peace in the little village in the valley.

Only then was it safe to open the box.

Or so he’d thought.

Out of it came the scent of the book, and the scent of his father. Musky, masculine. Embedded in the pages of the book. Like a ghost.

“There is a balm in Gilead,” he’d read that first morning, in their garden. “To make the wounded whole.”

He’d been overwhelmed then. With relief. That maybe now he could put down the burden.

Armand Gamache had long suspected that far from being one of the passengers on the bewitched canoe, he was one of the voyageurs. Forever paddling, never stopping. Taking the souls of the wicked away. Endlessly.

“There’s power enough in Heaven,” he’d read. “To cure a sin-sick soul.”

The words he needed to hear. It was as though his father had spoken to him. Taken him in his strong arms, and held him, and told him it would be all right.

He could stop.

Every morning after that he sat on the bench overlooking the village, and he had a small, private visit with his father.

“But you never read beyond the bookmark,” said Clara. “Why not?”

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