The Long Way Home

Page 73

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And waiting. For her. As she’d waited for him weeks ago in their garden.

There was no Peter, but there was something else.

They got out of the car and Myrna reached over for Peter’s canvases, then stopped. She, Clara, Armand, and Jean-Guy took a few steps forward.

There was no need to consult the paintings. They were here. This was where Peter had stood.

The St. Lawrence stretched before them, even more magnificent than in the village. Here the grandeur, the wild splendor of the place was both obvious and impossible.

The four friends stood side by side on the bluff.

It was here, on this very spot, that a meteor had hurtled to earth. Had hit the earth. Three hundred million years ago. It had struck with such force it killed everything beneath it, and for miles and miles around. It struck with such violence that even now the impact site could be seen from space.

Earth, thrown up in waves, had petrified there, forming smooth mountains and a deep crater.

Nothing lived. All life was extinguished. The earth laid to waste. For thousands of years. Hundreds of thousands of years. Millions of years.

Barren. Empty. Nothing.

And then. And then. First water, then plants, then fish. Then trees started to grow, in the rich soil. Bugs, flies, bats, birds, bear, moose, deer.

What had been a wasteland became a cauldron, a crucible of life. So rich, so diverse, it created an ecosystem unique in the world.

Porpoises, seals, blue whales.

Men. Women. Children.

All drawn here. All made their home here. In the crater.

This was Charlevoix.

This was where the four friends stood, in search of a fifth. Below them the river wound into and over and past the wound in the earth. Where all life ended. And began, again.

A terrible impact had created one of the most magical, most remarkable places on earth.

That’s what Peter had tried to capture. This catastrophe. This miracle.

Armand Gamache turned, slowly, full circle. Like Clara, he half expected to see Peter Morrow watching them.

Peter had traveled from Scotland to here. From cosmic speculation to cosmic fact. A purely rational man was chasing the magical. Had tried to paint it.

As Gamache looked over the cliff to the St. Lawrence, the setting sun caught the waves of the great river, turning their foaming crests bright red. Turning them into frowns, then smiles. Then frowns. That morphed again into brilliant, giddy red smiles. A river of eternal emotion.

Gamache stood, captivated. He sensed more than saw Clara and Myrna and Jean-Guy beside him, also staring. Astonished.

They watched until the sun had set and all that was left was a dark river and a pink glow in the sky.

Peter had been here. He’d committed this sight to canvas, as best he could. Trying to record wonder. Awe. Not just beauty, but glory.

And he’d mailed it off. Away from here. Why?

And where was he now? Had he moved on, heading deeper into his own wound? Still searching?

Or— Gamache stared into the crater. Had Peter never left? Was he with them now, lying in the woods at the bottom of the cliff? Becoming part of the landscape? His silence profound because it was now unending?

Beside him, Clara stared at the river Peter had painted, and let the emotions roll over her. Her own, and his. She felt Peter very keenly.

Not his presence but his absence.

TWENTY-THREE

“Where’re we going to stay?” Jean-Guy whispered.

They were heading back to the village of Baie-Saint-Paul, and reality. Leaving behind the cosmic in favor of down-to-earth concerns. Like food and shelter.

“I don’t know,” Gamache whispered back.

“Aren’t you worried?” Beauvoir asked.

“We can sleep in the car if we have to,” said Armand. “Not for the first time.”

“Sure, we can. But do we want to? We can’t do nothing, patron. We have to plan our next move. Clara’s a nice person, but this’s beyond her.”

“I wonder,” murmured Gamache, and turned to look out the window. And through it he saw stars. And the lights of Baie-Saint-Paul.

It was not possible to tell which was which. Which lights were celestial, which were of this earth.

“Where’re we going to stay?” Myrna whispered to Clara.

“I don’t know.”

Myrna nodded, and stared out the windshield at the starry, starry night.

She missed her loft. She missed her bed. She missed her tisane and chocolate chip cookies.

But she knew that Clara missed all those things too. And she also missed Peter. Peter, who’d suddenly felt both very, very close while they’d stood on that cliff, and very, very far away.

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