Beauvoir felt his heart, which had taken a great leap, simmer down. And he realized he’d actually thought she meant she’d found Peter.
“Madame Morrow called and told me of your plight,” the man said. And then he introduced himself. “Marcel Chartrand.” He shook their hands. “I run the Galerie Gagnon. I’ve come to take you home.”
* * *
By the time they got settled in Chartrand’s apartment above the Galerie Gagnon, it was approaching midnight.
He proved to be a gracious and accommodating host. Not everyone, Gamache knew, would welcome a call at eleven at night from a stranger asking for a place to stay. For herself and three friends.
But Marcel Chartrand had opened his home to them and was now pouring nightcaps as they relaxed in the living room.
He was either a saint, thought Gamache as he watched Chartrand chatting with Clara, or a man with his own agenda. Gamache had not forgotten the predatory look on Chartrand’s face when he’d first spotted them in La Muse.
First spotted Clara.
“This isn’t my main house,” said Chartrand. He’d brought out a plate of cookies, and after pouring cognacs for Clara and Myrna he offered a glass to Jean-Guy. When the younger man waved him aside, Chartrand moved on to Gamache. “I have a maison a few minutes away, toward Les Éboulements.”
“Overlooking the St. Lawrence?” Gamache asked, also declining the drink.
“Oui, Chef,” said Chartrand, and poured himself a finger in the bottom of a bulbous glass.
It was not lost on either Gamache or Beauvoir that their host had just let slip that he knew precisely who his guests were. Or, at least, one of them.
“We were just there,” said Gamache. “Astonishing view of the river.”
Marcel Chartrand subsided into an armchair and crossed his legs. In repose he retained a bit of a smile. Not, Gamache thought, a smirk. While some faces relaxed into a slight look of censure, this man looked content.
His face, from a distance, was handsome, urbane. But close up his skin was scored with small lines. A weathered face. From time spent in the elements. Skiing or snowshoeing or chopping wood. Or standing on a precipice, looking at the great river. It was an honest face.
But was he an honest man? Gamache reserved judgment.
It was possible Chartrand was older than he first appeared. And yet there was an unmistakable vitality about the man.
Gamache wandered the room. The walls were thick fieldstone. Cool in summer and warm in winter. The windows were small and recessed and original to this old Québécois home. Chartrand clearly respected the past and the habitant who’d built this place by hand hundreds of years ago. It was made in a hurry, but with great care, to protect himself and his family from the elements. From the approaching winter. From the monster who marched down the great river, picking up ice and snow and bitter cold. Gaining in strength and power. So few early settlers survived. But whoever had built this home had. And the home was still offering shelter to those in need.
Behind him, Chartrand was offering Clara and Myrna another glass of cognac. Myrna declined, but Clara took a half shot.
“Perhaps to take to bed, with a cookie,” said Clara.
“There’s that pioneering spirit,” said Myrna.
The floors were original. Wide pine planks, made of trees that stood tall on this very site, and that now lay down. They were darkened by generations of smoky fires. Two sofas faced each other across the fireplace and an armchair faced the fire, a footstool in front of it, with books piled on a side table. Lamps softly lit the room.
But it was the walls that intrigued Gamache. He walked around them. Sometimes leaning closer, drawn into the original Krieghoff. The Lemieux. The Gagnon. And there, between two windows, was a tiny oil painting on wood.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Chartrand had come up behind Gamache. The Chief had sensed him there, but hadn’t taken his eyes off the painting. It was of a forest and a spit of rocks jutting into a lake. And a single tree clinging to the rocky outcropping, its branches sculpted by the relentless wind.
It was stunning in both its beauty and its desolation.
“Is this a Thomson?” Gamache asked.
“From Algonquin Park?”
The rugged landscape was unmistakable.
“Mon dieu,” said Gamache on an exhale, aware that he was breathing on the same painting as the man who’d created it.
The two men stared at the tiny rectangle.