“Are you sure he left?” Jean-Guy asked. “Did he tell you he was leaving?”
Chartrand looked like a punch-drunk boxer, staggering from questioner to questioner. “I’m sorry, I can’t remember.”
“Why can’t you remember?” asked Clara, her voice rising.
Chartrand appeared flustered, confused. “It didn’t seem important,” he tried to explain. “He wasn’t a close friend or anything. He was here one day, and not here the next.”
He looked from Clara to Gamache and back again.
“Is that why you invited us here?” Jean-Guy asked. “Because Peter had told you about her?”
He gestured toward Clara.
“I told you, I didn’t know he was her husband. I invited you here because it was late, the hotels are full and you needed a place to stay.”
“And because you recognized us,” said Gamache, not letting Chartrand get away with it. He might be a very, very good man. But he was also a not completely honest one.
“True. I know of you, Chief Inspector. We all do. From the news. And I knew Clara, from articles about her in the art magazines. I approached you in La Muse because…”
“Because I thought you might make interesting conversation. That’s all.”
Gamache took in, yet again, the single, solitary chair. Which now seemed to envelop, consume, Marcel Chartrand. And Gamache wondered if it was that simple.
Did this man just want company? Someone he could talk to, and listen to?
Was it the art of conversation Marcel Chartrand finally yearned for? Would he trade these silent masterpieces for a single good friend?
Chartrand turned back to Clara.
“Peter never mentioned he had a wife. He lived the life of a religieux here. A monk.” Chartrand smiled reassuringly. “He’d visit me, but more for the company of my paintings than me. He’d take a meal at one of the diners in town. Rarely anything as fancy as La Muse. He spoke to almost no one. And then he’d go back to his cabin.”
“To paint,” said Clara.
“Did he show you what he was working on?” Gamache asked.
Chartrand shook his head. “And I never asked to see it. I’m approached often enough, I don’t need to seek it out. Except on rare occasions.”
He turned back to Clara. “What you said at La Muse earlier today, about Gagnon stripping the skin off the land and painting the muscle, the veins, was exactly right. Far from being ugly or gruesome, what he painted was the wonder of the place. The heart and soul of the place. He painted what so few really see. He must’ve had a very powerful muse to let him get so deep.”
“Who was Gagnon’s muse?” Gamache asked.
“Oh, I didn’t mean a person.”
“Then what did you mean?”
“Nature. I think like Tom Thomson, Clarence Gagnon’s muse was Nature herself. Doesn’t get more powerful than that.” He turned back to Clara. “What Gagnon did for landscapes, you do for people. Their face, their skin, their veneer is there for the outside world. But you also paint their interiors. It’s a rare gift, madame. I hope I haven’t embarrassed you.”
It was clear he had.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I promised myself I wouldn’t mention your work. You must get it all the time. Forgive me. And you have more pressing concerns. How can I help?”
He turned from Clara to Gamache.
“Did you know Peter’s earlier works?” Gamache asked.
“I knew he was an artist and a successful one. I can’t say I remember seeing any particular painting.”
Chartrand’s voice had changed. Still gracious, there was now a distance. He was talking business.
“Did you talk to him about his work?” Clara asked.
“No. He never asked for my opinion and I never volunteered.”
But they had only his word for that, thought Gamache. And the Chief already knew Chartrand was not always completely honest.
Gamache woke up early in the unfamiliar bed, to unfamiliar sounds outside the open window.
The lace curtain puffed out slightly, as though taking a breath, then subsided. The air that was inhaled into the room smelled fresh, with the unmistakable tang that came from a large body of water nearby.
He looked at his watch on the bedside table.
Not yet six but the sun was already up.
Beauvoir, however, was not. He was fast asleep in the next bed, his face squished into the pillow, his mouth slightly open. It was a sight Gamache had seen many times and knew that Annie saw every day.