The Long Way Home

Page 78

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It must be love, he decided as he quietly got up and prepared for the day, pausing to pull back the lace at the window and look out. It had been well past midnight when they’d finally gotten to sleep under the comforters. Gamache had no idea what he’d see outside the window, and was surprised and delighted that this bedroom looked out over the metal roofs of the old Charlevoix village. And to the St. Lawrence beyond.

Once showered and dressed, he crept downstairs and outside.

It was a pastel time of day. Everything soft blues and pinks in the early sun. The tourists were asleep in their inns and B and Bs. Few residents were up, and Gamache had the village to himself. Far from feeling abandoned, the place felt expectant. About to give birth to another vibrant day.

But not just yet. For now all was peaceful. Anything was possible.

He found a bench not far away, sat down, reached into his pocket and brought out the book. His constant companion.

He started reading. After a few pages he closed the book and held his large hand over the cover so that the title was slightly obscured. Like the river between the old homes. Hinted at. There, but not completely seen.

The Balm in Gilead.

He pressed it closed and thought, as he did each morning since his retirement, of the last hands that had shut the book.

… to cure a sin-sick soul.

Was there a cure for what he’d done in those woods outside Three Pines, eight months ago? It wasn’t so much the act of killing. The taking of a life. It was how he’d felt about it. And the fact he’d intended to do it, even hoped to do it, when he’d arrived.

Mens rea. The difference between manslaughter and murder. Intent. Mens rea. A guilty mind. A sin-sick soul.

He looked at the book beneath his hand.

How would the previous owner of this book have felt about what he’d done?

Armand Gamache was pretty sure he knew the answer to that.

He turned his back on the river, on the rugged shoreline, on the container ships and the whales gliding beneath the surface. Huge and unseen.

Gamache walked back to the home of Marcel Chartrand.

“I thought I heard someone leave,” said Chartrand from the porch as Gamache approached. “How’d you sleep?”

“Perfectly.”

“You must be used to strange beds,” said their host, handing Gamache a mug of coffee that steamed in the fresh morning air.

“I am,” the Chief admitted. “But few as comfortable as yours. Merci.” He lifted the mug toward Chartrand in appreciation.

“Un plaisir. Would you like to see the gallery?”

Gamache smiled. “Very much.”

He felt like a child given a private pass to Disneyland.

Chartrand unlocked the door and turned on the lights. Gamache walked to the center of the room and stood there. He realized, with some alarm, that he felt like weeping.

Here, around him, was his heritage. His country. His history. But it was more than that. Here on the walls, were his insides. Out.

The brightly painted homes. Red and mustard yellow. The smoke tugged from the chimneys. The church spires. The winter scenes, the snow on the pine boughs. The horses and sleighs. The soft light through the windows at night.

The man with the oil lamp. Walking a path worn through the deep snow. Toward home in the distance.

Gamache turned. He was surrounded. Immersed. Not drowning, but buoyed. Baptized.

He sighed. And looked at Marcel Chartrand, who was beside him. He also looked as though he might weep. Did the man feel like this each day?

Was this his bench above the village? Was he also surprised by joy each day?

“Peter Morrow came here often,” said Chartrand. “Just to sit. And stare at the paintings.”

Sit and stare.

God knew Gamache did enough of that himself, but the combination of words, and the inflection, triggered a memory. Not an old one. It sat near the top. And then Gamache had it.

Someone else had described Peter sitting and staring. As a child.

Madame Finney, Peter’s mother. She’d told Gamache that young Peter would just stare, for hours on end. At the walls. At the paintings. Trying to get closer to the pictures. Trying to join the genius that saw the world like that, and painted how he felt about it.

All flowing strokes, lines that joined each other, so that solid homes became land, became trees, became people, became sky and clouds. That touched the solid homes.

And all in bright, joyous colors. Not made-up hues, but ones Gamache actually saw now through the windows of the gallery. No need to embellish. To fictionalize. To romanticize.

Clarence Gagnon saw the truth. And didn’t so much capture it as free it.

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