“You mean that?” said Ruth, with a smile.
“Can we get back to the Muses?” asked Reine-Marie. They were at the car, and after getting Ruth settled, she sat in the driver’s seat, thinking. “Nine Muses. So where does this tenth one come in?” Reine-Marie asked.
“There’s a theory that there were actually ten sisters,” said Ruth. “But somewhere along the line, one was dropped. Erased.”
“The one for art?”
Reine-Marie started up the car and left the parking lot, heading back to Three Pines.
“Muses work all day long,” said Ruth. “And then at night get together and dance.”
Reine-Marie tried to keep her eyes on the road, but she shot Ruth a glance.
“You say that like you’ve seen them.”
The old woman laughed. “It’s a quote from Degas. But sometimes, on moonlit nights on the village green…”
Reine-Marie looked again at Ruth, who had a crooked smile on her crooked face.
“Was the moon lit, or were you?” asked Reine-Marie, and Ruth laughed.
Still, as Reine-Marie drove off the island of Montréal toward the Eastern Townships, she could imagine them. Not on the village green, but deep in the woods. In a copse. Nine young women, sisters, in a circle, dancing. Holding hands, vigorous, healthy, joyous.
“A beautiful image, isn’t it?” asked Ruth, as though she shared Reine-Marie’s vision. “Now, imagine someone else, standing just off to the side. Watching.”
Reine-Marie saw the circle of happy, robust young goddesses. And in the background another young woman was watching. Waiting. To be invited in.
“The tenth muse,” Reine-Marie said. “But if she existed, if she was one of the sisters, why was she left out?”
“Not just excluded, but erased,” said Ruth. “Her very existence denied.”
“Why?” asked Reine-Marie.
“How the fuck should I know?” And the old woman turned to look at the woods rushing by.
* * *
Armand Gamache read the email from Reine-Marie about their meeting with Professor Massey. She explained that Professor Massey had given her a yearbook. She’d attached an old photo of Clara and Peter in Massey’s studio. She’d hoped to find a picture of Professor Norman too, but the editors had decided not to have photos of the professors that year—instead they’d reproduced one of their pieces of art.
Gamache sighed, disappointed. A photo, even an old one, would have been helpful.
He clicked on one of the attachments. And smiled. There was Clara. Unmistakable. Beaming. Her gladness all the more evident for the apparent world-weariness of those around her on the sofa. And standing behind the sofa was a very young Peter, one keen eye looking out through a haze of smoke that Gamache chose to believe was cigarette.
And then he opened the second attachment.
And inhaled. Not a gasp, exactly. Not that dramatic. But a sharp breath.
A face had appeared. A portrait. Distorted. Not abstract, like a Picasso, but distended as though bloated with emotion. And what this man felt was obvious. There was nothing subtle about the painting.
He was howling with rage. Not at the gods. Not toward Heaven and Fate. His focus was closer, more personal. It was just over the shoulder of the observer.
Gamache felt the urge to turn around. To see if there was indeed someone or something back there.
But this ghastly portrait wasn’t screaming a warning, it wasn’t some horror movie heroine. This was outrage.
Gamache felt a pit in his stomach. An ache. Not the ill-formed nausea he’d felt when first looking at Peter’s gaudy works. This was focused and formed and unmistakable.
Madness spilled from the portrait. Uncontrollable, unharnessed. Something chained had broken free.
It was in the mouth. It was in the eyes. It was in every brush stroke.
Gamache looked at the lower right corner.
Norman. It was a self-portrait. By Professor Norman.
And then he looked closer.
His phone rang. It was Reine-Marie.
“Armand, I think there’s something I forgot to put in my message,” she began. “Not really forgot, but I wasn’t precise.”
“I was just about to call you,” he said. “Do you see it?”
She was sitting in their garden, in one of the Adirondack chairs, Henri stretched out on the grass beside her. She’d just fed and walked him, then poured herself a gin and tonic. The glass sat in one of the rings on the wide arm.