Beside them Henri stirred and Gamache instinctively lowered his hand to stroke the shepherd’s head and reassure him. And once again Émile noted the slight tremble. Barely there now. Stronger at times. Sometimes it disappeared completely. It was a tell-tale tremble, and Émile knew the terrible tale it had to tell.
He wished he could take that hand and hold it steady and tell him it would be all right. Because it would, he knew.
Watching Armand Gamache he noticed again the jagged scar on his left temple and the trim beard he’d grown. So that people would stop staring. So that people would not recognize the most recognizable police officer in Québec.
But, of course, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t them Armand Gamache was hiding from.
The waitress at Chez Temporel arrived with more coffee.
“Merci, Danielle,” the two men said at once and she left, smiling at the two men who looked so different but seemed so similar.
They drank their coffees and ate pain au chocolat and croissants aux amandes and talked about the Carnaval de Québec, starting that night. Occasionally they’d lapse into silence, watching the men and women hurrying along the icy cold street outside to their jobs. Someone had scratched a three-leaf clover into a slight indent in the center of their wooden table. Émile rubbed it with his finger.
And wondered when Armand would want to talk about what happened.
It was ten thirty and the monthly board meeting of the Literary and Historical Society was about to start. For many years the meetings had been held in the evening, when the library was closed, but then it was noticed that fewer and fewer members were showing up.
So the Chairman, Porter Wilson, had changed the time. At least, he thought he’d changed the time. At least, it had been reported in the board minutes that it had been his motion, though he privately seemed to remember arguing against it.
And yet, here they were meeting in the morning, and had been for some years. Still, the other members had adjusted, as had Porter. He had to, since it had apparently been his idea.
The fact the board had adjusted at all was a miracle. The last time they’d been asked to change anything it had been the worn leather on the Lit and His chairs, and that had been sixty-three years ago. Members still remembered fathers and mothers, grandparents, ranged on either side of the upholstered Mason-Dixon Line. Remembered vitriolic comments made behind closed doors, behind backs, but before children. Who didn’t forget, sixty-three years later, that devious alteration from old black leather to new black leather.
Pulling out his chair at the head of the table Porter noticed it was looking worn. He sat quickly so that no one, least of all himself, could see it.
Small stacks of paper were neatly arranged in front of his and every other place, marching down the wooden table. Elizabeth MacWhirter’s doing. He examined Elizabeth. Plain, tall and slim. At least, she had been that when the world was young. Now she just looked freeze-dried. Like those ancient cadavers pulled from glaciers. Still obviously human, but withered and gray. Her dress was blue and practical and a very good cut and material, he suspected. After all, she was one of those MacWhirters. A venerable and moneyed family. One not given to displays of wealth, or brains. Her brother had sold the shipping empire about a decade too late. But there was still money there. She was a little dull, he thought, but responsible. Not a leader, not a visionary. Not the sort to hold a community in peril together. Like him. And his father before him. And his grandfather.
For the tiny English community within the walls of old Quebec City had been in peril for many generations. It was a kind of perpetual peril that sometimes got better and sometimes got worse, but never disappeared completely. Just like the English.
Porter Wilson had never fought a war, being just that much too young, and then too old. Not, anyway, an official war. But he and the other members of his board knew themselves to be in a battle nevertheless. And one, he secretly suspected, they were losing.
At the door Elizabeth MacWhirter greeted the other board members as they arrived and looked over at Porter Wilson already seated at the head of the table, reading over his notes.
He’d accomplished many things in his life, Elizabeth knew. The choir he’d organized, the amateur theater, the wing for the nursing home. All built by force of will and personality. And all less than they might have been had he sought and accepted advice.
The very force of his personality both created and crippled. How much more could he have accomplished had he been kinder? But then, dynamism and kindness often didn’t go together, though when they did they were unstoppable.