Then there was a noise, and Beauvoir saw Charbonneau twitch in surprise.
They heard the long, drawn-out scrape of wrought iron against wood. Then silence.
Gamache hadn’t moved, hadn’t been surprised, or if he was he hadn’t shown it. He continued to stare at the door, his hands clasped behind his back. With all the time in the world.
A crack appeared. It widened. And widened.
Beauvoir expected to hear a squeal as old, rusty, unused hinges were finally used. But instead there was no sound at all. Which was even more disconcerting.
The door opened completely, and facing them was a figure in a long black robe. But it wasn’t totally black. There were white epaulettes at the shoulders, and a small apron of white partway down the chest. As though the monk had tucked a linen napkin into his collar and forgotten to remove it.
Tied at his waist was a rope, and attached to that was a ring with a single giant key.
The monk nodded, and stepped aside.
“Merci,” said Gamache.
Beauvoir turned to the boatman and barely resisted giving him the finger.
Had his passengers levitated, the boatman could not have looked more surprised.
On the threshold Chief Inspector Gamache called back.
“Five o’clock then?”
The boatman nodded and managed, “Oui, patron.”
Gamache turned back to the open door, and hesitated. For a heartbeat. Unnoticeable by anyone other than someone who knew him well. Beauvoir looked at Gamache and knew why.
The Chief simply wanted to savor this singular moment. With one step, he would become the first nonreligious ever to set foot into the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups.
Then Gamache took that step, and the others followed.
The door closed behind them with a soft, snug thud. The monk brought up the large key and placed it in a large lock, and turned.
They were locked in.
* * *
Armand Gamache had expected to need a few moments to adjust to the dark interior. He hadn’t expected that he’d need to adjust to the light.
Far from being dim, the interior was luminous.
A long wide corridor of gray stones opened up ahead of them, ending in a closed door at the far end. But what struck the Chief, what must have struck every man, every monk, who entered those doors for centuries, was the light.
The corridor was filled with rainbows. Giddy prisms. Bouncing off the hard stone walls. Pooling on the slate floors. They shifted and merged and separated, as though alive.
The Chief Inspector knew his mouth had dropped open, but he didn’t care. He’d never, in a life of seeing many astonishing things, seen anything quite like this. It was like walking into joy.
He turned and caught the eye of the monk. And held it for a moment.
There was no joy there. Just pain. The darkness Gamache had expected to find inside the monastery was not in the walls, but in the men. Or, at least, in this man.
Then, without a word, the monk turned and walked down the hallway. His pace was swift, but his feet made almost no sound. There was just a slight swish as his robe brushed the stones. Brushed past the rainbows.
The Sûreté officers hiked their packs securely over their shoulders and stepped into the warm prisms.
As he followed the monk, Gamache looked up and around. The light came from windows high up the walls. There were no windows at head height. The first were ten feet off the ground. And then another bank of windows above that. Through them Gamache could see blue, blue skies, a few clouds, and the tops of trees, as though they were bending to look in. Just as he was looking out.
The glass was old. Leaded. Imperfect. And it was the imperfections that were creating the play of light.
There was no adornment on the walls. No need.
The monk opened the door and they walked through into a larger, cooler space. Here the rainbows were directed to a single point. The altar.
This was the church.
The monk rushed across it, managing to genuflect on the fly. His pace had picked up, as though the monastery was slightly tilted and they were tumbling toward their destination.
Gamache glanced around, quickly taking in his surroundings. These were sights and sounds never experienced by men who actually got to leave.
The chapel smelled of incense. But not the musky, stale scent of so many churches in Québec, that smelled as though they were trying to hide something rotten. Here the scent was more natural. Like flowers or fresh herbs.
Gamache took it all in, in a series of swift impressions.
There was no somber and cautionary stained glass here. He realized the windows high on the walls were angled slightly so that the light fell to the simple, austere altar first. It was unadorned. Except for the cheerful light, which played on top of it and radiated to the walls and illuminated the farthest corners of the room.