Felt the sunshine on his head, and smelled the musky autumn garden.
But now nothing seemed familiar anymore. The words, the prayer, even the sunshine felt foreign.
Mathieu was dead.
How could I not have known?
“… pray for us sinners…”
How could I not have known?
The words became his new rosary.
How could I not have known that it would all end in murder?
* * *
Gamache had come full circle and stopped in front of the praying monks.
He had the impression as he approached that the abbot had been watching.
One thing was obvious. In the few minutes Gamache had been in the garden, the abbot’s energy had diminished even further.
If the Hail Marys were meant to comfort, it wasn’t working. Or perhaps, without the prayers Dom Philippe would be in worse shape. He seemed like a man on the verge of collapse.
“Pardon,” said Gamache.
The two monks stopped their prayers, but Dom Philippe continued, to the end.
“… now and at the hour of our death.”
And together they intoned, “Amen.”
Dom Philippe opened his eyes.
“Yes, my son?”
It was the traditional greeting of a priest to a parishioner. Or an abbot to his monks. Gamache, though, was neither. And he wondered why Dom Philippe would use that term with him.
Was it habit? An offer of affection? Or was it something else? A claim to authority. A father’s over a child.
“I have some questions.”
“Of course,” said the abbot while the other two remained silent.
“I understand one of you found Frère Mathieu.”
The monk to the right of the abbot shot Dom Philippe a look, and the abbot gave a very small nod.
“I did.” The monk was shorter than Dom Philippe and slightly younger. His eyes were wary.
“And you are?”
“Perhaps, mon frère, you can describe what happened this morning.”
Frère Simon turned to the abbot, who nodded again.
“I came in here after Lauds to tidy up the garden. Then I saw him.”
“What did you see?”
“Oui, but did you know it was him?”
“Who did you think it might be?”
Frère Simon lapsed into silence.
“It’s all right, Simon. We need to speak the truth,” said the abbot.
“Oui, Père Abbé.” The monk didn’t look happy or convinced. But he did obey. “I thought it was the abbot.”
“Because no one else comes in here. Only him and me now.”
Gamache considered that for a moment. “What did you do?”
“I went to see.”
Gamache glanced over at the wicker basket, on its side, the contents tumbling out onto the autumn leaves. The rake thrown down.
“Did you walk, or run?”
Again that hesitation. “I ran.”
Gamache could imagine the scene. The middle-aged monk with his basket. Preparing to garden, to rake up the dead leaves. Entering this peaceful garden to do what he’d done so many times before. Then seeing the unthinkable. A man collapsed at the base of the wall.
Without doubt, the abbot.
And what had Frère Simon done? He’d dropped his tools and run. As fast as his robed legs would take him.
“And when you got to him, what did you do?”
“I saw that it wasn’t Père Abbé at all.”
“Describe for me please everything that you did.”
“I knelt down.” Every word seemed to cause him pain. Either because of the memory, or just their existence. The very act of speaking. “And I moved his hood. It’d fallen across his face. That’s when I saw it wasn’t the abbot.”
It wasn’t the abbot. That was what seemed to matter to this man. Not who it was, but who it wasn’t. Gamache listened closely. To the words. The tone. The space between the words.
And what he heard now was relief.
“Did you touch the body? Move him?”
“I touched his hood and his shoulders. Shook him. Then I went to get the doctor.”
Frère Simon looked at the other monk.
He was younger than the other two, but not by much. The stubble on his close-cropped head was also graying. He was shorter and slightly rounder than the other two. And his eyes, while somber, held none of the anxiety of his companions.
“Are you the doctor?” Gamache asked and the monk nodded. He seemed almost amused.