But Gamache wasn’t fooled. One of Reine-Marie’s brothers laughed in funerals and wept at weddings. A friend of theirs always laughed when someone yelled at him. Not from amusement, but an overflow of strong emotion.
Sometimes the two got mixed up. Especially in people unused to showing emotion.
The medical monk, while appearing amused, might in fact be the most devastated.
“Charles,” the monk offered. “I’m the médecin.”
“Tell me how you found out about the death of the prior.”
“I was with the animals when Frère Simon came to get me. He took me aside and said there’d been an accident—”
“Were you alone?”
“No, there were other brothers there, but Frère Simon was careful to keep his voice low. I don’t think they heard.”
Gamache turned back to Frère Simon. “Did you really think it was an accident?”
“I wasn’t sure and I didn’t know what else to say.”
“I’m sorry.” Gamache turned back to the doctor. “I interrupted you.”
“I ran to the infirmary, grabbed my medical bag and we came here.”
Gamache could imagine the two black-robed monks running through the sparkling halls. “Did you meet anyone on the way?”
“Not a soul,” said Frère Charles. “It was our work period. Everyone was at their chores.”
“What did you do when you arrived in the garden?”
“I looked for a pulse, of course, but his eyes were enough to tell me he was dead, even if I hadn’t seen the wound.”
“And what did you think when you did?”
“At first I wondered if he’d fallen off the wall, but I could see that was impossible.”
“And then what did you think?”
Frère Charles looked at the abbot.
“Go on,” said Dom Philippe.
“I thought someone had done this to him.”
“I honestly hadn’t a clue.”
Gamache paused to scrutinize the doctor. In his experience when someone said “honestly” it was often a prelude to a lie. He tucked that impression away and turned to the abbot.
“I wonder, sir, if you and I might talk some more.”
The abbot didn’t look surprised. He looked as though nothing could shock him anymore.
Dom Philippe bowed to the other two monks, catching their eyes, and the Chief wondered what message had just passed between them. Did monks who lived silently together develop a form of telepathy? An ability to read each other’s thoughts?
If so, that gift had sorely failed the prior.
Dom Philippe led Gamache to the bench under the tree. Away from the activity.
From there they couldn’t see the body. They couldn’t see the monastery. Instead the view was to the wall, and the medicinal herbs and the tops of the trees beyond.
“I’m finding it hard to believe this has happened,” said the abbot. “You must hear that all the time. Does everyone say that?”
“Most do. It would be a terrible thing if murder wasn’t a shock.”
The abbot sighed and stared into the distance. Then he closed his eyes, and brought his slender hands to his face.
There was no sobbing. No weeping. Not even praying.
Just silence. His long elegant hands like a mask over his face. Another wall between himself and the outside world.
Finally he dropped his hands into his lap. They rested there, limp.
“He was my best friend, you know. We’re not supposed to have best friends in a monastery. We’re all supposed to be equal. All friends, but none too much. But of course that’s the ideal. Like Julian of Norwich, we aspire to an all-consuming love of God. But we’re flawed and human, and sometimes we also love our fellow man. There are no rules for the heart.”
Gamache listened and waited, and tried not to overinterpret what he was being told.
“I can’t tell you how often Mathieu and I sat here. He’d sit where you are now. Sometimes we’d discuss the business of the monastery, sometimes we’d just read. He’d bring his scores for the chants. I’d be gardening, or sitting quietly and hear him humming under his breath. I don’t think he even knew he was doing it or that I could hear. But I could.”
The abbot’s gaze drifted to the wall and the tips of the forest, like dark steeples, beyond. He sat quietly for a moment, lost in what was now and forever the past. The scene he described would never be repeated. That overheard sound would never be heard again.