To occupy himself, he went into the porter’s room. It was really just a recess in the stone wall, with a small window to the corridor, a narrow desk and a single wooden stool.
The Spartans looked positively bourgeois next to these monks. There were no decorations, no calendars on the wall, no photos of the pope or the archbishop. Or Christ. Or the Virgin Mary.
Just stone. And a single thick book.
Gamache could barely turn around and wondered if he’d have to back out. He was hardly petit and when this monastery was built the monks had been considerably smaller. It would be embarrassing if when the others returned they found him wedged into the porter’s room.
But it didn’t come to that, and the Chief finally sat on the stool, adjusting himself to try to find a comfortable position. His back was against one wall, his knees against the other. This was not a place for the claustrophobic. Jean-Guy, for instance, would hate it. As he himself hated heights. Everyone had something they were afraid of.
Gamache picked up the old book on the narrow desk. It was heavy, and bound in soft, frayed leather. There was no date written into the first pages, and the lettering was gray. Faded. And written with a quill pen.
The Chief pulled a book of Christian meditations from his satchel, and from that he withdrew the vellum they’d found on the body. Placed in the slim volume for safekeeping.
Was this page torn from the huge book on his knees?
He put on his reading glasses and for what felt like the hundredth time that day, Gamache examined the page. The edges, while worn, didn’t appear to be torn from a larger volume.
His eyes moved from the book to the page. Back and forth. Slowly. Trying to find similarities. Trying to find differences.
Every now and then he looked up, and down the empty corridor. And listened. At this stage he wanted to see his men more than the monks. Gamache no longer bothered to look at his watch. It didn’t matter.
When Etienne decided to leave, Gamache couldn’t stop him. But so far, no outboard motor.
Gamache turned over the brittle pages of the book.
It appeared to be a collection of Gregorian chants, written in Latin with the neumes above the words. A handwriting analyst could tell far more, but Gamache had examined enough letters to have some expertise.
On first glance, the writing on the page and in the book seemed exactly the same. A simple form of calligraphy. Not the florid swirls of subsequent generations, these were clear, neat, graceful.
But some things didn’t match. Tiny things. A swirl here, a tail on a letter there.
The chants in the book and the one on the torn page weren’t written by the same hand. He was sure of it.
Gamache closed the large book and turned to the yellowed page. But now, instead of looking at the words, he examined the squiggles above them.
The abbot had called them neumes. Musical notations used a thousand years ago. Before there were notes and staffs, trebles and octaves, there were neumes.
But what did they mean?
He wasn’t sure why he was looking at them again. It wasn’t as though he’d suddenly be able to understand them.
As he stared, completely focused, willing the ancient markings to make sense, he imagined he heard the music. He’d listened to the recording of the monks singing their plainchant so often the sound was imprinted on his brain.
As he stared at the neumes he could hear their soft, masculine voices.
Gamache lowered the paper, slowly, and removed his reading glasses.
He stared down the long, long, darkening corridor. And still he heard it.
Low, monotonous. And getting closer.
Gamache left the body and the book and walked swiftly toward the music.
He entered the Blessed Chapel. The chanting was all about him now. Emanating from the walls and floor and rafters. As though the building was built of neumes.
The Chief quickly scanned the church as he walked, his eyes sweeping into corners, rapidly absorbing everything there was to see. He was almost at the very center before he saw them. And stopped.
The monks had returned. They were filing through a hole in the wall at the side of the church. Their white hoods were up, hiding their bowed heads. Their arms were across their bodies, hands buried in their flowing black sleeves.
Not a patch of skin or hair visible. Nothing to prove they were flesh and blood.
As they walked, single file, the monks sang.
This was what neumes sounded like, when lifted from the page.
This was the world-famous choir of the abbey of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, singing their prayers. Singing Gregorian chants. While it was a sound millions had heard, it was a sight few had ever witnessed. Indeed, as far as the Chief Inspector knew, this was unique. He was the first person to ever actually see the monks in their chapel, singing.