Gamache had also had a shower conversation that morning, after Vigils. A few of the monks had come in while he was washing and shaving. Gamache had struck up polite, apparently pointless, conversation, asking each monk why he’d joined the Gilbertines. To a man they answered, “For the music.”
And everyone he’d spoken with had been recruited. Specially chosen. For their voices, primarily, but also for their expertise. As the Chief had discovered reading over their interviews the day before, each monk had a discipline. One was a plumber. Another a master electrician. One was an architect and another a stonemason. There were chefs and farmers and gardeners. A doctor, Frère Charles. An engineer.
They were like a Noah’s Ark, or a fallout shelter. Able to rebuild the world in case of disaster. Every major element present. With one exception.
So, in the event of a catastrophe that only the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups survived, there’d be buildings and running water and electricity. But no life.
But there would be music. Glorious music. For a while.
“How were you recruited?” the Chief had asked his companion in the next stall, after all the other monks had dressed and left.
“By the abbot,” said the monk. “Dom Philippe goes out once a year, looking for new monks. We don’t always need one. But he keeps track of brothers with the qualities we need.”
“And what would those be?”
“Well, Frère Alexandre, for instance, is in charge of the animals, but he’s getting beyond it, so Père Abbé will keep an eye out for a monk from the outside who has an expertise in that area.”
The monk had laughed. “There are no other Gilbertines. We’re it. The last of our kind. All of us came from other orders, and were recruited here.”
“Is it a hard sell?” asked Gamache.
“A little, but when Dom Philippe explained that the vocation at Saint-Gilbert is Gregorian chant, well, that’s all we needed to hear.”
“The music is a fair exchange for all you give up? The isolation. You must never see your families or friends.”
The monk stared at Gamache. “We would give up everything for the music. It’s all that matters to us.” Then he smiled. “Gregorian chants aren’t just music and they’re not just prayer. They’re both, together. The word of God sung in the voice of God. We’d give up our lives for that.”
“And do,” said Gamache.
“Not at all. The lives we have here are richer, more meaningful, than anything we could ever have anywhere else. We love God and we love the chants. In Saint-Gilbert we get both. Like a fix.” He laughed.
“Did you ever regret your decision to come here?”
“That first day, those first moments, yes. It seemed a very long boat ride, down the bay. Approaching Saint-Gilbert. I was already missing my old monastery. My abbot and friends there. Then I heard the music. The plainchant.”
The monk seemed to leave Gamache, leave the shower room with its steam and fragrance of lavender and bee balm. Leave his body. And go to a better place. A blissful place.
“Within five or six notes I knew there was something different about it.” His voice was strong, but his eyes were glazed. It was the same expression Gamache had noticed on the faces of the monks at the services. When they sang.
“What was different?” Gamache asked.
“I wish I knew. They’re just as simple as every chant I’ve ever sung, but there’s something else there. A depth. A richness. The way the voices blend. It felt whole. I felt whole.”
“You said Dom Philippe recruits new monks with the qualities you need here. That would obviously include a good singing voice.”
“It doesn’t just include,” said the monk. “It’s the first quality he looks for. Though not just any voice. Frère Mathieu would tell the abbot what kind of voice he needed, and the abbot would go to monasteries in search of it.”
“But the recruit would also have to be good with animals, or a chef, or whatever other expertise you need,” said Gamache.
“True, which is why it can take years to replace a monk and why the abbot goes out looking. He’s like a hockey scout, keeping tabs even on the young guys. The abbot knows about prospects even before they take their final vows, when they’re just entering the seminary.”
“Is personality important?” asked Gamache.
“Most monks learn to live in community,” explained the monk, putting on his robes. “That means accepting each other.”