Watching Ken, quiet and calm and Tom, young, vital, handsome, Elizabeth wondered if maybe they understood each other very well after all. Perhaps both had things they weren’t saying.
Not for the first time Elizabeth wondered about Tom Hancock. Why he’d chosen to minister to them, and why he stayed within the walls of old Quebec City. It took a certain personality, Elizabeth knew, to choose to live in what amounted to a fortress.
“Right, let’s start,” said Porter, sitting up even straighter.
“Winnie isn’t here yet,” said Elizabeth.
“We can’t wait.”
“Why not?” Tom asked, his voice relaxed. But still Porter heard a challenge.
“Because it’s already past ten thirty and you’re the one who wanted to make this quick,” Porter said, pleased at having scored a point.
Once again, thought Elizabeth, Porter managed to look at a friend and see a foe.
“Quite right. Still, I’m happy to wait,” smiled Tom, unwilling to take to the field.
“Well, I’m not. First order of business?”
They discussed the purchase of new books for a while before Winnie arrived. Small and energetic, she was fierce in her loyalty. To the English community, to the Lit and His, but mostly to her friend.
She marched in, gave Porter a withering look, and sat next to Elizabeth.
“I see you started without me,” she said to him. “I told you I’d be late.”
“You did, but that doesn’t mean we had to wait. We’re discussing new books to buy.”
“And it didn’t occur to you this might be an issue best discussed with the librarian?”
“Well, you’re here now.”
The rest of the board watched this as though at Wimbledon, though with considerably less interest. It was pretty clear who had the balls, and who would win.
Fifty minutes later they’d almost reached the end of the agenda. There was one oatmeal cookie left, the members staring but too polite to take it. They’d discussed the heating bills, the membership drive, the ratty old volumes left to them in wills, instead of money. The books were generally sermons, or lurid Victorian poetry, or the dreary daily diary of a trip up the Amazon or into Africa to shoot and stuff some poor wild creature.
They discussed having another sale of books, but after the last debacle that was a short discussion.
Elizabeth took notes and had to force herself not to lip-synch to each board member’s comments. It was a liturgy. Familiar, soothing in a strange way. The same words repeated over and over every meeting. For ever and ever. Amen.
A sound suddenly interrupted that comforting liturgy, a sound so unique and startling Porter almost jumped out of his chair.
“What was that?” whispered Ken Haslam. For him it was almost a shout.
“It’s the doorbell, I think,” said Winnie.
“The doorbell?” asked Porter. “I didn’t know we had one.”
“Put in in 1897 after the Lieutenant Governor visited and couldn’t get in,” said Mr. Blake, as though he’d been there. “Never heard it myself.”
But he heard it again. A long, shrill bell. Elizabeth had locked the front door to the Literary and Historical Society as soon as everyone had arrived. A precaution against being interrupted. Though since hardly anyone ever visited it was more habit than necessity. She’d also hung a sign on the thick wooden door. Board Meeting in Progress. Library will reopen at noon. Thank you. Merci.
The bell sounded again. Someone was leaning on it, finger jammed into the button.
Still they stared at each other.
“I’ll go,” said Elizabeth.
Porter looked down at his papers, the better part of valor.
“No,” Winnie stood. “I’ll go. You all stay here.”
They watched Winnie disappear down the corridor and heard her feet on the wooden stairs. There was silence. Then a minute later her feet on the stairs again.
They listened to the footsteps clicking and clacking closer. She arrived but stopped at the door, her face pale and serious.
“There’s someone there. Someone who wants to speak to the board.”
“Well,” demanded Porter, remembering he was their leader, now that the elderly woman had gone to the door. “Who is it?”
“Augustin Renaud,” she said and saw the looks on their faces. Had she said “Dracula” they could not have been more startled. Though, for the English, startled meant raised eyebrows.
Every eyebrow in the room was raised, and if General Wolfe could have managed it, he would have.