This place. The Literary and Historical Society. That held them and all their records, their thoughts, their memories, their symbols. Gamache didn’t have to look at the statue above him to know who it was. This place held their leaders, their language, their culture and achievements. Long forgotten or never known by the Francophone majority outside these walls but kept alive here.
It was a remarkable place almost no Francophone even knew existed. When he’d told Émile about it his old friend had thought Gamache was joking, making it up, and yet the building was just two blocks from his own home.
Yes, it was like a nesting doll. Each held within the other until finally at the very core was this little gem. But was it nesting or hiding?
Gamache watched Winnie make her way around the library with its floor-to-ceiling books, Indian carpets scattered on the hardwood floors, a long wooden table and beside that the sitting area. Two leather wing chairs and the worn leather sofa where Gamache sat, his correspondence and books on the coffee table. Arched windows broke up the bookcases and flooded the room with light, when there was light to catch. But the most striking part of the library was the balcony that curved above it. A wrought iron spiral staircase took patrons to the second story of bookshelves that rose to the plaster ceiling.
The room was filled with volume and volumes. With light. With peace.
Gamache couldn’t believe he’d never known it was here, had stumbled over it quite by accident one day while on a walk trying to clear his mind of the images. But more than the flashes that came unbidden, were the sounds. The gunshots, the exploding wood and walls as bullets hit. The shouts, then the screams.
But louder than all of that was the quiet, trusting, young voice in his head.
“I believe you, sir.”
Armand and Henri left the library and did their rounds of the shops, picking up a selection of raw milk cheeses, pâté and lamb from J.A. Moisan, fruit and vegetables from the grocery store across the way, and a fresh, warm baguette from the Paillard bakery on rue St-Jean. Arriving home before Émile he put another log on the fire to warm up the chilly home. It had been built in 1752 and while the stone walls were three feet thick and would easily repel a cannonball, it was defenseless against the winter wind.
As Armand cooked the home warmed up and by the time Émile arrived the place was toasty warm and smelled of rosemary and garlic and lamb.
“Salut,” Émile called from the front door, then a moment later arrived in the kitchen carrying a bottle of red wine and reaching for the corkscrew. “Smells terrific.”
Gamache carried the evening tray of baguette, cheeses and pâté into the living room, placing it on the table before the fire while Émile brought in their wine.
The two men sat facing the fireplace and toasted. When they each had something to eat they discussed their days, Émile describing lunching with friends at the bar in the Château Frontenac and research he was doing for the Société Champlain. Gamache described his quiet hours in the library.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Émile took a bite of wild boar pâté.
Gamache shook his head. “It’s in there somewhere. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense. We know the French troops were not more than half a mile from here in 1759, waiting for the English.”
It was the battle every Québec school child learned about, dreamed about, fought again with wooden muskets and imaginary horses. The dreadful battle that would decide the fate of the city, the territory, the country and the continent. The Battle of Québec that in 1759 would effectively end the Seven Years’ War. Ironic that after so many years of fighting between the French and the English over New France, the final battle should be so short. But brutal.
As Gamache spoke the two men imagined the scene. A chilly September day, the forces under Général Montcalm a mix of elite French troops and the Québécois, more used to guerrilla tactics than formal warfare. The French were desperate to lift the siege of Québec, a vicious and cruel starvation. More than fifteen thousand cannonballs had bombarded the tiny community and now, with winter almost upon them, it had to end or they’d all die. Men, women, children. Nurses, nuns, carpenters, teachers. All would perish.
Général Montcalm and his army would engage the mighty English force in one magnificent battle. Winner take all.
Montcalm, a brave, experienced soldier, a frontline commander who led by example. A hero to his men.
And against him? An equally brilliant and brave soldier, General Wolfe.