“Which is where the bodies come in,” said Elizabeth, with more relish than they’d have expected. “He started off somewhere in the States—”
“Pittsburgh,” said Mr. Blake.
“But was run out of town after he was caught grave robbing.”
“It wasn’t like it is today,” said Mr. Blake. “He was a doctor and they needed bodies for dissection. It was common practice to take them from paupers’ graves.”
“But probably not common practice for the doctors themselves to dig them up,” said Gamache to Elizabeth’s muffled laugh.
Mr. Blake paused. “That is, perhaps, true,” he conceded. “Still, there was never any question of personal gain. He never sold them, only used the corpses to teach his students, most of whom went on to distinguished careers.”
“But he got caught?” Émile turned to Elizabeth.
“Made a mistake. He dug up a prominent citizen and the man was recognized by one of the students.”
Now everyone grimaced.
“So he came to Québec?” asked Gamache.
“Started teaching here,” said Mr. Blake. “He also opened a mental hospital just outside the city. He was a visionary, you know. This was at a time when the deranged were tossed into places worse than prisons, locked up for life.”
“Bedlam,” said Elizabeth.
Mr. Blake nodded. “James Douglas was considered more than a little strange because he believed the mentally ill should be treated with respect. His hospital helped hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. People no one else wanted.”
“Must have been an extraordinary man,” said Émile.
“He was, by most accounts,” said Mr. Blake, “a miserable, opinionated, arrogant man. Wretched. Except, when dealing with the poor and displaced. Then he showed remarkable compassion. Strange, isn’t it?”
Gamache nodded. It was what made his job so fascinating, and so difficult. How the same person could be both kind and cruel, compassionate and wretched. Unraveling a murder was more about getting to know the people than the evidence. People who were contrary and contradictory, and who often didn’t even know themselves.
“But where do the mummies come in?” asked Émile.
“Well, he apparently continued to take bodies from graves in and around Quebec City,” said Elizabeth. “Again, just for teaching. He seems to have stayed clear of digging up the premier minister or any archbishops but his fascination with bodies does seem to have spread beyond just teaching.”
“He was simply curious,” said Mr. Blake, a slight defensiveness in his voice.
“He was that,” agreed Elizabeth. “Dr. Douglas was on vacation in Egypt and brought back a couple of mummies. Used to keep them in his home and would give talks in this very room on them. Propped them up against that wall,” she waved to the far wall.
“Well,” said Gamache slowly, trying to imagine it, “a lot of people were robbing graves back then. Robbing might be too strong a word,” he said quickly, to assuage Mr. Blake’s agitation. “It was the age when they were discovering all those tombs. King Tut, Nefertiti,” he’d run out of Egyptian references. “And others.”
Émile gave him an amused look.
“Show me a museum,” said Mr. Blake, “and I’ll show you treasures taken from graves. The British Museum stinks of tombs but where would we be without it? Thank God they took the things, otherwise they’d just be looted or destroyed.”
Gamache remained silent. One civilization’s courageous action was another’s violation. Such was history, and hubris. In this case the famous Victorian ego that dared so much, discovered so much, desecrated so much.
“Whatever it was called,” said Elizabeth, “it was strange. My grandparents went to Egypt on their Grand Tour and came back with rugs. Not a single body.”
“One mummy was eventually sent to a museum in Ontario and then returned a few years ago to Egypt,” Elizabeth continued, “when they discovered it was King Ramses.”
“Pardon?” asked Gamache. “Dr. Douglas took the body of an Egyptian pharaoh?”
“Apparently,” said Mr. Blake, struggling between embarrassment and pride.
Gamache shook his head. “So what does this remarkable Dr. Douglas have to do with Chiniquy?”
“Oh, didn’t we say? They were good friends,” said Mr. Blake. “While still a priest Chiniquy would go to Dr. Douglas’s mental hospital to minister to the Catholics. It was Douglas who stirred Chiniquy to action. A number of the demented were also drunks. Dr. Douglas discovered if you locked them up, gave them good food and no alcohol they often returned to a state of sanity. But they had to stay sober or, better still, never have drunk to excess to begin with. He told Father Chiniquy about this and Chiniquy immediately grasped it. It became his life’s work, his way to save souls, before they were damned.”