“It seemed obvious. The place was in disrepair, it was a question of losing a few unused books to save the many. It should have been an easy decision.”
That was often the equation, give up the few to save the many. From a distance it seemed so simple, so clear. And yet, from a distance you might see the big picture, but not the whole picture, you missed the details. Not everything was seen, from a distance.
“Did the opposition surprise you?” Gamache asked.
Tom Hancock hesitated. “I was disappointed more than surprised. The English community is shrinking, but it needn’t die out. It’s on the cusp. It could go either way. It’s crucial right now to keep the institutions alive. They’re the anchors of any community.” He hesitated a moment, not happy with his choice of words. “No, not the anchors. The harbors. The places people go and know they’re safe.”
Safe, thought Gamache. How primal that was, how powerful. What would people do to preserve a safe harbor? They’d do what they’d done for centuries. What the French had done to save Québec, what the English had done to take it. What countries do to protect their borders, what individuals do to protect their homes.
They kill. To feel safe. It almost never worked.
But Tom Hancock was speaking again. “It’s vital to hear your own language, to see it written, to see it valued. That’s one of the reasons I was so glad to be asked to sit on the Literary and Historical Society board. To try to save the institution.”
“Do they share your concern?”
“Oh yes, they all know how precarious it is. The debate is really how best to keep the institutions going. The Lit and His, the Anglican cathedral, this church, the high school and nursing home. The CBC. The newspaper. They’re all threatened.”
The young minister turned earnest eyes on Gamache. Not the burning eyes of a zealot, not Renaud or Champlain or Chiniquy eyes, but the eyes of someone with a calling greater than himself. A simple desire to help.
“Everyone’s sincere, it’s just a question of strategy. Some think the enemy is change, some think change is what will save them, but they all know their backs are to the cliff.”
“The Plains of Abraham, replayed?”
“No, not replayed. It never ended. The English only won the first skirmish, but the French have won the war. The long-range plan.”
“Attrition?” asked Gamache. “Revenge of the cradle?”
It was a familiar argument, and a familiar strategy. The Catholic Church and politicians for generations demanded the Québécois have huge families to populate the huge territory, to squeeze the more modest Anglos out.
But finally it wasn’t simply the size of the French population that did the English in, but their own hubris. Their refusal to share power, wealth, influence with the French majority.
If their backs were to the cliff it was an abyss of their own making and an enemy they’d created.
“If the English community is going to survive,” said Tom Hancock, “it’s going to have to make some sacrifices. Take action. Adapt.” He paused, looking down at the book clasped in his hand.
“Change course?” asked Gamache, also glancing at the book in the minister’s hand. “They’re making for the open water? Trying the easy way first?”
Tom Hancock looked at Gamache and the tension seemed to break. He even laughed a little.
“Touché. I guess we all do. I think people see me as this muscular, young guy. Stunningly handsome even.” He stole a glance at his amused companion. “But the truth is, I’m not strong at all. Every day frightens me. That’s why I’m doing the canoe race. Ridiculous thing to do, really, paddle and run across a half-frozen river in minus thirty degree temperatures. You know why I’m doing it?” When Gamache shook his head the younger man continued. “So that people will think I’m strong.” His voice dropped, as did his eyes. “I’m not strong at all. Not where it counts. The truth is I’d rather be sweating and heaving a canoe over slush and ice than sitting one-on-one with a sick and dying parishioner. That terrifies me.”
Gamache leaned forward, his voice as soft as the light. “What scares you about it?”
“That I won’t know what to say, that I’ll let them down. That I won’t be enough.”
I will find you. I won’t let anything happen to you.
Yes sir. I believe you.
The two men stared into space, lost in their own thoughts.
“Doubt,” said Gamache at last and the word seemed to fill the huge empty space around them. He stared straight ahead, seeing the closed door. The wrong door.