Forest and Kitchen Thyme and Lilac Drifting
You look younger than ever,” knowing how old ears never tire of hearing that.
But while the Gamache’s’ ears couldn’t yet be considered old, they were tired. It had been a long year and their ears had heard more than they cared to. And, as always, the Gamache’s had come to the Manoir Bellechasse to leave all that behind. While the rest of the world celebrated the New Year in January, the Gamaches celebrated at the height of summer, when they visited this blessed place, retreated from the world, and began anew.
“We are a little weary,” admitted Reine-Marie, subsiding gratefully into the comfortable wing chair at the reception desk.
“Bon, well we’ll soon take care of that.” Now, Madame Dubois gracefully swivelled back behind the desk in a practiced move and sat at her own comfortable chair. Pulling the ledger toward her she put on her glasses. “Where have we put you?”
Armand Gamache took the chair beside his wife and they exchanged glances. They knew if they looked in that same ledger they’d find their signatures, once a year, stretching back to a June day more than thirty years ago when young Armand had saved his money and brought Reine-Marie here. For one night. In the tiniest of rooms at the very back of the splendid old Manoir. Without a view of the mountains or the lake or the perennial gardens lush with fresh peonies and first-bloom roses. He’d saved for months, wanting that visit to be special. Wanting Reine-Marie to know how much he loved her, how precious she was to him.
And so they’d lain together for the first time, the sweet scent of the forest and kitchen thyme and lilac drifting almost visible through the screened window. But the loveliest scent of all was her, fresh and warm in his strong arms. He’d written a love note to her that night. He’d covered her softly with their simple white sheet, then, sitting in the cramped rocking chair, not daring to actually rock in case he whacked the wall behind or barked his shins on the bed in front, disturbing Reine-
Marie, he’d watched her breathe. Then on Manoir Bellechasse notepaper he’d written, My love knows no—
How can a man contain such—
My heart and soul have come alive—
My love for you— All night he wrote and next morning, taped to the bathroom
mirror, Reine-Marie found the note.
I love you. Clementine Dubois had been there even then, massive and
wobbly and smiling. She’d been old then and each year Gamache worried he’d call for a reservation to hear an unfamiliar crisp voice say. “Bonjour, Manoir Bellechasse. Puis-je vous aider?” Instead he’d heard, “Monsieur Gamache, what a pleasure. Are you coming to visit us again, I hope?” Like going to Grandma’s. Albeit a grander grandma’s than he’d ever known.
And while Gamache and Reine-Marie had certainly changed, marrying, having two children and now a granddaughter and another grandchild on the way, Clementine Dubois never seemed to age or diminish. And neither did her love, the Manoir. It was as though the two were one, both kind and loving, comforting and welcoming. And mysteriously and delightfully unchanging in a world that seemed to change so fast. And not always for the better.
“What’s wrong?” Reine-Marie asked, noticing the look on Madame Dubois’s face.
“I must be getting old,” she said and looked up, her violet eyes upset. Gamache smiled reassuringly. By his calculations she must be at least a hundred and twenty.
“If you have no room, don’t worry. We can come back another week,” he said. It was only a two-hour drive into the Eastern Townships of Quebec from their home in Montreal.
“Oh, I have a room, but I’d hoped to have something better. When you called for reservations I should have saved the Lake Room for you, the one you had last year. But the Manoir’s full
- One family, the Finneys, has taken the other five rooms. They’re here—”
She stopped suddenly and dropped her eyes to the ledger in an act so wary and uncharacteristic the Gamaches exchanged glances.
“They’re here . . . ?” Gamache prompted after the silence stretched on.
“Well, it doesn’t matter, plenty of time for that,” she said, looking up and smiling reassuringly. “I’m sorry about not saving the best room for you two, though.”
“Had we wanted the Lake Room, we’d have asked,” said Reine-Marie. “You know Armand, this is his one flutter with uncertainty. Wild man.”
Clementine Dubois laughed, knowing that not to be true. She knew the man in front of her lived with great uncertainty every day of his life. Which was why she deeply wanting their annual visits to the Manoir to be filled with luxury and comfort. And peace.
“We never specify the room, madame,” said Gamache, his voice deep and warm. “Do you know why?”