Harry Currie

Passage to the Past

To my son Ranal Currie, for helping in so many ways, to Gabriella Currie-Ziegler for being a huge part of my research, and to my wife Thanchanok Janhom for encouraging me to keep writing.

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Passage to the Past



Passage to the Past

a novel by Harry Currie


Fortress Louisbourg, Ile Royale, New France, Saturday, June 22, 1745


The deafening noise, the screaming, shouting of commands, running footsteps, the boom of cannon and sharp crack of musket fire, the desperate cries of men, women and children injured or dying, the hopeless wails of comrades as their lives ended – it was all too much for him. Forteresse Louisbourg, the guardian of the French Empire in North America and the entrance to the St. Lawrence Gulf and River, was constructed to be impregnable – he’d never dreamt he would find himself in the middle of a war – and a war they were losing.


He was on his way back to the fortress after delivering a message to le gouverneur from the etat-major. The bombardment was heavy this morning. He knew the British were determined to end this with victory, and soon. The sounds of conflict suffused the air, and the town was in ruins – every building had suffered, some totally destroyed. It had been going on now for 41 days, and was getting worse every day.


As he was passing the damaged Engineer’s house on Rue Toulouse a fusillade of cannon balls descended, smashing everything they hit. He ran for cover into the Engineer’s garden, squeezing into the ell of the building. Ten minutes later, thinking he was safe, he stood, but too soon. A whistling sound and he looked up, transfixed as if in slow motion, barely glimpsing the small projectiles hurtling toward him. The blows as they tore into his body were excruciating. He was knocked backward – and from the number of impacts he knew he was finished.


Mon Dieu!” he whispered weakly.


Desperate to die in a quiet place away from the sounds of war he began crawling into the Engineer’s house past the demolished main door – his legs were useless. From previous errands there, when treated in the kitchen, he remembered a small, secluded hallway between the kitchen and the dining room. Determined, he struggled to the doorway in the dining room, and began dragging himself through into the hallway. Suddenly, something seemed to impede and hold him back – everything had gone dark and he thought he saw stars. He could barely move. For a moment he thought he had weakened so much his life was over, and a peculiar loud sound convinced him even further, but a final desperate lunge abruptly gave him the quiet he longed for. The sounds of war had completely disappeared.


But he was confused. In his last moments of life, he found himself in a place that was at the same time familiar, yet strange.  Ahead he recognized the kitchen of the Engineer’s house – only somehow it was peculiar, not the same as he remembered.  Beside him he

was puzzled.  A stairwell where there should be none. He was still in the Engineer’s house, of that much he was sure, but it felt wrong.  Panic and bewilderment shot through his mind and contorted his face as his breathing quickened, turned shallow, became even more ragged, then coughed in short, painful gasps. The end was near, he could feel it all slipping away, watching helplessly as his life’s blood drained from his body, pooling around him.  Now he wasn’t sure where he was or how he got here. He turned his face to the muted rays of sunlight filtering into the hallway, catching a glimpse of a clear, blue, beautiful, cloudless sky, and for a moment felt the peace he’d craved.


Pour toi, je recommande mon âme,” he murmured, commending his soul to God, and then he was gon


Chapter One

Fortress Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, Saturday, June 20, 1992


Jacques Lartigue made sure he was on the first bus taking the re-enactors into Fortress Louisbourg. Saturday was a big day for the tourists, and the reconstructed French fortress, only opened to the public for ten years now, was attracting people from all over the world to see this amazing phoenix which had arisen from its own rubble.


Lartigue was proud to be a part of this. Descended from Joseph Lartigue, one of the original merchants and settlers in the 18th century fortress, his ancestor had become the town magistrate, dispensing justice to one and all. Joseph and his wife, Jeanne d’Hiarse, had spawned four sons and five daughters, and with nine offspring it was little wonder that two of them had remained on Isle Royale, now Cape Breton Island, even after the fortress had fallen for good in 1758 and been demolished by the British. Fortunately they had managed to evade the resettlement of some 10,000 of the original French colonists.


Acting the part of the engineer in the reconstruction, along with all of the other locals similarly employed for the tourist season, he felt a strange kinship with his ancestor Joseph, portraying his role with thorough insights and energy, after researching everything he could to be as accurate as possible.


Collecting the key to the Engineer’s house from the modern office in the de la Plagne house, Lartigue made his way through the gate and into the garden, where the main entrances to both house and office were located. Checking the office, salon, dining room and kitchen that everything was ready for visitors, he approached the archway to the short hall that led from the kitchen to the modern staircase, which was not in the original house. The stairway led to the second-floor locker and dressing rooms where the re-enactors changed into their 18th century costumes, out of the eyes of the visitors. The re-enactors could only enter the hallway and modern stairs from the kitchen, as the door from the dining room was kept locked and the doorway walled.


But he stopped in shock.


Merde! Sainte Mère de Dieu !”


A uniformed man lay at the foot of the modern stairway. With the amount of congealed blood around him he had to be dead. Shaken, Lartigue ran to the de la Plagne house to summon help. An ambulance, local police and the Sydney Subdivision of the RCMP were called. The Louisbourg Police secured the house until the RCMP arrived. The Mounties allowed two of the Parks Canada officials in to try to identify the body.


“The house is a crime scene,” the RCMP sergeant informed them. “We’ll have to close it and prevent anyone from entering. Only those involved in the investigation can come past the crime scene tape. The CSI officers are on their way, and the body can’t be moved until forensics and photographs are completed. Please don’t touch anything. Do either of you recognize this man?”


“I should, since he’s dressed in the uniform of the Compagnies Franche de la Marine,” said one of the Parks Canada men. “I was part of the hiring team for the re-enactors, but I don’t recall this man at all. And there’s something very strange – his uniform is extremely dirty, tacky and torn, the colour is faded, and his footwear is completely different. The musket beside him looks old and roughly used. But I’ll check to see if anyone is missing or anything unaccounted for.”


* * *


A week later a group met in the library, which was outside the fortress in the administrative area. The body had been sent to Halifax where the autopsy had been supervised by the province’s Chief Medical Examiner.


“What do we know?” asked the Parks Canada Administrator.


“Despite the uniform he’s not one of ours,” said the man who had been in on the re-enactor hiring. “All our people are accounted for and alive, and all our uniforms are accounted for and in far better condition than this poor man’s.”


“What was the cause of death?” asked the adinistrator.


“The actual cause of death was quite evident at the autopsy,” said Nova Scotia’s CME, who had traveled to Louisbourg because of the strange circumstances surrounding this death. “This man was struck by eight small round lead balls which hit him from his chest to his legs. All eight were still inside him, leading us to the conclusion that there wasn’t a great deal of force from wherever they were fired, or somehow impelled. We were able to determine that they entered his body in a spread pattern, as though the balls had come from a central explosive source. At that point in the autopsy we had no idea what could have released them.”


“Wouldn’t it sound as though a shotgun had done the dirty work?” asked the administrator.


“Something similar, perhaps,” said the ME, “but these balls were far larger than any shotgun could have fired. They’re like very small musket balls. But another peculiarity led us to the launching mechanism. Each entry wound had a trace residue of both sawdust and tin, and we found both in miniscule amounts on the balls themselves.”


“How on earth did that help you?”


”We called in a weapons specialist – someone who knew the gamut of ancient and modern weapons. The sawdust and tin told him immediately. In the days of cannon balls someone had devised a way of spreading shot to use as an anti-personnel weapon. They filled a tin canister with small projectiles, then packed it with sawdust to solidify the mass and to prevent the balls from crowding each other when the canister was shot from a cannon. When it was fired, the canister broke up in the air and scattered the shot.

The weapons guy said it’s an antique version of what today is called a cluster bomb.

There’s a little more to the system, but basically, that’s how he died. Oh, the balls were made in England – they’re antique, but no exact date.”


“You mean to tell us that here we are in the 20th century, but in an 18th-century fortress, and this man was killed by some kind of obsolete shot fired from some kind of ancient cannon?”


“That’s about right. But there’s more to the mystery. This man was basically malnourished. His stomach contained some raw fish and extremely coarse bread. He had never been vaccinated or inoculated, and has had both typhus and smallpox. His stature, 162.6 centimetres, about 5 feet four inches, is far under the norm. He’s missing some teeth, and has never had any dental work done whatsoever.”


“Could you determine his age?”


“Difficult, because of his diseases and obviously long-term malnourishment, but I’d probably be fairly close to say he was about 35. Are you sure you don’t have any people from historic Louisbourg hidden away somewhere?” he smiled slightly.


“Not that I know of,” said the administrator, “but now I’m beginning to wonder. Where was he hit with these balls?”


“That’s strange, too,” said the forensic investigator. “The trail of blood where he crawled would indicate that he’d come from the dining room, but there isn’t the slightest trace of blood in the dining room. You’d think he suddenly appeared from nowhere right on the new stairway side of the door, but that’s entirely impossible. And even if he were hit by these pellet balls in the dining room, surely there’d be a lot of damage to the walls, table and chairs, but there isn’t even a scratch, and there’s no damage in the hallway where the new stairway is either. So those balls couldn’t have hit him in the house anywhere – and that just doesn’t make sense. He was probably only alive for several minutes after he was hit – his injuries were severe so he couldn’t have walked to the Engineer’s house. He could only have crawled somewhere and died, which he obviously did. But where was he hit? And who could have fired a working antique cannon, for God’s sake, and where? Nothing about this makes any sense.”


“What about his uniform and clothing?”


“It was all sent to me after they had thoroughly examined it and had it cleaned,” said the lady in charge of the fortress wardrobe. “I’m afraid I’m not going to have any answers to this. The uniform is original – every part of it, including the buttons and badges, and according to the marks inside the tunic and breeches, it was purchased by the Ministère de la Marine in France. He was properly dressed, with the justaucorps or long greyish-white coat, blue long-sleeved waistcoat, breeches and stockings. He was wearing white duck gaiters, white cravat and shirt – all original. The cockade and button on his black felt tricorn were not the reproductions that we use – they were the

real thing. Around the top of his blue coat cuffs he had a yellow stripe of woollen lace – the rank badge of a corporal. The cloth used for his uniform is an ancient, rough wool weave, nothing like the wool/polyester blend we use -- much coarser in texture. For comfort and simplicity we use modern boots with fake buckles, and his were the real thing, old and handmade, but not by a good cobbler. His underwear was even more peculiar – simple cotton drawers, actually knee-length trousers with a button flap in the front. You couldn’t buy anything like that today. Not a single item of his clothing came from us.”


“The musket?”


“Original, and fired many times,” said the firearms man. “He had a pouch with musket balls, again, all original, and strangely, all brand new and forged by hand, not by machine, in France.”


“Any identification?”


“One scrap of paper with the name Calixte Mynatt scrawled on it. We contacted a printing historian at Dalhousie University – the paper is made from cloth fragments, the ink is well over 100 years old and the pen used was a poor quality quill pen. He said it’s as though someone was practicing penmanship in the past.”


“And that’s a very old French name,” said the administrator. “From everything you’ve all told me, a wild hypothesis would have me believing he was in one of the sieges of ancient Louisbourg, hit by the pellets from a canister fired from a British cannon, somehow crawled into the 20th century and died here. This is like an episode of that 60’s TV show The Outer Limits.”


“Good thing that’s not possible,” said the Medical Examiner. “Imagine the dates on his gravestone: Born 1710 – died 1992. Some future anthropologist would probably spend the rest of his life trying to figure it out. Which leads me to conclude that this terrible incident simply couldn’t have happened. However, there’s a huge BUT – inexplicably, impossibly, and most tragically, it did.”


That brought a few chuckles.


“Last question: Are there any missing persons?”


“Nothing in the whole province that could tie into this,” said the RCMP Superintendant, “and we spread the enquiry out to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and even Quebec because of his French name. This man has no attachments to any person or any place in the eastern provinces. It’ll go down in the books as a ‘close encounter from an earlier time.’”


A few more chuckles. But nothing else could be added. The meeting adjourned with no answers to any of the questions.


Corporal Calixte Mynatt, if that was his name, was given final rites at Stella Maris Catholic Church in the modern town of Louisbourg, and buried in the small cemetery.


A year later everyone had forgotten about this strange occurrence, though the mystery was still in the open/unsolved file.


Forgotten, that is, except by a young Fortress Louisbourg summer musician named Peter Chiasson.






Chapter Two

New York City, Monday, April 22, 2002


As with most strange things in life it began simply enough, this time with a message on his answering machine.


“Matt, it’s Fred. I’ve been looking over your dissertation proposal. Come on over this morning and let’s talk about it. Call me if there’s a problem.”


The machine clicked off, the noise stimulating a rush of cold sweat – uncharacteristic for a former fighter pilot conditioned to tense situations. Already perspiring from a jog in Morningside Park, Matt headed for the shower in his small residence apartment, climbed into chinos and a tan shirt, grabbed his briefcase and headed up Amsterdam Avenue.


Columbia University is an academic and cultural oasis in the desert of commercial and urban sprawl that constitutes the island of Manhattan. The royal charter from King George II which founded Columbia as King’s College in 1754 stated the aims as “The Instruction and Education of Youth in the Learned Languages and Liberal Arts and Sciences.”


Today those ideals are carried out by what is probably one of the most liberal and interdisciplinary universities in the country, with some 75 departments of instruction, 71 academic centres, 13 graduate schools, five affiliated colleges and numerous special programs.


At the heart of Columbia is Low Memorial Library, columned and domed in the classic Roman style, a broad flight of steps descending from it to an expansive plaza, a popular place for students to gather.


A plateau through the broad stairs is College Walk, which bisects the central campus from Amsterdam Avenue on the east to Broadway on the west, and on this bright, fresh morning in late April Matt strode briskly along the walk toward Dodge Hall, barely noticing the fresh spring’s verdant, cloistered surroundings.


“Yo, Matt Lambert, wait up!” called a voice from lower down toward Butler Library.


Turning quickly, Matt saw a familiar face beaming up at him, the owner bounding up the steps like a gazelle in flight.


“Sam! Holy shit! What are you doing here?”


Samuel Beckett Fletcher bounced to a halt, grabbing Matt in a bear hug which nearly threw him off his feet.


“I’ve got a residency at St. Luke’s Hospital just down the road,” laughed Sam, perfect


white teeth contrasting the ebony of his skin. “I wandered in here to see if I could find where you live. How the hell are you?”


“I’m good, Sam. I can’t believe you’re standing here. What is it – four years since the squadron reunion? God, it feels like forever since Desert Storm.”


“Get off it, pal – It’s not that long ago. You still single, or did you finally marry the Ice Queen?”


“No, still single, you cretin, and thanks for the compliment to Cynthia.” He planted a playful poke on Sam’s arm. “I’ll pass along your good wishes.”


“Sorry, friend,” smiled Sam, “I know I’ve only met her once, but that Frigid Fraulein and I definitely do not live on the same planet.”


Matt had been in and out of a relationship with Cynthia Alden for over three years, her impatient character taking her away for periods and then bringing her back, but always frustrated by Matt’s determination to complete his doctorate in musicology. Her father had offered to bring Matt into the family’s Wall Street brokerage firm, but Matt’s repeated declining had made it a dead issue.


“You just don’t understand Cyn,” said Matt to his friend. “She really is very nice. You just have to get to know her.”


“What’s that line about the eye of the beholder?” quipped Sam. “Anyway – you got time for coffee somewhere?”

“Can’t right now. My faculty advisor wants to see me about my dissertation, and I don’t think it’s good news. Can we meet later?”


“Sure,” said Sam. “I’ve got temporary digs with friends of my folks on Riverside Drive.” He scratched the number on a hasty note. “Call me there.”


Matt continued on toward Dodge Hall, the home of Columbia’s Department of Music. Entering past the pillars, he took the elevator to the sixth floor and knocked on Fred Kander’s door.


“Come,” called a voice, and Matt entered the long, narrow office which overlooked trees on the green shared by Dodge and Lewisohn Halls.


Dr. Fred Kander was tall, balding and lean, and though Matt didn’t know his exact age he figured it to be in the late fifties. Fred and Matt’s father had been in the air force in Vietnam together during the latter days of the conflict, and after Corin Lambert was declared MIA, Kander had remained a firm family friend.


“What’s up, Fred? You gonna burn my proposal?”


Matt slid into a chair in front of the desk.


“I’m fine, Matt, thanks for asking.”


“Sorry,” he mumbled sheepishly.


“Well” – Kander searched for the words – “there are some problems. First off I’ve got to say I think it’s too general. French Music in the Popular Culture of 18th Century North America is far too broad. You’d have to cover New France, which, circa 1710, covered about 60 per cent of North America, but was later reduced to today’s Canadian provinces of Quebec and much of Ontario. Added to that is the French colony of Louisiana, then there’s Acadia, which is most of the three present-day Canadian Maritime Provinces, and that would lead to the expulsion of the Acadian French and the establishing of a segregated, but basically French, Cajun culture in Louisiana. Lastly there’s Fortress Louisbourg and its town on Ile Royale, which is now called Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia. You can’t do it all in one dissertation. You need a more narrow focus.”


“What are you suggesting, Fred?”


“Don’t get me wrong, Matt – you’re in good shape with your M.A. last year and all the course work finished for the M. Phil. We don’t have to submit your dissertation proposal to the area committee until midterm in the fall, so . . .” Kander paused, “take some time to rethink it.”


Matt sat back at this last statement, shaken.


“Rethink it? You mean . . . another topic completely?”


“Well – look at your bibliography. There isn’t enough to substantiate your proposal. You put considerable time into this, but, obviously, the material isn’t there, so what else can you do?”


“Fred, I went this direction because there’s a whole area here that’s been ignored by the academics. Everyone seems to think that Rameau, Gossec and Couperin were the sum and substance of French music in the 18th century, but that’s ignoring the ordinary people and what they listened to and danced to. There’s a pile of research material in other areas because it’s the music of the nobility and the rich. From what I can see most dissertations of 18th centuryFrench music are just recycling material that’s been around for years. I want to go where no one has gone before.”


“Okay, Captain Picard,” laughed Kander. “Perhaps if we could beam you back to 1755 you’d be able to discover a treasure trove of undocumented stuff. Since that’s unlikely, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.”


“What do you mean?”


“Narrow your focus and do some on-site research. Visit one of these places and start

digging. Find new material that will add to the body of knowledge and therefore further our understanding of our forebears.”


“Any ideas?”


“Of course.”


“I should have known,” Matt sighed, fearing what was coming. “Okay, shoot.”


“What do you know about Fortress Louisbourg?”


“Nothing, really. It was pretty important in the early part of the 18th century, then the English took it and blew it to pieces. A pretty dead issue since it’s been gone for nearly two and a half centuries.”


“Not so. About forty years ago the Canadian government decided to rebuild it, partly as a make-work project for the economy of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia when the mines closed down. It’s an astounding achievement. They retrieved the original architectural plans from France and rebuilt on the foundations and footings in the ruins of the old fort and its town using all original materials. It has the significant accolade of being the largest restoration project in North America. ”


“How does that help my research?”


“You can start with their collected archives, for one, but more important is the fact that it’s a living fort. Every summer they staff it with people in costume who become the original inhabitants, right down to the meals they serve and, more to the point, the music they play and sing.”


“Why Louisbourg rather than Quebec or Louisiana?”


“Because it’s unique,” said Fred. “One of the rare old-world towns that hasn’t had layers of changing civilization built on top of it. It exists now pretty much as it did then, and they’ve taken great pains to see that everything you see and hear there is authentic and in period. Cape Breton itself is rich in its folklore, and music has been an integral part of that history. There’s the University College of Cape Breton in Sydney, a nearby city, which has a huge collection of local archives in the Beaton Institute, but instinct tells me for historic popular music it’s the people who’ll be your principal resource.”


Matt was thoughtful. “When should I go?”


Kander gave him the Mona Lisa smile.


“I know that look,” groaned Matt, “yesterday.”


* * *


Matt met Sam for lunch in the Amsterdam Café, just half a block from his apartment. As undergrad students at Boston U they had become friends through the Air Force ROTC, cementing this in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Sam had gone to med school after the Gulf War, while Matt had stayed on in the air force.


“How are your eyes, pal?” asked Sam. “Any trouble since the surgery?”


“No, but not good enough for the air force to trust me with an F-15. The ophthalmologists said there’d always be a danger the G-forces would tear the retinas again, and this time the damage could be permanent. That took me off ops, and after four years of instructing I’d had enough. They tried to nudge me into admin several times, but that wasn’t for me. My two years with the Thunderbirds at Nellis were the high point of flying, and shuffling papers after that would have been soul-destroying. Instructing was bad enough.”


“But you didn’t you go straight to Columbia from the air force?”

“Nope. Wasn’t sure what to do. Spent a year playing in piano bars around Manhattan, mainly at Danny’s Grand Sea Palace on West 46th. I even made it to the Blue Note in the Village a couple of times. I was doing okay, but then I kind of woke up and headed back to school. That was two years ago, and I’ve still got the toughest one in front of me. I thought of re-enlisting after 9/11, but they wouldn’t let me fly jets in combat so I didn’t even apply.”


“Where were you when the towers were hit?”


“In the Village. I’d stayed overnight with a friend after playing the Blue Note, and we’d just gone out for breakfast when the first jet hit the North Tower. We stood on the street and watched in horror as they burned. The crowds ran past us in shock and terror, covered with soot and dirt, crying their eyes out. The smell of burning flesh was terrible. When the towers came down people fell to their knees sobbing and wailing. I still wake up at night sometimes with those images in my dreams.”


They sat in silence until Sam shifted the conversation. “How’d it go today with your advisor?”


Matt filled Sam in on the meeting with Fred Kander and the suggestion that he should head for Canada to do research.


“You really gonna go, man?”


“Like I have a choice? I’ve got to submit this proposal by fall midterm. I even have to defend the proposal to get it accepted. If I don’t pull that off it’s all over – I can’t even write the dissertation. The subject’s a good one, and I’m connected to it because of my ancestry. But there’s not much academic material available so I’ll have to do it hands-on.”


“When do you take off?”


“Hell, I don’t know. I’ll have to get a car – I haven’t had one in two years – then I’ll have to get out of my apartment, and that’s a pain in the butt. When I come back there’s not a chance in hell I’ll find another like it.”


Sam jumped at this. “What if I sublet, Matt? That’d give me time to find a place of my own. I can’t sleep on the couch where I am for more than a few nights. How about it?”


“Hey . . . why not? I’ll have to run it by the porters so they’re in the know. I’m in a residence at the corner of Amsterdam and West 120th which is usually reserved for faculty, but a few grad students get in if they get lucky. Desert Storm helped. They don’t officially allow sublets, but they look the other way if it’s not for too long.”


“How long will you be gone, buddy?”


“I dunno. A couple of months at least, but I’ll have to play it by ear. I haven’t a clue about what I’m getting into.”


“Have you told Miss Siberia yet?”


“Cut it out, Sam, and no, I haven’t. We’re meeting for dinner tonight and I’ll tell her then. She’s really gonna be pissed. She had our summer all planned.”


* * *


Matt spent part of the afternoon doing research on the Fortress of Louisbourg on the internet, then checked on various cars he might consider buying or leasing. He liked what he found about the Toyota Prius, a new type of hybrid car which had both a gasoline and an electric engine. It fitted his strong beliefs about the environment, one of the reasons he’d done without a car in New York. But getting a Prius would be a challenge, since they were in great demand because of their extremely high gas mileage and lowest possible emissions.


He wasn’t looking forward to the evening with Cynthia. Difficult at the best of times, he knew she’d lose it over the change of plans for the summer. Her family had a summer home on Cape Cod, and they would have had it to themselves for a month while her parents were in Europe. There was a constant round of social get-togethers among her moneyed set, with yachting, tennis and golf the principal preoccupations, rounded out with lots of alcohol and pot, and, of course, harder drugs readily available for those who indulged. Cynthia loved it. Matt hated it.


Sometimes he wondered what kept them together. She was tall, naturally blonde, strikingly beautiful, fit and athletic, and, when she was in the mood, had an insatiable sexual appetite. But she was controlling, especially where Matt was concerned, and this led to arguments over lifestyle, money and career. Still, there was a strange need in both of them for the other’s companionship, and even though they had split several times that need pulled them back together.


Dinner, of course, was always a problem. Cynthia hated Matt’s student haunts, and Matt couldn’t bring himself to dine at the Rainbow Room or one of her trendy upscale bistros. Their principal compromise was the Playwright Tavern on 8th Avenue, where the food was good and the atmosphere acceptably smart but not pretentious.


* * *


They sat on the upper level, right in the window overlooking the avenue, Cynthia chattering happily about some of her Bryn Mawr friends who would be at the Cape in July. She was enjoying the seafood linguine provençale, but Matt only picked at his oak-smoked Irish salmon, waiting for the right moment to give her the bad news. When he realized there wouldn’t be a right moment, he plunged in.


“Cyn, we need to talk, and I’m afraid you’re not going to like what’s come up about the summer.”


She didn’t respond, just fixed him with an icy glare. God, how her moods could swing! He explained as best he could, but it fell on deaf ears.


“You son-of-a-bitch,” she hissed coldly. “You know how much this meant to me, and now you want to fuck it up to go off on some loony French escapade!”


“I don’t have a choice, Cyn. You really think I want this?”


“Bullshit! How long have you been planning it?”


“Don’t be paranoid, Cyn.” He had a quick thought – plan ‘B’. “Why don’t you come with me? I won’t have to work all the time, and you’d be a big help. You took North American history, and you’d be able to cut my time there in half. I could concentrate on the music and you could do the background research.”


Cynthia replied with icy composure. “I only studied history because I had to take something! I don’t even like fucking history, and if you think I’m spending my summer digging around in old books in the asshole of North America then you don’t know me

at all! I’ve had enough of this back-to-college shit! This is it, Matt! You do this to me and it’s over! It’s your choice!” She rose from her chair. “Call me if you change you mind, otherwise don’t bother!” With that she swept out.


Looking down on 8th Avenue he watched her hail a cab, and she was gone.


You really handled that well, he thought to himself.


Pushing his plate away he ordered a coffee from the waitress, who looked concerned.


“Everything all right, sir?” she asked in a delightful Irish accent.


“Not really,” he said with a rueful smile. “I’ve spoiled her summer plans because of my studies and she’s not a happy debutante.”


“I’ll just be a moment with your coffee.” She smiled. “And would you like a piece of warm strawberry-rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream on me? It’s good comfort food, something you might be needing just now.”


He fought the instinct to run after Cynthia, tell her he’d stay and forget the trip. A sudden, very strange, deeper realization held him back: she didn’t understand his passion for music at all. It was an icy knife in his guts. But the pie was good. He left a big tip.


* * *


Matt slept fitfully that night, getting up to read twice, finally falling asleep as the sun was rising. He roused himself groggily, got ready, and headed for the Amsterdam Café for breakfast with Sam.


“What did you expect, man?” asked Sam between bites of Belgian waffles.


“I guess I thought she might understand. I don’t think I realized how much she hated my being in school. I don’t know what to do.”


“Get over it. Make a clean break, enjoy your summer in Canada, and find someone who likes you for who you are and what you believe in. Cynthia wasn’t right for you. It’s that simple.”


“Why does everybody think that except me, Sam?”


“Simple. Blinded by her beauty, her passion, and imagined glimpses of something you hoped for but wasn’t really there. Happens all the time.”


The rest of Tuesday and the following two days were a whirlwind. When he had an occasional moment he called Cynthia several times, only getting her voice mail. Finally he left a brief message, told her he wanted to talk, but that he had to go to Canada, and had to complete this for his own sense of who he was.


She didn’t call back.






































Chapter Three

Matt had telephoned the administration at the Canadian fortress, and was asked to send an email outlining his request. The reply from the Field Unit Superintendent who oversaw the fortress for Parks Canada was positive, and she put him in touch with Peter Chiasson, the Program Coordinator for Visitors’ Services. The fort was open in May for personally guided tours, and in full operation by June.

During May the people playing the townsfolk, soldiers, artisans, craftsmen and musicians are assembled for familiarization, costuming and rehearsals, and Matt was informed that he could arrive during that time. He decided to leave as soon as he got everything organized.

Mentioning his choice of car to Fred Kander, he griped about the difficulty of finding one.

Fred laughed. “You’ve still got filet mignon tastes with a Big Mac budget. You can’t afford a Prius, just like you couldn’t afford that Fuji bike when you were 13, but I’ll make a call,” said Fred. “My old crew chief from Vietnam is a Toyota dealer in Englewood Cliffs over in Jersey. Skeeter could scrounge water out of a stone. Let’s see what he can come up with.”

Skeeter came through in spades. Matt was informed that Toyota had a Prius test drive program in place with selected dealers. He could ‘test-drive’ the car for as long as he needed it over the summer, and at no cost except for gas and routine maintenance. All he had to do was write an honest report of his experiences with the vehicle. He couldn’t believe his luck, though he really suspected Fred had cooked up something with Skeeter without telling him. It wouldn’t be the first time – mysteriously the Fuji bike had arrived.

Where to stay was another matter. He found the website for the nearby modern town of Louisbourg, printed out the accommodation list and began calling.

May was no problem – he could have his pick. But from June onward almost everything was booked. When he got down the list to the Louisbourg Harbour Inn there was one room available – the honeymoon suite. He took it for two months, with an option to extend if he needed to stay longer. The innkeepers had given him a break for taking it for an extended term.

Ironic, he thought. I get the honeymoon suite. He tried to keep Cynthia out of his mind, but it wasn’t working.

Sam was happy about the location of Matt’s apartment, only seven blocks down Amsterdam to St. Luke’s where he was in residence.. Matt introduced him to the porters, showed him how to get to the Apple Tree Supermarket through a door in the basement, and amused him with the welcome mat in front of one professor’s door which said “Go Away!”

A stop at the “Triple A” office on Broadway at West 62nd produced a route for his drive after he had rejoined the automobile club. The journey would take him up the Eastern seaboard past Boston, through Maine, the Canadian province of New Brunswick, then Nova Scotia, and on to that province’s Cape Breton Island, where Fortress Louisbourg was located. It really was at the farthest eastern point in territorial North America.

What am I doing? Matt mused to himself. What am I getting into?

He needed a break, and the Starbucks at Broadway and West 76th beckoned. Armed with a classic tuna sandwich and a large hot cappuccino, he sat quietly, contemplating the decisions of his life to this point. With a few piano lessons behind him at age 6, he discovered he could play almost everything he heard, though of course they were more simple versions. His piano teacher tested him, telling his mother that he had perfect or absolute pitch – he could name pitches instinctively and instantly, and play anything he heard without searching or fumbling. Matt’s mother considered him a prodigy, so much so that he was guided into music through high school and into Boston University, majoring in piano, with minors in theory and composition.

Throughout his childhood and teen years he explored and experimented with all sorts of musical genres, impressing his teachers with his ability to quickly master everything from Bach to bebop. He found both pleasure and challenge in composing and arranging small pieces for his own enjoyment, and would often amuse his college friends with piano extemporizations of pop tunes played in the styles of the great masters.

Of course girls and young ladies were a pleasant distraction through his high school and college years, but apart from a few intense infatuations and an occasional but temporary broken heart, nothing developed into a permanent relationship – music seemed to fill that need.

But it was at Boston U that he found himself torn between three loves: classical music, a discovery that he was an instinctive jazz pianist, and flying, undoubtedly inspired by his father’s USAF career, and furthered by belonging to the Air Force ROTC. The thrill of being in the air eventually pulled him away from music. He joined the air force after graduation – a move which disappointed and also terrified his mother, since she had lost her husband as a pilot in Vietnam. But ten years later, air force career over, he returned to playing jazz, realizing that the long absence from classical piano had closed that door for good. Needing something more stable than the mercurial world of jazz, Fred Kander had suggested that he work for a doctorate in musicology, and here he was, wondering what it was all about, confused about where he was headed, and uncertain about how it all would end.

In his wildest imagination he could never have guessed.

* * *

Fred took him over to the Toyota dealership in Englewood Cliffs to pick up the Prius. Skeeter – Juan Ricardo Gonzalez, who was from Mesquite, Nevada, hence the nickname – gave him a quick familiarization.

“The major here tells me you flew combat in an F-15,” said Skeeter with a grin. “I don’t think you’ll have a problem figuring out the Prius.”

Calling his mother in Essex, Connecticut, he apologized for not being able to stop en route, explaining the long drive ahead of him. She told him to be careful and not get into any accidents or trouble. Thanks, Mom. At least she didn’t remind him to wear his rubbers – either type. He smiled at the incongruity of the thought.

Leaving the car in a locked lot on Thursday night, Matt considered one last call to Cynthia, decided against it, and went to bed early. He was already packed and ready to leave early in the morning. Sam had slept on a pullout in the living room, helping Matt down with his luggage in the morning.

“Stay in touch, buddy, and let me know how things are going in the wilderness. If you need anything just call.”

“Thanks, Sam. If you hear from Cynthia . . .”

He hesitated, not knowing how to continue.

“If she wants to know where you are I’ll tell her,” said Sam.

They shook hands, Matt climbed in, tossed Sam an air force salute, and drove away.

“Off we go, into the wild blue yonder,” he sang to himself.

And no wingman watching my ass, he thought.

* * *

It would be interstates all the way to Bangor – an easy but boring drive – so he’d brought a pile of CDs with him. He set the cruise control at 70 mph and let the car do the work, listening to Oscar Peterson, Sibelius and Sinatra. With stops for fuel, meals and overnights, Matt figured it would take three full days of driving. He planned to stop near Portland, Maine on the first night, Moncton in the Canadian Province of New Brunswick on the second, and make it to Louisbourg on the third.

The Prius was a joy to drive. Smooth through the automatic gears – he couldn’t even feel the shift – the handling was tight and precise, and the central computer screen fed all the information about which power source was moving the car at which moment. He was amused at the slight similarity to the display in his F-15. The car was equipped with a GPS navigation system, so Matt could track his exact whereabouts by using the on-screen map and destination displays.

Arriving in South Portland he found a Holiday Inn just off Interstate 95, had a sauna and a meal, read more of Ken Follett’s remarkable The Pillars of the Earth and fell soundly asleep, listening to the familiar, comforting sounds of jet engines from the nearby jetport.

He was away by 8 a.m. after a restful night and a good breakfast. Just over three hours later he left the interstate system at Bangor, opting for the shorter Route 9 – the ‘Air Line’ as it was known locally – instead of Route 1, which wove its way up the coast following the twists and turns of the bays and inlets – and took twice as long.

The two-hour drive on the Air Line was through the heart of the Maine woods, with lush, dense forests on either side of the road, some spectacular hills and valleys to negotiate, and more logging trucks than he’d ever seen in his life. He emerged in Calais, where he crossed the US-Canadian border to Saint Stephen, New Brunswick.

Spotting The Lobster House restaurant, Matt treated himself to some fresh crustacean, then drove along the picturesque Bay of Fundy coast on Highway 1 toward the city of Saint John. The freshness and rural charm lifted his spirits.

Bypassing Saint John, he linked onto the Trans-Canada Highway in Sussex, and one more hour put him in Moncton at a Holiday Inn just off the Trans-Canada on Mountain Road.

At dinner he was intrigued by the French-Canadian accent of his waitress, unlike any he had heard in his undergrad year in France. She was friendly, and asked where he was from and what he was doing in Moncton. He explained he was just passing through.

“Den you ‘aven’t been to da Magnetic ‘ill,” she said.

“No,” he laughed, “what’s that?”

“You drive your car to da bottom of de ‘ill, den you take off your foot from da brake and you come back up wit’out da gas,” she said. “Hit’s close by da motel.”

Matt needed conversation and distraction, so he switched to French and she was pleasantly surprised. He asked her if this was a part-time job.

“For the summer it’s full time,” she replied, also in French but with strange inflections. “I’m a student at LUniversité de Moncton, and this is just my summer job.”

“What are you studying, Marie-Claude?” he asked, reading her name tag.

“Music,” she replied, “I’m in my final year.”

“What’s your major?”


Matt told her about his similar background, and briefly why he was in Canada.

Marie-Claude hesitated, fascinated by Matt – wavy brown hair, strong but not too perfect looks, his inviting smile and his open, friendly manner.

“I ‘ave more tables, but I come back,” she said in English.

A few minutes later she stopped by his table and asked, “Could I show you da Magnetic ’ill and maybe we ‘ave a coffee and talk about music?”

Matt’s turn to hesitate, but he quickly decided there was no harm in it. He’d enjoy the company, and besides, he liked Marie-Claude. There was something about her – the easy, unaffected confidence that so many modern young college women possess.

“Sure,” he said. “That would be fun. Where will I meet you?”

He waited in the car near the staff and delivery entrance, getting out as Marie-Claude appeared. Dressed in jeans and a jacket and carrying a small backpack, she could have been any student at Columbia. She smiled brightly as she got into the Prius.

“Hi, I hope I didn’t make you wait,” she said in French.

“No, I just got here myself. Where to?”

“Turn right along Mountain Road away from the motel. There’s a turnoff to Magnetic Hill just down the road.”

They talked easily about this and that as they drove, and Matt sensed a lightness in Marie-Claude which lifted his mood.

Turning in to the Magnetic Hill entrance Matt paid the fee, then followed the instructions. They had to wait while others went first. Matt noticed a small amusement park, a tiny zoo, a restaurant and gift shop, and a group of storefronts built around a pond pretending it was a waterfront. Commercial, but not too garish.

“It’s our turn,” said Marie-Claude. “Drive down the hill on the right hand side and stop by the white post.”

Matt was sure they were driving down a hill, except that he had to use the accelerator to advance the car.

“Now go to the left side of the road, put the car in neutral and release the brake,” said Marie-Claude.


“I think so. I’ll just go back to Mountain Road and follow it out.”

Au ’voir.”

after Cynthia was becoming a real possibility. As he drifted off to sleep the only thing in his mind was the warmth of Marie-Claude’s embrace.