The past begins to come to life again?
I attended that talk, suffering the voices in my head that kept trying to push me away. They didn’t want me to hear what she had to say about my own document.
That was enough to make me fight them back. I intended to stay.
They were not so very strong at the back of auditorium that I could not tolerate them. The banked rows of seating could accommodate 200 persons, but there were no more than forty, in attendance; students, members of the public, and others, none of whom I recognized.
She presented her information on slides, from a laptop computer hooked up to a large screen.
Most of the audience were bored after just a few minutes, but they politely stayed to listen for the full hour.
I think I may have been the most interested member of the audience, not only for what she had to say, but because of this strange feeling that grew on me as I watched her.
I had met her somewhere before. She looked so much like.... But no, that was impossible... I had seen her, buried.
She was confident. She presented well, and clearly, and... there was something about her... still something haunting... that caused me to focus on everything she said and how she said it. Even how she gesticulated and moved.
I would never tire of listening to that voice. She reminded me of another. But that could not possibly be. I had seen her die, had attended her funeral, had ‘spoken’ with her just months earlier in her vault.
Except, her mannerisms, were the same; as were her gestures; her inflections in saying things, even when spoken in the French of today. She had known that older tongue just as well as I had, but she had forgotten it along the way.
I shook myself out of that dream and I listened.
I was hooked.
I needed to know more. I must not lose track of her!
I focused upon her every word.
I ached to move closer to the front of the large room to get closer to her, to see more, but knew that I must not attract attention to myself as I knew I would. ‘Some bearded jerk’.
I would attend university again and enroll in her courses. I wanted to know what she knew, and I even wanted to help her, though I was not sure how I could do that, except for my knowledge of that language of the past, and of that book she had seen only a small part of.
‘A history of the evolution of language’ could have been an alternative title for her presentation. She relied very much on Church records, most of which were written in Latin, but with other records thrown in, of the earliest French, going back many hundreds of years.
I suppose it was much like the evolution of any language. Go back far enough and with the variations in spelling; ways of writing the characters even, as well as of the syntax, it can be very nearly impossible to understand.
During my years in England, while the bloody revolution in France had raged, I’d studied Shakespeare, as well as Chaucer. The old versions of the Canterbury Tales that I’d read, were wonderfully poetic, and took some effort to read.
Old French was the same, and the further back one went in time, the more difficult it became to understand.
She traced that out quite masterfully, coming back after those introductory explanations to some overheads of a document I recognized well; my own memoir.
She’d photographed the first pages, exactly as I’d written them.
I could easily see that it was the version I’d left in the archives of St. Denis, though she never once mentioned that Monastery or the provenance of that document; the Church could still be sticky about things that embarrassed it, and which shone a difficult light upon it, as my memoir certainly had.
She skated around any disclosure of its origin, explaining that she may have taken some liberty with what she had been instructed, concerning what she was allowed to do in those archives, and had not left her camera behind, as they’d told her to do.
In those moments she had been left alone, she had taken advantage of that freedom and had photographed the first pages of the Memoir that was the subject of her speech on this occasion.
Having run out of space in her camera to do more, she’d departed, intending to return the next day with additional, ‘memory’.
That was when she’d discovered that the document had disappeared. She no longer had access to it and she was even constantly watched from that moment on, while she had been there.
That, sounded like the Church I knew. They trusted no one.
That act of blocking her had piqued her interest, and had caused her to examine very closely, and with an analytical eye, the little she had photographed that day.
She spoke more about ‘analytical interest’ in unravelling that older French, than in trying to understand what it actually said just yet, or the tragic and violent tale it told.
She had to understand it better before she could read it, but she’d been hooked by my introduction, obscure to her as it might have been at first, describing my reasons for writing it, and even laying it out in a clumsy way, but introducing the reader to what it contained and some of my history.
She’d made good progress on that already, considering she’d had those snippets in her possession for only a few days.
I wondered how she’d feel if I were to send her the rest of it. I toyed with that, and then shelved that idea. No, I had to approach this gradually.
I did not have the knowledge then about construction of such a memoir, with a table of contents, or a proper layout, or even of references, an index, or footnotes.
I was more interested in just getting my story down on that parchment. I was surprised it had survived as long as it had. It could still be clearly read from those overheads.
At the end of the lecture, she opened it up to the audience to ask their questions.
There was the usual arrogant twerp—there is usually one in every audience—who wanted to show how clever he was, and to suggest something else for her to consider.
She thanked him for his question while leaving her audience with the feeling that she had put him down far too gently and nicely. I would have dealt with him not nearly as gently.
When it was over, I departed from the back of the hall down the stairs there and waited for her to leave.
It was still early evening, and I needed to know more about her while not approaching her. My life, for once in a very long time, began to feel as if it really might be going somewhere, for once.
She was going over her talk again in her mind as she walked, so did not notice me following her from the university. I stayed back as far as I could, without losing sight of her, and followed her to her home; her lodgings, where she was staying, and waited for her light to come on, so that I knew which rooms were hers.
I felt like a voyeur; like a lovesick youth who had followed his first crush to her home, so that he could pine away, outside of it.
I then returned to my own rooms, my mind full, knowing that I would have a busy day tomorrow. I had learned how to silence most of those louder voices in my head before, and I would need to do it again, but the means to do that and other of my personal belongings from an earlier time were in a safety deposit box, which I needed to visit before I once again changed my appearance to become a mature student once more, and enrolled in her courses.
I had to learn about her.
I needed to shave off my beard and dress with the times.
I had that one full day, and some of the next, to achieve those changes, and to give instructions to those who looked after my affairs. I would be in touch with them from time to time, and I would set all of that up, so they would know it was me, while telling them nothing of my plans or where I would be. I visited a safety deposit box (I had many of them in the city in different banks), removing several things from my past, and I even purchased clothing that seemed more in keeping with what a student might wear.
Professor Burgess would have a new student in her course for that following Friday afternoon, the day after tomorrow. Me. It would be the last lecture of the day, before the weekend came at us.