I became a student once more.
She noticed me enter her class through the door at the back of the steep lecture room, the same one she’d spoken in, two days earlier.
As before, I sat at the back, while all of her other students were in the first two rows... all ten of them.
I was not one of her usual students, a little older than any of them (only a little older? How could they know?), and I'd begun late in the term. Her course was almost over. Two more weeks and it would be the end of term, and summer.
Her department head had told her of me, this unusual student that had registered late, so she knew enough not to question my presence near the end of the school year.
I was late to her class, but she ignored that too. There was no way she would know that I had been the same one who had been present at her talk that previous Wednesday, or the one that had followed her home.
I was late because I had been hard pressed to round up everything I would need. I had to leave France as soon as I could, after this talk.
This would be my first and last official lecture ever, at that university, and I knew it, but I couldn’t tell anyone else that. That also presupposed that I would be able to accomplish what I intended, before I went, as well as after. There was nothing certain about any of it. I would approach her father for that, and whet his appetite for adventure.
I would be in London by that Monday.
They all heard me come in to the class. Noisy, damned doors. I nodded my apology in silence, and I was presented with the sign-in sheet. I had to borrow the pen of the one who’d brought it up to me to do that. He’d climbed to the back of the steep classroom to hand it to me... I needed a pen. He gave me his. I signed, and handed the pen back to him, but I kept the sign-in sheet with me as he’d trotted back down to the front again.
I didn’t want to go rummaging in my leather satchel for a damned pen.
Professor Burgess didn’t ask me to introduce myself, and to disrupt the flow of her thoughts. She’d find out who I was afterward, from that sign-in sheet.
It would probably shock the hell out of her, wondering what sort of a game I was playing with her.
She dug into that same talk again, recounting her experience at the un-named Monastery, discovering this old document. It had not been disturbed for many years, perhaps centuries, considering its age, and it had been thick with dust.
It was written in very old French that had been a challenge to read, and it spoke, in the introduction, of villages and communities that she’d tried to look up, finding that they no longer existed. Nor could she reconcile my little map with that part of France that the document identified.
She had managed to get further into it, properly, since that first presentation.
She had her own view on that. Empty villages and communities had been a common occurrence in the plague years when entire villages had been wiped out, or had left, abandoning them ahead of that scourge. Often times, the vegetation had taken over what had once been good farmland before the previous tenants and farmers had returned; if they had been able to return; if they’d lived. Half of the population of Europe in that time, hadn’t survived. Mass graves had been everywhere, or the bodies had been consigned to the rivers to solve the problem without all of that labor, though just sending it further downstream for other to deal with, and on to the sea.
She didn’t know the half of it, but if she ever read the whole document, she would know.
I had a photocopy of my own memoir; all of it, and I also had the most recent and complete, bound version. More recent (by only a few years), than the one in St. Denis, but still from that same period.
I would find some excuse to leave it with her, and shock the hell out of her even more.
I could see it all.
At the end of her talk, after all of the other students had left for the weekend, she would come up and recover the sign-in sheet, looking down the name to the end where I’d signed. She would pause and ask...'who was this person'?
She’d have to think about that. Why had he written down one of those names from her lecture? She would suspect that I must be playing some kind of joke, trying to mislead her by using that name.
She would read it again. 'Guillaume Justin de Vaillancourt'. That was how I’d signed in. Perhaps not wise of me, but I had done it.
She would take it down to her briefcase, and dig out her photographs of my opus.
She would see that the signatures were identical. They had the same formal flourishes, with the same care taken, yet she would recall that I had not struggled painstakingly to do that. I’d signed, while Pierre had waited for his pen back. Ten seconds. Too fast to forge a signature so carefully.
Also, I’d signed in before she’d got far enough to disclose that name on the document. ‘It had to be a coincidence’. Or ‘he’d seen the poster of her earlier talk and really was playing games with her...’. It would nag at her... ‘and to reproduce that signature so well...’?
How could she not want to know more about me after that?