Authors: Linda Kepner
Tags: #romance, #historical
The place was Sunday silent. It was queer to be in that still place, as it was to be walking purposefully down a corridor in her Sunday best with a secretary in capri pants, flats, and a sailor shirt.
Claire cranked up the electricity on a console-sized teletype machine against a wall, made sure its roll of paper was in position, and pulled out some papers from her desk. Carefully she assembled and wrote down her text. “I don’t do this often enough to cable free-hand,” she admitted, “so I like to have things ready.” Next, she seated herself at the console, and began typing. There was clunky give and take, give and take, so the overseas communication device was functioning. At last, she started a long burst of typing, and nodded, satisfied, when she finished.
“We’ll wait for the acknowledgement,” she said. “It will probably take a few minutes, especially on a Sunday.” Claire smiled at Bishou, who sat anxiously in the other chair. “Welcome to the tobacco-man’s world, mademoiselle.”
Bishou nodded. “Sick plants and machetes, balanced by his name on a box.”
Claire laughed. “Oui. And those of us who do what we can, to keep the miracle going.”
This time, Bishou laughed. “It does get in one’s blood, doesn’t it?”
“Certainly it does. This is the best job I could ever have.” Her smile faded. “But I admit I was hired upon his return.”
“That was probably good, that you were new then.”
“Oui. I think so. So many people said, ‘I remember when,’ and I was free to say, ‘But I was not here. I need the here-and-now.’” Tentatively, she added, “Perhaps you are like that, too.”
Bishou nodded. “I think so. You and I, tobacco-women together.” She gazed at a photo of Louis on the wall. “Was that for a promotional advertisement, that picture?”
“Oui. You have none?”
“No, not a photo of him. I don’t think he has one of me, either.”
“He has one, because I saw it.”
Bishou stared. “Really?”
“Oui, he showed it when he first came back from America.”
“The World Tobacco Conference at my university? I remember! The East Virginia University photographers took group photographs. I never got any, though, just the members of the conference.” No, her only images of the quiet French widower were in her memory, but they had been enough to make her want to find him again. She did not need a photograph to see those brown eyes, that dark, wavy hair, that shy smile.
Claire smiled again, and was about to speak when the hammering of the terminal interrupted her. She read the notice. “Ah. Acknowledgement of receipt by the Sorbonne. We don’t have a reply yet, but we know they received it. There is nothing more we can do today.” She stood. Bishou followed suit. “And I promised I would take care of my nieces this afternoon.”
“I’ll take you back.” Bishou nodded.
“Many thanks, Mademoiselle Bishou — ” she laughed, “ — not Mademoiselle for much longer, though!”
Bishou took Claire back to her street, and then found her way down the roads to the field where she had left the men. She knew for certain where she was only by a suit jacket, left hanging on a tree near the road. She pulled the car over, shut off the ignition, climbed out, and began to walk into the field.
The men were much further back now, no longer near the road. Louis, shirt sleeves rolled up, was chopping as determinedly and competently as the men around him. François saw Bishou approaching, and spoke to Louis. He straightened up, and they walked toward her.
Several men stopped working and gathered around them. “Mademoiselle Aucoeur has sent a request to the Sorbonne for the medicine,” Bishou reported. “We know they have received the message, but, of course, no one will respond until tomorrow morning. She will telephone them in the morning as well.”
“Good.” Louis wiped his brow with his sleeve. “We’ll keep doing as I said, François, just cut out the worst, and leave the mild rust in that back field to try the antibiotic on. I’d rather save it than destroy it, but above all, we must not let the rust spread.”
“Oui. And we’ll use different shovels for the different fields, too,” said François. “I never thought about that, contagious like a cold.” Apparently, Louis was even managing to teach some of his new findings to his crew.
“Do you need me here, or have you got men enough?”
“Non, monsieur, if we’re not going to take out the back field, I’ve got enough men, but merci. You know, there are not many tobacco-men that can take it from the telephone to the machete.”
“Both are business tools at Dessant,” joked Louis, and all the men laughed.
Then one of the men said, “Best wishes to you both, Monsieur et Madame — tobacco-man and tobacco-man’s wife.” Other deep male voices muttered agreement.
Louis smiled down at Bishou as she replied, “Thank you for your good wishes, gentlemen.” Then they returned to the car.
He picked up his suit coat from the tree. “I was afraid you would not be able to find us.”
“I was glad your jacket was there.”
“My apologies for testing you by fire.” Louis saw her into the passenger seat, then seated himself in the driver’s. He slid the machete back in the door pocket. “It would have been quite different if you could not drive this car.”
“I know. But I could.”
“François said to me, ‘The lady cannot wait while you help us, monsieur.’ I said, ‘She understands tobacco.’ And he replied, ‘God bless you and may you both be happy in a tobacco-man’s life.’” Louis kept his eyes on the road as he drove away, but his voice caught in his throat. “I think that blessing meant more to me than any I shall ever get from a church.”
“And well it should,” she agreed.
Louis pulled up at last in front of Pension Étoile, turned, and kissed her. “I needed that exercise. I think I will sleep well tonight, perhaps even this afternoon. We accomplished everything we intended, and then some, did we not?”
“Oui.” Bishou kissed him again.
“Mm,” he said, well pleased. “We still have the dress problem to consider, hm?”
“I suppose so.”
“I like this church dress of yours. If all else fails, wear that. I wouldn’t care if you wore a white djibbah with those nice high heels, truthfully. It is all
. Don’t let it worry you. Sleep,
Louis escorted her to the door and kissed her yet again, like the lovers they were, before he said farewell. Inside the lobby, she sighed and felt the full force of her day’s adventures.
Marie was on duty. She said, “You look tired, Mademoiselle Bishou.”
“I am exhausted. What a day. And it is not yet two o’clock. I am going to sleep, Marie. Don’t worry about noise. Nothing will wake me.”
Bishou slept through the night. The first noise she heard was the horn of the ferry
, at nine o’clock the following morning. She rolled over and yawned.
Bishou had slept soundly.
Perhaps every day will not be like yesterday,
but I know I can measure up to it. So does Louis
She staggered out of bed and down the hall to the bathroom, not worried about her looks or other travelers at nine o’clock in the morning. She brushed her teeth and hair, washed her face, and found her way back to her room.
Inside, she changed to her academic clothes because this would be a university day. She needed to go to the university library and research material for her Wednesday talk. Dressed but stocking-footed, she heard the tap-tap on the door and assumed it was Marie or Eliane. “
The tap-tap was repeated. Puzzled, Bishou opened the door.
A large drawing pad met her sight. The illustrated woman on it could have been Bishou. She wore a little white hat and veil much like Bishou’s Sunday hat, and a white dress with a high collar, but otherwise much like the elegant blue dress Bishou had admired in the local dress shop the other day, before she left in anger over Nadine’s scornful words. The dress had lace bunched up in back, probably ready to be released as a lightweight train. She wore the shoes Bishou had purchased.
Bishou looked up from the illustration to the face above the board. “‘Great talent demolishes all barriers,’” she quoted.
Madame Nadine smiled. The hatchet was buried. “May I come in, Professor?”
“Please.” Bishou motioned her inside.
“My apologies for my words to you Saturday. I am afraid we started off on the wrong footing.”
“Ah, madame, let me apologize as well,” Bishou replied. She could be noble, too. “I am trying to accomplish so much, in such a hurry. It is a very stressful time for me, and my temper grows too short.”
Nadine sat down in the only chair, and glanced around her. Naturally, the open wardrobe door caught her attention. “Ah! What is that robe?”
“My doctoral gown.” Bishou pulled it down for her to touch. “It was wrinkled in the package. Everything I brought with me was either in packages, or in my backpack. I came with nothing else.”
Nadine stared. “And nothing else? To your wedding?”
“No, to my job. My work here was planned. My marriage was not.”
“But you knew Monsieur Dessant before, I heard. You did not simply encounter him on a pleasure trip to Île de la Réunion.”
“I was his translator at East Virginia University, when he came to a conference there. He fell ill, and I corresponded with the Campards to assist him. So, I came here, to see how he fared and to meet the Campards.” Bishou sat on an edge of the bed and regarded her guest. “You have researched me,
An elegant shrug. “I asked around.
Ross told me much about you. Her assistant,
, knew of you, too. Apparently you are already a friend of the bus drivers.”
“A word of advice,” said Bishou. “
’s name is Ceci. America is already suffering from race riots. Let your name be known for equality in your work.”
“Don’t lecture me,”
Nadine said sharply.
“I do not. I merely observe,” Bishou replied evenly. “But if the race riots ever reach La Réunion — and anything is possible — it would be nice to own the one shop without broken windows.”
“Mmph.” Nadine made a non-committal, non-politick noise that became her. “And, of course, everyone saw you buy the shoes he wanted you to wear, and saw the sapphire he chose for you. Also the little diamond chevrons you are wearing.”
“And will continue to wear.” Bishou touched her necklace, which stayed with her even as she slept.
“And Monsieur Dessant?”
“I love him with all my heart.”
The strength of her reply seemed to surprise Nadine. Bishou waited. At last, Nadine said thoughtfully, “
. Can you come to the shop this afternoon, around three? Bring your shoes. And we will fit the blue dress for your Wednesday night reception.”
She certainly has done her homework
, Bishou thought.
That had to be a phone call to Claire or Bettina, or Louis himself, to dredge up that information.
“We can also take more accurate measurements for your wedding dress, so I can start the cutters on that. You prefer lace to voile? It is more expensive, you know.”
“I know. What would you like for a down payment?”
Nadine named a figure that fitted Bishou’s purse. Bishou counted out the cash. Nadine gave her a receipt. Purely coincidence, of course, that she happened to have her receipt book with her, as well as her sketch materials. “The balance will be due at the final fitting. That will be today for the blue dress, and tomorrow for the white one.”
.” Bishou stood. “
. I shall see you at three, then.”
Nadine gathered up her materials, smiled over her shoulder, and left. Bishou felt a great weight lift from her shoulders. A few moments later, she too went downstairs.
The two genteel middle-aged pension hostesses were watching for Bishou. Eliane and Marie waved her in behind the counter, to their little breakfast table. “Well? Well? What did she say?”
“My blue dress will be ready for the reception Wednesday night, and the white one for Friday.”
“Mon Dieu!” Eliane exclaimed. “She never takes two commissions at once from the same customer.”
Marie concurred. “She must have been shaking in her boots, for fear the house of Dessant would snub her.”
“Well, I am sure I don’t know the answer. But I liked both designs, and she is a true artist.” If the gossip lines worked in one direction, they probably worked in the other. Nadine would know by noontime that the Professor was saying nice things about her.
“And the church is all set?” Marie asked anxiously.
“I hope you don’t mind, we spoke to the Père.”
Bishou smiled, ate a bite of their wonderful croissants, and drank coffee. “Oh, you did? You and how many others, I wonder?”
“Oh, the Campards, I’m sure — they usually go to early Mass — and
Nadine, she commented on your hat and wondered if you always wore hats like that — ” Marie giggled. “I suppose we are a little responsible for the dress, eh?”
“More than a little responsible. I will wear it and think of you,” Bishou promised. She set down her cup, excused herself, gathered up her portfolio bag, and left for the bus stop.
Soon she was at UFOI, the Université Français de l’Océan Indien. Bishou found the library. The darkness and smell of old leather was soothing and enticing. She found a study desk and began researching in earnest for her upcoming “Bible as Literature” lecture.
She became absorbed in her work. Other students came and went at her study table, usually just reading today’s newspaper, or making notes of one kind or another. She wrote, timed her text, wrote more clearly, and wished she had a typewriter available. Ah, well. One thing that wouldn’t fit in a backpack.
Bishou became aware of someone behind her only as he bent over and kissed her neck, just beneath her ear. She smiled up at Louis, stroked his hair, and touched her lips to enjoin silence. He nodded, and waited while she gathered everything back into her bag. They went out the front entrance to the library steps. Immediately he pulled out a cigarette. After his first puff, he handed it to her.