Authors: Linda Kepner
Tags: #romance, #historical
Bishou lifted her head and stepped confidently into the Morison Lecture Building. How they numbered the rooms was a mystery, because here was Room 59, almost inside the front entryway. Students were milling around, whether for her lecture or other classes, she could not tell. But she was being observed.
She reached Room 59 and saw that it was very similar to the lecture hall she had used at East Virginia University. Standing there was Dr. Rubin, as if she had had any doubt. With him were a circle of students, and a couple of men who looked too old to be students — probably other professors. Dr. Rubin stepped forward. “Ah, Docteur Howard. Welcome.”
, Dr. Rubin.”
“Allow me to introduce our Humanities Department faculty. Dr. Guillaume Robert. Dr. Pierre Castelle. Dr. Theodore duVerger. Dr. Claude-Marie Dukette. Dr. Albert Weis.” They were all in their forties or fifties except Pierre Castelle, who looked like he might have just got out of school. They all greeted her, and shook her hand.
“I understand that it is a combined department, consisting of literature and philosophy,” Bishou said to Dr. Rubin.
“I presume you had already gathered that, from the nature of your lecture,” Dr. Rubin answered.
“Actually, no. My lecture is strictly literary, because that was my intention,” she replied. Pierre Castelle flashed a quick grin. From his looks, she guessed that he was the department firebrand. He was the right age, also, to have been in the Paris student riots.
Students began drifting in, male and female. Some looked at Bishou in surprise. A couple left, and she could hear their voices outside the room. Dr. Rubin sent Pierre after a glass of water for her, another indication that he was low man on the totem pole. “So,” said Pierre, as he handed her the glass and set a pitcher on the lectern, “are you going to tell us about the God-given properties of the Bible?”
“Wait and see,” she replied good-humoredly.
Dr. duVerger said, “I’m trying to place your accent, and I cannot. Where are you from, if you don’t mind telling?”
“I don’t mind. I’m from Boston, Massachusetts, but my parents are originally from Quebec. I have tried to keep regionalisms out of my speech, but sometimes they appear. I’ll know because you’ll laugh.”
“Dr. Rubin showed us your credentials,” said Dr. Dukette. “You are fresh out of East Virginia University. Are you ready to pick up a full academic load?”
“No,” she replied. “I may only be adjunct for a while, so you can give me the courses you hate teaching.”
Now they laughed.
Male and female students entered the hall. There were now a good thirty people there. They could hear the university clock chime seven. “Ready?” Dr. Rubin eyed her.
“I’ll introduce you. Hm, that fellow in the tie-dye shirt is from the school paper. They fetched him. You’ll be news, probably not for the first time.”
“Probably not,” she agreed. If they thought she was going to hyperventilate over an article about a woman professor, just wait until the
Journal de l’Île
broke the story of her marriage to Louis Dessant. This would be a drop in the bucket.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the expository lecture of Dr. Bishou Howard, candidate for Professor of Comparative Literature. Dr. Howard’s lecture this evening is titled ‘The Bible as Literature.’ Dr. Howard received her Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Bowling Green University and her doctoral degree in Comparative Literature from East Virginia University, both in the United States of America. She received her doctorate earlier this year. Her teaching and lecturing experience includes several American and Canadian universities. She has moved recently to Saint-Denis and hopes to establish herself in our Humanities Department. I hope you will join me in welcoming Dr. Howard to UFOI.”
Bishou ignored the slight applause. College professors didn’t expect applause. “Thank you, Dr. Rubin, it is an honor to be here. Now, I am going to make some assumptions regarding my audience, and the first is that you have at least a nodding acquaintance with some form of Christianity.”
They laughed, but it was not an idle question. There were at least a couple of Oriental faces in this crowd, as well as Creole and Indian. She concentrated on her subject.
Bishou talked about the Bible as a book. Tabling the question of whether or not the content was God-given, she focused on the editorial skills that went into various versions, and the talent and intentions of those editors. Her audience, familiar with the Douay and other French versions, actually took notes as she spoke of other versions found throughout the world. The Jerusalem Bible, for instance, followed a timeline, and aligned itself with the construction, existence, and destruction of the Temple, as clearly as a literary diagram. She mentioned versions that served as “crib notes” for readers confused by the more flowery language of other versions, and how they often went back to those versions once they understood the plot or characters.
Also, according to her custom, Bishou did not hide behind a podium. She walked back and forth. Occasionally, she pointed into the audience, challenging someone to name the seven deadly sins or the Synoptic Gospels. She saw the library maven,
Cantrell, and pointed to her, saying her name and challenging her to name the Seven Sacraments — which she did, laughing. Bishou shot out other questions, expecting answers, sometimes getting them, sometimes not, and then giving the answers herself.
As she spoke, she realized that she saw priests among the students — probably the college chaplain and his friends. Yes, surely the Creole man was Père Reynaud. He was smiling, too.
She talked about the insistence of the writers on Jesus’ persistent simple faith in God his father, and compared the Beatitudes to “Arjuna’s pep talk about Krishna” in the
. Some Hindus and Sikhs in the audience brightened visibly. Again, people grabbed pencils and notebooks.
Bishou realized her hour was almost up. She encouraged serious students of inspirational literature to sit down and read, with equal time spent in thought or in the reading of commentaries. She opened the floor for questions.
Pierre’s hand. “Dr. Howard, you spoke of passion. Is that not what your dissertation covered?”
“Passion in literature, yes. My dissertation was mainly a summary and compilation of the role that passion plays in major works of literature.”
“Not in real life?”
“Real life is very difficult to footnote in a dissertation,” she replied, amid more laughter.
A student’s hand, male. “As a woman in the academic field, do you feel you are handicapped by your sex when it comes to such topics as passion and monasticism?”
“No, because I am dealing with fellow academics, not writing a populist book.”
“Would it be a handicap writing a populist book?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t tried.”
Another student asked if she had read the
in the original. She replied no, and mentioned the translation she read. She was asked if she read Hebrew. Not enough to hold a conversation, she replied. Had she memorized the Koran? No. She read Anglicized versions, and knew the most famous quotes, but not the Koran in its entirety. There were more questions along these lines, really to see if she was a professor, she thought.
Then she said, “I think that about wraps up the lecture and the questions. If anyone has any other questions, please write them down and pass them on to the Humanities department here, and I will do my best to answer them. Thank you for being an excellent audience. I appreciate your sympathy and attention.”
Another round of applause, much louder this time. She saw Louis in the back row, applauding too. The students left.
The professors remained. Dr. Rubin said, “Thank you very much, Dr. Howard. I will be in touch with you or your friends tomorrow.”
“The Campards will take a message for me if I am not there,” Bishou replied. She shook his hand. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.”
“Thank you for speaking,” he said, equally politely. His glance rested on the man who had moved to the front of the hall to join them, a man in dress clothes. “Ah! Dr. Howard’s guest, I presume.”
Oui, Monsieur le Doyen
,” Louis replied with a smile.
“Then we shall see you at the Rare Books reception in a little while,” said Dr. Rubin. “Monsieur — ?”
“Dessant,” said Louis.
“Ah. As in the cigarette?”
Louis smiled at the time-worn question. “
, as in the cigarette.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Monsieur Dessant,” said Dr. Rubin, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “
À toute à l’heure
À toute à l’heure
,” Louis replied, as he and Bishou left.
In the corridor, Louis said, “They know the cigarette, that is all, isn’t it?”
“You aren’t a major factor in their world,” Bishou replied.
“And here you are, straddling both. Your dress-bag is in my car.”
They walked out, together, to the university car park. Louis opened the trunk of the white Mercedes and pulled out Bishou’s dress-bag. They returned to the lecture building, where Bishou made her way to the ladies’ room. There, in the empty bathroom, she changed to the blue dress, put on her shoes, and applied evening makeup.
Bishou stepped out of the bathroom and saw Louis’s eyes widen. She hadn’t realized how much the elegant dress transformed her. “Could you hook this for me?”
“With pleasure.” His hands were sure as he fastened the dress hooks. She felt his fingers touch the bare skin of her back before he finished his task. He slid his arms around her waist, drawing her back against him, and murmured in her ear, “You are quite beautiful.”
“Only in your eyes,” she said softly. She closed her eyes as he kissed her neck.
They walked to the parking area. Bishou placed her clothing bag in the trunk of the open white car. She looked up in time to see Louis eyeing another car in the same lot. The car had government seals. “We might see people I know,” Louis said, his voice sounding restrained.
“My parole officer.”
“Oh, really.” What could she say to that?
“Mm, oui. I will probably introduce you to him, you know. Be warned.”
, we are ready,” Bishou replied. She took his arm as they re-entered university grounds and made their way to the library.
The library doors were open. Well-dressed students were standing by, ushering or directing nicely dressed visitors to the Clemenceau Rare Books Room. Bishou clasped Louis’s elbow as if this were the most normal thing in the world, and they walked toward the Rare Books Room.
It was a large room crowded with people, certainly more than a Rare Books librarian would see on an ordinary working day. They could see a refreshments table, with stewards pouring wine, as they entered the door of the room. There were two or three groups of people, talking. Glass cases on tables displayed some of the library’s existing treasures. Thirty or forty people milled around in this room, elegantly dressed, a striking contrast to the usual student garb one expected to see.
Bishou glanced at her companion, and thought:
He’s perfect. Here’s where he would be under normal conditions, at an elite reception.
Louis gazed at the people in the room, looking somehow inscrutable and urbane, the perfect escort.
Louis murmured, “Shall we get some wine?”
They walked together to the refreshment table, where a steward poured wine. Louis snagged a stem of red wine for himself, and gave her the white.
On the other side of the room, Bishou noticed the Library Society chairwoman,
Cantrell, making eye contact with her. “I think we need to speak to one of Denise’s friends.”
“Certainly, if you say so.” Louis accompanied her to the little crowd around the assertive chairwoman.
Cantrell, when they were close enough, “no wonder
Campard was laughing at me when I asked if you were related to tonight’s speaker. It was nice of you not to be rude to me.”
“I didn’t want to tease you, in a room full of people,” said Bishou.
“Not much, you mean,”
Cantrell replied good-humoredly. “Well, I enjoyed your talk very much, and it gave me a good idea how lively those American classrooms must be.”
“There are good days and bad days, like teaching anywhere,” Bishou replied.
“No doubt there must be,” said the gentleman next to Madame, who Bishou gathered to be Monsieur Cantrell. “It was a pleasure to hear you speak tonight, Docteur.”
“Oh, that’s right,” said
Cantrell, “you must be a Docteur, aren’t you — or a Professeur?”
“Either, or both,” replied Bishou.
“And your good husband!”
Cantrell held out her hand to Louis. “I’m called Madame Cantrell — I’m the volunteer coordinator at the public library, in case Bishou didn’t tell you.”
“Not yet her husband,” Louis contradicted with a smile. “We are to be married later this week. A pleasure to meet you, madame.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Madame reproached Bishou, “all our idle talk, and you didn’t put in a word that you were planning to be married this week! When?”
“Our good wishes,” said her husband jovially, “and congratulations, mademoiselle, monsieur.”
“Merci,” Louis replied comfortably, patting Bishou’s hand on his arm and looking at her fondly. “I am most fortunate.”
At that moment, a voice called across the room, “Louis!” They turned to see a hand reaching up from one of the greater groups of people.
“Pardon, I am being summoned,” said Louis, turning away from the group and walking in the direction of the others.
Louis’s parole officer?
“That looked like — surely that wasn’t the Prefect himself who summoned him?”
Cantrell asked with a frown. It certainly did look like Louis was speaking with the Prefect, the island’s equivalent of a governor. Her frown faded as she looked once again at Bishou. “Your young man is quite handsome, Bishou.”