Chapter 11 – A friend from the past

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“We’re never going to figure this out,” Lucille said, dejected. “Not only don’t I know most of the words’ equivalents, but I don’t understand their meaning, either. Even the short sentences I translated make absolutely no sense to me. What on earth is meta property vr canonical content? Why are we doing this?” she looked at Mary, exasperated. The girl, as always, donned a perplexed gaze.

The look in her niece’s eyes helped Lucille remember that time allocation for this research had been recommended by the Circle, and as such, she didn’t need to justify it to herself.

“What have you got, Mary?” Lucille stretched out her arm, pointing towards the papers.

Mary hurried to place the notes in her hand so that Lucille could look them over for a while. Her aunt then sat in a chair by the window for half an hour, looking out into the street with the papers in her lap, deep in thought. Mary didn’t dare bother her, she just continued working, quiet as a shadow, to sort out the rest of the pages and put them in the correct order. She was so engrossed in her work that when her aunt finally decided to speak, her soft voice startled her.

“We need someone who can read this, Mary, and I think I know just the person to help us!”

The next morning Mary woke up very early to a terrible racket of platters and silverware rising from downstairs. She washed and dressed up as quickly as she could and went to the drawing room to find Lucille dusting the furniture, folding the good napkins, and polishing the silver teapot to a mirror finish. The latter saw Mary and got up quickly.

“Oh, good, you’re awake! Help me with this, will you? Giselle is coming to have tea with me this morning, I want everything to be just perfect!”

“Only Giselle, aunt? Isn’t Rosemary coming?” Mary asked, because she couldn’t remember a single time when Giselle came alone, she and Rosemary seemed eternally bound to each other, like an object to its shadow.

“Wouldn’t you know it, dear! I remembered last night that Rosemary was tied up at a mandatory Council meeting. I thought of canceling our morning tea, but it was way too late to reschedule, that would have been very rude, wouldn’t it?” Lucille smiled at Mary, who quietly breathed a sigh of relief.

“Are you sure Giselle is coming, aunt?” she asked, incredulous.

“Of course she’s coming, Mary, don’t be silly! They are not Siamese twins, Giselle can make her own social schedule. Hurry up, dear, we don’t have much time, she’ll be here any moment now,” she prompted Mary. “Pass me the cups, will you?”

Giselle arrived tangled up in knots of unnecessary gestures, and as she walked through the door she couldn’t stop apologizing for anything and everything, from the state of the weather to the dust on her shoes, fussing heartily until her cheeks turned a deep shade of rose. Her behavior was entirely different from that of the Giselle they knew, and Mary finally realized the reason behind the Rosemary-Giselle tandem appearances: the latter was so mortified being out in public all by herself it was almost painful to watch.

“I’m so sorry, dear! So sorry! I wish I knew about Rosemary’s last minute schedule change, I know you are always looking forward to her conversation! Oh, dear me, I’ll bore you silly with my nonsense, won’t I?” she glanced furtively in Lucille’s direction, half joking, half serious, hoping for a protest.

The latter obliged promptly, with an overabundance of reassurance, compliments and pampering, and this soothed Giselle’s anxiety for the time being.

“How nice of you to come, Giselle, these are momentous times, we need to stick together, you know? It’s always good to see an old friend like yourself, especially now, with this new responsibility weighing down on me. I’m not complaining, mind you, it is an honor to be entrusted with this research, but I fear it got the better of me so far,” Lucille smiled modestly and put the half full cup on the saucer, without noise.

Giselle mirrored her gestures and leaned forward, eager to get first scoop of this interesting subject, before Rosemary had the opportunity to dissect, analyze and censor it, and then offer it back to her pre-masticated in a blend of her own opinions. A rare treat indeed!

“I’m trying so hard, I really am,” Lucille lowered her gaze, hoping to encourage Giselle to volunteer something.

“Well,” Giselle looked down, shyly, “maybe you should find someone to help you with it.”

She lowered her voice and looked around, as if to ensure nobody else could hear her, and as she did so she propped her eyes on Mary, who was blending with the décor, so quiet that the ladies had completely forgotten about her. Lucille noticed Giselle’s apprehension and jumped to reassure her.

“Don’t worry about Mary, she’s from the Scholars’ line too; it has not been easy for her,” Lucille hesitated, “living here with hair like that.” Giselle got the reassurance she was hoping for and continued.

“Over time, there have been many families descended from the Scholars, I’m sure somebody knows something about the old language,” she intimated.

“For all the good that does me, I can’t just walk around asking people about it, now, can I? It’s a sensitive subject, I know from experience that most of us don’t like to be reminded of our misfortune”, Lucille commented, a little sad.

“Nonsense, dear! There are lot worse things than being socially undesirable!” Giselle jumped to the rescue, only to realize she let out one of her notoriously flat-footed remarks.

All her new found social ease deflated and she clammed up in the chair, sweating profusely and waiting for the ordeal to end.

Lucille cursed her bitter fate and rummaged quickly through her brain for ways to entice Giselle back out of her shell. Her sadness amplified when she looked in Giselle’s eyes. Her friend was obviously mortified.

“I didn’t mean to, I’m so sorry, Lucille, I’m such a klutz! I really shouldn’t have come,” she continued, digging herself deeper and deeper. Lucille reached out to stop the emotional bleeding.

“Don’t worry about it, you hear? Not a little bit! I’ve lived with this issue my entire life, don’t you think I’ve come to make peace with it by now?” She smiled. “To tell you the truth, I know this is not something people bring up in company, but I’m a little curious to learn more about the old tradition. After all, good or bad, it is my heritage.”

“Isn’t it, though?” Giselle smiled brightly, relieved that a great load was taken off her chest. “Me too, dear. Me too,” she modestly confessed.

“I didn’t know you were descended from the Scholars’ line!” Lucille acted surprised. “What a blessing it is to know Mary and I aren’t the only ones! It’s not easy being different, is it?” she continued.

“It’s not something I like to talk about, it makes life too hard, Lucille, people judge you, see you differently, can you imagine what Rosemary would say?” She contemplated the possibility and her face grew paler. She shook off the dreadful scenario and continued. “Anyway, we are who we are, right?” she chuckled.

“I’ll say!” Lucille chimed lightheartedly. “Oh, goodness me, I almost forgot! Giselle, you absolutely must try my vanilla ice cream, I know it is your favorite!” She turned to her niece, filled with excitement. “Mary, I already made the custard but I forgot we don’t have any ice, would you be so kind and go get some? Not from the grocer across the street dear, the other one. Much better quality!”

Mary left and when she returned from her long walk across the village and back with a large block of ice nicely wrapped inside her basket Giselle had already left.

“There you are! It turns out I sent you out for nothing, Giselle had a previous engagement she needed to tend to and couldn’t wait. Maybe the two of us can enjoy some ice cream”, she said smiling, and got up on a stool to grab the salt from the top shelf.

Mary crushed the ice quietly, waiting for her aunt to reopen the conversation.

“We’ve been lucky again,” Lucille finally said.

“You mean Giselle…” Mary started, with only a quick glimmer in her eyes betraying admiration for her aunt’s brilliance.

“Heavens no! Our sweet Giselle? God love her, she couldn’t focus enough to help even if she knew how! No, our cozy chat reminded me of an old Scholar friend, I wonder why I didn’t think of him before! A direct descendant of Abraham Coulter, no less, there is no way the esteemed elder abandoned his legacy to the winds! If there is anyone who knows anything about the Que’d, it’s got to be him.”

“Who is Abraham Coulter, aunt?” Mary asked.

 “The author of the Que’d, dear.”