It was a cool morning, and the small attic window was open admitting the fresh smell of flowers and nice spring air into his room. It was a fresh beautiful Wednesday morning. In his attic flat in Lausanne Switzerland, Doctor D. N. Macdonald pored over his piles of papers; he had just three days left to prepare for his lecture in Genève. Besides this, he was also trying to do a bit of private research at the same time. He sipped the last dregs of his now cold coffee as he ate a croissant and butter. He glanced out the window and watched as a small sparrow landed on the windowsill and pecked at a few crumbs lying there. He usually put them there, as he liked to see the birds and hear their happy chirping. Yes, it reminded him of his youth when he’d watch the birds nesting.
He took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes, they were not what they once were, as age was getting to him. He’s spent most of the night up reading, writing and debating inwardly on how best to cover all the points he planned on touching upon in his lectures. Maria, God bless her, had come early and given him a hot cup of espresso and some fresh croissants and butter, as well as a few ginger biscuits, which she knew he had a liking to.
He could hear Maria singing to herself coming up the stairs to his room again. She must be coming to collect the dishes he surmised. He listened to her voice trying to place the song.
"Serais je nonette' Crois que non--" it wasn’t a song he knew, but she had quite a nice voice he thought.
She stopped singing suddenly having arrived at the door and knocked.
“Entrez,” he called out. Come in
“Pardon, Monsieur, vous avez terminé?” she inquired. Excuse me, sir, are you finished
“Oui, merci,” he responded politely. Yes Thank you
“Serez-vous de retour pour le déjeûner, Monsieur?” she asked. Will you be back for lunch today?
“Non, je rentrerai tard dans la soirée.” No, I'll be back late evening.
“Est-ce que vous voulez que je mette de côté du fromage et de la charcuterie pour votre repas?” Shall I put aside some cold cuts and cheese for you?
“Oui, ce serait gentil,” he replied, “Bonne journée, Maria.” Yes, that would be nice. Have a good day, Maria
She was always in a happy mood and it left him feeling good also. It was indeed always a pleasure to stay here he thought. Then he spotted amongst his pile of papers a small leaflet advertising a concert. Yes, that was right; he almost forgot about it, my, he was getting so absent minded these days. Not that he was that old as such, for he’d just turned forty-eight one week before. Maybe it was because his mind was so full of his work that all else was crowded out and became almost insignificant by comparison. His wife Alice usualy always had to remind him of upcoming events but she was back home. He left his papers as they were, scattered about the flat and grabbed a light jacket from the back of the chair, then walked down to the Gare, to check the timetable for trains from Geneva to Lucerne.
The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande of Geneva was playing at the Music Festival in Lucerne; he was hoping to be able to attend and wanted to check on the train times if there were no untoward delays after his lecture he might just make it. After writing down the needed information, he walked up Rue du Petit-Chêne to Place St. François - where the Post office was situated - to check his mail at his Postal Box. He kept a box there as his lectures often brought him to this city and he needed to keep up with his correspondence. He rented a small room in an upper flat, sometimes it was unavailable due to it being a busy season, so he always had a couple of possibilities to fall back on. Although he mostly lectured in Geneva he preferred to stay in Lausanne, this particular place he enjoyed though as it was situated near to everything, and Maria was a nice girl reminded him a bit of his daughter Morag.
He was in good spirits this morning and was enjoying the steep climb up Rue du Petit-Chêne; he found it quite invigorating in the cool morning air. He stopped a moment to listen to a young busker singing an old Jacques Brel song, ‘Le Colonel’ ah that reminded him of the time he worked in Algeria, ah so long ago now it seemed. He sighed wistfully listening to the words as he dropped a few coins into the guitar case and proceeded up. Suddenly a small bookstore caught his attention, he’d never noticed it on his other walks along the road, and it looked very intriguing. He glanced in the window, it dealt in books; old second-hand books and some ancient manuscripts and copies of maps, charts and such, just the type of place he loved to browse around in his spare time.
He glanced at his watch and then decided to go have look inside as he did have some time on his hands. He opened the door and a little bell tinkled causing the saleswoman to turn round and peer at him over the rim of her glasses. He smiled; she was the typical looking old spinster that one would expect to find in such a shop.
“Bonjour, Monsieur.” she said, “Vous désirez?” Good day. Can I help you, sir?
“Bonjour Mademoiselle. Je recherche de la documentation ou des livres sur l'Empire Romain du 1er siècle.”Yes. I'm looking for any documents or material related to the Roman Empire in the 1st century
“Ah, oui... il y en a dans le ,” pointing to a small stair near the rear of the shop, that looked more like steps that would lead to a loft rather than a top floor of a store. “Si vous regardez dans les rayons, vous trouverez peut-être quelque chose sur la droite.” Hmm, yes, there is up in the loft. If you browse around, you may find some on the shelves on the right.
“Merci.” Thank you
He climbed the steep staircase up into the loft and began to browse around. It was obviously not used much but was well laid out and seemed to be just what he needed. He picked up several rare pieces of work, copies it seemed of different historical notes in Latin by Suetonius on disorder in Gaul and surrounding areas during the rule of Vespasian and Titus. He read much of his works on Julius Caesar’s rule up till Domitian’s and it seemed to be genuine from first glance.
Then there were some commentaries by Tacitus on Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, in regards to a new growing religious movement and problems in the empire, now this was indeed a rare find. But the best was to come, as he spotted suddenly some old hand bound books with simple leather binding. They caught his eyes strangely enough, as a small mouse scampered along the shelf and sat next to them then ran off. Never before had he ever seen such in a shop and especially in Switzerland.
His attention though now drawn to the books he walked over and picked them up. They were simple yet beautifully bound he thought. He began to look through them; they were diaries by the looks of them, written in Greek during the time of Vespasian, amazing, quite a find if they were authentic documents and not forgeries.
Then as he started to pore over them, some papers fell from the midst of the book. He stooped down and picked them up returning them to the others but not before his eyes caught a glimpse of one of them. These were not ancient documents, these were something recent, and these had no part of the book. He slowly began to read over them. He almost dropped them in shock, incredible, could it be true, it did indeed make sense and would fit well in his lectures if it were so. But what on earth were they doing here; inside a book of ancient scrolls it did not make sense?
He turned a few more pages and his hands began to shake uncomprehendingly. “These has no place here, yet here they were!”
Trying to calm down, he took some deep breaths and finally started to walk down the steps handing the books to the saleswoman.
“Pardon Mademoiselle, s’il vous plaît. Ces papiers et ces livres, çà fait combien?” Excuse me. These papers and these books, how much are they?
She took them and examined them glancing up at him over the rim of her glasses. He thought he saw a little questioning twinkle in her eyes but decided it was just a trick of the light.
“Alors, je vais voir. Çà fera vingt francs.” she said at last. Hmm, let me see. 20 francs.
“D'accord. Je les prends.” He began to rummage through his pockets and count out the money.OK, I'll take them.
She began to pack them for him meanwhile. He smiled at her, she was one of the old-fashioned type, a nice piece of brown paper and some string to make a neat package, not many people did that these days.
“Vous désirez autre chose?” She asked as she handed them to him.Would you like any more?
“Non, merci bien. Au revoir, Mademoiselle.” No. This is fine. Good day.
Tucking his precious find under his arms, he walked out and briskly climbed the hill whistling merrily as he went. Now he just would check the mail and hurry home to pore over his find.
Unseen by him another book hunter had emerged from the shop following him. Cursing himself for being late he pursued the doctor up the hill. He had been sure this place for dropping of messages would be secure, no one ever looked through these shelves. For years now it had been perfect, and now some bumbling old fool had had chosen to look there and by all blasted luck chosen the precise book.