I simply wanted to step out of my ordinary life and find the Divine Appointment God had planned for me. I’d read about Mary Kinglsey, and it occurred to me that if I truly wanted to share an historical biography with my students, hers was it. So (with much trepidation) I booked the cheapest tour I could find to visit the Dark Continent of Africa. Who knew I’d meet a psychic named Vidalia (after the onion?) — not that I should have been surprised (after all, Bremen Tours specialized in “Voodoo relics of the Dark Continent,” or so it was emblazoned on their carry-alls, one of which I owned). But life got really strange when I met a mad (or was he drunk?) professor, a dashing prince (or possibly, the villain), a village headman (the warrior king? Or the prince of thieves?) and a witchdoctor who was neither witch nor doctor, but rather the sinister embodiment of a charlatan who preyed on tourists...and let’s not forget the man who started the whole mess—an embezzler-turned-kidnapper…of me! And that’s not to mention floating down a river full of crocodiles, two boys who wanted to hold me for ransom, an earthquake, a cave-in, the leopard in my bed, and a pink hippopotamus. In the end, my Divine Appointment from God held mystery, excitement and a whole lot more. Enjoy my adventure, Dear Reader, because I did!
A Face in the Rain
“Monsieur is brave, bright, and fascinating...”
There is a sidewalk cafe in Paris where they say you will meet someone you know, wherever you come from in the world. Not that Megan Jennings was the type to chase after such things. But it seemed fitting that on the eve of her great adventure, she should set out with a bit of fanfare. If such a thing did occur, she would take it as a confirmation that for the first time in her life, she was truly on the right track.
Of course, she had no intention of changing her plans if the little enchantment didn’t happen. The die was already cast. She had put on a black vintage traveling suit that one might have seen on the likes of a long line of famous lady adventurers from the Victorian era. She even had an antique broach pinned to the high-neck collar. But most importantly, she had chosen a pair of dark riding boots with laces, which were about as close as she could come to jumping into the shoes of that amazing and intrepid explorer, Mary Kingsley. And Meg was prepared to let them carry her as far back into time as it was humanly possible to go.
Figuratively speaking. The idea was also part of an experiment to see what effect a person out of the past might have on modern surroundings. Because if there was no effect, if she merely wandered ghostlike through crowds that were so accepting of outlandish styles they were no longer impressionable, then the impact of her entire project would be greatly reduced.
Maybe even worthless.
So, it was on this overcast late afternoon that Meg settled herself at a small corner table in front of the famous cafe, where she had a direct view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and could smell the heavenly scent of roses that were being sold from a picturesque flower cart across the street. She ordered coffee in the first words of French she had spoken to anyone other than the voices of the language instructors on her home study course back in the States, and was pleasantly surprised when the young waiter smiled appreciatively and actually understood. So far, so good.
She looked around at the people seated at other tables. No one she knew, yet. And even if, by chance, there was anyone who was scheduled to go out on the same African tour that she was leaving on tonight, she would not recognize them. She had purposely come here first, instead of heading directly for the airport. Visiting this sidewalk cafe was one of the few items on her “List of Small Things to Accomplish” that wouldn’t take much time.
Meg reached into the side pocket of her carry-all (that had come free with the tour), took out a leather-bound journal that held a finely engraved gold and silver pen in a pocket on the inside cover, and flipped about halfway through until she came to the next blank page. It was at that point her coffee came, and she set things aside long enough to thank the waiter and add cream and sugar from the miniature white bowl and pitcher on the table. She blew softly on the hot mixture and took a sip...delicious.
Then she pulled a pair of delicate gold reading glasses down from the top of her lighter-than-auburn hair (done up into a twist of curls held in place by an antique tortoise shell clasp), picked up her pen again, and wrote: Question—Is it possible to miss a divine appointment simply because you fail to recognize the moment?
Hmmm...Meg wondered then if a person could actually go looking for divine appointments, and, if they got good at it, might even qualify for more. Now, that was an interesting thought.
In fact, it put a whole new perspective on that scripture (what was it, again? oh, yes...) that one in Hebrews that talked about strong things belonging to those who practiced enough to be able to tell the difference between good and evil. Definitely something to look into. Because that sort of skill just might prove invaluable considering the places she was headed for. So, she made a note to herself, in parentheses, to research that subject further.
It was at that moment she distinctly felt someone’s gaze upon her, and looked up in time to make a direct connection with a man seated near a large front window of the cafe. But other than noticing his eyes were an arresting shade of blue in contrast to his dark, wavy hair and mustache, she could not tell whether or not she might know him.
Peering over the top of her glasses, she could make out a rather distinguished-looking gray suit with a vest. But if there had been a tie, it had long since been removed and stashed somewhere else, and his white shirt was unbuttoned at the collar. He was seated with a fashionably-dressed older woman who was talking over the menu in rapid, fluid French. When he broke off looking at Meg long enough to answer in the same, no further evidence was needed as to whether she knew this person, or not.
Meg didn’t know any French people.
Still, there was something about him she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Of course, it could be her clothes he was staring at so intently. She had nearly forgotten about them, so she flipped back to an earlier page of her journal titled “Effects of the Past on Modern-Day Crowds,” and wrote: (Mostly ignored, but longer than normal looks from a few particular individuals.)
Then she took another sip of her coffee. At which point she felt a drop of water against her hand, and then another spattered onto her writing.
“Oh, of all things!” she muttered as she closed the journal and returned it to her carry-all. Now she would either have to cut her visit short or move inside. The few others in the sidewalk dining area that weren’t beneath table umbrellas picked up their things and began moving toward the door. No doubt, it would be crowded in there. Since Meg’s table was too small for an umbrella, it would probably be best to save this activity for the end of the trip, after all. There were plenty of other things she could do while waiting for her flight.
The waiter returned with a tray and handed her a slip of paper before he began clearing off tables nearby that were already deserted. She turned it over to see what she owed, and was startled to find that it was a personal note instead of a bill. But it was in French. Which she might have been able to translate if she could take her time and it didn’t look as if it was about to rain in earnest at any moment.
“Excuse me…” She forgot all about speaking French and reached out to touch the waiter’s sleeve before he moved too far away. “Would you be so kind as to tell me what this says?”
“Yes, certainly. With pleasure, mademoiselle.” He scrutinized the note with a flair of youthful enthusiasm and pronounced, “This gentleman he will come to you, as soon as”—there was a brief pause before he rattled off the last part in a final burst of confidence—”as soon as the lady she leaves!”
“Shall you be waiting inside?” He handed the paper back with a triumphant smile.
“But I’m not waiting for anybody, and I certainly don’t…how much do I owe you?”
“Nothing, nothing. Your gentleman, he has already paid.”
“I don’t have a gentleman, I…” Her gaze turned, almost by reflex, to the man near the window who’d been watching her. It was just in time to see him enter the cafe with a protective arm around the shoulders of the silver-haired lady, and then settle at a table on the other side of the window. But then he looked her way again, and the intensity of that gaze suddenly began to send butterfly sensations all through her.
Along with a very disturbing thought.
What had gotten into her to come traipsing into a restaurant all alone and stare so openly at everyone? In France, of all places! No one but herself knew what she was really doing, and it was no wonder people would naturally assume the most obvious thing. That she was merely a type of…(Oh, dear!). Whatever enchantment she might have been beguiled with suddenly dissolved into a sea of reason. What had gotten into her? Well, whatever it was, it was gone now, and she’d better get herself to the airport and her tour group where she belonged. Before somebody did more than pay for her coffee.
Two taxis had pulled up simultaneously to the curb in front of the crowded cafe in anticipation of the rain, and Meg decided to forego any more sightseeing of enchanted places and take one. She reached for her carry-all and got to her feet.
The waiter smiled approvingly and said, “I will find you a table inside.”
“No, thank you,” She shook her head for emphasis. “I’m going to catch one of those…”
That was when the man at the window stood up and actually started for the outside door. Why…he was coming in her direction! Meg had a moment of alarm, which was odd, considering she was not the type to scare easily. She dropped her carry-all, then picked it up, again, and finally darted toward the taxi before he could catch up with her.
After a hasty— “Airport, please!”—to the olive-eyed driver, she turned to look out the back window as they drove away. At the same time, there was a resounding clap of thunder and the start of a heavy downpour, but the man made no move to get out of it, only stood there at the curb and watched her disappear into traffic.
“Well, for heaven’s sake…” she murmured to herself. “He’s just standing there getting drenched!” She felt a slight prick of conscience. “I...I suppose I should have at least thanked him for the coffee. I really don’t know what came over me.”
“Not to worry, mademoiselle.” Answered the driver over his shoulder. “He will forgive you, I’m sure, and then love you even more for it!” Then he laughed at the pleasure of his own philosophic comment.
“Goodness…he doesn’t even know me!” Meg watched until another car obscured the vision and then turned around to face front. However, the image of him standing there was indelibly imprinted on her mind. When she realized that she was still clutching his note, she turned it over to look more closely at it.
The handwriting was bold and decisive, and there seemed to be quite a few more words than what the waiter had translated for her. “Miss,” it began (one was either a Miss or a Mrs. in this country, so that certainly didn’t imply anything other than courtesy.) “I cannot let such an extraordinary woman leave without speaking to her. Will you...” Now what was that word? It looked familiar but she couldn’t place it.
She leaned over the seat and asked the driver. “Do you know what nôtres means?”
“Oh, it can mean many things, mademoiselle, depending on how it is used. Ours, our own, one of us, or even…”
“As it is used in the phrase, voulez-vous etre des nôtres.”
“Ah…it means will you join us. To make one of our group. You see?”
“Nothing that suggests meeting alone?”
“No, not that phrase,” he insisted. “Clearly it means more than one.”
“Well, of all things.” She sighed and sat back against the seat, again. “That waiter didn’t speak English any better than I can speak French. I’d have been quite willing to join the two of them, but the way he put it made me think...”
“Not to worry,” said the driver. “We French do not mind such things because we like the tourists. Shall I help you practice your French, mademoiselle?”
“Thank you, but it’s a little late.”
“I can drive faster, if you wish. What time is your plane to leave?”
“I meant it was too late to help the restaurant situation. My plane doesn’t leave until this evening. But thank you, anyway.”
She went back to studying the note, and the next phrase she figured out showed her just where the misunderstanding had been made. It said, “If you are waiting for someone, we would be happy to meet with you later.” Now, she really did feel badly, because, looking at it this way, she had been quite rude. Especially, since she hadn’t even paid for her coffee. Under normal circumstances Meg had always considered herself to be polite and sociable. With everybody. And she had a great deal of respect for foreigners, too. She really did. In fact, the word prejudice was hardly even part of her vocabulary.
Must have been all those precautionary lectures from family and friends about the dangers of women traveling alone. It had made her start thinking the worst of people. Now, at the very least she had missed out on something that might have turned out to be pleasant. Maybe even enlightening. And wasn’t that what she was looking for? Why, it was what this entire trip was about! How in the world could she ever expect to step out into a new and exciting future, if she allowed the restrictions of her past to keep her from even getting through the door? Then the next thought was practically unbearable...
What if she had just missed a divine appointment?
“Stop!” She clutched the driver’s shoulder so fast he tromped on the brakes out of reflex. “I mean…could you please turn around? I…I have to get back to that cafe!”