Of Two Minds
by Michele Dutcher
|part 1 of 3|
Yorkshire, England, A.D. 1173
The squat, elderly woman and her slender daughter waited nervously in the foyer of the drafty castle. “We’ll be fine, Agnes. This Sir William fellow only wishes to hear your story. One can’t blame him for that, you know.”
The tall, willowy girl in her thirties smiled down upon her companion. “What happened to me seems normal in my eyes, but I know that others may see my circumstances as odd. I grow impatient to get back to Kings Lynn, however, back to Richard.”
“We’ve come this far at the Duke’s request, Agnes. We can wait a little longer.” The women drew their shawls up about them, attempting to keep out the cold.
A door opened on the left of the wide hall, and a short man with a balding head began briskly walking towards them. “I am so pleased you accepted my invitation. I trust the trip wasn’t too strenuous. I told my coachmen to be particularly attentive to your comfort.”
The ladies curtsied, smiling as they looked up to face their host. “Your servants were most hospitable, I assure you,” said Gwynn. “We are wearied, to be sure, and a little cold, but none the worse for wear.”
“Forgive me, ladies, for keeping you waiting so long. My servants have prepared a room by the fireplace in this first room. If you’ll follow me.”
The wooden walls of the room they entered displayed engravings of shields and suits of armor and men on horseback. They quickly crossed the space to three chairs set in front of a stone fireplace, piled high with crackling wood. To the left of the chairs sat a desk and seat with parchment and quill at the ready.
After the three were seated, a younger man entered the room and sat at the desk, obviously by the Duke’s demand. As the scribe settled in, the gentleman began the conversation in earnest. “As you probably are aware, I fancy myself a historian of our times, and am currently compiling facts for my newest book, which I’m considering calling a Historia Rerum Anglicarum. I heard about your unusual meeting, and wanted to include it in my writings, with your approval, of course.”
“You are most kind,” replied Agnes, placing her frail hands in her lap.
“If I may be direct, madam, are you one of the pair of children who appeared some miles distant from the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, nearly twenty years ago?”
“I am that person,” she answered quietly.
“I heard this story first from a man named Ralph who is the abbot of a Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall, about 26 miles from Wolfpittes. Please, tell me the story in your own words,” said William, “and my scribe will take down your testimony.”
Agnes took a deep breath before beginning. “When I was a child, my brother and I lived in a land where the sun was merely a bright smudge in the sky, a land that was always cloudy. We were out herding small animals — similar to what you call a sheep — when I heard the sound of bells coming from a cavern. I wanted to ignore it, but my brother Bonje insisted upon finding the source.
“As we entered the cave we noticed a bright light, which, as we stood before it, grew larger and larger until it enveloped us. My brother and I were not used to the brightness of that light, so we were blinded by it. And then we were here, in your world, wandering about in the pits, confused.”
“Did you attempt to go back into the caves?” asked William, leaning closer to the woman.
“Most certainly, but the opening had closed. so we began to cry together.”
“Which was when I found them, that is — my husband and I — wondering about the foothills of Wolfpittes. There and then we took the children in as our own.”
“Were there any abnormalities to their bodies? She looks as normal as you or I by now.”
The elderly woman nodded rapidly. “Oh, yes, sir. The children’s skin was a light-green color and they wouldn’t eat, which is why we lost the boy. Bonje, her brother, starved, I’m sad to say. They tried to open the stalks of the beans set before them, and wept when there was nothing inside. Eventually Agnes began to eat some potatoes, and she was saved.”
“Fascinating story,” observed their host, warming his hands by the fire. “You’re both welcome to spend the night here, if you’d like, and begin your travels in the morning.”
“That would be most kind of you, sir. We are indeed famished and weary from our trip.”
“Allow me to have my servant show you to your lodgings.” As the women left the great room, Gwynn noticed the historian coaching the scribe, who was frantically scribbling away on his papers.
* * *
New Haven, Connecticut, A.D. 1959
“Water-loving mammal, five letters.” The nanny chewed on the end of the pencil, trying to concentrate on her puzzle-book. “Second letter ‘T’. 24 down: needle opening.” Her voice trailed off as she glanced over at Lana Claire, the four-year-old she was babysitting.
The child had her back to the TV, and seemed to be studying the nanny’s heart-shaped, brown face. “Did you enjoy our trip to the museum today?” she asked, laying her book of “EZ Crosswords” on the coffee table.
Lana smiled broadly, but said nothing, as usual. Although the child was five years old, Lana Clare had never uttered a word.
There was the slamming of the back door. “I’m home,” shouted Cheryl Lambert, a sack of groceries hitting the table. “Supper smells good!”
The nanny went into the kitchen to help her employer put away the food.
“Lana Claire and I went to the Beinecke museum again today. She seems so happy there.”
“What does she look at?” asked the mother, flipping off her low-heeled shoes.
“She really likes this one old book — a small plaque on the case surrounding the book says Voynich — but the book is opened to a center page, so I don’t know if Voynich is the title or the author.” The nanny handed Cheryl a can of spaghetti sauce.
“Did she say anything?” asked the mom hopefully.
“Not a word, I’m afraid.”
“She’ll talk when she’s ready, I guess,” replied the mom, reluctantly. Cheryl then shouted in a sing-song tone: “Lana, honey, you need to wash your hands.”
The mom glanced through the door and was surprised to see her daughter drawing on Rachel’s crossword puzzles. The girl saw her mother looking at her, stood up, and quickly headed into the bathroom.
The mother picked up the book and handed it to her nanny. “I’m sorry if she drew on your book...”
“No, no, look at this! She worked out the puzzle I had started and half of the next one as well!”
As the tiny girl reappeared, it was the women’s turn to be totally silent, not knowing what to say.
* * *
The man in the white lab coat approached Cheryl with a broad smile. They both began to watch Lana as she joyously solved one puzzle after another. “She’s amazing, really. We’ve had her working on crosswords since she took the WBIS. She seems to start with a clue in the middle, then works outward, as if she’s just using how the words are connected and the number of letters required, to solve the word puzzles.”
“She’s always been so quiet and withdrawn.”
“Einstein didn’t speak until he was four.”
“Did the tests show anything?”
The doctor took Cheryl aside, leaving the delighted child to her puzzle books. “Are you familiar with the Wechsler-Bellevue tests at all?”
Cheryl shook her head no.
“Well, David Wechsler put out a series of tests in February of 1955 with the understanding that intelligence is the global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment. Lana does all that in spades, basically. According to the initial test result, your daughter may have a rare condition known as deux cerveaux, literally ‘two minds’.”
“You mean like two personalities?”
“No, no, much more than that. She has two completely different minds living inside one brain, both of them within the genius range on the Wechsler-Bellevue scale. Imagine two Einsteins in one skull. Fantastic! Has she shown any interest in books before?”
Cheryl thought for a moment. “There was a book at the museum at Yale. Maybe Voyner... or Voy—”
“Voynich? The Voynich Manuscript?” He stepped over to a counter and picked up a pad of paper. He drew an image and took it over to the child who grabbed the drawing, quickly turning the page, as though looking for other drawings to follow. “Would you like to see the rest of this document, Lana?”
The child eagerly shook her head in the affirmative.
“I believe the Beinhecke has the book on microfilm. Perhaps we can show Lana how to use the machine, and we’ll go from there.”
Over the next five months, it would appear to Cheryl that she had lost her daughter, who withdrew into the document on the screen, studying it for hours, only looking away from it long enough to eat and sleep.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Michele Dutcher