Madeleine’s first period class was Political Science, a one semester adventure taught by a young Brown graduate born and raised in Collina named William Bell. About half way through the class, the Headmaster’s secretary crept in, came up the side of the classroom, handed Bell a note, and left as quickly as she came. He read it, looked at Madeleine, and said, “Miss des Cieux?”
“Yes, sir?” she replied.
“The Headmaster needs to see you now.”
“Madeleine piled her books together, eased up from her desk, and almost slinked out of class, her face turning red. All eyes were on her as she opened the door and walked out into the hallway.
“You behind this too?” Vannie whispered to Denise as she opened the door.
“Of course—you don’t think beating University was the only victory I had, do you?”
Madeleine went down the hall and stairs to the Headmaster’s office. The secretary was at her desk, and ushered her into his office.
Point Collina’s Headmaster was another American, Thomas Bartow. In his mid-fifties with short grey hair and well tanned, the school was his first position outside the U.S. after several successful prep schools in the North-east.
“You wanted to see me?” Madeleine asked.
“Yes, I did,” Bartow replied. “Please sit down.” She complied with his request. “I understand that you—and your father as well—are interfering in the academic affairs of another child.”
“I don’t understand,” Madeleine replied with a puzzled look.
“I think you do,” Bartow rebutted. “I received a phone call this morning from the Ministry of Education about Miss Carol Yedd. I understand that, as a result of your actions, she is in difficulty with the Verecundan School for the Blind and Deaf.”
“Difficulty? She no longer needs this school,” Madeleine observed.
“That is not for you to decide, Miss des Cieux,” Bartow insisted. “One would think that the curriculum of this institution is sufficiently difficult not to take on the problems of another person whose condition you know nothing about.”
“My father’s company is concerned with the welfare of its employees,” Madeleine replied. “It hired Carol’s mother at a time when it was very difficult for an unmarried mother to obtain employment in this country. Papa and his predecessor have made many accommodations so that Miss Yedd can properly take care of her daughter’s condition.”
“That’s very commendable,” Bartow agreed, “but it wasn’t an employee of the company that precipitated this crisis. It was you.”
“I did not know that restoring her sight was a crisis.”
“It has created serious dislocations in her educational process,” Bartow asserted. “And, of course, we don’t know whether her change of condition is permanent.”
“Which is why the Dillman-Arnold School agreed to take her on a provisional basis,” Madeleine observed.
“Look,” Bartow said angrily, “I’m not going to waste my time arguing with you on this matter. Point Collina is the best primary and secondary school on the Island, and compares very favourably with schools in the U.S. where I have been headmaster. Our reputation is based on our ability to challenge and allow to excel the best students so they can do the same in the modern world. I am not going to allow this school’s reputation to become a laughingstock on or off the Island just because one of its students insists on employing snake-oil manipulation that one associates with ignorant people and their religion.
“Frankly, I am disappointed in you. You have been an excellent pupil the two and a half years you have been at this school. You were on your way to be your class’ valedictorian, even with your grave illness, but after this, I can’t see it happening.”
“And why should that depend upon what I do outside of the school?” Madeleine protested.
“We’ve been through this. If you do this again, I can assure you will be removed from this school, and given where you live, I don’t think you want the alternative. I believe I have made myself clear.”
“Yes, sir, you have,” Madeleine replied sadly.
“That will be all. You may return to class.”
Madeleine got up, collected her books, and walked out of his office as she would from a funeral. She walked up the stairs again, as her next class was upstairs. Right after she got to the top, she stopped and leaned against the wall. She was almost in tears, but she was too angry to start. About that time Mr. Scott walked up to her.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in class, Mademoiselle des Cieux?” he asked.
“I was called to the Headmaster’s office,” she explained. “I can’t bring myself to return.”
“What’s the problem?” he asked.
“I prayed for my father’s secretary’s daughter to be healed from blindness,” Madeleine explained. “I used the aloe vera ointment, just like you said the Church of Serelia ministers did. Now she can see and is changing schools. He is very angry about this. I don’t understand why.”
Scott stood and thought for a minute. “Madeleine, frankly I don’t either. If the ministers of the Church of Serelia could do with the nard what you did, I would still be one. Don’t take it too hard—these people can be very philistine when given the opportunity.” He turned and walked away. Madeleine progressed down the hallway very slowly until the bell rung, by which time she was at her next class.
She was the first into class, and sat down. The rest of the class came in behind her.
“Bell gave a pop quiz at the end,” Vannie whispered to her as she moved to her seat. I guess I won’t be valedictorian after all, Madeleine thought to herself.
Just before the teacher rose to begin, she felt a tapping on her left shoulder. She turned to see Jack, extending to her a piece of paper.
“That’s Bell’s assignment,” he said in a low voice. “Copy it and give it back.”
“Thank you,” Madeleine replied, taking it.
“Looks like she’s got a new boyfriend,” Vannie said to Denise.
“Not a chance,” Denise replied. “She’s won’t give him what he wants.”
You can’t always get what you want, Vannie mused, singing to herself very softly.
Santini sat nervously in the empty Theatre of the Muses. Verecunda’s only theatre for live stage performances and the occasional “art” movie, it was the country’s answer to Manaus’ opera house: a European cultural artefact in a decidedly non-European kind of environment. It was also one of the few edifices of its kind without Lucian Gerland’s stamp. The theatre, built just before World War I, was the result of the efforts—and in part the funding—of Maximilian Herver. Now that his granddaughter was married to the President of the Republic and her sister Minister of Culture, the Theatre got better treatment than many public buildings in the country, in addition to being the central office for the newly-spawned Culture ministry. Santini tried to distract himself by looking around at the ornamented interior of the theatre, noting that the national flag draped the “Presidential Box” now as it always had.
While doing this, he heard the resolute gait of a woman entering the theatre. He turned and saw that it was indeed whom he expected: the Minister of Culture herself, Jacqueline Todd. A plain looking, brown haired woman in her forties, she was more casual than Santini anticipated she would be for such an occasion, with striped slacks and turtleneck top. With her was her portfolio, an inseparable companion. He rose to greet her.
“Your Excellency,” he said, offering his hand.
“Bishop,” she replied, actually shaking it. They sat down with one seat between them.
“I trust that all is well,” he said.
She thought for a second. “Very. Actually, we are beyond expectations for such a new ministry.”
“Obviously due to your leadership,” Santini said.
“With a little help from my friends,” she replied, coyly.
“So, what is the occasion for this meeting? Your secretary said it was urgent.”
“It is,” Todd answered. “One of your faithful is causing us some difficulties. We need your help.”
“And who might this be? I thought things were going well.”
“Madeleine des Cieux,” she answered.
“How is this possible?” Santini asked. “Her health is not good. She nearly died from encephalitis. It takes someone with great energy to be a threat to this Republic.”
“Yes, like Avalon,” Santini sighed, reminded of a problem to them both.
“We’ll leave that nuisance for another time,” Todd assured him. “Our problem today is that Miss des Cieux is going about claiming that she healed a girl of blindness.”
“Claiming?” Santini challenged her. “She’s said nothing about it to me. Neither has her father, or her mother. I have only heard the rumours from others.”
“And that’s precisely the problem,” Todd asserted. “It’s all over town. Even the Alemaran paper has picked up on it.”
“Surely there must be some mistake. I have never known her to act in this way. She is very shy, unlike her father.”
“How good of a Catholic is she?” Todd asked bluntly.
“She is a very conscientious, observant Catholic,” Santini replied. “Very regular in making Mass, confession, etc. In many ways, she is more so than her parents, and that of course is rare with young people these days.”
“So she is thinking about becoming a nun?”
“We have discussed this from time to time, but I have cautioned her not to be hasty in this. Sometimes I think she is moved in this direction by her disillusionment with the boyfriends she has had, and that is not motivation enough to enter religious life.”
“Certainly isn’t,” Todd agreed. “Did you know that she is close friends with a Baptist?”
“A Baptist?” Santini replied with feigned surprise. “I was unaware that there were any Baptists or other kinds of cult adherents in her school.”
“There are a couple,” Todd confirmed, “but they are very low keyed. The one I had in mind is anything but.”
“And who is it?”
“Carla Stanley,” Todd informed him.
“The tennis player from Hallett.”
“The same. Madeleine has been a kind of tennis instructor for her. Evidently, however, their relationship is closer than we would have thought. The Sunday before last, Madeleine was seen at Carla’s church.”
“She never said anything about that.”
“You didn’t miss her?”
“I was in Collina that Sunday,” Santini confessed. “Since I lost my two Irish priests, it has been difficult.”
“Perhaps you will learn to import priests who will keep their feudal opinions about women and their bodies to themselves. But Carla Stanley is far more trouble than your foreign priests. She made herself a real pain last year about our efforts to laicise the curriculum and student life programme while on Student Council, which is why we excluded her from it this year. Now she refuses to join her school’s new Life Identification group. So you see what kind of influence she has had on Madeleine.”
“I had no idea. . .but her church does not believe in miracles at all. So how could she inspire Madeleine to try such things?”
“I’ll leave the matter of petty creeds to you,” Todd answered. “But you remember our agreement, don’t you?”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” Santini sighed.
“Then you must do what you have to to fulfil your end of the bargain.”
Santini looked at Todd in stony silence, something he was not generally associated with.
“So what specifically do you want, Your Excellency?”
“You must persuade her to say that she did not heal anyone.”
“But isn’t the girl with sight now? And she is not a Christian.”
“That just the problem!” Todd snapped. “No one—not you, not these silly schoolgirls we’re stuck with, no one—seems to understand what’s really important here. I’m not going to debate this with you. Either you force this pseudo-saint of yours to deny this, or you’re going to get the same treatment that Miss Stanley’s church is starting to get. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” Santini replied.
“Good!” Todd exclaimed. She got up. “I eagerly await the results of your efforts.” She turned and walked out of the theatre, leaving Santini to contemplate his next move.