The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).
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The First Baptist Church of Hallett was actually located in North Hallett, moved there after a major hurricane in the 1920’s destroyed the seaside original. It wasn’t the oldest Baptist church on the Island—that honour went to FBC Collina—nor the largest—FBC Uranus—but it was an important piece in the Baptist collection. It was the premiere Baptist church for the northern part of Uranus, an area where churches like this were more important than elsewhere on the Island. A concrete block stucco building with a steep sanctuary roof, small steeple and ordinary looking annex for Sunday School, it was more in keeping with the Island’s architectural and climactic demands than the large, Colonial style structures Island Baptists were awed with when they visited the mainland.
There was little time to admire the architecture as the Stanleys and their guest pulled up in the gravel parking lot. Sunday School time had arrived, and the family split up into their places: Pete into the men’s class (which he taught,) Alice in the women’s (which she also taught,) and Carla into the Upper Division II class.
Now it was Madeleine’s turn for a shock. Instead of the hushed tones of coming to Mass and not saying anything to anyone, Madeleine’s thoughts were blurred by being introduced to everyone they encountered, adult, teenager and child alike. Madeleine’s appearance and that fact that she was from off the Island—there were Vidameran members of the church, so they had a touch of internationalism—made her quite an attraction; she could feel the eyes falling on her, both in the hallways and in the class.
More eyes fell when Madeleine had to endure the mandatory introduction in class. Carla was worried as she could see her shy friend become nervous over the unanticipated attention she was getting. The youth, however, did help to put her at ease with more of a friendly curiosity. It was no secret at church that Carla had been spending a lot of time with Madeleine and that her tennis game had improved as a result. In a region which suffered from an image of being “the sticks with the hicks,” Carla’s success was welcome, and Madeleine’s contribution to this was noted, especially by Carla.
Class ending, they rejoined the rest of their family in the sanctuary. Again the hushed tones in church were the thing of another world; Madeleine was surprised as she could hear the sanctuary filled with laughter, conversation and people looking genuinely happy to be with each other. She didn’t have much time to contemplate things from afar off, for there were more introductions to do, especially with their pastor, D.L. Corbett.
“It is a real pleasure to meet you,” Corbett said to Madeleine. “Welcome to First Baptist Hallett.” He looked at Madeleine from head to toe. “I see you have friends who know how to dress properly,” he told Carla.
“Yes, I do,” Carla replied. Corbett turned away to head up to the platform.
“What is he talking about?” Madeleine whispered to her friend.
“He gets after us about our short skirts,” Carla replied. “But he doesn’t know everything about you.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Madeleine agreed.
The Stanleys went on to the front of the church. They joined Carla’s brother Nathan, his wife Sally and their two children, son Paul and the newborn girl which Sally held in her arms. Both Pete’s mother and Alice’s father were there too, with some other relatives. They were barely seated when the choir began the call to worship and the service began.
They went through the opening devotional and welcome, hymns and into the announcements and prayer time. Carla helped Madeleine navigate through the hymn book and her Bible. After the announcements, however, Corbett got up to the pulpit.
“We have an item of late business to take care of,” he began. “Brother Nathan and Sister Sally had a beautiful daughter last October, and we would have dedicated her then, but they were hoping that Junior Stanley would come from the mainland for Christmas, so we delayed it. Unfortunately, they could not make it, so we decided to go ahead before little Julia left the nursery.” There were a few laughs as this. “Would the family of Julia Lynn Stanley come forward.”
It seemed that a good chunk of the congregation—including everyone surrounding Madeleine—came and stood in front of the pulpit. Corbett came down, gave his usual speech about the Bible episode of Hannah lending her son Samuel to the Lord, and urged her parents to lead her to a saving knowledge of God at the first opportunity. Then he took Julia in her arms and, as she continued her half-sleep there, he dedicated her to the Lord, and after that they all sat down.
“Sorry I forgot to tell you about this and left you,” Carla whispered.
“It is fine,” Madeleine replied. “I am glad they were looking at someone other than me.”
Her joy was short lived, as Corbett returned to the pulpit and resumed. “We have one special guest this morning,” he began. He looked at Madeleine. “I hope I pronounce your name right—it’s Madeleine des Cieux?”
“You are correct.”
“Would you please stand?” he asked. Madeleine dutifully complied. “She is the daughter of the man who keeps us rolling—many of you came her on the tyres her father sells.” Once again she felt the eyes of the church upon her, although this time she felt like charging her father’s company for being their new mascot. “Welcome to our church. She is the guest of Carla Stanley and her family.” Madeleine needed no prompting to sit down.
“I’m sorry,” Carla whispered.
“It’s okay—I think,” Madeleine answered. After this came the offering, special music and Corbett’s sermon. Corbett’s style fell somewhere between the studied phrases of the doctors of ministry now at the helm of the First churches on the mainland and the rough-hewn, high-volume style of smaller places. But, true to Baptist practice, he did not fail to give an invitation for salvation, one that, on this particular Sunday, went unanswered.
As Madeleine sat through the sermon, she looked around and saw a young man with long hair on the other side of the church. He didn’t have a Bible with him—that marked both him and Madeleine—but he was taking notes during the sermon. Carla noticed him as well, but neither said anything to each other. As the service closed, Carla turned to Madeleine.
“Let’s try to meet this guy over there,” she said. Madeleine attempted to follow silently, but in the hubbub of goodbyes and the slowness of just getting through the crowd of Carla’s own relatives, combined with the speed of his slipping away, made such an encounter impossible.
The church eventually thinned out enough for the Stanleys to make their way to the car. Madeleine was very quiet—she looked drained from the experience—as they made their way down the road and back to their homestead in Hallett proper.
Julia’s dedication brought a big family banquet at the house, but Carla was more worried about Madeleine. As the rest of the family made its way into the house, Carla took advantage of Madeleine’s slowness to speak with her in front of the carport.
“I hope we haven’t been too much for you,” Carla said. “I’m worried.”
“It is a new experience for me,” Madeleine said. “And, I am very tired from my condition.” She looked out down the long driveway. “I am fearful for her.”
“Julia. You have a very happy world here. I am afraid that it is about to be invaded. Her life will not be the same as yours.”
“I’m afraid you’re right. . .do you know who that guy was in church this morning?”
“I think so. . .he lives down the street from me. He goes to Verecunda Comprehensive. I see him from time to time. I think he is active in the CPL.”
Carla assumed a very worried look at that statement, then suddenly wiped her concern off of her face. “Don’t bring it up with Daddy, he’ll get mad. Well, I guess it’s time to eat.”