Category Archives: The Island Chronicles

My fiction, some excerpts, some not.

Those Strange 2CV’s

While on a recent trip to Nashville, we stopped at the Lane Motor Museum and viewed their French car exhibit.  For most Americans, French cars are a total abstraction.  For people in other parts of the world, it’s another story.  One of the most famous–perhaps the most famous–French car ever produced was the Citroën 2CV.  Produced from 1950 to 1990, more than 5 million of them were made.

The 2CV and its more luxurious offshoot the Dyane were both featured in the novel The Ten Weeks.  Unfortunately the cars at Lane and those in The Ten Weeks don’t quite synchronise in time, but they’ll give you a good idea about this interesting automobile.

A 1954 2CV, perhaps a little before the novel’s time (it was set in 1970-1.) Note the ribbed bonnet, which was good for carrying loads such as potatoes.

Luke did his usual magic getting Pierre, Raymond and their luggage into Pierre’s old Citröen 2CV—another of Pierre’s “trademarks”—and with Luke driving they puttered off to the hospital. (pp. 26-27)

And puttered was about it: the original 2CV’s top speed was 37 MPH.  By the time of the novel, the 2CV’s and the Dynanes floored it in the low sixties.  The upside was fuel economy, which wasn’t quite as high as the maximum speed but pushed it.

The Spartan dashboard. Great to cure distracted driving.

The 2CV was unharmed. “Papa, why do you think that they left our 2CV unhurt?” Madeleine asked as they puttered home.

“Maybe they didn’t think it was a car,” Raymond quipped. (p. 42)

A variant of the 2CV that probably didn’t make it to the Island: the 1962 4 x 4 Sahara,. Four wheel drive was done by putting one engine in the front and one in the rear, with two ignition switches and petrol tanks (two petrol tanks appeared in the Jaguar XJ6L, albeit for a different reason). Primarily made for off-road travel in Africa.
Newer than the novel’s time frame, this 1974 model is probably a little closer to the Dynane which the Ten Weeks’ heroine Madeleine drove.

Being with a medical excuse meant that she could leave school right after class and skip the athletics, a privilege she relished as she got into the Dyane and headed out. The day was beautiful and reaching its peak at 27°C. Madeleine was especially exhilarated by the nearly 5 kilometre drive across the Dahlia Bridge. Many Verecundan youth looked at the bridge as an extended over water drag strip. Although Madeleine’s Dyane’s capabilities in this regard were limited, it still felt nice to stash her hat and let the breeze to blow through her hair. As she took the straight shot back across the bay, she looked out to see the port, marina and ultimately the Verecundan skyline over the right guardrail. (p. 87)

A few more amenities for the driver, too, along with a proper door handle.

They got to the side walk. They could hear more protesters around the corner; they knew that they would come their way shortly. At this point they looked out into the street and saw Madeleine’s Dyane rolling down the street. The car crossed over and pulled up in front of them.

Madeleine lowered the window. “You need to go now!” she told Terry and Cathy. “They’re coming!” The two girls looked at their paint drenched clothes and Madeleine’s car in horror.

“Take your clothes off!” Madeleine ordered them. Terry started immediately but Cathy was stunned at the order. “You’ve done it before!” (p. 256)

The boot angle.

The visual appeal of the scene took a leap upward as he approached the Dyane. Luke had done a good job in getting most of the paint out of the interior of the car, but Madeleine was pickier. The garage had a strong odour of paint thinner, but Jack’s eyes were drawn to the sight before him. Madeleine had donned an old Izod shirt and shorts to finish the clean-up, and she was busy getting specks of paint that Terry had left on the passenger side floor. To get there, she had crawled in over the driver’s seat, so Jack was presented with the sight of Madeleine, rear up and legs out of the car as she inspected the floor for one more speck. (p. 258)

The exhibit at Lane runs until 4 April 2016.

The Lesson from “Island Freemasonry” That Bishop Broadbent Needs to Learn

The Deputy Bishop of London vents on his low opinion of the island of Jersey:

The Deputy Bishop of London has claimed Jersey was “in the grip of freemasonry” and that there was a “conspiracy of silence” on the island.

The Right Reverend Peter Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, also said there was not much nice or defensible” about Jersey politics or society.

I had a lot of fun writing about “island Freemasonry” of a different kind in my novel The Ten Weeks and its sequels.  But this incident, from here, is what hopefully Freemason parents (and Christian ones too) should be teaching their children:

“We need to say the blessing, especially with our ‘friends’ here,” Carla observed.

“We do,” Madeleine agreed. The three girls bowed their heads. Carla glanced a Madeleine, who replied by making the sign of the cross and praying the same grace she did at home, only in English.

“That means you’re Catholic,” Charles observed. “You know, in our realm, it is illegal to be under the Pope’s authority. Who knows, you might be an agent of the Jesuits. However, as long as I have anything to say about it, if you come in looking like you do now, we’ll overlook your pernicious church association.”

“And what does that have to do with it?” Joyce asked, finally getting into the conversation.

“This land you sit on is under our family’s authority,” Charles declared. “We are the masters of all that enter.”

“‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness therein,’” Carla quoted.

“Ah, yes, the Bible,” Charles said. “For you, it is the Word of God. For us who have joined ourselves to the Lodge, it is but a piece of furniture, a symbol, if you please…”

“You’d be better off if you followed it,” Carla observed.

“You Christians are all alike,” Charles retorted. “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ How can you know it? What do you have to show for it? When the Lodge ruled from one side of the Island to the other, we had order and prosperity. Now look at it. The Serelians set up this screwy church of theirs—but they still elect their Senior and Junior Wardens. It’s just the Lodge with a cross and candles at the front. Even the Verecundans are abandoning the faith—you know that better than anybody, Little Miss Muffett,” he said, looking at Carla. “Going to the US won’t help either. It’s the biggest Masonic nation of all. You travel anywhere—I hitch-hiked around last summer. You see all of these monuments to the Ten Commandments, ‘In God We Trust’ on the money. It’s even Florida’s motto. But they have no state church. Why? All of their leaders are Masons. Look at an American dollar bill—the eye in the pyramid’s right there, along with that motto. They know all of this is pure symbolism, just like in the Lodge. When the Masons no longer run the place, and people start taking all of this seriously—one way or the other—they’ll start fighting like we do.” Charles—and everyone else—could see the anger welling up in Carla.

Finally she said, “Is that what you’re taught at home? And in the Lodge?”

“He’s taught at home to keep his mouth shut,” a voice came from the adult table. It was the Count, obviously able to hear his son’s speech.

Evidently someone missed this bit of education in Bishop Broadbent’s upbringing.

The Imaginary Land of American Foreign Policy

The world’s largest democracy has swept Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power, and they’re trying to figure out what he’s going to do to change India:

The new composition of parliament is significant, as are a number of other factoids about this election. The BJP has returned at least 279 seats in the partial count while its coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), has comfortably secured leads in over 330 constituencies, giving it absolute control of the lower house (Lok Sabha), while the BJP itself has a majority in the house. This means stability – that one word missing from the dictionary of Indian politics for the past 25 years.

Meanwhile back in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Braves, we’re fixated on his past and our own legal finickiness:

India’s voters had brought to power a man who is not permitted to visit the United States, having been denied a U.S. visa in 2005 on account of a State Department determination that he had violated religious freedoms in the Indian state of Gujarat. (Some 2,000 Muslims had died in riots that scarred Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the state’s chief minister at the time, and his critics hold him responsible for the deaths.) The visa ban was still in place when Modi was nominated last September to lead the Bharatiya Janata [Indian People’s] Party into the elections; and most awkwardly for Obama, the ban was still technically in place on the day of his victory. American diplomacy has been decidedly maladroit.

“Decidedly maladroit” is an understatement.  Given that nothing is ever really closed in our legal system, should Modi even risk coming to these shores? He may not have to:

Modi’s keenest ally—potentially his BFF—is likely to be Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who was one of the first to send his congratulations to the Indian politician when it became apparent that he would be the next prime minister. Abe and Modi are, in many ways, made for each other: Ardent nationalists yearning to break free from their respective nations’ patterns of international passivity, they both face the terrifying challenge of a China that plays by its own unyielding rules, a maximalist hegemon which has the economic and military heft to dispense with diplomacy as the primary means of dispute resolution.

The United States’ position wouldn’t be so hypocritical if, in its theoretical obsession with the rule of law, it wouldn’t be so busy trying to bury its own inconvenient scandals–Fast and Furious, the IRS/Tea Party business, Benghazi–which its chattering classes find so distasteful to discuss.

A long time ago I wrote this; some of this stuff reminds me of what I put there as fantasy.  If we’re not really careful, we’ll end up with the same result, too.

The Ten Weeks: Week Ten (14-20 February): When God Touches Your Life, You Are Never the Same

The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is the last of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

“There are many unpleasant thoughts here,” James replied. “So let’s talk about the miracles.”

“You don’t believe in them,” Madeleine replied, defensively. “Carla’s church has already told her that they don’t. Is yours the same?”

“Absolutely not. We believe in miracles. I have seen them myself, prayed for them as well. We believe that you have done these things. What we don’t understand is how you did them.”

“You have not heard. . .I invoke the Trinity, pray in the name of Jesus Christ, usually put my aloe vera on them to anoint them when I can touch them. Don’t you?”

“Yes, but beyond that it is entirely different. Listen, we believe that the Holy Ghost is working the same way he did in the Book of Acts. It includes healings, casting out demons, all kinds of miracles. But we pray, we fast, we have altar services. Then we have many rules for our people for holiness: we do not drink, smoke, our women don’t wear jewellery or make-up of any kind, and we generally don’t go to the beach. You, you drink your wine, you go to Mass, your father smokes his pipe, you wear rings for your ears and fingers plus the bracelets, and you come to the beach in your shorts, like you did the day you came to Beran to watch tennis.”

“This was obviously important to you.”

“Important? It was the talk of my church and the Beran church for weeks. But that’s the problem: why is it that you, living as you do, can do the things that many of our saints do not?”

“Perhaps the problem is that your God and the God of your ‘saints’ is too small,” Madeleine came back, desperate enough to quote an Anglican.

“Perhaps the real problem here is that your idea of what God can do in your life is what is far too small here,” James replied deliberately and slowly.

Madeleine stared into James’ black eyes in shock. She and Carla had been in a state of retreat since this whole adventure began, and even before that. Now she was staring in the face of someone who was putting in front of her the proposition that forward movement was possible, and that robbed her of a comeback, something she was almost never without.

“God has picked you out for something special,” James resumed, realising he had the floor to himself. “It is obvious. And there is no limit to what he can do in your life. You could become a great healing evangelist, travelling to all parts of the world seeing more blind eyes opened and more people rise from their sick bed than you can imagine. God has given you an anointing that many people in my church only dream of. Or, you could pass on this great heritage to your children.” He stopped and saw that she winced at the thought. “Children. Of course! Nobody around here talks about them. They smoke their pot, they shoot their drugs, they make love, they take love, they talk about the university they will attend, but no one talks about the children they could have. No one! Perhaps it is better, as mean as they are. But what Pentecostal kid wouldn’t give their eye teeth to say, ‘My mother healed the blind when she was in secondary school and stood up to the government in the process.’ Or you could do both of these things, or more. And of course there is no telling who you might marry. He might be black like me, in which case those beautiful children would be the colour of your coffee.” She looked down at her cup to catch the meaning of his illustration.

“Do you have a special someone in your life, James?” she asked, breathless from the discourse.

“I am happy you asked,” he said, grinning. With that he took out his wallet and handed her the picture of someone she recognised immediately. She gasped.

“It’s Elisabeth Cassidy!” she said. She looked at James wide-eyed, unable to say anything.

“We know what you did that day,” James replied. “We know you prayed for Terry Marlowe to win and Elisabeth to lose. It was very hard on us. Elisabeth was the first person in our church to be so prominent in girls’ sports in Aloxa. She was the national champion last year and will probably do it again this year. If Denise keeps getting herself in trouble, she just might win the Collina Invitational. All of our church—all Aloxan Pentecostals, really—are very proud of her, although some in our church don’t like the clothes she has to wear to play. Before the match, some of us actually went on a fast so she could win. So we were shocked when she lost to Terry. We thought God had abandoned us. We had seen you and Terry’s grandmother praying for her. But she was the first to understand that it was God’s plan to undermine Denise. Then we knew what it meant. Besides, it wasn’t so bad because she was beaten by someone who is, I hate to say this, who is not. . .”

“Really white,” Madeleine said.

“Exactly. Her father is well liked in Aloxa. I think that it is terrible the way people here treat her about her race. Do you realise that you are the first girl from PC I have sat down with for dinner? I always get some kind of lame brain excuse every time I ask one. If I had known, I would have asked earlier! But it was God’s will that I court Elisabeth, we have a lot in common and she is very sweet.”

“How long have you been seeing each other?”

“We have grown up together. But it has been difficult since Leslie became King. He is not a Christian, and his wife Arlene—Elisabeth’s sister—is, shall we say, on the fence. Many people in her family are Christians, but we must be careful because of Arlene. We would have been engaged by now but we have decided to wait until we get to the U.S., where we can marry away from everyone. We are going to college together—at a Pentecostal school, on Royal scholarships.

“Look, I know you are going to Europe to university. I don’t know what kind of church you need to be in to fulfil God’s plan for your life. But he has a great one for you. And, as far as this place is concerned, someday God will punish this place. When he does, you and Carla and everyone else who has been persecuted for Jesus’ sake will rise up and speak judgement against this country. When you do, I want to be there to cheer you on.”

“So what happens if I become a specialist in education?” Madeleine asked him.

“Then you can come back and be our Minister of Education, and I will bow to you and refer to you as ‘Your Excellency.’ We have never had a Christian Minister of Education.”

Madeleine giggled at the idea. “You are simply too charming. What will happen when Elisabeth finds out you saw me like this?”

“She already knows,” James replied, “and she wants me to be an encouragement to you. Besides, she wants to issue a challenge to you: she wants you and Carla to come to Beran again and play doubles with Elisabeth and Alice Fitzwilliam. Since you have been ejected from the teams, you two can only represent God. We will have a large crowd there. And, we will all pray before the match starts, not like here.”

Madeleine thought for a minute. “She is very brave, playing people who only represent God.”

“Like Jacob,” James replied. “But, you know, like Jacob, when God touches your life, you are never the same.”

The Ten Weeks: Week Nine (7-13 February): A Little Corporal Punishment for the Road

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).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

Coleman reviewed the police file that Bancroft had assembled and handed it to his deputy. He turned and faced the two boys, his girth blocking their view of the deputy taking notes.

“Where were you about 2100 last night?” Coleman asked.

“Uh. . .I think that was when I got to the tavern, the Flying Dutchman.”

“Alone?”

“Why does the church care about that?” Jack asked.

“You better answer him,” Rick said. “He’s figured it out.”

“Your friend is wise again,” Coleman said. “Just to educate you on our system here, the Ecclesiastical Constable has jurisdiction over all matters relating to the Church—internal discipline, unlawful religious activity, truancy and other serious matters in school, and of course theft and abuse of church property. Every now and then the King’s officers will deputise us to handle matters that we have some interest in. This is what has happened here. You would probably be sitting in their room rather than mine if you hadn’t exercised the poor judgement of using the sexton’s truck of the Church of St. Mark’s to go ‘bar hopping,’ as you Verecundans like to say, with Miss Denise Kendall. But now the entire matter— including her admission of unlawful conjugal activity—is in my purview.”

“I didn’t do anything! She never said that!” Jack exclaimed.

“I’m afraid she did,” Coleman said. He handed Jack a copy of her confession. The two boys read it in shock.

“She’s lying!” Jack said. “It’s her word against mine. She hates me, that’s why she did this.”

“I have no doubt that Miss Kendall hates you, and for good reason,” Coleman agreed. “But we have several other witnesses that have informed us that you did not leave the Flying Dutchman until after midnight, that you rented and paid for the room she came out of unclothed two hours later, and that you left your seed on the bedsheets for good measure.” He showed Jack the Polaroid photograph of the last piece of evidence.

“She did it with somebody else! I just rented the room because she was drunk and almost passed out.”

“So why didn’t you just take her back to the guest house, like the knight in shining armour you claim to me?” the deputy asked. Jack had no comeback to that last question.

“I want to speak with my ambassador! And why did you guys release her anyway? It takes two.”

“Miss Kendall carries a diplomatic passport,” Coleman reminded Jack. “Your ambassador came round last night to handle that crisis. As a practical matter, although I am no expert on Verecundan politics, I would think that your attempts to get either assistance or sympathy from your government would fall on deaf ears, if you know what I’m talking about.” Jack knew exactly what he was talking about when he said that.

“Now, as I see it, we have two choices. You can be formally arrested and charged with unlawful conjugal relations and your unauthorised use of Church property.” He turned to Rick. “And you can be charged as his accomplice, since you allowed his use of the truck. Both of you can find yourself fighting these charges in a system that does not have habeas corpus and which is subject to royal decree should His Majesty, in consultation with our dear Bishop, decide that he is tired of dealing with barnacles like you two. Or, you can admit your guilt, allow me to administer a little corporal punishment, and be on your way. In your case,” he looked at Jack, “that will be straight to your boat in Drago and out of our country for good.”

Jack thought for a minute. “I was kinda hoping to be Reverend Langley’s acolyte at early Communion tomorrow before heading back. For old times sake.”

Coleman thought about it. “All right, if both of you will take your beating, we’ll do it. The Drago constabulary will be watching you like a hawk and, of course, you’ll be in the church close, so you’ll still be under my jurisdiction. And, of course, by that time the burden of your sins will be intolerable, I can assure you.”

Jack and Rick looked at each other and nodded in assent. “It’s a deal,” Rick said. Coleman’s deputy got up and left the room with the paperwork, and returned with Coleman’s razor strap. Both Jack and Rick’s eyes widened when they beheld this, the favourite instrument of punishment of the Ecclesiastical Constabulary for younger offenders.

“Take your clothes off,” he said. They both stripped down to their underwear. “All of them!” he barked.

“Huh?” Jack breathed.

“It’s the way they do it up here,” Rick explained. “That’s the way Athena’s mom beats her.” They complied with this.

“Mr. Arnold, you’re first. Bend over on the chair,” Coleman said. Jack knelt on the floor and bent over with his elbows on the chair. Both Rick and the deputy stood back as Coleman assumed his position, doubled over the razor strap, drew back, and lashed the strap across Jack’s hind quarters.

Jack had felt his father’s belt from time to time, but the pain he felt from Coleman’s first blow was far more excruciating than he had ever felt before in his life for any reason. He tried to count the strokes, but somewhere in the process he lost consciousness and fell onto the floor. The deputy simply pulled his body out of the way and Coleman proceeded to administer Rick the same punishment, albeit with fewer strokes because his offence was less.

Coleman finished Rick’s beating and admired his handiwork. “Get dressed,” he ordered Rick. “And get his clothes on, too,” he said, pointing at Jack. Both Coleman and the deputy left the room, closed and locked the door behind them. Rick got dressed while trying to hold his composure, but when he got a good look at the damage Coleman had wrought on Jack, he began to cry, a sobbing that became more intense as he horsed Jack’s clothes on him. When Rick finished that task, he dried his eyes the best he could to conceal his sorrow, then he beat on the door.

“We’re ready. Get us out of here!” he shouted. The deputy opened the door and, seeing that Rick was having trouble manhandling Jack, helped him carry Jack to the St. Mark’s truck. They spread out a blanket and put him face down in the bed. He showed a little life but not much.

“The deputy will follow you back to Drago,” Coleman said. “You’re paperwork is clear. Don’t you ever let this kind of thing happen with church property again.”

“No, sir,” Rick promised. Rick got into the truck, which was painful for him to sit in, started it up, and pulled out into the road that led him back home, the deputy following him all the way through Fort Albert and back to the parish close at St. Mark’s.

The Ten Weeks: Week Eight (31 January-6 February): Before Texting, We Actually Had to Talk on the Phone

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).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

Alemara Academy was a little less than halfway between Alemara town and Driscoll, which meant that it was out by itself. Although it was only about three hundred metres from the sound, it was beyond the best of the long, broad beach that made the town famous. They pulled up through the school’s front entrance.

“That school in Aloxa has a lot better set-up than this dump,” Jack remarked, recalling Beran-Williamstown’s better physical plant.

Pete looked at his watch. “The girls should be around there somewhere about now. I wouldn’t take their trip for anything, even with these landlubbers we’re stuck with.”

The tennis courts were on par with everything else at the school. The fences, windbreakers, bleachers and asphalt courts themselves had seen better days. Their team was there and practising. Point Collina’s team had to take the entire day off from school for this match, and although the Academy team was home this year, the 1100 start time dug into their own academic schedule. The home team cleared the courts long enough for the visitors to practice while the coaches and captains met to figure things out.

The two teams came out, shook hands, and the matches began. The Academy was competitive in a few slots but Point Collina’s team depth worked against them. One of the Academy’s less proficient players was Raymond des Cieux, who unlike Carla had not taken lessons from his sister. Raymond was at the bottom of the singles ladder and Jack was at third, so while others were playing Jack came over and motioned to Raymond to pull away from the bench and talk with him.

“You still glad you’re not on the Point this year?” Jack asked Raymond.

“It’s all right up here,” Raymond replied. “But it’s better than the Point.”

“I gotta kinda hard question for you?”

“Hard question? For me?”

“Yeah.” Jack hesitated. “How is the best way to ask your sister out?”

“You could try telephoning her,” Raymond calmly answered him.

“Nobody likes a. . .I know that. What I mean is, how do I do it so she won’t say no?”

“You’ve had a lot of girl friends. One of them must have said no. I haven’t had too many, but some of them have said no to me. So what’s the big deal for you?”

“Well, man, from what I hear, when she says no, it hurts. Besides. . .I don’t know how to say this, but I’ve never asked a girl quite like her out before.”

“She is unique,” Raymond agreed.

“So, what does she like? And don’t like?”

“She likes fine food, like we eat at home. So you should consider a nice place, like the Resort, where she can order something reasonably good and perhaps have a little wine without too many questions.”

“Does she drink a lot?”

“Not much. And only with meals. It is the way we were brought up. She is not the kind to go out and get drunk like the last girlfriend you had.”

“You would bring that up.”

“You might also try going to Mass with her—she likes that in a boyfriend.”

“That’s going to be hard.”

“Why?”

“Because my old man hates the Catholic Church. It’s cool with me. My sister Cat’s already in trouble for going there with her friend Terry Marlowe.”

C’est tres triste. . .you are passing some very sweet women by when you miss Mass. Take your sister’s friend—now that’s a girl I’m afraid to ask out.”

“How come?”

“Because she comes from such a great family, and she is so tall and beautiful—Papa says she reminds him of the women he used to see in Indochina.”

“Vietnam?”

“Yes, my family lived there when Madeleine was born.”

“She was born in Vietnam?”

“She was. We’ve lived in many places.”

“Cool. So you’re chicken, too.”

Raymond looked at the ground. “I guess so.”

“Just give me her phone number,” Jack finally said. Raymond went and borrowed a pencil, wrote it on a piece of scrap paper, and handed it to Jack. “Thanks,” Jack said.

The Ten Weeks: Week Seven (24-30 January): Two Blondes Explore Islam

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).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

She looked over at her desk again; next to the Bible was a photo of a younger Madeleine in a very colourful djellaba that covered her from head to toe.

“Is that you?” Carla asked. “You look like you’re in our church’s Christmas play.”

“We were living in Morocco at the time,” Madeleine explained. “My Moroccan friends and their parents put me up to it. They though it was amusing that a French girl would dress like one of them.”

“Now, I get lost—where all have you lived, Madeleine?”

Madeleine was the one who had to think things out now. “Let me start from the beginning. When I was born, we were living in what is now South Vietnam.”

“I have a cousin who’s over there now,” Carla said. “He’s in the American army. He was drafted.”

“It seems that this place has not been good for France or the U.S.,” Madeleine observed. “We returned to France shortly after I was baptised. When I was five, we moved to Morocco. It was my favourite place to live. I enjoyed the climate, and the people were very kind. They were almost all Muslims, and their religion is in some ways like yours—austere, and of course they are forbidden to drink alcohol. When I left, one of my friends—whose father was a prominent imam—gave me this,” and she showed her a green book with Arabic writing on it.

“What is it?” Carla asked.

“It is a copy of the Qur’an,” Madeleine replied. “It is the holy book of the Muslims.”

“Can you read it?”

“My Arabic isn’t what it used to be, but yes, I can. It is a very difficult book to understand. I got to use my Arabic last year when a representative from the Palestine Liberation Organisation visited our school. He found me hard to follow, because the Arabic spoken in Morocco is different from that in Palestine, especially with a French accent.”

“Kind of like my sister-in-law from Georgia,” Carla noted.

“To some extent,” Madeleine replied with a smile. “After that, we moved to Canada, to Calgary, Alberta. That is where I learned to speak English properly. But Calgary is very cold, and I did not like the climate. After that we moved to South Carolina in the United States for one year. We lived in the same town you are going to university at, but I went away to school in Charleston. It is a very nice city, and of course much warmer than Canada. Finally we came here, but by that time we decided that it was better for Raymond to go away to school, so I stayed at Point Collina.”

“Wow,” Carla said. “I’ve always been impressed with the way you’ve moved all over the world.”

“But it is difficult to keep your friends when moving,” Madeleine observed. “Only my Moroccan friends write me any more. Some of them are going to France to university, so I may be able to see them when I am in Belgium.”

“Sorry this country hasn’t worked out any better for you than it has,” Carla said apologetically.

“I don’t understand it,” Madeleine confessed. “They want to be so progressive, so left-wing, but someone comes to them with some real experience in the world, they don’t know what to do with them, and waste their time trying to mould them to their own idea. That is why I like you—you are yourself, you are not trying to be someone else. You have your life and you have your beliefs and you live them. And,” Madeleine added, “I have never seen anyone whose tennis game has improved with less instruction and less time than yours.”

“Thanks,” Carla replied.

“Oh, there is something I would like to show you.” Madeleine got up and opened her closet, and pulled out a little some very interesting outfits, including a Moroccan one similar to the one in the photo. “These are the outfits that I wear to help teach the children French. They come from all over the Francophone world. I must confess that I enjoy wearing them as much as the children like seeing me in them.”

Carla was wide-eyed at the fashion in front of her. “Don’t we wear the same size?” Carla asked excitedly.

“As a practical matter, yes,” Madeleine replied.

“Can I try them on to see how I look?”

“Of course.” Carla started to undress, but stopped. She looked at her hands and arms.

“I’m too dirty to get into those,” Carla said sadly.

“Then you must take a shower first,” Madeleine declared. Carla had the reputation at Hallett Comprehensive of being the girl who could get ready for a date the fastest, and she showed that speed at the des Cieux house. It was no time before she was trying on Madeleine’s clothes, looking at herself in the full-length mirror, and both of them laughing the afternoon away.

Carla finally got to the pièce de resistance—Madeleine’s djellaba. As she adjusted the hood, the girls suddenly realised they had an audience. They looked over towards the doorway to see Pierre and Yveline standing, almost as astonished as Carla was when she first came into the room.

“This will be impossible to explain,” Pierre observed. “A Uranan Baptist girl visits a French Catholic one and ends up a Muslim.”

“We were just having fun, Papa,” was Madeleine’s excuse.

The Ten Weeks: Week Six (17-23 January): Learning About French Kissing From the French

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).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

Madeleine was decidedly nervous about returning to Bell’s Political Science class Wednesday morning, but return she did. She eased into her seat as Bell began to pontificate.

Towards the end of class, Bell got off the subject of the basic structure of the legislature and started talking about the nationalisation of health care in the Republic. He was obviously happy it took place, and added the comment, “And, of course, with socialised medicine, we don’t have to rely on miracle workers— such as we have here in class—of meeting our public health needs.”

Denise and Vannie giggled a bit; Madeleine began to squirm in her seat. Then Jack raised his hand.

“Yes, Mr. Arnold,” Bell said.

“I don’t get what the big deal is,” Jack said. “The little girl’s better off. Doctors never could fix the problem. Besides, man, it just saves the government a lot of money having to take care of her.”

Bell’s anger welled up very quickly; the veins around his temple bulged. “Get out!” he barked at Jack, pointing his finger at him and then sweeping it to the door. “I won’t have such a serious matter made light of!” He turned to Madeleine. “You get out too—you started all this!” making the same gesture to her as he did to Jack. Both of them got up and make their way to the door. It was all Denise and Vannie—and a few others—could do to keep from rolling in the floor laughing.

Jack made it to the door first, holding it as Madeleine went through. They both made it out to the hallway.

“I’m sorry I got you into trouble,” Jack said.

“It is not your fault,” she replied. “It is mine. I started all of this.”

“Everybody is sure making a big deal out of this.” They looked at each other for a second. “Can I ask you a question?” he finally came out with.

“Sure.”

“You’re from France, right?”

“That’s correct.”

“Do you really know how to French kiss?”

She looked at him with a combination of astonishment and amusement. “It took you two and a half years to ask me this?”

“I’m kinda shy. . .” he replied, looking sheepish.

“How well did Denise ‘French kiss,’ as you say?”

“Oh, she was great, she had a lot of cool moves. . .oh, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be talking to you like this.”

“It seems that Denise has many advantages over the both of us,” Madeleine finally stated.

“Looks that way. . .” Jack wasn’t the type to be at a loss for words when talking to a girl, but this time was exceptional.

“That was very kind, the way you held the door for me,” she said. “I see this up in Hallett when I visit Carla, but not here.”

“I guess we’re kinda rude. I’m glad you liked it. Maybe I should walk you to your next class.”

“Our next class?”

“Yeah. . .our next class.”

“Then let’s go.” They walked together down the hall.

The Ten Weeks: Week Five (10-16 January): A Baby Dedication, and Strange Visitors, at the Baptist Church

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).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

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.”

“For who?”

“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.”

The Ten Weeks: Week Four (3-9 January): Dinner with the Freemasons

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).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

Verecundan papers had spilt a good deal of ink on “in-depth” investigation of the Three Corners region, which was simply the area where Aloxa, Uranus/ Verecunda and Vidamera met. The area was described luridly as a place of “shady dealings” and “shadowy activities,” as if the sun never quite came up on the place. Reporters would repeat hushed whisperings of unnamed sources about drug deals, gun running, large cash transactions, the occasional murder and what was in the eyes of Verecundan authorities the most disreputable activity of all—the fact that the Three Corners Inn served the best snook on the Island, a fish that was illegal to sell in a restaurant in Verecundan and Collinan territory.

However, the Three Corners Inn, itself located in the realm of the King of Vidamera, was beyond the reach of the Verecundan Ministry of Health. The two families alighted from their vehicles and walked into the spacious inn, a large, sturdily built frame building with a surrounding porch. In Beran times it was the home of a cattle-raising branch of the Amhersts, and cattle could be seen grazing around the restaurant in the fading light. The ranching was now done by the Count of West Vidamera, who himself was there with his family, including his son Charles.

The Count, who well knew the adults (especially the Stanleys,) invited them to join him and his wife. The three girls were seated separately, with Charles inviting himself to be their company for the evening. The waiter came with drinks. Carla stuck with water while Madeleine took a little table wine.

Charles was a dapper looking Sixth Former who had not quite connected with the hirsute fashion of the day, combing his hair straight back. His eyes betrayed a steely, almost cold look that many said ran in the family.

“The trip to the edge of my father’s realm was well worth it,” he said, looking at Carla. “‘Came a thousand miles just to catch you while you’re smiling. . .’”

“Thousand miles?” Madeleine asked. “How is this possible on the Island?”

“He only came from Alemara,” Carla sourly noted. “It’s probably not fifty kilometres, as we’re forced to say now.”

Charles turned to Madeleine. “And who is this, who graces our table with her slightly outrageous accent?”

“Madeleine des Cieux,” Carla replied.

“Raymond’s brother?” Charles asked.

“Of course,” Madeleine replied.

“That’s what I was afraid of. I’m his hall monitor at school. He almost burned the dorm down—he’s lucky to still be in school. If you ask me, the boy’s a twit.”

The girls fell silent. Finally Madeleine said, “To be frank, sometimes I am in agreement with you.” Charles got a chuckle out of that.

“We need to say the blessing, especially with our ‘friends’ here,” Carla observed.

“We do,” Madeleine agreed. The three girls bowed their heads. Carla glanced a Madeleine, who replied by making the sign of the cross and praying the same grace she did at home, only in English.

“That means you’re Catholic,” Charles observed. “You know, in our realm, it is illegal to be under the Pope’s authority. Who knows, you might be an agent of the Jesuits. However, as long as I have anything to say about it, if you come in looking like you do now, we’ll overlook your pernicious church association.”

“And what does that have to do with it?” Joyce asked, finally getting into the conversation.

“This land you sit on is under our family’s authority,” Charles declared. “We are the masters of all that enter.”

“‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness therein,’” Carla quoted.

“Ah, yes, the Bible,” Charles said. “For you, it is the Word of God. For us who have joined ourselves to the Lodge, it is but a piece of furniture, a symbol, if you please.”

“You’d be better off if you followed it,” Carla observed.

“You Christians are all alike,” Charles retorted. “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ How can you know it? What do you have to show for it? When the Lodge ruled from one side of the Island to the other, we had order and prosperity. Now look at it. The Serelians set up this screwy church of theirs—but they still elect their Senior and Junior Wardens. It’s just the Lodge with a cross and candles at the front. Even the Verecundans are abandoning the faith—you know that better than anybody, Little Miss Muffett,” he said, looking at Carla. “Going to the US won’t help either. It’s the biggest Masonic nation of all. You travel anywhere—I hitch-hiked around last summer. You see all of these monuments to the Ten Commandments, ‘In God We Trust’ on the money. It’s even Florida’s motto. But they have no state church. Why? All of their leaders are Masons. Look at an American dollar bill—the eye in the pyramid’s right there, along with that motto. They know all of this is pure symbolism, just like in the Lodge. When the Masons no longer run the place, and people start taking all of this seriously—one way or the other—they’ll start fighting like we do.” Charles—and everyone else—could see the anger welling up in Carla.

Finally she said, “Is that what you’re taught at home? And in the Lodge?”

“He’s taught at home to keep his mouth shut,” a voice came from the adult table. It was the Count, obviously able to hear his son’s speech.

“But it’s the truth,” Charles said, defending himself.

“You’d do well to learn from her and her family the practical virtues you’re supposed to be learning in the Lodge.”

“Yes, sir,” Charles replied. He turned to Carla. “Sorry.”

“That’s OK,” Carla breathed.