Both Joyce’s and Carla’s parents arrived in time to see all of their matches. Because they played Aloxan schools more often, they had a better idea of the possible schedule than the Point Collinans, so Pete Stanley could open up the store and Hank Kerr could get his early farm chores out of the way before they went up to Beran to see their daughters compete. When the match ended, the Hallett team decided to avail themselves of the new locker rooms to clean up before they began their journey home.
Hallett was less than half the distance from Beran than Point Collina was, and for the Kerrs—who lived in the corner of Uranus north-west of North Hallett—the distance was even less. They made their way across the width of Aloxa along a narrow road whose pavement left a good deal to be desired of, passing through a collection of woods and royal estates. Before they reached the Uranan border, though, the girls, their parents and Madeleine took their leave from the boys and the coaches, who proceeded onward. They hung a left turn, went a hundred metres or so through the woods, crossed a small bridge and entered an open clearing, in the middle of which was the Three Corners Inn.
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.
“So did you win the tournament?” Charles asked, trying to cheer her up.
“Lost to Denise Kendall in the championship round,” Carla reported sadly.
“I didn’t even get out of the first round,” Joyce added with embarrassment.
“You think you can beat her this season?” Charles asked.
“I don’t know,” Carla answered. She turned to Madeleine. “Should I tell him?”
“I think that Denise has realised the truth after today,” Madeleine said.
“Madeleine’s been working with me for about a year. It’s done a lot of good. . .”
“But. . .but, you’re supposed to be on the Point Collina team, aren’t you?” Charles asked Madeleine, puzzled.
“Until my season ended with encephalitis, this is true,” Madeleine confirmed. “Carla is my friend. Doing it has been a pleasure for me.”
“You two live almost as dangerously as we do,” Charles observed, after trying to sort out this new information. “You think the guys are any good?”
“Pete is very good,” Madeleine said. “The team has good depth—Jack Arnold is good when he cares. You will have hard matches. I hope Raymond improves some—really, he has a long way to go.”
“He still made the team, though,” Charles related.
“So did I,” Joyce chimed in. “Didn’t do me much good.”
The snook consumed, the families resumed their journey, crossing the Aloxan border and picking up the Stanley truck at the Kerr’s farm. They finished the trek back to Hallett and the Stanley’s house.
Their home was a ranch house on the inland side of town, about two hundred metres from the main road and on about five hectares of land which the Stanley’s fitfully farmed and diligently gardened. The land had been in their family since they came to Hallett in the last part of the nineteenth century; the house was about twenty years old. Pete had built it himself with the help of his family. But Pete found that the feed and seed store was an easier way of life than farming itself, and his nice, semi-suburban homestead confirmed this.
Carla left the losses of the tournament and the insults of the Vidameran nobility behind as the well-moonlit night made it easy to see the house coming up at the end of the dirt road. She stopped the estate car in the carport and turned off the ignition, then turned to her friend.
“I can’t believe we’re finally here together,” Carla said. “We’ve known each other for this long, and you’ve never been to my house, nor I to yours. This is great.”
“It is,” Madeleine replied.
“I’ll help with your things,” Carla said. They both got out and brought their belongings in, taking them back to Carla’s room on the back side of the house.
“So you are the baby of the family,” Madeleine observed as they put down their bags.
“I’m it. Junior moved to the mainland. Nathan’s house is over there,” Carla said, pointing to another house across the field. “But I’ve always had my own room. We’ll see how a room-mate works out.”
“You must have been looking for one,” she said, looking at the bunk beds.
“Those are my brothers’,” Carla replied. “I moved them in here for you. Dad’s remodelling the boys’ room for when Junior comes home to visit.”
Madeleine’s eyes were drawn to the awards all around her, starting with the trophies and letters for tennis and soccer. She stopped when she saw a soccer team group photo with her the only girl on a team of boys.
“How did this happen?” Madeleine asked, pointing at the photo.
“Oh,” Carla said. “That was in First Form. The goalie for the Lower Division team was killed in a car wreck right before the season started. They knew what kind of girl I was, so they asked me to play. It started out as a joke but I did all right. I was the first girl to play on a boys team in the country. But they changed the rules after that so I didn’t play boys’ soccer again. Didn’t play much of any kind of soccer after I got going with tennis.”
Madeleine continued to look at this display of victory, but her attention then focused on a group of certificates.
“Bible memorisation,” Madeleine repeated. “You actually entered contests in this?”
“Our church,” Carla said. “We have Island-wide competitions. Last year we had to go to Collina because the CPL people demonstrated the year before, even before Denise’s father became President.”
“So that’s how you could quote it to Charles.”
“That’s right. ‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’ It’s important. Does your church do that?”
“I think that the Pope issued an encyclical—yes, it was during World War II—encouraging us to read the Bible, but generally we don’t do it very much.” Madeleine continued to look around the room. There were signs peeking out from behind the trophies that a young woman lived there, but not as many as even Madeleine expected.
“Not much of a girl’s room, is it?” Carla asked, almost reading Madeleine’s thoughts.
“It is yours. You are different. I know that. And you have to work between winning all of these awards.”
“Daddy started me to work when I was ten. When Nathan graduated and went away to school, I worked more. I went to Vidamera and got my drivers licence when I was in Third Form so I could make deliveries and drive the truck around. You could get away with it then.”
“I carry a Vidameran driver’s licence,” Madeleine confessed.
“Do you? Let me see it.” They spent the next five minutes comparing their licenses, which did not have photos.
“When Nathan came back from university,” Carla resumed, “he took a position as an accountant with the farmers’ co-op. Since Junior wasn’t coming back, that left me to do the work. It’s not bad; I get to know everybody around here and they give me time to play tennis and do other things.”
“You have a boyfriend now?”
“Not right at the moment,” Carla replied. Madeleine always sensed that this was a sore subject with Carla, so she didn’t press it.
“So is Junior still on the mainland?”
“Yeah. Daddy was sure he’d come back to the business, but he took a position working for a farm equipment company. Regional sales manager, or something. He knew everything about it, so he does real well. Wife is what they call a ‘Southern Belle,’ not like me. He’s on the Deacon Council at his church. Kids are beautiful. He’s got everything. He can make so much more money there than he can here, it’s unbelievable.”
“So will you come back and run the business?”
“Me? No. Girls don’t do that up here. Daddy’s tried to talk Nathan into it, but he’s doing too good these days. I don’t know what Daddy’s going to do. I really don’t want it anyway—I like working there, but it’s not something I want to do the rest of my life. You still work sometimes at your dad’s place, don’t you.”
“Occasionally,” Madeleine replied. “Especially when the workers are on holiday in the summer. You know I don’t do the physical labour you do. But there is no danger in me inheriting the business—unless I go back to France and charm the right man. . .” They both got a laugh out of that.
Alice walked into the room. “Is everything OK?”
“It’s great,” Madeleine replied. “This is a very nice place.”
“Bet you don’t have all of these trophies in your room,” Alice said.
“No, I don’t,” Madeleine answered.
“When I found that that Carla’s best friend was French, I was hoping that some of that elegance and chic would rub off.”
“Unfortunately for Carla, France is also the country that produced Jeanne d’Arc,” Madeleine observed. Alice gave a blank look.
“Joan of Arc,” Carla clarified.
“Oh,” Alice said. “You want anything else to eat or drink?”
“We’re still stuffed,” Carla replied. “No, thanks.” Madeleine nodded in agreement.
“Well, if there’s anything else, let me know. We’re exhausted—it’s been a long day. Good night,” she said, hugging both Carla and Madeleine.
The two girls—especially Carla—were too excited for bed, so they continued to tour the room and then went outside. The house had a little back porch where the family would gather for cook-outs. The moon made for excellent illumination, along with the security light.
“I still can’t believe Terry Marlowe got past the first round. We were surprised when Terry went in the first place. She’s not that good. Besides, in the coaches’ meeting, Denise insisted on having her play Elisabeth Cassidy. We figured going in that Joyce would play her—she’s not the best to start with, and she’s still struggling to get over mono. Denise must have it in for Terry.”
“It is primarily political,” Madeleine observed. “Terry is a Gerland. Her grandfather and Denise’s father are mortal enemies. It’s her way of playing out her father’s desires. And, of course. . .as you say here, Terry doesn’t ‘run in the pack’ with Denise or her friends. But I don’t know her that well.”
“Oh. . .” Carla replied. “I hate it when everything turns into politics. Why can’t we just live? It’s just like the Student Council thing. And the taxes. They’ve raised them twice on our business in the last two years.”
“We know what he is doing.”
“I’ve hung around you too long—I tried to explain this to my parents. Daddy got real mad, told me the less fortunate need the extra help. Besides, a lot of people up here think that Kendall’s the one who saved them from their land being taken by Lucian Gerland. All I see is a bunch of bureaucrats hassling us more all the time. But he won’t see that. I guess that’s why I want to beat Denise so bad. You think I can do it?”
“You can,” Madeleine replied. “It will not be easy. She is a very good athlete. I’m not sure I could have beaten her for first on the ladder. But you may have to win because of circumstances beyond your control.”
“And what can I do about those?”
“You still must try.”
Carla looked towards the moon, then turned back to her friend. “I’m going to do it. For you. For my family. For my country. For my God. I know, I’ll be ‘Carla Stanley, Maid of Hallett.’” Madeleine started to giggle at that. “All right, it’s the best I can do.”
“Then you must do it,” Madeleine replied.