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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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.