Pierre’s optimism was justified the next day when they received a five page letter from the Ministry of the Environment. While expressing deep concern at the situation of the scrap tyres, they expressed understanding with the company’s present situation and committed themselves to work with them for a better environment in Verecunda.
“Are we okay?” Claudia asked him after he read the letter.
“For the moment,” Pierre replied. “They will be back. But it will be more reasonable then.”
Pierre was glad to see a happier situation emerge as he went home in the afternoon to pick up Yveline and make their 1500 meeting with the Minister of Education. They arrived at the Ministry, which was ensconced in the large, Stalinesque government complex. They were surprised to see Marguerite Seignet there also.
“It seems they are even sending the faculty to the office,” Pierre observed.
“They do not like me to reveal the obvious,” she replied. They waited another ten minutes, and then were ushered into the Minister’s office.
Minister of Education Ole Paulsen looked the part: tweed jacket, pants too short, untidy, decidedly ugly plastic rimmed glasses, and wavy salt and pepper hair parted in a sawtooth pattern on his head. He had been promoted from being Point Collina’s old Headmaster as much for political reasons as any; he had been a founding member of the Committee for Personal Liberty. With him was his deputy, Maureen Becker, resplendent in newly fashionable hot pants, and the current Headmaster Bartow.
The three French people sat down. As was the custom with Kendall Administration bureaucrats, there was no coffee service or any other kind of hospitality offered. Pierre replied by using Paulsen’s pen and pencil set as a hat rack and requiring several attempts to light up his pipe.
“So, I get to see a little bit of France on the Island,” Paulsen began, waving the pipe smoke out of his face. “It is delightful. It enriches our culture.”
“We hope that it is as delightful for us as it is for you,” Pierre observed.
“Well, yes,” Paulsen said. “So, to the matter at hand: it seems that we have something of a crisis here with your daughter, Madeleine des Cieux, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir, it is,” Becker agreed, Bartow nodded his assent too.
“A crisis for whom?” Pierre asked.
“That’s what we want to talk about,” Paulsen replied. “It seems that both she and you have been unresponsive to the admonitions of her headmaster.”
“I understand that even your church has attempted to reason with you,” Bartow threw in.
“I doubt that the Bishop was doing this for the greater glory of God,” Pierre dryly noted.
“That’s none of our concern,” Becker snapped. “I think it’s time to get to the real point.”
“The point being, Mr. des Cieux, that we need to decide if Miss des Cieux will remain a student in the schools of the Republic of Verecunda,” Paulsen added without interruption.
“I can’t see the French university. . .” Becker started.
“Belgian,” Pierre corrected her. “Université Catholique de Louvain.”
“Thank you, Belgian university, admitting her without a proper secondary school diploma. Besides, if she is expelled from our school system, she must leave the country.”
The room fell silent at this naked threat. Pierre looked at both his wife and Madame Seignet, then turned back to face the Verecundans.
“I hate to disabuse you of your fantasy, but there are many other alternatives for Madeleine outside of this very small country.”
“Such as?” Becker asked.
“Let’s start with the Island,” Pierre said. “We could send her to Collina and she could attend Collina Comprehensive.”
“We have a working relationship with their education department,” Paulsen informed them. “We have the means in place to prevent this kind of circumvention of our system. Besides, she cannot hold a Verecundan student visa and attend a Collinan school, previous arrangements notwithstanding.”
“Then there is the option of Aloxan schools; Madeleine told me that the Beran-Williamstown school has a very nice campus, she could live as an exchange student.” The mention of an Aloxan school was a show stopper; Becker especially showed her shock.
“You can’t be serious about that!” Bartow said.
“And, of course, there are other possibilities: St. Matthew’s in Serelia, Alemara Central, where she could be near her brother, even Vidamera Masonic, since you prefer an anti-Christian influence in her life,” Pierre continued.
“This is ridiculous,” Bartow sneered. “This country has the best schools on the Island.”
“At this point, she needs a diploma more than an education,” Pierre said. “I think the UCL will be understanding under the circumstances.”
“But the best option for her would be if she returned to France,” Seignet added. “She could return, live with her relatives while finishing school and pass her baccalaureat. It may take an additional year, but with her intellect she could go to the École Nationale d’Administration or Polytéchnique, and then have a very nice career in the government, dealing with problems such as this.”
“And, you see how effective that can be,” Pierre noted.
“We have heard about that,” Paulsen admitted sourly.
“Madeleine and I have discussed the last option,” Seignet admitted. “She is not happy about it, but this whole affair has forced her to consider many things.”
“And that leads us to our next problem,” Bartow said. “You have been passing her confidential faculty material. This is grounds for your termination.”
“The memorandum you are thinking about was not marked as such,” Seignet noted.
“Since the school has such a strong position on the subject of Madeleine, it should not have to hide it,” Pierre said.
“It is not your right to interfere in faculty disciplinary matters!” Bartow exclaimed, pounding his fist on Pausen’s desk so hard that it almost overturned his own hot tea.
“We need to stop this nit-picking immediately!” Paulsen said.
“So let’s get to the point,” Pierre said.
“Which is?” Becker asked.
“The point is this: we now all know that Madeleine has alternatives to complete her secondary education. As her father, I need for you to either drop your threats to expel her over this matter immediately or I will proceed with one of these alternatives and take her out of Point Collina at once, even if it means dealing with her residency. So what is your decision in this matter?”
The Verecundans were obviously unprepared for Pierre’s “calling of the bluff.” They sat in silence, looking at each other.
“We will not be threatened in this way,” Paulsen said. “Besides, we could cost your company a lot of money by purchasing our tyres elsewhere.”
“The Ministry of Education is currently past due on those which it has purchased,” Pierre noted. “I decided when this affair started that I would take the business consequences as they came. However, as the Americans would say, product unpaid is product unsold.”
“I don’t think that the school can legitimately expel Madeleine,” Seignet noted.
“And why not?” Bartow asked angrily.
“What regulation or law allows you to expel a student for performing a miracle?”
“She has been disruptive!” Bartow said.
“She has not been disruptive,” Seignet resumed. “You have. You know that I am not a Christian. I do not agree with Madeleine on many things. But she has not forced this issue on the school. You have forced it on her and everyone else involved. The more you press the issue, the more credibility you give her claim that it is a miracle from God, and the stupider you look in front of the rest of the world. The Yedd girl is transferring to Dillman-Arnold. It is best for her; why can’t you leave it at that? And, as far as terminating me, I can assure you that my trade union will vigorously contest this, which will only detract further from your reputation as a progressive social democracy.”
“I told you that you would regret allowing the union into Point Collina,” Bartow told Paulsen.
“It’s done,” Paulsen replied. “There’s no sense in crying over spilt milk.” He thought further. Even Becker wasn’t sure what to say.
“I think that Madame Seignet may be the voice of wisdom here,” Paulsen finally admitted. He looked at Pierre. “I would seriously admonish you not to allow your daughter to make further comment on this for the rest of the school year.” He turned to Seignet. “I can assure you that Headmaster Bartow will more carefully mark his memoranda for confidentiality, and since he will do this, you will be in serious trouble if you divulge this kind of information again to a student for any reason.”
“So are we in agreement?” Becker asked.
“We are,” Pierre said.
“Most certainly,” Seignet agreed.
“We will draw up a protocol for your signature later this week,” Becker assured them.
“This meeting is at an end,” Paulsen announced with relief. The French got up out of their chairs, and Pierre returned his hat to its usual rack, his head. They walked out of the room and the building into the central courtyard of the government complex.
“Do you think that this will really settle things?” Yveline asked, hoping that one of them would answer.
“We are only a little over four months to graduation,” Pierre said. “As long as things hold, we are fine. After that, Madeleine will go to Belgium and we can all forget about it.”
“I will not forget!” Yveline said. “It has been too painful. I wish sometimes I were going with her.”
“This business has proven one thing to me,” Seignet observed. “The Anglo-Saxons are incapable of a rational, secular state. They cannot sustain one. They will have some kind of creed one way or another.”
Pierre puffed his pipe, the smoke taking flight in the wind. He then took the pipe out of his mouth. “At the end of Madeleine’s favourite children’s book, there is the saying that ‘There is no great beast whose love is not successful.’ Perhaps we have met with our first failure today.” Seignet smiled in amusement; she had heard Madeleine read it many times to the children. Pierre looked at this watch. “I must be getting back to the office. All of this has wasted too much time.”
The des Cieux got into their car and took Seignet to the bus stop, where she could return to her home in the University district. They went on to the office; Yveline let Pierre out and went on. Madeleine was already there. Pierre walked in to find Madeleine, Claudia and Carol Yedd, and the receptionist playing Mille Bornes. Pierre had some specially stamped copies of the game as giveaways for some of his clients (especially in Uranus,) and one of these was kept in the office. Carol knew how to play it blind, and now with sight she had more fun with it.
“Should we stop, Monsieur des Cieux,” Claudia asked, worried.
“Finish your game,” Pierre said, amused.
“How did the meeting conclude, Papa?” Madeleine asked.
“Splendidly, ma plus chérie,” he replied smiling. Madeleine smiled back and resumed the game.