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French Port

French Port

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French Port

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Lançado em:
Jul 1, 2011


French Port is dying. Modern medicine has doubled its population. The island's farmers have harvested its trees to bring more land under cultivation. The sun dries out the top soil and the wind takes it out to sea. The island's disaster is not only ecological. French Port once exported modest quantities of timber and some potatoes. Now it must import fertilizers, which it can't afford, just to produce enough food. French Port is going broke. Few people can afford a ticket off the island and most don't want to go anyway. French Port is home.

Edward Warren is a retired, disenchanted, and once removed native son who comes to the island looking for something meaningful to fill an empty life. On property once belonging to his grandmother he discovers an artesian pool capable of solving many of the island's problems and of making Warren as rich and as important as an island resident can be. Soon he meets an alluring, lonely woman with an ugly past who permits him to board platonically in her home. The American could for once feel socially productive and, for once, he might achieve personal happiness.

But, as a newly acquired, cynical friend points out, "people will fight over a turd.” They will certainly fight over the water Warren has discovered and owns but, surprising, Warren increasingly finds himself enjoying their conflict.

French Port cautions that all associations of people are charged with suppressed hatreds and that nothing triggers violence like an outsider with a little power who means well.
Lançado em:
Jul 1, 2011

Sobre o autor

Charles Baldwin was born in the southeast but transplanted to Akron, Ohio before he was old enough to remember a southern heritage. He has never felt at home anywhere. On his family’s visits to what they referred to as “down home” Baldwin saw tractors rusting in the fields and broken back barns on the verge of collapse. And he heard about constant unemployment . Baldwin worked for thirty years as a wastewater treatment operator and supervisor in Akron, Ohio, learning the deficiencies and whims of local government and discovering many of the consequences of ecological mismanagement. He saw the downward spiral of a great industrial city into one of the most prolific centers of illegal methamphetamine production in America. Baldwin is connected to the world by his wife of thirty-five years, four children, and two grandchildren. He is politically active to the extent that he votes, donates to liberal causes, and worries frequently about what sort of world we and our descendants will live in after the "last best hope of earth" achieves bankruptcy. Baldwin’s stories flow and are funny. But his characters frequently hurt one another and the more enlightened seem aware that something terrible is coming, that ultimately any civilization’s relationship with nature simply cannot be sustained. The reader isn't taxed by Baldwin’s detailed descriptions, which lend credence to the setting and invite the reader into the story. Baldwin's favorite authors are O. Henry, Barbara Tuchman, William Shirer, and Raymond Chandler. His favorite comment about writing is from Thorne Smith who considered himself a realist because his characters wander into the reader's awareness, make inadequate plans in order to achieve goals which frequently are contrary to their own genuine interests, fail, give up, and wander away. The reader is left with a comfortingly genuine sense of human inadequacy.

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French Port - Charles Baldwin


© 2011 Charles Baldwin. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

First published by AuthorHouse 06/18/2011

ISBN: 978-1-4567-2468-9 (e)

ISBN: 978-1-4567-2469-6 (dj)

ISBN: 978-1-4567-2470-2 (sc)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2011900275

Printed in the United States of America

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.








In August of 1573, the crew of a Portuguese caravel exploring the South Atlantic discovered a tall, partially overgrown, apparently uninhabited island roughly twenty by thirty miles in size. The captain ordered a circuit to find ingress, but a sleepy lookout failed to notice the narrow beach at the island’s southeastern tip. The Portuguese skipper accurately drew the island’s strawberry shape on his charts but overestimated its size by more than 100 percent. He drew cliff birds, a strong stream tumbling down the island’s eastern face, and a forest of scraggly conifers. He named the place Ilha Fazenda, Cloth Isle, because the island’s yellow sides, long sculpted by the wind and water, resembled draped fabric that seemed to flutter as one departed.

In the winter of 1600, the caravel broke up against Brest. Two adolescent beach scavengers extracted its watertight chest from the sand and traded the charts inside to a French merchant for three drawings of a lovely young woman in immodest poses. The excited merchant attempted to present the charts to the king through a jealous prefect, then through a dim cardinal, and finally through a procrastinating general who, unfortunately, fell to his death from a windowsill during a brandy chugging contest before delivery could be achieved. The general’s replacement wouldn’t deign to speak to someone in trade. Disgusted, the merchant disposed of the charts cheaply to a local collector, an English wine merchant’s son who resided in France to be near the vineyards and away from the demands of his young wife.

In his study in the evenings, the Englishman dreamily fingered the contours of the distant world. He touched the Portuguese captain’s drawing of the stubby island. In a tavern, he found a bleary scholar who translated Ilha Fazenda as Island of Merchandise.

Merchandise? asked the confused Englishman.

No … no…, hyperbolized the thirsty scholar. Enterprise. Not merchandise.

Island of Enterprise. Enterprise? wondered the Englishman. Timber, a cataract for a mill, and wildlife for food. Had the Portuguese or the French built a great manufacturing concern in the South Atlantic by the capture of which the Englishman might make for himself a tremendous fortune?

The Englishman hired a carrack and crew and circled the island in January of 1603. He discovered the little beach that the Portuguese had overlooked. The absence of a pier surprised him, as did the absence of a road up the limestone cliffs which rose beyond. He went ashore with five well-armed horsemen. The men climbed the cliffs and entered the dense forest of short, slender evergreens which covered the southern island, constantly fearing ambush by French musketeers or Portuguese pikemen. Though relieved to enter the open land north of the forest, the Englishman found only a muddy-bottomed, exhausted stream rather than a driving river. Further north, he found only stunted brown grasses, which the horsemen tried unsuccessfully to prevent their animals from eating. Consequently, one horse died of colic on the return journey.

The Englishman recognized that wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, and rice wouldn’t produce well enough in such mediocre soil to feed lumberjacks and that tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane wouldn’t germinate at all. Having achieved the sort of glorious failure which his countrymen relish, the Englishman went home to die young, his life’s work behind him. Thirty years later, childless and on his deathbed, he asked his second wife to bring him his charts. He touched each tenderly. He thought of the birds hovering beautifully in the updrafts among the folds of his island’s stone facets. He asked for ink. He blotted out Ilha Fazenda and, after some merry speculation, wrote French Port. Slyly, he handed back the pages and never touched them again.

In 1750, Jeremiah Hall, a shipping clerk and unrepentant homosexual, duped an anguished; equally homosexual nobleman into granting funds for a mission to bring Christ to French Port’s unbaptized. Hall had intended to abscond to America and to live in Appalachian obscurely with his longtime lover, a retired sergeant of marines but unfortunately, the nobleman insisted on providing Hall transport to the location of his new parish. Their ship’s captain caught on to Hall and his boyfriend’s profane love and perfunctorily deposited both onto French Port’s beach, along with lecterns, vestments, assorted songbooks, sacred texts, ten casks of water, two bottles of whiskey, and twenty thirty-pound bags of potatoes. Watching the vessel depart, Hall’s lover asked, Now what?

They gained nothing by remaining on the beach. Over the course of several days, they carried all the food and drink to the top of the cliffs. After several more days, they had carried all through the thickening woods to the expanse of open land. The sergeant discovered the sparkling stream which traversed the island. Hall sectioned some of the potatoes around their eyes and planted each piece. The potatoes grew—and even flourished.

Five years later, a second ship anchored off the little beach and a landing party ascended, prepared to inflict vengeance if the locals had eaten the missionaries. They found Hall and his companion living comfortably in a cabin of tree trunks felled with a large crucifix, the arms of which they had sharpened against stones. They had secured the cottage timbers with strips of bark and filled the drafty spaces between with wood chips and mud. And they had taught themselves more than fifty ways to prepare potatoes, including fermentation. The lovers stared at the unreal visitors, happy of new faces. But it dawned to Hall that some of these arrivals didn’t intend to leave and that they would consider his love for his retired sergeant obscene. Worse, the man who’d shared his bed each night while French Port’s seasons broke against their little cabin now avoided his eyes and talked hunting with the other marines. Hall departed alone on the ship, expecting no farewell and receiving none. No further record of him exists.

Colonists arrived, cut roads, built a small pier, and exported modest quantities of lumber and potatoes. Many of the lumberjacks and their families stayed only long enough to avoid bailiffs, but a few fell in love with the island’s open quiet. Many never expected to own land, poor land, but nevertheless theirs. Near the stream, the new arrivals built a few houses, a school, a hospital, and a church. In two generations seventy people considered themselves natives of French Port.

In 1851, Parliament, adhering to the illogic of empire, ordered the establishment of a grand Government House on French Port that would require the Crown’s defense while contributing nothing to the Crown’s well-being. Planners found plenty of limestone on the southeastern tip of the island. Over the course of the next eleven years, a troop of British military engineers and an army of imported, mostly brown-skinned laborers erected a four-story building measuring 165 feet per side and 75 feet high. The building contained one hundred windows, each almost large enough for an upright man to leap through either to his death or, if from the lower floors, to a pretty nasty bruising. The architect ordered the masons to only rough cut the island’s limestone, so as to give the building’s exterior an apparent softness. The carpenters worked a strawberry blonde local wood called rimu that the designer found so beautiful he would not darken it, even in the somber setting of the Queen’s bench. A broad stone staircase immediately inside the eleven-foot-high main doors rose three stories, while a narrow stair at the back of the building descended to six basement cells, always available to drunks and more serious offenders against the queen’s peace. A cathedral window of variously shaped leaded panes soared above the main entrance from the second floor to the fourth.

A family named Stevenson emigrated from England to help construct the building—and stayed to avoid inherited debt. Unfortunately, previous settlers had claimed the best lands on French Port, so the Stevensons had to crowd up against a rugged northern coast several hundred feet above the raging sea, where for three generations they subsisted in a cold, stone, mansard sod-roofed cottage and failed to grow grapes for wine. A piercing, biting, inexhaustible stream of dank, salty air off the ocean finally drove them to America to sweep the gold-paved streets for minimum wage.

On a brilliant September spring morning in the year 2002, Edward Warren climbed onto French Port’s two-hundred-foot-long spongy pier for the first time. Rotting seaweed entwined among the pier’s pylons released hydrogen sulfide. On the beach at the base of the pier, a free-standing aluminum tollbooth tipped ten degrees into the sand. A handwritten sign directed foreigners to present their passports to the absent official who promised to return eventually. Warren set his suitcase on end, sat on it, and eased his bad back against the warm aluminum.

The sailor who’d piloted the boat that had brought Warren ashore began handing cardboard boxes up to two stevedores, who silently lugged each about a hundred yards up the beach to an empty, weathered pallet. A large black dog, tethered to a slender palm tree beside the pallet, stared at Warren. Beyond, someone had quarried a great open space out of the earth. A narrow, compacted dirt road ascended the far face of the great open area.

In an hour, a uniformed policeman touched Warren’s arm to wake him.

How far to town? Warren asked.

The policeman wrote in Warren’s passport. Twelve miles. Straight up the road. He only slightly broadened his Rs.


The other smiled.

Don’t suppose you could give me a ride?

The policeman smiled again and indicated a single-speed bicycle leaned against the kiosk. Warren took back his passport and lifted his suitcase. The black dog surged to his feet and growled at Warren as he crabbed through the ring of palm trees and lugged his bag across the open ground.

Warren stopped to catch his breath at the top of the compacted road. He noticed that no poles for either telephones or power lined the roadside. No breeze moved. After an hour, he approached a low farmhouse with an oxidized iron roof and peeling rubberized, pseudo-brick exterior. From the broad porch, an old black woman in a bright blue flowered dress gazed through slit eyes clouded with cataracts. A fly lifted from one side of her face and settled onto the other.

Warren hesitated. Ma’am? he called.

She’s dead, said a small voice. A slender boy of no more than eleven sat on the low steps up to the porch with such stillness that Warren hadn’t noticed him. You got any money? the boy asked.

Some. Why?

The boy brushed away a fly and blinked his large eyes. His skin was mahogany red, except for his caramel palms and callused foot bottoms. Warren advanced to where the small woman sat. She smelled of released bowels and bladder.

Her withered right arm lay between her legs. The flimsy bright blue dress smelled of decades of preservation in a cedar chest. Her bare knees had separated. Her head lolled backward to her right and her face had shrunken inward because she had no teeth. A small Bible had tumbled open upside down between her feet, many aged fliers and clippings protruding. She wore a clean, silver wedding band on her left ring finger and a tarnished man’s ring on her thumb.

The boy said, I’m going to need help burying her.

I’m sorry, Warren said.

Bad back?

Where are your parents?

No parents. You want me to carry your bag?

No, Warren said, embarrassed by the fact that he did indeed want the boy to carry his bag. Thank you, no, he said. I’ll manage.

But you’re going to town, the boy argued.

Yes. I have business there.

I’m going to town to get help burying her. If I cry, they’ll probably bury her for me.

Do you have a car? Or a wagon maybe?

So for ten pounds, the boy said, I’ll carry your bag to town for you.

Ten pounds?

Halfway for seven.

Well, thank you, no. I’ll manage.

Suit yourself, the boy said, rising. He’d had to roll up the pant legs of his coveralls for his feet to protrude. He entered the house and returned carrying a quilt and a sixteen-ounce Coca-Cola bottle full of water, secured with a cork. He covered the old woman, tucking the quilt under the chair’s legs.

So how much farther is it to town? Warren asked.

The barefoot boy strode across the yard and onto the compacted stone road. Warren kept pace for a half hour. He had never imagined so much sunlight. The unmowed spring fields emitted no aroma, the damp grass stalks didn’t rustle against one another, and most of the noisiest insects had yet to hatch. Warren shifted the suitcase from hand to hand and wondered if a mouthful of the boy’s water would make him sick. Half-joking, he called, Is there a discount for dollars?

The boy stopped. He turned, beaming. American?

Sure, Warren puffed.

The boy came back close enough that he didn’t have to raise his voice. He rubbed his chin theatrically. One hundred American dollars, he said.

Five, Warren started to say. What? One hundred? That’s a heck of a lot more than ten pounds.

Verily. But notice how much more exhausted you are now than when we negotiated earlier.

Warren’s right sciatic nerve was threatening to spasm the muscles. But we’re closer to town, Warren said. Much closer.

Are we? We might be closer. Or I may have led you the wrong way.

Warren looked about uncertainly. What the hell are you talking about? There’s only one way. There’s only one road.

The boy stared at Warren and revealed nothing.

Look, you … I’m not giving you one hundred dollars to carry my suitcase to town.

The boy held up the bottle.

Warren sighed. I will give you a dollar for a drink of water.

One hundred dollars, the boy said.

They stared at one another. A moment of truth. The boy smiled and turned on his heel. We’ll negotiate again later, he said.

Warren called, What makes you think I even have a hundred dollars?

"Oh, you wouldn’t have come all the way from America without at least a

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