The Prodigal Daughter

The Prodigal Daughter

by Nick Lucas

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Preface

This story is set in Reformist Britain, a devilish fantasy world I created for TOTV in what I think of as The Reformist Saga, a mammoth work I began in 2012 and which is still unfolding on our favourite site as I write. However, this story is rather different from its parent work, which included a lot of political content to fully explain the development of a veiling culture starting from the social background we suffer in today. I have always written fiction, and the Reformist world is something I have been developing for a long time in different forms, but I started with several less ambitious tales which can be found in The Bazaar. My intention with the saga was to write a proper story, with fully developed characters, which would include all the aspects for which TOTV is known for but also bring something different to the reader. I never really intended it to be quite so long but I find that my stories do rather take over. The saga, in its entirety, would be a 300 page novel, although it would never work as such in its current form.

However, this story is quite separate. There are one or two characters from the saga mentioned in passing and it will certainly help if you have read what has so far appeared on the site, but it is possible to read The Prodigal Daughter without having done so, and this story is hardly political at all. I always intended to write some more stories around the same premise, because as other authors have found, having a world to create within is a much easier challenge, but I was inspired this time by sadness and a sense of loss. During the publication of the first section of the saga (there are four, with different names, but I think of the whole as my saga) I received a complimentary email from a young lady called Dee, who has also written for this site. We became what you might call pen pals if you are as old as me, although obviously we were exchanging emails. Daily emails, long and detailed telling each other all about our real lives, and Dee became my sounding board and proof reader as the rest of the saga took shape and indeed started to morph into a proper novel, which I am still busy writing.

Unfortunately, just before Christmas, Dee was involved in a major car accident. We resumed our correspondence when she left hospital, and I thought she was getting better, but just a few weeks ago she passed away as a result of the head injuries she had suffered. It is funny how a long distance relationship can be both captivating and all-consuming. I felt the loss deeply and unable to grieve in person, descended into a deep depression for several weeks. Then, several days ago, I awoke with the starting point of The Prodigal Daughter in my head, sent to me in a dream, and writing it…in a huge outpouring of creativity…became my tribute to Dee. She is not in here, although a character is named after her (as one is in a later part of the saga), but she remains my inspiration and my harshest critic. If I ever finish the novel, it will be dedicated to her. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this and will join me in praying for Dee. In God’s love, of course.

Nick Lucas, June 2014

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, 20 years after the start of the Modern Renaissance

“She was travelling alone?” Mrs Blackstone asked, a frown creasing her forehead as she spoke. Major Philips nodded, still just a little bit unsure of the etiquette, but the woman had her guardian with her, so he tried to relax as best he could, looking across the room, at the man who ought to be in charge. Duncan Neville closed his eyes, deep in thought, letting the silence hang heavily in the air. “So she must be brought here…as soon as possible…Cathcart can deal with her.”

“Obviously, that would be my preference.” Neville sighed, noticing the officer’s discomfort and smiling at him, amused by the speed of change. He was a little older that Philips, he guessed, and he clearly remembered speaking to all sorts of females without embarrassment, before the start of the modern renaissance. In practice, he was not breaking any laws. His mother-in-law was in the privacy of his home, under his protection, and Philips hardly represented any danger, or risk to her reputation, but the poor man still looked uncomfortable. “Once we have informed the Foreign Office and have their permission to proceed…considering the circumstances of her homecoming I think we should be sensitive to the implications.”

“She was stolen from us…there are no implications…sir.” Mrs Blackstone started to snap, but managed to mind her manners, in front of the officer. Neville took a deep breath, frustrated more than irritated, but he was legally entitled to indulge his property as he pleased, in the privacy of his own home. No doubt Philips was surprised, considering his position, but there was still no harm done. His mother-in-law looked the part enveloped in dark blue satin, the folds of the gown concealing her figure and her head covered by a house bonnet, and the major had interrupted their evening by the fire, post dinner. However, he would have to do something about her, because he had confided in her. He needed to tie up all the loose ends.

“Oh, I think you can let me worry about that, Madame.” Neville replied, looking straight at her and raising his eyebrows in an attempt to subtly remind her of her place. “Sorry Major, Mrs Blackstone is distressed…this awful business has been a terrible strain on my whole family, for too many years. Miss Cathcart, perhaps I could ask you to do the…necessary…so that Major Philips and I can talk in peace?”

“Of course, sir,” Miss Cathcart stepped forwards, offering her employer a small obeisance. “Open Ma’am, please.”

“Our systems will have already informed the relevant authorities automatically, Mr Mayor.” Philips pointed out, trying not to watch as the guardian pushed a muzzle into Mrs Blackstone’s mouth, but noticing that the lady was less than pleased to accept her enforced silence. She did not open her mouth as wide as she should have, or move her head to make things easier, and the guardian struggled to position it, all fingers and thumbs. Nerves he guessed, in the presence of a stranger, or understandable fury that her charge had let her emotions get the better of her. He thanked his lucky stars that his own dear wife would never ever do such a thing and that she would not tolerate it from their daughters.

“Some details will not be on our systems, Major.” Neville suggested, staring grimly at Sheila Blackstone as Miss Cathcart finally used her alun key to tighten the muzzle. He did indulge the old dragon, of course. She was loyal to him, indebted to him, but he could not allow her to show him up, regardless of the circumstances. Not anymore. His name was about to be in the public eye more than ever before and he had to be whiter than white. “She is overexcited Miss Cathcart, you have my permission to rectify things later.”

“Of course sir…hands please.” Miss Cathcart nodded, preparing to put the mittens back on Mrs Blackstone. She grinned as the woman obeyed, enjoying the look on her face. It was high time the master let her discipline Mrs Blackstone. She most certainly did not need telling twice. Paddling her would be a pleasure. Mrs Blackstone needed to learn some respect.

“I shall need you to exercise some…discretion…Major.” Neville continued, ignoring what was happening across the room, but inwardly sharing his guardian’s opinions. He had been too lenient with Sheila Blackstone and he really did not intend to let her influence his daughter anyway, when he finally got her home. He decided to give Miss Cathcart fresh instructions later, to treat his dear mother-in-law exactly as she treated his beloved wife. It would solve all his problems. “Our deep sadness was never publicised, as it were…my father-in-law was dealt with tactfully at the time…to spare us any more pain…and I would like to deal with this in a similar fashion…the child was given a new name by her adopted parents, I believe?”

“She was travelling under a passport issued to Miss Hermione Reynolds, Mr Mayor.”

“Quite ghastly, but at least it does sound quite English…I shall suggest to the Foreign Office that she comes here as my cousin…a distant cousin…I can then adopt her to give her the Neville name.” Duncan Neville decided, almost thinking out loud, as he really did not have to explain himself to Major Philips. He was the Mayor of Kent, technically an elected position, but practically in the Prime Minister’s gift since the introduction of family voting and that gave him some considerable power. He had no real doubt that the Foreign Office would support him, since his father-in-law kidnapped his baby daughter. It was quite ironic that all of his efforts to regain custody of the child via the Canadian courts had failed but she had ended up falling into his hands thanks to an engine malfunction on her transatlantic flight, or so the records would say. God’s work, he thought, smiling to himself, as he showed the Major out, because as soon as Hermione landed at Heathrow her passport lit up all the alerts because she remained a ward of court, and her ‘parents’ would find the British legal system just as unforgiving as he had found theirs.

It was late. He treated himself to a nightcap and went upstairs. His wife was waiting for him in bed, entombed in her sleeping gown as always, unaware of his good news. Not that she would see it that way of course. She had allowed her father to steal his first-born daughter before Neville himself even got to hold her. But he walked past his own bedroom door and looked in on his mother-in-law and Miss Cathcart, to make sure the guardian had got the message. He need not have worried; Sheila Blackstone was kneeling on an armchair, precariously balanced, naked apart from her mittens and muzzle. Miss Cathcart heard him open the door and curtseyed, the paddle held in her right hand, and he bowed back, indicating that she should continue. He stood and watched twenty strokes. Sheila slipped from her position twice and, as was her usual habit, Miss Cathcart added ten more strokes for each lapse. He had watched the guardian punish his wife many times and it always aroused him. He hurried to his room before lost the urge, intending to celebrate. He had been hiding his true colours for too long in his shame, the disappearance of his first-born always a shadow on his shoulder, but all of a sudden he felt free. It was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders, and he attacked his wife’s sleeping gown with feverish desire.

HM Customs Secure Facility, Hounslow (near Heathrow) the next morning

Hermione had no clean clothes. Nor proper washing facilities, but she was a practical girl and she made the best of things. She had slept in what looked more like an interview room with an added cot bed, a bowl, a jug of water and a bucket, so she used the bowl for a wash, and the bucket for her other needs. Having no towel, she let herself dry off naturally, before putting her school uniform back on, properly, because for some reason she wanted to look smart for her gaolers. Not that she was in gaol, exactly of course. Her interrogation the night before seemed to centre around some problem with her passport, and although she was very scared she was sure it was just a mistake. Sister Marie-Claire would sort things out, as soon as she could get hold of someone at the Canadian embassy. It was just bad luck that the aeroplane had to land in London, of all places, but landing in the evening made it all worse. She had spent several hours telling them her name really was Hermione Reynolds, she really did live with her parents in Winnipeg Manitoba and she really was on a school choir trip to Rome. Frowning as she tied her tie, determined to look the best she could for the idiots, she hoped the embassy could get everything straightened out quickly. She would happily get back on the stupid plane without so much as a shower and forget she ever landed on British soil.

“Good morning Miss Reynolds.” Hermione whirled around, having not heard the door unlock or open, at the sound of a slightly muffled female voice. Everyone knew about the British being Christian fanatics. She had even studied it in her modern history class at St. Mary’s Academy so she ought to have expected any woman she met to be veiled and possibly gagged, but as she had not seen anyone but male customs officers the night before it still took her by surprise. “My name is Cathcart, Dee Cathcart, although you should address me as Miss Cathcart, or simply as Miss, if you have my permission to speak, which incidentally you do not, at this particular moment in time. Please be aware that I am your guardian and it is my responsibility to discipline you, should the need arise, which it will, I am sure.”

Hermione did not speak, although it had nothing to do with being told not to. She just stood there, staring at the mysterious figure dressed from head to foot in a grey gown and heavy matching cloak, with only a pair of sparking brown eyes visible over her mantle. Hermione did not really take in what she said, but then she instinctively back away. Someone else had entered the room behind Miss Cathcart, carrying what looked like a trunk, a large, almost square suitcase. Not her luggage, Hermione registered, for some reason thinking of clean underwear. Miss Cathcart waited for the officers to finish and leave, before turning her grey veiled face back to her latest charge.

“Good girl, Miss Reynolds…although I shall call you Hermione, or sometimes Miss Hermione in public. One must sometimes give the illusion that I serve you, for the sake of propriety at the very least, but be very clear Hermione, I do not serve you and will never do as you say. I serve your father and take my instructions from him on how you are to be kept…”

“My father does not even know where I am…” Hermione insisted, abruptly finding her tongue, but Miss Cathcart did not let her finish her sentence. It was the reaction she had been waiting for, even expecting and hoping for, and she had moved close enough to act decisively. She had never trained a genuine convert before. She had encouraged a couple of rather reluctant maidens to take a more committed attitude towards earning God’s love, but they were already under some sort of control from their dear mother and needed only a professional’s attention to thrive. Obviously, after twenty years of Reformist rule, genuine converts were few and far between, but Dee Cathcart had studied under the legendary Miss Daphne Scott at Crowthorne Guardian College and after settling her charges the night before she had revised the subject from her old textbooks, reminding herself of the need to assert her authority. She slapped the child around the face, as hard as she could, safe in the knowledge that her gloves would prevent any lasting damage. Before Hermione could recover, she used her left hand to force her head down and deftly removed the slap syringe from her cloak pocked, aiming at an expanse of bare thigh between the girl’s ridiculous kilt and white knee socks. The drug was remarkably quick to take effect, as promised by the doctor, a ruse which would make the initial transformation quite simple. By the time the girl regained consciousness she would no longer be Hermione Reynolds; she would be Hermione Neville, the adopted daughter of Duncan Neville, Mayor of Kent.

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, the afternoon of the same day

Rosemarie Neville struggled to concentrate. She had no idea of the time but her prayers had certainly lasted much longer than usual, hours longer, and every bone in her body was crying out for mercy. Not that mercy was a quality Miss Cathcart was known for, so by a sheer effort of will Rosemarie held herself still, on her knees, sweltering and suffering beneath a blanket thrown over her to completely cut her off from distractions. She was wearing a heavy velvet matins gown as befitted the wife of the mayor, as well as her house bonnet, thick mittens, muzzle and mantle. Her diaper was still clean, but would not be for much longer. That proved that she had been left for hours, but she did not let herself think about that or the paddling she would surely receive if she let herself and her guardian down, forcing herself to learn her prayers.

Beside her, although neither of them knew it, Sheila Blackstone was in agony. She seldom spent much time on her knees, but she had evidently displeased her son-in-law more than she had imagined, since her punishment looked set to continue. She was surprised, and disappointed, of course. She had earned her privileges, helping the Mayor with his career, always on his side even against her own husband and daughter. She accepted that she might have been too outspoken in front of the poor major but the news about her granddaughter had excited her, and it ought to have excited Duncan too. It was a blemish, an embarrassment any ambitious family in Reformist Britain could ill afford, even if they had both worked hard to explain the disappearance of her husband, Adam Blackstone, and her first-born granddaughter. It was easier to explain the baby. They told everyone the child was still born, an explanation that earned them some sympathy and stopped too many awkward questions. It also gave them an excuse to keep Rosemarie close to home. She was not charged with any offence by the authorities, because her father made a full confession, but they all knew that was a lie. Rosemarie had not wanted a daughter because she knew that Duncan intended to bring up his family in God’s love. She had married him because her father believed that he was not a religious man, and that his only child would be cherished and comfortable. He needed to get her married to avoid national service, and the young civil servant had ingratiated himself into the family, aided and abetted by Sheila herself. His change in character was no particular surprise to her, but he was well thought of at the town hall and a good match for Rosemarie. Sheila despised her husband’s refusal to engage with the new ways and was always scheming to improve their position in society. Piety was necessary if one wanted the good things in life.

However, late in her daughter’s pregnancy she discovered that her husband was plotting against Duncan and her. She had to make a choice. The husband she had come to hate or the son-in-law who was capable of going somewhere, of doing something meaningful and keeping her safe. It was not difficult, looked at in those terms, but it did put her in Duncan Neville’s hands. In Reformist Britain, a female belonged to her husband, father, eldest son or son-in-law, in that order, although the legal status was actually responsibility. Her husband was in prison, having confessed to his crime to avoid a public trial, an arrangement agreed upon to keep Rosemarie free. In turn, Sheila’s marriage was annulled and she became the responsibility of her eldest surviving male relative, Duncan Neville. He clearly owed her. If she had not revealed her husband’s plans, Neville would have lost his wife and his child, although unfortunately the police did not react in time to save the child now called Hermione. Neville and Sheila’s daughter had never named her and her adopted name seemed to have stuck somehow. Neville was grateful, but he was also hurt and angry. His latent Reformist tendencies seemed to come to the fore in his rage and Sheila had worked hard to retain his trust and protect herself from his revenge. Rosemarie was not so fortunate, but that was her choice. Sheila assumed she had learned her lesson since, but she never got much choice to talk to her.

Sheila Blackstone shut her eyes as her blanket was removed, partly to shield herself from the sudden light and partly in joy at her salvation, hoping for a chance to stand and stretch and then maybe rest in a comfortable chair. She was too old for the life of a dutiful Daughter of Eve, almost sixty five. But as Miss Cathcart had said, she had responded to the paddle like a maiden, and it had been a chastening experience. She needed to make amends with Duncan, as soon as possible. She did not want to live the virtuous life of a Reformist widow anymore. Eventually she opened her eyes and dared to look up, even though she had not been told to move. She was not surprised to find her daughter kneeling next to her, or Miss Cathcart standing in front of her, but her eyes rested on the shapeless form hidden beneath yards of red velvet. It had to be Hermione. The guardian would not bring in anyone else to see them on their knees. She returned her gaze to the floor, unwilling to risk upsetting the guardian, if she still had instructions to keep her mistress under strict discipline.

“Good afternoon ladies, I hope you have enjoyed your prayers. I have brought Miss Hermione Neville to join you…she is still very inexperienced I am afraid, and you two need to set her the best possible example.”

The Canadian Embassy, Belgravia, London, that same evening

“Something must be done.” Hannah Carrington insisted, sitting forward on her chair, her back aching from the demands of her corset, longing to escape upstairs to change. It had already been a long day. Being the dutiful wife of the ambassador, she was required to socialise, and in London that demanded a lot of her. They had only been in London for a few weeks, an important promotion for her husband, and she did not know how British women endured their various tortures. She only needed to pay lip service to the laws, doing just enough to not cause offence, and every waking moment was a nightmare.

“On what basis?” Ryan Carrington demanded, not in the mood for his wife’s naive indignation after a difficult afternoon on the telephone to Ottawa. “She was stolen from her father as a baby and the man has been trying to get her back through our courts ever since. For sixteen years. She is a ward of court here and as soon as that plane landed at Heathrow her name lit up their computers…its bad luck, but she is being returned to her parents.”

“She was legally adopted…she has been brought up as a Canadian, for goodness sake.”

“I am not sure you can be illegally adopted if you have been stolen in the first place. It is a mess Hannah, but it is not one of our own making and we are not going to further sour our relations with the British fighting a lost cause.” He sighed, pouring himself a large scotch and collapsing onto the sofa beside her. She was younger than him, a beauty he was proud to have on his arm most of the time, but she was also often outspoken and outrageous. He was beginning to understand that she would not make his new job any easier. She was stubborn, headstrong and opinionated, and her intransigence was sometimes intolerable. He was going to have to be firm with her before he was much older.

“Can’t you speak to this man? Talk some sense into him? I can understand that he misses his daughter, but can you imagine what that poor girl is going through?” Hannah pressed, not willing to take his no for an answer. She really loved Ryan despite the age difference between them, but she sometimes wished he was less straight-laced, rather less content to toe the party line and slowly climb the greasy pole. She was happy to support him, happy to follow him around the world, and she accepted than some ambassadorial assignments would be less pleasant than others, but she needed him to do the right thing.

“Funnily enough, I have already requested a meeting…Kent isn’t far, I could do it in half a day there and back…but he is under no obligation, Hannah. Our courts thwarted him for sixteen years; he does not owe us a damned thing.”

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, the same evening

“She is so very pretty, Papa.” Grace Neville said, reaching out to touch her new sister’s face. Hermione tried not to flinch, well aware of what Miss Cathcart expected of her. Grace was ten, still a child, and spent her days with her governess, not yet mature enough to pass into the hands of the family guardian. God would decide when she was mature. Her first menstruation would be His sign that she should start earning His love. In the meantime, she was the baby of the family, her two brothers away at boarding school, and the apple of her father’s eye. She was so pure and innocent, as a little girl should be. She longed to become a maiden and make her father even more proud of her. Little Grace had not even blinked when she was told that her father was adopting a distant cousin, and that they would be sisters. If her father was doing it, he was doing it for good reasons, showing a kindness to a relative.

“She is, isn’t she pumpkin…and she is safe with us in God’s love.” Duncan chuckled, holding his angel on his knee but looking at his wife. Rosemarie looked pale. He smiled, watching his daughter’s little fingers exploring Hermione.

“Oh Papa, her mouth is bleeding…her gums?” The little girl exclaimed, showing her father her bloody fingertip.

“She is not used to her muzzle, Miss Grace.” Miss Cathcart explained, stepping forwards to wipe the smear off with a tissue as the child frowned at her father. “She is inexperienced and it chafes if she tries to fight against it…she will learn in God’s love, as will you in time.”

“Oh then you will beat her, Miss Cathcart…she must not resist God’s will, isn’t that right, Papa?” Grace asked, her eyes wide as she contemplated such a dishonour. “I have never dropped my pacifier, not even once, have I Papa?”

“No my sweet, you are just perfect…now kiss everyone goodnight and run along to your governess so that we can have our dinner.” Duncan said, before receiving a hug and a kiss, and watching the child dance around the room to kiss the others. Miss Cathcart opened the door for her, where the governess was waiting and finally they were alone. “Remove Mrs Blackstone’s muzzle please, Cathcart.”

“Of course sir…open please, Mrs Blackstone.” The guardian said and Sheila obeyed, putting her head back to make things easier, sighing and stretching her aching jaw as the device was removed.

“Thank you, sir.”

“You are welcome, Madame…as long as you behave.” Duncan replied, sitting back to enjoy his sherry.

“I must apologise for my behaviour…I was so overjoyed that Hermione was being returned to us…and so eager to see her…I am afraid I forgot myself, sir.”

“Oh I realise how emotional it is for all of us…and I do not blame you, Sheila. I have relied on you, for many things…and I have indulged you, I am afraid…it is as much my fault as yours.”

“I am always glad to be of assistance, sir…I hope you know how much I respect you and support you in all your endeavours for this family.” Sheila said carefully. She knew her place. She had accepted that when the Reformists first came to power and started to change everything and everyone. She had been forty five when Charles Buckingham’s Christian Democratic Party first swept to power, with a fifteen year old daughter, an unhappy marriage and an uncertain future. It did not take much of a brain to work out where things were going and she had adapted to the role of a woman in a Reformist state. She had made herself useful to Duncan and her loyalty had saved his career. His reputation would never have survived a runaway wife and he knew it, but he still held her wellbeing in his hands.

“Of course, and you and my wife have an important role to play helping me with Hermione,” Duncan suggested with a big smile, clearly very pleased with himself. “I think we all know that there has been a cloud hanging over our lives, and that has upon occasions clouded my judgement…but now that cloud has been lifted, Hermione has been returned to us, and I think we should all make something of a fresh start together…I know you agree, Miss Cathcart?”

“Yes Mayor Neville…I hope my suggestions were not unwelcome, sir.” Miss Cathcart curtseyed, showing due deference to her employer.

“Oh not at all…it is your job to care for my family Cathcart and I appreciate your diligence. By the way, Sheila dear…have you thanked Miss Cathcart for reminding you of your position in this household?”

“I have not had an opportunity to do so, sir…but thank you Miss Cathcart…I am indebted to you, as always.” Sheila responded as directed, trying not to choke open the words. She had only been beaten twice in her life. Once shortly after her husband’s crime, when the new guardian Duncan had employed found her disrespectful, before she convinced Duncan that she could and would be of great use to him in his career. And again when she displeased Duncan by forgetting her place in from of Major Philips. It still seemed a harsh reaction to her, as if something had changed within him.

“Still a hint of resentment there I fear, Cathcart?”

“Sir, I am…” Sheila began, but he held up his hand and she stopped herself saying any more.

“She is very headstrong sir…I am afraid your reliance on her in the past has allowed Mrs Blackstone to get into some bad habits of late.” Cathcart suggested, smiling sweetly at Sheila, talking as the governess might talk about Grace.

“Something you can rectify given the time, Miss Cathcart?”

“She is a little old, but I think the paddle taught her a meaningful lesson, sir.”

“Do you agree, Sheila?”

“I wish only to please you and earn God’s love, sir.” Sheila said, because it was the only thing she could say.

“A better answer…and I am going to leave you in the safe hands of your guardian…I wish Rosemarie to assume the position of lady of this house…her rightful position…Miss Cathcart, please?”

“Open,” Cathcart commanded, with a noticeable lack of respect, but Sheila had no choice. Her muzzle was duly replaced and then the guardian turned to Rosemarie, to remove hers.

“Thank you, Miss Cathcart,” Rosemarie murmured, looking serene in his pale pink gown, her mittened hands held together in her lap.

“Our daughter is returned to us, Mrs Neville.”

“So I see, sir.”

“She needs a mother…I expect you to set her a good example.”

“I am her mother sir, I shall do my best to help her in any way I can.” Rosemarie said and her husband laughed, his snort of derision full of the frustrations of sixteen wasted years. He had everything he wanted, including revenge.

“I kept you out of prison, or rather out of a convent for the rest of your life. I saved your reputation and your family name. I have honoured my vows and now you will honour yours. I am the Mayor now and my ‘sickly’ wife is proving to be socially limiting…I need you by my side. Hermione will take your place…she needs time to learn and adjust to her new life, and you will behave for her sake. Do I make myself clear, Rosemarie?” It was a threat, of course. Rosemarie took a deep breath, realising that he intended to keep her daughter, their daughter, under the same strict discipline that she had endured for sixteen years. She could not save her from it, but she could make it worse, if she did not play the dutiful, obedient wife.

“Yes husband, I think it is time to live as a family and to honour you, in God’s love.” She replied, surrendering to him, her heart breaking again, as if she could really hurt anymore. Beside her, Hermione stared wide-eyed at her real family. She had been left in no doubt about the truth of what the monster Cathcart had told her. She had seen the documentation, court papers from Canada, witness statements from her adopted parents and her father, the man who wanted to turn her into some sort of religious freak, like her mother and grandmother.

The Australian Embassy, Kensington, London, the next morning

“Hannah, Ryan is right…you cannot get too involved with these people…it is utterly futile.” Marissa Palmer sighed, stretching over to pour coffee for her friend and fighting the pressure of her corset. The damned things were essential if you wanted to look the part in London fashions, a narrow waist disappearing into voluminous, bell-shaped skirts, but it hurt like hell and every single ambassador’s wife cursed British etiquette. “She is British and she is back home…it’s a shame for her, but our governments both want Britain as a partner, so there is nothing anyone can do.”

“Except follow their sexist customs and pander to them all the time.” Hannah snapped back, still upset by the news of Hermione Reynolds enforced return to her family. “Reformism is a cancer…the British, the Americans…damn it, Marissa it could be Australia next…or Canada.”

“Darling Reformism works…the British economy is the strongest in the world and Shap Nixon is turning the States around as surely as day follows night…but most sensible governments are picking up some of the policies and avoiding the doctrine like the plague. You are new to this game…good grief, when we were in Pakistan I almost adopted a baby…I could have adopted a whole school full…but Chris made me see that we couldn’t help everyone. In fact, most of the time we can’t help anyone. Just do your time here and hope for something better next time.”

“Ryan thinks I am too idealistic.” Hannah pouted, sipping at her coffee, her gown tangled around her. They did not have guardians to help them and the maids were next to useless, but neither of them cared, not in relative privacy.

“Ryan is a diplomat…he does not think, he merely assumes the position, and in your case that position is decided in Ottawa, so there is nothing he could do, even if he wanted to.”

“He could leak it to the press?”

“Oh my God, don’t be so naive. How would Canada look if this got into the press? You let in a stolen child and had it adopted whilst knowing who the father was and that he wanted his daughter back…it would look terrible.”

“But everyone with half a brain knows that this regime is evil…someone has to do something.”

“Since when did that stop the world dealing with anyone? Saddam Hussein was evil, but we all supported him for years against the Iranian’s. Pakistan was supporting the Taliban at the same time we were arming them, and no one did a damned thing about Mugabe, or even Assad, until it was too late. Even Putin, he was a bigger monster than any of them and we did absolutely nothing about him, not even when he blatantly invaded Ukraine. If you have oil, or just loads of money, we will let you do anything as long as you keep buying whatever we want to sell, or supplying whatever we need…it’s not right, it’s not nice but it is diplomacy and that is the business you married into, my love.”

“Look at us, sitting here…in these ridiculous clothes? I mean I know our muzzles are fake, and we could remove our own mittens if we wanted to, when we are out, but we don’t, do we?”

“Hannah, when in Rome…yes this is the most repressive country in the world right now but we are guests…in fact, right now we are beggars…everyone wants British investment so people like us come over here and kiss arse.”

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, the same morning

“See how she kneels, balancing on the arms of the chair, Hermione.” Miss Cathcart told her youngest pupil, who was sitting in an upright chair, her gown arranged neatly around her, watching her grandmother. “She knows what I expect, but she finds it hard at her age. She has not been exercised well enough; she needs to be more supple. Of course, she was never properly trained, as she was already an adult when the modern renaissance began, so her behaviour is often disappointing…but she knows what is required of her here because she watched me discipline your mother often enough. Are you comfortable, Sheila? I do need you to be still.”

“Please Miss Cathcart…” Sheila Blackstone began, intending to beg for forgiveness.

“Silence!” The guardian bellowed the command, and the trembling woman slipped, scraping her right knee on the chair. “I asked you a question…you are unmuzzled but you will not speak other than to respond to me…is that clear, Sheila?”

“Yes Miss Cathcart.”

“You see, Hermione dear, no matter how old you are, you are always a Daughter of Eve. Sheila may not be a maiden like you but she still has to behave. Earning God’s love is the work of a lifetime, and you are both privileged to have someone like me to look after you, to help you make your father proud.” Cathcart continued, smiling at Hermione. “I take no pleasure in punishing either of you, but it is my job to protect you from sin…and there is no greater sin than disobedience. So…I shall ask you again Sheila, are you quite comfortable?”

“Yes Miss Cathcart.” Her voice was quiet, almost resigned to her fate. Miss Cathcart was right, she had watched her daughter being punished many times, and she had done nothing to intervene.

“Good, so now you will count the strokes and thank me for each one.” The guardian said lightly, caressing her naked buttocks with the cold plastic paddle.

“Yes Miss Cathcart.”

“Girls like you two are blessed…hundreds of thousands of women want to earn God’s love…they want to have the chance to dedicate themselves that you take so much for granted…and they expect you to concentrate.” Miss Cathcart said, looking at Hermione until she finished her sentence and swung her arm brutally at Sheila, and the impact of the blow seemed to explode around the room, shortly followed by a howl of agony.

“One…thank you, Miss Cathcart.”

Hermione sobbed silently into her muzzle, watching her grandmother suffer. She could not believe what was happening to her, let alone the things she had learned about her past. She was not who she thought she was. Her mind raced around the details. Her name was Hermione Neville and she was a maiden, a British maiden, subject to the discipline of a monster. It was too much for her to take in, too much to endure. But her grandmother kept on counting and thanking her guardian, setting her the proper example.

The Foreign Office, Whitehall, London, later that afternoon

“Frankly Mr Ambassador, this is a mess.” John Hargreaves sighed, once the two men were alone. “I would rather the girl had stayed where she was, but in the circumstances there is not a lot we can do.”

“Can we not forget about the politics and think of the young lady concerned?” Ryan Carrington suggested, although he felt it was a hopeless request. The British Foreign Secretary raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“She has been returned to her natural parents, after being abducted as a new born baby by her grandfather…I am not sure I see any politics in the situation?”

“Sir, as I understand it she did not even know she was adopted…can you imagine what she is going through?”

“Oh…well there you have the problem, you see…I could put aside our ideological differences, but I am a Christian Reformist and I believe that by being returned to this county…her country…she is being saved in God’s love. By her own parents…be fair Mr Ambassador, the British government have never attempted to repatriate refugees, even those who left this country illegally as far as I can see. My predecessors were rather pragmatic in the early days of the renaissance…and we accepted the decision of your courts in this case, after exhausting the legal process. It is unfortunate…I can understand the child’s distress…but she is a ward of court and her father has every right to claim her.”

“She is still a Canadian citizen…can we see her?” Carrington asked, although he was not sure what good it would do. He just had to go through the motions, for appearances sake.

“I am not sure…for one thing can she be a Canadian citizen when her arrival in your country and subsequent adoption ought to be rendered illegal by her abduction from her natural parents? It is a chicken and egg situation…and secondly Mr Neville may not be disposed to seeing the ambassador of a country that he feels had wronged him over the last sixteen years.” Hargreaves pointed out with a rueful smile. “I also don’t see what possible good it will do…she is back with her family and I do not have the means, let alone the inclination, to change that fact.”

“I am concerned about her welfare.”

“On what grounds? Neville is a respectable man…a county Mayor, for goodness sake. He employs both a governess and a guardian to look after his family. She is maiden from a reasonably wealthy home.”

“She will be distressed…missing her parents…I could reassure her.”

“She may well be missing her adoptive parents, but in the circumstances I am not sure her father will be overly sympathetic Mr Ambassador…I do feel that you are fighting a lost cause here.”

“Mr Hargreaves, you must realise that we find the life of a maiden…unusual…if this was to get out in the public domain, it would be very embarrassing for everyone…”

“Is that a threat, Mr Carrington? Nothing will get out in the press from this end of the problem, and we expect you to do the same. In fact, it was initially a Canadian judge that imposed a press blackout on the case, to spare the child, I believe? I don’t particularly care what you find unusual…this is our country and our laws apply.”

Canadian Embassy, Belgravia, London, later that evening

“I think you have done all that could be expected of you, Mr Carrington…this is not a situation that any amount of diplomacy is likely to solve.” Ben Cartwright said, accepting a refill of red wine. It was a private dinner, with the ambassador and his wife and the leader of the official opposition party in Great Britain, the Social Democrats, and his wife. The two men had met several times before, Hannah had been told, and Ryan considered Cartwright a contact worth buttering up.

“I am afraid I think it is a disgrace.” Hannah Carrington responded, downing her own glass and holding it out for more. Mrs Cartwright sat quietly, sipping water. “Ryan has tried, of course…but no one cares about this poor girl…no one seems to be thinking of her.”

“But it is a difficult one, Mrs Carrington…the girl was abducted, even if it was by her grandfather. I think you must have some sympathy with her birth parents.” Ben Cartwright suggested with a smile. “I can only assume that your indignation is more likely to be based on your disagreement with the goals of our glorious modern renaissance?”

“As do you, Mr Cartwright…as you lead the opposition?” Hannah retorted, ignoring a look of disapproval from her husband but warming to the politician, which was something of a surprise.

“Oh I am opposed to a great many things…and please call me Ben…but it is a mistake to see Reformism as some sort of extreme ideology if I may say so. It is much more than that and that is why it has proved so difficult to oppose.”

“Tell us more…Ben?” Ryan Carrington grinned, once he was sure that his guest was not taking offence. But Hannah was becoming a liability. He loved her, but she did not fit in the world of diplomacy. Not in a place like London, and he had to think of their future.

“Well, for a start, this country needed reform, and the Reformists have delivered on their promises.” Cartwright sat back and looked relaxed, resting his hand on his wife’s arm with obvious affection. “Our health and education services are now first class in every respect, our economy is thriving and unemployment is lower than anywhere else. Crime is almost unheard of, we have eradicated teenage pregnancies, divorce, adultery and countless other modern ills, if you like. Our children watch less television and play fewer games than their foreign peers…by almost any measure, this country is an astounding success.”

“But at the cost of personal freedom, surely?” Hannah insisted, looking to Ryan for support.

“Obviously the British Christian doctrine is often seen as extreme by some people, Ben?” The career diplomat replied for her as he poured more wine.

“Yes it is, quite rightly so, but there are still relatively few people who go to those extremes. It is just Miss Reynolds misfortune that she is the daughter of one of them…but she is still in a minority.” Cartwright explained affably. “Yes there are laws to ensure modesty and common decency and that included the sound of the female voice in public, because the bible says that women should ‘learn’ in silence. Muzzles are a sensible precaution and commonly worn, but there is no law demanding it…in effect, it is just a fashion accessory.”

“No respectable lady would leave the house without one.” Louise Cartwright added quietly, as if she was nervous about getting involved in the conversation, Hannah thought, glancing at her. Both women were wearing ‘fashionable’ evening gowns as the dinner, whilst essentially private, was still business, and there were still proprieties to consider. Hannah was used to what her friend Marissa had alluded to as the ‘when in Rome’ principle. She had to look the part and respect the customs, traditions and laws of her hosts, to avoid giving unnecessary offence.

“Precisely…it is like the Muslim headscarf…relatively few Muslim women wear the full veil if you look at the total world population of Muslims, many more wear the simple headscarf and a fairly large number do not cover their hair at all, but they are still Muslims.” Cartwright carried on, warming to his subject. “But in countries where it is socially unacceptable not to cover your face, people commonly comply in public…it becomes the norm and people think nothing of it. Twenty years ago, when Charles Buckingham won his first election, there were less than 1,000 Reformists…the so-called First Congregation…but they quickly encouraged people to join them, whilst also passing laws which encouraged modesty and decency. Buckingham was very clever…he used the royal family and various celebrities to encourage people, the carrot if you like, whilst tightening the legal boundaries around people…obviously the stick. But they also ran a massive propaganda campaign against the sins of the modern world, making women feel guilty about being indecent or immodest, and making their fathers and husbands want to protect them.”

“So you are saying that women want to wear the muzzle, and cover themselves from head to toe?” Hannah asked, as if she could not believe her ears.

“I think it is a mistake to question the power of faith, Hannah. The Reformists always said that they wanted to rebalance society and return the Christian doctrine to the centre of everyday life…and they have conspicuously and effectively succeeded in all areas. Yes, there was compulsion, but I repeat there is no law that says a woman must be muzzled or indeed veiled when in public…the customs and fashions of this country are almost organic, they have grown out of a small Christian sect that was undoubtedly extreme, but they have been adopted by everyone.”

“You make it sound as if you approve?” Hannah commented, before sipping her wine.

“I have fought the rise of Reformism for all of those twenty years, Hannah…but having said that, it is impossible not to admire some of their achievements…even if you despise their methods.” Cartwright sighed, smiling at his wife. “This country is a better place to live. Economically we have no debt…none…and unemployment is less than half a million, whilst crime has almost disappeared altogether. Every child learns to read and write before they are six and although our examinations are now harder than they were in the nineteen thirties, pass rates are higher than ever before, whilst our universities are the envy of the world once more. The National Health Service is second to none and the state-sponsored care offered to senior citizens is without doubt the finest in the world…it is admirable.”

“But at what cost?” Ryan Carrington asked the obvious question, looking from Cartwright to his wife. Cartwright had to be around sixty but his pretty wife was much younger. She had arrived muzzled and veiled, and accompanied by a guardian who Cartwright had asked to wait outside the dining room, should Louise need her. He had to admit that the British confused him the more he got to know about the country but Mrs Cartwright was an asset to her husband, not a worry.

“Ironically, considering they call themselves Christian Democrats, the biggest cost of Reformism is democracy. Their family voting legislation, whereby the head of the household…father or husband…can cast votes for the entire family. It removed the vote from a significant number of women overnight, because make no mistake about it this country is a man’s world, and ensured that it was almost impossible for any opposition to challenge them via the ballot box.”

“Yes, I can see that democracy is important, but what about women’s rights? That is just as important, surely?” Hannah suggested and Cartwright smiled some more.

“What about them indeed…look, I agree that sexual equality has been knocked out of the ball park here, and that has resulted in a considerable amount of abuse against women by those responsible for them…but that is hardly unusual even in this modern age, is it? And think what has actually improved? No sexual crime…and I do mean none. No prostitution, no adultery, no rape outside of marriage, no exploitation…and a society ruled by admirable Christian values.”

“Ben, forgive me…but you are the leader of the opposition, aren’t you?”

“Yes Mr Ambassador, I am,” Cartwright joined in with their laughter and held up his hands in mock surrender. “I am just as concerned as you about some aspects of our new renaissance society but have you ever considered the fact that the majority of people in this country have accepted Reformist rule simply because they are better off? Happier, wealthier, more secure and living in a better environment? Reformism in its purest form is still practised by a minority. It is no longer just a thousand people of course, it is probably hundreds of thousands, maybe a million or two, but the rest…everyone else does enough to stay on the right side of the law and to give them the life they cherish. My life in opposition is largely a failure because, despite the electoral tricks the Reformists employed, the majority of the people in this country support this facade of a Christian Democracy. I can and have smooth off a few rough edges by challenging new legislation, but I cannot fight against the tide. I cannot resist the will of the majority of the people.”

“What about you, Louise? You are younger than Ben…and you are a woman…do you agree with him?” Hannah turned to Mrs Cartwright, who looked at her husband, as if seeking his permission to speak. He nodded, much to Ryan’s surprise. Hannah did not notice.

“I was ten when Mr Buckingham came to power, Hannah…and my father bought me my first muzzle when I was sixteen because it was part of my school uniform if I wanted to take higher examinations.” Louise replied with a shy smile. “My husband is right, of course. Reformism worked for ordinary people…sorry, I mean works… we were led back to God and He has given as a country to be proud of again.”

“My wife is twenty years younger than me, Hannah…and she was a guardian when we met.” Cartwright explained, taking his wife’s hand.

“A guardian? You mean, you…” Hannah could not find the words to express her surprise.

“I spent twelve years helping young women find God’s love, before Ben asked for my hand…and yes, I taught many girls much like your Miss Reynolds.” Louise admitted without apparent shame. “Obviously it was a time of transition…many parents were adapting to Reformism and trying to gain a social advantage by adopting a Reformist lifestyle.”

“So what will be happening to Hermione now?” Hermione asked.

“Well, that does depend on her father’s instructions to her guardian, and indeed the guardian’s own style, but if the guardian is properly trained she should follow the teachings of Miss Daphne Scott, who wrote the textbook on training converts to find God’s love. Miss Reynolds will be initially overwhelmed, so that she has no chance to resist, and she will be required to live according to the strict demands of our doctrine. Ideally she will have some positive examples around her, but she will be punished if she does not meet the required standards, and she will receive many hours of instruction each day, to help her understand what she is and why she must obey. It will not be an easy time for her, but she will settle. She was born here Hannah and this is her home.”

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, the next morning

“I am afraid this may itch a little.” Miss Cathcart told her charge as she shaved the child’s love triangle. Hermione whimpered a little but made no other sound, even though her muzzle had been removed once Miss Cathcart had her out of her sleeping gown and her hands and feet secured to the bedposts using plastic restraints. It was her third morning at her father’s house and she had been kept helpless the whole time. “Some fathers have their daughters circumcised…by a doctor, of course, not like the African heathens do…but I suppose the results are much the same. Mayor Neville has not mentioned it yet, but I will discuss it with him…it is your duty to procreate and it is inappropriate for a Daughter of Eve to derive pleasure from duty. It certainly helps attract a husband, I believe. Did you find your grandmothers punishment last night instructive, Hermione?”

“Yes Miss Cathcart,” Hermione responded, too scared to say anything else. She supposed that watching the beating was instructive. She had learned that begging for mercy was futile. Her grandmother had started begging after the fifth stroke but her count reached fifty before Miss Cathcart decided to stop.

“Obedience is your duty Hermione. To your father and to God, nothing else matters. Your little sister longs to be a maiden and learn alongside you, she knows she is blessed because she has been raised correctly. You do not have that benefit, so we must try and make up for lost time.” The guardian continued, wiping the shaved area with some sort of antiseptic. “You are ultimately a Daughter of Eve; you have a natural propensity for sin which you must learn to resist in God’s love. It is my duty to prepare you for a life of piety and obedience to your God and your future husband…that is what you want, isn’t it Hermione?”

“Yes Miss Cathcart.”

“Good girl, now open.” The instruction was barked at her, abruptly and without any warning, but Hermione obeyed, eager to please. In seconds she felt the soft plastic settled around her teeth, the solid feeding tube at its centre. She felt the tongue depressor solidifying and her jaw locking into place. She would not have to lie any more. Her hands disappeared into her mittens, which the guardian buckled in place. Then the maiden could be dressed. Hermione stood still as Miss Cathcart put her in silk draws and a shift, covering her from her knees to her neck, then the corset was put around her and laced tight, pulling her waist in by two inches according to the guardian, although she was already slim, a figure that would be gradually increased as she got used to the discomfiture. After that was done, she was given a padded jacket, a close fit for a garment designed to stop the corset damaging her gown, and silk stockings and pantalets before the plastic cage to help support her skirts was tied around her narrowed waist. Next came an under gown, made from taffeta, which would help the gown worn over it hold its shape. The hem was weighted, Hermione noticed, so that her ankles would never be seen, and there was a detachable train which would reach the floor, easily removable for cleaning purposes, again to maintain the decency of her appearance. Finally the gown was lowered over her head, a heavy emerald green velvet creation decorated with lace. Her mittens had to be taken off to get her arms through the sleeves of the various garments, but Miss Cathcart never removed both at once, and always put them straight back on, regardless of the inconvenience.

The maiden was ready to earn God’s love.

Sheila Blackstone could not help her granddaughter. Not in any particularly meaningful sense. She was not being allowed to communicate verbally with Hermione, or indeed her own daughter, and there was a limit to the emotion anyone could put into the pitiful looks they shared. Hermione was obviously scared and confused, quite understandably so. Sheila was not really bothered about that, because even if her own situation had remained the same Hermione would have entered her maiden training as a matter of course. But she did want to befriend her. Duncan Neville might have betrayed her, he might have chosen to disregard the service she had given him over the years, but he needed his daughter to behave, and Sheila realised that if she could take a proactive role in that process she could return to what she saw as her rightful place. But she was also scared, of course. She had never suffered under Duncan’s protection before. But she realised that things had changed. There was no longer any blemish against his name. He had always been the innocent party but there had always been a shadow in his records, and he certainly thought it had held him back. He was a skilled administrator, and the Kent mayor-ship was a reasonable position but not a great one. It was too close to London and Meadvale to have any real influence. Now he had his daughter back, he had put his house in conspicuous order, and Sheila knew that she needed to show him that he still needed her, if she wanted to be taken along for the ride.

The Cartwright House, Islington, London, later that day

“Thank you for coming Hannah…Ben and I so enjoyed last night, and I hoped we could be friends.” Louise Cartwright said as she took Hannah’s mittened hand in her own, after her guardian had settled her guest beside her on the sofa and left them alone to chat.

“So do I…but Miss Walker did not remove my mittens…and you are…is this some sort of rule I don’t know about?” Hannah asked, feeling confused and a little nervous. She had never visited anyone in their home before. Ryan had agreed that it might be good for her, to see Louise in her home environment, and he also wanted her to make friends. “I know I could…but I did not think I ought too…I did not want to cause any offence.”

“She would be surprised if you did, I am sure. Removable mittens are not considered the done thing in most circles…many of Ben’s colleagues let their wives wear gloves in public. That would be more appropriate for you, as it is a clear sign that you do not have a guardian…through choice in your case, but it would usually be because you could not afford it.” Hannah smiled, not at all embarrassed by the question. “I am afraid people would assume that you were middle class at best, although your gown is of reasonable quality. If you can bear it, wait until she brings us coffee, she will remove our mittens then.”

“I am in your house…I should do as you do…I must admit that I am interested in how you live.”

“I think we noticed that last night, and that is why I asked Ben if I could invite you here. You have got a terrible impression of our country in your short time here…I would like to help you see the other side of the coin, if I may.” Louise smiled, still holding Hannah’s mittened hands.

“So…your mittens are not removable?” Hannah enquired, having agreed with Louise that she would like to know more. It was a stupid question, of course. She could see the buckles on Louise’s mittens, and without fingers she would never be able to undo them.

“Not by me…Miss Walker puts them on and takes them off for me.”

“Whenever you tell her to?”

“Oh Hannah, of course not,” Louise laughed, genuinely amused by the very suggestion. “Miss Walker reports to Ben, not to me, although I am permitted to ask her, if I have any good reason to do so. Ben has asked her to consider my requests, when it is appropriate to do so, and to use her own judgement as a trained guardian in my best interests.”

“And you don’t mind…they are keeping you prisoner?”

“Hannah dear, I am so blessed…I have a husband who loves me, and Miss Walker is a patient, gentle guardian…but I am still a Daughter of Eve. I need to pray and study the doctrine…and in God’s love, Ben and Miss Walker give me the time and the focus to do that…it is what every girl should dream of…but I still need help and discipline. I was praying before you arrived and I am always mittened and muzzled for that, to help me concentrate. I am also covered, so that all my senses are dulled, so that I can concentrate on God’s love. I do not consider myself a prisoner, I consider myself fortunate to be here.”

“She doesn’t beat you, though…Ben would never allow that, would he?”

“She has done, and Ben would leave the decision to her. We both trust Miss Walker to do the best thing for me. A good guardian has to beat her charges once in a while, to remind them of their place. I was a guardian myself, remember…it is a very different mindset, and I believed that my chances of marriage were over. I had developed an independence of spirit that was wholly inappropriate for a dutiful Reformist wife. Miss Walker has been with me right from the start, and I am very close to her Hannah, and I do not consider myself her prisoner.”

The House of Commons, Westminster, London, the same afternoon

“Not one of my better performances,” Ben Cartwright grimaced, sipping his pint on the terrace. Ryan Carrington grinned as he tried his beer, enjoying the spring sunshine.

“It is such a bear pit…I had seen it on television of course, but the noise is much more intimidating live.”

“Prime Minister’s questions is one of our traditions, so we all put on a bit of an act for the punters.” Cartwright laughed, only half joking of course. His entire opposition was something of a performance. He was allowed to exist purely to provide the illusion of democracy but he was left powerless to achieve anything. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered, but if he was honest the answer was expediency. He had a good life, a comfortable life, and although he took his job seriously he had long ago given up hope. As long as it suited the government to maintain a veneer of democracy he could make a substantial living and enjoy the spoils of his relative success.

“I am glad I came.”

“And you must come up to Lancashire for the bank holiday weekend…let Hannah see something of the real England, and let her experience how the other half lives. My guardian will happily take care of her along with Louise. You cannot have relations with this country in your sort of job until you understand it…so, please…do come.”

“You make it sound so easy.” Ryan sighed, and Cartwright chuckled, slapping him on the shoulder.

“It’s not necessary but it will be fun Ryan, and it might just give you the push you need.”

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, later that evening

“I am pleased with your efforts, Hermione.” Miss Cathcart said gently as she undressed her charge. “I think your grandmother is proving to be an excellent influence on you, although perhaps not for the reasons she would once have imagined. It is no mean feat to avoid punishment in the early stages of your training my dear, which shows that you have remarkable promise. It is often said that a good maiden is bred, not trained, so maybe you are your father’s daughter after all…and your rather unusual upbringing has not damaged you too much…you are a good girl, Hermione.”

Hermione could only nod her thanks. She would do anything to avoid going ‘on the chair’ as Miss Cathcart called it, and her guardian was ruthlessly exploiting that fear. She had spent her whole day covered, listening to her lessons, taking her meals and drinks through her feeding tube until before dinner. Then she had joined her parents for dinner, where she was forced to talk about what she had learned, every movement and word judged by Miss Cathcart, saying the words she had been programmed to say. She felt pathetic, but she had performed for her supper. Her old life, her old persona as Hermione Reynolds, seemed like a distant memory. She endured her toilette and let Miss Cathcart putting her into her body bag, her sleeping gown, almost welcoming the darkness and the peace.

The Canadian Embassy, Belgravia, London, the same evening

“Hannah, we do not have to go…but it is all fairly harmless.” Ryan Carrington suggested, taking off his shirt, rather more tenderly than he had of late.

“So easy for you to say…the saintly Miss Walker will not be looking after you.” Hannah pouted, slipping into bed, still unsure what she wanted to do.

“I think they are nice people.”

“So do I…but it’s just so…oh I don’t know, I can’t even describe it anymore.”

“It is a chance to see the real Britain though, don’t you think? Get out of London, and meet some ordinary people…and if you want to experience the life of a Daughter of Eve, Ben and Louise provide a fairly soft view of things.”

“I still don’t get it…Ben is an opponent of Reform, but Louise is a Reformist wife.”

“He told you…it’s not all bad…and Louise was a Reformist before they married, she is happy as she is.”

“I suppose…and yes, she is happy…she made that quite clear…and I do want to understand…I want to know more.”

“So do I…it is even part of my job…but I can’t get away tomorrow night. I have meetings on Friday, so I will catch the train up on Saturday morning. It’s a long weekend, so we can come back together on Tuesday morning…and you are invited to go up with Louise tomorrow. Ben sent the papers for me to sign…you know you aren’t allowed to travel without them.”

“Oh don’t remind me…that sort of things just makes it worse. I am nervous, Ryan.”

“I don’t think there is any real need to be nervous. You are a Canadian citizen, and an ambassador’s wife…no one is going to turn you into a Daughter of Eve or whatever they call it. I mean, it’s a bit like role play…it might be fun.” He murmured, getting into bed beside her and taking her in his arms.

“So you can order me around?”

“I don’t remember you sticking to the obedience part of your wedding vows, to be honest.”

“Ok…I’ll do it…I’ll be Louise’s twin sister for a few days…but that’s all…sign the damned papers.”

“Good, Ben said Miss Walker and Louise will come here to help you pack…it will be fun, I promise.”

The Canadian Embassy, Belgravia, London, the next morning

“Good morning Mrs Carrington, nice to see you again.” Miss Walker said, holding out her hand for Hannah to shake in the hall of the Ambassador’s flat, on the top floor of the embassy. She was an imposing figure, clothed from head to foot in grey, still wearing her gloves, bonnet and mantle.

“Good morning Miss Walker, it is nice of you to come and help me get ready. Please excuse my robe, Mr Cartwright said that it would be best if you helped me dress.”

“Indeed, Mrs Carrington…it was my suggestion…perhaps you would allow me to settle Mrs Cartwright before we begin…I cannot really leave her in the corridor.” Miss Walker replied, stepping aside to reveal Louise.

“Oh my goodness, Louise…of course, do come in…oh she does not need to curtsey to me, Miss Walker.” Hannah gabbled, as the guardian took Louise by the elbow and the heavily cloaked figure performed an obeisance.

“She most certainly does, Mrs Carrington…perhaps I can use this chair?”

“In the hall? She would be more comfortable in the lounge, surely?”

“She needs an upright chair, and I do not want to disrobe her really. She is ready for our journey.”

“Goodness, her mantle is very thick, Mrs Walker..and it covers her eyes?”

“It is a blinding mantle. She has her headphones on, to keep her calm and I do not intend to disturb her.” Miss Walker said firmly, helping Louise to the chair and fussing over arranging her cloak and gown neatly around her. “I presume our luggage arrived…it was easier to send it via here and I was not sure what I would need, Mrs Carrington?”

“Oh yes, Ryan had it brought up here for safe keeping. There is a lift, so it will be easy to get it down to the car.”

“Quite…now I really must get down to business, Mrs Carrington…so if you could open, please.”

“Excuse me?” Hannah could hardly believe her ears, but Miss Walker was taking something out of her pocket.

“I said open,” Miss Walker repeated herself, just a little more firmly.

“But my muzzle is in…”

“Mrs Carrington, as I understand your husband’s instructions, I am your guardian for the weekend…I am not in the habit of repeating commands, but I shall make an exception just this once. Open, please.”

Hannah did as she was told, a little hesitantly perhaps, and she did not open her mouth wide enough for Miss Walker’s liking at first, but disposable gel muzzles are quite forgiving things, and the guardian got the feeding tube and tongue depressor into the right position before the gel started to react with her saliva, and solidify. For Hannah, it was a chastening experience. She had only been in London for a matter of weeks, and she had only worn her fake muzzle. In effect, that was no more than a mouth guard, which she could easily remove, but she realised that she would remain silent with Miss Walker until the guardian decided otherwise. And it was only the start of her ordeal, of course. Miss Walker was an experienced guardian, and she had read the same textbooks Louise Cartwright had mentioned on the night Hannah first met her. Regardless of a convert’s age, she needed to be overwhelmed and to understand that her guardian was in total control of her. Hannah Carrington struggled at first but any highly qualified guardian, especially a graduate of the famous Crowthorne College, is trained to deal with nerves and a little old-fashioned reluctance.

Less than hour later, Miss Walker guided her two ladies carefully downstairs, holding each one by the arm, as both were hidden beneath blinding mantles. She settled them in the limousine, attaching nutrient-enhanced water to their feeding tubes and changing the lessons playing through the headphones hidden beneath their bonnets. She was not displeased, nothing at all untoward had occurred and the beating she had given Mrs Carrington was merely illustrative; enough to make her understand that her husband expected her to behave. Taking her own seat facing her charges, she settled down to enjoy the journey, happy that her ladies were suitably occupied and still earning God’s love, even in transit. It was a four hour drive to the constituency house in Clitheroe. Miss Walker did not touch the two ladies again until the car pulled up in the drive.

The Cartwright’s Constituency House, Clitheroe, Lancashire, the next morning

“She beat me, Louise…”

“Oh Hannah, you promised to behave…what on earth did you do?” Louise Cartwright sighed, reaching out to take her dear friend’s mittened hands in her own. They were sitting on a sofa, where Miss Walker had put them, after a liquid breakfast in their muzzles. Hannah had not been given a chance to talk to Louise the night before, as they were held up on the motorway and the guardian put them both straight to bed, to recover from their ordeal. For the same reason, she had given them a quiet start to the morning before finally removing their muzzles and leaving them in the drawing room to chat.

“It doesn’t matter what I did…she had no right to beat me.” Hannah insisted, but Louise was less than sympathetic.

“Of course she has…Ryan left you in her care legally. Your transit documentation makes that legally binding and no doubt her instructions were to treat you as she treats me. So, what did you do? I thought it was all taking a long time but I never imagined that you would get yourself into trouble.”

“Well, she had to tell me three times to open my mouth, but she said she forgave that…but I struggled…I mean, she put me in a diaper, Louise…and this corset is cutting me in two…”

“Hannah, you resisted her…and just at the moment when she would have wanted to assert her authority over you, to make sure you settled for the journey…she had to beat you my dear, you left her no choice.” Louise sighed, trying to explain, concerned for Hannah and feeling partly responsible. “I did tell you that the journey would require some kerfuffle.”

“Yes but you didn’t tell me that we would be blinded…or that I would be diapered…”

“I never thought to mention it…I would never talk of such things…and I assumed you would realise…”

“Good grief, that thing hurts…so much…she only hit me six times, but I was in agony.”

“Oh good, it was no more than a warning then…Hannah, you must apologise and promise her that it will not happen again my dear. She is nice…she really is…but she is first and foremost a guardian…she was only doing her duty towards you, as she always does for me.”

“And I slept in a sack…muzzled the whole time…Louise, it was a nightmare.”

“Sweetie, you slept in a sleeping gown, that’s all…safe, warm and protected…honestly this is all just a misunderstanding…I should have explained things better, but what do you usually sleep in?”

“A bed Louise, I sleep in a bed!”

“Golly gosh…not covered?”

“Ladies, I could hear you in the hall…kindly behave with some decorum, please.” Miss Walker said, returning to the room with a tray of tea.

“Oh Miss Walker, we are sorry and Hannah…Mrs Carrington…has something to say to you, don’t you Hannah?” Louise was struggling to control her laughter, of all things. Hannah looked at her in amazement, but her friend was right, of course. She had agreed to behave, to the conditions of the weekend, both to comply with British law regarding female travel and to respect her host’s wishes. It was supposed to be a bit of fun, a walk in someone else’s shoes, and she had rather baulked at the first hurdle. It was just such a culture shock, but that was rather the idea.

“Yes…Miss Walker…I am sorry about yesterday…I was rather nervous…and unprepared…”

“It is quite all right, Mrs Carrington…all is forgiven and forgotten…but I would ask you to remember that whilst you are here your behaviour reflects on the Cartwright family and that this is not London.” Miss Walker responded affably, much more the reasonable, gentle person Louise had described to Hannah before she agreed to come. “Clitheroe is not so cosmopolitan, and some of the things you are used to would cause great offence here. If you remember that I am sure we will have a pleasant and rewarding weekend.”

“Yes, Miss Walker.” Hannah found herself saying like a naughty schoolgirl, like Hermione Reynolds. She wondered how Hermione was fairing with her guardian. In the cold light of day, laughing with Louise, her own experience had been educational rather than distressing. She was there to learn, to confront her prejudices, and to understand how a man who had spent his life fighting Christian Reform could condone it, and marry and love a Reformist wife. Because that was what Louise was, of course. But Hermione Reynolds was not playing a silly game. She faced a life spent earning God’s love. And Louise had told her that not every guardian was as reasonable as her Miss Walker.

“May I speak freely, Miss Walker?” Hannah asked, later on, after a pleasant lunch, with the use of her hands, and a stroll around the garden, hidden behind her mantle but free to chatter with Louise. She was being undressed, ready for a bath before dinner, when Ben Cartwright was due to arrive. Ryan would not arrive to lunchtime the next day, but much to her surprise she was starting to enjoy herself. She was role playing as her husband had said and it was fun, in a faintly masochistic sense.

“Of course not, Mrs Carrington…I am your guardian and you must mind your manners and consider who and what you are at all times.” Miss Walker smiled, removing the padded jacket worn over the hateful corset, which Hannah was longing to be free of.

“Oh…of course…I am sorry Miss Walker…but may I ask you a question then?”

“On those terms, yes, you may.”

“Thank you…it’s just that your job is to keep Louise away from sin, but aren’t you also a Daughter of Eve? Isn’t every woman a Daughter of Eve?”

“Oh…an excellent question…and obviously every female is technically a Daughter of Eve, but a privileged few have the means and the piety to desire to be truly pure, and it is that desire, that ambition, which the term really applies to. I certainly hope that I am a good Christian, and my employer ensures that my conduct is in line with his wishes, but I could never aspire to such a lofty aspiration…that is why ladies like you and Mrs Cartwright have a responsibility to be as good as you can be. Does that answer your question, Mrs Carrington?”

“Yes…thank you…but Louise was a guardian once…she said you helped her accept her place?”

“I hope I did…she had the good fortune to attract a fine husband and the chance to be something little girls like us can usually only dream of…it happens sometimes. Guardians do get to meet people.”

“So do you dream of being a Daughter of Eve, Miss Walker?”

“I am thirty five, Mrs Carrington…Mrs Cartwright was not quite thirty and rather more comely than me.”

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, the same early evening

“She has good teeth for an old woman, although they need looking after.” Miss Cathcart sighed, roughly pushing an inter-dental brush between Sheila Blackstone’s teeth, occasionally turning back to the basin to rinse the blood away. Hermione stood to one side, watching the process, wearing only her mittens, like her grandmother. “I am also pleased with yours, Hermione. It seems you had reasonable dental care.”

“Yes Miss Cathcart.”

“Stand straighter please, a maiden never slouches.”

“Yes Miss Cathcart, sorry Miss Cathcart.”

“Sheila is like a child again at her age…an old maid, rather than a maiden…and without a husband or any sons she is dependent on your father’s charity of course. He is a very generous man, Hermione.”

“Yes Miss Cathcart.”

“What is your duty to your father, Hermione?”

“Obedience, Miss Cathcart.”

“I told you to stand straight child, what does a maiden never do?”

“A maiden never slouches, Miss Cathcart.”

“Do you think your father should have you circumcised, Hermione?”

“If it pleases him, I would welcome it, Miss Cathcart.”

“Why would he do such a thing to you, Hermione?”

“Because he loves me, Miss Cathcart.”

“Who loves you, Hermione?”

“Papa loves me, Miss Cathcart.”

“Good girl, Hermione…apart from the mistake of calling your Papa he…that is rather disrespectful, I am afraid…you forget yourself, Hermione.”

“I am so sorry Miss Cathcart…it was just a little mistake…” Hermione felt sick, well aware of what the monster was going to do to her. She did not want to beg but she could not stop herself.

“Get yourself on the chair, Hermione.”

“Please, Miss Cathcart…”

“Now please…Sheila can watch you for once.”

Hermione whimpered as she ran into the other room, to the infamous chair. She hated herself for her weakness, for her stupid mistake. But her remorse made no difference. She had committed a sin and she had to be punished, she had to earn God’s love the hard way.

The Cartwright Constituency House, Clitheroe, Lancashire, dinner that evening

“Once Ryan arrives tomorrow we can explore…some of the view in the Ribble Valley are spectacular.” Ben Cartwright said as the maid served smoked salmon and Miss Walker stood to one side, watching everything with a keen eye. Hannah found it rather unnerving but Louise said that her guardian was part of the family. “And then Church on Sunday…that will be quite an experience for you, Hannah…have you attended services in London?”

“Yes…but Catholic…I am Canadian after all…not a particularly thriving congregation, I am afraid.”

“Oh…let me guess…lots of old people?”

“Yes it seems we are a dying breed in your county.” Hannah smiled, and then found herself glancing at Miss Walker, as if seeking her approval, which made Ben laugh at her.

“One day in Miss Walker’s capable hands and you are acting like a blushing maiden…but rest assured, you can speak freely at my table. Tomorrow may be different, as we shall have guests, but I prefer dinner with friends to be ruled by my standards, not the teachings of Miss Daphne Scott, isn’t that right Miss Walker?”

“As always, your wish is my command, Mr Cartwright.” Miss Walker responded, performing the slightest of curtseys. Louise smiled and rested her hand on Hannah’s arm, sharing in the joke.

“I think it is the etiquette I find hardest to understand…there seems to be so many rules.”

“Oh there are, but there always were…it is just most people ignored them, until Buckingham and his friends decided to turn back the clocks. We are called the new aristocracy…although I am something of a disreputable member, despite the civilising influence of my beautiful wife.”

“I still don’t really see why you are a member at all…or indeed how since you are the opposition…you don’t personally believe in Reformism…do you?” Hannah asked the question that had been burning inside her. She was beginning to understand Louise because she was a woman and had grown up in a Reformist world. Her choices had been limited, and she had worked hard to become a guardian, before meeting and marrying Ben Cartwright, but he was the leader of the opposition, a man who spent ten years fighting the Christian Democrats every inch of the way, until family voting was introduced, around the same time as he had met Louise.

“As I tried to explain the other night, I have mixed emotions…some of the things they have achieved are quite remarkable Hannah…and I was tired of banging my head against a brick wall.” He sighed, sitting back in his chair and holding his wine glass up to the light for a moment, before draining it. “I met Louise…and instead of tilting at windmills I started to realise that I had to be on the inside to fight for what I believed in…because we can never go back. Charles Buckingham called his modern renaissance a perfect storm…everything was right for him, the time, the political landscape, the state of the economy and the will of the people all there, demanding change. And change things he did…I am not sure what I believe, but I have found personal happiness and a niche role professionally, trying to temper the worst excesses of a regime which has been incredibly successful and incredibly damaging in almost equal measure. The government would argue that it is for the greater good, but quite frankly I lost that argument a decade ago.”

“So, if you can’t beat them, join them?”

“It is not quite as simple as that…but everyone in this country has learned to adapt to different conditions. I could not leave, like some. I chose to stay and fight, but even now I don’t want to emigrate, although I have the means. This is my country Hannah and I work for it…damned hard, actually…but I can’t fight it anymore. We have to work with what we’ve got and try to make it better.”

“Ryan thinks that I am idealistic and naive.”

“So was I, once…but I am sixty years old, my dear…not twenty five.”

“Surely every country is good and bad, all the time.” Louise suggested, frowning as if she was unsure of what she was saying or whether she should be saying it. “I mean, the examples you gave the other night, Ben…the things the Reformists have put right so well…it needed doing didn’t it?”

“Yes, the question always is does the end justify the means…and that is what I started to struggle with. Part of it is age…by the time I was fifty I felt old and tired of the constant battle. My generation was part of the problem, we let a lot of the bad things go on far too long…and the perfect storm blew us away. But it won’t last forever…it will change again…but I did my share. I will retire as leader soon, and someone else can tilt at the windmills.”

“My father is your age, Ben…he is still fighting…I mean, in business, not politics. He’s had setbacks, a divorce, family problems and everything…but he is still out there fighting. I don’t always agree with him, but I admire his determination.” Hannah felt that Cartwright had given up, and she found that rather sad, which was what brought her father into her mind. She knew she ought to call him, after their last argument, just before they moved to London at short notice. Ryan had supported him, but at least the atmosphere between them seemed to be going at long last. She made herself a promise to call him as soon as she got back to the embassy.

“Oh I am still fighting Hannah, just not the same old battle.” Cartwright smiled again, rather amused by her optimism, as if everything could be cured by railing against it, as if one man could stop the tide. He was doing something for himself, for once. It was not a crime. Not really. Politicians met people, made introductions and oiled the wheels of industry.

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, the same time

“Once the papers are signed, everything is in place.” Duncan Neville reminded his guest, whilst spearing a slice of nicely rare beef on his fork, grinning at his wife. “A deal is a deal, and I appreciate your help, Mr Ambassador.”

“Signing the papers might not be as easy as you think…but I was glad to help Mr Neville.” Ryan Carrington said, thinking about Hannah and her ethical attitudes to business. Her father was right, of course. She had to be made to see sense. He was just beginning to see that the British way had its merits. In Britain, she would not have been allowed to inherit her uncle’s shares in the huge construction empire her grandfather and his two sons had built up over the years. She would certainly not have been permitted to stop her father running the business the way he saw fit, but in Canada, her shareholding gave her that right, and she had already cost everyone a lot of money. The new London airport contract, to build a replacement for Heathrow in the Kent Thames estuary, was worth billions, and they had it in the bag apart from one signature. But quite apart from the fact that it meant contracting with the British government, which he knew Hannah would loath, there were huge wildlife issues with the proposed site, and Hannah would refuse to be involved, unless they could find a way to persuade her.

“As I am glad to repay my debt…and now you can tell your superiors that Hermione is quite well, and is settling in nicely at home with her loving parents.” Neville continued, indicating her daughter with a wave of his hand. Hermione sat beside her grandmother, opposite the ambassador, sucking her dinner through her feeding tube.

“She is responding to her training I hope?”

“She is certainly beginning to understand her place in life. Miss Cathcart can be very persuasive.”

“It is kind of you to offer us your…hospitality…next week.”

“Oh it is the least I can do…you have helped me immeasurably and now we can help each other. It is the way the world works Mr Ambassador. So how are you finding our country?”

“I am pleased to be here, Mr Neville…my job is to promote relations between Britain and Canada, and so far it has been a very successful and…enlightening…time. If things go to plan, I hope to make my stay rather more permanent.”

“Things will go to plan, as long as you commit to the future, Mr Carrington…business is business and a man has to take firm decisions for the greater good.”

The Cartwright Constituency House, Clitheroe, Lancashire, after dinner

“It is late Hannah dear…I would welcome some time with my wife, if I may?” Ben Cartwright said, smiling at Hannah as he finished the last of the coffee.

“Oh…of course…” Hannah began, rather taken by surprise. She was not used to being dismissed in such an offhand way and it was not late. But she was a little tired, and she was a guest, so she did not argue. It had been another interesting evening but she could still not get her head around Ben at all. Louise was easier to read, because she was a product of the modern renaissance, the hard evidence that Reformism was working in practise. Hannah enjoyed her company and once she had got over the culture shock and the restrictions Louise happily accepted as normal, she was having a pleasant, informative time. She was seeing something of ordinary Britain, away from London and the diplomatic circus. The Cartwright’s, whilst not exactly wealthy she supposed, were part of the ruling political class, but they were also ordinary people. “Thank you for a lovely dinner.”

“You are most welcome…Miss Walker, if you please.”

“Open,” Miss Walker commanded, stepping forwards, and Hannah found herself obeying like a good Daughter of Eve. She did not really see why she needed to be muzzled to go up to bed, but the one lesson she had learned was not to defy her guardian and Louise smiled at her reassuringly.

“Prayers in the morning I think Miss Walker, so that the ladies are ready for when Ryan gets here.”

“Of course, Mr Cartwright,” Miss Walker replied, as Hannah put her head back, making things easier. Louise had told her that all guardians liked their charges to cooperate. She would not be allowed to do much for herself, but she could continually prove her obedience.

“Hannah can show her husband how much she has learned with you, Miss Walker.”

“She will be ready for him, sir…hands Mrs Carrington.”

Hannah submissively held out her hands for her mittens. She imagined what her friends in Ottawa would say if they could see her, but that was a different world, played to different rules. Sitting at the dinner table, drinking wine and talking to her dear friends as equals, debating those differences, she had forgotten who she was supposed to be. But a word from Miss Walker was enough to remind her. She felt a shiver as she remembered the pain of the paddle, and another as she lost her voice and hands in rapid succession, hating the feeling of helplessness. She was very aware that Miss Walker could do anything she liked with her in that state.

The Cartwright Constituency House, Clitheroe, Lancashire, the next day before lunch

“How was the journey, Ryan?” Ben Cartwright called out, walking out to meet his guest.

“Extremely efficient…your railways run like clockwork, Ben.” Ryan replied over his shoulder, whilst paying the taxi driver his fare. He had left Kent just after nine and was in Lancashire for just after midday.

“Charles Buckingham renationalised them, and invested in them…before he did, the journey up from London used to take me six hours, with three changes…and your wife expects me to mount a successful opposition!”

“How is Hannah?” Ryan asked a little apprehensively as he picked up his suitcase.

“She will have a tale or two to tell you if you let her, but nothing serious…she is still playing the game.” Cartwright said as he led Carrington through the front door. “She is in the lounge, but don’t worry, she won’t hear us.”

“She won’t?”

“She is with Louise, listening to some of Archbishop Winstanley’s greatest hits. I have a rather full afternoon planned so we needed to get their lessons out of the way first. Come and look.”

Ryan put his case down in the hall and followed Ben into the spacious lounge. Two figures sat on the sofa, clearly women as he could see the skirts of their gowns, but they were both covered by tartan travelling blankets, so it was impossible to see which one was his wife. He still found such sights strange, and realising that Hannah was under one of those blankets made her feel just a little bit sick, but it was her choice. Thus far. Ben took him off in search of coffee, and they talked about business for half an hour or so, sitting at the kitchen table. He actually forgot about Hannah as he brought Cartwright up to date. If the contracts were all signed and ratified by the government minister, they were both going to be very rich men. If he was prepared to fully commit to the future. It was not too late to back out, to stick to his principles. Except that it was too late. He could taste the money, the bright future. He had a chance to escape the career ladder, the daily grind of diplomacy. That was just a game. He was just a glorified messenger, a go-between between his Prime Minister and the British, talking in riddles, never doing very much good, and Canada was hardly a world power.

“Second thoughts?” Cartwright asked out of the blue.

“No…not at all…no, I promise…it’s just…nerves, I suppose.”

“Quite understandable old chap…I stuck to my principles and the whole world pissed on me from a great height. The people of this country chose the end result, regardless of the method and as I told Hannah last night no man can fight the tide. We don’t get many chances to secure our futures…and not just for us remember, I have my boys to think of, and you and Hannah will have a family, I am sure.” Cartwright mused, pouring more coffee. “I could have married Louise and let her stay much as she was I suppose. She was not a natural Daughter of Eve, and on an MP’s salary I could not really afford to turn her into one. But there are always ways to make money Ryan so I started going with the flow. Louise was not exactly a convert, and her faith helped her accept my decisions, but Hannah needs to be tamed. She is holding you back, she is holding her father back…and you have it in your power to change her mind, to show her how you want things to be. A little fear is only natural…you are a modern man from the modern world and the idea of being master in your own house is scary at first, but Hannah is showing all the signs of being a girl who needs to be controlled. Miss Walker already has her jumping through a few hoops and she thinks that if you hold your nerve Hannah shows great promise.”

“Neville is still happy to help.”

“Good…so all you have to do is hold your nerve.”

Easier said than done. Ryan and Ben joined the ladies in the lounge once Miss Walker had uncovered them, but she did not initially remove their muzzles. Ryan sat chatting to Ben about nothing in particular with his wife a few feet away, staring at him in desperation, clearly longing for rather more from him than the kiss on the cheek her had given her. But the guardian had decided to feed the ladies through their feeding tubes. He had eaten dinner with Duncan Neville with three silent women but they were not known to him, they were not his responsibility. In the end, feeling he had to say or do something to break the ice in the room, he asked Miss Walker if Hannah had given her any trouble. His wife’s eyes burned with anger at his choice of words, but the guardian took his question seriously.

“Mrs Carrington is obviously inexperienced, sir. She has no grounding at all in our way of life and is clearly used to rather more independence than a Reformist wife would ever be allowed, even in more liberal families.” Miss Walker responded, her eyes flicking to Ben Cartwright when she mentioned the word liberal, although he would more accurately be described as a Social Democrat. “So she needs a very simple routine without putting too much pressure on her to behave. She is certainly not ready to be unmuzzled in company and her behaviour last night at the dinner table would have earned her a beating from me if Mr Cartwright had not given her dispensation, sir. It was not really bad manners, or even disobedience, but she has no idea of etiquette and she does not know her place. If I gave her any leeway she would surely fail and earn herself a punishment, so I would not give her the chance to do so for some time. Some guardians would say that a good beating now would do her the world of good, but she does not know any different, so I would find that harsh and unfair.”

“But you did have to beat her Thursday morning I understand?”

“Oh that was really no more than a taste of the paddle, to encourage her, sir. Mrs Carrington is obviously not a child, but she needs to be treated like one at first, to help her adjust. She needs to learn what her guardian will reward and what she will punish and she has to learn her scripture. That was why I covered them this morning sir, to avoid distractions. She really has no time to waste.”

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, later that afternoon

“Thank you, Miss Cathcart,” Sheila Blackstone murmured as her muzzle was removed, leaving her standing before her son-in-law in his study. “Good morning sir.”

“Your manners are certainly improving Sheila,” Neville commented, hardly bothering to look up from his work. “But you are still struggling Miss Cathcart tells me…are you not happy in God’s love?”

“I am happy sir, I promise you.”

“Then one can only assume that your difficulties are due to your age…and that gives me a problem, I am afraid, because Grace is about to enter her maidenhood…Miss Cathcart is going to be busier than ever.”

“I shall strive to set Grace a good example, sir…if that is your wish for me.”

“No, I think her mother is better suited to that role. I have decided to put you into a home.”

“No…please…you can’t…I can help you…I have always helped you…” Sheila began, but Cathcart stepped smartly forwards and slapped her face. She fell silent, a look of horror on her face.

“So…this is goodbye…as you aware, our nursing homes are run by nuns and they will treat you with all the dignity and respect a Daughter of Eve deserves in her twilight years. Your days will be spent in silent study of course. I believe muzzles are only removed for cleaning once a week, but you will be cared for, Sheila…as long as you live.”

“Open please, Mrs Blackstone…I have to get you ready to leave.” Miss Cathcart smiled, holding out the muzzle for the old lady one last time.

Clitheroe Town Centre, Lancashire, the same afternoon

“Stop glaring at me, someone will notice.” Ryan Carrington almost laughed, catching the expression on his wife’s face. She was trying to make him have her muzzle removed, but she had to realise that it was neither the time nor the place. “Cartwright is a name here and you will damage his precious reputation…but let me just tell you, this is making me so hot, my little Daughter of Eve.”

Hannah thought of slapping him, but she was not at all sure she could disentangle her arm from her heavy clock or do much damage with her mittened hand. She had played their little game well enough with the Cartwright’s but it was much harder with Ryan there, making stupid comments and acting so damned superior. But she had no choice, of course. She and Louise were just two pairs of eyes staring out from the depths of their coal-scuttle bonnets, everything else covered in layers of heavy cloth, and her eyes were only showing because Ben wanted her to see the sights. Miss Walker had put their blinding mantles on in the car for a sight-seeing trip. So she fumed, longing to pull out of Ryan’s grasp, but also afraid of upsetting Miss Walker. How dare he say that he was turned on! Even if him showing any interest in sex was usually a pleasant surprise, she did not appreciate finding out that her husband found her imprisonment sexually exciting. He was playing a game, and it was a game, but it was not as frivolous and meaningless as she thought it would be. She was not playing a role. No one could pretend with a guardian like Miss Walker.

“Clitheroe is a fairly well-to-do sort of place, but since they elect me they must retain a few of their traditional Labour roots I suppose.” Ben said when the pavement was wide enough for them to walk side by side. It was sunny spring afternoon and there were lots of couples out taking the air. Hannah had not done much exploring in London, and you could not really get a feel of a place from the back of a car, but even with her limited, tunnel vision she was amazed by Clitheroe. It was like stepping back in time, she supposed, with every woman in voluminous gowns, cloaks and bonnets, but few, she noted, were as lavish as Louise and hers. It was as Miss Walker had said, they were important people in the town, and they had to set an example. “Much more real life than London, wouldn’t you say?”

“Absolutely…the trouble is people like us don’t see real life in London, it is one embassy meeting to another, dinner out, back in the car.”

“Well, this is the renaissance in practise. Hannah, look at the hands. If you see mittens on a lady old enough to have children she probably has a guardian, or a very ‘hands-on’ husband, if she is wearing gloves, she looks after herself and acts as guardian to her own daughters.” Ben explained, leaving Hannah longing to point out that she could not tell how old a veiled woman was in the first place. But she understood the point, of course. Louise had given her similar things to look for, such as the quality of clothes and behaviour. Louise never went shopping for something mundane like food, and if she did shop she was accompanied by Miss Walker, but in the busy town centre there were women popping in and out of all sorts of shops. They would not be muzzled, of course. Therefore they would not be suitable companions for people like Louise, but Ben still had to tout for their votes, so he kept stopping to chat and shake hands, clearly a face recognised in the town. Louise curtseyed dozens of times and Hannah copied her, not wanting to cause offence, which only made Ryan laugh even more.

After exploring the town, they returned to the car and Ben took them on a drive through the hills, including a quick look at the Ribble Valley Convent, one of the first Reformist convents to be opened after the start of the renaissance. Hannah sat staring out of the windows as best she could, sucking water up through her feeding tube, and listened to Ben giving them all a tourists guide of the area. Ben and Ryan acted as if it was quite normal and in the end Hannah was quite glad to get back to the house just in time to change for dinner. Miss Walker took her and Louise straight upstairs to bathe, mess and dress them, as Ben put it with a chuckle, clapping Ryan on the shoulder. Her husband was in a better mood than he had been for ages. He was actually enjoying himself, whereas Hannah started to feel that she was being tortured, as Miss Walker got her ready for dinner with Ben’s apparently important local friends.

“She is absolutely exquisite, Mr Carrington…but you are so wise to have her properly trained…there is so much for neophyte to learn and you never get a second chance to make a first impression, of course.” Mrs Northwick, a rather loud lady of uncertain age, remarked as Miss Walker attached a new bottle to Hannah’s feeding tube, so that she could enjoy her starter with everyone else. “I hope we are rather more broadminded in the north country but in London I am sure it is best to take a more cautious approach, as this does you nothing but credit, sir.”

“Honestly Martha, do stop talking about the poor girl as if she was one of your students.” Pastor Lincoln sighed, accepting a glass of wine from Cartwright.

“She is new to the country Pastor, so she is actually worse off than one of my students, who are at least prepared for their education these days. In the early days we often had to start from scratch, and although Mrs Carrington will obviously be more mature and eager to please her husband, she is really doing the same.”

“Martha is headmistress of the local girl’s school…an establishment that moved with the times after the renaissance. No more boarders of course, but her poor victims are bussed in from miles around to be terrorised,” Ben Cartwright explained to Ryan, as everyone either stared at Hannah or ignored her completely. “She turns half of them into guardians and the rest of them into good little middle class wives.”

“Being firm with a girl is key…regardless of age or experience. Have you employed a guardian yet, Mr Carrington?”

“No…not yet…I have been taking advantage of good friends like Ben, and we have some help at the embassy.” Ryan replied carefully.

“Oh a full-time guardian is absolutely crucial…how old is she, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Hannah is twenty five, Mrs Northwick.”

“Still young enough to fully adjust then…I know Daphne Scott thinks it is never too late, but once a girl is in her thirties she can be too set in her ways.”

“I have heard of this Miss Scott several times?” Ryan asked, looking around at the other guests.

“Ah the doyen of all guardians,” Douglas Northwick explained from the seat opposite Hannah. “She wrote the training bible and is still teaching today. As I am sure you can imagine, there was a lot of conversion at first, since all but the residents of Meadvale were converts. Miss Scott has achieved legendary status.”

“We base much of our curriculum for maidens around her many books, and I have attended courses at her College.” Mrs Northwick said, her larger than life character much in evidence. But she was wearing a fine gown and she had arrived in mittens and a muzzle. So had the Pastor’s wife. “Mrs Carrington might benefit from a week at Crowthorne, Miss Scott’s College in Berkshire. Scott takes in guinea pigs to give her students some practise, but I believe it is excellent for ladies who need a reminder or who just wish to help the college.”

“Both Louise and Miss Walker studied at Crowthorne,” Ben informed everyone. “What do you think, Miss Walker? Would Mrs Carrington benefit from a week at your old college?”

“I am sure any lady would, sir. It is good for the students to learn to manage ladies of all ages, and it is equally good for any lady to get used to being handled by strangers…qualified strangers obviously.” Miss Walker responded, standing up from Hannah and taking her position at the side of the room.

“Do you have a guardian, Mrs Northwick?” Ryan found himself asking before wondering if the question was appropriate. “I hope you don’t mind me asking…”

“Yes sir, I do, and I do not mind you asking at all…although my dear husband has allowed me to work, as he knew that teaching was my passion…and I was forty seven when Mr Buckingham first came to power. My guardian helps me at school and then at home.”

“Ordinary life Ryan, like I said…it still goes on.” Ben grinned, starting on his consommé.

“She needs a tighter corset, keep her sitting up straight,” Mrs Northwick advised Ryan, indicating Hannah, who immediately straightened up.

“Oh Martha, you are terrorising the poor thing…she isn’t an exhibit at the zoo,” Louise sighed, smiling reassuringly at her friend from her position at the far end of the table.

“Quite right Martha, or I shall be booking you a week’s refresher at Crowthorne!” Mr Northwick said, and everyone except Hannah fell about with laughter.

Otford Nursing Home, Kent, the same evening

No one spoke. Sheila rightly presumed no one could. Nuns stripped away her clothes, fitted a catheter, encased her in a sleeping gown with no head hood and wheeled her on a trolley to a room shared by five other old ladies. She was tucked into bed, had her feeding tube attached to a bottle of clear liquid on a pole beside her, before being strapped down and left. The six roommates could all see each other, as they were slightly propped up, but they were all muzzled. Then a sermon started to play all around her, very loudly indeed. Sheila sat there crying into her muzzle till the nuns returned to settle them for the night. She was reclined, and hooded and left to her own devices.

The Cartwright Constituency House, Clitheroe, Lancashire, bedtime the same evening

Hannah shifted irritably in her sleeping gown, waiting for Ryan to release her. She had gone way past enjoying herself, even slightly, and just wanted the nightmare to end, but Miss Walker had not given her any opportunity to say so. Instead, just like the previous two nights, she had been undressed, washed and put to bed in her hot, uncomfortable body bag, even though her husband was coming to bed with her, sooner or later. He had stayed downstairs with Ben for a nightcap whilst Miss Walker dealt with her charges, and it seemed to be taking him an age. She had never felt so helpless. Being talked about around the dinner table had affected her deeply, and she found it hard to believe that obviously intelligent people could not only believe in their strange brand of God but treat her with such casual indifference. Then she tensed, hearing a noise in the room, and finally felt someone getting into bed beside her.

“See…didn’t I tell you we’d have fun,” Ryan murmured, struggling to undo the relevant section of her sleeping gown. “Let’s see if we can earn you a different sort of love…”

Hannah’s Sunday brought no respite. Ryan left her, still in her sleeping gown, to Miss Walker. She was dressed as lavishly as the previous day and attended church, to hear her new friend Pastor Lincoln preach, and then Ryan announced that they had to leave. He had business in Kent, he said, and Miss Walker put her in the car, covered as she had been on the journey up from London. She struggled a little, so the guardian strapped her in place and connected her mittens before covering her. Her head was immediately filled with more prayers and sermons, calling for her obedience. The journey lasted forever, her mind racing all the time, asking herself what Ryan thought he was playing at. If it was a joke, he had taken it way too far. And then her prayers stopped, and she was unstrapped, strong hands helping her out of the car, but no one removed the blinding mantle.

The Neville House, Westerham, Kent, the Sunday evening

“You stink, you filthy heathen bitch, but we can deal with that later,” Miss Cathcart snarled, face to face with Hannah as she whipped the blinding mantle off. “Stand still, you were not given permission to move. My name is Cathcart and I shall be your guardian for the duration of your stay here. I have promised your husband that I will change your attitude to your new life and by the time I have finished with you I am sure you will beg him to take you home and let you earn God’s love with anyone but me.”

Hannah held herself rigid with fear, still dressed in her cloak and bonnet, her eyes staring in horror at Miss Cathcart, trying to take in her angry words. New life? Ryan wanted to change her attitude? None of it made sense. It was too much, and she started to pant, almost at the end of her tether. Then Miss Cathcart’s face broke into a smile.

“Of course, you still think that this is a game.” The guardian sighed, taking a step backwards. “You are a diplomat’s wife, a tourist with opinions, so pathetically keen to see how the other half live…to see things for yourself. But you are stupid girl, putting yourself above God, above your husband, above your father. But God knows, Hannah dear…He sees into your soul and He has decided to save you from your folly. God moves in mysterious ways. For instance, not only is He interested in you, but he sent little Hermione here back to her father…I know you are aware of the case.”

Miss Cathcart moved to one side, and held out her arm to indicate a naked girl, naked except for the mittens on her hands at any rate, kneeling precariously on the arms of a huge, wing-backed armchair, her face facing the cushions, her bottom raised in the air. Hannah stared at Hermione, and the girl looked round at the mention of her name, staring back at Hannah, her misery clear to see.

“Hermione has been in my care for a week, Hannah,” Miss Cathcart informed the latest arrival, triumph evident in her voice as she showed off her prowess. “She is changing her attitude…although, as you can see, she is not having the best of days. But she can help you settle in, I am sure. Hermione dear, tell Hannah here what you are?”

“I am a maiden, Miss Cathcart…learning how to earn God’s love.”

“Do you want to go back to Canada, Hermione?”

“No Miss Cathcart, I am home now Miss Cathcart…I love my parents, Miss Cathcart.” Hermione responded, her voice frail and full of fear.

“What is your duty as a maiden, Hermione?”

“To obey my father, my guardian and God, Miss Cathcart.”

“And what is going to happen now, Hermione?”

“You are going to punish me, Miss Cathcart.”

“Why Hermione?”

“Because I failed you, Miss Cathcart,” Hermione replied and then screamed as the paddle struck home. Hannah winced as the girl bucked on the chair, almost falling off the arms. “One…thank you Miss Cathcart.”

“She really is a good girl you know Hannah…this is only her third beating because she is a fast learner, as I hope you will be too when the time comes…because the time will come…”

“Two…thank you Miss Cathcart.”

“And son, I fear…because your father and your husband require two things of you, tonight, or early tomorrow morning if you choose to delay things…”

“Three…thank you Miss Cathcart.” Hermione sobbed, trying hard not to fidget. Miss Cathcart hated her to writhe. That was almost as bad as falling off the arms.

“Firstly you are going to sign your immigration papers, applying for immediate residency and citizenship. It is actually merely a formality as Mr Cartwright has arranged the necessary paperwork, but as a foreign national your signature still has some legal significance apparently…”

“Four…oh…thank you, Miss Cathcart.”

“Once that is done, your property and assets are all passed to your husband, and he can sign a contract with your father which will make you all very rich, Hannah…and you will then be a good little Reformist wife.”

“Five…thank you Miss Cathcart.”

“Oh yes dear…that much is certain, shaking your head won’t alter that little fact. Your husband is quite taken with life here and your father needs a director of Canadian International Construction…your family company of course…on hand to oversee their new project…the one which is going to make you so rich, and make it possible for you to earn God’s love…just like dear little Hermione here.”

“Six…on my…thank you, Miss Cathcart.”

“Your husband and his friends and partners were quite clever really…getting you to play their little games made it much easier to get you here without a lot of fuss and bother. That was always the plan you see, like chess moves being made behind your back to get you into the right place…your rightful place. Hermione here was just a coincidence.”

“Seven…thank…you…Miss Cathcart.”

“Your father and Mr Neville…Hermione’s father and my employer…have been negotiating their partnership for some time and your husband and Mr Cartwright were brought on board to provide the necessary permissions. That is why you are here in the first place, because your husband volunteered to come here. It was not a necessary career step, as he told you, but the only way to make his fortune.”

“Eight…oh please…thank you, Miss Cathcart.” Hermione moaned, whimpering as she obeyed her instructions, but managing to stay in position. Hannah was still panting and still not taking everything in.

“You have caused your husband and your father much irritation in recent months, I believe Hannah…your reluctance to sanction business contracts and to allow your father to run his company as he sees fit drove a wedge between you, and frustrated your husband too. So now you are being reconciled in God’s love, and all it takes is one little signature.”

“Nine…thank…you…Miss…Cathcart.”

“As I said, Hermione here was just a happy coincidence. Your husband knew of her father’s sad loss, and looked into the matter for him, but there was really nothing that could be done. That is until the child left Canada on a school trip, a journey that would require her aeroplane to fly through British airspace. Mr Carrington arranged for the flight to land…I am not sure how but he had an incentive of course, he wanted to seal the deal with Mr Neville. But it was nevertheless a coincidence…although the papers have been calling Hermione Reynolds the prodigal daughter; it is you who are being welcomed back into the fold my dear Hannah, it is you.”

“Ten…oh…no…please….thank you, Miss Cathcart.”

“Oh…the second thing…I believe your mother is British by birth and it seems her estranged sister is in a nursing home. She is old of course, older than your mother, but it is another strange coincidence. Your mother is Hermione’s aunt…isn’t that the funniest thing Hannah, Hermione is your cousin…”

“Eleven…please…it hurts so much…thank you Miss Cathcart.”

“So we need you to write your mother a letter…I know she is divorced from your father, but this is a time of reconciliation for your whole family and she needs to visit here, to see her sister…before it is too late.”

The end.

 


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