Overture – Let the Games Begin – Part Five
From Here to Eternity
by Nick Lucas and Dee
Hermione curtseyed to Miss Scott as she left her grandmother’s room, her regular practise with the patient guardian paying dividends in the form of a more than reasonable obeisance. For almost six weeks, Miss Scott had been gently easing the girl into a routine of sorts, although the time spent at the hospital always complicated things. Following Hermione’s emotional collapse, if it could be called that, Miss Scott had gently persuaded her to appear to be a dutiful maiden in public. It would, Miss Scott assured her, help her sick grandmother because she would never see her beloved granddaughter falling apart, and it was so clearly what the old lady wanted to see. Hermione had seen the delight in her eyes that first time. She still felt self-conscious in the clothes, and a little uncomfortable being muzzled and mittened, but her grandmother clearly thought it was so wonderful, and talked, when she could talk, about her family finally coming home. It was also appropriate in Meadvale. Hermione knew that, and she did it for her grandmother, to hide her own emotions and to show proper respect to her hosts. Local people were rallying around them as they learned why the family had moved to Meadvale, although the Slade’s were hardly important visitors as far as Hermione could see. In their rare hours away from the hospital bedside, Chris Slade took his grateful daughter out to tea with the likes of Lady Osborne, attended services in the Cathedral and generally became part of Meadvale, and Hermione could not help but be impressed by the kindness and compassion shown to her, or indeed find some peace and comfort in the splendour of the Cathedral. Miss Scott encouraged her, saying that she was being invited because the good people of Meadvale respected her reverence for British ways, and that allowed them to revisit her earlier Reformist experiences so that Miss Scott to explain why even the best maidens needed to be punished sometimes.
Miss Scott had not intended to stay quite so long of course. She had come as a favour to her sponsor, Kieran Radcliffe, and had intended to replace herself with one of her best students. Mr Radcliffe had not told her why but Mr Christopher Slade was quite important to him, and he assured her that the project was worth her time. But as often happens between pupil and guardian, she had grown attached to Hermione. In her college lectures she described it as a maternal echo. No guardian can replace a mother but the relationship with a charge, especially a single charge, could become extremely close. She told her students to resist this echo, since it will make the inevitable separation all the more painful for both parties. No guardian stays forever, and nor should they, she had always argued, because they could not become part of the family unit. Guardians were not mothers and should not try to be some sort of replacement for one. But Hermione was separated from her mother, and had, by all accounts, a difficult relationship with her, so Miss Scott found herself in that position, in the most traumatic circumstances. She had decided to stay on, fully aware of her actions, persuading herself that she could use Hermione’s affection for her to encourage her progress and help her through the inevitable loss of her grandmother. It was her job to help the child find God’s love.
Hermione sighed as Miss Scott pulled down her blinding mantle. It was her latest lesson, a rather pointless one, but when she told her grandmother about it Mrs Slade had been overjoyed, reminding her that only the luckiest maidens could afford to be sightless, concentrating all her senses on God’s love. Mrs Slade had told her that only the richest girls, members of the old families such as those living in Meadvale, lived like that, with their guardians helping them achieve amazing levels of piety. Hermione did not like it much, but she wanted to please her grandmother, and she liked to please Miss Scott, whose praise was always hard to earn, but still very satisfying when it came. She was getting better at it, with practise. At first, even with Miss Scott’s comforting hand on her arm, she always thought she was about to trip, or fall over. She was told to stop thinking and trust her guardian, and she tried then, a ship of shimmering velvet at full steam, guided by a safe hand on her elbow. She had no hands, no sight, and no control over her own body, or its most basic functions, and the short walk home remained a mystery to her. It was simply a little exercise, taken in God’s love.
Back at the house, Miss Scott removed her cloak and bonnet and settled her in the drawing room, taking time to arrange her gown around her. She made no attempt to remove her charges muzzle. Hermione did not, could not, object, but she was a little surprised, which showed in the expression on her face. Miss Scott merely smiled, well aware that her decision not to paddle the child until things were finally decided left her some work to do. It only took a moment to connect her feeding tube, and then the guardian left Hermione to her own thoughts. Mr Slade was waiting for her in the room at the back of the house, which he had turned into a study. She curtseyed, noticing the concerned look on the man’s strained face.
“How was my mother, Miss Scott?” He asked, standing to show her to the seat opposite his desk. He looked tired, she thought as she settled herself. He had his mother and father to worry him, and his own future, so that was no surprise.
“She is sleeping and your father is sitting with her…I do not think it will be long now Mr Slade.”
“God, I hope not…enough is enough…I don’t think any of us can take much more.” Chris sighed, collapsing back into his chair and offering her a rather pained grimace. “Is Hermione…?”
“She is settled sir…I really do think it is time to talk to her about her future, if I may say so.”
“Of course it is…I just…I am just putting it off, I suppose.”
“Sir, may I speak my mind?”
“Of course, Miss Scott…I would value your opinion, and your advice.” He sighed, drinking the last of his cold coffee.
“Miss Slade is more than halfway there without you forcing the issue.” Miss Scott began, choosing her words with care. “She has found something here…in her grandparents and in you, I suspect…that she has never had before. I have talked with her more freely than I usually do with my pupils, and although she might not admit it to herself she feels at home. Maidens all find it hard to accept their futures…if it was easy there would be no glory in it, God’s love would simply be handed to us on a plate. So she will find it hard too…our ways remain alien to her and that will take time, skill and patience to change. But she has found her family here…something I think she lacked in America, for one reason or another. She is used to being told what to do…although that is one of the things about her old life that she resents…and she needs that from you now more than ever. I know it is very hard for you to take the initiative, but you have waited long enough for a miracle. Grasp the nettle, Mr Slade. I know you are a valued advisor to Mr Radcliffe and Mr Munroe; otherwise I would not be here. I think you can build a wonderful life for yourself and your family here, if you have the courage. Hermione is yours to save, I urge you to be positive and courageous and wrap her in God’s loving embrace.”
“Sister Bernadette, please confirm for the official court record that you were formerly known as Skylar Hamilton, and found guilty of various charges concerning the planning of terrorist activities both here and abroad, earlier this year.” The man said as he scanned the open file in front of him, sounding rather bored with the task, as if he had many more important things to do with his time. She had already curtseyed to him, the lessons beaten into her during her basic training well learned, so she nodded and made another half obeisance, flanked by the two keepers who had escorted her to the simple office.
“Good, let the records show that the Sister confirmed her former identity. I am here to tell you that in accordance with standard procedures, and at the request of defence counsel, your case has been reviewed in respect of both the evidence and the legitimacy of the life sentence handed down to you after your trial, Sister Bernadette. During this review, again as per normal procedure, you have undergone basic training as the judge recommended that you serve God to atone for your sins. Is that correct, Sister Bernadette?”
Sister Bernadette nodded and bobbed again, her black and white habit moving with her, and her mittened hands clamped together in front of her body. He smiled and made a note.
“In such circumstances, three options are available to the courts…an acquittal based on our review of the evidence, or indeed the imposition of a harsher sentence, which in your case would mean the death penalty, Sister Bernadette…and finally the option of merely confirming that the judge and jury got things right first time. I am here to tell you that the evidence against you is considered clear and unequivocal, and we believe the courts dealt with you appropriately at your original trial, therefore you are to be taken from this place and interned in Meadvale Convent, in the holy order of the White Sisters, where you will spend the rest of your life atoning for your sins. Take her away please Sisters.”
“Good morning Pippa, how are you?” Chris Slade smiled into the webcam, ignoring the frown on the face of his ex-wife. She looked like she had just got out of the shower.
“I’m fine…how is your mother?” It was an automatic question asked purely out of politeness.
“She died in the early hours of this morning Pippa.”
“Oh…look, I’m sorry…I really am…give your father my condolences.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it…and I will tell Dad when he wakes up.”
“But it does mean that Hermione can get back…she is due at college next week, Chris…I want her home. She can stay for the funeral and then get the next plane.”
“Sorry but it’s not quite that simple…” Chris began, but she did not let him finish his sentence.
“Chris, it is that simple. She is already way underprepared, but in the circumstances she will get a little credit…but we have a lot to do before she signs in…she has to come back as soon as possible.”
“She is home Pippa…I am staying here with Dad and so is Hermione.” He said, firmly biting the bullet, trying not to enjoy the look on her face too much, although it was a picture. “I have a government job and this house…and we have agreed that this is the best place for her.”
“We haven’t agreed anything of the sort…you can’t do this to me, Chris!”
“Oh it’s already done…believe me, it is already done.”
Miss Scott dressed Hermione in black for her grandmother. She had to paddle her first, straight out of her sleeping gown, as she tried to struggle, but the guardian soon had her back under control and calmer. Mr Slade had made his decision, and by the time Mrs Slade slipped away Hermione was aware of it, so Miss Scott told her that her grandmother had died happy in the knowledge that her beloved granddaughter had seen the light. It was all about God’s love. He had taken one and saved another by way of a consolation, and Hermione would see that in time. It was all too much for the child, of course. She was upset and relieved all at the same time. She really did not want to go back to her mother or to college. She did not even want to go back to America, and as soon as she accepted that, her future would seem natural, and welcome. In the meantime, as the consummate professional, Miss Scott had to give her some tough love. She had told Mr Slade that he ought to stay out of the way for a few days, and let her settle Hermione.
He took her advice. He spent the morning online talking to lawyers, and arranging his contract with the office of the Home Secretary. He would be working in Meadvale. He had a house, domestic staff and the inimitable Miss Scott, although she had told him that she would soon replace herself with one of her pupils, having explained her other responsibilities, and all of a sudden he had a new career as the online eyes and ears of Kieran Radcliffe. Pippa was trying her best, but she could not stop him keeping Hermione. His daughter was an adult in America, and had travelled with him of her own free will, but she was a minor and essentially a chattel in Great Britain, so he had registered as her legal guardian for the trip and she had signed to say that he was responsible for her. His British lawyer had got them both British passports, and a judge had awarded him full custody of his daughter. For once, he had the law on his side. He was even told that he could apply for some of the money his ex-wife had stolen from him in the past, as he now had sole custody. He spent an hour or so dealing with all that, and then turned to another file sent to him by his immediate boss, Peter Munroe. It contained a number of documents detailing the girls, mostly currently serving out their national service, from whom he intended to choose the second Mrs Slade. Christopher Slade was home for good and he intended to make the most of his second chance. And his second wife would never get the chance to walk all over him like the first one.
Sister Bernadette and Sister Carina came face to face in the showers. Not for long of course. Neither wanted to dally for fear of the keepers watching their every move. But they saw each other, as they would every day for the rest of their lives. In fact, one of their keepers seemed to take a particular delight in putting them together in the chapel, side by side. The two women had to pray knowing that their friend was right beside them, but totally unable to communicate.
False Starts and New Beginnings
Shap Nixon failed, but not by much, as he would always remind people. Despite support from the traditionally Christian part of the vast country, the GOP played safe. Aaron Lumsfield, a slightly younger, less radical option carried the day and would fight for the right to continue President Rosen’s work, although few Republicans thought that they would win a third consecutive term in office. Rosen would hand over to a Democrat, for their turn at the wheel, because the country felt like a change. It was just the way of things. Howard Marino, the Democrat candidate, was a soft socialist who could unite both houses and get things done. Reformism lite was consequently off the agenda, and Nixon reluctantly left the stage.
He had anticipated defeat, and after thanking his team and supporters he disappeared to lick his wounds. No one wanted to interview him anymore. The USA does not like losers. He would have turned off his phone, but no one was calling it, and he sat in his hotel room on his own, wondering what to do next. He ended up watching the TV and avoiding the news. He ordered a room service dinner, with a bottle of wine and considered getting quietly drunk in private. He was on the last glass when the phone started to beep and he answered it with some reluctance.
“Shap, Jacob Bush…I have reserved a seat for you on the BA flight to London leaving in two hours. I’m just off the Florida flight so I’ll see you in the lounge.”
“Oh you know those Brits, they always have something up their sleeve.” Bush laughed, checking his watch as he waited for his baggage. “Come on, we need their help…and you can spend some time with that daughter of yours.”
Madison Nixon watched the news with Mrs Radcliffe, as was their usual routine. Kieran considered it an indulgence, as he saw no particular need for the ladies to be well-informed, but it was harmless enough and meant that any chatter over dinner did not need to be explained to them, most of the time. Miss Dexter kept them muzzled, but they had both been working on their needlepoint so their hands were free. Madison did not know if her father’s defeat was good or bad news for her. She did wonder at first if he would change his mind and call her home. But he never changed his mind about anything. She had hated the school he sent her to, but he made her stay there, and he had made her go to college. So if he said she was staying in England to be trained as a maiden and married off, then that was that, end of story. She was still confused about things. Everyone told her that she had been duped by a bunch of terrorists, but she found that so hard to believe. Miss Dexter was unavoidable. She knew that she was being trained, but she could not resist it, and she knew that she had changed, but was it for the better or for the worse? It was impossible to tell most of the time.
Hermione was shocked, of course. She cried a lot, for her grandmother and herself, but Miss Scott refused to let her dwell on things, constantly reminding her that she did not want to go to college. Her guardian insisted that she was being chosen by God to live in his love, and that it was what her grandmother would have wanted for her. And that was true. Hermione knew that was true. Her father was really only doing what he thought was best for her, Miss Scott said, over and over again, reminding Hermione how much she had enjoyed her summer. But at the same time her daily routine became a constant challenge. Miss Scott was no longer her friend and confidante; she was a guardian like no other Hermione had ever come across. She had spent several days with Miss Derbyshire at the Osborne’s, and she had been a step up from Miss King and Miss Donald, but Miss Scott simply overwhelmed her. She could move, look or even breathe without risking censure. Miss Scott missed nothing and she punished everything if she saw the need, but always with obvious regret, as if it was just a dirty job that had to be done. But talking to her mother was the hardest thing of all, because it reminded her that her father, and therefore Miss Scott, were right all along about her future.
“Hermione…is that you? Are you alone?” Her mother leaned close to her computer screen, as if that would allow her to see into the room or something.
“Sort of…Miss Scott won’t be very far away.” Hermione replied, glancing to her left at the closed door. Miss Scott had made the connection to Skype.
“Is that your gaoler?”
“She is my guardian, Mom…she looks after me.”
“Sweetheart, I am going to get you out of there…can you type something for me…”
“Sorry Mom, I can’t…” Hermione held up her mittened right hand and made a face.
“Oh for goodness sake, Hermione…tell him that you want to leave. You are due at college in a week…this is all totally insane…it is not up to your father, it is up to me.”
“Don’t I get a say?” It was a simple question, Hermione thought, but she already knew the answer.
“Of course you do, you tell him you want to go to college and to stop keeping you away from me against your will, and I’ll get you a ticket…he is not going to ruin your life.”
“He isn’t…he’s saving it…at least he thinks he is.”
“Sweetheart, he is kidnapping you…my lawyers say they can’t do a thing because you are a minor there. I don’t care if he has had some miraculous religious conversion…he is not taking you away from me.”
“Mom, I don’t want to leave Dad…I am not sure about…this…but I don’t want to go to Princeton…I never have…and I want Dad in my life.”
“Oh don’t be so ridiculous, of course you want to go to Princeton, it’s what we’ve worked so hard for…Chris has just filled your head with nonsense, and this awful woman is bullying you…”
“Mom…it’s not like that…Dad really is doing this for me…and Gran…it’s hard to explain…”
“Hermione, you stop this nonsense right now…I don’t know what they are doing to you, but I am not going to let it happen to me. He has no right to keep you there, and I am not letting you stay…he is ruining your life.”
Hermione could not talk to her. Not about anything important, and afterwards it occurred to her that mother had not even asked how she was, or about the funeral, or about anything really other than college. It was like her father said; her mom did not care about her. She did not care what Hermione wanted at all, just what she had planned for her.
Smoke and Mirrors
“Soon, as far as I can gather,” Robin Sullivan, the junior defence minister, sighed into the telephone, waving his wife to a chair and making a yapping sign with his hand to indicate that the conversation was going on a bit. Imogen Sullivan grinned and sank into the seat, her dressing gown wrapped around her. “Christ Simon, if that wasn’t an election speech I’d really hate to listen to the man when he starts campaigning…Buckingham must have given him the nod and we need to prepare. Ok…yup…and I’ll get Joe to call you later.”
“Problems?” Imogen asked as he slammed the receiver down and made a face.
“Some of them don’t seem to understand that this might be our only chance. If Radcliffe replaces Buckingham, he is still only a young man…fifty two or whatever…he could rule for twenty years. It’s now or never for us.”
“And that doesn’t bear thinking about.”
“So…what are you doing today?” He asked, reaching for his tie and lifting the collar of his shirt, getting ready to leave.
“Oh a lunch with Mrs Munroe and all her cronies…and when I get back Charlie will have some playmates here, so it will be a long afternoon…please tell me you’re not inviting anyone for dinner?”
“I won’t be here for dinner; I’ll stay at the House. Charlie won’t be happy then?”
“She isn’t, but she has to learn, doesn’t she?” Imogen suggested, running her fingers through her wet hair. “And if you run for the leadership it’s only going to get worse.”
“But better if I win…at least a little.” Sullivan grinned, before kissing her and taking his leave.
Imogen went back upstairs and joined their daughter and Dee, her best friend and guardian, in the big room they had turned into a dressing room and hiding place. Dee was still nagging Charlie. Her daughter was sixteen, and caught uncomfortably right between two, possibly three, stools. She was no longer a child, either physically or legally, so she could no longer pretend to be one. Rob and Imogen had chosen to start veiling her when her menstruation started, when Charlotte was thirteen, which was still just about socially acceptable. It had cause a few raised eyebrows, because people of their class, and people in Robin’s occupation, tended to be more conservative than less, and they could conspicuously afford to, but they had played the only daughter card, letting people assume that they spoiled Charlotte rotten. And that was true, Imogen reflected, pouring herself some tea and trying not to get caught up in the simmering squabble. Charlotte knew the rules and knew that she was lucky but she still griped and grumbled about the smallest things.
“Can’t I be sick? Call them and tell them I have a cold or something…you can’t wear a muzzle when you have a cold, and they won’t want their precious little angels catching my germs, will they?” Charlotte insisted, her own dressing gown hanging open to reveal her long Mickey Mouse night shirt underneath, the facade exposed for all to see. Dee was the only one dressed to face the world outside the front door. Her role as guardian meant that she would have to answer the door to any unscheduled callers and would have to do so in character. Her sombre grey gown served as a reminder to Imogen of what they really were, but her daughter did not even seem to notice.
“Charlie, for God’s sake…these are the sort of girls you have to mix with now that you are of age…we have to make the effort or it is going to look weird, and we can’t afford that, can we?” Dee sounded close to the end of her tether. Imogen knew that it was not easy for her best friend either, although it was tempting sometimes to think that she had the best half of the deal. Imogen had been able to chart a safe route through the modern renaissance thanks to Rob, the love of her life. He was a Christian Democrat only because the old Conservative party had collapsed underneath him, and he had been one of the youngest MP’s in Charles Buckingham’s first government, swept into power by the silent majority. In those days, it was about political survival, and as all he had ever wanted to be was a politician, Rob bobbed and weaved and hid his true feelings, largely toeing the party line. But never at home. He was expected to do so, and received endless memorandums demanding strict adherence to the Reformist doctrine, but right from the start that only ever happened in public. Behind closed doors, as far as possible, the Sullivan family and their close-knit group of friends carried on as before. It was never an easy balance, and she often wondered if Rob’s less than meteoric rise up the ranks was the price they paid, but she believed it was what a lot of people were doing once their front doors were shut and locked behind them. But it was harder for Dee, who had not married before things changed, and did not get on with her stepfather. In the end, Rob employed her as Imogen’s guardian to stop the oaf marrying Dee off, and keep her out of national service. Dee was thus trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, for life, or at least her stepfather’s life, and with Kieran Radcliffe making threats about unqualified guardians and Charlie being a pain, it was impossible for her. They were all sometimes tired of living a double life.
“Of course we can’t…come on, Charlie…it is just for a few hours.”
“Shap, the party system is against you, not the people,” Charles Buckingham pointed out, waving his pen in the air rather thoughtfully as they discussed the American situation in depth, throwing ideas around for the future. “Reformism is popular with the people everywhere. Peter, what are those numbers you were spouting at me?”
“Spouting Prime Minister? I am hurt,” Peter Munroe laughed, shuffling his papers. “Our research suggests that some thirty percent of most electorates support our core policies…not to be confused with the full doctrine. But the problem is these are not politically active people. It is the so-called silent majority and we have to reach out to them, because they don’t reach out to anyone.”
“And it is likely that the majority of that thirty percent are already Republican voters…and these are the sort of people who have never voted for anyone else.” Kieran Radcliffe added, looking serious as he reached for more coffee. “In this country we had to destroy the Conservatives…essentially eat them alive…to win that first election…and that was after one coalition administration so to win the Presidency without that option represents a real challenge.”
“The truth is the USA is not one country at all…the west coast is so very different to the east coast and the Bible belt is different again…getting them all to the polling stations is the original three card trick.” Jacob Bush sighed, taking a refill from Radcliffe and grimacing at his British colleagues. It was a high powered meeting of minds, and he appreciated the time and concern, but it was depressing as well, because they could do so little.
“Of course it is…a three card trick…and that is the obvious solution, Jacob.” Charles Buckingham smiled, feeling relaxed and in a good frame of mind now that his personal decision was made. “We barged our way into a coalition, and although your system does not quite work the same way you can still do the same thing…Shap, I think you should stand as a third candidate.”
“Charles…I mean, look…of course we thought about that…but we will split the vote. It will almost guarantee a Democrat in the White House for the next four years?” Shap made it sound like a disaster, but Radcliffe got it, and Munroe sat back in his chair as the reality dawned on him as well, biting his lip.
“So what? Your system is run by two dinosaurs, and half the time people can’t tell the difference between them. The one real lesson I learned back in the day was that we had to destroy the system before we could be a part of it…we could not win power as long as the Conservatives existed, because we would always be chasing the same core votes. If you do run, either the GOP will get the message and throw its weight behind you, or you will slit their throats by November…and that will give us the best chance in four years time…if not sooner.”
Hermione did not know what to think anymore. Not about her parents, or about living in Meadvale. Miss Scott accelerated her education, trying hard to fill in the obvious gaps in her knowledge, whilst also delaying her own departure, and that just served to confuse Hermione even more. So her first proper conversation with her father since he told her of his plans for both of them was rather an ordeal, and she was terribly nervous. Miss Scott sensed it, and did her best to prepare her, but as she walked into the study she almost wished she was wearing her muzzle. She did not know what to say. She did not know how to express her thoughts, and she did not know who her father was anymore. He had always been at loggerheads with her mother, for as long as she could remember, but he had never stood up to her before. He had never stood up to anyone. Her brother Julian called him a doormat, but he had changed in England somehow.
“Good morning Hermione, how are your lessons with Miss Scott going?” Chris Slade rose from his desk, kissed her on both cheeks and guided her to a chair as he spoke. Miss Scott had been extending her wardrobe, and the royal blue velvet day gown was quite beautiful, he thought, the trailing skirts allowing her to float rather than move.
“I am doing my best Dad…I just…” Hermione began, but he did not let her finish her sentence.
“And that is all I ask of you darling…your best…no more constant pressure.” He smiled as he took his own seat, and watched as she did her best to settle herself. He had watched her learning to move in her new clothes ever since they arrived, and she really was getting quite good at it, he thought, with Miss Scott’s assistance. “Your mother tried to force you into being something you were not meant to be…and I am afraid it took me a long time to realise how unhappy that was making you…and even longer to work out what I was going to do about it…but coming here has solved all our problems.”
“Dad, I don’t…I really don’t know what…although you’re right about Princeton, I never wanted to go there.”
“Sweetheart, we are making a fresh start here. I’ve said all along that you need a rest and time to think, and God help me I am going to make sure you have one.” Chris said firmly, his speech all ready mapped out in his head, and well-rehearsed in front of the mirror. “I am not rescuing you from your mother’s plans for you just to impose mine…not forever, at any rate. I am building a new life here, and yes, I do want you to be a part of it, because I believe your grandmother was right about you…she said that you would blossom here. But I am not your mother…I am not going to impose anything on you, beyond the next few months. I will give you the choice your mother never gave you, but you need to find yourself first…and to see for yourself what a beautiful life this can be.”
“A few months?”
“Yes, a few months, next summer you can decide what you want to do, ok? I know I made it sound like more before, but I was cross with your mother, but I want you to take the time to really think about things. It’s a gap year, a break you really need I think, and at the end of it, we can look at things again.”
Imogen found herself sitting next to Elizabeth Munroe. It was a typical party social occasion, the wives all getting together in a reasonably informal atmosphere with no particular agenda, but it helped Rob if she was on good terms with the right people. He was a junior minister, so about halfway up the food chain, if that, whilst Mrs Munroe represented the elite. But she was really nice. Imogen did not find it hard to talk to her, and she was having a reasonably pleasant time. She was in full regalia, of course. It was almost impossible not to be when socialising with the new aristocracy as the likes of the Munroe’s were called, but she just accepted the restrictions and discomfort as the price she had to pay for their hidden life. In twenty years of the modern renaissance, people like her had learned to compromise. She had been twenty two and madly in love with her new husband when he was forced to switch his allegiances from the Conservatives to the Christian Democrats, and right from the start he made it clear that he had to fight the extremists from within, because it was the only way. It was a difficult time. Being an MP was his dream, and he truly wanted to make a difference, so he had to stay on the inside. But the insiders, the infamous Westminster elite, were the first to adopt the full doctrine.
Rob agreed with some of the policies, as did most of the electorate of course, but he was forced to vote for others, and pay lip service to them himself, in order to stay in the game. They never really planned it that way, it just happened somehow and built up into a gigantic performance. Imogen started attending Reformist services with her husband, because he more or less had to and she came along as part of the package. Then Dee, her oldest friend, needed their help, and it all rather snowballed from there. Her boys did not pose any additional problems, but Charlotte was literally a growing cause for concern as she got older and older. Like many of their friends, their real friends, they were living a lie. Not only for the sake of their careers but because the new laws kept forcing them into corners.
“Charlotte must come over and spend some time with Emily and Caitlin, I’ll ask our guardian to arrange it, Imogen…and you and Robin must come to dinner.” Elizabeth said, resting her hand lightly on Imogen’s, confirming that Mrs Sullivan had made the right impressions. She was playing a role. Not quite the one she expected to play when she met Rob at Cambridge, but she was hardly the only woman who had seen her horizons shrink over the last sixteen years. It was not the life she wanted but she realised that it was the safe and sensible thing to do. She just had to get that through to Charlotte.
Charlotte Sullivan opened her mouth to accept her muzzle with obvious reluctance. She was already dressed to welcome her guests and Dee had already laced to her into her mittens, but she hated the muzzle. She hated the idea of even pretending to be a maiden, but since her long delayed coming of age it was becoming a regular experience. Her parents were socially active, as it was part of her father’s boring job, and they could not hide her away forever. She realised that, and even appreciated the huge efforts everyone made to protect her as much as possible, but she still resented it, of course. They were rich, and they could have moved abroad like lots of other people. Her uncle had, her mother’s brother, and her cousins had never worn a muzzle in their lives, and it was all so unfair.
“Charlie, don’t look at me like that…I should have put you in a diaper too…you really do have to behave.” Dee sighed as she stepped back to admire the finished article. Charlotte had a naturally tiny waist, and the corset only enhanced it, whilst the skirts billowing out from her hips made it an admirable feature. “Some of the girls coming today live like this all the time, and their guardians would spank them for that expression, let alone some of the cheek you give me.”
Charlotte made a face and curtseyed as a joke. But she did behave. Her guests came with their guardians and she suffered a liquid lunch and a painful afternoon chattering about nothing in particular, in God’s love. She knew Dee was right of course. She knew she was luckier than most, but that did not make the time go any quicker. She did not see why her father had to be the one to stem the tide of Reformism, although she knew he was passionate about doing so, because it trapped her in a living nightmare. In her room, she read novels of different times, when girls were free to do what they wanted to do, and she longed to be like them and not have to play her parents stupid games anymore. But she could not hide away in her room all the time, no matter how much she wanted too.
“I am told you are doing quite well, Madison.” Shapleigh Nixon III said as he offered his daughter his arm, preparing to take her on a stroll around the grounds of Broomwaters. David Harrington’s Meadvale mansion was still a centre of the Reformist cause, and Shap was staying there with Jacob Bush, so he had asked for his daughter to be brought down to see him before he went home.
“I am trying Papa.” Madison replied, using the word Miss Dexter had told her to use. It was true. She was trying very hard to please Miss Dexter, partly because she did not like being paddled and partly because she was not being given any choice. It was the same reason she had got good grades at school and then at college. Her father had always controlled her, whenever she had messed up, and he was simply doing it again, making quite sure that she toed the line. Blind obedience was the only way to get let off, although she was well aware that she was in serious trouble. She was not a kid anymore. She had been duped by terrorists and convinced to turn against her own father. Miss Dexter had been working away on that subject, teaching her the error of her ways. She could no longer remember what she had been thinking of, because it all seemed so ridiculous. So part of her wanted to make it up to him, to earn his forgiveness, whilst the rest of her just wanted it to end, to go home.
“Good girl, and I have some news for you, news that will no doubt cheer you up.”
“Yes darling…we are going home. I am going to run for president as a Reformist candidate, and you and your dear mother are going to help me put on a show for the people.”
Hermione could not deny the sense in what her father said, and he had also put her mind at rest about the one thing that had been worrying away at the back of her mind, whatever Miss Scott taught her. He had said that she could decide. For just about the first time in her life, certainly about anything important, he intended to let her choose. He had been right about Princeton and he was right that she did not know what she wanted to do in the future. She needed the time and space to think, and she could only do that well away from her mother. So she began to think of Meadvale as a safe haven, a temporary refuge. Her father was making a new life for himself, and he did not hide the fact that he wanted her to be a part of it, but he was not forcing her to be, and that made her want to stay, at least until she sorted things out in her own mind.
Miss Scott noticed the change in her attitude. In one of her regular reports to Mr Slade she called it an acceptance. Having already delayed her return to Cranbrook College, where in all honesty her staff could cope without her and might even benefit from the experience, she agreed to stay on in Meadvale until Christmas. She wanted to take her Hermione onto the next level before she handed her over to anyone else. She had maintained a strict routine, but was sparing the paddle. Hermione had to be eased into things. Miss Scott believed that she was the ideal guardian to help Hermione make the right decisions.
“So how much help do we give them, Charles?” Peter Munroe asked, in the car, travelling back up to London, following their discussions with the Americans.
“Our position is clear, we can’t interfere in another country’s election process, although the Church can, and I believe Michael will make sure Shap receives several large donations. But we can offer our advice on policy and tactics from behind the scenes and I have asked Kieran to loan them his Washington attack dogs for the duration…Alistair Forbes and his charmingly talkative wife too. He was technically a civil servant, and he will resign to take up a new position with our colonial cousins. His guardian can also take care of Miss Nixon…it all works out rather well, I think…and I might be able to give a few speeches for him, when I am finally off the treadmill.”
Her father made her go. He said it might teach her some good lessons, after a series of increasingly bitter arguments with Dee and her mother. Charlotte hated arguing with her father, just about as much as Dee hated punishing her, but both were really quite inevitable. He was honest with her. He asked her if she wanted her mother and Dee to look after her, and protect her as much as they could, with his help, or whether he should get her a real guardian, and give up on all the pretence. He reminded her that they were all in it together, whatever it was, and that Dee and her mother suffered too. So, Charlotte surrendered, of course. Initially with a lot of huffing and puffing that only served to make things worse. Her mother got cross, as cross as she had ever known her, and Charlotte suffered for her insolence. In the end she was ready hours earlier than she needed to be. Dee sat her in the drawing room, muzzled and in her mittens, and made her listen to her bible study. She had to study the bible in her spare time just to keep up the family facade, but she usually listened in her room whilst doing something else. But this time she listened as a maiden would listen, and the irony was not lost on her. She was sleeping over with the Munroe’s. It would be her first time as a maiden, and she knew it would be an ordeal, but as her temper cooled she also realised that her parents were right and she had to wise up.
Madison Nixon travelled home in much the same style as she originally travelled to London, although this time she had her father sitting beside her. She was glad to go but obviously disappointed that she remained a maiden in her father’s eyes. He had the right to look after her as he saw fit, of course. She accepted that, after all the trouble and heartache she had caused him, and now she had to help him with his campaign, and then perhaps he might relent towards her. It was a slim hope, but it was all she had in reality, and she sat beneath her blinding mantle and prayed for forgiveness, in God’s love. If nothing else, she thought, as the wheels touched down on the hard tarmac, she would at least be home. Not to mention free of Miss Dexter.
Sister Maria could not believe it at first. She assumed it was a mistake. The rest of the dormitory had their heads shaved before being run to the showers, as usual, a fast, brutal process with an electric machine that took only seconds. But Maria was switched past it, missing her turn, and she hurried on to wash, dry and dress as always. She sucked up her breakfast after chapel, on the bus en route to the hospital, and completed her shift in the dementia ward, mostly washing and feeding the poor souls, before the return journey, and more prayers. She was unmuzzled for no more than half an hour a day, just to take in some solids. No one usually talked much, for fear of annoying the keepers, but she did ask her neighbour what she thought.
“Are you at the end of your service?”
“Yes, a year ago.” Maria replied, still shovelling stew into her mouth as quickly as possible.
“So your parents must have made you a match…that’s the only reason they would grow your hair.”
The next morning it happened again. In the shower, she could feel the stubble for the first time in six years. She had seen it happen to others before. It took weeks, but there was no other explanation for it, as far as she could see. Her father had promised he would try of course. But they were not wealthy people. She was not much of a catch, after all. She did not really see why a man would choose her. But she was not going to complain about it. It was a way out of hell, as far as she was concerned, and each morning she skipped past the shearing line with a little more joy in her stride.
Miss Robinson welcomed her new charge home with the paddle. Leaving Madison muzzled, before even saying a word or introducing herself, she pushed the otherwise naked girl onto the bed and set about her with gusto, occasionally pausing to catch her breath and remind Miss Nixon that she expected total obedience. Madison had been paddled before. Miss Dexter had been an exacting guardian, and her misdemeanours were always corrected, but this punishment was different. She had done nothing wrong and the ferocity of the beating terrified her. When it was finally over she was left where she was, her silent tears dripping onto the covers, whilst Miss Robinson went to fetch Mrs Forbes. Madison watched in horror as the older woman was stripped and beaten as well, right beside her. Afterwards they lay there together, face to face and muzzle to muzzle. Bethany Robinson rather enjoyed it, and felt rather pleased with herself. She had shown Miss Nixon who was boss, and that even her hostess was kept under the strictest discipline, whilst reminding Mrs Forbes of her place.
Not that Mena needed reminding of course.
Emily and Caitlin Munroe were both younger than Charlotte, but also vastly more experienced, and certainly much more accustomed to the demands of a proper guardian, like Miss Blake. However, Charlotte copied them and managed to avoid any obvious trouble. Her father had told her to think carefully about what she saw at the Munroe’s and to count her blessings, and since she had little else to do, she tried her best, although she often had to fight the noise in her ears to do so. Before she reached her maidenhood she had met girls like them before, from more pious families, but the rules for children were different, and she had not done much of it, in any case. But maidens were expected to socialise. They were supposed to learn how to behave in front of other people, how to chat and how to comport themselves. Emily and Caitlin hung on Miss Blake’s every word, their eyes following her everywhere, eager for a nod or a smile, let alone a word, of praise. Every detail of their lives was supervised and regulated, from how they moved, sat or stood to their words when they were allowed to speak, and Miss Blake never missed a thing. Naturally she was the same with Charlotte, although it was obvious she did not expect as much of her guest as she demanded of her regular charges. By the time she was put into her new, previously unused sleeping gown, Charlotte was just grateful for the respite.
Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party by Sir Charles Buckingham (Radio Version)
“My years in government serving this great country of ours have been the most rewarding time of my life. I have been honoured to lead our people out of the dark shadows of unimaginable debt and despondency into the bright sunshine of prosperity in God’s love. Our renaissance truly is a modern miracle…we have full employment, great schools, world-class hospitals and the highest percentage of Church attendance in the western world…all things that are of the utmost importance to me. This is a decent country again, full of decent, honest, hard-working people. Together we stood up to be counted and said this is how we want to live. I am proud to have been a part of that, and thankful that God gave me the strength to have the courage of my convictions, but every man reaches a stage when he thinks he cannot give anymore. For a politician, when the fire in the belly starts to dim, it is time to go. I have reached that stage, and it is time to hand over to a younger man, full of passion and ideas to build on what my party has achieved on your behalf. As such, I have asked our party chairman to begin the leadership election process, and that should allow a new leader to be in place before Christmas. I will of course remain at the helm until the new man is duly elected by his peers in the House. But I promise you this, we are not finished yet. This party was never a one man band and it never will be. Reformism is strong now and it will be stronger still in the future.”
Guest of Honour speech to the New York Press Association (Shapleigh Nixon III)
“Gentlemen and ladies of the press, my good friends, I thank you for this opportunity to talk to you, and to share my vision for politics in this country.” Shap Nixon said, smiling at his audience. “Beaten candidates for the party nominations are supposed to go away quietly and let the big boys…or girls…come out to play, but as many of you know I am not very good at going quietly anywhere. In fact, I am here to tell you that I was not beaten in the selection process, the people were. Yet again, the policies the people want to vote for have been ignored…not just by the Democrats, but by the GOP. Our system is designed to keep the political elite in power and peddle the same old policies that haven’t worked before and won’t work now. This is not the wailing of a bitter man, because it was a fair fight, and some of my old colleagues in the Republican Party are good people. It is, as I said earlier, the system that is failing the people. In Great Britain, as my dear friend Sir Charles Buckingham only recently reminded me, it was only the defeat of the old, cosy two party system that allowed him to make the structural changes to policies to deal with his country’s problems. The same thing is true here. Sir Charles created a party to attack the old guard, well aware that he would harm his friends as much as his opponents, but he felt that he had no choice. I am here to tell you that I find myself in exactly the same place. New policies demand a new party and I am pleased to announce that I will be standing for election as President of these United States on behalf of the Christian Reform Party. I have funds in place to campaign right up until November and along with my colleagues, all members of the Christian Alliances Reformist Churches of America, we will be putting together the necessary party machine. I am calling now on all the Christians in this great country of ours to come together under this banner…that is 73% of all Americans…and campaign for the sort of country we want to live in. Enough is enough, we have to find new ways to revitalise our economy and save our way of life.”
Baiting the Hooks
“Christopher, good of you to come so far to see me,” Kieran Radcliffe held out his hand to his guest, smiling warmly, and Chris Slade was flattered, as always. He felt appreciated, and included, and the trip to London was no particular hardship. His father was pleased to visit the old house, and oversee the packing of his belongings for the move to Meadvale, and Miss Scott was more than happy to visit with Mrs Munroe, along with Hermione.
“Good to see you to, sir.”
“I hear you are well settled in Meadvale…although I was sorry to hear the news about your mother.”
“She had reached her time…it was a blessing in the end…but we are very happy in Meadvale. I am very grateful for everything you and Mr Munroe have done for me.” Chris replied, taking his seat.
“Oh the arrangement is mutually beneficial…I am afraid that our computer expertise was sadly lacking before your arrival and I am very grateful for the work you are doing for me.”
“Special projects indeed…and that is what I wanted to see you about, Christopher.” Kieran grinned again, before ploughing ahead, reasonably confident that he had the right man in Slade. In truth, the British counter intelligence resource was not as backward as he made out, but it was also an arm of the state. Christopher Slade’s rather smaller operation was an arm of the party and most specifically Kieran Radcliffe and Peter Munroe. He could look at smaller, more specific issues in a more proactive way than GCHQ ever could, and keep it all rather more private. “I need you to look at these eight people for me. I want to know everything there is to know, big or small, interesting or mundane. Especially the man at the top of the list…Robin Sullivan…I need to know if he washes after he defecates, if you know what I mean…leave no stone left unturned.”
Robin Sullivan was the biggest threat, Radcliffe believed, after taking soundings within the party. That in itself was something of a surprise, because he was only a junior minister and his career had been fairly unremarkable. But people were saying that Rob Sullivan was a leading light in a group of MP’s, mostly ex-Conservatives, who believed that Charles Buckingham and his friends, Kieran amongst them, had gone too far. Not politically necessarily, because as far as he could make out Sullivan had no intention of changing the notorious family voting system that had delivered unprecedented electoral success, but ideologically in terms of the amount of pressure being put on the people to follow the Reformist doctrine. Radcliffe was not particular offended by the opinion, although his faith was important to him, but he was concerned about the size of the opposition. Peter Munroe was worried the leadership debate would polarise support, and that the idea of giving some freedom back to the people might resonate with a number of party members. Reformism in its purest form could be harsh on individuals. The issue Kieran most wanted to address was people resisting the changes necessary to live according to the doctrine, but these young fools were on the side of those who wanted to dodge and cheat the system for their own benefit. So, it was natural to wonder if Sullivan and his little gang of malcontents were cutting some corners themselves.
“Obviously we are about to be consumed by election fever, again…it is so disruptive.” Elizabeth Munroe sighed as Miss Blake and Miss Scott helped her pass around afternoon tea in the drawing room. “Honestly Miss Scott, it sometimes feels as if there has been nothing but elections since I first came under your wing at Broomwaters.”
“I do remember trying to dissuade your father from bringing the debate to the dinner table.” Miss Scott smiled, admiring the woman one of her many old pupils had become. “It was hopeless, of course…”
“So the girls and I will be treated to a blow by blow account of the day’s activities over dinner every night, and Peter will be in a permanent state of anxiety the whole time.”
“Of course, this is an internal election…it should be a little less bruising…I hope.” Imogen Sullivan suggested, before taking a sip of tea. Mrs Munroe had apparently taken a liking to her, and to Charlotte, which was a mixed blessing of course. Invitations to spend time with the family of the Home Secretary were never turned down, and although her husband was pleased to make friends in high places, her daughter struggled with their visits. Imogen herself was rather more sanguine. Even if the renaissance had never happened, and she had followed her original intention to teach history after leaving Cambridge, she would still have been a politician’s wife. It was a life of appearing beside her husband at various events, supporting and encouraging him, and that was all she was doing with Mrs Munroe. If she could forget about her attire, and the unseen accessories, it was just another day at the office. “In the end, everyone is on the same side.”
“Good meeting…good turn out and a good speech…it’s all good, Robbie.” Crispin Hall gabbled as they got into the back of the car, ready to speed back to Westminster for a late vote.
“Crispin, what is the matter with you? I have never heard so many good’s in one bloody sentence.”
“Oh…nothing…not really at any rate…but aren’t you just a bit concerned that we are putting our heads above the parapets a bit here?” His oldest political friend asked, checking his watch out of habit.
“Coming out, you mean? We’re moderates, not homosexuals…no one was ever persecuted for being moderate.”
“I’ve already had the nod that Radcliffe’s bully boys want to talk to me.” Hall admitted, with a grimace.
“So have I…putting my name in the ring won’t stop them trying to nobble me…it’s just the game.”
“Suddenly remaining a junior minister in the department of sport and culture seems quite attractive.”
“Both of us have stagnated too long…Buckingham stuck by his allies like glue, and there were no elections to shake things up so things stayed as they were. Crispin, this is our chance, so we have to take it…otherwise we are going to end up living in a church state. Sooner or later someone had to stand up to them, so be a good chap and grow a backbone.”
“But these guys are serious players…they can kill us…and until you stood up that had never really occurred to me before. It’s not just a game…its make or break time.”
Reformism Interrupted is continued soon in Overture – Let the Games Begin – Part Six Masters of the Dark Arts.