Reformism Revisited – Part Five
The Bonfire of the Sanities
by Nick Lucas
An addition to the family
India Eleanor Trevor was born on a Saturday night early in November; with fireworks exploding into the sky high above her like a raucous military salute. Harry Trevor was present, dutifully holding her wife’s hand as the nuns fussed around, but it was a simple birth, Brogan’s third, and they were soon left alone. Brogan cradled the little mite in her arms, and Harry sat on the edge of the bed, his expression full of pride.
“How would you like to sleep tonight?” He asked, after a while.
“Is that up to me?” Brogan murmured, not looking up from her baby.
“You need to rest, and I will tell Miss Howard to do as you request…she will need another feed at some stage.”
“Our first born was put to my breast inside the sleeping gown, as I remember.”
“I forget the mundane details.”
“I have certainly earned the choice.”
“It is my gift to you…nothing is earned or deserved, it is just within my gift, Brogan.”
“Oh what it is to have such power, sir.” Brogan did not raise her voice. Harry thought that her calmness made it all worse. He could hear a little contempt in her tone. She made him angrier than anyone else, quicker than anyone else. “But thank you…for giving me this moment with our daughter before having me settled for the night.”
“I just thought you should sleep…the night nurse will settle the baby for us.” Harry protested, showing his frustrations. He had just watched his wife give birth to his first daughter, and she was accusing him of carelessness? It was unbelievable. But just for once he would not be provoked, despite her impudence. “But there is no rush if you want to hold her.”
“As long as I can, before she is muzzled and covered from head to toe.”
“She will grow in God’s loving embrace.”
“She will grow inside a gilded cage.” Brogan hardly said it, almost thinking aloud, as India tried to grip her finger. Her daughter would know no different, of course. Maybe that would be better. Brogan sometimes wished that she had decided not to try and expose the Reformists, but if she had not done so, if she had written something else, she would not have India, and she would not have her boys. But she was hardly a hands-on mother. Most of the time she was not allowed the use of her hands.
“Are you still worried about Eloise and Grace?” Harry sighed again, grasping the nettle. It was the Elephant in the room all of the time. He was tired of it, because it was none of his wife’s business. “We are their closest living relatives and I intend to adopt them, to treat them exactly as I will treat this little one. Honestly Brogan, the way you react you would think that you were the only one who cares for them…you are not being fair.”
“Of course sir, you know best…our idea of caring is a little different, I suppose…I offer them love, support and understanding if and when I can, and you imprison them, brainwash them and silence them…as you say, you know best.”
Harry bit his tongue. He kissed his wife and daughter and left them to rest, furious about such insolence but unwilling to rise to it, to give Brogan the satisfaction of baiting him, like a lovesick boy. He sent the night nurse in to put the baby down and asked Miss Howard to attend to his wife. She asked him what his wishes were.
“She needs a proper night’s sleep with no distractions as far as possible.” He replied, his expression hard as he took his inevitable revenge. “Put her in her sleeping gown for the night, Miss Howard.”
Chloe Ford tried to concentrate on her studies. She was doing her best, but it was never good enough, not even for her. She did not know why. She knew her duty. She had faith, and she respected her parents, and she knew that she was fortunate to attract such a wealthy and important man as Kieran Radcliffe. She could not blame him for growing impatient. He wanted to marry her and he did not want to wait any longer, even though Mr Munroe cautioned him that she needed more time. So he had employed his own guardian to look after, as he would have done when they were married, as Miss Harris had the Munroe children to care for, and Mr Radcliffe decided that Chloe needed closer attention. Hidden beneath her velvet covers, in a world of her own with Pastor Winstanley’s recorded voice, she wondered who it would be, what she would be like. The next person to touch her would be her guardian for the foreseeable future, into her marriage.
“Sit quite still, Miss Chloe. Maidens never move without permission during study periods.” A voice said, as the lesson abruptly stopped and Chloe started at the touch of a hand on her shoulder. “Nothing should ever surprise you, dear. If you are studying properly you should not even notice. From this moment on, do not even think of anything else. Let me do your thinking for you, so that you can concentrate on your wedding and your duty in God’s loving embrace.”
Miss Scott did not need to introduce herself. Chloe could not respond, but even without her muzzle she doubted if she would have been able to find the words. Her old mentor, a guardian with a reputation that certainly exceeded hers. For the first time, as the realisation of who her guardian was hit her, Chloe knew that she really was marrying Kieran Radcliffe. Miss Scott would not give her any other choice.
Pastor Nigel Brown and his parents were not rich, and it would do for a Pastor’s wedding to be too ostentatious in any case, so Geoff Robinson did not invest too much either. It was another reason to be thankful for the match, and Megan wore a gleaming white silk robe over an ordinary gown, with just her younger sister in attendance. The entire congregation were there; all ninety of them, and Nigel managed to get his old tutor from Theological College to officiate. It was a traditional service. Four hours long with muzzles compulsory for all women, a good chance to get all of his parishioners following the precise doctrine. His new wife looked radiant, and set exactly the right example.
Megan had not argued with her father. She did not see the point anymore. She had no say and she did not dislike Nigel, apart from his beliefs, but she had lost that battle months ago. She endured the ceremony and the reception, and finally left attended by the nuns based at the church, who would add her guardianship to their duties under the Pastor. She knew that she was no longer a part-time Reformist, and she was not surprised when she was undressed and put into a sleeping gown, still in her mittens and muzzle. Nigel had no desire to see her body. He wanted her to procreate, nothing more. It was not quite how she had imagined losing her virginity. He fumbled around a lot, finding the right opening in the end, before using his fingers and some sort of gel to lubricate her. Then she felt him on top of her and she surrendered to God’s living embrace.
“Colin, I am your friend, I would not lie to you.” Gary Pallister said with feeling as the two men stared into each other’s eyes across the interview table. It was a small room, cold, with metal furniture, in the bowels of the police station, and Colin Hughes looked as if he had been there forever. “You cannot fight this…it will only make it worse.”
“Ok, I get the fact that I am guilty of negligence because I allowed my child to have sex underage. But how can they hold her in custody?” Colin asked, not for the first time. But the solicitor provided by the police was not his friend, and he wanted to hear it from Gary. They had been at university together, and travelled to football games all over Europe. He trusted Gary.
“She is in care, protective custody if you like. Because of her age, she is not held responsible for the act of sex…instead, it is automatically recorded as statutory rape. Normally she would be taken into care, to protect her from you and for counselling to restore her honour.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“A convent ‘education’ and an operation to restore her hymen…then, when she is released, she is given the status of legal virgin and is free to marry. No stigma can be attached to a child, as she is a victim of your negligence.”
“Gary…this is important…would it be better if she was older?”
“Better for whom?”
“For her, of course.”
“No, worse. She would be investigated to determine the extent of her sexual activity, and to decide if she was raped or entered willingly into sexual intercourse. Normally of course, it is the latter, and then she takes most of the blame. You would still be guilty of negligence, but also of failing to protect others from your daughter.”
“But it happened abroad, where she did nothing illegal…if she was older?”
“No, you are judged as British because of your passport, it doesn’t matter where you were. We can claim it happened when she was with her mother, and you knew nothing about it, but your divorce and subsequent failure to supervise your wards properly would still count against you. At best you are looking at a fine and deportation, at worst five years. Natasha cannot be returned to you, so she will go into care.”
“Can’t she be returned to her mother?”
“She can, but her mother, and her legal guardian, would have to appear before the court to gain custody. One of both of them would then be arrested on the same charge as you, and Natasha would remain in care. For God’s sake, Colin…don’t you read the papers or watch the news anymore? Why the hell did you bring her back here?”
“These numbers are interesting.” Peter Munroe commented, looking over Harry Trevor’s shoulder.
“You would say that, Peter.” Harry chuckled, as his friend clapped him on the back.
“Emigration has increased…more people moving to places like Australia, but only by about fifty percent. But when you drill down, they are almost all undesirables…the ones who would never willingly convert, and the better off, so much harder to put pressure on as well. But immigration is up to, not quite as much, which ultimately we have less mouths to feed, and more importantly they are coming here for the right reasons. More Muslims of course, because we are seen as a partner culture, but also a lot of good Christians. Lots of Americans suddenly want to be posted here, mostly our Baptist friends. We are shipping the bad apples out and getting shiny, friendly ones in return.”
“Monsieur Catalane, nice to see you again…I hope you are well?” Charles Buckingham smiled, shaking hands with the French ambassador as the small man strode into his office. “Coffee by the fire?”
“Merci, Prime Minister…thank you for seeing me at such short notice.”
“My pleasure…but a distressing business…a curse of this modern age.”
“Quite so, and something of an embarrassment, for France.” Catalane replied, settling in his chair and accepting a cup of coffee from the principal private secretary.
“Child abuse is not a French disease. I don’t think any blame attaches to you or your people.” Charles said, choosing his words with care. His differences with his European partners were many but relationships were being maintained for the common good. Britain’s economic recovery was matched only by the German’s. Every other proud member of the European Union had received considerable assistance, technically from the World Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, but a large slice of the money needed Charles Buckingham’s signature on the cheque. No longer the poor relations, Britain could afford to plough its own furrow a little more robustly than ever before.
“Sir Charles, these people have been living blamelessly in France for some years…the crime committed is treated with a little more…commonsense…in France. If the…act…was between two consenting young people it would not be condemned…in fact, it is highly unlikely it would ever come to light in the first place. The severity of the punishments that may be handed down are likely to cause great distress.”
“Claude, your idea of commonsense and mine may differ a little.” Charles smiled, sipping his coffee. “Sex with a minor is child abuse, not something we can just shrug and tolerate. Even if I agree with you that sexual intercourse between minors should not be classified as such, or indeed as rape, although the precise circumstances would require some investigation, the fact is that the child in question should have been better protected by her parents, who remain British citizens. Random health checks are like random drugs tests…they are a deterrent, to support the laws. I can see how you might think it unfortunate that this poor young girl was checked, but she was and her abusers must be punished…you must understand this.”
“I can appreciate your position, Sir Charles…and fining the father and deporting him would not be the end of the world, I am sure. But incarcerating the child…”
“She would be taken into care, not incarcerated Claude.” Charles pointed out, not giving an inch.
“Can you not see how this looks to the rest of Europe? Of course, we respect the right of the British people to run its own internal affairs, but you are taking the girl from her family?”
“Claude, removing a child from negligent parents is hardly extreme, and the real problem is that you do respect our laws. You profoundly disagree with them, and you are frightened what the press will say if you allow it to happen…but you are equally frightened that we will withdraw your credit if you upset us…you are caught between the devil and a hard place.”
“An apt description, Sir Charles…and not an inaccurate one,” Catalane grinned, accepting the point, quite accustomed to the rough and tumble of diplomatic relations. “I have always found your ability to, as you say, cut to the chase…refreshing and time saving of course. However, my President hopes that a compromise position could be found…perhaps if she was returned to the mother but kept under close scrutiny from our social services?”
“I cannot interfere with the due process of the courts, Claude.”
“Of course…but you could make…representations…could you not?”
“Claude, you must understand that this case is at the heart of one of my own basic beliefs…these laws are the most Reformist legislation we have as yet passed by far. Promiscuity and sexual activity outside marriage are major social ills, and that we all let it go on for so long is a disgrace. The lax attitude you still have to children having sex appals me. I would have more sympathy with you if this girl was older, and had lived in France since she was a child…and indeed we have turned a blind eye to many such people caught up in random checks as long as they abide by the new laws. It is not a general amnesty but as you say we have applied some commonsense. But this is a child, Claude. You can argue about of new age limits as much as you want, but she would still be a child by the old limits, too. Her parents are at best conspicuously guilty of negligence. I will not be a party to sending her back into that environment, Claude. As I understand it, the police cannot rule out the father yet, although they do say that they have little evidence to suspect him, but this child has been abused and she will be looked after as the courts decide regardless of French public opinion.”
Miss Howard settled Lady Trevor, Eloise and Grace in the conservatory after lunch, with little India in her Moses basket right beside her mother. She removed their muzzles but not their mittens. Eloise and Grace politely thanked the guardian for her kindness, but Lady Trevor just glared at her, as always. Eloise admired her aunt’s courage so much, but also her quiet dignity and her persistence. Miss Howard was not the worst guardian she knew by any means and her aunt admitted that at times, but still waged a battle of wills with her, as far as she was able. Not that they could do much, of course. Eloise found her total dependence on Miss Howard the hardest thing of all to take. She did not really do anything for herself. Not even think, anymore. She had accepted her fate. Her parents were gone and her Uncle was adopting her and her sister. Then she would be Eloise Trevor, one of the most eligible maidens in the country, destined for a life spent in God’s love.
“It would seem that we are to rest our fingers some more.” Brogan almost growled, as the guardian left the room, the door not quite closed behind her. “But hey ho, it will soon be Christmas, and we shall go to Meadvale.”
“I think Mr Radcliffe is getting married there, too.” Eloise said, trying to lighten the mood a little.
“So I understand…I have to admit I am quite fond of Miss Ford, his fiancée. Despite the infuriating nature of her profession she was always kind to me.”
“Oh yes, I heard she was a guardian?” Grace joined in, her voice a little croaky after hours in her muzzle.
“She was indeed, but do not hold it against her, Grace.”
“Oh Auntie…do not get cross on our account, please.” Eloise sighed, and Brogan smiled back at her.
“My dear girl, I was cross long before I even met you, and by now I am sure Miss Howard is used to my little ways.”
“She is fond of you, I am sure.”
“One gets fond of one’s pets, I suppose.” Brogan smiled again, using the end of her mitten to tickle India.
“Aunt Brogan, do you love Uncle Harry?” Eloise asked, quite out of the blue.
“Our marriage was arranged, Eloise. Love never came into it, dear.”
“But you can grow to love someone, can’t you?”
“Sweetheart, your Uncle and I are a very modern couple. He knows me very well, and I know him…you mustn’t let my bad moods unsettle you, and you must not think of marriage in terms of love. That is a very old-fashioned notion here, and perhaps it always was, as so many marriages used to end in divorce.”
“We will be married one day.”
“Yes you will, but not for a long time.”
“Uncle Harry loves us.” Eloise said with surprising certainty. Brogan frowned, but Eloise beamed back at her.
“Sometimes I think he does, but his faith is his overwhelming passion, Eloise.”
“Did you meet him before you married?”
“Yes, actually I did…I was never opposed to the match…in fact, I persuaded Mr Craig to make it for me.”
“And you still don’t love him?”
“Oh at your age…and from your background…the idea of romance…of love…is intoxicating…but life is not that simple. At least mine isn’t…I am not sure what love is in that sense. I know what I feel for the boys, and for you three. I know I would die for any one of you, without a second thought…but my feelings for Harry are much more complicated. I admire him, I…am fond of him and he is the father of my children…and when I saw how much he wanted to take care of you I realised that more than ever before. But his faith is…stronger than mine.”
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is. And that he a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Eloise replied, quoting Hebrews 11:6.
“Oh I rather felt that he sought me.”
“For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
“Oh yes I have received many gifts, Eloise…and Ephesians 2:8 is a favourite passage. But your Uncle is so much keener on Romans 5:1 ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ I often find that there are things I cannot justify through faith, which is my fault, and I must pray harder, I know…but that is the difference between your Uncle and me. I feel for him, I care for him, but the love I feel for my children is unconditional, always.”
It was not true. Being enigmatic seemed to satisfy the girls until she could change the subject, but Brogan did love Harry just as much as she hated him, and that still confused her. She always remembered that she barged her way into his world, so could not and never did blame him for trapping her. She had mistakenly thought that he would rescue her, once, but that had been a very simple mistake, or a triumph of hope over experience. Since their marriage, and whilst producing three children, it was almost impossible not to love him some of the time. She had known him well before they were both converted to Reformism, in very different ways, and she had feelings for him then so with such intimacy perhaps some sort of love was inevitable. But really quite illogically in the circumstances of course, she hated him for his unrelenting faith in the Reformist doctrine. He let it and what he had in his head constantly rule his heart, and she could never quite forgive that. But love was complicated, she had realised, with far too much time on her hands to think about such things. His love for her was not based in his power over her, although both of them often pretended that it was. He loved her because she tested him, and stood up to him, even when she was obviously in no position to do so.
Richmond Crown Court
“My Lord and gentlemen of the jury, in summing up this unfortunate case, I must say that I find it all rather unfortunate.” The QC for the prosecution said, scanning the crowded court room until his steely gaze came to rest on Colin Hughes. “Of course the prosecution accepts that the crime happened in France. Testimony provided by the social workers following private interviews with the victim suggest that this poor unfortunate girl was duped into sin during a short holiday with old friends, when neither parent was present, and in the permissive French culture, as it is claimed both participants were willing and that there was no force or coercion used, it is highly unlikely that any charge would have been brought…in France. However, this trial is not about anything that happened in France. Mr Hughes is charged with negligence. Our child protection laws make it very clear that all parents are responsible for the care and protection of their children…doubly so for a daughter.”
Colin Hughes was hardly listening anymore. He was staring at three nuns, sitting opposite his place, in the dock, separated from the press and the general public, by a curtain and three guards. He did not know which one was Natalie. She had not been called to speak at the trial, and as she was dressed identically to her two companions, her guards he presumed, he could not accurately identify her. His barrister had told him that she would be muzzled, and she was certainly wearing mittens, as far as he could see. All three nuns also wore blinding mantles. But he assumed his daughter was the one in the middle, and he assumed that she could hear what was going on. It was a nightmare, absolute torture. But she had probably saved him from gaol, as the barrister and Gary Pallister had pointed out, by telling the social workers, or whoever actually interviewed her, that she had lost her virginity on holiday away from both her parents. It was typical Natalie. Pallister had not been allowed to talk to her, and she had to be terrified, by she had still thought things through and come up with the right answer.
“So, we have heard that this couple were divorced some years ago, and have shared custody of their children since. In coming home after his job ended, Mr Hughes is subject to British Law and his daughter is protected by it, therefore gentlemen of the jury I must ask you to find him guilty of negligence, and furthermore to entrust Natasha Hughes to the care of the authorities. In this country we demand high standards of child welfare. It is your duty to uphold the law of the land and offer this poor unfortunate girl the protection she has always deserved, but has clearly never received from her father.”
Colin closed his eyes. The words were not a surprise. It was what Pallister had warned him to expect, and there was very little he could do about it. His barrister stood up, and prepared to sum up for the defence.
“Colin Hughes moved back to this country fully prepared to abide by the laws of the land, gentlemen of the jury. He came to stay here in Richmond with his cousin, and attended the Richmond Reformist Church on the only Sunday he has so far spent here not in police custody. He took his daughter to Church in a muzzle, mantle and veils. He is a good man, a Christian man and a good father. He had no idea that his daughter was abused during this holiday with friends, because like we all would, he trusted her friend’s parents to look after Natasha as one of their own. Punishing him for this simple, understandable mistake would be an injustice. He is keen to put this ordeal behind him, and if you let him do so, take care of his daughter. He is quite prepared to accept help from social services for any period of time the court feels necessary, but we ask you not to punish them both for something that happened in a different culture…a culture he happily rejected to move back home.”
Natalie heard everything that was said, although her hood and mantle muffled everything a little. She guessed her father must be there, but she knew he would not shout out, or do anything to make things worse. Not that it could be worse. She heard the judge dismiss the jury. She had not received any advice from anyone. Mostly, the nuns looking after her had kept her helpless apart from two short, uncomfortable interviews with a senior nun, who had nothing to do with her gaolers as far as she could make out, who talked about her sin, and went on and one until Natalie answered her questions. She had thought of telling the truth but something told her that travelling on a false passport and pretending to be her younger sister, as well as not being a virgin, might not give either of them an advantage. It would undoubtedly mean more charges for her father, and put her in a very different position, as an adult criminal. So she stuck to the story.
“Members of the jury, have you elected a foreman?” She heard the clerk of the court announce, not long later. She did not know if a quick verdict was better than them being out for hours. Her mouth went totally dry and she sucked desperately at her feeding tube, taking down the last of her water.
“Yes sir, I am the elected foreman of this jury.” She heard a man with a deep voice respond.
“And have you reached a verdict on both charges before this court, namely that of negligence against Colin Hughes, and a subsequent application from the state that his daughter Natasha Hughes be placed in protective custody?”
“Is your verdict a unanimous one?”
“Then do you find Colin Hughes guilty or not guilty?”
“And do you recommend that Natasha Hughes be taken into protective custody?”
“Yes sir, we do…to keep her in God’s love.”
“Gentlemen of the jury, we thank you for your time.” The judge took control again as Natalie heard a rumble of conversation all around her. “It now falls to me to pass sentence. Please stand up, Mr Hughes. I agree with the prosecution counsel, in that the circumstances of this tragic abuse on your daughter somewhat mitigate your negligence. Therefore, I fine you five thousand pounds, which once paid will allow you to be released for immediate deportation from this country. Take it as a clear sign that we have some sympathy with you, but will not tolerate such behaviour in this country. As for your daughter, it is our belief that she will continue to be at risk in your care, or that of her mother. She does have relatives in this country who are willing to take responsibility for her at a later stage, but at this time, considering her age and the great harm done to her, we have decided that she will be sent to a convent and kept in protective custody for a period of not less than five years.”
Natalie did not hear anything else. One of the nuns with her had turned her headphones back on, resuming a long and often repeated sermon on obedience. They took her arms and she was pushed and pulled out of the courtroom. No one heard her screams.
Into The System
“Sister Carina, this is your given name.” One of the green braids said, talking to the new arrival, as Sister Caris stood to one side waiting for her instructions. “You will not use your old name…it has no relevance here, as you are now in God’s care, and Carina is His name for you whilst you remain in His service. Sister Caris will prepare you and settle you in your dormitory. You are several weeks behind the current intake, and will be held over to the next course, but you will work in the meantime. Sister Caris will find something for you to do to fill your time. Sister Caris, are you muzzled?”
“No Sister, I have just finished a lesson; curtsey to your betters, Sister Carina.” Caris spoke deferentially at first, and then almost barked at the newcomer. It was expected, and necessary to get on top of them fast, to avoid trouble for everyone. But the girl did not move.
“Sister Carina may be a stubborn one, I am afraid Sister Caris…I believe they had trouble with her during the journey. She will need a firm hand, if you please.”
Caris curtseyed herself, and took Carina by the arm, pulling her through reception and deeper into the convent. They had to go through several check points, with locked doors, and Carina did not offer one curtsey to the gatekeepers. Caris was told to punish her three times before they reached their destination. The dormitory was empty as the other novices were still in their lessons, but Caris found an empty cot and started to undress her latest charge. The girl was no help. But Caris persisted, making only a few soothing or encouraging comments, hoping that might get the girl to cooperate.
“Come on now Sister Carina, you have to help me help you.” Caris said when she finally removed the final layer and could see who she was talking to. She was used to the shaved heads of the novices, and she saw only a pretty girl with dark, angry eyes staring back at her. “I can’t remove your muzzle…that only comes off at dinner, and only then if you are good…and you are not being good, Sister Carina. Take my advice, never provoke the green braids…or us blue braids…because they will make us punish you, even if we don’t want too…and most of us blue braids don’t want too. I am going to have to beat you for today but you have to learn.”
Natalie was not in the mood to learn, but she was not immune to pain, or despair. She really had no idea where she was. The Reformist’s idea of protective custody for an abused child was hours covered up in the back of a van, and then being delivered into the hands of cruel nuns who treated her like an animal, or a slave. Sister Caris spoke kindly to her, and seemed keen to give her lots of advice, but she used her switch well, and settled a whimpering Sister Carina into her dormitory.
“Colin, you know this line is not secure.”
“Shit Brad, if you took my calls at the office, we could set that up, arsehole.” Colin Hughes growled into the microphone and gave the guy the finger. “Cut me some slack here, I need your help.”
“Colin, I feel for you, but you knew this was top secret…”
“And my daughter and I did not rat on you…so help me.”
“Charles Buckingham already told the French to go forth…it’s no use.”
“So you are saying I have to suck it up?”
“She can’t do anything directly but we will see what we can do, I promise.”
“So you are saying I have to suck it up.”
“Colin, you knew the risks, and we paid for the trip.”
“Great Brad, let me know if I can help you again, and I promise, if there is ever anything I can do to you, I will do it and dance on your fucking grave.”
Megan poured for her mother, as the nun left the room, leaving the three of them to chat in private. Her mother was rather impressed by the nuns. Each Reformist Church had a small number of sisters, to help the Pastor. In Sevenoaks, they had a little block built onto the new Church, which her husband locked at night. The chapter, as they were called, had a senior nun in charge, looking after three others. Megan had never heard them speak, but they helped her to live what Nigel called a decent life at home. It was not a decent life. It was a life spent in her uncomfortable new clothes, funded from wedding presents, a little help from both sets of parents and contributions from other members of the congregation, her mittens and her muzzle. But the nuns were not like the few guardians she had met, partly because they were more strictly kept than her. They never spoke, so she assumed that outside the chapter house they were always muzzled, and they treated her with respect bordering on deference at all times.
“Such a nice drawing room, dear…and it is a large house.” Mrs Robinson commented, sitting rather stiffly in her second best church gown, with Bethany sitting beside her. They had dressed up for the occasion, and Megan was beginning to realise that whilst her husband was not rich he was an important man to his congregation, and that meant a lot to her parents, and people who thought like them. It was the way of their new world, little connections, using your network to get on and gain influence in life.
“We do like it, and it is new of course, although Nigel would like to get some better furniture.” Megan replied, making an effort for her mother but realising that her position had changed in that particular relationship.
Progress at Last
Chloe’s big eyes shone at Miss Scott as the guardian removed her covering at last, but she did not move. Miss Scott nodded her approval as she folded the blanket, before switching off Chloe’s lessons. Her charge followed her with her eyes, searching her expression as she checked her charges appearance. Nothing was disturbed as far as she could see. The gown looked perfect, as if Chloe had hardly breathed, let alone moved, which was as it should be. Maidens needed to concentrate totally on the words of God, and therefore they should not move. It ought to be automatic, a muscle memory learned over months if not years of long practise. Everyone had expected too much of Chloe, Miss Scott thought, as she removed her feeding tube. Knowing what was required of her was very different to doing it, and she needed encouragement rather than discipline, most of the time. Of course she had been paddled, many times, because Miss Scott needed to change her mind set, but she was praised too, because maidens needed praise.
Miss Scott had suggested a Christmas wedding to give Chloe some confidence that she was so nearly there. Ideally she would have liked another year with her, but that was not possible. Mr Radcliffe had agreed that Miss Scott could continue all her good work with his new wife after their marriage. Miss Scott was pleased, because she liked Chloe. She had not stayed on with the Harrington’s after the girls married because she was a guardian not a nanny, and she had no empathy with babies. The offer to take on Chloe came at the right time. Her charge might not feel quite the same, but she had certainly responded, perhaps simply because she respected Miss Scott, certainly as her equal, and partly as her original mentor. Miss Scott certainly understood dear Chloe’s reaction to her betrothal. Because she would have felt the same. She did not regret never marrying and she was relieved that, at forty years old, she was probably too old to attract the attentions of anyone. She sometimes imagined herself in Chloe’s position, suffering the often fumbling attentions of a guardian inferior to herself, and rebelling against it, instinctively rather than deliberately. Miss Scott had scratched that particular itch, and as Chloe had often done herself she had used her empathy to get her charge on the right tracks.
In her opinion, guardianship was undervalued amongst the burgeoning Reformist community. Poor training was resulting in textbook teaching for far too many maidens, when what they needed was a programme tailored to them and their strengths and weaknesses. She had started to write a book on the subject, but that was a hobby not her passion, and she preferred to focus on Chloe. Because girls like her were the future. In her early days, the Reformists were little more than a cult, hidden away in Devon, making the rules up almost as they went along, but now with new members joining every single day they had to get organised, because in times of revolution, whatever you wanted to call the renaissance, the old class divides would get left behind in the rush. Chloe had never expected to attract such a fine husband, but there were not so many well connected girls around and she would not be the last who needed help achieving the standards required by the doctrine.
“Growth is outstripping supply to a certain extent, and several people have expressed concern for the future.” Peter Munroe suggested, as ever checking his notes. He was always prepared for any discussion, with the figures and the details at his fingertips as if by magic. Harry Trevor knew he was the opposite. He usually knew his brief, but he was an ideas man, a man of action and instinct, whilst Peter tended to worry at a problem, like a dog with a bone.
“Areas?” Charles Buckingham asked, acting as chairman, although it was technically a Church meeting not a government briefing.
“Nurses and teachers for one.” Harry sighed, as Peter nodded his agreement. “Numbers are rising…something just shy of half a million at the last count…but we need more training and time.”
“Yes, the information supports that…in the hospitals in particular we do not have the training or experience. In general, we have enough labour, because the nuns do not take holidays, sick days or weekends off, but the order is only providing very basic training and the reports suggest that training on the job will take two to three years…by which time the national service element will be released, and we are back to square one.”
“There is a definite shortage of guardians, too.” David Harrington added, reaching for his coffee. “When we tried to replace the formidable Miss Scott it was a nightmare. Either we were being offered girls straight out of school, or unmarried women desperate for a job with no training at all. That is certainly an area we need to improve.”
“I agree with you there.” Pastor Winstanley sighed, sitting back in his chair. “Guardianship is a crucial role, we need a college dedicated to it. Maybe more than one.”
“Well, we have a number of disused colleges and universities available, but how are you going to train them if you have a shortage of teachers?” Paul Craig commented, running a hand through his grey hair.
“Can’t we extend national service for the competent nurses?” Harry Trevor asked, going straight into brainstorming mode. It was his strength, not Peter’s. Charles Buckingham liked them as his wing men, because they were opposites.
“That might be a little obvious, if you just kept the good ones.” Charles smiled, treating it as a joke.
“Three years was always an arbitrary figure.” Harry persisted, pursuing the germ of an idea.
“Only because the initial ten year sign ups seemed too much…even with the money on offer take up was small…we settled on three years to match the old degree courses.” Peter reminded everyone.
“So we have three types of nun, penal, voluntary and national service. Penal is obviously set by the courts, and we certainly can’t interfere with that. The voluntary term is actually a historical anomaly because nuns joined their order for life, although as time went on they were able to leave under certain circumstances, I believe.” Pastor Winstanley broke in, trying to summarise the situation in his own mind, as much as for anyone else. “But even when inducements, there are limits to how many nuns will be volunteered…how many did we get Peter?”
“Some ten thousand, a tiny minority really Pastor. We have over one hundred thousand penal nuns, and that grows by about one thousand a month, although the law of averages suggests that figure must fall, as the criminal class is removed from society altogether. Maybe one hundred and fifty thousand tops. So that leave around three and a half million national service nuns which ought to remain a fairly stable figure, but the training issues will remain.”
“We have struggled with the training convents.” Winstanley admitted, making a face.
“Excuse me Pastor, but I have had several disturbing reports about those particular establishments.”
“Disturbing?” Buckingham asked, turning to concentrate on Munroe.
“Speed is the issue. Everything is being rushed, and we must bear in mind that the majority of these women are not believers to start with…so the regimes are severe, because they are trying to convert and train in a matter of months.”
“What do you recommend, Peter?” Buckingham asked, sensing that his friend had a plan.
“Well, for a start, distinguish between the types of novice. At present, we take a devout girl and put her through the same hell as a convict…that is simply not right or sustainable. Also the level and speciality of training should be reflected in the intended length of service. And then Harry’s idea could come into play…a highly trained specialist, maybe with an easier life, would be more inclined to sign on for longer. So convents for each…our first swathe of hospital takeovers scooped up a lot of experienced people, and my fear is some of them are changing bedpans. Our growth and ambition are causing as problems, so we have to reorganise accordingly. Pastor, I know you have tried to keep the nuns at arm’s length, but I think we need men in there leading the way. Not just a Pastor holding services, but in charge. I think it is all getting too big to be run…piecemeal for want of a better word. We need a proper structure, rules, training periods…and as Harry said, potentially we need nuns for a longer period of time.”
Christmas at Broomwaters
David Henderson liked a relaxed atmosphere for his annual house party in Meadvale. He always requested that his guardian and those of his guests entered into the spirit of things, and although there were always occasions when propriety and social etiquette demanded some discipline there was plenty of time to talk, unwind and socialise. Brogan always looked forward to it and she wanted the girls to enjoy themselves. She broached the subject with Harry before leaving London and he readily agreed with her. It was a tradition of their festive season, a time of goodwill to all men, and even women for once. In fact, the festive spirit engendered a warming of relations between Brogan and Harry once more. He started to talk to her about his work again at night, when they were alone, and he let her offer his opinions, even debating some points with her. She teased him again, rather than provoking him, and little India was a delight, a new joy in both their lives. Eloise and Grace were now officially adopted as their daughters, and their surnames changed to Trevor. Brogan felt that they had settled, and Harry tried to make her see that his apparent severity was for their own good in the end, as they had no one else. He of course believed that they had saved the girls from a life of sin, and although Brogan could never accept that, despite the effects of her own re-education, she was pleased that they appeared to be responding to the love Harry and her both gave them in abundance.
One particular debate, over several nights, concerned the culture shock of conversion to the Church, forced or otherwise. The two of them seldom referred to her own transformation in detail, but there were enough examples amongst their friends and colleagues to highlight pertinent examples. Harry cited the happiness of Elizabeth Munroe. Her father had taken his time with her, and Brogan had to admit that it was hard to distinguish between her and girls like her adopted sister, Alice Craig, who were born to be maidens. Reformism worked on many levels, at least amongst the elite. Brogan could not provide justifiable examples of unhappy women in her social circles. She tried to argue that Madeleine Buckingham was less than content, but Harry rightly pointed out that she was such a snob that she would find being crowned as queen dissatisfactory. Harry’s contention was that the transition from child to maiden and then from maiden to wife was always a difficult one, regardless of the background of the girl concerned, because of the demands of the doctrine. But the discipline of responsible adulthood was the difference between the Reformist ideal and the failed permissive society.
He did not bother Brogan with the political clichés. Lying together in bed, he stared at the ceiling and outlined his definition of the permissive society. Most people assumed that the term referred primarily to sexual freedom, but he felt that was an evil by product of a much more serious malaise. He was not a Thatcherite. He believed that business should have the freedom to make money and employ more people, but he was more concerned with stakeholders than shareholders. He was in favour of strict corporate responsibility combined with a moral structure of decency and fair play. It was not acceptable to make money at all costs. He called it the ‘anything goes’ mentality of the eighties. Exploitation became acceptable even on prime time television, but no one stopped to consider the consequences. He decried the politicians of the time for so many things, but mostly because they detached themselves from the people. He felt that they lost touch, to the point where no one really cared who was in power because nothing ever seemed to change.
Harry was sure that was why the modern renaissance had captured the imagination of the electorate. It was fresh faces, not tainted by the lies and fraudulent behaviour of the old ones, saying new things, proposing policies that actually meant something to the people. Brogan knew him so well that she chose when to listen and when to argue. He knew that she was not stupid but he never took kindly to her proving him wrong or being cleverer than he was. Sometimes she played him like a hook on a line but she agreed that the corruption, greed and palpable incompetence of the political old guard, coupled with the worst recession ever known, created the space for the renaissance. Ordinary people were sick of so many things. So when someone not only started listening to them, but started turning their opinions into policies, the opportunity was there. They were in bed, in one of the guest rooms at Broomwaters, when Brogan finally made her point. He was talking about the manifesto, about what they would do next, after the next election was won, but she stopped him in his tracks.
“What you have to realise is that you broke the mould, but as you said in one of your speeches, years ago, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. The danger is that the opposition will mimic you, as Blair did, as Cameron did, and the people will turn to them because you did all the hard work, leaving them the lasting legacy.”
“Some of these outlying congregations are quite liberal, I believe.” Madeleine Buckingham was saying after a ladies lunch, as all the ladies relaxed in the main drawing room at Broomwaters. “No muzzles, a preponderance of gloves…Sir Charles has been quite amazed at times.”
“Good habits do take time to take hold, of course.” Mrs Harrington pointed out, sipping her Earl Grey. “It was the same here in the early days…Pastor Richard, Pastor Michael’s father, gave a famous sermon on the issue. I would love to hear that again as I remember the next week so well…muzzles were rather less comfortable in those days, but the shops sold out within days of that sermon…Pastor’s have to inspire.”
“I can’t imagine Meadvale like that, Mama.” Henrietta looked suitably shocked, as if the thought had never occurred to her. It had occurred to Brogan, and she had researched it before making her fateful attempt to expose the Reformist movement. Four men founded the Reformist Church, from the humble origins of an independent Baptist community. Richard Winstanley was the thought leader. He wrote a seminal thesis on the need for reform, to reject the modern tendency to interpret the intentions of God, when his words were already there for all to follow.
“Everything has to start somewhere.” Brogan suggested, sitting on a sofa holding hands with Eloise.
“Bethlehem mostly.” Elizabeth added, and everyone smiled, feeling comfortable together.
“Genesis first, but I accept the point dear.” Mrs Harrington chuckled, and Brogan felt the warmth in the room, the serenity of the company of trusted friends. She would never have thought it possible. She came to Meadvale to expose the repression of an evil regime, to save these people who were now her friends and family. But she could not think of one of them who would ever really appreciate being saved by a heathen, as she was then, or by anyone else. They all had faith. She could argue that it had been forced on them, and she suspected that her own lessons had sunk deeper into her than she could recognise, but they were not fools. It was a mistake many people had made about fundamentalists of all creeds. Everyone simply assumed that the suicide bomber was drugged, or brainwashed, or insane. But what if the truth was much more straightforward than that, what if they just had an unshakeable faith, a genuine belief that they were doing the right thing for the world and the people therein. She had recognised that in Harry. He was an intelligent man, and he believed in the doctrine.
“Chloe dear, are you ready for your big day?” Mrs Craig asked, expertly changing the subject to something more suitable. It was going to be the wedding of the year, considering the guest list, and something for everyone to look forward to.
“I hope so, Ma’am…although I am a little apprehensive.” Chloe admitted, sitting next to Elizabeth, and turning to her for her approval and support, in Miss Scott’s absence. Elizabeth gave it with a barely perceptible nod of head and stifled a smile. She well remembered looking to Miss Ford in similar circumstances. She hoped that Chloe would be as happy as she was.
Reformism Revisited is continued in part six The People Decide.