Reformism Revisited – Part Seven
The Show Must Go On
by Nick Lucas
Sense and Sensibility
Sister Amelia had not left Sevenoaks Reformist Church for five days. Bishop Murray had sent his car, but he decided that until their new star recruit was ready to meet the press it was better to keep her off the radar, and Sevenoaks was about as far of the radar as he could get her, with the added advantage of a very secure chapter house and a competent senior sister. He instructed Nigel Brown to keep a close eye on things, and got working on what they could do with her. Sister Marie, the senior sister in Sevenoaks, kept her locked in a cell most of the time. She was fed through her feeding tubes, and forced to listen to the duties and responsibilities of a Sister until she thought her head would explode. She was beaten three times for struggling when her fellow Sisters tried to feed and change her. Nothing too serious, as the bishop had left very strict instructions that she needed to be unblemished, but enough to make her cooperate. But on the sixth day, she was forced to bath and dressed in a fresh habit, before being led back into the Pastor’s office.
“Good morning Sister Amelia…I am pleased to meet you at long last, although I have heard a lot about you, of course.” Bishop Murray spoke from behind the desk, with Nigel standing behind him, and Megan sitting in a chair to the right, fully veiled and muzzled, as a good wife should be. “Firstly, let me assure you that your mother is quite well, and really rather delighted by your news…although she knows rather more about it than you do at the moment, of course. I have explained to her that you have most admirably decided to honour your debt to society by refusing to defer your national service. Your agreement to take part in what I believe is called a reality television programme as you prepare to take your vows meets with her full approval, and she is more than happy to take part…in fact, filming has already started…as the producer and director need some background shots to cut into the footage we will shoot with you later on, of course. She says it is just your sort of thing and she seemed sure that it would help your career when you have completed your five years…oh yes, I know your paperwork said three, but it is being increased, so we thought you would like to be one of the first to benefit…and we are planning further one-off specials throughout your service. I am sure you will agree that it sounds like a lot of fun, and your agent agrees that it is exactly the sort of career exposure you have been longing for. It will all be dramatised a little, to give the story some meat, so your basic training will be delayed a few weeks, but you are going to be the face of the order, Miss Nicholson…at least until you finally disappear behind a mantle!”
Amelia shook her head, but no one took any notice of her. Her gaolers, her fellow nuns, dragged her away and locked her in her cell again, to listen to more sermons. She shouted and screamed, as she used to do on set, but no one could hear her. She sucked on her tube but it was just water, and she only liked sparkling water. It was intolerable. When she eventually got it all sorted out, someone was going to pay, she promised herself that, big time.
Mrs Fitzgerald had settled in front of the television after dinner, which she still called tea, and her husband liked to eat as soon as he came home from work, so she normally caught the end of the news. Mr Fitzgerald was washing up, his daily chore, and a ritual contribution to their routine. He was tired after a day at the garage. As usual the house was quiet, without the girls, but he said his usual prayer of thanks as he left the kitchen and passed the cross on the wall in the hall, heading for his end of the sofa and the inevitable snooze. Nothing much was happening in the world, except some politicians arguing about voting rights, as if that made any difference to anyone. Mr and Mrs Fitzgerald had always voted together, for the same man, and he did not need to tell her to do so. If it saved money and saved them a boring trip out to the community centre to tick the same box, he was all for it, and he knew his wife would feel the same. She had only disagreed with him once, about the girls serving God, but that had been selfish as he had told her, and she was quite proud now that she had got used to the idea, and always blushed when the Pastor sang the praises of the families who had gone that extra mile to earn God’s love. He took his place and took his wife’s hand, just as the next programme began with a long sweeping shot of a nun kneeling at an altar, clearly lost in prayer.
“Our lives have all been touched by a nun at some stage.” The voice over said, gentle and almost soporific, mixed with a soothing string quartet, almost sounding just like a prayer too. Mr Fitzgerald had to fight the urge to doze. “Our daughters are increasingly taught by them, our parish churches are enhanced by their presence and good works, and in our hospitals and surgeries the hard work and tender care of a nun is like being bathed in God’s love. National Service, the idea of young people doing something for others before settling down to raise a family of their own, is something of a political football, but many people, some of them very surprising people, are strangely drawn to the idea of serving God and their fellow citizens…even those with no background of faith or piety. Amelia Nicholson is one such person…and this is her story.”
“Oh look Nigel…there you are.” Megan cried out, pointing at the screen, and her husband did not admonish her for her over excitement, as he too was entranced by the story unfolding before his eyes.
“Amelia stopped performing several years ago.” Mrs Nicholson said, bare-faced for the camera, so that her teary eyes could be seen to their best effect. “She was worried about me, because of my arthritis, but her manager and the record company wanted her to be more outrageous as well…she wasn’t comfortable with it, you see.”
“Or her second album only reached forty-two in the charts, and her tour sold so badly it got cancelled…but why spoil a good story with the truth, for goodness sake.” Harry Trevor laughed, gulping his wine, as Brogan sat silently beside him. He was not letting the girls watch, but he let her, although she was muzzled until it was time for dinner.
“Something was missing from my life.” Amelia spoke quietly into the camera, her face devoid of make-up. “It was as if Mum’s suffering was sent to hold me back…to make me think about my future. Neither of us were brought up with any real faith…it just wasn’t part of our lives…but we watched it all develop, I suppose. I mean Reformism…although we don’t call it that…Mum and I just think of it as church, really. I don’t know exactly when I started going…”
“Sixteen days ago to be precise,” Harry sneered, reaching for the bottle. “And she didn’t go to church; she went to charm the Pastor into signing her deferral notice.”
“I used to sneak in the back…I don’t think anyone ever noticed me. Mum couldn’t go…she can’t stand up that long…but I was just drawn to it. I didn’t dress up…but I sort of disguised myself…modestly I suppose you would call it…and I watched the people there, noticed how happy they were…”
“Oh good grief, she deserves a fucking Oscar!”
“But I was scared…of what people would think of me. I mean, I wasn’t bad…not really bad…but I know I am pretty and that if I looked right, I would always get the attention I was sort of addicted too. Does that make sense? I didn’t want to go so far, but my manager was always trying to get me to wear less, to show more. It’s a business, and it’s like they own you, and if you want the money and all the fame, you just don’t get a choice.”
“Quite masterful, the scriptwriter needs a bonus, because he won’t get any credit, will he?” Kieran Radcliffe laughed, staring at the small screen in his Westminster office, with Peter Munroe by his side.
“She is very convincing too.” Peter commented, transfixed by the drama. It was well done.
“She had lots of rehearsal time, and lots of encouragement from the assistant director, a formidable nun called Sister Rosalind who scared the hell out of me.” Kieran replied, turning up the volume.
“So when the letter came…about my national service…it was only ever Mum stopping me doing it. I knew I wanted to…it sort of felt right…but I had to make sure that Mum was better, or being looked after, and the people I spoke too were very kind and they deferred me. But they also put me in touch with Pastor Brown, at my local church in Sevenoaks…and it was meeting him and his wife that really changed my life.”
“She will have me in tears in a minute.” Harry had to admit that it was brilliant stuff, of its genre. He dimly remembered Amelia Nicholson on Britain’s Got Talent, all legs and a reasonable voice, the story about her sick mother given about enough prominence to get her the sympathy vote.
“Pastor Brown started to teach me about the bible…about what it asks of us…and Mrs Brown, well she didn’t really teach me anything because I know it’s not right for women to preach to anyone, but she set me such a good example. She encouraged me to be more modest and discreet…and to feel better about myself, and to trust in God’s love. By the time we got to the end of my deferral, I just said to Mum…I really want to go…I want to do my national service, to show everyone that we can all still do our bit for the country and for God, whoever we are.”
“Of course, I was scared…I relied on Amelia for almost everything at the time. But we prayed…and I am not saying it was a miracle or anything because I saw the doctor too…but I did start to feel better, because I saw how happy Amelia was, and how excited she was. I wanted her to be happy and do something special with her life.” Mrs Nicholson continued, pictured next to her daughter, holding hands.
“Oh look, she’s in a habit…I remember we voted for her on that programme…she sang that song we liked…The Wind Beneath My Wings wasn’t it?” Mrs Fitzgerald asked her husband, who nodded, half asleep.
“Pastor Brown was brilliant through the whole thing…I didn’t want to be treated differently from anyone else, but Pastor Brown asked his bishop, and they asked if they could film me. Not like before…not to exploit me…but to give everyone a better idea of what it’s like.” Amelia continued, now dressed in black and white. “He explained that I could do some preparation with the Sisters at his church…who were already my friends…before being assigned to my convent…and I only agreed because I really wanted to help people.”
“She shouldn’t be speaking then…not if she is in her habit…nuns don’t ever speak…unless they have to, with their work.” Mr Fitzgerald pointed out, slightly aggrieved as if they were cheating somehow.
“Oh listen Dad…they’ll explain.”
“At this point in our story it is not appropriate for Sister Amelia to talk to camera directly.” The voice over resumed as if on cue with a tone of reverence, as Amelia was pictured kneeling before Pastor Brown, who was clearly blessing her. Two nuns in full veils appeared, and helped Amelia to her feet. “She is now taken into the chapter house, a secure private area of every church where the resident nuns eat, sleep and bathe. We meet Sister Rosalind, the senior sister, who will be Sister Amelia’s first mentor as a novice. Sister Rosalind reports to Pastor Brown, who directs them to work around the church, and for the parish as servants of God, including looking after Mrs Brown, who so inspired Sister Amelia. We have been allowed unrivalled access to the private areas of the church, so that everyone can see how these paragons of virtue live. In the coming days and weeks we will see Sister Amelia being prepared to enter the convent, taking her solemn vows of service and then starting her basic training with dozens of other young novices. Tune in tomorrow for another episode of our ground breaking series ‘For the love of God’ here on BBC1.”
Reality had moved ahead of the broadcast schedule. On the evening her fame reached new heights, Sister Amelia was in the showers at a basic training establishment somewhere in the midlands. She had been shaved, in front of the cameras, but that would only show her head, explaining that cleanliness was essential and her head would never be uncovered during her years of service. But she was not being filmed anymore. Frightened and desperate to please her keepers, she joined the other novices under the tepid torrent, the weals of several encouraging switching’s visible on her backside. But she preferred that to evil Sister Rosalind’s paddle. Her voice was not needed anymore, and she had not seen any of her performance. The television no longer needed to follow her specifically as the viewers could not tell one nun from another, and she had her lessons to learn. It was quite ironic really; she had always hoped she would get into a reality show. She had always been sure it would be a good career move for her. The new ‘face’ of the modern renaissance hurried through the driers, pulled on her diaper and eagerly made it easy for one of the keepers to put her mittens on and get her inside her sleeping gown, because she would be beaten otherwise. She said the goodnight prayer in her head, listening intently to the words muffled by her sack, and tried not to cry herself to sleep as journalists finished stories praising the best performance of her life.
Chloe Radcliffe attended the opening ceremony of Cranbrook College, to listen to Sir Harry Trevor’s speech, and to watch her beloved Miss Scott start work, training over two hundred prospective guardians. Holding her husband’s arm, she had a short guided tour of the facilities and sat in on one of the first lessons, one that she had helped write. Miss Scott had thanked her for her contributions to both her book and the curriculum, but she had received no other credit, as Kieran considered it inappropriate for her to do so. He valued her input, and had humoured her desire to help, but her expertise was a thing of the past, and he sent her home with Miss Harper whilst he headed off to the office. Chloe did not object, of course. She could not, in her muzzle, but even in her head she was an obedient wife. It was her heart that ached for something more.
Miss Scott had no time to worry about her former protégé and pupil, however. Her students had all been recommended by their schools as the crème de la crème, from suitable backgrounds, unlikely to be distracted by an attractive marriage proposal, as Miss Scott had no desire to create any more Chloe Ford’s. She considered Chloe fortunate, as she had undoubtedly married well above her original station in life, but a talent was also going to waste. Every girl so far enrolled was funded by parents looking for a guardian for her daughter, and by the end of the course all would have been interviewed and be ready to start their new jobs as soon as they graduated from the college. Then a second batch would arrive. Her graduates would be highly sought after, well paid professionals, operating in what was officially acknowledged as a suitable occupation for a female.
Megan’s mother and sister came to tea at least once a week, and often more. Nigel needed a good strong relationship with the chairman of the elders committee, Geoff Robinson, and he felt his wife enjoyed the odd harmless interlude. Megan was, to him at least, a fine example of what the Church could achieve. Both of them came from reasonably humble beginnings, but he had been destined for the priesthood from an early age. Megan was a child of the renaissance. By marrying her, and displaying her piety to his congregation, Nigel was showing what could be done. It was a good move for a lowly Pastor, to whom the usual social rules of marriage did not really apply. No doubt some people in the church rose because of who they were, or who they knew, but most would do so by hard work, not patronage. Bishop Murray was grateful to him for delivering Amelia Nicholson to him, and he had spent the windfall wisely. His wife was the best dressed woman in Sevenoaks.
“Oh Megan, you look simply wonderful…your father and I are so proud of you.” Mrs Robinson sighed, sipping her tea as the Sister who had served it slipped out of the room, leaving them in private.
“Nigel is very generous…and we are dining with the bishop next week…I just wish he could help you settle Bethany’s future. It is time she married, don’t you think?” Megan suggested with a twinkle in her eye. Her sister was very much the baby of the family since she had married, but Megan had never quite forgotten that Bethany’s enthusiasm for helping her father advance his career had prompted their conversion. “Or if that isn’t possible right now, she could serve God…she is still young and it is rather fashionable at the moment…I am sure she would benefit from the experience.”
Bethany could not argue. It was not her place, and her mother and therefore her father, would be furious. Her father, through Pastor Brown, had secured a deferment when she turned eighteen, but it was possible to volunteer, or be volunteered, as it could never be her choice. Her sister would not leave it alone. Later, at home, she tried to talk to her father about it, but his links to the church were paying dividends at work, and having one daughter married to a Pastor and another in a convent seemed a rather convincing testament to his faith, like a badge of honour. He had been trying to negotiate a betrothal with a customer, who had a son the right age, but they seemed to be in no hurry to sign on the dotted line. The more he thought about it, having a nun for a daughter might be advantageous.
Bethany took her vows three days later.
Brogan appreciated the change of scenery holidays provided, but Harry did not seem to relax, or change. He was much more concerned with meeting all the leading lights of the American Reformist movement than he was in recharging his batteries. He did not drink as much, because their hosts were almost teetotal, but he kept Brogan at a distance. He also firmly instructed Miss Howard to make sure that his family set the finest possible example to their American friends, so despite the heat at the end of the summer Brogan spent her days covered and sweltering in silence. It was not until the last night of their visit that she eluded her sleeping gown, and was prepared for bed without her muzzle. But she knew Harry. She could not broach what was on her mind just like that, because it would rile him, and she would not get the chance to say what she wanted to say. She let him set the pace, like the perfect surrendered wife. Only when he was spent, and she was lying in his arms, did she pluck up the courage to speak her mind.
“Sir, I am worried about you.” She whispered into the nape of his neck, her breath hot on his skin.
“Of course you are.” He sighed, as if her concerns were of no consequence. “It is your duty to do so…think of God first and me second…all the time.”
“I am used to being your wife…and I have tried to be a good one…but this summer…these last few months, since before the election, you have been cold and distant from me. From the children too. I have never abused your….trust…in me…or rebelled against your interpretation of the doctrine. I have been a good wife. If I am concerned about you, am I not allowed to broach the subject?”
“You are allowed to do what I say…nothing more.”
“Of course sir, as you wish…”
“Oh don’t get me wrong Brogan dear, the remaining echoes of your perverted past still amuses me…but only when I choose to allow it, of course.”
“And you are allowing it now?”
“Oh until it gets tedious…”
“Despite everything…I have tried to love you.”
“Oh love is…overrated…I think…I have more important things on my mind than love.”
“So what am I? Your possession? Your slave?”
“I saved you.”
“How else would you describe it…you saw me as the best available option…not that you had any options, of course. In God’s love, that is your lot in life. Most right-minded maidens would have swapped places with you.”
“What is wrong with you? Why have you changed so much?”
“Oh don’t worry about me, my dear…it is not a crisis of conscience…that much I promise.”
Being of Use
Miss Harper took particular care dressing Chloe. Everything had to be right for her visit to the College. Chloe did not mind at all, because Miss Scott had asked for her help, and Kieran had agreed, bless his little cotton socks. She was so happy. She received letters from Miss Scott, detailing the progress of her first students, but she was not permitted to offer her advice. Kieran helped her with her responses, because he was very concerned with her public image. Her gown and cape were of the highest quality and her waist was laced as tight as possible. She travelled blind, and Miss Harper kept her that way, leading her into the building like the important lady she was, all elegance, serene and graceful, but Chloe knew that Miss Scott would be waiting for her, and that she needed her for what she knew, not what she was.
“Behold, the epitome of a gentlewoman, ladies.” She heard Miss Scott say, standing straight, her cloak falling from her slender shoulders and shadowing her impossibly slender waist, emphasising the sheer volume of her skirts. “She is happily married and to all intents and purposes the perfect wife…but that is an illusion all guardians must resist, because it is never true. Maidens need a constant guiding hand, as they are prepared for marriage, but we must never forget the lady of the house. She is always a work in progress, and dependent upon the instructions from the master of the house, she still needs firm guidance. In this case, our kind sponsor Mr Radcliffe has sent his wife for us to examine. She is genuinely pious, but her concentration and obedience are only maintained at the required level by careful handling and a settled routine. Like a maiden, she still needs encouragement, but it is always a mistake to overindulge her. She is still young and in the early stages of her marriage. Her husband typically leaves the details of her routine to her guardian, making few specific demands…so how should we handle her…yes, Miss Carter?”
“She should have a settled routine, Miss Scott. I would not allow her to do anything for herself, as that might give her ideas. It is important to keep her totally dependent. It might be tempting to let her wash herself, or use the toilet, but it would not be good for her in the long run, would it? I would reward her with time out of her muzzle, for social engagements, not personal space…it is not conducive to obedience.”
“Good Miss Carter, very good indeed…Mrs Radcliffe is not a lady of leisure. Her maidenhood might be behind her, but she is blessed to live in God’s loving embrace, and it is our duty to help her stay there. She is blessed, but only if we keep her on the path to righteousness. Miss Carter, perhaps you could see to Mrs Radcliffe. If she is to stay with us today, she needs to be divested of her outdoor things and made comfortable. Let’s see how you handle her.”
“Our sources in Westminster have discovered shocking plans, due to be announced in the King’s speech to parliament next week. New proposals include extending national service from three to five years with immediate effective, which will apply retrospectively. Also, those women in national service will have to opt-out when their time is served…as we understand it parents and guardians will need to have a marriage arranged to guarantee release, otherwise national service could be further extended automatically. In other moves, it is reported that women will no longer be allowed to drive. This, the government says in a statement, will remove around forty percent of the traffic from the roads. Family voting will be introduced, to ensure maximum compliance, with the head of each household organising those he is responsible for, to make sure they vote. Ben Cartwright is currently making a speech on the steps of the House, condemning these apparent proposals as an unprecedented attack on civil liberties, and indeed on our democracy, and he says that the voting proposals amount to removing the free vote from women, to ensure the Reformist party cannot lose the next election. Over now to our political correspondent for further reactions…”
Another King’s Speech
“My government proposes a busy programme of legislation all designed to make life better for everyone, and to help us live in prosperity with God’s love. It is our contention that this is a Christian country and that our laws, attitudes and behaviour should closely follow God’s words. Hence there will be further legislation to restore the proper balance between men and woman, and these holy principles will deliver an extensive green dividend, and ensure that future governments are elected by the entire population, not just the minority open to influence from heathen fanatics…”
It was a long and contentious speech, confirming the rumours leaked to the press the week before. But the journalists never really got the chance to go into overdrive. Not this time. Harry Trevor left the House soon after the King as he was not needed in the traditional debate until later on, and crossed the road to the square, to give the first of many interviews all cabinet ministers were booked in to complete. He never made it. A man ran out of the crowd holding a handgun, and shot him straight between the eyes. He was dead before they even called the ambulance.
Reformism Revisited is continued in part eight Asset Management.