Reformism Revisited – Part Three
Heaven and Hell
by Nick Lucas
Sister Caris disliked every third Sunday. Her shift got the day off work, but that meant a day or prayer and medication, which Caris loathed more than anything else. She liked being busy and doing something worthwhile. Mother Esme had taught her that nursing was an important part of healthcare. Maybe the doctors treated them like servants, and maybe she was hardly using her medical training other than doling out medication and giving the occasional injection, but keeping patients fed, watered, clean and cared for was a major part of the healing process. In her hospital, no one spent hours on a trolley waiting for a bed, or lay in pain waiting for treatment, because a nurse would always be there. The gratitude and adoration the Sisters received from their patients was their reward, and a truly meaningful one. As much as Caris disliked the system, it worked, and she did not need to see the statistics and league tables to know that the results were impressive. So when her ‘day off’ was interrupted by an invitation to a meeting with Mother Esme she was delighted because although she was a poor nun she had become an excellent nurse.
Every head of shift was there, plus Mother Esme’s four senior assistants, which surprised Caris. Some of the shift head’s ought to have been asleep, as they worked nights, and others ought to have been at work, but she counted the heads and looked at the braid around her colleagues’ mantles and everyone was there. Twenty four shift heads, the first time they had ever been called together, and at some cost to the smooth running of the operation, so it had to be something important. There was some chatter and speculation when Caris arrived in the room, but she was unable to join in as she had come straight from the chapel and she was wearing her mittens and muzzle. Mother Esme ran a tight ship outside of the dormitories. It frustrated her as always, but she could hear Mother Esme telling her that patience was a virtue. She settled into a seat and waited for Mother.
She did not have to wait for long and a few moments later the other door opened, and the familiar figure recognisable by the red braid around her mantle strode into the room and stood in front of everyone.
“Sisters, my name is Mother Florence and I apologise for calling you away from your work, rest or prayers. It is not something I shall do again, but as you have been given positions of responsibility within St. Theresa’s I thought it only right that I talked to you directly. Mother Esme has been transferred to another Convent…and Sister’s, I should remind you that although some of you seem to be unmuzzled, I have not given anyone permission to speak…and I am your new Mother Superior. I am aware of the good works we do here, and how highly thought of our nurses are, but I must tell you that although our good work is highly commendable there have been many concerns expressed about the laxity of the regime here. My instructions are to address this dereliction of duty forthwith, and I have my own assistants to help me do this, in God’s name.” As she spoke, the doors opened again and twenty four more nuns entered, all with green braid around their mantles. “Green braid denotes a head of dormitory henceforth…heads of shift will retain their positions pro tem, but they will have no responsibility within this Convent, whilst Mother Esme’s senior assistants will work with me, to prove their worth…or otherwise. We are nuns Sisters, servants of God first and foremost…remember that, and you will find me a kind and patient Mother.”
Chloe was confused, and consumed by guilt as a result, as she struggled with her conscience. She had cared for many dozens of maidens during her guardianship and she had advised them all to put their trust in God as their faith demanded, and she could not work out why she could not do the same. But the truth was she did not want to marry Kieran Radcliffe. More than content with his work, she had never considered marriage. She was from humble stock, and had done well for herself, so she had really expected that to just continue. Despite listening to the word of God, she still felt unable to accept the match made for her by her father. She understood that marriage was the ultimate purpose. It was the same relationship between man and woman as between God and his people. It was holy matrimony and it was her duty to marry a fellow believer and produce the children to spread the word of God through another generation, but she felt cheated out of her life. She had told Elizabeth to submit to her husband, as unto the Lord, but she did not feel able to do the same. She did not feel ready, willing or able. She had met Kieran Radcliffe and knew him to be a hard working and pious man, active in the Church, whose wife had sadly died of cancer some years ago. He was ten years older than her. Not a big gap. Indeed smaller than the one she helped Elizabeth accept when she married Peter Munroe.
But no one noticed her doubts. Everyone assumed that she was happy and that after her preparation she would make a good wife. Only Miss Harris sensed some lingering reluctance in her charge, and consequently increased her efforts to train her for her new life. Many maidens who came across Chloe Ford socially found it rather amusing to find the former renowned guardian under such strict supervision, but they mostly rejoiced for her. She had done well for herself.
Sevenoaks Reformist Church opened in late September, in the hall of the local boy’s grammar school, of all places. Megan did not exactly rejoice. Not like her parents and her sister, and many of their new friends at any rate. But she had been part of the group who lobbied for it, applying for funds and the appointment of a Pastor. Plans were already being made for a purpose built church, as long as the congregation reached a certain number, and Megan had rather enjoyed delivering leaflets and such like because it got her out of the house. But the reality of their own church meant going more often, without the hassle of driving all those miles, and meeting with local, like-minded people. Inevitably that meant more hours in her muzzle and mantle. It was as if the Sevenoaks Reformists were competing with each other to prove their faith, and there were suddenly coffee mornings and lunches to attend, all raising money and the profile of the new church in the local community. When her father was voted onto the elders committee, Megan knew it was not good news.
Sister Caris returned to the chapel as directed by Sister Florence. She could not talk to anyone, but even if she could have done she was not sure that she would have been able to. She was stunned, as if she had been kicked in the head, but as always she was helpless, totally helpless. Not even listening to the Pastor, she fell to her knees with everyone else and cried into her muzzle. She knew it was over. The good times were gone. She had started to believe that life could be tolerable. By the time the service ended and she returned to the dormitory with the others, she felt numb. Usually, one of Mother Esme’s assistants would have removed her mittens en route, so that she could set her girl’s free once the door closed behind them, but that did not happen this time and a nun in a green braided mantle ordered them to stand in a line before her. For the first time at St. Theresa’s, Caris heard the dormitory door lock behind her.
“Sisters, our new Mother Superior, Mother Florence, has placed you in my charge. I must tell you that I am appalled at the lack of rules and discipline here, and I can assure you that it will not continue. Our lives are dedicated to God, and our free time will be spent praying for his strength and love. Henceforth, you will wear mittens and muzzles at all times, except for eating or washing which you will do in your rooms, which will now house four girls, not two. This convent can house more nuns and there will be no possibility of clandestine liaisons. Now kneel and the prayer broadcast will begin. I will come amongst you to attach your lunch to your feeding tubes. Solid food will be consumed before bed. Kneel Sisters, kneel!”
Caris knelt again, her heart breaking inside. She had lost everything in her world, including Sammie. She had lost Mother Esme, the only person who had ever given her hope. She wanted to die, right then and there, but she did not, of course. So she endured, choking down her food before a rushed communal shower, until one of the new dormitory assistants shut her away in her sleeping gown for the night. The assistants carried switches, and used them to hurry the Sisters along. She could not even speak to Sammie. In the short time that their muzzles were removed, in order to eat, they were with the others and very closely supervised. In the space of a few hours, Mother Florence had turned their home into a prison again.
Next day, at the hospital, Caris, as shift leader, was only nominally in charge. She still got to send her team hither and thither as usual, but a green braid supervisor was always at her side. She was not unmuzzled at all that day. Mother Florence preferred any necessary communication to be by notes, and during her rest period, which Caris always insisted her team took, everyone was put back into their mittens and covered whilst they sucked up their meal. It was the harshest regime any of them had ever known, as if they were being punished for a few months of contentment.
Mrs Sophie Cameron, nee Maynard, seldom left the delights of Bournemouth for London, due to the constant demands of her two young daughters and the impracticalities of travel for a Reformist mother. Her husband was not a rich man, as a Pastor in a small parish was not well paid, but he did have the services of four nuns at the church, so Sophie could have help on her travels in lieu of a guardian, but it was always an inconvenience. However, there are always some invitations that it is better not to refuse, and her friendship with Elizabeth Munroe was seen as a useful one. Martin Cameron had certainly got his own parish a lot quicker than he expected, although with new churches opening all over the place he would not have waited too much longer, and Bournemouth was a good location, not so far from Meadvale. Sophie settled into her seat on the train, with some assistance from the guardian Martin had hired for the day to escort her to Kensington, and tried to concentrate on the sermon she had on her headphones. She was blind, deaf and dumb for the journey but she was used to it, and did not even think about it anymore. Her father had made a good choice for her. They were not rich, but the family was well connected, so he had found a young man with a true vocation from a similar background who could easily rise through the ranks. The church was obviously growing quite quickly, expanding all around the country, and good Pastors were in demand. But, for her, it was more than that with Martin, much to her surprise. She did not know if it was love. She had not been brought up to expect love out of her marriage, but he was a kind, patient man and a loving father. She knew that she was one of the lucky ones. Not everyone found their marriage so comfortable.
“So tell us, Sophie dear, how is Bournemouth?” Elizabeth asked, several hours later, after Miss Harris had removed their muzzles and settled them in the drawing room after lunch.
“Quite different to Meadvale,” Sophie replied, smiling at her friend and Chloe Ford, whose presence rather unnerved her. She had been quite close to Chloe in the early days of the renaissance, but then Chloe had become a guardian and their relationship had quickly become something else. Now all of a sudden Chloe was a maiden, being thoroughly prepared for her wedding in the spring as her parents, Mr Munroe and her fiancé agreed that she needed some time to adjust. “Clearly, there are far fewer Reformists per capita, so one feels a little isolated as you can here, but we have the sea, a growing congregation and a lovely house right next to the church…we are very comfortable there.”
“Oh London is still so cosmopolitan, and we are locked into the Westminster bubble, I am afraid…but Chloe will be moving to the country too, won’t you dear?” Elizabeth replied, bringing Chloe into the conversation. Maidens were taught to only speak when they were spoken too, but she would be married soon, and she needed to learn how to chat.
“Yes Ma’am…my fiancée lives in Berkshire…near Ascot, I believe.” Chloe responded, holding her position as Miss Harris had ordered, with her sumptuous mustard velvet gown arranged attractively around her. She had taught both Elizabeth and Sophie the same lesson, but she was a fidgeter, and if Miss Harris returned to find her delicate arrangements disturbed she knew she would be paddled later on.
“Mr Radcliffe is chairman of the local Christian Democrats, an elder of his church and a rather successful businessman, and we are very fond of him…as we are of Chloe.” Elizabeth continued, smiling at her ward, as she now effectively was. Elizabeth was also happily married to Peter Munroe. She actually found it hard to remember her life before coming to Broomwaters and her doubts about the life her father had made for her seemed almost incomprehensible. Chloe was one of the reasons she had found such happiness and certainty in her life, and she was pleased to be able to help her in return. She could understand that it was quite an adjustment for her. Her husband had explained it to her, out of his desire to help Chloe and Kieran Radcliffe and Elizabeth felt that their efforts were bearing fruit. “She is certainly being rewarded for all of her hard work with us.”
The Opposing Point of View
“Can you believe these polls?” Ben Cartwright moaned, tossing another large dose of bad news back onto the table. “The not so silent majority lap every repressive policy up like fat cats guzzling cream…it is totally insane.”
“Because Buckingham wraps every bitter pill up in so much sugar it ends up sounding like a solution…and it normally is from some perspectives.” Alistair Dalglish replied, sharing his leader’s feeling of despair. They had worked hard to build a new party out of the ashes of the old Labour and Liberal Democrat dinosaurs, after their complete annihilation at the last election, and they maintained a reasonable thirty percent of support in every poll, a solid rump of traditional socialist support, but that would never be enough to shake the Reformists out of power. “National service for young men who do not earn a place at university is so popular with the older generation…I mean, it was always the stock answer to all our problems, wasn’t it? We wouldn’t have all this trouble if we brought back national service…like it was a general panacea to all ills. A bit of square bashing to teach them some discipline, and two years later they will all come out knowing a bit of a trade. It is basically impossible to shake that view out of the electorate…it’s even cheaper than manning the army with volunteers.”
“But they like the plans for women too?” Cartwright moaned, pouring himself another whiskey.
“Of course, because it is the answer to so many problems. We have been hitting them with the plight of unmarried women with no jobs, no further education and hope other than marriage to someone they find it almost impossible to meet because they are not allowed to go anywhere without parental permission. It got them on the back foot at least, because although they have fudged the unemployment figures with it, there has been quite a lot of unrest from the unmarried women they have not yet managed to cover up and silence. So they suggest that rather than this idle section of society moaning on and on about disenfranchisement, why not send them to nunneries and get them working for their country as nuns. But they are being very selective…if a girl has reasonable prospects of marriage or suitable employment she can defer the call up. So they either do what they want and become good little housewives, or maybe guardians if they are so inclined, or the government will suitably occupy them manning our hospitals and schools for a few years. Once again, it will save them money because they will be able to replace the last of the nurses and teachers. They are basically paying board and lodging for one million slaves, but you can’t call a nun a slave. It’s like kicking a puppy. And we can’t call them extremists anymore. People are sick and tired of hearing it because these people don’t lie. They tell the electorate what they are going to do and they do it. No one is surprised. It is democracy at work, and they are too bloody good at presenting their dogma in the most favourable light.”
“So…go on, give me a clue.” Cartwright sighed, draining his glass. “Plan A is about as successful as a fart in a wind tunnel, so do we have a plan B?”
“Yes, I think we do. It’s fairly radical, so we will need to sell it to the party and reorganise. But we have to face the fact that Charles Buckingham has killed the old politics. He doesn’t blame us for anything anymore. He just says this is wrong and this is the answer. It’s obvious that a large proportion of the electorate find that refreshingly honest. He has had the courage to be radical and turn populist policies into working practise. He has used the mess he inherited to bury the old parties, and his faith to give his policies credence. But I think we can do the same. We admit that the old ways didn’t work, and accept that radical change is the only answer. It’s a bit like David Cameron accepting Labour spending plans for a year after he replaced Gordon Brown to me. It is hard, if not impossible, to argue that Reformist policies are not making a difference. We can and do argue that unemployment is only down because women find it hard to get a job, but do not appear on the figures, but Buckingham accepts that, but points out that even with tax credits to allow mothers to stay at home we are saving over a billion pounds a year. So, in our manifesto we have to accept the status quo. We can’t go into the election saying we are going to reverse the policy of men, and especially married men, being given priority in the jobs market, but we can say we think the disenfranchisement of women has gone too far and lay out our plans to redress the balance.”
“So we do what Blair did and adopt their policies with a bigger smile?”
Madeleine Buckingham was allowed to see as soon as the limousine reached the outskirts of Fort Myers. Her husband asked their guardian, Miss Taylor, to remove her blinding mantle so that she could see the sights. For a moment she found the bright sunshine too much, but as her eyes adjusted, she had her first glimpse of the burgeoning American Reformist movement in its Floridian heartland, as she listened to Jacob Bush proudly listing their achievements.
“Of course the factory was the key to everything here.” Bush, a cousin of George W Bush, said as the huge car inched through a set of lights. “We employ over five thousand people now and they are all members of the Church, so we had something to build the community around, you see.” Madeleine did see. By a drug store, as they slowed for another red, she saw four women in quite reasonable gowns and cloaks just stepping outside. “Our people have bought thousands of properties south of Fort Myers right down to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, and you will see the Cathedral on your left once we leave the suburbs. Your Pastor Winstanley said it reminds him of Meadvale, because even the people and businesses who are not within the Church are sort of dependent on it. We were too spread out before. We needed a centre, somewhere to gather the people together so that they could live in God’s love. And of course, it’s also got us a lot of local votes. We are following your model, Sir Charles. Its early days but we have the Baptists, Mormons, Amish, Mennonites, Presbyterians and Muslims on side. Hilary Clinton has been a disaster for this country as President, and we will either have our own Republican candidate next year, or we will have to run as a third alternative.”
Another Brick in the Wall
Megan Robinson was one of fourteen maidens, including her younger sister Bethany, invited to attend classes at the Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Her father made a fuss, of course. He was an elder, and he insisted on his daughters doing things properly. Pastor Brown, an eager little man desperate to make his mark, had managed to secure the services of two nuns to run each class, and Geoff Robinson knew he wanted the congregation to adhere to the strictest of standards. It meant that two more days were spent in muzzles and mittens. Megan did not argue. That only ever made things worse. She was twenty one, but she had no alternatives. She had applied for several guardian positions out of desperation, with no joy. Guardians were normally recommended for their appointments, by Pastors or ladies within the congregation, so Megan was highly unlikely to be seen as a suitable candidate by anyone.
Except Pastor Brown. He talked to the class, and noticed the two Robinson girls. He knew they were not wealthy or from a particularly pious background of any long standing nature, but their father was an elder. He was only twenty four, but a good Pastor married young and set an example. He called Geoff Robinson after the meeting ended, on some minor pretext, and then managed to get himself invited to dinner.
Miss Harris left Mrs Ford alone to talk to her daughter. She thought it unwise, but Mr Munroe had authorised it, and it was only an hour. Mrs Ford had to get her train back to Meadvale. Chloe was getting better. Miss Harris could see that she was trying to behave, but there was still a barrier, which she found strange. She knew how to behave. All guardians did, otherwise how could they teach their charges, but Chloe seemed to find it hard to apply the lessons to herself.
“Chloe dear, your Dad and I are a little disappointed about your progress.” Mrs Ford sighed, finding it hard to find the words to reprimand her daughter. “Giving you all this time is good of Mr Radcliffe, and it is so kind of Mr Munroe to treat you like part of his family…but Miss Harris is concerned about you, love.”
“She is doing her best for me, Mummy…and I am trying I promise.”
“Chloe, we never thought you would get this chance. Dad and I were so sad we would never have any grandchildren, and that you would never have a home of your own, or a family for after we were gone. Of course, we were proud of you, because everyone said you were a wonderful guardian…but this is our dream come true. God has blessed you, Chloe.”
“I know Mummy and I am trying to believe that…but I loved my job.” Chloe admitted as her mother reached out to take a firm grip on her right mitten. “I felt useful, and fulfilled…I pray and pray but I still feel the same.”
“Oh my darling…submit yourself therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you…James 4:7…I think you put the idea from your mind, because we could not provide you with a decent husband…it is our fault not yours. Your duty to God is clear, Chloe…it is…to be discreet, chaste, a keeper of home, good, obedient to your own husband, that the word of God be not blasphemed…Titus 2…it is your rightful place. God found you something good to do whilst He helped Mr Munroe and his kind friends change things, and now they have. Your guardianship was only a temporary thing and now you can have children of your own, and help them as you helped so many young ladies. You have always been a good girl, and you must stop this…I will ask Miss Harris to be firmer with you, because this is your duty in God’s love.”
“Shush Sister Caris, be still, or we will both be punished…I only have a minute.” Mother Esme cautioned as she removed Caris’ muzzle. She had been in some sort of bus for hours, covered and too scared to move, wondering what her next nightmare would be, but she had never expected to find Mother Esme.
“Where are we?” She murmured as they embraced, still consumed by surprise.
“Another new convent…a training facility somewhere in the north…no one has told me where.”
“Why am I here?”
“Because although my blueprint for the future of our order was summarily rejected by the Church, people like us are still the best people to train the new intake. I asked for you, and many others like us.”
“Sister Esme, Sister Caris…I have no particular sway here. I merely control the teaching team, and we must live according to the rules applied by Mother Rosalind, who is a cruel, relentless hellcat…but we can still help people. I believe that is something worthwhile, Sister Caris. Here, put this back on, they are coming to collect us.”
“Are you fucking insane?” Natalie Hughes snapped at her father, who had to admit that it was a possibility. Colin Hughes was certainly desperate, but he was not sure that qualified him as insane. He smiled, poured her some more wine and decided to try and explain himself.
“Charles Buckingham and his cronies run a very tight ship. Nothing bad ever leaks out, because the people involved are very well rewarded and/or too bloody frightened to tell anyone. Oh and the real victims can’t speak out, because someone keeps all of them gagged and totally dependent on the regime.”
“So you want someone on the inside. Someone you can trust to talk…I get that, I am not an imbecile.” His daughter replied as she took the glass from him. “But didn’t we all leave Britain to get away from all this shit? So, why would I ever agree to go back over there and spy for you?”
“Quite honestly because I can’t ask it of anyone else.” He responded, smiling at her. She was almost twenty four, but she had a real baby face. Without make up, and with her slight, petite figure, she could pass for much younger. She also looked almost identical to her fifteen year old sister, and they all still had British passports. “Some of my clients are getting a little jumpy about the success of this modern renaissance. Most countries have their own silent majorities, and there is a considerable amount of weight being put behind a move to discredit the Reformists. But all we have is rumour and a complete lack of evidence. It is very clearly a harsh, repressive regime, but it is still democratically elected and popular. With an election coming it would be useful to try and influence public opinion against them, a little.”
“Great, well that would be ok for you, because you are a man, but taking me back there…pretending to be Natasha, would not exactly be a barrel of laughs, would it?”
“No, it wouldn’t, but I can’t get to talk to any of the women in private.”
“So which of your ‘clients’ want you to do this?” Natalie demanded, changing tack in an instant.
“Mrs Clinton is concerned…she had rather a lot of Christian fanatics over there.”
“Dad, you know I’m not into all this James Bond shit…they are all as bad as one another.”
“Oh right, Miss Ban the Muzzle protester.”
“Oh really, this is Paris and I am a student…its how we roll, for fucks sake.”
“I am still a British businessman working abroad…if my contract ends, it would not be a surprise if I returned home. Natasha is still a child here, let alone there, so she would obviously come with me. I am not James Bond, I am and always have been a little more than a forensic accountant, and as I have never worked for the British government they don’t know me. Natalie, there is no risk for you with me there. Basically you can’t fart without my permission, and equally nothing that bad can happen to you without my agreement, so it is fairly safe. It is just evidence gathering…and that is what I do. But to do it properly we have to talk to some people right on the inside. I plan to be out of there by Christmas and the pay is good. And don’t pretend you aren’t against the Reformists, because I know you are.”
Ribble Valley Convent of the Holy Virgin, Clitheroe
Sister Caris did not know whether to laugh or cry. Her time at St. Theresa’s had raised her hopes and then dashed them again like never before. Up until then, she had developed a tick skin in relentless adversity, never lowering her guard, but for those few short months she had started to come alive again. Now, thanks to Mother Esme’s recommendation, which she feared could be another double edged sword, she found herself in Lancashire. Ribble Valley Convent of the Holy Virgin, purpose built in the town of Clitheroe, was one of a dozen training facilities built to cope with the introduction of national service. She was part of a teaching staff intended to part gaolers and part tutors. Mother Rosalind imposed a boot camp atmosphere. New recruits came in one door and began twelve weeks of intensive training as both nuns and nurses. In all honesty the nursing element was fairly basic. It focussed more on making beds than it did on healing people, but Sister Esme and her team had to teach a range of skills from taking temperature and blood pressure to cleaning wounds and giving simple injections, as well as helping the rest of the staff instil the strictest discipline. No corners were cut and no lenience was allowed, for anyone. Sister Caris found herself carrying one of the fearsome switches to speed the poor novices into their showers, whilst often being subject to the same treatment herself when she returned to her own dormitory. Her muzzle was removed to allow her to teach, and for her evening meal at the end of the day, and she wore gloves more than mittens during working hours, but other than that she was a nun the same as everyone else. Not being assigned to a hospital, she never left the convent. She never saw anyone other than nuns, except for the Pastor who held the daily services. She could only talk to Sister Esme and her trusted colleagues for a few minutes each day after their meal, and she soon settled into another stultifying routine.
Honest to God
“She is not as good as you…or as good as what you are used too.” Sophie said rather apologetically as she poured Chloe Ford a cup of coffee. It was mid afternoon, and Chloe had just arrived, so one of the nuns had taken care of her. “And I miss a guardian talking to me. Nuns never seem to speak…but they are efficient and free.”
“Thank you for inviting me, Mrs Cameron.” Chloe replied, minding her manners. Since her mother had visited London she had endured the best efforts of Miss Harris to reconcile herself to her fate. And she had, in many ways. She knew what she had to do, and she could not claim to be some poor girl forced into the church, like a number of her charges. For their own good, of course, but still reluctant, and she had helped convince them of their duty. She had been born a Reformist, albeit a poor one, and the renaissance had set her free.
“Chloe dear, after all we have been through together, I think you can use my Christian name…at least in private.”
“Oh yes…of course Mrs…Sophie.”
“And I did not really invite you…although I would have done, with my husband’s permission, because I am very fond of you my dear…but this is all part of your preparations.”
“What am I to learn here?” Chloe asked, rather taken aback.
“I am not sure, but this community is closer to how things were…when we were at school, I suppose. Not quite Meadvale but close enough…surrounded by Heathens, girls like us trying to be one thing at home and another at school, always different to the others, precious little hope of marriage to a devout boy and uncertain futures. I think it is meant to show you how things have changed, Chloe.”
“I do believe, Sophie.”
“So do I…mainly because I was never really given an option, but if you are lucky enough to marry a good man you can have a good, happy life. Is your fiancé a good man?”
“I met him, through my job, several times. He seems to be.”
“So, there is your answer…rejoice in your good fortune and be a good wife…and be as good a mother as you were guardian to your children, because that is what you were to me. It was not your job, it was a gift from God, and who are you to say how that gift should be employed?”
Many Happy Returns
Natalie Hughes felt ridiculous as she got out of the taxi at Gare Du Nord. She was wearing her sister’s spare school uniform as if her father had taken her home to England straight from school, as an easy way to obey the decency laws. Paris had a fairly large British community one way or another, and the British school was a traditional sort of place. She knew she could pass for fifteen or even a year or two younger, and that always rankled, but in the uniform she felt like a little kid again, and she hated that even before they got on the train to leave. But her father was right, she was against the Reformists, and she wanted to help the world get rid of them, as soon as possible. Her degree at the Sorbonne, in Politics and Economics, had helped her to see what they were doing to the land of her birth, and her student friends had taught her to stand up for what she believed in, and protest against evil ultra-conservative propaganda, like Reformism in any guise.
“Steve should meet us at the station, so we arrive in character, ok?” Colin reminded her.
“Couldn’t you have put me straight into a convent or something? Staying with Uncle Steven and the family from hell is not a good start if you ask me.”
“Oh I think it is…typical converts, as far as I can tell, and we are related, so coming home with nowhere to stay would look a bit daft if we didn’t contact them…it’s nice of him to invite us.”
“So just how converted are they?”
“Still not totally sure. He didn’t give much away in his emails, and we only kept in touch by Christmas cards. But he wont be able to tell you apart from Natasha, not after five years.”
“Great, that fills me with confidence.”
“Come on Nat, this is just fact finding…nothing dramatic or dangerous. We have every right to be here and we are not planning on doing anything wrong…the whole idea is that we don’t break any laws or do anything to upset anyone.” Colin reminded his oldest daughter. He was extremely confident about his plans. He had checked and double checked everything and he was sure that nothing could go wrong as long as they behaved and kept it simple. He was recently unemployed but he did not look poor. His bank balance was healthy enough, and he was and always had been a British citizen, who had worked abroad on and off all his life. His children had both been born in England, more or less by accident, and he had luckily established a pattern of returning ‘home’ in between jobs. He was a qualified accountant, and he, and his clients, had always been very careful about keeping his name and identity out of the public eye. He was not a spy. Far from it, as his skill was research and finding the links between people and events. He had worked extensively with the CIA in counter terrorism, and with the United Nations in tracking the illegal sale and purchase of chemical weapons and nuclear ingredients. He had sometimes travelled to the ‘front line’ but his weapon of choice was a laptop or a pen and paper, never guns. The problem with getting good information on the Reformists was that no one meaningful had walked out of the country. Many people had left over the previous five years, as laws tightened up, but they had left before anything affected them. Those that had stayed were either too frightened or too well off to tell tales. He fully suspected that few people would talk to him, as a man, about their concerns. No real Reformist woman would be allowed to talk to him at all, and if they were not Reformists, they were highly unlikely to have any meaningful complaints. But Natalie was the key to get inside. He knew that if she infiltrated anyone important, she would sooner or later get to talk to the women and girls behind the so-called velvet curtains. It would be limited, and he suspected that everyone would be cautious, but they were more likely to talk freely in front of a young maiden, inside the same gilded cage. It would still be anecdotal in terms of evidence, but it would give him something to work on when they got back out. He was not taking any risks. Not with Natalie. But he also did not expect to find anything more than pious extremism. In general, the rest of the world regarded the modern renaissance in Great Britain as an aberration, caused by the unique cocktail of an unprecedented recession coupled with a huge dissatisfaction with both sides of the political spectrum, coinciding with a glorified cult seizing on an inviting window of opportunity. His CIA contact, the man who was paying very well for his mission, reckoned that even the President herself believed the Reformists to be well-intentioned and genuine in their beliefs. She had met Charles Buckingham many times, and Pastor Michael Winstanley twice. She considered them misguided but not truly evil, and their charisma, and undoubted achievements, had allowed them to fool the electorate. But it had all got beyond a joke. Hilary Clinton was rather concerned by the activities of her own Christian fundamentalists, who were all in contact with the British Reformists. Digging the dirt on the British, and exposing the abuses of power that had to be there, was the first battle in what was looking like a war.
Yet Another Brick in the Wall
Eloise Graham moved with surprising speed, bursting out of her chair and fighting her tight corset and cumbersome gown to run towards the double doors leading to the outdoor terrace. No maiden or wife had ever moved quite so fast in Miss Howard’s experience, and despite her mittens she managed to open the doors. Lady Trevor had tried to stop her, and Miss Howard rushed to cut off her escape, but the child was distraught and brushed them both aside. As she ran, or attempted to, she tried to rip off her gown and mittens. It was impossible. Her mittens rendered her hands next to useless. Her run was little more than a waddle and she ran out of steam at the end of the decking, her screams dying in her muzzle. Her mother was dead. Five months after her father passed away, her mother had taken a massive overdose of her anti-depressants. Brogan had told them, explaining that her mother had been left free of restrictions in her room, as always, and that the maid had left the pills available by mistake. It was a tragedy Brogan said, but it was more than that to Eloise. It was an act of selfishness so base that she could not find words or emotions to describe it. Her mother had never tried to get over their loss. She had never been there for Eloise or Grace. She had just handed them over to their Uncle and surrendered, like a coward, like no one else mattered to her.
Miss Howard was not a monster. She felt for both girls, and understood Eloise’s reaction to the news. But that was no excuse of course. She stopped Eloise before she left the terrace, and there was nowhere she could go. The rear garden was perfectly secure. However, maidens had to learn, and she took her straight upstairs. She would comfort the poor child after the paddling which her disobedience so richly deserved.
A Familiar Face
“Quickly Sisters, no one should be uncovered for more than five minutes.” Sister Caris shouted, striking one of the new intake with her switch as the poor girl hurried past her. No one could reply of course. Her blow left a red weal on the girl’s naked rump but there was no sound at all from the muzzled novices. Naked, with their heads and groins shaved, they were running into the showers, desperate to avoid further punishment at the end of a long and terrifying first day in Clitheroe. Sister Caris could not spare them, as she was being watched all the time. She had to teach them, she had to maintain discipline. The new recruits were a mixed bunch, typical of the rich diversity of Reformist control. Caris had seen the files. Many were the daughters of the poorer Reformists, more or less sold to the Church. Some were girls who had fallen foul of the many new laws, either a number of smaller infractions, or in some cases the ultimate sin of losing their virginity. Their parents or guardians would have been given the option of a criminal trial or an indeterminate period of national service, usually ten years, the same as the girls whose devoted parents had taken cash for the honour of a daughter living in God’s love. It almost made Caris laugh, because a devout girl from a loyal family would be treated just the same as a girl who had broken the law. Finally, they were starting to get girls signed up for national service, around the age of eighteen, for three years, to serve God and their country. These girls were neither devout or law breakers. Their parents had either fallen for the idea of national service, as an alternative to the university course they might once have expected for their daughters, or they could not find a way to defer the call up. Caris and the other members of staff had seen the advertisements, and listened to the promotional broadcasts, as part of their training for their new roles. They were told who and what they would be receiving in detail, quite honestly and openly, because they could not exactly warn anyone else. She found herself praying for forgiveness, although she had no faith, out of habit she supposed, as she wielded her switch to speed the girls up. God would apparently be offended if the nuns were uncovered for more than ten minutes, and they had no time to waste.
Neither did Caris. Her incentive to hurry the novices was her own shower time. She had to get them secured in their sleeping gowns so that she could hurry back to her own dormitory for her own daily ablutions. She had the same time limits, but she got no allowances for delays with the novices. It was horrifyingly chaotic. She stripped off her habit and ran to the showers with her own keepers shouting orders and beating her with those fearsome switches. Sister Esme, a woman in her late forties, ran along beside her with eyes wide with pain and fear. It was no use. They were two minutes late returning to their cells. Caris was ordered to lie on her cot, and given fifty strokes of the paddle for each minute. She learned her lesson. Her novices would be on time the next time.
But despite her suffering she had something else on her mind. One of the girls she had beaten into the showers looked so like her Sammie. Bawling into her muzzle in pain she feared that she had just met Rebecca Fitzgerald.
“I have done everything you have asked of me.” Brogan insisted, standing beside the bed and wagging her finger furiously at her husband almost as soon as he closed the door. He had clearly asked Miss Howard to present her to him unrestricted that night and she was wearing nothing more than a nightdress.
“Calm down, Brogan.” He replied, yawning as he started to unbutton his shirt,
“Calm down…that heartless bitch beat a girl we love for reacting badly to the news of her mother’s suicide.” Brogan almost screamed at him, raising her voice for the first time in over five years.
“She did her job…I am sure you are aware that Miss Howard is fond of you and the girls…but she is your guardian, and she has to consider the bigger picture.” He snapped back, but holding up his hands in mock surrender. “She will tend to the girls…as I know that you will…Barbara was given every kindness and now I can adopt Eloise and Grace.”
“So that you can marry them off and imprison them in God’s love.”
“Brogan that will do…”
“Or what? I have been beaten before…I have been kept muzzled for days, had my hands immobilised, been forced to use a diaper like a toddler, and allowed you to keep me covered up all the time. There is not much else you can really do to me short of killing me. I accepted my fate…I got myself into this mess and I didn’t blame you for it…I even kidded myself that you were at the very least a genuine believer…but if you think that was at all appropriate I was mistaken…and whatever it is that we had is over. I mean it Harry…its over.”
“Nothing is over until I say it is. I have been a good husband to you…and I will not be spoken too like this in my own house. I have indulged you Brogan, clearly far too much for your own good.” He turned on his heel and walked out on her, leaving her just standing there. He did not lock the door, but she did not dare try to leave. She had not opened a door in five years. She had been shocked when Brogan ran away in her grief, and that reaction upset her as much as anything else. In the end, she just sat on the bed and waited for him to come back.
It was at least ten minutes before the door handle began to turn, and she was ready to apologise. He had not sanctioned the actions of Miss Howard, and she doubted if she would have done. Attacking him like that was not only unfair, but stupid. He was a Reformist, and being challenged by his wife like that was a sin, let alone an insult, and she had learned that with Harry she had to play the game. But it was not Harry. Miss Howard came in carrying the paddle.
Reformism Revisited is continued in part four The Law is the Law.