Reformist Generations – Part One
by Nick Lucas
This is the first part of Reformist Generations.
Skiathos, Greece, twenty five years later
Ophelia Miller had no particular desire to go home. Not even one last time. She stood at the rails as the Athens ferry inched its way into Skiathos harbour, using her left hand to hold her school boater in place. Besides anything else, she did not fit there. She had always felt like an alien, a fish out of water, and two years away from it, even at her age, had not changed her opinion of the place. It glowed with affluence and hedonism, but she knew that impression was usually false. Behind the scenes it was a hotbed of debauchery and decadence. Not that she was a prude. Despite her exclusive private education, she enjoyed her holidays with her friends, but always elsewhere. She had got into the habit of only coming home if she needed anything from her father. He was the most decadent and debauched man she had ever had the misfortune to meet, and she recognised that was the main reason that she hated the island, but as soon as she was free of him she would never have to come back again, she hoped, crossing herself as the thought forced her to smile.
Her school uniform made her stick out like a sore thumb, of course. Boulogne Ladies College was just about the most famous boarding school in Europe, founded by an exiled headmistress from England, who decided against earning God’s esteemed love in a convent in her home country and set up shop across the channel, creating a French equivalent of the school she was forced to flee. Miss Frobisher had long since retired, but the traditions she put in place some forty years before were maintained by her successor, Miss Roberts, and Ophelia wore her red blazer, yellow gingham summer dress, boater, white gloves, white ankle socks and sandals with pride. But not in Greece. In the cloying heat, she already felt like a limp rag and the stares of the tourists were already beyond tedious. Her father would laugh at her. He had attended Gordonstoun, the bleak British boarding school in Scotland, famed for educating several kings, and his uniform was always discarded before he got on the train home, even if that was against the rules. But Ophelia was a good and loyal student, and she took her responsibilities seriously enough to obey all the rules, to the letter, even if it was the last time. Her days at the College were over too.
In fact, she was well aware that her life was about to change. No more Greece. No more Boulogne. She was, as her beloved housemistress had so embarrassingly told her before she left, the most brilliant student the College had ever taught, and gaining a scholarship to the Sorbonne at sixteen, two years earlier than usual, proved that to everyone. She had attended Boulogne on a full scholarship too, because her father would never have paid for her to go, and all she really needed from him this time was his signature giving his permission for her to attend the Sorbonne. It was such a stupid rule. He was a dissolute beach bum, but also her legal guardian, and even in Greece, where Reformism hardly had a foothold, at her age she needed his permission to accept the scholarship.
He was not there when the ferry docked, and Ophelia used the last of her Euro’s to pay for a taxi along the coast to the family villa. She would have walked but she had her trunk with her. The local driver tried to scam her, but she told him in fluent Greek exactly what she thought of him, and halved the fair. Not for the first time, she taught someone that appearances could be deceptive. Heaving the trunk over to the front door, she rang the bell and waited, not sure what to expect anymore. Her father was not a conventional man, and his partners, including her late mother, never lasted long with him one way or another. To her knowledge, she had four brothers and three sisters, none of which shared a mother with her. Euan Miller had been married five times, although her mother was the first, and the only one not to leave him, as she succumbed to her heroine addiction before she could pluck up the courage. The one constant in his life, and the major source of income, was the house. It contained six big apartments on the beach side, all rented out to tourists in the summer, plus a bar on the small private beach, where her father spent most of his time. Ophelia got tired of waiting for the door to be answered, abandoned her trunk in a dark corner, and ruined her sandals climbing over the wall and around the side of the villa, to the steps.
It was beautiful, of course. She gazed down on the turquoise sea and the jagged rocks leading down to it, and remembered when she used to think it was paradise. Then she saw her father, his mid-fifties sitting lightly on his tanned shoulders, behind the bar as always. But he only had one customer, an even older man, wearing an awful multi-coloured shirt and khaki shorts, on an old wooden stool, out of the sunshine.
“Grandpa?” Ophelia could hardly believe her eyes, but she started to run anyway.
President Forbes frowned at the message. Not good news. Dropping his iPhone 19 back on the desk, he buzzed for his private secretary and drummed his fingers on the solid oak in impatience. His grandson was fading fast, and the doctors could not do much more without a donor. He had all the power he had ever wanted and more besides, but he could not find a way to save one little boy.
“Any word from Miller?”
“Not yet Sir.”
“How about Slade?”
“He has found some more very distant cousins, sir. We have people on their way to find them now.”
“Great…thanks…I am going to talk to my wife.” Forbes stood up and walked out of the large room, heading for the private apartments on the second floor. His predecessor, Kieran Radcliffe, had decided to use Buckingham Palace as his base, and it was perfect for the job. Forbes liked living above the shop, but unlike the royal family he had the means to maintain the old place to a high standard, and there was no more threadbare furniture or Tupperware. He took the stairs two at a time, still agile even in his early sixties and barged into the drawing room at a fair pace.
“Good morning Sir,” Mena Forbes said, making as if to rise. He waved her away. She settled back down, expertly letting the voluminous folds of her velvet gown subside.
“Angus is weaker still…Archie sent me a message.”
Mena offered no response. It was expected, and apparently unstoppable. Despite the best medical care, cancer was just eating away at the two year old, and they were rapidly giving up hope. Little Angus had a rare blood group, and although blood and bone marrow transplants would help him, and give the doctors half a chance, finding a match had proved impossible. Alistair was clutching at straws, scouring distant relatives all over the world, but with no success. Their little boy, the only son of their only son, was slipping away from them and there was nothing they could do. Alistair slumped into a chair beside her. Mena dared to pat his hand, offering her support. He did not pull away from her. It was fair to say that their marriage was unusual but after over thirty years they had reached an understanding of sorts. He had mellowed a little with age and fatherhood, and the pressures of work had taken his mind off torturing his wife. He still kept her firmly in her place, but that place was rather more conventional than it once was, Mena thought, and their shared despair over Angus was drawing them closer than they had ever been before.
She did not know how she felt about that, in all honesty. It unsettled her, but she had learned that she had no control over her life. Things just happened and she had to cope. She wondered if her father was having any luck, tracing the rest of their fairly complicated family. There had to be a match somewhere, but her brother had sown his seed far and wide, from Africa to Greece and back, so it would be a miracle if they could find the right one.
Thicker than Water
Ophelia winced as the needle pricked her skin but then watched as the young nurse squeezed a few drops of her blood onto a stiff piece of card, before hurrying out of the room with it. Her grandfather was having it tested immediately. She slipped her gloves into her blazer pockets, to avoid getting blood on them, and bit her bottom lip.
“So what happens if I am a match?” She asked, looking at her grandfather.
“Ophelia…that is a very slim chance,” James Miller reminded her. His knighthood no longer existed, in the brave new world of the British Republic, which rather annoyed him, but there were certain compensations. His son-in-law was the President after all, and although Miller had retired he was still on the payroll, full time. Not that he did much; he was getting paid to hold his tongue. He knew where most of the President’s bodies were buried and his quiet retirement came at a price.
“But…what if?” She persisted, and he smiled, seeing his own Mena in her bright, sharp eyes.
“Angus is too young and too weak to survive chemotherapy at the moment…so if we find a match, he needs bone marrow and blood transfusions straight away to help him get stronger.”
“So I would have to go to him?”
“Yes, he is in Great Ormond Street Hospital, just outside London…if you were a match you would have to stay close to him for a while and play pin cushions…lots of needles.”
“Great…sounds fun…but going to London is such a big deal, Grandpa?” Ophelia sighed, the very thought of going to England sending shivers down her spine.
“Sweetheart, you have a European passport, you are helping out your cousin, your uncle and aunt, your grandfather and God knows what other relatives…nothing bad is going to happen to you…not that it would to anyone else. Ophelia, your uncle is the bloody President and if you help save Angus he will give you anything you want, I promise. He’ll buy you a stallion and let you ride down the mall stark naked if you save his grandson.”
Ophelia nodded and managed a thin smile, and he put an arm around her slight shoulders, trying to encourage her. But she was still unsure. Her family’s history was a matter of public record and private bitterness, although to be fair most of the bitterness was on her father’s side as far as she could make out. But she was still an exile. Her father had left Britain for good not long after the Reformists took charge, whilst her grandfather and her aunt were at the centre of things. Her aunt was the First Lady and her grandfather had been the foreign minister for almost twenty years, after a long career in the diplomatic service. She had studied modern history both for her exams and her private pleasure. She understood Reformism as a political theory but she feared it as a way of life. Not just because of all the obvious restrictions their laws would impose on her, but because it had killed her mother. She had a personal abhorrence of the doctrine as a result, something that went beyond the usual opposition to the most successful political movement in the history of mankind. The world was slowly splitting into two camps, those who had fallen to the clamour for social change and those who had managed to keep Reformism at least partially at bay. In France and Greece, her two homes, Reformism was a shadow in the corner, regulated and humoured to an extent, but Britain, where her grandfather wanted her to go, if she was a match, was something else again. In her mind, it was hell, the home of the devil, and it scared her.
“Ok, look…I know that it must seem a bit daunting to you…but if it happens Ophelia, you have my word that we will make it as easy for you as possible…and I have already arranged to help your father out…and you, of course.” James Miller said, seeing the look on her face and prepared to do or say anything to persuade her. “I know you want to go to the Sorbonne…I know about the scholarship…and I promise you that if your father can’t, I will fund your stay there. In total, no scrimping…if there is one thing this awful business with Angus has taught me it is that blood is thicker than water…I want to make things up to you and your father Ophelia. But if you are a match, Alistair Forbes will certainly make sure that you never want for anything ever again, and that is a promise.”
Ophelia nodded, still biting her lip. She did not know much about her aunt, because her father had never been close to her and he did not really talk about the past, but the one thing she did know is that her grandfather had made that same promise about the Sorbonne to his own daughter. She did not know the details, but it was a promise he spectacularly failed to keep for Philomena Miller.
“So…Dad…what do you think?” Richard Buckingham asked, pressing his father for an answer. Charles Buckingham handed back the sheet of paper and smiled, before reaching for his coffee.
“Hard hitting…I doubt the President will approve.”
“He has to listen to reason…I feel strongly about this Dad…and so do a lot of other people.” Richard insisted, folding his draft speech and returning it safely to his jacket pocket. “But do you approve?”
“You are your own man, Richard…my opinion is an irrelevance.”
“Not to me it isn’t…I’d like you to approve of it.” Richard pressed and his father smiled again, returning the cup and saucer to the table beside his armchair. “Dad, I trust your judgement…and I respect what you achieved in your career…I would value your opinions and your advice…and I would like your blessing.”
“I approve of you, will that do?”
“Reformism cannot remain so dogmatic…people feel stifled and some things are just plain cruel…I believe that we have to ease off a little.”
“National service needs to reform…some girls are serving ten years, not five, because their parents can’t arrange a marriage or a place at guardian college for them, to get them out after five. I can see that it was necessary in the early days, to get to the numbers of nurses and teachers we needed, but that is no longer the case. And the convents are just too harsh…some of the reports are absolutely horrid, Dad…God’s love should not be so brutal…I think it goes beyond good discipline.”
“It always worried me…I could not control it all, I am afraid…I had to delegate.”
“Dad, I am not criticising you, you retired a quarter of a century ago…I think the renaissance was a modern miracle, but since then we should have shown more compassion…I believe we have a duty of care.”
“Standing up against Alistair Forbes could be a dirty business…are you prepared for that?” Charles asked, staring intently at his eldest son, his gaze belying his eighty four years.
“He doesn’t frighten me…he won’t find any skeletons in my cupboards.”
“Good…that is the right answer, and therefore, I approve.” Charles Buckingham grinned, knowing in his heart that his son was right. His legacy had been expertly maintained by Kieran Radcliffe, who always acted for the greater good, with no thought for the individual, and Buckingham had thought that right at the time. He had moved slowly towards the creation of a Reformist state, removing the obstacles to social change, small things like democracy and choice, but Radcliffe had finished the job in his time. He worked hard to stop people paying lip service to the doctrine. In the new republic, formed when King Charles III abdicated, no one could avoid Reformism, not even behind closed doors. When Radcliffe had retired, they should have sought a more moderate successor. The time was right then for a softer approach, a bit more compassion, but instead Alistair Forbes grabbed the reins. He was barely softer than iron and about as compassionate as the devil, and someone needed to challenge him, for the greater good. Buckingham could not help feeling proud that his own son wanted to do it.
“She’ll need someone to look after her…a guardian…I am getting an RAF plane diverted to Skiathos.” Alistair Forbes told his wife as he worked his phone, as usual doing three things at once.
“Someone gentle, Sir…please.” Mena begged, her concern clear in her voice. He looked at her.
“She will be here by then…it doesn’t matter, Mena.” He snapped, as if it was an irrelevance.
“She is only coming to help save Angus…she would never come here otherwise….sir.” Mena persisted and he frowned, as if he was annoyed by her interference.
“Oh she will be well rewarded…I don’t know the terms of the deal yet, but it will not be small…however, I will give strict instructions for the guardian to be…patient…with her…ok?”
“Thank you, Sir.” Mena looked down, hoping he would keep his word. She was as desperate to save Angus as anyone. He was her flesh and blood, her pride and joy, but the thought of her niece coming to London horrified her. It was history repeating itself. God could have made the match a boy, someone who could have travelled to Reformist Britain with impunity, but He had long ago proved to her that He had a sick sense of humour. She had to try and appeal to Alistair on Ophelia’s behalf, to protect the girl from the fate which befell her. It was the very least she could do.
“Your father will have guaranteed her safe return to Euan, Mena…and I will not interfere with that, I promise. And no doubt he will have spent a lot of my money on the deal, with a large cut for himself, but we do need to be careful, there is bad history here.”
“Yes Sir, I understand…of course.” Mena replied, full of respect, obedient to her husband as always. She did know some of the history of course. Not all, she suspected, because both her husband and her father were economical with the truth, but her brother was a criminal, and his daughter seemed to be her grandson’s only chance.
Euan Miller had another beer. His father sat on the other side of the table, outside on the terrace. Ophelia was packing her case. She had fifteen minutes before the car arrived to collect them, and she was cutting things fine. James Miller stared hard at his son, trying to judge his mood before speaking out, choosing his moment, but in the Euan spoke first.
“She comes back, whatever happens.” Euan said in the end, breaking the silence.
“She doesn’t want to come back here.” James pointed out, trying not to smile. He did not want to antagonise his son, it never ended well.
“Fuck you…she doesn’t want to stay there either.”
“She may not make the Sorbonne this September, but she will make the next one. If she still wants too.” James replied as evenly as possible, well aware that he had made the exact same promise to Mena once. He told himself that it was different this time.
“I’d ask for your word but that would be meaningless.” Euan drained another glass. He was trying not to move onto shorts before his father took his daughter away.
“Son, what happened to Erica’s family was not my fault…I told you that at the time.”
“So why promise me?”
“Because I could not predict that her father was a total bastard, of course. He turned his own wife in for helping Erica and then volunteered the younger girl for immediate national service. I just didn’t get to him in time.”
“You got to Rabbit though, didn’t you?”
“Oh you will never believe it, but I kept my promise to Mena…she wanted to sit at the top table, and now she does. She is the President’s wife, as I said she could be. She had a choice.” James lied, because the truth was that he had limited that choice and would have forced her if she had tried to resist him much longer. He tricked her into agreeing to the match and although it had secured his position, and his spectacular career, it still haunted him, deep inside. He did not have many regrets. He had done some truly terrible things in his time, and he would do all of them again without a second thought, but he had seen what he had put through Mena through at close quarters, and it was the one thing he wished he could change. It bore no comparison to the little disaster his son blamed him before.
“So did Erica, she chose heroine.”
“Son, you have had four wives since, I believe? I will look after Ophelia…better than you have, perhaps…and I will clear your debts and give you some working capital, and help the rest of your brood…I can’t bring Erica back.”
“Ophelia shouldn’t go.”
“She wants to help her cousin…she is doing the right thing and I will make sure the right thing is done by her.”
“The guy that shot Trevor…he was an amateur.”
“Son, you are not as young as you were…or as sober. I am being very generous here. Don’t threaten me.”
“Yeah I’m an old drunk, but I am holding you responsible for her, old man…and that is a promise.” Euan looked long and hard into his father’s eyes, and James believed him. Euan Miller had been an SAS sergeant in his younger days. He had killed many times. Despite laughing it off, it was a threat he took very seriously.
“Sorry about the discomfort…it was the quickest way home.” James Miller shouted above the noise.
“It is pretty basic, isn’t it?” Ophelia agreed, strapped into a pair of seats in what was obviously usually a cargo plane.
“Soldiers travel cattle class, but speed really is of the essence.” He smiled and patted her knee. “You didn’t have to wear your uniform, Ophelia?”
“I didn’t really have anything else.” She admitted, blushing a little. She had changed out of her summer uniform and into a blouse, tie and kilt, plus white knee socks. She looked very smart with the blazer and boater. “I didn’t want to get arrested before we got to see Angus.”
“Sweetheart, that is not going to happen…how many more times? Your uncle is the President…right now, you could put on a bikini and run through customs…no one would care.”
“But I will have to…comply…with the law of course?”
“Of course, but it’s not so bad…and you’ll be well looked after, I promise.”
“I know what to expect, Grandpa.” Ophelia assured him with a look of utter determination on her face. Again Millar was reminded of his Mena, at roughly the same age. Both girls bristled with intelligence. Both girls were naive.
“I studied it at school…and read Charles Buckingham’s book, and loads of others.”
“Good grief, that book was so boring…I gave up after chapter three.” James laughed, but at her, not with her. No one could fully understand the history of the modern renaissance from the books written by the winners. The truth was in the deals done behind the scenes, the threats, the blackmail and the bribery. He himself was only still in the ascendance because he knew whose hands were dirty. If he wrote a book he could bring down the whole lot of them, and vice versa.
“And there is loads on the internet…I don’t mind helping and fitting in while I am there…but I don’t want to stay forever ok? I really do want to go to the Sorbonne.” Ophelia insisted, thinking of her aunt. She must have thought the same things, said the same things. Mena had won the top scholarship to Oxford University at exactly the same time as female students were finally banned from further education under Charles Buckingham’s government, but she had been quickly accepted by the Sorbonne in Paris. It was one of the reasons why Ophelia wanted to go there.
“Ok…I already promised, didn’t I?” Miller assured her, taking her hand and giving it an encouraging squeeze. But then he had promised his son something once. It was his only blemish in terms of his career. He put his neck on the line for his son and made a promise he ended up not being able to keep, as well as handing his son-in-law his head on a plate. Not that his son really seemed to appreciate his sacrifice. The truth was that he had hoped Ophelia would not be a match for Angus. The others were all wrong for him, and she had been the last chance. He did not want it to be any of the girls. It complicated things. But Ophelia was the most complicated of all, because she was Erica’s daughter. His relationship with his son was difficult enough, but the idea of taking Ophelia to London was insane. He did not like putting his trust in Alistair Forbes. “You will be returned to your father when this is over, Sweet Pea, all ready for the Sorbonne…I promise.”
Great Ormond Street Hospital, Tadworth, Surrey
Mena Forbes hugged Ophelia, not caring about the effect such a performance might have on her appearance. Flanked by her daughter-in-law Annabel and her guardian Miss Peters, she threw her arms around the child in silent gratitude. Ophelia was stiff for a moment and then melted into her arms, overcoming the initial shock of seeing her first proper British Reformist women in real life. Like everyone else, she saw such sights on television all the time, but in France, the most resolutely secular state left in Europe with legislation against wearing the burka or mantle in public, and Greece, the most lawless, laid back place in Europe, there were very few such sights to see. Ophelia had endured a long day of travel, flying from Le Touquet to Athens and then catching the ferry to Skiathos, before almost immediately getting on the RAF plane for London, so she was tired and rather daunted by the thing that she had so abruptly agreed to do. Everything had happened so quickly that she had not even stopped to think about it, and her father and grandfather were not really the easiest people to confide in, or take comfort from, so she welcomed the hug from her aunt, because she could feel the relief in it, and that made her sure that she had done the right thing in many ways. She could not let a child die. Not if she could help him, and this child was her cousin, a blood relative. Her doubts and fears about coming to England, the land of her parent’s birth and the cause of so much unhappiness in all their lives, were understandable, but saving Angus had to take priority. So she put her arms around Auntie Mena and squeezed back.
“Sorry to rush you, Miss Miller…but if we could, we’d like to get you into your room, so that we can get some blood as soon as possible.” A young man said, whilst her grandfather was just finishing introducing everyone to her, and Miss Peters had shaken her hand rather awkwardly and said that she looked exhausted. It was bizarre. Mena and Annabel, who was also introduced to her as Auntie Annabel, did not speak at all, but curtseyed to her. It was only as she found herself hurrying after the doctor that she realised that they could not speak to her. It was so stupid of her. She knew that the British practised voice modesty and her two aunts were obviously muzzled to keep them quiet in public. That thought sent a shiver down Ophelia’s spine. Reading about the history of Reformism and looking at pictures on the television were both fine, but it did not prepare you for a meeting with two muzzled women. But she got no time to dwell on it, because the doctor led her into a large private room and left her with two nuns.
They were nurses, of course. Britain’s health service was famous throughout the world, with the idea of women doing some kind of national service in a religious order now being copied to some extent in dozens of places. Ophelia was curtseyed to again but not spoken to, because she knew the nuns would also be muzzled, and then she surrendered to their care. In truth, she was totally spent, and when they seemed intent on doing everything for her, she just gave in, the adrenalin that had kept her going for so long finally deserting her. In ten minutes, she was sitting propped up in a normal hospital bed, covered by one of those strange thin blankets only hospitals seem to have, dressed in a hospital gown with a needle in her right arm, and a tube pumping her blood into a large container by her side. She did not really need the sedative they also gave her to drift off into a deep and fitful sleep.
Miss Peters had Mena and Annabel back in the car before the nuns got to the needle. Mrs Forbes had persuaded her husband to let her and Annabel greet Ophelia, but it was late and both the girl and little Angus were in safe hands. Mena disappeared under her blinding mantle, and started to pray again, adding her niece to her list of supplicants. She had no idea what her father had promised her brother and Ophelia, and even less idea what her husband intended to do. Alistair cared about Angus, she was sure of that, but he was also the President, and because of her maternal grandfather, Ophelia was registered as a ward of court as her mother did not have permission to marry Euan Miller sixteen years ago. She doubted if her father would have told her dear brother that, in their desperation to save Angus.
Miss Peters was much better than Miss Robinson or Miss Freeman, and in that sense Mena’s life was easier, but she was still the First Lady, and as Chloe Radcliffe had before her, she had to set the perfect example. Her husband had tired of torturing her as she provided him with seven children, almost one after the other, and although their relationship was still unusual, she was just a faultless Reformist wife. Miss Peters, a highly trained guardian who had completed eight years of national service before attending guardian college, was her reward for her obedience. She was still subject to punishment if she misbehaved, but that was rare. Instead, she played the game and devoted her energies to her children and grandchildren, like generations of women had done before her. But there was still a price to pay if her behaviour was ever deemed inappropriate.
“Your greeting of your niece was unnecessarily exuberant, Mena,” Miss Peters said as the car drove off. “Level two until I get you home I think.” Mena gasped into her muzzle as her punishment chip was activated, but she did not care. She was prepared to suffer for Ophelia, if necessary. And for Angus, of course.
“She did not need much persuading…she really is a good kid, Alistair.” James Miller told his son-in-law as he accepted a rather fine single malt, raising his glass to the President. He was staying at Buckingham Palace. After retirement, he had bought a house out in Berkshire, where his wife would be waiting for him, but he regularly stayed in town, still dipping his fingers in and out of foreign affairs, at the bidding of Alistair Forbes. Everything was done at the bidding of Alistair Forbes.
“So…how much of the past does she understand?”
“Not very much at all…Euan has never spoken of it and she has just assumed that her mother was a hopeless addict, or that her father drove her to it…there is no love lost there. Some family tittle-tattle has probably reached her, but not the truth that is for sure.”
“Good…I should probably advise you that I have made some…arrangements…with the hospital and engaged a guardian to take proper care of Ophelia…oh and I have sent someone to warn off her other grandfather. He will be signing any rights he has over her…which were flimsy in any case…to you, and that will be ratified by the appropriate courts tomorrow.” Forbes said lightly as his sipped his drink, as always in control, moving the pieces around the board inside his brain, only ever one or two moves away from checkmate.
“Is a guardian really necessary? She will not be leaving the hospital for some time.”
“She needs someone holding her mitten all the time.” Forbes replied, laughing at his own little joke. “I am sure you can justify it to her, Charles…you have some previous experience of persuading your girls to do things for you, I believe?”
“Alistair, can’t you just be happy that Angus now has a chance?”
“Oh I am, but doesn’t God move in mysterious ways, old man? He has given us the means to save my grandson whilst kindly sending a loose end back to be tied up.” Forbes smiled at himself again, thinking his words strangely appropriate. “Don’t worry…I am not yet decided on her future, and she will be here for a year at least, until the treatment is complete. But can’t you see that there is a certain symmetry in His plans? Of all your relatives, the match just had to be Ophelia.”
“My thoughts exactly…and what arrangements have you made with the hospital?”
“Oh nothing special…just some practical issues…after that, the guardian can cope. I had her chipped, both for standard tracking and discipline. Such things are dealt with at the coming of age these days, as I am sure you are aware, but this was the perfect opportunity to get it out of the way without distressing her. See Charles, I am not a monster…I am grateful to Ophelia for coming to help Angus, and I really do have her best interests at heart.”
Miller doubted it, but he had made a promise. Not just to Euan and Ophelia, but to himself. He had never been a friend of Alistair Forbes. He did not think the man had any friends. But he had been useful to him, for their mutual benefit, and that gave him some power, however limited it was. So he had to play a long game, because he did not intend to let his son or his daughter down again, and he intended to keep his granddaughter safe, once he had done his best for young Angus. God could move every mysterious which way He wanted, but Miller intended to stay one step ahead of Him if at all possible.
Miss Archer was sitting beside the bed when Ophelia woke up. Her soft, mantled face was the first thing the drowsy girl saw when she opened her eyes, and a gloved hand reached out to stroke her forehead, shushing her and telling her to lie still and rest for a while longer. That made sense. Ophelia had no particular desire to move. Everything seemed to ache. Including her head which was beating out a military tattoo.
“My name is Miss Archer, Ophelia…and the President has sent me to take care of you, dear.” Miss Archer said quietly, her gloved fingers still caressing Ophelia’s head, brushing her hair off her face. “I am what we would call your guardian, although I want you to think of me more as your personal nurse for now. I am afraid the doctor’s need to do all sorts of tests on you, to make quite sure that you are a perfect match for young Master Angus, and that is going to knock you sideways…for a while. You have to give a lot of blood, and that will make you feel quite weak as well…so you really are going to need me. Now you had a long day yesterday and the doctors already took a lot of blood, so you are going to rest as much as possible today. I have strapped you down because you are on a drip, so you are diapered for convenience. I put you in mittens to stop you accidently fiddling with anything of course, and hospital rules mean you have to be muzzled, apart from normal visiting hours. Now my dear, please do not fret or panic…you didn’t even notice until I mentioned it, there is nothing to worry about it…you are quite safe.”
But as she spoke, as Ophelia tried to rear up against her restraints, Miss Archer used her other hand, squeezing a bulb of air on the intravenous drip. It sent another dose of sedative through the tubes, and in seconds the girl settled back down and closed her eyes again. It was a scene that would be repeated throughout the day, as Miss Archer gently introduced Ophelia to her hospital routine. She had lots of time to be patient, as her instructions made clear, and Ophelia was an honoured guest, but she still needed to be kept in God’s love. The girl drifted in and out of consciousness, once momentarily brought round when Miss Archer tested her punishment chip, and she would look back on that entire day as a nightmare. Doctors came in, and out, with needles, and pills, taking her temperature and blood pressure. She needed changing at least twice that she remembered, and she was sucking water through a tube in her muzzle. She was wearing a muzzle. And mittens; she could not use her fingers at all and she was strapped to the bed, like a prisoner. Then finally, much later, she opened her eyes to find her grandfather sitting there.
“Grandpa?” She mouthed the words and heard her own voice.
“Sweet pea, how are you feeling?” Charles Miller smiled, reaching out to take hold of one of her mittens.
“She muzzled me.”
“She has to Sweet pea; it is the law here, outside visiting hours. We talked about that…remember?”
“Ok…yeah,” Ophelia felt a wave of exhaustion hit her. It was amazing to think that forty eight hours ago she had been in Boulogne, planning her summer escape from her father and Skiathos. Twenty four hours ago, she had arrived back at the house in the taxi, steeling herself to put her plan into practise, and then her grandfather had turned her world upside down with the story of her sick cousin Angus. But she could not remember him telling her that she would have to wear a muzzle. He had agreed that she would have to comply with the law when she suggested it, but he never mentioned her wearing a muzzle. Her dear uncle was the president, after all. “Can I see him? Angus I mean?”
“Yes, but not tonight. He is asleep, but believe it or not, right now he is more mobile than you, so the nuns are going to bring him to you here tomorrow. Sweet pea, we are all so grateful to you…I know this country is not where you want to be, and I know the family has been…less than unified…all through your life. But this is a special thing to do. We have to obey the laws…the President can’t be seen cutting corners…but things will be different when we get you out of here. Once they have done the tests and built up a store of your blood, you can come home…you can live in Buckingham Palace! Then you will only need to give a pint of blood every few days, so we can do that from home, whilst Angus gains strength and we take good care of you…because it is going to be tough on you my dear. You will like that better…and I promise you, this will set you and your father up for life. I lost you both for too long Sweet pea; I don’t ever want to lose you again. I want to make amends…I want us to be a family again and to help each other. So don’t worry about the details here…it’s just too public to cut corners. Once your Uncle Alistair has met you and we are helping Angus, it will all be a lot easier, I promise.”
“Good news about the Forbes boy I hear?” Charles Buckingham asked, using his stick to negotiate a slippery stretch of cobbles near the south entrance. The old Cathedral towered above them, but the three old men had no intention of going inside. It was much better to stroll in the sunshine.
“Seems to be, Elizabeth is on her way to visit, so we shall have first hand reports.” Peter Munroe grinned, quietly resisting the temptation to offer the older man some support. Buckingham was in his eighties but he was stubborn, and he would not accept that sort of help from anyone.
“Some cousin, from Greece I believe?” Sebastian Osborne enquired, his robes rather clashing with their tweed jackets and sensible shoes, but he was the only one still in harness. He had been the archbishop for over a quarter of a century, and although he had slowed down a little, he showed no inclination to retire.
“Yes, Philomena’s brother’s eldest daughter…a perfect match, they hope.” Munroe confirmed, stopping to stare north to the so-called new Cathedral, although it was over thirty years old by that stage. “Should please Alistair, but I doubt that all these mumblings in the ranks will…has Richard had a word with you Charles?”
“Of course…has he been sounding you out too?” Charles smiled, putting his hand on Peter’s shoulder. Munroe was Richard’s godfather and they had always been close.
“I think he really wanted to think things through before he talked to you…he considers you a tougher audience than me I am afraid, Charles.”
“I doubt that, but a less cantankerous hearing I am sure.” Charles chuckled, watching the swans on the river.
“I am minded to agree with the youngsters.” Bishop Osborne said out of the blue. Both of the others turned to stare at him in open amazement, and it was his turn to smile. “Moderation in all things is a virtue, my sons.”
“Sebastian, with the greatest respect, you and Kieran were more dogmatic than anyone,” Peter Munroe pointed out, running his fingers through his thinning hair. “Once.”
“Yes, and I remain a supporter of the fair imposition of the doctrine…I am set in my ways, too old to change, as are you two old goats, but after forty years of reform, I can see the argument for a little softening of the stance.” Osborne said thoughtfully as he warmed to his theme, surprising his friends. “Charles, you led us through the eye of the storm, and I agreed with Kieran that we had to secure the future. How many times did we say that the ends justified the means? But these days…things are secure. So if we have achieved our goals, it would seem logical to me to look at the means at our disposal and see whether they remain fair for the people, considering our new objectives.”
“Have you discussed that with Alistair?” Buckingham asked, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
“It has been mentioned, but the President is not a fan of loosening the reins, so if the next generation want to challenge him, I think it is a good thing…and Richard is a chip off the old block, Charles.”
“Challenging Forbes, he will need to be.” Munroe sighed, looking right at Charles.
“I made the same point, and Richard was ready for me. He convinced me he was the man for the job when he said that he had no skeletons in his cupboard…Forbes learnt how to use leverage from Kieran…or maybe that was the other way around, if I am honest…and without it, if it comes down to a political argument, I think Richard might emerge victorious.”
Under the Radar
“Grandpa, are you cross with me?” Catherine Baraclough asked, putting down her needlepoint to look at her grandfather in some surprise.
“Of course not, I cannot hold you personally responsible for the actions of the Sewing Circle,” Hugh Blackstone grumbled, in his normal fashion, playing on his legendary grumpiness. “I assume it was put to a vote of your little committee?”
“Certainly it was, and it did provoke some discussion, which is why we sought some advice.” Catherine replied, glancing at her sister, who was trying hard not to giggle. “I would never do anything without asking your permission first, Grandpa…and Mr Harrington is, I believe, a most respectable gentleman from a good family in Meadvale.”
“Oh the finest…his late father was David Harrington, the first chairman of the Christian Democratic Party…but I am really still not sure that the village Sewing Circle should be inviting political speakers to address them…unless he is an expert on knitting or whatever it is that you do there.” Hugh responded with a wave of his hand, playing on his patriarchal status as always.
“Once a month we have a speaker…not always related to our sewing Grandpa…but…if you would rather we did not go, I am sure that our friends will understand, of course.” She returned her attention to her work, her needle poised, whilst her mother busied herself pouring more tea for everyone.
“Oh when have I ever been able to stop you four doing anything you wanted to do? No one ever takes any notice of me and I am surprised anyone even bothered to tell me.” The old man muttered, glaring at his wife. “Caroline, I suppose you know all about this nonsense?”
“Catherine and Chelsea did mention it to me, and Florence and I discussed it…considering the gentleman’s name, background and position, I saw no particular reason to set you off on another one of your rants, Hugh…now take those pills and stop trying to pretend that we take no notice of you, for goodness sake.” Caroline Blackstone scolded, tapping the small glass full of pills still at the side of his plate.
“Rants? I am the master here, and I do not rant…I attempt to educate and instruct you…and these pills do no good at all, I do wish you would stop pretending that you know what is best for me.”
“Well, I was the general practitioner, whilst you were the heart butcher…I think I am quite capable of prescribing suitable remedies for indigestion, heartburn and wind, you silly old fool.” Caroline continued, and the girls could contain themselves no longer. Even Florence, who had lived with her parents unique bickering for all her forty years, and often tired of it, smiled as she passed around the cakes.
“Come on Dad, try one of these…Chelsea is getting rather good at fairy cakes.” She smiled, and the old man winked as he took one. He was almost ninety one. His wife was ten years younger at eighty two, and he had guided his family unblemished through over forty years of Reformism and social change. He played the fool, and his frail body was betraying him, but his mind was still as sharp as a knife.
“Only one,” Miss Walker commanded, returning to the conservatory with more hot water. “Sugar levels need to be checked in a moment or two, and you eat too many cakes.”
“Good grief, woman…I employ you to look after these disobedient girls, not to nag me.” He muttered, but everyone noticed that he left half the cake. Hugh Blackstone had been an eminent heart surgeon in his early forties when Charles Buckingham barged his way to power. He had married Caroline, who was then a local GP, to stop her getting swept up in Harry Trevor’s enforced takeover of the local health infrastructure and ending up in a convent. He always said that it was a marriage of convenience for her, and that he had sacrificed his future to save God from her incessant nagging but the truth was that he had loved her for years, without plucking up the courage to do anything meaningful about it. She had given him one daughter, their beloved Florence, and he had employed Nina Walker, a school friend of his daughter’s, when the girls reached maidenhood and needed to be kept out of national service. Nina had been with them ever since. Florence had married Kevin Baraclough, a good man her father met at work, and he had joined the happy quarrelling at Dunroamin, the sprawling house in the quiet Sussex village of Alfriston where Hugh had lived all his life. Kevin and Florence had two daughters and a son before Kevin was killed in a car crash, leaving them all to Hugh to look after. In their brave Reformist world, he was their legal guardian and could do more or less what he liked, but as he always said, he would never hear the end of it if he did, as even a strict father had to let his women out of their muzzles sooner or later, and he could not abide the thought of their revenge. So, the five women had fallen into a comfortable routine, with the family always showing a dutiful face to the outside world, whilst doting on Hugh, and George, the twelve year old boy at the other end of the spectrum, and everyone enjoyed the good life in the beautiful Sussex countryside.
Ophelia Miller put all second thoughts out of her head the moment she saw Angus. He came outside of visiting hours with his best friend, who introduced himself simply at Dr Robbie, and a nun who he spent the entire visit trying to escape from, as if he could run all day.
“Your blood is already doing him the world of good…it has really perked him up.” Dr Robbie explained, smiling at Ophelia as he caught Angus and plonked him on his knee. Ophelia was still feeling weak, and was still strapped down, mittened and muzzled, with the ever-present Miss Archer by her side. But that did not seem to bother the doctor, who did not find it strange at all to be talking to a girl who could offer no verbal response. “You two share a blood group that is quite literally one in a million and the artificial substitutes we were using were nowhere near as effective. You are feeling so weak because we are taking as much from you as we can right now to build up a stock. I am having to give you lots of iron and other magic elixirs to keep you well and producing more, but once we are ahead of the game we can reduce our Dracula tendencies and make you feel better again, Miss Miller. Don’t be fooled by this bundle of energy though, this young man is very sick…but thanks to you he is getting a lot stronger, and then we can hopefully use your bone marrow to cure him. So I need you to be good for Miss Archer, Miss Miller. Rest, take your medicine and produce more blood for our little bank account, because he is going to need every drop to get through this, in God’s love.”
Miss Archer was patient but firm, never letting Ophelia argue. Not that she had the strength to do so. She usually just lost herself in the routine. It was certainly a different way to spend the holidays, but then again she had promised herself that she would not be staying on Skiathos. And finally meeting little Angus seemed to make everything worthwhile. She was doing a good thing she told herself. Even as her bowels moved and forced her guardian to perform another change.
Inside the Cathedral
Sister Caris could make the procession in her sleep. Marching in perfect time, the White Sister’s seemed to float across the highly polished stone floor, before descending into the cellars. As always, her fast eyes took in her surroundings but her covered head remained suitably still, following the rules of her life. She had been a nun for over forty years, and based at the Winstanley Priory for over twenty five. Precious little ever changed, she thought, noting the familiar sight of Lady Osborne kneeling in prayer before the Trevor Memorial, honouring her first husband and still coming to the new Cathedral, even though her second husband was now archbishop and preached at the old Cathedral, a little further down the river. Caris had never seen the old Cathedral, or any of Meadvale. The Priory was connected to the new Cathedral, and there were tunnels under the river which allowed the Sister’s to reach the hospital without setting foot outside. She could look out of the windows at the hospital if they dared, and sometimes got a glimpse of the outside world through the Cathedral doors, but those were the limits of her life in God’s love. Not that she bemoaned her lot, anymore. She could not think like that, or ever remember thinking like that, because she lived in the moment, thinking only of the present.
Brogan Osborne remained haunted by the past. Not because she was discontent with the present, because in all honesty she had a good life with Sebastian Osborne. He was pious, but kind and generally understanding with the family, and she could not complain about him or his treatment of her. She was a grandmother, and she enjoyed that, as old women were indulged within the Reformist world, so she had less bother with guardians and more to say for herself. Standing up from her prayers, she looked down on the White Sisters as they settled for the service. She liked their serenity and their anonymity. She had lived her life in the spotlight, one way or another, always having to set an example. But in a way that was what she had always wanted, and it was the way she had achieved it that had gone so wrong. She had been married to a senior government minister and then an archbishop during arguably the greatest period of social change in history. Her only regret was that she had no opportunity to write about it, as she had been trained to do.
Reformist Generations is continued in Part Two The Shadows of the Past.