Reformist Generations – Part Two
The Shadows of the Past
by Nick Lucas
The House, National Service Debate
“Mr Speaker, there is no doubt that the introduction of National Service transformed the provision of quality education and healthcare in the Republic, and I think we all understand that a certain ruthlessness was required in the early days to manage the transition between systems.” Richard Buckingham said, addressing a sparsely occupied House. It was no longer called the House of Commons, just the House. The House of Lords had been disbanded, and the single chamber was a legislative debating chamber where the President’s policies were discussed line by line. The Christian Democrats had a huge majority, so few things were ever in doubt, but like many members Richard took his job seriously. The actual wording of any legislation was crucial to its implementation, and every now and again they got the chance for a proper debate and to make a difference. “But times have changed, and despite the amendments proposed to the National Service Bill, I propose that we suggest some alternative measures. Fixed service periods should end regardless of the matrimonial prospects of the Sister concerned, as long as the Sister wishes to leave and there are suitable family members willing to take responsibility for her at home. I also question why no communication is allowed between parents and daughters during their National Service? What are we so afraid of? These girls are earning God’s love, and the sheer severity of their separation from the secular world makes it feel more like a prison sentence than a service. I would humbly ask the secretary of state for Health and Education to look at these issues…in fact I have drafted a series of amendments for his consideration and I would like to propose that he considers them before finalising this bill before the House.”
Home Sweet Home
“Open,” Miss Archer said a little more firmly the second time. Ophelia was nervous, and reluctant, although she had given in to the rest of the dressing process without any fuss. She had accepted that she needed the diaper as her strong medication seemed to disagree with her and the mittens because Miss Archer told her it was the law, and her hands could be seen, but as the muzzle would be hidden behind her mantle, the child did not want to accept it. In any other circumstances Miss Archer would have paddled the girl, or employed her punishment chip, after forcing her into the muzzle, but her instructions were to handle her gently unless she had no alternative. “Ophelia dear, every maiden is muzzled here; you must obey our laws…now open please like the niece of the President you are.”
Ophelia obeyed that time. She knew the laws. She knew her relatives could not avoid them, as she was sure other people did elsewhere, because she was the President’s niece. Miss Archer had explained those things. During her hours sitting helplessly in bed, Miss Arched had talked and talked, about Britain, about modesty and piety, and about the decency laws. She had learned the history of her family in great detail, although she knew a lot of it already, and she was reminded how important her name was to the British people. It seemed ridiculous to her, as the daughter of an exile living on the beach in Skiathos, but she was the granddaughter of James Miller, the long serving foreign minister, and the niece of the First Lady, and therefore the President himself, perhaps the most famous ever convert to the cause. Miss Archer told her a lot about her aunt, things she had partially heard before but never the real details. Auntie Mena had been a brilliant student too. She had won a scholarship to Oxford, the highest possible academic achievement for a school girl, although as that coincided with females being excluded from British universities she had been unable to accept it. She had been planning to go to the Sorbonne after that, just like Ophelia, before she met and fell in love with Alistair Forbes. As the muzzle closed around her teeth and gums, and snapped together, pinning down her tongue, Ophelia thought about her aunt choosing a muzzle and mittens over her education at the Sorbonne. It did not make sense. Why would anyone do that? But Ophelia knew she was different, of course. She was only there to help Angus, and after that she would be gone. So she tried to pull herself together. It had all happened so quickly but she always knew that she would have to abide by British laws. She understood that she could not embarrass her uncle. She stood still and let Miss Archer dress her. It would not be forever. She had to be as brave as little Angus was and trust her family.
Ophelia had no idea how people like her aunt lived like that all the time. Her corset hurt, although Miss Archer assured her that she had hardly laced it at all, and then she was encased in basically two layers of undergarments, the first close fitting silk and then flannel draws, like Victorian bloomers, and a padded jacket, ostensibly to protect her dress from any abrasion with the corset, before layers of petticoats and finally a velvet gown. It was unbelievably heavy on her shoulders. Even as Miss Archer stooped to button her into soft leather boots, Ophelia just stood there trying to hold herself straight, and it was a real effort, forcing her to concentrate. But that was not all, of course. She still had to suffer a bonnet and cloak, which in itself was almost as heavy as a second gown, and finally her first mantle. Once that was in place her vision became clouded, like looking at life through lace curtains.
“Oh my dear, you look lovely.” Miss Archer sighed, smiling kindly. It was not an outright lie. Her charge was dressed in an exquisite gown and cloak, but her posture was terrible. No trained guardian would ever mistake her for a lady. Not without a lot of training at any rate. But the girl was not expected to appear in public, Miss Archer reminded herself, as she guided Ophelia down endless corridors to a side entrance. The limousine was waiting for them there, to take them straight to Buckingham Palace.
Ophelia could not do any sight-seeing as Miss Archer pulled her blinding mantle over her. It was just the done thing for a young lady of her class, the guardian assured her, but she could not protest, even if she wanted to. It was a disconcerting feeling more than anything else. She was denied her hands, her voice and now her sight, just like that, as if those senses were wasted on her, and she had no possible use for them, but she realised that she was totally reliant on Miss Archer. Britain to her was an exotic land, a place learned about in books and on the television screen, so different from her own life. She was always interested in it because of her background, but she had not thought about what life was really life. Women being covered for their modesty was not an alien concept, because many countries and cultures practised some sort of veiling upon occasions. Greek women often covered their hair for Church out of respect, Catholic nuns covered their hair and even wore face veils in some orders and everyone was familiar with Muslim traditions. But Ophelia had never thought about what it was really like to live like that as a person, cut off from the world.
Then Miss Archer removed the blinding mantle, and Ophelia got her first view of Buckingham Palace.
Chelsea Baraclough opened her mouth as wide as she could for Miss Walker, without being asked, her eyes smiling as she was muzzled ready to go out. Miss Walker was like a second mother to her, having been with the family since her older sister was born, and she never had to tell the girls anything twice. They loved her, and she loved them, as much a part of the family as anyone. Chelsea did not find that unusual, or strange. It was perfectly normal to her, as was the life of a maiden, and leaving the house without her muzzle was almost unthinkable. Indoors it was very different, unless they had visitors, when propriety and etiquette demanded a certain level of discipline. It was a happy home. Neither girl had attended school after puberty and they both helped their mother and Miss Walker look after their grandfather and young George, who attended a good prep school in Eastbourne. They were not rich, or poor, but something comfortably in-between, and both Chelsea and their sister expected their grandfather to find them suitable husbands before they were twenty five, when having a guardian would no longer be allowed to defer their national service, just as he had done for their mother. In fact, even the death of their father, although Chelsea thought of it as the only sad blemish on her life, had helped secure their rural idyll, because the insurance money was a nice supplement to Hugh Blackstone’s pension, since he had finally been persuaded to retire.
Chelsea was not wearing velvet to spend the afternoon with her friends. Each of the Blackstone women had at least three velvet gowns with all the usual matching accessories, but they were saved for best, as they represented a considerable financial investment, something Hugh Blackstone was loathe to regularly consider, although he only pretended to be miserly. Chelsea was wearing a substantial cotton instead of velvet, in a suitably modest shade of dark blue. It was hard wearing and very easily washable, which pleased Miss Walker, and quite respectable, which pleased her mother. The whole family were eminently respectable. They were stalwarts of the local Church, and active in the village community. In all regards, Hugh Blackstone had ensured that his family abided by the laws of the land, regardless of his personal opinions. Miss Walker was not a qualified guardian of course, but by the time Kieran Radcliffe changed the laws concerning guardian training she had enough years under her belt to pass muster. Hugh Blackstone’s marriage, whilst abrupt in terms of courtship, was real enough, and the family lived quietly and without fuss, never causing anyone any trouble, least of all themselves.
“Be good for Miss Cameron, dear.” Miss Walker told Chelsea as she draped her blue cloak around her shoulders. Chelsea’s eyes shone above her mantle, and she curtseyed rather well, used to the requirement. It was not a strain for her; she respected her guardian and her elders and betters. Miss Cameron would take her and her friend Juliette to more friends in the village. The guardians liked their charges to socialise, and Chelsea expected a little bible study before some time to sew and chat. She was a typical Reformist maiden, happy enough with her lot in life.
Hermione Greening stood beside Miss Lewis, examining the display of ribbons in the family store. Her eldest daughter stood beside her, but she was blinded and would not be consulted, even though she would probably use the ribbons. Mr Greening had kept Miss Lewis on after he married the then Hermione Slade, and his instructions to the guardian were always exactly the same. He owned the major department store in the small city of Meadvale, truly the epicentre of Reformism, and as such he had a position in the community. He expected his wife and children to enhance that reputation, and maintain strong relations with the leading lights. Her father was well connected, and Hermione was required to make the most of the friendships she brought to the marriage, as well as cultivating more. Both Hermione and Eleanor, her nineteen year old daughter, wore the finest velvet gowns sold in the store. Oliver Greening had exclusive arrangements with several designers, and that included discounts for his own family, so no expense was ever spared on their costumes.
Hermione had accepted her fate, long ago. She could not defy her father, not in a Reformist state. She did not love Oliver but she could cope with his physical demands, and she was not stressed anymore. Her father was right, she did not miss that, and she had found a sort of peace in Meadvale. Not exactly happiness, but certainly peace.
Catherine Baraclough stopped writing and looked up, pen in hand, searching for the right phrase. It was a typical afternoon in Alfriston, when she did not have any arrangements. Her grandparents liked to sit in the conservatory and bicker, whilst her mother preferred to potter in her kitchen, and Catherine usually wrote. Not just letters, but stories and essays too, a creative outlet that she found much more satisfying than the sewing which was her public pastime. Like her sister, she was wearing the dark blue cotton gown, and as they were alone she was not in her mittens or muzzle. She would not have minded being in her muzzle if it was required of her, but she would have resented the mittens, as it would stop her writing. Miss Walker insisted on her and Chelsea doing at least an hour of bible study every morning and then she would be properly restricted, but she valued her solitary afternoons. So, it was a surprise, although a pleasant one, when her grandfather stomped into the drawing room, as always using his stick as more of a weapon of mass destruction than for balance.
“Damn chair, someone has moved it again, Catherine.” He grumbled, winking at her.
“Probably me, Grandpa.”
“Who are you nagging now?” He asked, indicating the letter.
“Miss Bush, in Florida…I met her when we visited Meadvale, do you remember?”
“Oh Americans…does she write back?”
“Of course Papa, her latest told me a lot about Sanibel Island…she has just spent a pleasant month there, and speaks very highly of Pelican Point Cathedral.”
“This speaker…the Harrington fellow? I don’t mind if you listen to his speech…but I don’t want you getting involved in any nonsense, d’you hear?”
“Of course not, Grandpa…I never would, I promise.” She replied, smiling at him, but the old man could see her intelligence in her eyes. He was proud of all his grandchildren, but Catherine had most of the brains. Like most young women nowadays her education was good, but only went so far. He had paid for both girls, and his daughter in her time, to attend a good local private school, but they left at the age of fourteen, of course. Educational standards were very high, and by that stage the girls knew enough to pass any amount of the old exams in English, History, French, Latin and Religious studies, but there was no real emphasis on maths, science or anything remotely useful, as they would not need such skills. Florence and Chelsea had both more or less stopped studying when they left school, their lessons in Maidenhood from Miss Walker enough for them, but his beloved Catherine had read every book he possessed and anything else she could get her hands on. She had also made a number of friends on their travels, such as Miss Bush, and corresponded with them voraciously to the point where Hugh could legitimately grumble about the cost of postage.
“His beliefs are contrary to the position of the President, Catherine.”
“I am aware of that Grandpa.”
“Once you are old enough to vote, you shall be able to express your opinions privately to the ballot box, but I think it better if we keep our heads down in cases like this…his views are rather radical.” Hugh continued, trying to justify a decision he was really a little uncomfortable with. “It is not a viewpoint I want my family to be associated with.”
“Only if sensible moderation could ever be described as radical, which it surely cannot, Grandpa.”
“Catherine, don’t bandy words with me…our glorious leaders have never been too keen on differing views, and even though the Harrington boy comes from good Reformist stock, I doubt if he and his friends are as committed to moderation as you might think they are. In the end, politicians like power, and they aren’t too choosy about how they get it…and the only thing I have learnt over the last ninety odd years is that it never pays to take sides in something that is no business of yours.”
He stomped out again, well aware that she would probably ignore him, to a certain extent, if she chose to do so. She was quite as stubborn as her grandmother when she wanted to be. But Blackstone did have very real concerns. Finding his granddaughter a husband would not be difficult, but finding her the right one would be. He was being realistic. Florence’s husband had been an ideal sort of chap, a young doctor with no local family who was happy to move in with his in-laws and share their resolutely quiet approach to modern life. If he had lived, Hugh Blackstone could have left his family in safe hands. But after the accident he had problems. His grandson was only twelve. He could not be legally responsible for his mother and sisters until he was twenty one. So if Hugh died before then things might get problematic. He also needed to find a husband for Catherine within five years or she would have to do her national service. He did not want her getting a reputation as some sort of activist, because that might put off potential candidates. And he did not want any trouble with anyone. He had resolutely avoided it since the day Charles Buckingham first came to power and he intended to die without troubling the authorities, and leave his family with the best chance to do the same.
“Ophelia dear, do say if you are too tired to stay downstairs?” Mena sighed, placing her mitten on Ophelia’s arm, full of real concern for her niece. She was so dreadfully pale.
“Oh…I am fine, Auntie Mena…Dr Robbie says I will be pale and tired until my body brews some more blood for Angus…who he calls our little vampire.” Ophelia smiled, not sure if she was speaking out of turn, rather daunted by the splendour of one of the great drawing rooms within Buckingham Palace. She was used to the monastic surroundings of her boarding school and the sun baked simplicity of Greece. But she was glad to be free of her muzzle, if not her mittens, and to be able to talk to someone other than Miss Archer. She did not know her aunt, but she had heard a lot about her.
“Isn’t he hilarious…only Dr Robbie could talk to a maiden about vampires, of all things?” Annabel Forbes smiled, with her mitten resting on Ophelia’s knee. Ophelia was their saviour, the answer to all their prayers, and she felt the pressure. She was worrying about stupid things like muzzles and mittens, and diapers, and they were terrified of losing Angus. It made her feel a little selfish, because she would be rewarded for her sacrifice. She had been expecting an argument with her father over the cost of attending the Sorbonne, because unlike Boulogne Ladies College her scholarship there did not cover her accommodation or food, but her grandfather had promised to take care of all that and more. She knew she might not make it in September as planned, but she was two years ahead of schedule anyway and Angus was certainly a good reason to delay things. She was helping her own family for goodness sake. Not to mention putting names to faces and finding out about where she came from of course. She was taking her grandfather’s advice and ignoring the boring details.
Brogan Osborne sat at her desk in her own study writing a letter that she would send to India, Eloise and Grace. It was her private space, her favourite room in the whole palace, a gift to her from Sebastian, in one of his weaker moments. But the palace was their home. She had lived there for twenty five years, and they had arranged its redecoration together. Both of them liked doing things together, much to their mutual surprise. It was not a love affair, not at all like her strange relationship with her first husband, Harry Trevor, but it had become a partnership. Not an equal partnership, of course. No Reformist wife had any right to expect equality. However, over the years, despite his reputation as a stickler for the doctrine, Sebastian had learned to consult and include his wife. He appreciated her intelligence, and often asked her for her point of view on things. She had learned to vocalise her opinions in an acceptable fashion, and they shared a love for their family. Most genuine Reformists had a strong sense of family in her considerable experience. It was the foundation of the doctrine. Sebastian never did things lightly and she thought he had learned from the dogmatism of his youth and brought more compassion to his time as archbishop. As she told her beloved daughters, she was very lucky. She had been married off twice and each time she had found contentment. It was all a good Reformist wife could hope for in life.
Madison Harrington was the mistress of Broomwaters. Since the death of her in-laws, her husband had inherited the huge mansion that had played such a central role in the history of Reformism, along with a considerable fortune, and she was fully expected to run the house as it had always been run in the past. Her husband kept on the staff of course, and she had the able and willing assistance of her latest guardian, Miss Hanson, but she still found it a daunting task. Daniel was a hopeless intellectual with his head permanently in the clouds. Her left the household to her, or rather to Miss Hanson and her, preferring to write his pamphlets and his boring speeches than bother himself with the upkeep of the house. But it gave Madison something to do and she had set about it with determination, her eyes firmly on Christmas. It would be her first without the assistance of her rather formidable mother-in-law and she intended to make it a good one.
There were so many people to invite and so many arrangements to be made. Etiquette and propriety were important in the Republic but essential in Meadvale, so everything had to be done properly, whilst the Christmas celebrations had traditions all of its own, regardless of who the guests were. Just allocating room was a nightmare. Then there were the guardians to cater for, not to mention the hiring of caterers, planning menus and such like. But she rather enjoyed it. She felt useful, and spent every moment she could writing notes and planning the greatest Broomwaters Christmas ever.
Mena Forbes sensed Alistair’s mood in seconds. He joined the ladies for tea, late, and although he was reasonably charming to Ophelia, she could tell that he was angry. In the end, she was quite grateful when Miss Archer suggested that Ophelia had been out of bed for long enough and took her upstairs. Mena went with them, saying that she ought to make sure that her niece had everything she needed, and Alistair did not disagree. She felt for Ophelia. She knew what a shock it had been for her when she first arrived in London, over thirty years before, and although the circumstances were different she feared the emotions Ophelia would be going through were much the same.
“Sweetheart, our funny little ways will seem strange to you at first, but for you it is no bad thing.” Mena suggested, distracting Ophelia whilst Miss Archer undressed her. “You need to rest and recuperate, and a quiet night in your sleeping gown will be just what the doctor ordered, I am sure.”
Downstairs, Forbes fumed at the disloyalty and impertinence of the younger members of the House. He did not welcome their interference in his work, and he would not stand for it. He was the future of Reformism, and after him his son would be the perfect successor. He would not be challenged by fools who did not understand the nature of absolute power.
Catherine Baraclough smiled around her muzzle as her mother buttoned her into her sleeping gown, pausing only to kiss her on the forehead before she disappeared inside. No one ever cut corners at Dunroamin, and both girls were well accustomed to their sleeping gowns. It was not late. Maidens needed their sleep, and the girls were usually put to bed soon after nine in the room they had always shared. Florence Baraclough had been brought up exactly the same way. Her parents believed that they had to be equipped to live in the modern world, not taught to avoid it. Her girls were the products of the renaissance, as was she of course. Her mother sometimes mentioned the old ways but they were just that to Florence, and her daughters. She left the room as Miss Walker turned out the light, and headed for her own, ready to go into her own sleeping gown.
“Stuff and nonsense,” Caroline Blackstone snapped at her husband downstairs. “Old fool…just how can listening to David Harrington’s son ever be considered dangerous? He is Reformist royalty…his father was at the centre of things and the boy himself is a member of the House…it is quite harmless.”
“He is talking of drumming up a campaign for individual votes.” Hugh replied evenly, not rising to the bait for once. That in itself told his wife that he was serious, but she still argued with him, of course. It was what they did, loving every moment of it as always.
“So what? It isn’t 1913…she isn’t going to throw herself in front of the King’s horse? For goodness sake, there isn’t even a bloody king anymore. I really can’t see the sewing circle doing much more than writing a rather stiff letter and raising a petition in the village, can you?”
“Caroline, at my age we really don’t need to rock the boat, do we?” Hugh asked, sighing as he faced reality.
“Oh don’t start all that again…I think you will outlive all of us…after all we do all the work, as always. If the government really is worried about the Alfriston Sewing Circle, this country really is going to the dogs…now have you taken your pills, you silly old fool?”
“Harrington is bad enough, but Buckingham is a complete pain in the arse.” Alistair Forbes snapped, pouring himself another brandy as his son made a face.
“Chatter in the house is hardly important anymore. Most of the papers don’t even cover it.” Archie Forbes suggested, not as concerned as his father.
“It is about who they are…it gives what they say some credence.”
“So warn them off…you are the President…and you’ve done it before.”
“Oh I would, if I could…but they are both so squeaky clean you wouldn’t believe it…and Charles Buckingham may be old but he is a powerful enemy to pick a fight with…I would not do it lightly even if his son was the devil incarnate.” Alistair said, with a deep sigh, thinking the problem through from all sides. “Have you said hello to your cousin yet?”
“Our heathen cousin…no, I let Annabel swoon over her. Is she behaving herself?”
“So far, and we are rolling out the red carpet, remember. She is doing us a huge favour at some cost to her own health in the short term, so the least you can do is be polite.”
“She is here in God’s love…she should be grateful, for goodness sake.”
“She will be, in time, believe me. But let’s get Angus all the help we can first, shall we?”
“Growing up as a child in this great country of ours, we took so much for granted, and still do.” Richard Buckingham said, his dulcet tones reminding the producer on the other side of the screen of his father. “But I am a student of modern history and the achievements of the modern renaissance are quite extraordinary…it truly was a perfect storm, caused not just by the idealism of men like Michael Winstanley and my father, but by the economy and the prevailing political landscape. Never forget that the initial reforms were introduced on the back of an incredible popular mandate, and no one in this country wants to throw any of that away after all the pain and hard work that was done.”
“Surely that is what you want to do…aren’t you proposing a liberal agenda?” The BBC presenter asked, listening intently to his headphones as he was told what to say. “The last liberal to get any sort of clear mandate was David Lloyd George.”
“Oh no, I am certainly not a liberal…I was born a Christian Democrat and I will die as one. But in rejecting the old political disputes, we also stopped being concerned with what was left and what was right, and started to concentrate on what the best answer was. In the perfect storm, it was clearly thought that the ends justified the means. I am quite prepared to defend my father’s record in that regard, because major social change must come at a price. In setting up a national service programme to support the National Health Service and our schools, a huge amount of women had to be taken into our convents, for various periods of time, and an organisation had to be created from scratch to manage the process. I think it is generally accepted that some mistakes were made…Michael Winstanley certainly accepted that the snowballing growth of the Church took him by surprise and that as a result he was too slow to put in place a proper management structure. Our young women were taken into God’s loving embrace but some of them were treated too harshly and I believe some still are. We have the numbers we need and the intake to top that up as Sisters are released at the end of their period of service. We do not need to put unnecessary obstacles in their way to leave.”
“So you are accusing the President of keeping young women in national service for too long?”
“I am not accusing President Forbes of anything at all…again that is very old politics. Alistair Forbes has been our President for five years and Prime Minister for twenty years before that, but that does not mean he can be held responsible for every little decision taken in every department…that is preposterous. I am simply raising a number of issues pertaining to the National Service Bill moving through the House. I am calling for a debate on issues like this, because we should be able to discuss things and agree the best course of action without getting into a slanging match or creating a blame culture. My father changed this country by refusing to focus on the mistakes of the past and concentrating on what needed to be done. I fully intend to do exactly the same.”
“This sounds like the start of a campaign, Mr Buckingham?”
“Challenging the current leadership over the details of a bill in the House does not make me a presidential candidate, it makes me a good MP, I hope. I am not a rebel, or indeed an opponent of President Forbes, I am simply trying to identify areas where we can do better as a party and as a government and as a country. Our people trust us because we make the right decisions for the good of everyone. That is all I am trying to achieve. Nothing more.”
Rest and Recuperation
“So, you are feeling a little stronger?” James Miller asked, squeezing his granddaughters arm as they strolled through the gardens at Buckingham Palace.
“I think so, it’s hard to tell…I am hardly allowed to do anything for myself, Grandpa.” Ophelia replied honestly, her weak smile hidden by her mantle. But he saw it in her eyes. Miller was used to looking at women’s eyes when he could, because they were so expressive when there was nothing else of them to see.
“Good, you need to rest…I am sure Miss Archer is taking good care of you.”
“She is treating me like an invalid maiden, according to Cousin Annabel, who thinks she is being very kind to me.”
“Then I am sure she is, Ophelia.”
“She makes me sleep in a body bag and won’t even let me use my hands to read, Grandpa.”
“Sweet Pea, this is how girls like you live here, I thought you realised that…”
“Grandpa, I am only here to help Angus…I can hardly embarrass Uncle Alistair locked away in here…”
“But we believe this is the right way for you to live, Sweet Pea…to not do so would offend people.” Miller lied, certainly as far as his own faith was concerned, but she had to believe it was true. “Miss Archer is being kind…I asked Alistair to ensure that she was patient with you, and remembered who you are and why you are here.”
“Can’t I come and stay with you? I want to meet Grandma and my other aunts and uncles?” Ophelia begged, trying not to sound too desperate.
“She is visiting her family Sweet Pea, she will be home soon…and you can come and stay then, if the doctor’s will let you stray so far from the hospital…it is not forever, Ophelia…and I did warn you that it would be very difficult for you…this is a different culture.”
Ophelia did not argue. She did not see the point in the end, because no one would listen to her. He had warned her, but it was impossible not to help her little cousin when only she could, and she was getting no credit for that. Payment yes, but no credit and no consideration as far as she could see.
“Open,” Miss Archer said, as soon as she returned to her room after her stroll in the gardens.
“Oh not yet…I am not going anywhere…so why does it matter up here?” Ophelia turned her back on the guardian, longing to rip her mantle off, but prevented from doing so by her mittens. “Can’t you take these stupid things off and let me…ouch…I am burning…what is…are you doing that to me?”
“Open Ophelia.” Miss Archer repeated as the girl whirled around to face her. She had some sort of remote control in her hands.
“How…ouch…don’t do that…please.”
“Open,” Miss Archer said again, staring at the frightened maiden. Slowly she stepped forwards and removed her mantle, and the maiden opened her mouth. “Obedience is essential in a maiden, Ophelia.” Miss Archer said after fitting the muzzle. “I do not take any pleasure in punishing you like that…the punishment chip is rather cruel and impersonal, but also effective, and I cannot have you disobeying me like that, dear. Please take this as your final warning.”
Morning Tea in Alfriston
“Miss Cameron is so moody sometimes.” Chelsea sighed as Miss Walker poured her a cup of tea. Her sister, who had only just finished her morning lesson and was still wearing her muzzle, raised a quizzical eyebrow as her mother inserted the small key to release her.
“She told you off?” Miss Walker asked, immediately a little concerned as she put the pot back on the table.
“Not me specifically Miss Walker, she was cross with everyone.” Chelsea replied, minding her manners. She did not want to keep anything from her guardian or her mother, because she was sure Miss Cameron would tell them anyway and it was much better to confess, but she did feel a little hard done by. “Harriet told a joke and we all laughed…and Miss Cameron did not feel it was appropriate.”
“Having all four of you sleepover is a little much, I fear.” Florence suggested as Catherine’s muzzle popped out into her hands and her eldest daughter stretched her jaw muscles.
“It was only a moment, and we all shushed each other…” Chelsea offered in her defence.
“She punished you, didn’t she?” Catherine enquired, looking faintly amused by the idea.
“Oh Chelsea…you must write and apologise as soon as you have finished your lesson, dear.” Florence groaned, seeing the truth in Chelsea’s suddenly downcast expression, and imagining what her father would say.
“Yes Mama…she used that awful remote.” Chelsea admitted, looking sheepish. “She turned it all the way up to four and we were all crying and begging for her forgiveness…and I hardly made a noise, I promise.”
Catherine listened to the full story until her dear younger sister had finished her tea, and Miss Walker muzzled her so that she could listen to her lessons. Then she moved to her writing desk, feeling sorry for Chelsea but also surprised that someone like Miss Cameron had used the girls’ punishment chips. Everyone had them, of course. All females in Britain had to be fitted with the chips at the age of eleven, because the devices held their Female Identification Documentation, the old FID’s that used to have to be carried everywhere in paper form, as well as the punishment module. It was not something anyone Catherine knew used very often, her grandfather considered it crude and possibly cruel, much preferring Miss Walker to use the dreaded paddle if the girls ever transgressed, which they seldom ever had to be fair. Juliette Biltcliffe was the youngest daughter of old family friends who lived two doors along the lane, and Miss Cameron had been with the Biltcliffe’s for many years. Catherine herself was good friends with Juliette’s older sister Verity, who was now married to a local farmer’s son, and had spent many hours in Miss Cameron’s care without driving her to such lengths with regards to corrective discipline. But she had been punished by her chip, twice, by the nuns at school, when the whole class earned castigation for reasons she could not quite remember. She recalled a horrific burning sensation across both buttocks, similar to the vile after-effects of a sound paddling but more instantaneous, as if she was suddenly on fire. She had been told, although she had no idea how anyone would have found out the facts, that the nun had set her remote controller to three. That had been enough to have the whole class of teenagers in floods of tears, so Catherine imagined that four would be dreadful, and felt sorry for poor Chelsea. Although she had also faced a rare paddling from Miss Walker when she got home from school of course, so she wondered if her sister might suffer more later on in the day. Her grandfather was not a particularly strict legal guardian, and Miss Walker was the best guardian any girl could wish for, but they both believed in basic discipline, especially in front of other people.
Hugh Blackstone was not living behind a facade. He was not a passionate Reformist at all, and indeed his faith was at best weak, but he was a realist who had plotted a safe course through a problematic forty years for a family man. He was not really a campaigner at heart, although he had got involved in several campaigns during his working life. He had abhorred the way his female colleagues had been treated when the National Health reforms were imposed, but his real fury had come later when it became clear that the nuns being sent to his hospital were barely trained and next to useless. He recognised that there were more of them, and there was a return to the days of care and compassion the old matrons and their nurses provided for patients, but the nuns at Eastbourne General were better at hospital corners than they were in triage. Blackstone was a passionate doctor who wanted to save lives, and he got most annoyed when his patients were put at risk by ignorant nuns. He had hated what was done in the name of reform at the start, but he reasoned that there was nothing he could do about that, after saving his beloved Caroline from a convent of course. But he campaigned vociferously for better trained nuns, and urged his colleagues to do the same. So, he was not too concerned about his granddaughters, or indeed his daughter, facing a little corporal punishment to keep them on the straight and narrow. He had never dared do it to Caroline, as he suspected she would pop one of her endless pills into his tea if he ever attempted it, but together they had brought their girls up to respect the doctrine. It made sense to such a straightforward character. Reformism was not about to go away. His girls had to live in the world as it was, not as it had once been, and he saw no point in filling their heads with anything else.
Miss Walker did paddle Chelsea. Only twelve strokes, but it was important to support her colleague. Maidens had to learn to control their emotions. Hugh Blackstone reminded them all at dinner that the family had a reputation to maintain, and that he would not tolerate such behaviour in front of friends and neighbours. His wife called him a pompous old fool, and Chelsea kissed him on the cheek, before promising that she would never do anything like that again, having already thanked Miss Walker for taking such good care of her.
“So there is no possibility…however remote?” Alistair Forbes asked, listening intently to the response. He had never met the doctor concerned, but he was supposed to be a specialist in the field. It seemed highly unlikely that he would make such a basic mistake.
“None at all Sir, this blood type is very rare but the father would need to be O or O negative…anything else is simply just not possible in the circumstances. Of course there might be some mistake with the old records?”
“I doubt it…the man concerned was wounded in action in Syria, I doubt he would still be walking around if they got his blood type wrong…don’t you?”
“Then he is not her father Sir, of that I am sure.”
Alistair Forbes put down the telephone and considered his next course of action with care. He could never admit his mistake of course. Even for a President, rape was a crime. But he had covered his tracks as well as anyone could, with the father paid off and threatened into silence, the wife and sister in convents for life and the girl concerned long lying with the devil, so he did not see how the trail could ever lead back to him, but he wanted to be sure. It had been an aberration, a mistake. He had lost control at the time, the only time in his life that he had truly exposed himself to danger. He had always been able to procure women, at a price, even as Prime Minister, and he had done so, often, but it was usually planned and more or less totally safe. But that one time the opportunity presented itself to him and he could not stop himself taking advantage. Fate had ensured that his one blemish would come back to haunt him but he could still control the situation, he thought, as long as he was cautious. And he usually was as it happened, in his own interests.
“Come in,” Forbes said, answering a sharp rap on his office door. “Ah James…good of you to come.”
“Mr President,” James Miller nodded his head and took the chair on the other side of the desk from Forbes. Their mutual dislike was instinctive, but honed hard over many years of working together. Neither of them could be bothered to pretend otherwise.
“I have news for you, old chap.”
“Yes…following Ophelia’s tests.”
“Yes, tests which seem to have included the guardian using her chip, I gather.”
“Oh was she punished? I was not aware…”
“I am her legal guardian whilst she is here…I really should have been consulted at the very least, Alistair.” Miller said, keeping his temper.
“And would you have objected?”
“Of course not, but I could have explained it to her before she was punished…she is helping us after all, and as her grandfather I feel doubly responsible for her.”
“Oh well…that is just it you see.” Forbes smiled, and Miller knew it was a dangerous smile.
“James, you are not her grandfather…or rather, your son is not her father. Her blood group is rare, as you know as well as I do old man, and he cannot be her father…it is a scientific impossibility.”
“But she is a perfect match for Angus?” Miller was astonished, but old diplomats never let their surprises show.
“Yes, she is…a pure coincidence, the doctor believes…and a lucky one for us…but this does change things rather…and certainly absolves you of all responsibility for the girl, of course. I wanted to tell you myself…I realised it would be…upsetting for you…and I could not let the doctors tell you cold…as it were.”
“Thank you, Mr President…but whatever the parental situation is, Euan is her legal guardian and I am his representative as far as Ophelia is concerned…she remains my responsibility whilst she is here. She has been brought up by my son, and in any practical sense he is her father, and I am her grandfather.”
“Oh no…I don’t think that is wise, James.” Forbes grinned again, lolling back in his chair. “I am having social services look into it of course, but I have applied to be made her legal guardian myself, to protect her and Angus. You have hardly seen the girl after all, so it is not as if you have a particularly close bond…”
“I convinced her to come here…and I am fond of her Alistair…I am happy to continue as her legal guardian…”
“But James, we both know that any investigation into her background will reveal your involvement…you have to let me sit on this for you…do be sensible.”
“I acted to protect my son…”
“Of course you did…and I let it slide at the time. But if you push yourself into the frame here, I may not be able to keep your name out of things, James. Is that a risk you are prepared to take?” Forbes asked, with another smile. But he also decided to tie up the remaining loose end; the other grandfather who could have a claim on Ophelia. Buying him off was not sure enough and the President decided to seek a more permanent solution to the problem.
Bearers of Bad Tidings
“Open,” Miss Archer barked and Ophelia hurried to obey. Miss Archer nodded her approval and smiled as she slipped the muzzle into place.
“She is responding well to you, Miss Archer.” Mena noted, keeping her tone as even as possible.
“She is a maiden just the same as any other, Ma’am…I am sure you remember your own training…a firm hand is sometimes necessary to help them find God’s love.”
“Of course…and I shall talk to Ophelia during our stroll…but I had hoped that she would be able to talk to me.”
“I had clear instructions, Ma’am.”
“Oh…I see…then we shall do our best to cope.” Mena replied, before taking Ophelia’s arm and leading her outside. It was a fine clear morning in London, with the gentle hum of traffic reaching them over the high walls. Mena liked the gardens. It was quite private, apart from staff, and she was only wearing a mantle. Miss Archer had gone a lot further with Ophelia, putting her in her cloak and mittens, as well as the muzzle, veils and mantle. She led her young companion down the well-worn footpath, away from the old house. She did not speak until she was sure that they were quite alone.
“Ophelia darling…I have some news…”
In the end, she was quite grateful that Miss Archer had muzzled the child, and dressed her to reduce her mobility. It took all her strength to stop Ophelia pulling away from her.
“Is this line secure?” Euan Miller said after a moment or two of silence.
“One should never assume that…but I believe it is.” James Miller replied, his voice no more than a whisper.
“I knew it was a possibility.”
“I am sorry?”
“Erica was raped in London…and she believed her father knew all about it…maybe even arranged it…that was why I decided to get her out, right then and there. When she fell pregnant so soon…although we had…although we were sexually active soon after we left England…I always knew that there was a chance Ophelia was not mine.”
“Great…this could not have turned out better, could it? Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh I don’t know…maybe because you let me down…let Erica down…over her mother and sister. And her blood matched so I thought it was ok, being so rare. It convinced me I was her father.”
“I did not let Erica down. My people were going to get them, but the police were already there. The father knew that his wife had helped Erica get out of the country…I was damned lucky to get you out before the authorities arrived, and Forbes made me pay for that ten times over, believe me.”
“So…what happens now?”
“He says he is involving social services, but they will do what he tells them, I am sure. He will be her legal guardian and I have been warned off…I am not even allowed to see her.”
“Does she know?”
“Mena had to tell her.”
“Can you do anything?”
“I don’t know…I am working on it, but no guerrilla tactics, Euan…you are too old and it would be impossible. Your name is still on the wanted list. She is in no immediate danger because Alistair really does love little Angus. As long as his treatment continues she will stay either at Great Ormond Street or the Palace. I have one idea, but it will be a slow burner. I will try to get out to Skiathos to see you, in a week or two.”
Reformist Generations is continued in Part Three The Choosing of Sides.