Part Eight – The Finishing School and the University of Life
Copyright © 2016, Nick Lucas
Finally the dead are buried, but if the king is dead we need a new king, so election fever is starting to take hold. Scheming and plotting is almost bound to continue, but as January gives way to February and the official start of the Presidential campaign is only a few weeks away, some of our maidens have much more important things on their minds.
New Girls, Old Girls and New Rules, Old Rules
Catherine Baraclough woke earlier than usual and lay still in her sleeping gown thinking about her future. She was nervous about going to Crowthorne College, but she kept on telling herself that it would be better than doing her National Service. She knew that Graham Balcombe would probably marry her if she was finished to her mother’s satisfaction and she did not think that would be such a bad thing to endure. He had visited with his parents twice during January and he had made it quite clear that he wanted to make London his home. He was in his last year of medical training and his intention was to take a junior post at a London hospital, so as his wife she would live there. Obviously they would visit his parents, but Miss Robinson would not be her guardian, although she would clearly have one of her own, but she would have a guardian anywhere. Miss Walker was part of the family but she was still a guardian, and Catherine was still in a sleeping gown wearing mittens and a diaper. It was just ironic that in trying to protect his granddaughters, Hugh Blackstone had ended up limiting their chances. She had to spread her wings and that meant improving herself, so ‘finishing’ at the best guardian college had to make sense.
It was a free service. The college was government funded to train guardians, and the girls selected to be finished were really just guinea pigs for the students. In order to be selected, her grandfather had to describe their situation and state what he wanted his responsibilities to get out of their eight weeks in Crowthorne. He had stated, after taking some advice from Mrs Balcombe of all people, that whilst they were good, willing girls, they needed some social polish and a more appealing attitude to achieve their full potential, something that seemed impossible to reach in the Eastbourne area. He mentioned that despite his respectable background and the best efforts of a registered but unqualified guardian, Catherine’s suitor expected more of her, and that he therefore had similar concerns about Chelsea. Catherine was sure that she would not get chosen, as the college stated on their website they were hugely oversubscribed, but they had got a positive response just a week after sending it in, and now the big day had arrived.
She was being collected, or rather they were. Chelsea would be in her sleeping gown on the other side of the room, petrified about what she had to do. She was horrified by her sister’s attitude to being finished and had begged their grandfather not to include her, whilst her grandmother certainly disapproved, but Catherine did not see that she had a choice. It was the devil or the deep blue sea. Her mother had not said much about it, and Miss Walker seemed to blame herself, but Catherine kept telling her sister that it would help her in the long run. They were maidens. They were not free to do as they pleased, and the quicker she accepted that, the better. It did not matter how clever she was, how many books she read, how pretty she was or what her opinions were. She was a maiden, and her life had two possible paths. It was either find a husband and be the best wife she could be or become and nun for at least five years, before being faced with the choice of an appropriate job or trying to find herself a husband all over again. The skills Mrs Balcombe said she did not have were the only relevant ones. She needed to be able to walk properly and sit well, she needed to be more obedient and more subservient, to hold herself still in company and when she was allowed to speak, she needed to know exactly the right thing to say. Catherine knew she needed finishing and she was prepared to face it for the sake of her future.
Her sister was right, Chelsea was petrified, but like Catherine she was a good girl. Her education might not have equipped her with the social graces considered important by the likes of Mrs Balcombe, but she was obedient and when her sleeping gown was opened by a veiled guardian, not her beloved Miss Walker she was instantly submissive. Helen Redmond was pleased with her temporary charge, noting that the girl moved just enough to help her without trying to do anything for herself. Chelsea did glance at her sister, who was still in her sleeping gown on her bed, waiting for her own guardian, and she would be punished for that lapse in concentration, but in the circumstances it was perhaps understandable. She hesitated just slightly when Miss Redmond told her to fill her diaper, but the trainee guardian realised that she had probably not done so deliberately for many years. It was a humiliation, but it was also a classic Scottie, the term used to describe one of Miss Daphne Scott’s many little gems of advice imparted to her students during their training course. Chelsea had to obey or she would be guilty of defying her new guardian in the first few moments of their relationship, something she would surely not want to do. Most maidens try to ingratiate themselves with a new guardian, and the child would be trying to impress, not disobey. But the act was embarrassing and childish, representing the ultimate act of dependence, which was the point, of course. In one brief command, Miss Redmond had told Chelsea that she was in complete charge. She would receive no indulgencies, unless perhaps they were earned, and she would be totally reliant on Miss Redmond for everything in her life. It was an amazingly powerful trick and Helen watched Chelsea’s face crumple.
“I am beginning to realise that the system is at fault for a lot of the problems.” Nicholas Craig suggested to his best friend and regular conscience, Steven Trevor. “Deferrals are way too easy to get…initially the employment of a guardian is enough to secure a two year deferral at sixteen, and another one is possible if the father guarantees that he is trying to find his daughter a suitable match and that her education is ongoing. No proof is required, and although the guardian must now be convent educated and properly qualified, as Miss Scott points out some of the colleges are very poor. Most of the middle classes are becoming adept at bucking the system…the most popular age for female marriage amongst ABC1’s is twenty five, the finite deferral limit…it is right there staring us in the face.”
“So…what do you propose to do about it, big shot?” Trevor laughed, moving around the conference table to get them both some coffee.
“Well, Richard has shown his hand here…he is in favour of finite terms. Obviously our answer to that is that if we release every sister after five years we will have shortages, but that is a negative answer. The positive one is to make deferrals much harder to get. I would allow one at sixteen if a qualified guardian is appointed…and by that I mean one that has passed Miss Scott’s idea of a qualification, not the current regulations…but a legal betrothal would be required to get another at eighteen. No excuses and no exceptions.” Craig explained, using his hands to illustrate his points. “It won’t affect any one of means or position…most girls are betrothed at eighteen and all could easily be, but it will flush out the dodgers, and improve the standards of guardianship at the same time. And we accept Richard’s point about a fixed term…you have to throw a dog the occasional bone…but we make the standard term seven years.”
“Solving the numbers problem…I like it…my grandfather would like it, I think.” Steven Trevor put a mug down in front of Nicholas and slumped back into his seat, reaching for his pad to make a note. He was Harry Trevor’s grandson, a name he carried with some pride.
“Marry or serve…then work or marry…and as a sop to the other side I propose we allow limited written correspondence…say one letter a year, although the Mother Superior will have to approve any outgoing letters.”
Chelsea realised that she had never been dressed properly before by the time Miss Redmond was finished with her and had her settled in what she presumed was some sort of car. Her corset had never been so tight, her gums were still bleeding after having her teeth flossed and brushed, and her skin had been scrubbed clean, before every inch of her was covered by at least five layers. She was blind, of course. She sat very still, despite the throbbing of her punishment chip at level two, and sucked miserably at her water bottle. Miss Redmond was punishing her for glancing at her sister and the slightest hesitation before she messed herself. Her lesson for the journey was already filling her ears and she tried to concentrate.
“The numbers do not add up. Forbes wasn’t actually lying for once.” Damian Harrington sighed, tired of tinkering with the spreadsheet, trying to get the answer they wanted. “If we released every sister after exactly five years, we would have falling numbers…our training costs would rise, too.”
“So we have to move onto plan B…we allow nursing and teaching as appropriate occupations as long as they were trained in the order.” Richard Buckingham paced the room, thinking out loud. “That has to be better than keeping people in service against their will.”
“But then they won’t be married…it goes against the doctrine.”
“How many nuns do we have that cannot find a husband, serving longer than five years?”
“Some three hundred thousand at the last count…and the average service is over seven years. But that is obfuscated because the Department of Health and Education have been doing deals with parents who can’t find a husband to secure their daughters release. I haven’t got a number on it yet but we believe a lot of nuns have been signed on for life by their father’s after serving seven or eight years. We have no spinsters anymore, just nuns.”
“So you really are going soft in your old age,” Jen Freeman muttered, sitting down in front of her employer without being asked and taking the glass of sherry he offered her.
“I feel responsible for Catriona,” James Miller said with a shrug of his shoulders. “And Mena does not deserve to end her days in a nunnery…I gave her what she thought she wanted, but she also gave me what I asked of her…so I feel obliged to save her from Archie’s rather dubious care. Not to mention the fact that I need to stop my son doing anything stupid. Alistair’s death actually made things more difficult, but I think I can do this.”
“Oh really? Nicholas Craig doesn’t strike me as the gullible type.”
“He isn’t, but my plan is needs based…and he needs foreign support. My father-in-law is very keen to invest and he wants to support the right man, of course. Archie is family after all and apart from being a bit of a prick, he is not a bad operator. Dear old Nick needs to embrace the right wing of the party to win and he actually likes Archie. They were at Eton together and they come from similar backgrounds.”
“So what do you intend to do with your daughter and granddaughter if you succeed?”
“Good question, as always.” Miller grinned at his lover of the last thirty years. He still liked her in grey, imbued with the severity of guardianship. He serviced his wife, and he paid for his proclivities when necessary, as well as bedding on the job when he needed to, as in his affair with former President of the United States Sharon Rosen, but he always came back to Jen Freeman sooner or later. “As I keep pointing out to Euan it is control of the chips we need…once we have that, we can technically do what we like…and my son wants his daughter out of this country. I have tried to set his sights a little lower, on saving Mena from a convent and having some sort of say in Catriona’s future, but none of it can happen until the election is over and little Angus is on the mend anyway. Euan knows that his revenge on behalf of Erica…Catriona’s late mother of course…is the cause of all our problems, so he is being patient with me.”
“Is he really so dangerous?”
“He had the best military training in the world…when he is off the sauce he is very dangerous indeed. Any man who can get inside Broomwaters when half the cabinet is in residence, with a gun, and get himself one on one with the President, is a bit scary. But I want to put things right…is that really so soft?”
“It is unlike you…we all know you are a selfish bastard…you usually come first, second and third in your own priorities, and you used both Philomena and Catriona. Saving them now doesn’t change that.”
“I don’t like not being in control…I did not exactly control Alistair but I could usually manage him…I am confident I would have got Catriona off him in the end, and Mena was his wife. She was safe enough, and still bound by our original bargain in my opinion. But Archie is on his way up and if I can control him, not only can I help my girls, but I can regain a little of my influence again. New generations are all well and good, but they need a few wise old heads in the background, and there are not so many of us left out there.”
“Charles, I am worried,” Peter Munroe admitted, getting straight to the point when he was finally shown into the President’s private office at Buckingham Palace.
“You must be, to have waited two hours…I am very sorry Peter.” Buckingham shook his hand and showed him to the comfortable seats, looking out over the gardens. “I take it you are worried about Richard’s campaign?”
“No…well, yes, but right now it is the opposition that is bothering me.”
“Ok, tell me.”
“Nicholas Craig is being pulled to the right, Charles. He is looking for differentiation and he needs the support of the Forbes camp…and I hear that James Miller is drawing the two together.”
“You are on Richard’s side…you can hardly complain that James is on theirs.” Charles Buckingham said thoughtfully. “He is an old rogue, and some of his methods are unpalatable…and for me, he is tainted by his involvement in some of Alistair Forbes’ seedier practises…but he has a sound political brain and remains our leading expert on foreign affairs. Damn it Peter, I have called him for advice twice already.”
“Without you on his side, Richard may struggle. He might even lose.”
“I am not campaigning for anyone…that is agreed, Peter.”
“So you are prepared to stand back and let the hardliners take control? Nicholas is a good lad, but with the wrong people in his ear, he could be disastrous.”
“Oh it’s only rumours thus far…we won’t know for sure until we hear the manifesto…but there is every chance that they will campaign for tougher controls on just about everything.”
“And the people will decide.”
“Charles, you know as well as I do that with family voting still in place, the husbands and fathers will decide. We used that to our advantage once, and it can be done again, if the campaign is well managed…and James Miller is capable of that.”
“So you and Richard have to better Nicholas and James…it still sounds like a fair fight to me.”
“Charles, for ten years or more, you have been wrestling with your conscience. I don’t understand why you are so calm about this now?”
“I don’t know either, if I am honest…but we cannot go back and change the past, and I suppose I have found a way to live with that, mostly. But this is not about us, it is about the next generation. It would be wrong for me to influence the election because we all know that I am the one who really can…but my name is not on the ballot papers. A relatively small number of people changed this country Peter but good or bad, we have had our time. I would ban both you and James from helping if I could, because they have to stand on their own two feet.”
“But we are fighting too many vested interests…”
“Just as we were in 2019 my friend…nothing changes. This is the first real test of the doctrine since we tore up the rule books forty odd years ago. If the electorate vote for Nicholas the best we have created is comfortable with the status quo, and in that case it should be confirmed and improved for this modern age. But if Richard wins, if he convinces the electorate to back his more moderate, caring approach…despite family voting…then that will be a clear mandate for meaningful reform. This election needs to happen and you and I have no right to influence it, because it is not our future. I will do my best to make it a fair fight and I will give Richard my advice in private, but unless someone is breaking the rules I do not intend to intervene.”
“Thank you, Miss Redmond,” Chelsea murmured as she curtseyed, desperate to please. She had been divested of her outdoor things and her muzzle, and found herself standing in a small room, presumably her home for the next eight weeks. It had a bed and a sofa, plus a door that looked like it led to a bathroom. But it was quite spartan, and there was really only room for her and her guardian, who had said very little to her thus far.
“Welcome to Crowthorne, Chelsea…this is where you will live whilst you are with me.” Miss Redmond smiled as she placed the muzzle in a bowl of water. “Our scenario is I hope clear to you…I am your guardian for the next eight weeks and I have the brief set by your own parents. Your progress will form part of my assessment for my final examinations, so of course whilst I am supervising you, my tutors will be supervising me. Not only in person, but via closed circuit television, so at all time you will be well looked after, even if I am still unqualified…are you nervous, dear?”
“A little Miss Redmond…I have never really been away from home before.”
“Good answer…I prefer honesty in a maiden…but you must control yourself…you are shaking dear.”
“I am sorry Miss Redmond.” Chelsea looked down at the floor, willing herself to keep still, but it was impossible.
“Two hours on your knees in prayer will help you settle…at level two again I think…I am being lenient, Chelsea…I am making allowances for your emotions, but you must work harder for me.”
Further down the corridor of the specially constructed unit, in an identical room, Miss Parry was putting her charge through her paces. Catherine had to curtsey and then take a seat, managing her gown whilst moving with grace and elegance. No sooner had she completed the task than she was asked to repeat it, with Miss Parry initially not saying a word. But she was watching closely, with her iPhone in her hand. When her gown brushed against the chair, moving it slightly, her buttocks caught on fire and she let out an involuntary whimper. Miss Parry said nothing at all and Catherine resumed, following her instructions to the best of her ability. She received further punishments for almost losing her balance in mid obeisance and for allowing a momentary glimpse of her ankle as she took the chair for the umpteenth time. Each punishment was brief but incredibly severe and she could not help crying out each time.
“Please remain seated Catherine.” Miss Parry said eventually.
“Thank you Miss Parry.”
“Are you aware what you did to deserve punishment, dear?”
“Yes Miss Parry.”
“Then you may enlighten me.”
“I bumped into the chair once, I wobbled and I let my ankle show, Miss Parry.”
“You certainly did, Catherine.”
“Thank you for correcting me, Miss Parry.”
“I was merely highlighting your errors, dear…I am about to correct them.”
“Yes Miss Parry.”
“Such errors would destroy your reputation…if a maiden of your age cannot even move around a drawing room without knocking over the furniture or displaying various parts of her body to all and sundry, what can she do? So what do you think I should do to help you improve, dear?”
“You must punish me, Miss Parry.” Catherine whispered, closing her eyes.
“Good girl…I wholeheartedly agree with you…a maiden has to realise the consequences of her sins if she is ever to earn God’s love. So you are going to read out loud to me, from the bible of course, whilst I set your punishment chip to level four for an hour I think. I shall add time if you whine or lose your place in your reading Catherine, and you are to sit still…do I make myself clear dear?”
“Shush Caroline…you must do as you are told…as must I, of course.” Miss Walker murmured as she put the muzzle into Caroline Blackstone’s mouth, ending the old woman’s complaints. It was unusual. Partly because of her age and partly because of her dentures, Caroline only wore her muzzle for Church on Sunday mornings, as it was expected, hiding behind her mantle in public the rest of the time. But since the girls had left, the bickering between her and her husband had escalated to the point where Hugh Blackstone could not take anymore. He had told the guardian to muzzle both his wife and his daughter, and he had threatened them both with punishment if they continued to question his decisions. Florence had obeyed without much hesitation, but Caroline Blackstone was quite beside herself, and Miss Walker was forced to act. It was not a pleasant thing to do and she took no pleasure in it, as she loved the Blackstone’s as if they were her own parents. But in Reformist Britain, everyone had their place, regardless of age. Florence and Caroline were both chipped and Miss Walker set them to level one. They all had to learn that their little castle was under threat, from time if from nothing else. They could not hide from reality.
Philomena Forbes and her adopted daughter remained in mourning for Alistair Forbes. It was not unusual; the standard term for a wife was twelve months and an unmarried daughter would be expected to support her mother. However, the severity of their regime was uncommon, as Miss Archer, acting on instructions from Archie Trevor, kept them away from Annabelle Forbes’ social circle. Mena had always liked Annabelle, but her daughter-in-law seemed to have listened to her husband’s opinion of his mother and behaved accordingly. Archie appeared convinced that Mena had never lover his father and also seemed to blame James Miller for leading Alistair astray, which Mena found laughable. But he was right in many ways. She did not love her late husband, but as love was hardly a requirement for a successful Reformist marriage she found it hard to understand why her son was so bitter. She had never been particularly close to him. After he moved onto solid food, she saw him for only a few minutes each day with his nanny, until he went off to prep school, when their time together was restricted to the holidays. That was not unusual either. But whatever his father had told him, and whatever her father had done, his opinion of her was very low.
Her father visited as much as he could, and although she was never allowed to talk to him, he offered them reassurance that he was working on their behalf. Mena could not see how, but as she knew nothing of what was happening in the world outside the room she shared with Catriona that was not altogether surprising. Miss Archer filled as much of their days with prayers and lessons as she could, and Mena embraced it, because if she concentrated on God she did not have to think of being imprisoned in a nunnery for the rest of her life. She had never imagined that Alistair could make her life worse, but it seemed that he had managed it even from beyond the grave.
“I am being forced to adopt moderate positions simply to differentiate myself from Nicholas…and I imagine he is doing the same in the opposite direction…the party is splitting in two.” Richard Harrington sighed, his hands in his trouser pockets as his father showed him the gardens at Buckingham Palace. It was crisp, not cold, outside. His father had a coat on but Richard had not even bothered, and it was as if the rapid approach of spring was taunting him.
“Oh that is quite inevitable…elections are polaric…and it becomes impossible to find enough space over the same ground. It was the problem that did for the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in my time. I had a broad vision and we managed to sell that vision to the people whilst the rest were all squabbling over the crowded centre.” Charles Buckingham replied thoughtfully. “Your manifesto has to be your vision Richard…and your policies have to get you there. Don’t let yourself drift further to the left…this country has not voted liberal en masse for one hundred and fifty years. Let Nicholas drift right if he wants to, but you hold your ground my boy.”
“You make it sound simple.”
“Well it’s not…I had Michael Winstanley’s vision to adapt and I had no meaningful opposition.” Charles laughed, putting a warm gloved hand on his son’s shoulder. “People don’t necessarily know what is good for them…Elizabeth took a long time to admit that she had been saved and even now there are people talking about their rights. Government is responsible for making life tolerable, for making the system work and for getting the necessary done. You start from a reasonable position…we are wealthy, every man has a job, our support services are world class…and that has made the people complacent and caused them to start looking at their own lives. In my day, the country was a mess…the economy, the health service, schools…we got away with being tough because we had solutions to the problems the people were facing on a daily basis. You have great schools and hospitals, a rising standard of living, no crime problems…but your job is to maintain that position and improve it if you possibly can. Nicholas is taking the safe ground, the strong government, sticking to our guns, tightening the engine where the leaks are and shoring up the defences. It is safe, rather boring and it is going to squeeze people.”
“You make his job sound much easier than mine.”
“Because it is…but yours is more rewarding and more important in my opinion…you want to move forwards and he wants to stand still. Nicholas offers more of the same, so you will win by leading us onto the next phase. Don’t worry about whether your ideas are left or right…don’t worry about whether they are hard or soft…just concentrate on whether it gets us where you want us to go. Then all you need to do is sell the destination.”
“Archie, I am not going to deny that this is impressive.” Nicholas Craig smiled as he flourished Archie’s document, which was essentially an application for the post of foreign secretary. It detailed his contacts and his credentials, as well as the considerable benefits of having Alistair Forbes’ son and James Miller’s grandson at the President’s side. In truth, Archie was already pushing at a half open door. Nicholas needed the hardliners and most seemed to still have their reins hitched to the Forbes wagons. But it certainly represented powerful confirmation of his old friend’s worth. “So, all we need to do is ensure that we are in broad agreement on the way forwards.”
“I have heard nothing so far that I cannot support, Nicholas.”
“This election will decide the nature of our government for the next ten years, so the impression we make on the electorate in the next few weeks is crucial.”
“Of course,” Archie agreed.
“So I expect the highest standards of behaviour from all members of the team…I know it has been a difficult time for you and your mother, but I don’t want us to look too puritanical…can I rely on you to do the right thing?”
Catherine held her obeisance for a long count of ten, before rising slowly and taking the seat Miss Parry indicated, her skirts billowing gracefully around her. Her three companions sat impressively still, with their own guardians standing behind them like grey sentinels. She was the last to arrive. She did not look at Chelsea, even though she longed to see a friendly face, instead bowing her head slightly as a good maiden should whilst still under discipline. She had been at Crowthorne for a week, but it was her first time out of her room and she knew she had to show Miss Parry what she had learned so far. Her walking was definitely smoother and her obeisance had earned her considerable praise, so all she had to do was repeat the results of her endless practise and it would all be all right.
A Change of Heart
“Open,” Miss Freeman demanded, and Mena obeyed, as ever wary of her old friend and nemesis. But she was in her father’s house. She had to stifle her excitement, because she had travelled without Miss Archer, with Catriona, which meant she was at least temporarily free of Archie. Regardless of the presence of Miss Freeman, she could not imagine life in her father’s house not being an improvement on life with her first born son. “You are pale and drawn, Mena dear…we shall have to reinvigorate you whilst you are here.”
“Thank you Miss Freeman.”
“Your father has urged me to be gentle with you…and with Catriona of course…but I shall still require your absolute obedience of course.”
“Of course Miss Freeman,” Mena replied, her heart leaping inside her chest. Miss Freeman was telling her that she was safe, if only for the duration of her stay. Her message came with the inevitable warning but she had never been particularly rebellious for any of her guardians, least of all Miss Freeman. Theirs was another of those relationships in her life which Mena did not fully understand. Her father, Alistair, Miss Freeman and Archie all seemed to delight in bending her will to theirs, or punishing her for her perceived sins. She often asked God why but never got an answer.
“So…I shall settle you in the drawing room with your daughter and you can have some tea…and maybe some cake. Would you like that, Mena dear?”
“Yes please, Miss Freeman.” Mena’s response was that of a delighted maiden, even though she was in her fifties. Miss Freeman smiled and removed her mittens, only a few years older herself and amused by the reaction of her charge. Mena had been First Lady for a long time, and a good one by all accounts. Miss Freeman had rarely been close to her during those years because the First Lady took her own guardian everywhere, and in any case Miss Freeman was busy looking after Fatima Miller and her four daughters. But before, when Mena really was a child, it had been Miss Freeman who prepared her for perhaps her finest hour, when Mena was required to be the British media spokesperson in the United States, whilst her father was the British Ambassador and her husband was conniving to get a Reformist into the White House. It had been a brilliant tactic at the time. A sceptical American press were highlighting the Reformists as sexist Christian extremists, and yet whenever they had questions for the Brits in Washington up popped this perfect Reformist lady to take the wind out of their sails. Mena had suffered for it of course. Her necessary transformation had been fast and therefore incredibly hard on her, first at the hands of her own father who Freeman loved, even if he was a completely selfish bastard, and then with Alistair Forbes, who even James Miller thought of as the devil’s advocate. But Mena, although often bent, had seemed unbreakable. She took everything thrown at her, did her job and became the most important woman in the country. Not that a Reformist woman could ever be particularly important but it was still what she had been promised, when Miss Freeman forced her to accept Forbes at the behest of her father, and secured all their futures. But she did not seem unbreakable anymore.
“See how easy it is to let go…it didn’t hurt at all, did it?” James Miller asked, sharing a car with Archie Forbes between the House and yet another policy meeting with Nicholas Craig.
“Only until the election…I am not giving them to you, Grandfather.”
“Then let them live. I don’t know what you think you are trying to achieve, Mena is your mother for goodness sake and Catriona is saving Angus’s life.”
“I shall wait and see what you can deliver to me…I do not have any legal requirement to follow my father’s wishes and if I end up as foreign secretary and Angus is in remission, I am sure my mood will be more amenable. But these are not gifts I can just return to their rightful owners…they are chipped and they are what they are. My mother is too old to remarry and the girl is a Forbes and her future is obviously marriage. I am genuinely trying to put the past behind me Grandfather…I do appreciate your help and advice with regards to my career…but they are just women at the end of the day. In a habit or a bridal gown, it really doesn’t make much difference.”
“Mena is my child, Archie…as Angus is yours. She served me and your father well in the past, and she gave life to you…all I want to do is make the rest of her life…pleasant…for want of a better word. As for Catriona, she is only here because I persuaded her to come. It is no one’s fault what happened next, but we both owe her. It would be better for you if you treated her with respect and kindness.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No…not from me. But you are coming out of the shadows and entering front line politics. Perception is everything and you need to present an image. Be upright, be traditional…if that’s what floats your boat…but never appear cruel, or heartless. If your father had a failing it was in appealing to the general public. If someone abuses the power he has over his own family, why would they trust him to run their lives?”
“Good evening and thank you for coming tonight at such short notice,” Richard Buckingham said as he took the small podium at the front of the small conference room, looking out over the twenty five men he considered to be his future cabinet and offering them a rueful smile. “We are about to begin the most important election campaign of the Reformist era so I thought it was an opportune moment to call you all together to talk about the big picture. For the next few weeks, we will mostly be on the stump and inevitably we will spend most of our time discussing our policies in detail…we will rarely get the chance to share our vision with the people. But we must certainly try because that is what our grandfathers and fathers have given us…the chance to take this country onto the next stage.”
“The modern renaissance, my own father’s biggest achievement, represented radical social change. We all studied modern history at school I am sure, so I do not need to remind anyone of the details, but the point is that life changed for ordinary people in the most fundamental ways. Some of the things they had to give up hurt…not just the fairer sex, who lost their illusions of equality and equal rights, but the entire younger generation, who had to learn that we required them to serve the country before they started to take from it. And it is a measure of success that right now there is no real clamour to change those fundamental principles of our brave new world.”
“We are seen as moderates…rightly or wrongly…because we have tried to listen to the people. But they are not calling for equal rights for women and they are not calling for an end to National Service. The fact is that there is a general acceptance…not just here but around the world…that Reformism works. By closing down the family and especially the role of women within the family we solved problems in a number of areas…the economy, the rising benefit cost of divorce, sex crimes and the total breakdown of decency the twentieth century gave us as a legacy. The vast majority of people have accepted losing a certain amount of personal freedom for a system that serves the greater good and delivers prosperity and security. Great Britain is once more the sort of country where children can safely play on the streets, where you can safely leave your back door open and where Christianity is not just a backdrop to our shared values but our mantra. For the best part of five decades we have settled into a new national identity but what I am hearing on the streets and in my constituency surgeries is…what next?”
“Our Christian Democratic Party is at something of a crossroads. My father’s generation are done. The sad passing of President Forbes has brought things to a head…rather quicker than we expected, I suppose. Nothing can stay the same. Everything has to evolve, and as our predecessors pointed out back in 2019 we have already suffered the results of unchecked progress in the time between the First World War and the financial crash of 2008. So we are not now involved in a fight between us so-called moderates…although I still maintain that is not what we are…and our more conservative colleagues. It is not simply a fight between left and right, hard or soft…or any other way you care to describe it…we should be pointing out where we see this country going and how we are going to get it there.”
“Great Britain is in rude health…borrowings at record lows, economy thriving as we reap the rewards of investing in technology and ensuring that our universities produce the sort of skills the world needs. But we are still a small country. We have like-minded friends…our special relationship with the USA has never been quite so special since we share the same faith and principals…and I intend to use our Reformist Union base to build a Christian Congress, to put our country back at the head of the top table of world politics. NATO and the UN no longer serve our interests best and our foreign policy should be focussed on spreading Reformism further and saving more people.”
“At home, there is room for a lighter touch, but we are not going to make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Our opponents will demand tough measures but we must make them justify them and show them that there is another way…”
Hugh Blackstone took some advice. But not from his wife. He had saved her, and loved her, and had protected her from the worst of the renaissance, but he had to think of his granddaughters and young George, and of his daughter. Dying before either of the girls were settled was unthinkable. His estate was not huge, but not small either, and with no adult male relative surviving him and George underage, a judge would appoint a trustee, usually a lawyer, to manage things until the boy reached the age of twenty one. In those circumstances, Florence would be in danger of being remarried, to provide a suitable paternal influence for George, and to spare the estate the expense of keeping her. Catherine and Chelsea would definitely be married off, and if no husband could be found they would be put into National Service. Any trustee had a legal responsibility to maximise the funds for the legal heir.
Every human being spends a long time thinking that they will live forever. Hugh Blackstone was no different, and he had carried the burden of protecting his family lightly over the years. Losing his son-in-law was obviously a blow but he had kept it all together, pleasing everyone. He had saved his wife. He had saved Miss Walker. He had saved his daughter. But saving his granddaughters had become more complicated, both by progress and by his age. When he was working it was easy to meet young men and get to know them, and therefore finding a husband for Florence had been quite simple. He had identified the right man, a man who shared his views and who would have carried on protecting the whole family if Hugh passed away. But since retiring he had found it hard to meet anyone. He no longer had a career, and he soon discovered that a retired surgeon was not as socially valuable as a working one. He had never been a networker. His life outside the hospital was his family and he was happiest at home. So he had few contacts left, no friends in high places. Duncan Balcombe was an exception to the rule. He had kept in touch with Hugh, albeit sporadically, and his son still seemed to be interested in Catherine. Not to mention the fact that his wife’s advice with regards to the girls, whilst a little rude and insensitive, had brought things home to Hugh, and to his poor dear Catherine. Both of them were running out of time and Hugh had to talk to Duncan Balcombe.
“As I understand the law, you can appoint a trustee yourself, Hugh…but I think the same legal responsibilities apply.” Duncan said, sitting opposite the old man in the best Italian restaurant in Eastbourne. “You really should have married your daughter again and the girls are both beyond the average age. Any trustee would see those decisions as a priority to prevent George’s estate carrying the burden of keeping them.”
“I am a sentimental old fool…I liked having my daughter and her children around me.” Blackstone responded, telling the truth from his side of things, of course. It had not been all about what Caroline and Florence wanted. He had not bucked the system and he had seen the ultimate folly in trying to pay lip service to it, but he had created a nest that suited them all, tucked away in a small village. For Florence’s generation, born in the very early days of the renaissance, there were still a lot of marriages of convenience, family compromises, in the same way that many people employed friends or the daughters of friends as a guardian, in the fashion of Miss Walker. But that was getting harder. Duncan had been a child when Charles Buckingham first came to power, being a little older than Florence, but his daughter was not playing any games. She was a proper maiden, with a mother who had been a nun and a guardian, and she would know no short cuts, no foolish indulgencies. “But the right trustee would have some leeway I presume?”
“Quite honestly you would have to ask a lawyer for the precise regulations, but I would imagine that a trustee who knows the family would be able to justify some things. If George had some very strong views, for instance. I can make some enquiries for you if you like?”
“I would appreciate it…but what I want to know is, would you be my trustee?” Hugh blurted it out in the end, mostly because he did not know anyone else. Duncan Balcombe was not the perfect candidate. He was the only candidate.
Kayleigh Beckford was reassured by her father’s promise that they would go home. She knew his career was important to him and that she had benefitted from his hard work all her life. And the girls she socialised with in London, all the daughters of other traders and bankers, had made her understand that men like Robert Beckford had to serve their time in places like London if they wanted to carry on up the career ladder. So, she had grown up a bit, and London had taught her that New York was not a bad place to live. Sure, there were Reformist laws, but she could live without Miss Garfield there. She could live without mittens and a muzzle. She could even still have a career of her own, in the right state and if she chose from a list of suitable occupations. And her grades were so good that she really could choose. Looking back at her last six months in New York, she knew she had made some mistakes. Her father was a rising star in a very traditional bank, where any whiff of scandal could end a career quicker than the lift could return them to the ground floor. He had sent her to private school because that was what bank executives had to do, because those sort of schools produced the sort of girls who could go anywhere in the modern world, and be anything from a good Christian wife to having a career. The world was split into two halves, more or less, with Great Britain leading a phalanx of partly Reformist or mostly Reformists states, such as the good old USA, whilst the likes of Russia, China, India, Japan, Brazil and France of the major powers remained resolutely secular. The Muslim world stood sort of in-between the two camps. Bank employees could go anywhere and their families had to go with them, it was just the way things were.
So Kayleigh had taken heart from her father’s promise. He thought his next move would be home. He had done very well in a short space of time in London, and although Kayleigh hated what she had been forced to do, she had to admit that it had made her grow up. She had been forced to really concentrate on her studies, amongst other things, and she was doing better than she ever had before. And her father obviously appreciated her efforts. He worked hard and had to entertain clients, so he did not spend so much time at home, but two or three times a week they had dinner together and he reminded her that what she was doing would set her up for whatever she wanted to do in the future. As a result, she began to try even harder, realising that she was studying for herself, and that even her education as a maiden might be useful in the future. She knew she would marry one day even if she did have a career, and her husband might work anywhere. It was simply a fact of modern life that a girl had to be able to fit in to her local surroundings. And she really was a lucky girl. Her father was earning huge bonuses and she had a lot of advantages most girls her age could only dream of.
“Concentrate, Kayleigh,” Miss Garfield growled, taking her arm as they approached the train. Kayleigh hung her head, the classic acknowledgement of a chastened maiden, returning her thoughts to the present. She was going to Paris, as a treat, with Miss Garfield, because her father was too busy to get away from the office, but she was still looking forward to the trip. France was a strictly secular state and her guardian had promised to let her relax a little, following her excellent school report. But first she had to get there.
“So kind of you to see me, Miss Scott,” Mrs Sharon Balcombe shook hands with the principal of Crowthorne College, with Miss Robinson taking up position behind her, having removed her mistress’s muzzle in the waiting room.
“It is always a pleasure to receive graduates of the College, Mrs Balcombe…and as your husband was responsible for the insertion of my stent and the resulting new lease of life, I was delighted to receive his letter.” Miss Scott replied as they both settled into seats either side of her large oak desk. “I understand that you have an interest in one of our guests?”
“She is here on my advice…my husband is friendly with her grandfather, himself once a surgeon of some eminence in the provinces, and Duncan has suggested Catherine Baraclough for my son, you see. No contract is signed but there is a mutual expectation that an offer will be made.”
“I see…but you believed that the girl needed some finishing and you clearly advised her dear grandfather to apply for our little experiment?” Miss Scott suggested, instantly understanding the background. She remembered Sharon Smith as was, and indeed Bethany Robinson, from their time at the college. Both had been recommended to Crowthorne by their mother superiors, but unlike Miss Robinson, Miss Smith had always been keen to use her guardianship to find herself a husband. It seemed she had succeeded, and rather well for a landscape gardeners daughter from Sutton, and Miss Scott would decry her for that, although it was rather a waste of a training place. Miss Robinson was a different kettle of fish altogether. She wanted to be a guardian and had entered the college to escape a marriage she did not desire, and after graduation she had enjoyed a reasonable career. But it was clearly on a downward spiral, if she was looking after a surgeon’s daughter. After her time working for an American President and Alistair Forbes, she ought to be doing rather better.
“Precisely…Catherine is certainly a pretty little thing and she is willing enough…but the family guardian has been with her grandparents for some forty years and although they are quite proper of course…”
“Of course,” Miss Scott nodded, again understanding what she was hearing.
“She has lived all her life in a little Sussex village Miss Scott, and her most important social engagement seems to be the weekly meeting of their sewing circle. She has spent far too much time reading books and not enough time learning how to enhance her husband’s reputation. I am hoping the efforts of your students has improved things…my son is quite attracted to her but I am concerned that she might be the wrong choice.”
Catherine concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, whilst never letting the leather strap designed to limit her stride get tort, for fear of stumbling or falling over altogether. She was following a path, outside the training block where her room was located, which Miss Parry had turned into an obstacle course. She had a circuit of perhaps fifty metres, around a little square, with a bench she had to settle on, a statue she needed to circle around and of course he ever watchful guardian, who she had to curtsey too each time she approached her. She was fully dressed of course. Her heaviest cloak and gown, her corset laced down to her very best waist and her diaper chafing a little between her legs. She had been walking for an hour, according to the clock on the side of the building and she was exhausted, but as every time she made a mistake her punishment chip was activated briefly to level five, she had to concentrate.
She did not think anything of the audience that assembled near the front entrance. She just saw two guardians and a rather stout lady in a dark green cloak, all heavily veiled, apparently watching her progress. She did not care about them, as they did not have her punishment chip under their control. As she curtseyed to Miss Parry once more her buttocks started to burn again to chastise her for slipping slightly on the damp cobbles. Screaming piteously into her muzzle, Catherine was well aware that she would face worse when she was taken back inside. Miss Parry was never satisfied with her efforts.
“Catherine is certainly willing…my student is delighted with her application and has been right from the start…but as you have intimated Mrs Balcombe, her social education has been sadly neglected.” Miss Scott said quietly, standing far enough away that the girl would not be able to hear her. “She should have been practising this sort of thing since she was thirteen or fourteen as you are aware, and we cannot make up for ten years of disregard in a few weeks. She will be much better when she leaves here but she will be far from perfect. So many people make the mistake that maidenhood is simply a question of obedience, but that is nonsense. Every move, every word, every blink of her eyes should honour God and her family and the only way to ensure that is training…years and years of training by a qualified expert.”
“I have no other option, Caroline.” Hugh sighed as he explained his intentions. His wife offered no immediate response. She had not forgiven him for muzzling her. Not that he expected her to. She was as stubborn as she was. But like all the women in his life, she was living in cloud cuckoo land, which was his fault, of course. He had created an illusion of isolation and relative safety from the harsher side of Reformism, but he could not maintain it anymore. “I at least know Duncan, and there is a good chance that we will be related by marriage in the near future. I have had a chance to discuss my wishes, which will also be reflected in my will, and I am confident that whilst he will act according to the law of the land, he will try and do his best for you and for Florence and for the girls, whilst guarding George’s interests. It is much less of a risk than leaving the appointment of a trustee to a judge.”
“I would prefer you not to die, you silly old fool.” She said eventually. He grinned and unfolded the paper.
“Not planning to go just yet, but you girls have to agree that we need to plan for the worst.”
“I do see.”
“I suppose that is what will have to serve as an apology?” He was busy turning to the sports page, and his wife closed her eyes and lost herself in the shadows of the past. She had met him when she first moved to the area as a general practitioner, at some sort of party. Long before anyone had ever heard of Charles Buckingham or Reformism, and they should have married long before he proposed to save her from a nunnery. But she had been too career-minded, too wrapped up in her own life, and even then he was a cantankerous, moody man who had a reputation for shouting at his juniors. Their relationship had been consummated after their third date, which was the way of things back then, but they could have gone on for years like that if life had not intervened. Caroline had never particularly wanted children, and by the time she did marry she thought she had left it too late. But they managed Florence and they had enjoyed forty largely blessed years, if Caroline ignored the fact that the world she grew up in had been torn apart. She sat there in her long dress, her day gown as the shops called them, free of mittens and muzzle as she usually was.
“So…has he agreed?” She asked as if she was indifferent either way.
“Yes he has…the solicitor is drawing up the paperwork for me. He likes Catherine too…he plans to talk to his son when she has finished at Crowthorne. I know his wife is very…proper…but she would have a good life, Caroline.”
“No she won’t, but she will have a better life than most, I suppose.”
BBC News, live from Westminster
“So…now we know…and rather surprisingly, one of the key areas for both candidates seems to be foreign policy. Nicholas Craig is promising closer links to the Middle East, something President Forbes worked on long and hard, with the able assistance of James Miller. Not only are there strong indications of huge orders for military aircraft and ships, but there is an intimation that closer links will lower energy costs and provide greater economic security in the future.” The BBC reporter said, speaking to camera from under an umbrella in Parliament Square. “On the other hand, Richard Buckingham believes our interests are best served by strengthening our links with other pro-Christian states…promoting Reformism and acting together as both a trading block and potentially a military alliance. Buckingham distrusts our European partners en masse, as the French, the Dutch and the Italians remain staunchly anti-Reformism, and whilst Reformist parties exist in most other countries there is no suggestion of an allied party gaining power. So Buckingham is looking to even closer relationships with the USA, Canada, even Germany where Reformism is on the up.”
“On the home front, Richard Buckingham has so far offered few proposals that could be called moderate. Whilst Nicholas Craig is very clear on stringent reforms of the National Service programme, with deferrals being limited and the term raised to seven years, Buckingham is keeping his powder dry. His manifesto will clarify things when it is released next week, but the launch event focussed almost entirely on his plans for a global Christian Alliance, something which will be of more relevance today than the UN, NATO or the European Union.”
“She doesn’t give you much room to breathe, does she?” Britney Rubenstein suggested to her old classmate as she shut her bedroom door. Kayleigh moved carefully to the one seat, by a study desk, controlling her gown quite well before struggling to settle the folds around her.
“Oh…it’s her job…have you actually been to London?” Kayleigh smiled, making light of it, glad that Miss Garfield had allowed her to wear gloves rather than mittens for their visit, and had not even bothered with a muzzle. Her father had arranged for her to meet up with the Rubenstein’s during her trip to Paris, as part of her treat, and he had clearly asked her guardian to relax her routine. “But its Dad’s job and it’s not so bad when you get used to it.”
“She isn’t a proper guardian though…is she?”
“Of course she is.”
“You mean like we learned in Christian Humanities?” Britney asked, lounging on her bead in just a skirt and top. Kayleigh thought back to her wardrobe in New York. It used to be full of things like that, enough to be thought decent, especially by the police, if they were in a mood to take any notice, but not really Reformist. Not at all Reformist. She thought of what they had been told about guardians by their CH teacher and had to stop herself from laughing out loud.
“She looks after me, supervises my lessons and makes sure I don’t let Dad down…oh Miss Garfield!”
“Excuse me for interrupting so soon, but we have to leave. Open please,” Miss Garfield marched up to Kayleigh with her muzzle in her hands. Kayleigh did not hesitate. Ignoring Britney’s open-mouthed stare, she obeyed, tilting her head back to accept the muzzle.
“Hey…really?” Britney protested, but Miss Garfield took no notice of her.
“Say…can’t you ask her nicely?” Britney tried again, and Miss Garfield finally turned to look at her. Britney did not say another word until their guests had left the house.