Part Seven – Back to the Future
Copyright © 2016, Nick Lucas
The festive season is reaching its end and everyone is desperate to put the funerals behind them and get on with their lives but behind the scenes the problems caused by the suicide of Alistair Forbes still need sorting out.
“Some of these grades are spectacular…it just goes to show what you can do when you try, Kayleigh.” Robert Beckford said with a mouthful of toast, holding his daughter’s school report in his other hand. “Coming here was unavoidable, but it has done you so much good…I hope you have thanked Miss Garfield for her help and assistance?”
“Yes Sir,” Kayleigh assured him in-between mouthfuls of porridge. Her guardian stood to one side, watching her every move and waiting to take her back to her room for more lessons. Kayleigh had stopped arguing with her father. He had put his career first, and as all of her friends kept telling her that was inevitable. And her grades had improved, even studying remotely. She had never been a straight A student before.
“You will have your choice of colleges when we go home. And I will be able to pay for you to do it in style.”
“So we are going home?”
“Of course we are…in a few months…maybe a year. I just banked two millions dollars baby and that sort of performance gets you noticed at KHM…and coming here means that I have paid my dues. So have you…I have watched you change from a spoiled brat into a fine, well-mannered, perfectly behaved young lady. This is a new world, Kayleigh; these are lessons that you had to learn, because you never know where you will end up in the future. It will stand you in good stead as the Brits say but I promise you that next year we will see the fireworks in Time Square.”
Kayleigh was delighted by that news, of course. She kissed her father goodbye as he left for the office, and followed Miss Garfield back to her room with a smile on her face. But that soon as disappeared as her punishment chip burst into life. She had not addressed her father was sufficient respect in Miss Garfield’s opinion and she was required to atone for her sins. But even covered and listening to her lessons, with her buttocks still throbbing on level one, after ten minutes at level three, she still had her father’s words on her mind and she clung onto them like a lifeline.
“I am sorry if I let you down, Grandpa.” Catherine said as soon as she had curtseyed to her grandfather. He was alone in the conservatory and had asked to see her. She expected to be punished again. It was only right. Although she had been horrified by her punishment, Melanie Balcombe had more or less told her that she was a country bumpkin who deserved what she had got in polite society. Apparently she walked inelegantly and although her conversation was fairly good, her accent and attitude left a lot to be desired, a point reinforced by both Melanie’s mother and Miss Robinson, who seemed to criticise everything Catherine did or said, and underlined by Mrs Balcombe, who had said that National Service certainly produced maidens who knew how to behave in public.
“Do you think you have?” Hugh asked, frowning at his favourite granddaughter. He knew he should not have favourites but he did, and that was all there was to it, because Catherine had brains, more than anything else.
“I have always tried to learn Grandpa, and Miss Walker has taught us well, but I do not think I have given a good impression of us to the Balcombe’s. I embarrassed them, I think…although I did not mean to do so.”
“By waddling? I was rather amused by the word Miss Robinson used…I do not think you waddle, Catherine.”
“I was very tired, Grandpa…I obviously failed to meet Miss Robinson’s standards.”
“So…what do you expect me to do about it?”
“It is not for me to say Grandpa…but after I have been punished, I think I need some help. I am ashamed at myself…at being so deficient in the social graces. I will of course write to Mrs Balcombe, thanking her for her kindness, and apologising if I caused her any distress.”
“Her husband has already written to me, Catherine.”
“Oh Grandpa…I am so sorry…”
“Do not be…he wishes to discuss your betrothal to his son Graham…but interestingly he agrees that you need finishing as he puts it. I have no idea what that entails, but if it could be arranged, would it help you feel better about yourself…and would you be in favour of marrying Graham Balcombe?”
“I feel I must Grandpa, if you feel it is best for me…and if you can find a way to further my education, I would welcome the chance to improve myself.”
“I shall try Catherine…so go to Miss Walker and ask her to muzzle and cover you for two hours of lessons she considers appropriate in the circumstances…and tell her to set your chip to level two for the duration, with five minutes at level four to follow when your lesson is complete.”
“Yes Grandpa…thank you Grandpa.” Catherine responded without emotion, merely offering another obeisance before hurrying to obey. Hugh stayed where he was and waited for his wife. She arrived in due course, the look on her face telling him that she knew what he had done.
“Have you finally gone insane, you old fool?” Caroline growled, collapsing into her seat at his side.
“She wanted me to punish her, Caroline.”
“So if she wants to throw herself off a cliff, will you push her?”
“I think she has made her choice. She does not want to be a nun and her options are limited her. She thinks if she becomes a better maiden, she can secure her own future and make things easier for her sister, perhaps. And she is right. I have only one question for Duncan, and that is where he would expect the newlyweds to live, because I am not eager for her to spend too much time with her mother-in-law under the eagle eye of this Miss Robinson. But I promised I would keep her out of a convent and this may be her best chance.”
Mena and Catriona were out of formal mourning but still under the strictest discipline. Neither of them minded as long as they were not on their knees. Miss Archer wanted them to rest, to regain their strength for the funeral, and they spent hours in the drawing room, usually with Annabelle for company, continuing their studies. Mena was haunted by her son’s words. Had her husband really suggested that she should be retired to a convent following his demise? She assumed he had, because he might have considered that the perfect final torture. He would be controlling her beyond the grave, and ensuring that her suffering continued until she joined him in hell, but she could not bring herself to believe that her son would do that to her, or indeed that her father would let him. Her father had used her, quite shamelessly, but only on the basis that he believed Reformism to be unstoppable and intended to use it in their favour. She had wanted to be first lady and she had allowed him to lead her into her gilded cage, but a convent was a step too far.
Catriona caught her adopted mother’s eye. She was learning that an expression could speak volumes but all she saw in Mena’s face was a reflection of her own despair. Annabelle seemed dulled by the experience, but Mena looked pained, and Catriona longed to fall into her arms. She longed for some comfort, some reassurance, but if she moved so much as a muscle, Miss Archer would punish her. Then she sensed movement in the corner of the room and saw the guardian helping Annabelle stand up. In a moment, it was just her and Mena in the room as she heard the door click, but then it clicked again and she assumed the guardian was back. She tensed and closed her eyes, only to dream of a familiar, friendly voice, as her lesson stopped in mid sentence.
“Open your eyes Ophelia…it’s me.” James Miller said softly, squatting down in front of her and grasping her mittened hands. It was a pointless gesture. She could not feel his touch, but it was still a joy to see him. “Mena, can you hear me? Good…I am afraid that I will not be allowed to talk to you until after the funeral…Archie wants you both to mourn Alistair properly…but I want you to know that I have not forgotten you and I promise that I will get you out of here.”
“I don’t want this done in a rush Nicholas…it is too important for everyone.” Richard Buckingham insisted, resting against the wall on Buckingham Bridge. From there, to their left, they could easily see both Broomwaters and Lake House, the Craig family home, and to the right the old cathedral and the convent, with the nursing home in the distance.
“Then don’t stand as interim president…you must see that it gives you an unfair disadvantage.” Nicholas Craig responded with equal vehemence. They were not enemies, but they were not friends, either. Craig was fifteen years younger than Buckingham and although they shared many things, including relatives as the new aristocracy had been linked by numerous marriages over the years, they were of different generations. “I cannot cooperate if you insist on stepping into the breach, because that gives you three months before any campaign starts to introduce yourself to the electorate.”
“That would be true of anyone who took on the interim role…wouldn’t it? And we must have a president…the country will be seen as weak otherwise.”
“If the election is to be in May I agree that there should be an interim, but no one who is thinking of running for the presidency should be considered…we need a safe pair of hands who will be independent, impartial and trustworthy.”
“Such as who? I can’t think of anyone I would describe as impartial?”
“How about capable of acting impartially? I would take your father’s word on that…even Peter Munroe’s…then there is James Miller…and one of my friends even suggested Sebastian Osborne.”
“You would accept my father?”
“If he stayed out of the election, yes I would.”
“So a blatant ploy to stop him supporting me?”
“I want a fair fight, Richard.” Craig sighed, stuffing his hands in his pockets as they started to walk on. It had been a crazy week but both of them had ended up in Meadvale for the New Year celebrations, and it was the perfect chance for a word in private without aides or the press breathing down their necks. The House would be sitting in two days and the first item on the agenda was the office of President. All options were still technically open, because any incumbent could decide to finish Alistair Forbes’ term in office, although Richard Buckingham had publically pledged not to do so. “Whatever else we represent, we are not like Radcliffe and Forbes…we share many beliefs and I certainly believe your intentions are as honourable as mine. Your father broke the old politics forty odd years ago, backed by my father’s money and help, amongst others…we both have the interests of the country at heart, and we both want to put our personal manifesto’s to the people. But you are already the favourite having taken Forbes on last year…I am just trying to even the playing field up a bit.”
“Ok, I can see the problem…but can I assume that you don’t want an immediate election any more than I do? I think we all need a few weeks to prepare.”
“Agreed…so of my list, is there anyone there you can accept?”
“On the basis that they commit only to a finite interim term,” Richard replied, thinking fast. He did not want to lose his dear father’s wise counsel and assistance, and along with Peter Munroe he wanted him in his corner. But he really was the perfect candidate. He would have instant respect, both at home and abroad, and he would be a safe pair of hands. “Forget about James Miller, as I do not consider him trustworthy, and I know Peter Munroe would turn it down. Of the two, I would prefer Sebastian…he is non-political…at least in public…and he could take a sabbatical from the Church, I am sure. He has Nigel Brown itching to step into his shoes at a moment’s notice, so it might appeal to him, as a test of his future options.”
“But you would consider your father?” Craig pressed, grinning like the Cheshire cat with cream all over his face.
“Fuck you, Nick…but I can see he is perfect for the role.”
“So…shall we talk to him…as we are both here? And then we can turn to Sebastian if he refuses?”
“I don’t think he will refuse…he wants a fair fight too. It seems that the old guard want to let nature take its course for once as we are both considered worthy candidates. If I am honest, I am not sure how much help he would have offered me in the election as he does not want to be kingmaker.”
“Shit…can I put Sebastian to the top of my list?”
“No way sunshine…too late to change,” Buckingham laughed, clapping his companions shoulder and heading off in the direction of his father’s house.
“Good grief, it sounds like a house of horrors!” Caroline Blackstone exclaimed, peering at the computer screen with her glasses on the end of her nose.
“It is a new service…something of an experiment, according to this friend of Duncan’s.” Hugh Blackstone said, standing right behind Miss Walker, who had control of the mouse, whilst his wife did her best to barge him out of her way. “These are almost qualified guardians, and the period represents their final examination process, a large part of which is practical. Maidens of all ages are needed to provide the students with a clearly defined challenge. If we write to them and tell them what we want to achieve they make an effort to write our requirements into their practical tests. Over the course of six weeks, each maiden has a course to follow but they will be looked after by a succession of guardians who will be judged on how they take the individual training plans forwards. Duncan’s friend says that his daughters benefitted immeasurably and it did not cost him a penny.”
“Caroline, it is not only a question of money…it is what the Balcombe’s want and Catherine is willing…and I think we should encourage Chelsea too…regardless of the Balcombe’s it would enhance their prospects.”
“It sounds like a concentration camp…really, we can’t do it.”
“Caroline, I don’t see what else we can do…if Catherine does not marry Graham Balcombe, she has only a year before her deferral will be up for review. We have to toughen up…it is not only me who is running out of time.”
“I am an old man…it should be someone else.” Charles Buckingham insisted, once his guests had outlined their arguments and points of agreement, and the housekeeper had brought them coffee.
“My mother would like to be first lady even if it is only for three months…and it is only three months.” His son pointed out with a smile. “Dad…it would give the markets some confidence, it would settle everyone down, and as I explained to Nicholas you want to see a fair election…this way you get to play referee.”
“I must say sir that this is the best option for everyone.” Nicholas Craig added, as he took another biscuit. “We avoid an unseemly fight in the House and we get time for a properly organised campaign. Richard and I trust each other and we both want to put democracy back on the agenda…something which I know you will approve.”
“Yes Nicholas, I do approve. Forbes had to go, by any means, but you two should have time to present reasoned arguments to the people. I think it is up to the next generations to decide the direction we go in and although I am protective of my own legacy I do not want to take part in that debate. My campaign will be for a fair fight, without bitterness and rancour if at all possible, and Nicholas, I think your grandfather would agree with me. Remember the intention of the new politics…avoid blame and present solutions to problems. Trust the people. What we all sometimes forget is that the new renaissance was based on a clear mandate from the electorate. Any complaints of severity now must be balanced against the society the doctrine has delivered for the people. The move to create a republic was never intended to give one man absolute power and you two may soon have the necessary impetus to ensure that it never happens again. My legacy was social change, Kieran’s was to build on that with an iron hand in a velvet glove, and Alistair chose to build an empire. I ask only one thing of you both…if you win, do as you have promised, but do it as a team…do not try to do it alone.”
“Good evening Mr President,” Chris Samuels said with exaggerated respect, turning to his guest as soon as the report about the vote in the House had finished, as the camera focussed on Charles Buckingham sitting in the guest chair. “Congratulations and may I say welcome back.”
“Thank you Chris, and thank you to your editor for inviting me on tonight. I am happy to be here.” Buckingham said as if he had never been away. He was good on television, because he had the voice and the temperament for it.
“Our late President only gave one live interview in the last two years, so you have equalled him in your first hour.”
“We are all different, Chris…but I want to reassure everyone that my temporary residence in the hot seat is intended to be a unifying presence, so that we can hold a proper election in May, rather than rushing into a campaign whilst we are really still mourning the loss of two influential politicians. I can only offer that reassurance by talking directly to the people.”
“And you are being very clear that this is just a temporary comeback? You are by far the most recognisable British politician left alive, and the pound rose 5% against the dollar when the announcement was made.”
“I am here until May and not a minute longer. This country needs a young leader with the energy and the ideas to build on a fantastic base. It does not need an octogenarian with a wonky knee. I am flattered that both sides of the debate came to me and asked me to steady the ship, and I intend to enjoy the last of the summer wine, but once the people have decided where we are going next, I have a garden to tend in Meadvale and probably a number of afternoon naps to catch up on.”
“Your son may well be your replacement, Mr President?”
“Candidacies are not yet confirmed but that may well be the case. However, I have pledged to the House that I will not be entering into the debate about our political future. I love my son but I do not think it is my place to impose myself on this campaign for either side. Richard understands that and I have known Nicholas Craig since the day he was born. My role is to look after the shop whilst the people decide.”
“But this is your legacy…surely you have a right to a say in what happens next?”
“When I retired, some twenty five years ago, it was because I felt jaded…I cannot say I never regretted that decision, but most of the time I have been happy to watch from the sidelines. My generation have done our bit and I will be pleased to hand the baton on to the next.”
“So can you sum up what you see as the issues facing Britain today?”
“Yes I think I can, but I will not suggest any answers…that is for other people.” Buckingham gave his trademark smile and sat back in his chair, looking relaxed and thoroughly at home. “We have set strict boundaries for people over the last forty years for the good of everyone. Back in my day the country needed rebalancing…a phrase that now appears in the history books at school I believe. But that was not a one-off process, balance needs to be maintained. The challenge for the next president is to judge where a change is required, without throwing something else out of kilter.
Let the Games Begin
“So you got the spreadsheet?” James Millar’s voice squawked a bit as Archie Forbes switched to speaker phone.
“Yes, it’s right in front of me.”
“Good…learn the numbers. You need to be able to quote them with confidence. But not overtly…these are juicy bits of information and you have to learn when to use them, and when to tease. Right now you are positioning yourself…Nicholas wants your Dad’s supporters behind him and you are the flag bearer, the prince in waiting…and this spreadsheet details the gifts you can bring to the table. So don’t deal them out all at once…be subtle.”
“Nicholas should want me, not Middle East investments,” Archie sniffed and at the other end of the line James Miller closed his eyes. Archie had talents, but the huge chip on his shoulder always got in the way. It did not matter so much when he was doing his father’s business, but that protection was gone. He needed to stand on his own two feet.
“Nicholas Craig wants to be President, and he wants people with the power to help him.” Miller said, forcing himself to sound conciliatory and patient. “We have never had an election like this before. Kieran Radcliffe drafted the constitution to read that the members of the House would elect a President as leader of the ruling party. Neither he nor your father were ever elected by the people. But the House has voted to pass on that right, and the victor will choose his own cabinet. In the run up to the election they will be putting together their manifestos, their election platforms, and foreign affairs will form an important part of any manifesto. Our close relationship with the Americans is crucial, as we remain the only two relatively long-standing Reformist states. So is our relationship with the Muslim world, so your ability to bring major inward investment to the table will be very tempting for Nicholas. You have been present at most international meetings your father has had during the last five years and your grandfather, for all my obvious failings, was the most successful and long-serving foreign secretary Great Britain has ever had, so you come with a pedigree. In the next few weeks, you have to be able to talk knowledgably about the issues for the new Presidency and to make it clear to the right people that you…and only you…can deliver the contents of this spreadsheet if you are given the senior role. Archie, this is a changing of the guard, and you are part of the generation who will sweep Westminster clear and start again…but right at this moment you also have close links with the men in senior positions. Charles Buckingham will not change the cabinet for three months, unless he really has to, and these are your father’s men, with loyalty to the Forbes family. So, with you at Nicholas’s side, a smooth transition looks easier. People can talk of a government of all the talents as long as they bloody like, but the fact is that the new President will promote his friends or the people that can do him good to senior positions. If you want to be one of them, you have to play the game.”
Daphne Scott kissed Chloe Radcliffe with obvious affection before the two ladies settled themselves on the sofa in the small drawing room of the Radcliffe’s Meadvale house. She was seventy six years old, but still working as hard as ever, mainly as Senior Principal of Crowthorne Guardian College, but also holding a watching brief over the many other colleges that had been founded all over the country. However, she remained close to all the families she had worked for, and corresponded with almost all of her former charges, with the Radcliffe family and Chloe being amongst her absolute favourites. She had arrived to attend the funeral of Kieran Radcliffe, who had made Crowthorne possible.
“You look tired, Chloe dear?” Miss Scott suggested, her back still ramrod straight despite her advanced years, and Chloe realised that it was the first time she had ever seen her former mentor wearing anything other than guardian grey. Like every other lady who had visited her since Christmas Eve, Miss Scott was swathed in black velvet.
“Oh I have not been sleeping well, Miss Scott,” Chloe admitted as the old lady took her mittened hands. But she realised it was strange to think of Miss Scott as old, when she was only twelve years younger. They were all old, she reminded herself, all of the people who lived through the beginning of the modern renaissance. “I hope you will forgive me for saying so, but I miss the feeling of Kieran lying beside me. Ever since he went into the hospice, I have pined for him, I suppose.”
“It is only natural, Chloe. You have been his wife for a very long time,” Miss Scott said gently, having already checked the details of Chloe’s routine with her guardian, Miss Thomas, yet another Crowthorne graduate. Quite properly, the widow Radcliffe as she suddenly was, was being put to bed in her sleeping gown, and spent most of each day lost in prayer, apart from several hours in the afternoon to greet well-wishers and a family dinner in the evenings. Miss Thomas admitted that Mr Radcliffe had not always wanted his wife in her sleeping gown, certainly not when he was at home. It was a fairly typical situation in a marriage. Radcliffe had been quite strict with Chloe in the early years, as her maidenhood had been brief after he met her whilst she was acting as a guardian to Elizabeth Munroe nee Buckingham and Olivia Trevor as was. But after she had given him a family and had raised her own daughters to marry, they had fallen into a successful and comfortable routine. But that could not continue. Miss Thomas had quite rightly put Chloe back into the sort of routine most maidens would be familiar with. She would be sleeping alone, so she had to go into her sleeping gown, and in mourning to show respect for her late husband she would be kept mittened and muzzled as much as possible. “You must let Miss Thomas guide you, she knows what is best, my dear.”
“Yes Miss Scott,” Chloe said deferentially although she disagreed with her view. She had lost her husband and she could not help resenting losing her few indulgencies as well. But no one cared about her opinion, of course. She had tried to reason with Miss Thomas once, which only resulted in her first paddling for many years, and had then turned to her only son, who was now legally responsible for her, but he preferred to take the guardian’s advice. “How are things at the college?”
“Satisfactory I would say,” Miss Scott replied, not particularly fooled by the change of subject. She had known Chloe since she came to work as her assistant at Broomwaters, when she was plain Chloe Ford, a dustman’s daughter whose parents had joined the First Congregation when young Chloe was just eight years old. Chloe had been a natural guardian, kind, patient and always empathetic, intuitively managing her charges through the endless challenges of maidenhood. It had been a shock to her when Kieran Radcliffe had asked her father for her hand in marriage, but the truth was that all the leading Christian Democrats who were unmarried were required to find a Reformist bride to secure their place at the top table. At the time, suitable young ladies were in short supply and Chloe was pretty, intelligent and devout; an ideal candidate. However, she had never expected to marry and had found her vocation in guardianship, so it took a long time to adjust to her changed circumstances. Several guardians tried to help her, but it was really only when Miss Scott was asked to step in that she learned her place. “Obviously all of our students now come to us from convents and that poses a different challenge. Most have been recommended because they were proficient as keepers in the order, but you cannot treat a maiden like a novice nun, so we often have to rein them back a little at first regarding corrective discipline. And I am trialling a new module in a few weeks…it serves a dual purpose as prime practical experience for my students, allowing an assessment which will count towards their finals, whilst also providing a short finishing school course for maidens. Not every guardian is Crowthorne trained, and amongst the middle classes the standards of maidenhood are best described as poor. I have asked for applicants who are close to marriage and whose parents feel that they would benefit for a period of intense tuition in closely controlled environment, and I have to say that I have been tremendously encouraged by the applications.”
“Such a sad time for everyone,” Brogan suggested gently, resting her right mitten in Mena’s lap. “I still remember mourning Harry in similarly tragic circumstances, and to happen at Christmas…I have been praying for you, Mena dear.”
“Thank you Lady Osborne,” Mena responded formally, using a title reserved for the wife of a bishop or the wife of a President as Miss Archer had insisted, whilst reminding Mena that she was not Lady Forbes anymore. Like most members of the new aristocracy, Brogan and Mena socialised often, and whilst their husbands were hardly close they had always got on, but Mena was expressively forbidden from being familiar with her old friend, and Miss Archer was standing just behind her right shoulder to ensure her obedience.
“I would have come sooner, but I was told you were holding a prayer vigil?” Brogan asked, wise enough to judge the situation for herself, and noting that Catriona was still muzzled, although she was sitting beside her adopted muzzle. That in itself was not so unusual. Brogan knew Catriona’s background, and she was clearly inexperienced, so many guardians would keep her silent whilst she observed the social graces, but Mena looked stiff and pale, and her formality was strange. It could only mean that she was under strict instructions, and although her pallor was noticeable, Brogan had to allow for the possibility that it could be caused by her distress. However, she found that unlikely. Brogan could generally tell who loved their husbands. Proprieties were always observed, and no Reformist wife would ever dare openly criticise her husband, because most conversations were overheard by their guardians or servants, but the unloved were usually damned by faint praise. Brogan had caught herself in the opposite act with Sebastian over the years, and her affection for him was obvious to all, and often commented on by her closest friends, Elizabeth Munroe and Chloe Radcliffe. Elizabeth, too, was devoted to Peter Munroe, whilst Chloe was less effusive about Kieran Radcliffe. She was a good Reformist wife, and she never said a word against him, often praising him, but it was always what she did not say that made the biggest impression on Brogan. Mena Forbes was an intelligent woman and ever since returning to London from her time in Washington, her husband had been at the top of the political tree. But Brogan never felt that she supported him. She did her job as First Lady with grace and elegance, and she certainly obeyed President Forbes, but no one would ever have believed she loved him.
“My son asked us all to show our love and respect for the late President and it was both my honour and my pleasure to pray for him for five days.” Mena responded as if reading from a script, her eyes glancing to Miss Archer, like a maiden seeking her guardian’s approval. Brogan would have expected that from Catriona. Maiden training was demanding and any girl who did not fear her guardian’s rebuke was either a living saint or an idiot, but Mena was a grandmother in her mid fifties. Every wife was still subject to discipline, even Brogan herself if she misbehaved, but it was still unusual to see in Mena. She was clearly terrified of Miss Archer, and unable to be herself.
“I think that is all, Archie.” Sebastian Osborne said, shutting his file with a sense of finality. He was conducting both funerals and the joint memorial service, and visiting the Forbes family to finalise the arrangements was a mark of respect, whilst bringing Brogan had set the right tone. Both families were new aristocracy, the true Reformist elite, and indeed they were linked together by several marriages. In fact, Sebastian struggled to think of a family of any worth that he was not related too, since he had eight married children, three of them stepchildren, and eight married grandchildren. By the time all of his thirty nine grandchildren had walked down the aisle he expected to be related to just about everyone. He had not liked Alistair Forbes, and his eldest son knew it, of course, but they had conducted the business of the day like gentlemen.
“Good of you to come all this way, Archbishop.” Archie replied, reaching for the coffee pot and receiving a nod from his guest that a refill would be acceptable. “On reflection, having the funeral in Meadvale and the memorial service in London really is the best of both worlds…I must thank you for your wised advice.”
“Grief affects us all, my boy, and I really must congratulate you for the way you have handled an impossible situation…I think everyone has been impressed and I am sure your mother is proud of your efforts.” Sebastian said, which was basically true. On the night, Archie was clearly shocked and angry but although there were rumours of some lingering bitterness, his public appearances and comments had been dignified and respectful. It was an impossible situation for any son to be in, and Archie had always been thought of as eager puppy running at his father’s heels, but there was more to him than that. Sebastian could not say that he liked the son anymore than he liked the father, but he no longer dismissed him as a player as easily as he would have done before.
“My mother has been in confinement since our loss. In fact, your wife is one of the first visitors I have allowed to see her so far as her future is as yet undecided, Archbishop.” Archie informed him without emotion, as he sipped his own coffee.
“Her future is undecided?”
“My father left it up to me of course, but he thought she would welcome the chance to take her vows. She is a devout woman as I am sure you know, and father thought that without him by her side she could live out the rest of her life in God’s love. I am discussing it with the rest of the family as you might imagine, but I would certainly welcome your advice?”
“Have you discussed it with your mother, Archie?”
“Good Lord Archbishop…why ever should I do that? I have consulted my grandfather, and my brother’s-in-law, and I have received differing opinions.”
“She has a daughter to set an example for, of course?” Sebastian suggested, not reacting to the previous answer, although it caused his heart to skip a beat. He had put his two stepdaughters, Eloise and Grace, Brogan’s adopted daughters, into National Service as soon as he married Harry Trevor’s widow, and when he and his wife finally discussed everything after he was made aware of her true origins, Brogan had told him how much that decision had hurt her. He could just imagine what she would think of Philomena Forbes being put into a convent for the rest of her life. He did not spend too much time worrying about the piety of ladies. It was his firm, long-held belief that the female of the species was naturally prone to sin, as was Eve, so outward displays of piety put before an archbishop were of little value. But he did know Mena well enough to realise that she would not suit a lifetime of service and silent devotion. She was a grandmother. She had earned the right to enjoy her twilight years in the company of her loved ones.
“Catriona is my responsibility now and Annabelle can be a mother to her.” Archie insisted and Osborne nodded, making no adverse comments. Not that Archie cared if he did, of course. His grandfather wanted his daughter and the bastard, but Archie had struck a tougher bargain than the old rogue had expected, insisting that he had to be in the cabinet before he would let his mother or the girl go anywhere. He had reminded his grandfather that there a certain etiquette to mourning a great man like his father, and he expected the whole family to follow it precisely. “Her lineage is disgusting…I imagine you would advise her doing her National Service to cleanse her soul?”
“I do not consider the sins of the father to be transferred to his daughter, Archie…whoever he was. By adopting her, your father shared his reputation with her…a considerable kindness, I thought…and made her a part of your family. I am sure he would expect you to do the same?”
“I am, as I said…undecided…I am torn between my loss, the arrangements and my responsibilities as head of the family, and this election, of course.”
“You will be standing for the House, I understand?”
“Anyone with aspirations to be a part of the cabinet must…I wish to continue my father’s unstinting service.”
“An admirable ambition…and an interesting debate concerning the future?” Osborne suggested, although he did not really need to ask which side of the fence the Forbes boy would sit on. Nicholas Craig was a conservative, rather than a Conservative of course, and the hardliners seemed to be rallying behind him as a matter of course. Sebastian meant what he said; it would be an interesting debate, and like Charles Buckingham he did not feel it was one on which he should have any influence. His generation had done their bit, and the next needed to take over and plough their own furrows. In fact, he liked both Nicholas Craig and Richard Buckingham, and having known them all their lives he thought each would make a fine president in their own way, but it would be interesting to see how the various factions lined up behind them. As Richard Buckingham often insisted, he was not strictly a moderate. He certainly felt that moderation could and should be applied in certain circumstances but he had few liberal tendencies. However, those tendencies did exist and those people felt that Buckingham could be persuaded to bend their way a little more. In turn, Nicholas Craig was not truly a hardliner. He would never have won enough support to stand against Richard Buckingham otherwise. But he was naturally conservative. He listened to all the criticisms of the order but was in the habit of reminding people that God’s love was not easy to earn, and that the National Service programme was fundamental to the successful British way of life. The health service and the education system were both labour intensive operations, together employing well over two million women, and making those women nuns reduced the costs considerably, apart from the other benefits of having each generation of girls trained in God’s loving embrace. Nicholas would not countenance the weakening of a system that served the country so well, ironically using the argument first coined by Charles Buckingham that it was for the greater good, and that any personal sacrifices were made in God’s name.
“Personally I find this liberal nonsense disturbing rather than interesting…but we have an election to win, so we must debate it and I am looking forward to the challenge.” Archie replied, confirming his own position, before sowing some of the seeds his grandfather had urged him to use to his advantage. “My own interests lie mainly in foreign affairs, and our friends in the Middle East are concerned about any softening of stance. I was, on behalf of my father, negotiating several sizeable investments which are still available to us…but they are dependent on the right man occupying Buckingham Palace, and on that man choosing the right team.”
“He is playing you for a fool,” Euan Miller muttered as he put their drinks down on a table in the far corner of a rather shabby Paris cafe. His father followed him to a seat, sitting close, their eyes warily scanning the other customers. Euan Miller knew that he was being watched. It was convenient for the Reformists to let him go because they did not want anyone to know about why Alistair Forbes had killed himself, but even an idiot could guess his motives for being there. And his wife and sister were still beyond his reach, so one government agency or another was going to stay very close.
“He was never going to go down on his knees and thank me until he gets what he wants.” James Miller responded with a frown, because his son was right in a way. Archie was bombastic and self-righteous, but he was a player. He had learned at the feet of a master, and like it or not he knew everyone. Alistair Forbes was a ruthless bastard but he knew how to buy favours and oil the wheels of industry. He had placed his son at the centre of things and Archie had friends. In fact, just the sort of friends Nicholas Craig needed if he wanted to win the election. Craig and Buckingham were still talking about a fair fight and letting the people choose, but one of them had to be prepared to get his hands a little dirty if he wanted to win. The people would decide who they wanted, but by the constitution written by Kieran Radcliffe, their decision still needed to be ratified by the also newly elected members of the House. So the victor needed both his mandate and the support of his peers. Radcliffe’s idea was to avoid the American problem of electing Presidents with no majority in either the senate of the House of Representative, but it gave the candidates a double problem. First they needed to convince the people about the merits of their manifesto, but then they also had to gain the approval of a majority in the House.
“So…the first thing we need to know is who is going to win this fucking election?”
“And I can’t predict that…but Archie will be prepared to deal sooner or later. He needs me…my beloved father-in-law and his family are adorably loyal for a start…but also because I am much better at playing dirty than he is. I am going to push his head so far up Nicholas Craig’s arse that the two of them will be thinking as one.”
“But it will all be for nothing if Buckingham wins?”
“Not necessarily…I will find some more pressure points…but remember, this is the only way to get the girls out. Those chips are not removable and you can’t turn them off.”
“But Archie is…I can remove him and turn him off…like father like son.”
“Compassion is a quality we should all value more.” Sebastian Osborne began his sermon, leaning on the oak pulpit for support and scanning the sea of faces, well aware that his audience was of an unusual calibre. The funerals of the two late Presidents were set for the following day and the memorial service would take place at Westminster Abbey the day after, and although the funerals had been designated private affairs, the President of the United States and several other famous Reformist friends were there, and were taking in the Sunday service. “Governments must act for the greater good…decisions must be made to help the majority and politicians cannot be distracted by the individual case that defies the rule. But as individuals…as husbands and fathers and managers…compassion is a gift in God’s love. Proverbs 13:24 says ‘He that spareth his rod hateth his son’ and the clear meaning of that is that it is our duty as parents to discipline our children. They have to learn, and we must be firm to teach them the things they need to earn God’s love. But there is no extra credit for being a disciplinarian…sometimes it is important to offer an arm around the shoulders, and a friendly ear. Men are told that we must be the masters of our own house and we are encouraged to use our natural position wisely of course. We have our doctrine. We are blessed to live in a country that is closer to God than most, and in most cases we do our duty as we see it…in God’s love. But God is a part of your family and that family and its welfare is paramount in our desire to earn God’s love. Every man must make difficult decisions…from choosing a husband for his daughters to caring for ageing parents…and in making those decisions we must be compassionate. Being the master does not mean that you cannot listen to the opinions of your daughter…that is not a weakness. God asks the best of us, and there is no sin in considering the feelings of others whilst we are doing our duty.”
“Thank you for walking with me, Miss Scott,” Nicholas Craig said gallantly and he was rewarded by the slightest of nods from the mountain of grey velvet at his side. He smiled and led her through the side gate into the grounds of Lake House, where they could talk in private. “Are you sure it is not too cold out here? We could go inside?”
“On the contrary, I am warmly dressed and it is a fine brisk morning Master Nicholas.”
“Good grief…it is a long time since anyone called me that…and my abiding memory of you from my childhood is being told off because my football hit one of my sisters.”
“Good maidens have enough to cope with, without being used for target practise.” Miss Scott stepped up into an old summerhouse right next to the river, and perched on a wooden bench. He watched her expertly arrange the folds of her cloak and then tuck her gloved hands back inside its folds. “So young man…what can a humble guardian do for a Presidential candidate that requires such an urgent chat?”
“Only you would describe yourself as a humble guardian, Miss Scott…your books on guardianship and maidenhood are best sellers, your college is renowned as the best of its kind in the world and you have long been a government advisor with special reference to the management of guardian colleges across the country.” He replied, risking a broad smile. He had never answered to a guardian of course, but they were still fearsome creatures. His sisters, mother and aunts all talked of Miss Scott in awe and he would have liked to meet her even if he did not want her advice. “And I am writing a manifesto, so who better is there to ask what we need to do to improve maiden education across the board, not just for those who can afford to pay for it?”
“Goodness me…that is a big question and not one I can answer off the cuff, as it were.”
“So will you write me a letter, or a report, whichever suits your schedule? I am serious, Miss Scott…I believe your good work is central to the success of the doctrine, and our failure to provide consistent guardian care for all is one of the things that is holding us back.”
“I most certainly will, as I once did for Mr Radcliffe, but you are right when you speak of consistent care.” Miss Scott said thoughtfully, although he could not even see her eyes. He had to judge her mood on her voice. “Convenience guardians are a dying breed of course…the National Service avoiders and such like…and no girl can now register as a guardian unless she has completed her National Service. But that does not make for better guardians…piety and discipline are not the most important skills required of any guardian, patience and indefatigability are. It is about instinctively knowing when to use the carrot and when to use the stick…and at the lower end of the social scale it is about convincing mothers that they can play the same role to their daughters. At present we wash our hands of them until they fall into the convents and that is wrong sir, we need to rectify it quickly.”
Mena did not see anything of the funeral service and she did not even attend the memorial service. Not that Chloe Radcliffe fared much better, although she did attend both, and the pictures in the newspapers lauded the grieving widows as paragons of Reformist virtue. By the time the speeches had been made and respects had been paid, the country was glad to put the whole thing behind them and the media turned seamlessly to the election facing everyone. As both the dead presidents had assumed their positions without troubling the electorate, it was a new experience. With the two candidates still dodging interviews as they prepared for their campaign launches at the end of January, the usual talking heads filled the nations television screens telling everyone what might happen, and speculation was rife. Regardless of how many times Richard Buckingham and his friends insisted he was not a moderate, and certainly not a liberal, many pundits continued to suggest it, an accusation hardly discouraged by the friends of Nicholas Craig. But the real activity was really going on back stage.
Both candidates had to seek the support of their colleagues, and both discovered that gaining that support often had a price. It had been their intention to fight the good fight, without resorting to the dirty tricks of the past, but they were both being pressurised into cutting dubious deals. Neither man was that naive and they had expert advice. The core of the campaign teams on both sides were the close friends and allies of the two young men with the famous surnames. In the same way that Charles Buckingham, Peter Munroe, Harry Trevor, Kieran Radcliffe, David Harrington, Paul Craig and Michael Winstanley had come together to fight and fund the first Reformist campaign, these committed, ambitious young men sat in darkened rooms to debate the policies which would shape the future. But there were others outside in the corridors, offering tactical advice and trying to ensure that their candidate made time for the right people.
Peter Munroe fulfilled that role for his Godson, as unlike Charles Buckingham he had no qualms about choosing sides. He had no official title, and was unpaid, but as the longest ever serving Home Secretary and still a senior figure in the Christian Democratic Party, he could open most doors and provide a strong hand on the wheel. Nicholas Craig had James Miller. Once more it was not an official role, but Miller was an experienced operator, and of all the men who worked for Alistair Forbes he was certainly the most impressive. Craig was never a Forbes man, and indeed had been prepared to see Richard Buckingham oust him, but the one thing they shared was a conservative nature. Miller, acting on his behalf, approached the Forbes faction led by Archie, and put them all around the same table. No one suspected that he was giving lists of demands and offers to both sides and advising them all about policy decisions.
In reality, as several people in the media pointed out, the differences between the two sides were not huge. But as they did their best to attract others to their side there was a danger that they would be forced to go further than either originally intended to do. But as far as the man in the street was concerned, very little was happening and life went on, with the hard politics taking place in the shadows, or in the bars of Westminster, long before anyone was ready to take centre stage. Effectively the ball was in play but the floodlights were yet to be turned on, and the players had a small hiatus to catch their breath and find their proper positions on the field.