Reformist Generations – Part Four

The First Chill of Winter

by Nick Lucas

 

This is a part of Reformist Generations and follows the part The Choosing of Sides. Having read the previous parts is a prerequisite for fully enjoing this story.

City Girl

Kayleigh Beckford lay still inside her sleeping gown, listening to the sound of Miss Garfield getting ready to get her up. It was always the same. Ever since she was more or less abducted from school by the cruel guardian, with her father’s agreement, she was being kept as a maiden, a proper maiden, like those poor bitches in Florida, or the President’s daughters. It was insane. She did not understand how her own father could do that to her, and move her to England, just because she was failing at school and had got a couple of tickets for indecent behaviour. She had only rolled up the waistband of her stupid school skirt, as if that was a crime. But it was still happening to her. She was the fourth girl from her school to be forcefully converted in as many months and she realised that there was no escape. Not in London, at any rate.

Of course, she had learned all about maidens at school, and she had grown up with the idea of Reformism creeping across the entire United States, with opponents warning all ‘right-thinking’ Christians to reject ‘the cancer that has destroyed human rights in Great Britain’ as one headline put it. But that did not seem to stop people changing all around her. It did not stop Melissa Weekes moving to Florida when her father got promoted, and visiting three months later turned into a silent velvet decoration like any other maiden, and it had not stopped Kayleigh ending up in London just the same. Her father had tried to explain that they had to go, and that it was only for two years, and she so wanted to believe him, of course. She had not been doing well at school, and Miss Garfield was making her study, hard, for four hours a day, plus two hours of bible study. But she did not want to be a maiden, not even for just two years. Not that what she wanted seemed to make any difference.

Miss Garfield went about her business efficiently and calmly. Kayleigh had been easily subdued in New York, and once she had been chipped, and had experienced the consequences of disobeying her guardian, she had proved a diligent pupil. Being in London probably helped, because she was surrounded by role models. Just taking her downstairs for a stroll along the embankment, right beneath their City apartment provided by the bank, showed Kayleigh how she was supposed to live. It was even a pleasant surprise for Miss Garfield, who had worked exclusively in New York since graduating from Guardian College in New Hampshire. She had assisted four girls, in two different families, to find God’s love before Kayleigh, and being in a minority had not helped them to accept their parent’s decisions. However, in London, Kayleigh could stroll along the river and never see a female face or hear a female voice. Miss Garfield had brought her charge to Paradise.

Money still made the world go around in the City of London, and the wives and daughters of the traders could afford the best of everything of course. Kayleigh turned heads wherever she went, in the finest gowns and cloaks, and she learned her lessons fast, like a maiden should, the small remote control in Miss Garfield’s hand always encouraging her to concentrate.

Rebirth

Catriona Forbes learned her lessons too. Not only from Miss Archer, although the guardian certainly had a very powerful influence on her behaviour, but from her new mother, Mena Forbes. The First Lady felt doubly responsible for Catriona in the circumstances. The child, then her niece, estranged from her British family, had answered a desperate call to save little Angus at a considerable cost to herself, but the revelations caused by the results of her blood tests had devastated her, and Mena felt more than obliged to help pick up the pieces. Her husband permitted her to do so, up to a point, of course. He agreed that his wife should spend more time with the latest addition to the family, but rather than allowing Catriona to enjoy Mena’s comfortable routine, he handed Mena over to Miss Archer. He had been in a dark mood for days, but he was taking a particular interest in his adopted daughter, and Mena’s concern for her seemed to amuse him. He instructed Miss Archer to keep them close, and let his wife set an appropriate example.

Not that it bothered Mena, anymore. She could not fight Alistair. She had learned that lesson long ago, at the cruel hands of Miss Freeman and Miss Robinson, and Miss Archer was nothing compared to those harridans. All she could do was be there for Catriona, as Ophelia now was, and help her adjust to her new life. They shared lessons and everything else, apart from a bed, as Alistair still required Mena to lie beside him at night, and on the rare occasions they were allowed to talk, Mena tried to help Catriona adjust to things.

“Discomfort is the price a lady must pay for decency and piety Catriona...to earn God’s love.” Mena said firmly one afternoon after her ‘daughter’ complained about their usual restrictions. “Our corset is our spine, enhanced to give us the strength to always stand straight and proud, regardless of the sacrifice asked of us. Our mittens show that we have no need to fiddle or work, and our muzzles that no idle chatter shall distract us from our concentration on His words. Our veils save us for Him and our loved ones...they separate us from the world that can only distract and demean us. None of it is comfortable but it sets us apart from the indignities of the heathen world and sets us free to be dutiful, obedient Daughters of Eve.”

“Yes Mama,” Catriona replied, responding as she had been taught, but still amazed at what she was hearing from her famous ‘Auntie Mena.’ She had heard the stories about her family, or the Miller family she reminded herself, as she had no blood links with them, as Miss Archer was continually reminding her. She had met her grandfather, or rather James Miller, several times when he visited Greece, usually mixing business with pleasure. Her ‘father’ never talked about the past, not when he was sober anyway, and when he was drunk she never trusted a word he said, but James Miller was a leading Reformist and he had told her about his daughter’s decision to join him in Washington, to support his career. Mena was similar to her, educated abroad at an exclusive boarding school, not spending much time with her father. But she had lived in a different world, a world where women could do anything they wanted, but she had apparently chosen to become first a maiden, and then a Reformist wife, as she fell in love with Alistair Forbes. Her father, no, Euan Miller, had laughed at that in his regular drunken rages, but he had never come up with a coherent alternative to James Miller’s story. He seemed to think that his little sister had been tricked, just like everyone else, but he was a bitter, twisted husk of a man living on his past as a hero soldier. Ophelia had never liked him and had always blamed him, not only for her mother’s death but for the chaotic home life she could not wait to escape from. So Catriona Forbes was quite willing to air brush him from her life. James Miller was only ever a random visitor, and she grew up alone, not feeling part of family life on Skiathos, and longing to escape. Even if Mena had felt the same, Catriona could not understand how someone in her position would choose to voluntarily become a Reformist wife.

“Oh I know it is hard, Catriona...you have been through so much dear.” Mena sighed, her mittened hands grasping hold of Catriona’s useless appendages, trying to offer the poor child some reassurance. “God demands so much of us, but you must let Miss Archer train you...she will help you understand what is best for you. You are my daughter now Catriona, so we are still family my dear...and now this is your home.”

“I don’t belong here, Mama...”

“On the contrary darling...you do...it is where you always belonged, and you have to accept that, as I did...half the world has accepted God’s love and the rest will surely follow Catriona.”

“You chose it, Mama...”

“Oh yes...it was different for me.” Mena admitted, her mind drifting back to the day her father visited her at school and asked her to help him gain the ambassadorship to Washington, starting off a chain of events that left her married to Alistair Forbes. She did not have much of a choice either in the end, but she went in with her eyes open, unlike Catriona. She had the arrogance to think that she had some kind of power, that she could change her father, or Alistair, and play some sort of part at the forefront of the modern renaissance. Her father had promised her that she could one day become the most powerful women in the country and there she was, the First Lady. Had he told her any lies? She seemed to have got exactly what she bargained for, but there she was sitting with Catriona, as helpless as a toddler. She had no power, no say and no voice. Her role was purely decorative. Alistair still treated her like a pet, kept on display inside her gilded cage.

BBC Radio 4 Interview – Inside Politics with Richard Buckingham (Extract)

“Can you tell me what these negotiations with the President involve?” The interviewer asked, and Richard Buckingham did his best to relax, remembering how his father always sounded on the radio. Firm but fair, calm and friendly but with a sense that he knew best, and that the electorate should give him their confidence.

“Only in the sense that they involve agreeing the way forwards on a number of issues I have spoken about in the past few months. I would not like to prejudice those negotiations by making things public before they are agreed by both parties. That would be unprofessional.” Richard lied, because that was exactly what he wanted to do. He was not entirely sure how his father and Peter Munroe had got Alistair Forbes around the table, but it had not made him any more amenable. Negotiations were stuck in the minutiae. Forbes claimed that if every nun was released from national service after five years, rather than waiting until their parents could arrange a marriage, the health service would be short of nurses, for instance. Buckingham and his good friends in the House were struggling to check the figures, because they were sure the President was obfuscating, but the process was stuck like glue. It was rather like getting a bill through the House. They were fighting through proposals line by line and it was taking forever.

“Both parties...that is a very key phrase. This is a schism, isn’t it? Brown versus Blair, Milliband versus Balls, Cameron versus Clegg...and even, dare I say it, Buckingham versus Henderson? New politics, old problems...or does it just mean that the new politics we have all believed in for so long is really just the old politics in a different outfit?”

“Of course, you expect me to say no...but there is some truth in what you say I suppose.” Buckingham sighed, but everyone could hear the smile in his voice. “I don’t think the electorate are that cynical, or indeed that naive. Politics is a business the same as any other when it comes down to it...and it is passionate and competitive at times. People win and people lose, but when my father first talked about new politics he was referring to the adversarial habits of the old Labour and Conservative parties. They spent as much time...if not more...blaming the last administration for their mistakes as they did trying to put them right...Dad tried to stop all that and look forwards. Reformism as a political doctrine was not born out of fanaticism as some still suggest, but out of the desire to provide answers to perennial questions such as unemployment, education and health...things that we all now take so much for granted after forty odd years. So I am not going to sit here and deny that I do disagree with Alistair Forbes...but I am also not blaming him for anything that has happened in the past or is happening now. New politics is about looking forwards, not apportioning blame. What is right for the country now, in today’s circumstances? How can we make things better for everyone in the future?”

“So the moderates are finally around the table, slugging it out with the last of the old guard hardliners?”

“Oh I know you guys in the media love to label everyone, but that is such an over simplification...Forbes and I agree on many things. Make no mistake about it, I am not a moderate. I believe in the National Service programme as much as my father ever did and as much as Alistair Forbes does. For the vast majority of our young women, serving the country in this way is the ideal preparation for their lives in God’s love. For those that cannot afford the services of a qualified guardian, national service is the best way to honour God, their country and their families in piety and faithfulness. It is a hard five years, but no more arduous than the time served by their brothers in our armed forces, and no less worthwhile. For over forty years, we have developed a proper working structure that delivers quality care to our hospitals, schools, old folks homes, hospices and a variety of other charitable causes through our parish churches...I do not want to change that one iota, but I do believe we should look at modernising the terms and length of service.

“How so?”

“Quite simply Sisters should serve finite terms, with no conditions regarding their release, and some sort of communication with their families should be possible during their service.”

“Isn’t that a moderate policy or are you simply a proponent of women’s rights?”

“Oh look, I am not interested in whether my policies are moderate or not...I only care whether it is the right thing to do, and I believe it is. Even though neither of us is old enough to remember the days of rampant feminism, the media still persists in raking up that old chestnut, as if it has any relevance. A woman’s place is in the home, obeying her husband and raising her children in God’s love. I do not support any policy which seeks to restore any measure of sexual equality. I support voice modesty in public and I can assure you my wife and daughters live strictly in accordance with the doctrine. But I still believe they have rights, and we need to adjust our policies to sure those rights are protected in law.”

The Examples

Mena was punished for Catriona’s mistakes. Miss Archer had used the punishment chip on Catriona several times, and had mentioned to the President, in one of her regular reports, that the child expected it and although fearful of the pain, seemed to be fighting its power. Alistair Forbes suggested an alternative. Miss Archer settled Catriona in an armchair, fully clothed, muzzled and mittened, and used a strap to hold her in place. Then she undressed the First Lady until she was naked apart from her own mittens. She was allowed her voice. Miss Archer led her into the room and stood her before Catriona, letting the child look at her adopted mother through her veils.

“Obedience is a habit, Catriona,” Miss Archer, smiling at her charge. “Mrs Forbes has been trying to set you a positive example of course...haven’t you, Mena?”

“Yes Miss Archer.” Mena murmured, trying not to show Catriona how afraid she was. She was the First Lady and a mother of seven children, eight if Catriona was added to the list, but that meant nothing to Miss Archer. Since joining Catriona under Miss Archer’s tutelage, she had shared her daughter’s routine. She was fifty years old, but she had been shown no respect for her position or her age. They had studied together, bathed together and prayed together, no doubt as Alistair had wanted, and Mena had expected that worse was to come.

“Catriona dear, your mother is no different to you in God’s love. Look I will show you...watch her dance.” Miss Archer said as she turned the dial on her remote device. Mena bit down hard on her bottom lip and rubbed her backside with her mittens to try and alleviate the pain, but she refused to scream, and she knew better than to beg for mercy. “You may speak Mena...I am sure you have something you wish to say?”

“God bless you for punishing me, Miss Archer.”

“You are quite welcome Ma’am...it really is my pleasure.” Miss Archer nodded her approval, before turning back to Catriona with an even broader smile. “She is quite remarkable, isn’t she? I gave her five, more than I have ever given you, but your dear mother has been in training for over thirty years, so she has an advantage. However, she is fond of you, and trying to help you, so I thought that by punishing her in your stead, you might learn some important lessons.” She paused, as the girl started to shake her head, and waited for her to be still, and concentrate. “Oh I am sure you do not mind, do you Mena?”

“I am in your care, Miss Archer.” Mena almost whispered, struggling to find her voice. “I wish only to earn God’s love and obey you and my husband, Miss Archer.”

“Of course you are...you both are...and in our endless search for God’s love, we must all accept our fair share of the blame. I answer to your father, but you two answer to me, and I am going to show you something Catriona. It is a little old-fashioned these days, but usually most effective. Mena, take your position on the chair opposite Catriona. I believe you will remember the requirements from your own maiden training dear?”

“Yes Miss Archer,” Mena almost groaned, but still turned to obey. “May I have my muzzle, please?”

“Oh no...not today dear...let the dear child hear what a paddle can really do, shall we?” Miss Archer said, picking up the hard plastic lexan paddle she had placed within easy reach.


“It’s not your Dad’s fault...London is too important to everyone.” Chrissie Manning suggested, waving away Kayleigh’s moans with her mitten, as if she was being ridiculous. “My Dad had to come. If he wanted a job...and the bank just makes everything so easy for them to do it, don’t they?”

“Quite...there are just dozens of girls like us...it’s almost unavoidable.” Jane Bernstein agreed, glancing at the door to make sure their guardians were not about to return, whilst feigning indifference. “And it is not so bad...the secondments are short and one can hardly avoid Reformism these days...Mummy thinks maiden training is as good as any finishing school, and we will all be prepared if our husbands have to follow the same path in the future.”

“Our husbands?” Kayleigh could not quite believe her own ears. Both girls seemed to be in the same situation as her, although Chrissie had already spent two years in Tokyo after leaving Washington, and Jane had grown up in Miami, which whilst not as Reformist as western Florida was still not as cosmopolitan as New York. “I am not going to follow my husband around the world like a poodle.”

“Oh come on Kayleigh, come on...don’t be so naive!” Chrissie laughed, her eyes also flitting to the door. “Half the world is already Reformist, politically if not religiously...marrying well is essential, and although this is all rather tedious, it is necessary to make us eligible. I don’t know about you, but Dad is still climbing the ladder...we have money but not enough, and if we didn’t come here he’d be finished, wouldn’t he?”


“Stand up.” Miss Archer barked, and a sobbing Mena struggled to obey. She performed an obeisance. Miss Archer did not need to tell her to do it, and it was clearly painful, but she managed, keeping her head bowed respectfully. “You may speak Mena.”

“God bless...you...for punishing me...Miss Archer.” Mena muttered, her voice shaking with the effort, hoarse and sore after an hour or more of screaming and begging for forgiveness.

“Open,” Miss Archer commanded, and Mena opened her mouth to accept her muzzle. “Good girl, I shall dress you now and settle you down to watch Catriona. “She will remain muzzled though...I have rather a headache.”

Catriona did not struggle. She did not see the point anymore. It would only make it worse. She knelt precariously on the arms of the chair, her head down lower than her knees, naked apart from her mittens and muzzle, and let the paddle break her spirit like her mother before her.


“See? Do you see what I saved you from? Now perhaps this whole darned family will start listening to me!” Hugh Blackstone blustered, but taking little pleasure in breaking the bad news to his granddaughter. Catherine and Chelsea had only just finished their morning lesson, but the telephone call from the local pastor had angered him, and he had not even waited for Miss Walker to remove their muzzles.

“Don’t get so excited Hugh, remember your blood pressure!” Caroline Blackstone growled, avoiding his stick as she headed for the armchair beside the fire.

“Papa, whatever is the matter?” Florence Baraclough asked, coming into the lounge from the kitchen, a look of genuine concern on her face.

“Every member of the Sewing Circle was arrested last night...every single one who attended the lecture and then signed that ridiculous petition at the next meeting...I saved you by the skin of your teeth, Catherine!”

“Arrested...whatever for?” Florence asked, drying her hands as she spoke. Catherine was staring wide-eyed at her grandfather and Miss Walker had made no move to remove her muzzle. Probably because she was not sure what Catherine would say and not for the first time Florence welcomed her commonsense.

“Sedition I shouldn’t wonder...I told you all this was madness and you all thought I was being a silly old fool, but all those girls and their families are in real trouble.” Hugh continued, pacing up and down and waving his stick around in his agitation, as if he had forgotten his age.

“Calm down Hugh, what did the pastor actually say?” Caroline demanded, her tone sharp, and as always the old man listened to her. He stopped pacing and headed for his chair.

“Well the Sewing Circle meets in the church hall, and the pastor keeps an attendance record, because of the insurance or something...and the police came and asked for a copy. I don’t think anyone has been charged...yet...but the pastor thinks that all of their parents will be questioned, the guardians too, and everything will be checked...all because of that Harrington boy causing trouble.”

“Oh he is hardly a boy Hugh, and I can’t see how signing a petition could possibly warrant a police investigation...the police are surely overreacting?” His wife suggested, but Catherine Baraclough closed her eyes in despair. Her grandfather had protected her, and she was grateful to him for it, but she could not believe that her friends had done anything wrong.

The Empire Strikes Back

“Charles...still in London? I thought you preferred Meadvale these days?” Alistair Forbes smiled as they shook hands, his glass of champagne half empty and his expression relaxed and welcoming. Buckingham made himself smile back, surprised to see him at the opera, but quickly putting on his poker face.

“Good to see you Mr President...I have stayed with Richard longer than I had planned, but I will be heading home in plenty of time for the usual festivities at Broomwaters. I hope we shall see you there?”

“Oh yes, I should think so...traditions are important...despite our occasional differences we have all been through so much together, one way or another. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, old chap.”

“Shame Richard’s discussions are not progressing as planned, of course.” Buckingham commented, taking his own glass from a passing waiter.

“Some of the details are difficult to pin down, Charles...Richard has made a number of specific requests, and my people really are concerned that they are unworkable.”

“Alistair, I had hoped that we could do this in a civilised fashion...”

“Oh but we are...I don’t want another term...like you, I intend to enjoy my retirement...your threats had nothing to do with my decision to enter into negotiations.” Forbes almost sighed, leaning forwards to speak quietly into Buckingham’s ear. All of the other opera goers would have thought it was just the President and founding father of the party exchanging pleasantries or even discussing Wagner.

“Sometimes it just needs a little encouragement to help people see sense.”

“Of course it does, Charles...people like Brogan Trevor-Osborne for instance.” Forbes murmured, his smile not wavering at all as he nodded to another acquaintance. “Some things have my fingerprints on them, but not everything old man...I don’t think we ought to turn this into a pissing contest, do you?”


“He went as white as a sheet...it was worth sitting through that pretentious shit just to see his face.” Forbes told his son as they shared a nightcap, several hours later.

“Is it enough to put him back in his box?” Archie asked, sipping his brandy.

“Oh it’s all icebergs boy...there is a lot more beneath the surface. Winning power and keeping power takes guts, and there are some tough decisions along the way if you mean to win...none of us are clean, not one.”

“So, let me get this straight, the good bishop’s wife was a spy?”

“No, nothing that sinister...she was a freelance journalist looking for a red top exclusive. She blagged her way into the Craig’s by forging an introduction from her father, no doubt intending to get the inside track on Buckingham and his boys, but she did not get very far. They rumbled her quite early on, and rather than throwing her in a convent, which admittedly would not have been so easy then, as they had barely formed the first coalition, they played a rather amusing trick on her. They used their own forged documents to trap her in her cover story for life.” Forbes laughed, topping up his glass. “To be honest, I couldn’t have done it better myself...can you imagine how she felt? She was fooling them...playing her pious little part to perfection...and then they turned the tables on her...and she never knew who it was. So she couldn’t run to the police or anything because then she really would be in trouble. But it implicates them all...Munroe, Harrington, Craig and Buckingham...and our dear archbishop would be seriously embarrassed if it came out, of course. He is going soft in his old age. It’s fucking perfect.”

“I can see it’s embarrassing...but she wouldn’t admit it now, would she?”

“Archie, they will not take that risk...and in any case, he knows if I know that I know more.”

“Is there more?”

“Oh yes, there is nearly always more. But it’s like there are three piles of shit we all have, and we are fighting around the third one, the one we are not stuck up to our knees in. Two we all know we can’t touch, but the third pile might just stick to someone else but not me. So now they have a pile on me and I have a pile on them, but no one wants to put their hands in the shit and start throwing it around...so we have stalemate.”

“For how long...and what do they have on you?”

“Nothing for you to worry about...it’s none of your business.”


“So is he calling our bluff?” Peter Munroe asked, frowning at the news.

“No he’s not...he just reminded me that he is not standing again and that we all have reputations to lose.” Charles Buckingham said, looking rather more cheerful than his old friend as he poured a glass of wine. “Obviously it’s a cold war...we fire, he fires back and we all die...possibly even Richard too, by association...and the legacy is trashed. It is anyone’s guess how the party would cope if we were all disgraced at once...not that I would feel disgraced, but the media would be like a dog with a bone, and there is no other natural successor to Alistair at the moment...Richard would have needed a good election campaign to give him some credibility despite the polls.”

“He has never held office...”

“Exactly...we have all made the same mistake. I never changed my cabinet, so we all got old together. Kieran was left quite exposed when you retired more or less with me. He had to bring Alistair back, and James Miller, because there were so few younger men to support him...and then Alistair chose men he could control for his team...this is not a government of all the talents as Kieran intended, but a one-man band, with the President calling the shots. None of his senior team are good enough to succeed him...I don’t even remember half of their names.”

“So his message was pull back from the brink or else?”

“I think so. Richard has to pull out of the detail and look at the big picture. Forbes is committed to an agreement, but for the rest of his term he expects control...”

The Preparations for Christmas

“Daniel...how many people have you actually invited? We do have to keep a count...there isn’t infinite space!” Madison Harrington snapped, glancing at Miss Hanson for some support, or at least a suggestion of what to do. She felt so helpless, and she certainly had no training for managing the sort of extravaganza her in-laws liked to hold, so she did not need her husband adding to the potential for total disaster. “Miss Hanson, do we have the number we last agreed on?”

“Sir, if I may say so, bedrooms are already at a premium, unless you are intending to put tents on the lawn?” Miss Hanson said rather more calmly, offering Madison only a cautionary glance. She knew that Mrs Harrington was finding the Christmas party stressful, but that was no excuse for impudence.

“Charles and Peter have offered to put people up...Madison dear, you must not fret...it is going to be a squeeze at times but I could hardly say no to the President...little Angus is being transferred to the hospital here, so I could hardly say I can’t squeeze his parents in, as well as the President and the First Lady, and their adopted daughter. Which means we may have to cater for some of the Presidential staff, security and such...and there will be a number of meetings going on...just like the old days. Please don’t worry...everyone is used to squeezing in, it is part of the fun, dear. Miss Hanson, I think Mrs Harrington should have a quiet afternoon...I need to get back to my study and make some calls.”

“Open,” Miss Hanson ordered, before Daniel had even left the room, and Madison obeyed, as always. She was getting above herself. She had spent her whole married life in the shadow of her mother-in-law and she had tried to do her best to fill her shoes. But she was soon muzzled and covered and enjoying the familiar sensation of her punishment chip being set on the minimum setting by her guardian, to remind her of her place. Nothing compared to Miss Robinson, of course, her first proper guardian, but still painful, annoying and humiliating for a woman in her mid forties. After she had reconciled herself to her Reformist future, when she realised that her father was never going to let her embarrass him again, Madison had been quite disappointed with his choice of husband for her. She had half expected and almost hoped for a strong man, like Alistair Forbes or her own father, but Daniel Harrington was a thin, rather weedy intellectual, who although from a wealthy family linked to the founding fathers of Reformism, and a position at the centre of Meadvale society, promised never to amount to much more than being a member of the House. She had gone into her marriage, at the age of twenty, fully expecting to be more than a match for her husband, but she had reckoned without living at Broomwaters with her in-laws. So for close to a quarter of a century she had been forced to play the good Reformist wife in public, and in her few private moments with her husband she had always failed to exert any meaningful influence. With her in-laws dead, and the house theirs, Madison had intended to blossom as the lady of the house, only to discover that her husband was quite capable of being the master in his own house.


“Chris, I don’t know if we are ever going to use any of this stuff, but anything you can find gives us more chips to put on the table.” Peter Munroe sighed, looking up from yet another depressing file. Christopher Slade’s study was a cluttered space, full of books and mementoes of a long successful life. But it was the highly powered computer hidden under the desk, and secured by every trick known to man, that housed all the most interesting things. Even in his mid-seventies, Slade remained an expert at getting information on anything and anyone. If it was online, anywhere, he could usually get it, by fair means or foul, usually without leaving a trace. Since ‘retiring’ he had continued his quiet research in that small room, for his own pleasure, and, Peter Munroe thought, for his own protection, and the sharing of information between Slade, Munroe, Charles Buckingham and Sebastian Osborne had proved rather useful throughout the Radcliffe presidency and into the Forbes regime. Buckingham and Munroe had pulled strings behind the scenes, not exactly interfering in party matters, but guiding and suggesting the route it was best to take. Forbes ploughed his own furrows but his acolytes often accepted advice. Especially if Christopher Slade had discovered a few secrets to use as leverage. None of them had realised it before, but Slade had worked for all of them in private a dozen or more times. He was like a spider, weaving a web of information all around them, but always hidden in the darkest corner.

“As always, Peter.” Slade smiled, moving the mouse deftly to the flashing icon on his screen, his mind always sharper when he was logged on, as if he was part of the silent machine. He had ‘retired’ when Alistair Forbes came to power, but he had been professionally sidelined by Kieran Radcliffe, even if the President still trusted him with some personal business. His best work in his opinion, and best rewarded, had been performed for Munroe and Buckingham and since they both moved to Meadvale their relationship had become close. Forbes had done most of Radcliffe’s dirty work, but he was less than subtle and preferred to create rather than find scandals. It was ironic that they never realised he was keeping Kieran Radcliffe’s secrets too, until the ex-president sent them to him for a look into his most secret files. But it showed what a trustworthy friend he was, and their relationship was all the stronger for it.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” Slade looked up, tearing his attention away from the screen with his usual regret.

“How would Sebastian react if he found out about Brogan?”

“Oh...a difficult one. He loves her, you know? I had a very deep conversation with him after dinner several years ago, fuelled by a rather good bottle of port, and we were discussing our good fortune in our wives.” Slade replied, leaning back in his chair as he thought about his answer. “And she has...as far as we know...never mentioned her entrapment to anyone. Harry Trevor knew all of it, of course. He confronted Charles about it, but he was already attracted to her from their relationship in their previous lives. She gives every impression of being content with her lot and whilst the archbishop would not welcome the bad publicity, I am not sure it would change the way he feels. How could it? It was so long ago.”

“Charles has considered telling him.”

“I would welcome that...better coming from friends than Forbes or a journalist...it was more of a prank than an example of the dark arts.”

“Charles just thinks Forbes is planning something.”

“He always is...and it is rarely good...but I can’t see him standing for another term...even Alistair can see that his time is over and he needs to make way for some fresh blood...he is done.”

“I agree with that, but he hates to lose.”

“He can’t beat time, and he carries more baggage than most people. He also has fewer friends.”

“Kieran was right to keep him inside the mother ship...if he had been cut loose he would be lethal for everyone.”

“Like all of us, he had his uses. But the ten year presidency is a step too far. If we don’t rein him in and restore a modicum of democracy, we will leave a legacy of dictatorship for the future.”

“Yes, but the problem is that we shared so many things. If we assume that no one wants to let their own reputation be dragged through the dirt along with his, let alone ruin our relationship with the Americans, we need to know everything he knows and a little bit more.”

“If you want my opinion, no one is going to cast the first stone.” Slade said thoughtfully. “Alistair would surely go to jail over the Martin incident alone, and we are fairly sure that was just the tip of the iceberg concerning his sexual proclivities, and his financial dealings around the Lumsfield investments would also be difficult to survive. If all he has is Brogan, I am not sure that we need to be too concerned, because Paul Craig and David Harrington are dead. None of the documentation I have seen ties in you and Charles. But you won’t take that chance. It really is like the cold war, something pretty nasty is going to have to happen to someone before they hit the button marked ‘fire’.


“Sorry...I never wanted to tell you any of this.” Charles Buckingham sighed, as his eldest son walked a few paces ahead of his father and stared out across the countryside.

“I am glad you trust me enough to do so.”

“Son, I would trust you with my life...my reputation is rather less important to me.”

“But why tell me now?” Richard turned back to face his father with a frown on his face.

“I thought you should know...in case Alistair reverts to type.”

“Dad, stop it...stop playing me.” Richard sighed, trying a rueful smile.

“Sorry?”

“My political education has been rather tame, I suppose. In the old days of party politics no one in my position would ever be considered naive, would they? I mean, you couldn’t climb the greasy pole to any sort of leadership position without playing a bit dirty occasionally and you not only climbed it, you ripped it out of the ground and made sure that no one could follow. So I was always aware that there had to be a dark side of you...it is not a surprise. And your reputation is very important to me.”

“Well, I don’t want it to be.” Charles insisted, looking down on the town he helped create. “Richard, if you want to be the next President of this country...if you want to correct the mistakes I made...it might be necessary to fling around a little dirt at some stage. If some of that sticks to me, I won’t mind...the end justifies the means.”

“I realise that, but I would avoid that...not only because it would hurt me to hurt you...but because it would make us look the same as our political predecessors.”

“In the end, I think we are the same...we just changed the rules.”

“As long as Forbes keeps his word not to run again, I don’t see any need for any of this to come out.”

“I am fairly confident he will keep his word on that point, but it his other conditions that worry me. He may go but he is not the sort to go quietly. However, I am neutering his bag of tricks...I have tipped you off, and I intend to talk to Sebastian later on to warn him.”

“I think that is wise...and the considerate thing to do.”

“I am his friend...I owe him that and more.”


“How are you feeling?” Archbishop Osborne asked Kieran Radcliffe. It was a stupid question, of course. The man was dying and they both knew it, but it still had to be said.

“Reflective, if I am honest...I know how Charles felt when he stood down now but it only got to me when I was incarcerated in here.” Radcliffe grinned, propping himself up on his pillows. It took a great effort, but Osborne did not help him. He was a proud man, and would not welcome the assistance.

“On anything in particular?”

“On moderation, I suppose. We have imposed forty years of tough love, and I was tougher than Charles, because he had no alternative...and I anointed my successor...potentially my biggest mistake.”

“Forbes has been intransigent certainly but not damaging Kieran...he is still following the doctrine...and now he seems to be listening to the pressure.”

“Only because Charles is making him listen, Sebastian...oh God, I ignored my conscience for so long...I can’t seem to do that anymore.”

“Oh that is all about preparing to meet your maker, old friend...it is only natural, and He will understand that you acted in good faith, in His name.”

“I hope we all did that...but do the ends justify the means?”

“Sometimes...most of the time...as long as you maintain some perspective. Doing good to some often does harm to others I am afraid...that is unavoidable. Dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed many and saved some. Bombing Dresden and Cologne to destruction shortened the war. Leadership is about compromises Kieran, concentrate on the good you did, in God’s name.”


Brogan Osborne knelt in front of the Trevor memorial, lost in prayer. It had become a habit, after a while. She did not actually think about what she did or did not believe, because that did not seem important anymore. Prayer was just a part of her life, like holding out her hands to be put into her mittens, or opening her mouth for her muzzle. She hardly noticed those anymore and she prayed like a robot, the words filling her head, driving out any darker thoughts. She liked visiting the new Cathedral, even though her husband was no longer its bishop. Harry was there. Sebastian understood that, and never complained, always telling her guardian to let her go whenever she wanted to, and the towering monument to God’s love had become her haven, her refuge. Finishing her prayers, she rested back, almost on her heels, feeling her corset, but used to the position and quite capable of holding it, even in her mid-sixties. Hidden behind her veils, she looked around, taking in the usual comings and goings, well aware of how much things had changed during her time in Meadvale. It had been such a long time. She remembered entering the Reformist world, then a tiny minority cult, and feeling as though she had stepped back in time. She had been a modern girl with modern ideas, and the idea of anyone rejecting that and choosing to live as a Reformist appalled her. But then she had been trapped, and she had watched the rest of the country and most of the world follow the same path, and millions of people had made that very choice. For their own reasons, of course. She had met many people who had done so, and their stories were all different, but there was a certain solidity and security in Reformism, and that appealed to some. People rather liked to be told what to do and to know precisely what the rules were. They liked the books to balance, and things in general to work the way they were supposed to. They did not like to hear about how everything would fail, how their pensions would amount to nothing and their children would never be able to afford to buy a house.

Brogan could remember the general concerns of life before she walked in to her gilded cage. Dirty banks and whole countries consumed by debt, whole generations growing up with little or no prospect of work, cities and communities dying and no one knowing what the answer was. People like Harry and Sebastian had provided those answers. Maybe the cure was severe, and was often applied with an iron fist, but, as the old advert she remembered from television said, it did what it said on the tin, and no one could ever deny that. Meadvale was living proof of it, a prosperous, vibrant community that looked after itself and its inhabitants as long as everyone played the game. She had, and it had looked after her. She was old enough and wise enough to know that it was impossible to live into your sixties without being touched by tragedy at some point, but although her whole life was based on a lie she had been treated kindly. In itself, that was reason enough to pray in her mind, and it brought her some sort of peace.

She smiled as she saw a guardian leading a mother, a maiden and two younger daughters along the aisle. The two girls were dressed in pretty gowns and bonnets, but they were too young for mittens, muzzles and mantles. They were full of energy and almost dancing around their mother and sister as they made their slow, graceful progress towards the altar. It was no longer considered a strange way to live. None of the five of them were even born when the decency laws were first introduced, and she was sure that the two little girls longed to be old enough to be a maiden and earn God’s love. Her own daughters had, as it was all they knew. The hopes, ambitions, rights and expectations Brogan herself grew up with had been removed from the public consciousness in less than half a century. She had never studied history beyond the age of sixteen, but she remembered enough of it to realise that the world changed very quickly. In 1914, the idea of a decent woman working in a factory, or driving an ambulance, would have caused a public outcry, but by 1918 the country would not have worked without women doing that and so much more. Even after the Second World War, the idea of a woman having a career was limited, and rare. She had discussed such matters with Harry and Sebastian over the years, and they both made the same points. The Feminist movement started in the nineteen sixties was the aberration, not Reformism, because life had never worked that way. Charles Buckingham had talked of the need to rebalance society and he had done it, in no time at all, simply because it worked. Men and women did seem to have their natural place. And who was she to say that was wrong?

“Brogan...dear...will you walk with me?” Sebastian was suddenly there. Brogan nodded, and he helped her to her feet, a kind smile on his face. She was surprised, but pleased to see him, as he was supposed to be in meetings all day. He took her arm and led her towards the north entrance. “Charles Buckingham told me a...story...earlier.” Sebastian said, once they were out in the fresh air, well away from anyone else. “Something he...discovered...by accident, I believe. It was all a long time ago...but I want to talk to you about it later, to understand it...but whilst you cannot speak, I want to ask you one simple question that you can answer yes or no with a nod or a shake of your head...is that all right with you?”

Brogan nodded and he smiled, turning her to face him, his hands resting on her shoulders. She was still a fine looking woman but he liked her best as she was, covered in God’s love, a loyal, obedient wife. He knew that marriage had changed him, and it was a lesson he was glad he had learned, because he believed it had made him a better man. He had never thought much about her past, or talked of it, because it was an irrelevance. The marriage had just fitted his needs at the time. He had never expected to love his wife. He had never considered love as an emotion to be important or necessary to his life. He loved God, and he never expected to need anything or anyone else. But she had given him his children, their children, and that in itself changed a man beyond measure, because children were both an endless trial and a responsibility, but he had never anticipated the joy they brought with them, and the feelings they could provoke. Brogan was wrapped up in those emotions, as surely as she was wrapped up in her gown and cloak, and it disturbed him to think of those things, those strange and illogical feelings, not being the same for her. So he needed to ask his question. As soon as he had finished talking to Charles Buckingham it had formed in his mind, like a burning flame. He had to know the answer. It meant everything to him, and he could not quite control the emotion in his voice.

“Would you change anything about your life now...anything at all?”

Brogan did not hesitate. She reached out with her mittened hands and held his face. Then she shook her head, again and again, desperate that he should understand her. Much to her surprise, and indeed his, the archbishop was crying and laughing all at the same time. Brogan was frightened, and he sensed it, even through her veils. He took her in his arms and held her tighter than he had ever held her before.

Reformist Generations is continued soon in Part Fiver The Days Before Christmas.

 

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