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God's Country

By Hugh Bessant All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Drama

Chapter 1

Part One

The Winds of Change

June 2019

‘Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.’

Ronald Reagan

Harry Trevor laughed out loud at his father’s graveside. Not out of any particular malice but in relief that it was over and that the old man was gone. He did not hate his Dad but they had clashed since he reached his mid-teens and formed opinions and ideas of his own, and he had to admit that they did not like each other very much. But it was more than relief, he told himself, putting his head back and closing his eyes, feeling the sun on his face. He was rich all of a sudden, according to the will he had seen that morning before the funeral finally got underway, although in harsh reality he always had been, of course. Harry had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth and enjoyed the best of everything right from the start, but his father always controlled his access to hard cash, to bend his son to his will, to make him live the life Daddy had planned for him, as if his destiny was preordained before he could walk let alone think of an alternative.

So Harry was laughing at the thought of freedom as much as anything else. He had genuine independence for the first time in his life. He felt free. He had never been free before. He had always had a path to follow before, something to live up to, something to aspire to whether he wanted to or not, but all of that pressure died with Jonathan Trevor. He could finally do what he wanted with his future, without paternal disapproval or interference, and without the worry of how to pay for his social conscience. Burying his hands in his trouser pockets, something his father considered common, especially on holy ground, he kicked at a pebble in the grass and stepped gingerly back towards the path, feeling his expensive shoes crunch on the shingle as he looked back towards the beautiful Norman church. No one could really say no to him anymore and no one could make do anything he did not want to do. Not that he wanted to waste his inheritance. He was not a rebel by nature.

Harry Trevor just did not want to live a lie anymore. Despite his background, he was not going to pretend that he was happy with the status quo, anymore, or be part of a class who lived only to maintain the decaying edifice of a society that was dying on its feet, anymore. It made Harry laugh again, just thinking about it, because Jonathan would have preferred him to be gay. The old boy had said that once, in the middle of another argument, because he really thought that his son was betraying his people, not just his family. But Harry did not actually care about what his grandfather had done, or his grandfather before him, because he wanted to make a difference. Puffing out his cheeks, he looked up at the spire and the stained glass windows, all of which the family had paid to restore. No one else was there. His mother and sister were comforting each other in the car, heading back to London, because the burial had been a private family affair. There would be a memorial service to suffer in a few days but Harry had stayed on to have a proper meeting with the solicitor. He was free but he still had a lot of new responsibilities, but he reasoned that any man could cope with almost anything if he had ten million pounds in the bank, plus the Sussex estate, the London town house and a healthy portfolio of shares. He was lucky. Much luckier than most, he was sure, because at least he knew where his next meal was coming from and had no need to worry about how he would put food on the table.

Heading inside the ancient church, he sat down at the end of a pew and prayed, because it brought him some peace. Sebastian Osborne was right, Harry grinned, failing to remember one of the psalms he had learned at school; it helped to talk to someone. Maybe God did have a plan for everyone. Maybe God had set Harry free from his father’s shadow to follow some higher purpose. He had never wanted to be a corporate lawyer. He had never wanted to spend his days in the city chasing the next bonus. He wanted to make that difference. He wanted to change things. For the better of course, not for the benefit of his own kind, not to further line his own pockets. Maybe Sebastian was right about that, too. Sitting back against the hard wood he took the folder out of his jacket pocket and flicked through it again, fascinated by the objective. Ironically, he thought that if he could have got his father to look at it properly and not dismiss it out of hand, Jonathan Trevor might have approved of some of it, because the old boy mistrusted progress more than anything else. The simple idea that progress had got out of control would have intrigued him and the proposed solution might have appealed to his old-fashioned, misogynist ethos.

Like Jonathan, Harry was supposed to be a natural born Tory. His family had been linked to the party since his great grandfather served under Disraeli, and he still had a cousin in the House of Commons and an Uncle in the House of Lords. His father and the law firm that still carried the family name with pride both donated funds to the party, an investment, Jonathan always told his son, to ensure future influence. Harry was therefore supposed to think like a capitalist and not give a hoot about the common man, the man in the street, like so many of his peers. However, Sebastian Osborne, who came from a similar if rather less well-heeled background, believed that you could subscribe to some traditional Conservative beliefs and not others; an opinion Jonathan Trevor would not have shared in a million years. Sebastian suggested that Christian values could show the world the way to a different path, a better path, a more rounded approach to the modern world in the twenty first century.

The traditional way of things did not work anymore. That was what Jonathan Trevor had always failed to realise. He had never moved with the times. He died believing that they all still lived in the same old world that his great grandfather helped create. He died sure of the order of things, sure that all the problems in the world could be solved on the playing fields of Eton, and polished by an Oxbridge degree. Harry could see a new way thanks to his new friend and mentor, Pastor Sebastian Osborne, and he wanted to know more about the notion of Christian Reform. As he folded the document again and put it back in his pocket he remembered something from the bible, not the psalm he was seeking earlier but a quote one of his housemaster’s at Eton was fond of hurling at the poor little rich kids in his care. Harry said it out loud, holding his head high and looking at the statue of Jesus on the cross. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.”

“Proverbs 10:15? Is it something you hold dear, Harry?” Reverend Fished asked, surprised to find the young man still hanging around, sometime after the service.

“My father did not believe in sharing his wealth, Reverend...he did not care much for his fellow man I am afraid...I was just thinking about our differences.” Harry admitted, offering the local vicar a rueful smile.

“And you do care?” Fisher was smiling but Harry could hear the doubt in his voice. He did not what he was, what he sounded like. He was inevitably a product of his upbringing and he could not deny that because everything from his accent to his wardrobe gave it away. He was a most unlikely man of the people.

“I am trying too,” Harry replied, holding out his hand to shake. “Thank you so much for this morning Reverend.”

“Think of the organ fund if you want to show your appreciation, young man.”

Harry nodded and took his leave. Everyone had their hand out one way or another. Pastor Sebastian Osborne called it the disparity of give and take. Everyone wanted something but few were really prepared to offer a fair price in return. Self interest took precedence, when as a country, as an entity, the British people needed to act for the greater good. It was not about one man’s wealth, health or happiness, but about what was available to all. Christian Reform was about instilling the idea of the greater good in all people, in God’s name. So Reverend Fisher would not get a donation to the organ fund but Harry would write a cheque to the local food bank. Music might be the food of love, but cans of baked beans were of more use to those who could not afford to feed their kids.

‘When I grew up in the South, I was taught that segregation was the will of God and the Bible was quoted to prove it. I was taught that women were by nature inferior to men and the Bible was quoted to prove it. I was taught that it was okay to hate other religions and especially the Jews, and the Bible was quoted to prove it.’

John Shelby Spong

Elizabeth Buckingham followed her two companions into the old-fashioned haberdashery just in front of the formidable Miss Daphne Scott, who held the door open for them, ever mindful of the ludicrously wide skirts of her ridiculous gown, trying so damned hard not to bump into anything or knock anything over. She had no choice. She had to concentrate or she would make a complete fool of herself in front of her father’s strange friends. She could just about see, although her peripheral vision was severely limited, to say the least, but not well enough to do anything with any real confidence. Henrietta and Georgina, the daughters of her generous host, seemed to float before her, gliding gracefully across the swept floorboards with the heavy weighted hems of their gowns and cloaks brushing the surface in a grotesque parody of Victorian elegance. Beth tried hard to copy them, well aware that was what was expected of her, but she felt clumsy and awkward, almost stumbling as they came to a halt in front of the long counter, the sheer bulk of her bizarre costume almost defeating her.

Not that anyone else seemed to take much notice of her lumbering performance, or indeed her unusual appearance. She could see at least four other customers in the spacious shop and a sales woman behind the till, at the end of the glass-fronted counter, all dressed in ordinary clothes, but Elizabeth had to assume that they were all quite used to seeing Reformists out and about around Meadvale. So the sight of three maidens in their peculiar little coffle did not raise any eyebrows or attract any unwarranted attention, even if the last girl into the shop seemed incapable of reliably putting one foot in front of the other. Beth stood with the others and looked at Miss Scott, like the others, whilst the rest of the people there went quietly about their business, not giving them even a second glance.

Henrietta Harrington, only recognisable to Beth because she was just a little taller than her sister, then stepped forwards to look more closely at a display of coloured ribbons and threads before turning back to Miss Scott once more. Henrietta really seemed to be trying to tell her devoted guardian something and Miss Scott nodded back by way of response, her coal-scuttle bonnet hardly moving at all as floated across to Henrietta’s side. Miss Scott obviously knew that her three charges were muzzled and could not speak to her, or anyone else, but Elizabeth had already realised the strict guardian, governess or nanny, whatever the Harrington’s chose to call her, would not speak herself unless it was absolutely necessary. It really seemed to be the first Reformist law, the first of many, that the women did not speak, and yet again no one else in the shop appeared to notice. Henrietta turned back to the display and her mittened left hand emerged from beneath her cloak, pointing at something although Beth could not make out what it was. Miss Scott mover closer, holding a list in her own gloved hand, closer to her own veiled face, presumably so that she could check it in the rather dim light. Like her three girls, Miss Scott was wearing a mantle, a thick veil matching her cloak and gown pinned to the stiff brims of their bonnets, but she did not actually have the fine lace eye veils too, like Elizabeth, Henrietta and Georgina. Beth could quite clearly see her dark, demanding eyes in the shop gloom, because the rules seemed to be slightly different for servants. Beth had not been told how or why they were different, not yet, and her knowledge of Reformism was still rudimentary at best, but she already understood that Miss Scott had to look after her charges and therefore needed to be able to see and speak and touch, because they could not, in God’s love. Her relative freedom was a practical exoneration of her obvious piety to allow her to do her job and to keep the two girls in her care, three with Elizabeth, according to the strict demands of the Christian Reformist doctrine. Elizabeth watched in complete awe, still not quite believing that she was really there, as Miss Scott put her list away and reached out to pick up one of the ribbons, the one Henrietta had been pointing at.

“Cerise...a pretty colour dear...I do think it would do rather well...shall we buy it?” Miss Scott asked, her voice barely a whisper, almost as if she had not spoken at all. Beth had to strain to make out her words, even more so because her bulky bonnet muffled sound as well as allowing her only tunnel vision. Henrietta nodded her head slightly as Miss Scott showed her the ribbon, and then the guardian put it in the basket she held in the crook of her left arm without further comment, before turning back to choose some more items.

“Good afternoon ladies...may I be of any assistance?” Beth automatically turned towards the voice, a movement that required her whole body because of her bonnet, to find the shop assistant, out from behind her cash register, moving towards her. The shop assistant was a heathen of course. Beth was already so familiar with the terminology of her hosts that it was the description she first thought of, because in Meadvale only a non-believer would wear a knee length skirt and a short sleeved summer blouse, with hands, arms, lower legs and face all exposed for anyone to see. But the lady, heathen or not, clearly understood her customers because she spoke quietly and with respect, talking directly to Miss Scott, even if she had addressed them all. “Such a lovely day for a walk...and how nice to see you in here again Miss Scott.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs Harper...I just need to choose a few more bit and pieces...I have my young ladies working on a rather ambitious needlepoint for the harvest festival...and they are eager for some unusual, vivid colours.” Miss Scott replied easily, previously acquainted with the fawning Mrs Harper, who patently valued the Harrington’s custom. “Girls...pay your respects please?”

Beth glanced at her companions, taking their lead, and was thus a beat behind them, with her obeisance not quite as steady or deep, struggling to hold herself balanced for what seemed like an eternity. It was so damned hard, not just because her outer garments were so heavy and cumbersome, but because she was still further hampered by her borrowed corset, a nonsensical instrument of torture Miss Scott had laced her into before she was even allowed to leave the nursery at Broomwaters, let alone the Harrington’s mansion itself. However, she had practised the act of curtseying quite a lot, along with walking across a room, or indeed a shop, because Miss Scott would not take her anywhere otherwise, and she thought she made a reasonable fist of it in the circumstances. It did feel strange. She had never ever curtseyed to anyone before. One of the many things she hated about Deepdene College, the boarding school she was imprisoned in for two thirds of every year, was the irritating tradition about standing up whenever an adult entered a room you were sitting in, but the curtsey seemed so much worse. It was all such an anachronism, a quite unnecessary exhibition of pantomime respect, and although it might well have been because she was also extremely hot, she was blushing furiously behind her veils and mantle. Beth was not a stupid religious fanatic like her freakish hosts and she absolutely hated pretending that she was, just because her beloved father was punishing her for inconveniencing him, and she resented it all, as any confused and hurt sixteen year old would, because everyone was being so bloody unreasonable.

It was all her father’s fault, of course. He was the reason she was there, suffering in silence until he came to his senses and listened to her, for once. Charles Buckingham was going way over the top, as always. But she had to suck it up as her friends in the fifth at Deepdene liked to say when disaster was unavoidable, if she wanted him to let her finally leave Deepdene and go to an ordinary school, or maybe even a sixth form college, near home. Beth knew he was not going to like that idea at all, especially as she was quite likely to need to retake some or all of her GCSE’s if her exam results were as bad as she expected, but she was personally finished with Deepdene. Her early departure that term, soon after the last examination, was deemed a formal suspension by her odious headmistress, but it was also not particularly serious in the great scheme of things. Her father was never going to be pleased but when he calmed down he would realise that, and he would listen to her. Some of her friends had gone straight home after they finished anyway as the rest of the summer term would not really involve much meaningful work, but as usual her Dad had said he was just far too busy to look after Beth.

Charles Buckingham did not seem to recognise that she did not need looking after. Part of the reason parents sent children to boarding school was to foster their independence, and Beth felt quite capable of looking after herself. But he would not listen, of course. It was straight after a bitter exchange of views via text message that Beth got involved in an illicit midnight feast, which was just as much of a tradition at Deepdene as standing up when an adult came into the room, but the terribly bored remainder of year eleven added a distinctly modern twist to the party. It was really only a bottle of vodka and some seriously strong cheap cider that someone managed to smuggle in and Beth did not see it as such a big deal, but the school did and her father was incandescently furious with her. He was due to spend several weeks in the country south of London with some people he actually described as fanatics when they first spoke about it, doing some consultancy work for someone, and it was an arrangement he just refused to change. He simply arranged to take his errant daughter with him, actually picking her up on the way down to Surrey, and he told her she would simply have to fit in, adding that she could use the time to think about what an irresponsible idiot she was turning into before his eyes.

Not that his anger unduly surprised her. No father was going to be particularly thrilled by her performance over that last year at Deepdene. By regular Deepdene standards, because it was hardly an inner city comprehensive and she was hardly a delinquent, she had been in an awful lot of trouble and she knew she had not done herself justice in her exams. If they could have talked it through, he would have shouted quite a lot, grounded her for weeks and given her the telling off she probably deserved, but in the end he would have calmed down and listened to her side of things. She was not a kid anymore and she had to be able to make him see that she loathed Deepdene. She wanted to spend more time at home with him and be like a proper family, and she was old enough not to be a burden anymore. She could help him and cook for him, and just be with him, which was what they both wanted, and needed, as soon as he accepted that she was all grown up and ready for an ordinary life. Unfortunately, because he needed to be in Meadvale and would not, or could not, change his plans, they could not sit down and talk things through. He had just picked her up and dropped her off in the middle of a bunch of religious extremists, something which he seemed to think might teach her a lesson of some sort.

Rather like his daughter, Charles Buckingham was not a very happy person. Beth totally understood his black mood because not only had they both lost her mother but he had just lost his career too. Up until a few weeks before he had been a Conservative MP, a junior minister in Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, but after four years in power the Tories had been thrown out of office in an unprecedented swing back to Labour. So he was suffering on two fronts, like her, and although his refusal to let her come home hurt her she could see that he was hurting too. He was shutting her out, refusing to face up to the truth, and his reaction to her suspension was just another facet of his denial, another blow that he did not seem to be able to cope with, let alone take on the chin. They needed each other. They needed to get their lives back on track together, because they were all each other had. Beth could see that so clearly but she could not get through to her father, not until he had completed his work in Meadvale, whatever that work was. So she had to wait until he had time to talk to her, until she had the chance to make him see the wood from the trees.

Initially, once she had got over the shock of his furious determination to carry on with his business plans, Beth really thought that it would be easy enough to survive her enforced stay in Meadvale, although she fully expected it to be extremely tedious. But it actually proved to be anything but easy. For a start she had not reckoned on being handed over to someone like Daphne Scott, and she most certainly never imagined that the people her father had described as well-meaning fanatics could ever be quite as weird as the Harrington’s were. From the little he had said before they arrived she fully expected quite a lot of praying and a fairly uninspiring environment, as her father made it crystal clear that she would be fitting in with their hosts for the duration of their stay, but the reality was far worse. And yet she had agreed to her father’s conditions during a tense and argumentative drive down from Suffolk, because he had promised, albeit rather darkly, that if she kept her side of the bargain at Broomwaters they would talk properly when they got home. From bitter experience she knew how stubborn he was, and how busy he was, although having lost his seat she did not see how he could be so busy anymore, but in many ways being with strangers would stop his anger exploding all over her as it would surely have done without the distraction of Meadvale. So she was spared that and had therefore promised him that she would behave. It had been an easy promise at the time, because she was hardly the rebellious type, and even though it had got a lot more complicated after Miss Scott got involved Beth’s reasons for making the deal were still more than relevant. She wanted to be heard for once, and she had to earn that right by not making a fuss in front of her father’s extraordinary new friends. To her father, a promise was a promise whatever happened after it was made. It was like a family rule.

“Such perfect manners...as always Miss Scott...but is it my imagination or have you gained another pupil?” Mrs Harper purred as she moved around them, all smiles, to slip back behind her counter.

“Oh well spotted Mrs Harper...this is Miss Elizabeth Buckingham...a friend of the family who is spending her summer holidays with us at Broomwaters...as is her dear father who is a great friend of Mr Harrington’s. Mr Charles Buckingham is working on a project with Pastor Michael with Mr Harrington at the moment, I believe.” Miss Scott explained, typically fussing over the girls as she spoke, brushing a speck of something off Beth’s shoulder. “She is a neophyte...but a good girl nevertheless...and she shows some real promise...”

Beth found herself copying Henrietta and Georgina again, as she had been firmly advised to do, bowing her head to show due deference to the adults, although that rather annoyed her because she was not a child anymore. She was not a girl, good or otherwise. She was sixteen whether her father or anyone else liked it or not, and she was not really a Christian, so being described as a neophyte was incorrect to say the least. She had to say prayers and attend chapel at Deepdene like everyone else, but she did not believe in any God and she was already fairly sure that the Harrington’s, and anyone else who called themselves Reformists for that matter, were insane. She was muzzled for goodness sake. She had what amounted to an oversized gum shield in her mouth, which Miss Scott had somehow tightened around her teeth, and it had some sort of plastic lip, for want of a better word, which seemed to hold her tongue down, making it impossible to speak, as she was told that there was no need for a maiden to speak to anyone outside the home, and that her hosts considered such unnecessary immodesty offensive. Miss Scott had informed her that Beth would have no need of her voice in public during her time at Broomwaters. Maidens in her nursery were seen rather than heard if at all possible. But that was not all, since her hands were also buckled into impossibly thick mittens, because with Miss Scott to care for her she had no need of her hands either. Both were practical restrictions designed primarily to prevent her from sinning or some such fanatical nonsense that Beth was yet to fathom properly. It was too much to take in what with everything else going on around her, but she was supposedly a Daughter of Eve; a weak and fragile creature who was endlessly impressionable with an innate propensity to sin against the word of almighty God, and her mittens and muzzle would help her to resist any temptations the devil might put in her path, should Miss Scott turn her back for a minute.

However, whilst horrific, inexplicable and inexcusable, in Beth’s indignant but still private opinion, her mittens and muzzle were actually much easier to bear than her attire. Her gown was thick velvet, lined with silk, and worn with an all-enveloping matching cloak, plus the huge, over-elaborate bonnet, which made her look rather like some outlandish escapee from a Dickensian caricature. It was so completely inappropriate for the climate, let alone for 2019 and modern Britain, although the British summer had typically started cloudy and cool, and it made her feel like some fantastical extra in a crazy costume drama nightmare. She had tried to say so, confiding in Henrietta and Georgina when Miss Scott left them alone for a moment able to communicate, but the Harrington girls made it quite clear that they loved their clothes as much as Beth hankered for a pair of her jeans and a comfortable hoodie. She soon gathered that Reformists were in thrall to all kinds of what she could only think of as Victorian values particularly concerning behaviour and appearance. In her short period of acclimatisation, she was introduced to their endless rules covering modesty, decency and piety, but at the same time she was left in no doubt that the Harrington girls did not see those rules as onerous. It was obvious that Henrietta and Georgina loved the way they lived and how they looked, and both had been excited at the prospect of walking down to the village. Beth had been assured that her emerald green dress, borrowed from Georgina who was almost the same size, was the height of fashion in Meadvale. Even as she disappeared beneath her veils and mantle, Beth was sternly reminded that no Godly woman would ever show so much as an inch of skin in public, but it was no sin to dress well, whilst any discomfort was a price worth paying for conspicuous decency and modesty.

Unfortunately it was not just the weight of the gown and cloak that tested Beth. Beneath the gown, she was strapped into a flexible plastic frame, a modern interpretation of the Victorian crinoline as far as she could make out, because, Miss Scott happily informed her, the bell shape was considered suitably modest, disguising any hint of her real figure. Henrietta and Georgina considered the visual effect wonderfully elegant, and before they were all given their muzzles they promised their new friend that she looked beautiful, but Beth could not help feeling unimaginably foolish as well as terribly uncomfortable. She could not work out what her dear father expected her to learn from such torture but there were several moments when she would have been quite happy to be back in her hated Deepdene uniform again and seeing out the last weeks of the summer term. But that painful thought made her even more determined to survive the experience. She was not going to let her father bully her into going back to Deepdene.

“Oh how nice for Miss Elizabeth...I am sure she will enjoy herself,” Mrs Harper gushed as she started to ring up Miss Scott’s purchases.

“She is going to have a really wonderful summer here in Meadvale,” Miss Scott agreed as she handed over more reels of thread before checking her list once more. Beth vehemently disagreed of course. She was sure she would detest the vast majority of it, and she was not going to be there all summer. Her father had said three weeks, and she could survive that just to spite him, if nothing else. But it would not be all summer. She endured one long night, one morning and the first half of an afternoon and she was fairly confident that she could cope with three weeks. It was a bit like suffering a half term at Deepdene before going home, even for a short weekend, and that was always six weeks, not three. She had to wear the awful uniform and do as she was told, or she would be punished, or they would contact her father and tell him what a disgrace she was, and he would moan about her wasting the expensive education he worked so damned hard to give her. So it felt as if Meadvale would just be more of the same. Except that she would not give him the sheer satisfaction of failing him all over again, because that was clearly what he expected. He had set a trap for her, to prove that she could not keep her promises, and she was not going to fall for it, no matter what Miss Scott did to her. Beth planned to show her father that she had grown up, and that Deepdene was the problem, not her. He had accused her of being too immature at Deepdene, of not taking the glorious opportunity he was providing for her, so she had to show him once and for all that the opposite was true. She had quite simply outgrown Deepdene. Maybe it had been right for her when she was thirteen, maybe it had been the best place for her after her mother died, to give her the stability Charles Buckingham could not provide whilst pursuing a political career in Westminster, but it was not the best place for her anymore. Meadvale was just an annoying irritation, an unavoidable and rather surreal punishment made possible by simple coincidence and expedience, but she intended to suffer it, simply to prove her point, and to make sure that she got exactly what she wanted when they finally got home. Reformists, in her not so very humble private opinion, were just rather sad religious freaks, and obviously her father knew that as well as she did, from the little he had said to her about them at half term, when he was first offered the job. But he said it would pay well, and he had intimated that they needed the money. When he was calmer he would see that her plan would save him money, if that was what was worrying him. Her next school or college did not need to be private. He could save the fees at the very least. But if she caved in and begged him to forgive her, or even worse if she embarrassed him in front of the Harrington’s, she would just make things even harder for herself. So the only option was to put up and shut up until he had finished his report, or whatever he was actually doing there, and then they could go home and actually discuss the future like adults. She just knew it would work, if only she could get through three long weeks in Meadvale.

Ironically she knew about the clothes and some Reformist beliefs before she got there. She had Googled Meadvale and the Church of Christian Reform when he first told her who he would be working for, so the absurdly retro fashions of their hosts did not come as a complete surprise. But none of her rather superficial searches mentioned corsets, let alone muzzles or mittens. Miss Scott had not deigned to explain much to Beth so far but Beth gathered that the corset was all about that desirable ‘bell’ shape again, just like the plastic crinoline. Henrietta had actually gushed about how small Elizabeth’s waist already was, without any painful artificial compression, because Beth was naturally petite, and the sisters promised her that looked wonderful in her borrowed clothes. Beth had to reluctantly admit that there was a certain elegance in her appearance but it was also painful, even if Miss Scott sternly informed her that she had only been laced down an inch, making every single step torturous, and she could not walk at anything like a normal pace without struggling for breath. And yet she was sure that she had a point to prove, something she had realised in the car driving down to rural Surrey as her father blew hot and cold beside her, and regardless of the shock of what she was expected to suffer whilst in Meadvale she remained determinedly focussed on her main objective.

Beth was sure that Miss Scott would be reporting back to her father at some stage. So she surrendered herself to the guardian’s care with the intention of impressing her, but even so her introduction to the simple Reformist muzzle almost made her fall at the first hurdle. It was, she was rather brusquely, necessary for any pious Daughter of Eve, even a patently inexperienced maiden like her, to practise voice modesty. She was prone to sin, the devil always inside her, and the muzzle would ensure that she did not transgress. Men were the creation of God after all, and women came from man, so no one wanted to hear what a fully grown woman had to say for herself, let alone a maiden, except perhaps her father, brothers or husband, who would have to tolerate her voice at times in the privacy of their own home. It was outrageous of course. Even to say such things was probably illegal under British and European equality legislation, and Beth was sure that forcing a lump of plastic into her mouth against her will was actually some sort of crime, but somehow she managed not to argue. For a start Henrietta and Georgina were so keen, telling her that she was earning God’s love and that they did not even notice they were muzzled most of the time, and she ended up just opening her mouth as Miss Scott requested, or rather demanded, so that the very determined guardian could push it into place. It fitted over her teeth with the hinge plate, as she later discovered it was called, reaching deep into her mouth and pinning down her tongue, whilst leaving a tube in the middle. It did not feel too bad at first, as Henrietta and Georgina had said, no worse than the protective shield she used to wear when she played lacrosse or hockey at Deepdene, but then Miss Scott inserted a tiny key and began to slowly tighten the wretched contraption like a vice.

“Quite a good fit really, Elizabeth dear...but this is just Georgina’s spare. We are taking you for a proper muzzle fitting this afternoon, as we are going into the village.” Miss Scott had said in her bright, functional way, as Beth felt her jaw being clamped shut. It really was quite barbaric. It seemed incredible that Reformist women, even girls her age, like Henrietta and Georgina, chose to wear such awful things, even for the love of their God, but she watched in mute horror as her two new friends accepted their muzzles as if their devoted guardian was putting a chocolate in their mouths, both striving to set their guest a good example. And with her head full of her desperate desire to talk to her father about her future from a position of strength, rather than being in his bad books, Beth tried to forget about it, tried so hard to ignore the indignation inside of her, but as she stood there listening to Miss Scott and Mrs Harper calmly discussing what a wonderful summer she was going to have in Meadvale, her jaw was starting to ache and she longed to be able to swallow properly again, let alone make any sort of noise. Maybe her own, fitted muzzle would be better, she told herself, still in a bit of a daze, because all that really mattered to her at that moment was getting her father back on her side. She knew she had let him down at Deepdene, but he did not understand why, and if she had to prove her strength by suffering his impromptu and ingenious punishment in a Reformist God’s love, she would do so willingly, with a smile on her face. It would all be worth it if she was allowed to leave boarding school and be with her father at home.

’The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its author; salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture for its matter. It is all pure.”

John Locke

Charles Buckingham sat beside the River Mean, deep in thought, with David Harrington’s relatively short summary document open in his lap. He had already read through its twenty pages three times, as well as struggling through the one hundred and fifty pages of Michael Winstanley’s original manuscript twice. His scribbled notes filled almost every inch of white space on David’s version, but he paused in some surprise. He felt the sudden need to take stock, because he had fully expected to disagree with much more of it, if not all of it, if he was honest. But there was something about the underlying message, about the theme, that he closely identified with, and that made him start to question his own motives. He knew that he was desperate. His political career, the only career he had or wanted, was in tatters and his personal life was a mess of monumental proportions. So as soon as someone tossed him a bone, a chance to start again, however unlikely it was, he was obviously sorely tempted to grab it, regardless of the gory details. He was surely fooling himself, clutching at straws like an addict going cold turkey. But then again the offer was still unbelievably tempting purely in financial terms. He was blithely ignoring minor issues like his personal credibility for the sake of an outrageous salary package and the slimmest of chances that he might one day get back to where he still believed he belonged, and deserved to be.

And yet, however unreliable, his instincts were telling him that there really was something there. He tried to make himself see sense, going back over the money being dangled before him like a bribe, and the fact that he was not earning anything else, not to mention the sheer security and stability accepting the offer would give him and Elizabeth, but he just kept on coming back to the underlying message beneath the opaque Christian veneer. It was extreme in many ways. Neither Michael Winstanley’s original or David Harrington’s summary were fit for circulation outside of the Church elders in their current forms, but regardless of that there was something meaningful there. He was not just thinking that to cover himself against the feeling that he was selling his soul, if not to the devil then to something else he could not quite bring himself to describe. Sitting back against the hard wood of his riverside bench he watched the slow water drift by and remembered telling Elizabeth that David Harrington and his friends were fanatics. But the more he thought about what Harrington was trying to say he found himself rewording the arguments, testing the ideas, breaking down the meat of things into manageable bites. It really did hang together. He tried it all from yet another angle, doing his best to think like a socialist, or even a liberal, imagining all the objections any opposition would surely raise. And it still worked; it still seemed like a plausible alternative. He could not get past the overriding sensation that he had something important in his hands, if he could just find a way so that people could appreciate its merits.

He picked the pages up again, feeling the light summer breeze on his face, and made one more attempt to smother his doubts. He had his own faith and maybe God had sent him there for a reason, to do something no one else could or would do. He had to empty his mind of his own problems, and his own beliefs, and focus on the words, on the plan, and then maybe he would see the light.

‘The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.’

Galileo Galilei

“Only takes about an hour or so...and whilst I am moulding everything in this nifty little machine, my hygienist will give all those pretty teeth a really good clean for you, Miss Buckingham.” Meadvale’s resident dentist, Dr Donovan, smiled warmly as he took the key from Miss Scott’s gloved hand and inserted it into Elizabeth’s muzzle. It was another surreal experience. Henrietta and Georgina had been left in the waiting room, sitting side by side still dressed in their cloaks and bonnets, but the guardian had actually added another layer to each of them, which looked like a small blanket but was described as a blinding mantle by Miss Scott, who gave Beth a running commentary. Having already taken their voices and denied them the use of their hands, not to mention restricting their mobility, the guardian calmly removed what was left of her charges sight and left them to pray to themselves, ardently earning God’s love whilst she accompanied Elizabeth in to see Dr Donovan. Once in his consulting room, Beth’s cloak, bonnet and veils were gently removed and she was helped to settle in the dentist’s chair. And she definitely needed assistance because it was not at all easy to sit in her gown, hampered by her tight corset and the shaping plastic cage. But Miss Scott was obviously quite accustomed to handling maidens and she soon got Beth into the right position, so that the chair could be reclined to get her into position so that Dr Donovan could work on her, starting with the removal of her borrowed muzzle.

“Elizabeth dear, it really is very important that you do not try to speak at all...unless you are asked a direct question of course...once Dr Donovan has removed your muzzle. Remember your Timothy...his first gospel...‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But which becometh women professing godliness with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.’ Respectful maidens always keep silent in any company outside of the house; modesty must be your watchword whilst you are in Meadvale. People will expect it of you whilst you are staying with the Harrington’s and I really do need you to behave.”

“She seems like a good girl, Miss Scott...and I am quite sure she is benefitting from your attentions.” Dr Donovan commented as he gently removed the muzzle. “Quite an impressive obeisance...for her first day in the village...I am sure we will see rapid progress whilst she is with us and in your tender care...perhaps you could give her a little drink before I start to take some impressions, please?”

“Of course Sir...and yes, she certainly is a very good girl...and her father is an honoured guest...but she is still earning God’s love now and she must always show her obedience to Him...and to me.” Miss Scott grinned at Beth as she held a plastic cup of scented water to her dry lips, as her charge was still wearing her mittens. She seemed patient and was certainly gentle, but there was something in her expression that made Beth think that she would be in big trouble if she ever crossed the guardian, a thought that sent a cold shiver running down her spine. So, she swallowed her water, and then spat some more into the bowl Miss Scott held for her, before the guardian stepped back to let the dentist do his job. But she was right there all the time. Beth could always see her out of the corner of her eye and Miss Scott never took her eyes of her nervous charge. Not even once. Beth had half prepared herself for her visit in the car on the way down, as much as anyone could relying on her memories of the internet searches she had completed during half term, whilst never imagining she would ever go there, but the harsh realities of Reformism had still taken her by surprise. She had learnt a lot since first meeting Miss Scott, but she did not really understand any of it in detail, to any great extent, although that did not really seem to bother anyone else. She was just expected to behave. Even her father expected that of her, and she knew the consequences with him if she did not do so, of course. He was testing her, punishing her, and she still felt that she had let him down in many ways. So, as the genial dentist pressed what felt like warm clay into her mouth, she shut her eyes and told herself to buck up as it was only a few short weeks. She thought of herself as an accidental tourist, because no one had planned for her to be there, and her beloved father was just taking full advantage of his employer’s hospitality, in unforeseen circumstances, probably knowing full well that it would shock his only daughter. He was a widower and he could not, would not, leave her at home in London, because although she was sixteen and old enough to work, marry and do all sorts of adult things, he still considered her a child, and treated her as such, and of course her troubles at school had hardly served to emphasise her burgeoning maturity. He really had to have known quite a lot more about the Harrington’s than he had told her, and although calling them fanatics could have been a joke on his part, she suspected that he was sending her some sort of message. He had not been the joking type since her mother died.

In her eyes, he had set her a challenge, part as punishment and part as a test, and she fully intended to meet it and beat it, to show him that she was not his little girl anymore. Lying in the dentist’s chair, her eyes tight closed, she found herself thinking mostly about the bible quote Miss Scott had recited to her. In Meadvale, as a Reformist, women were supposedly subordinate to men, and she was expected to be modest and silent in their august presence almost all the time. She got the message. Most religions shared the same basic inference, she thought, remembering years of religious education lessons at Deepdene. Or rather the people who followed those religions interpreted their holy texts in that sexist way. Some Muslims covered up their women too and, to Beth’s eyes, treated them appallingly at times, but more moderate Islamic scholars insisted that there was no suggestion that the Quran required it of anyone. So the Reformists were just Christian extremists and her father had just dumped her in the middle of it all for a few weeks. It might not be a pleasant sojourn for her, but if it got her out of a return to Deepdene she did not really care. She was that determined to get away from there. And if she had to wear a muzzle to achieve her objective, then so be it.

“Good...that seems to fit rather well, even if I do say so myself.” Dr Donovan smiled as he tightened the results of his labours, carefully checking the fit around Beth’s gums. “She may feel a little discomfort at first, some slight chaffing of the gums...and her jaw might ache until it becomes properly accustomed to being held slightly open, simply to accommodate the feeding tube. It also has a slightly wider base plate than you may be used to Miss Scott...you will pinch her tongue if it is not in the correct position, but this new design does prevent her making any involuntary noises. Obviously her tongue will get dry so regular drinks are best but I find this model is much more suited to prolonged wear...my dental nurse wears hers from eight in the morning until she gets home to her mother after six in the evening on a working day without any issues, and my wife and daughters are very pleased with theirs, I must say.”

“Of course Dr Donovan, and my girls are always given more than enough to drink.”

“I am quite sure they are, Miss Scott...and voila, Miss Buckingham...welcome to your dutiful world of comfortable, unobtrusive, pious and effective silence...and I hope you enjoy your time at Broomwaters. I am sure we will see you in the Cathedral in due course, but as long as Miss Scott brushes these pearly whites twice daily I see no real reason for you to visit me professionally for six months at least.”

Beth smiled respectfully but hoped that she would never see the stupid man again, unless he was planning on setting up in practise in Islington, or somewhere near. In six months she would be living at home, attending a day school and living a normal life. Meadvale would just be a distant, unpleasant memory, which she might think of as an acceptable means to an end if she got her own way about everything.

‘To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?’

Queen Elizabeth II

“She is actually here?” Pastor Michael Winstanley sounded momentarily surprised but not necessarily disappointed by the news. Running a hand through his shock of white hair he considered the circumstances and decided it was not really a bad thing in the long run. If he was right and Charles Buckingham was their man, the problem of his daughter had to be dealt with sooner rather than later. It was an added complication at that stage of the proceedings but it could be coped with, if they took due care.

“She was apparently suspended from school and he had nowhere else to leave her.” David Harrington explained with a shrug of his shoulders, not thinking the problem serious. “I was quite impressed actually...Charles just handed her over to Miss Scott without so much as a backward glance...I think he was embarrassed...maybe also angry...more than anything else and he did not even stop to think about it.”

“I do like his commitment I must say...thus far at any rate.”

“I am not sure it can be described as commitment just yet...Charles is in a really bad place Michael and he needs our money. His consultancy fee got him down here and bought us his full attention but not much more. Losing his seat hurt him deeply and as you know he is not even close to being over losing his wife. He feels he compounded things by backing Boris Johnson in the leadership election, which looks like his worst mistake, career-wise. He will give us a fair hearing and deliver his opinion but he is not offering us anything else.”

“One never ever gets over losing a loved one...only God’s love can ease that pain...so we have brought him to the right place.” Winstanley said thoughtfully, sure that the Lord had His hands in most things. “Hopefully at the right time?”

“He is simply here to give us an honest assessment of the draft document Michael...merely his professional assessment...I am not sure we can count on anything more from Charles at this stage. Having his daughter here doesn’t change anything...yet...he needs to see a future in the doctrine first.”

“Sometimes I wonder if you have any faith at all, David...this is the moment and if we have done our homework properly this is our man...and I think God agrees.” Winstanley grinned as he reached for the pot of coffee. “Sending his daughter here with him...it would have been yet another hurdle for him but now it is done...we all just have to believe.”

“I have endless faith in God Michael but politics is just another matter.” David Harrington sighed as his cup was refilled, offering his friend a grimace. He was accustomed to being in control in his business life. He was a rich man and he could usually find a way to get what he wanted, but they were not offering Charles Buckingham a simple job. Even with God on their side, there was no guarantee of success and if Buckingham joined them he would never be able to go back to mainstream politics. And as much as Charles needed the money he wanted to be a mainstream politician more than anything else. More than he wanted a family life for sure. David knew Charles well, and had talked to him a lot, trying to help him through his crisis. He felt that Elizabeth, and her father’s attitude towards her future, held the key to his involvement in the project, not God’s love.

“And that is what we strive to change,” Winstanley reminded his younger friend. “God can lead this country out of the mess the politicians have got it into...and if Charles Buckingham is the right man...if he is the man we think he is...he will see that...and when he does nothing will stop him leading the charge. Not even his daughter.”

‘All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.’

Noah Webster

Miss Scott led Elizabeth back into the waiting room by the arm, where the guardian put her cloak, bonnet, mantle and veils back on, before removing the blinding mantles from Henrietta and Georgina, who curtseyed to their keeper as soon as they were helped to their feet and ready to leave. In a matter of moments, the four veiled women were walking back through the centre of the village and Beth was starting to take more notice of her surroundings. And as she did so she began to think of Meadvale as a twee sort of place, like a jigsaw or the picture one might find on a box of fancy chocolates. She was quite used to the idea of an English country village, even though she lived in central London, because Deepdene was set just outside one in Suffolk, but Meadvale was quite different from Deepdene. On the rare days when the Deepdene girls could go down into the village, usually Saturdays as long as they had not earned any demerits, they used to walk straight through the village to the large retail park nearer the busy main road, where there were huge stores, fast food restaurants and lots of life. Meadvale had nothing like that as far as she could see. Indeed, whilst driving in she had noticed that they left the quiet main road, a single carriageway ‘A’ road, some miles behind before they got to the village. Meadvale had a centre set around a traditional village green, all sweet cottages half hidden behind huge oak trees, and small shops, mostly quaintly old-fashioned like Mrs Harper’s haberdashery; a family butcher, a cramped newsagent cum mini-supermarket, a small pub which promised home-cooked food all day till nine, a unisex hairdresser, the dentist she had just visited, a cafe and a doctor’s surgery. She also noticed that there were no cars. She had not seen a single vehicle since they left Broomwaters on foot and with the sun breaking through the wispy cotton wool clouds it looked idyllically peaceful and heavenly. Heathens, a word Miss Scott had already used in her presence several times as the guardian sought to make a distinction between dedicated Reformists like the Harrington’s and anyone who was not a fully-fledged member of the Church of Christian Reform, clearly lived and worked in Meadvale too, people like Mrs Harper in her shop for instance, but even they did not look like ordinary people anywhere else. Beth’s current home was a basement flat in Islington and she was used to the diversity of the big city, but she only saw white faces in Meadvale, when there were any faces to be seen at all of course. It was getting late in the afternoon, as her dental appointment had lasted some time, and there were two buses parked in a designated space outside the butchers as the girls were led down the High Street by Miss Scott, which was actually the only road running on through the village. Both vehicles were school buses, delivering the children of Meadvale home, and there was a small crowd of parents waiting for their little dears to disembark. Most, about three quarters of the women Beth guessed, were certainly heathens from the look of them, but still modestly dressed in colourful but demure summer frocks, whilst the rest looked more or less like her, covered from head to foot, although no one else seemed to be wearing luxurious but impractical velvet as far as she could see, even though they were obviously Daughters of Eve. There was even another woman dressed like Miss Scott, in heavy grey cotton, wearing gloves, who stepped forward to claim two girls as soon as they stepped off the second bus, grabbing their hands even as her charges offered her an obeisance. Beth suddenly realised that Miss Scott was wearing some kind of uniform and that the other woman had to be a guardian too, but the two girls she was collecting were wearing normal school uniform, like all the other children getting off the buses, from what looked like several different local schools.

It was an impressive sight. Beth had never seen smarter children, with even the little ones wearing blazers and ties, or summer dresses for the girls. Not a hair looked out of place and the word that stuck in her mind was perfection. She could not imagine that all the children living in the village went to private schools, but there were no easy-to-wash sweatshirts for the Meadvale students, and there was no messing around, no gleeful shouting at the end of a hard day of studying. Every child seemed respectful, quickly finding their parent and heading off home with barely a murmur. It was as if each one, right down to the youngest little boy in a blazer at least two sizes too big for him, had been trained not only to take extreme care of their appearance but also to respect their elders. Beth had truly never seen anything like it in her life. Even at Deepdene, a strict and traditional private school, half of the girls would have had their blazers off on the bus, but as she walked past she could not even find one child with a single button of a jacket hanging undone.

And she also noticed that no one took any notice of the four heavily veiled women walking past them, and as they headed away from the shops and into a residential area, they passed yet another guardian in her grey uniform, and her two charges. Both guardians greeted each other, and Beth found herself copying Henrietta and Georgina again as they all curtseyed, as did the other two blobs, this time also covered in velvet similar to Elizabeth and the two Harrington girls. It was a ritual that was repeated twice more as Miss Scott led them down to the river, telling them that she wanted Beth to see the sights. Beth soon found herself panting with the sheer effort of walking in her preposterous costume, her corset, only lightly laced according to Miss Scott earlier that day, digging into her side and gums rubbing painfully on her new muzzle, but she could not complain even if she wanted too and she simply had to follow, doing her best to show her respects to everyone Miss Scott stopped to speak too along the way. Several times Miss Scott stopped for longer, for a proper chat, and each time Beth was introduced as the Harrington’s honoured guest for the whole summer, along with her very important father, and complimented on her efforts.

As she understood it, every female member of the Church of Christian Reform was a Daughter of Eve, endeavouring to overcome her natural inclination to sin by striving to earn God’s love. But you could be a maiden and a Daughter of Eve, of course. Maiden was a term used to describe a girl who had started to menstruate and was therefore no longer a child in the eyes of God, but who was not yet considered an adult, or of age as Miss Scott had put it when Beth had finally plucked up the courage to ask the night before. It seemed to be a status in Meadvale. The girls were referred to as maidens with respect, and one thing Beth noticed by the time they had reached the huge church, or Cathedral as Miss Scott called it, was that Miss Scott only ever stopped to chat to other guardians like herself. She always said a polite good afternoon to everyone they passed, but she only stopped for people similar to her, and her charges.

But she had no more time to think, because they met another group of ladies coming away from the river path, and Miss Scott greeted them much more warmly than she had greeted anyone else. The other grey guardian was called Miss Ellis, and Elizabeth was soon formally introduced to her, Mrs Craig and her two daughters, Madeleine and Alice, all of whom were clearly veiled and presumably securely muzzled, just like Beth and her new friends. Everyone curtseyed, including Mrs Craig, who reacted exactly like her daughters to Miss Ellis, and then the two guardians agreed to have their afternoon tea together, with Miss Ellis offering her employer’s home as it was apparently closer than the Harrington’s massive house. So they all walked off together, seven small, graceful mountains of velvet, and in ten more breathless minutes, Beth found herself in the hall of a house every bit as impressive as Broomwaters, as she waited to be divested of her cloak and bonnet once more.

It was all a little dreamlike. She could not really believe she was actually there. Everything had happened so quickly. One minute she was at Deepdene, the taste of cheap cider still on her breath as the headmistress outlined her fate, and the next her father was driving her down to Meadvale, to an alien world she had to suffer for a few days to get her own way. She half wondered if she might wake up any second to find it was all just a drunken nightmare. But as hour followed hour she did not wake up. Her formal introduction to her maidenhood simply continued while her father, unbeknownst to his doting daughter, worked tirelessly for the sake of their joint future.

‘There are matters in the Bible, said to be done by the express commandment of God himself, that are shocking to humanity and to every idea we have of moral justice.’

Thomas Paine

Colin Hughes was not really a spy. He thought of himself as a researcher, and sometimes a forensic accountant, but occasionally his clients required a more hands-on approach, and he was perfectly willing to operate out in the field, if he needed to, if the size of the fee made the sheer inconvenience worthwhile. Not that he really needed to ever employ any meaningful espionage techniques to investigate Meadvale. The village was a minor tourist attraction with its massive Cathedral, the epicentre of the burgeoning Church of Christian Reform, a statue dedicated to the village’s most famous resident, a lecherous Oscar-winning actor of ancient repute, and the most unspoiled village green left in the whole county of Surrey according to the Surrey tourist information website. So he had simply spent the day walking around in the open, his camera slung around his neck, taking a guided tour of the Cathedral, which cost him a very reasonable two pounds, having a cold pint and a rather good rare steak in the little pub on the green, and generally having a good look around the place without ever once arousing any noticeable suspicion from anyone. He was only after some background information at that stage, of course. He did not expect to find out anything new about David Harrington or Paul Craig in the pub or the village cafe. But he wanted to see Meadvale for himself and to try to understand what was going on there.

He knew us much as anyone could find out about Reformism online. Not just the results of the sort of simple search a teenage girl might attempt just using Google, but detailed financial records, planning applications, membership lists and even a reasonable explanation of their rather strange doctrine, outlined in a lengthy speech given by the leading Pastor, Michael Winstanley, to a Baptist convention in Florida the previous September. But he still found it hard to believe what he was seeing as he ambled around the village. He had several innocent conversations, one with the landlord of the pub and one with a waitress in the cafe when he stopped for an afternoon coffee. It was all just perfectly normal to them, it seemed, and the Reformists were described by both as good people. No one in Meadvale would say a word against them, not to a tourist at any rate, and there was not one single aspect of village life that had not been enhanced by a donation from their friends. Not that Hughes had anything against religion, even in its most extreme forms. He had a Muslim friend who helped him with corporate investigations, a real whizz with a balance sheet, and Imran was a good man who loved his cricket, read every single crime thriller on the bookshelves and admitted to an unrequited love affair with Katie Perry if pressed, but his wife and daughter wore a burqa if they ever left the house and it was best not to discuss Israel, Russia or the Americans in his presence. Each to their own, Colin believed, and he did not judge.

But then things got rather more interesting purely by chance. Hughes had taken a walk past the Cathedral and then along the river, on a path that led behind Harrington’s Broomwaters and Craig’s Lake House, the closest he could get to the two huge properties without actually trespassing. He did not expect to see much, but it was all good background information once more which made it a good excuse for a nosy stroll, and it was a pretty little walk on a sunny afternoon too, so he indulged himself, snapping shots of a moorhen to give himself a reason to point his lens at the back of the two large mansions one hundred yards beyond the smooth slow-flowing water. And as he deftly adjusted the focus, he got a very clear picture of the honourable Charles Buckingham MP, or rather the former MP, happily drinking pimms with David Harrington, Paul Craig and Pastor Michael Winstanley on the large sun terrace behind Broomwaters.

Hughes recognised the face straight away without needing to check it out. He was paid to recognise faces, and although he could not claim to know all six hundred and fifty members of parliament, Buckingham had been a new face promoted in David Cameron’s last reshuffle before losing the recent election to Brian Strickland, the leader of the Labour party elected after the farcical reign of Jeremy Corbyn, and his rainbow coalition of the few remaining Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists. Colin Hughes stalked the poor moorhen for several minutes, taking dozens of pictures he would soon delete, before he had to move on fearful of attracting unwanted attention. His investigations, or at least the identities of those paying so well for them, needed to remain secret, but what was a British politician of some repute, even if he was not currently elected, doing in Meadvale? It was a question his clients would surely like an answer to.

‘Bible revelations are not against reason but above reason, for the uses of faith, man’s highest faculty.’

Edward McKendree Bounds

Beth had assumed that Miss Scott would quickly remove her muzzle and mittens, as well as her other outdoor things, when they all arrived at Lake House, but she did not, and in fact the only person who was set even remotely free, as it were, was Mrs Craig by her guardian Miss Ellis, who thanked her stern protector profusely before politely asking her permission to retire to her drawing room in order to deal with some correspondence. Permission was duly given and divested of only their cloaks and bonnets the four girls were shown through into what Miss Ellis called the orangery, at the back of the house, where the two guardians helped them all sit down on the wicker furniture. Not that Beth thought of it as sitting of course. She could not sit back, because her corset still held her spine ramrod straight and would have dug painfully into her lower back if she tried to push it too far, so like the others she ended up perching decorously on the edge of her seat, looking elegant no doubt but not exactly at her ease. Each guardian then spent an age fussing over the charges skirts, arranging each fold with consummate care, before finally hurrying off to fetch refreshments. Beth just sat there in amazement, with the other four girls smiling sweetly at her, their mittened hands clasped together in their laps, all of them looking happy and serene. Not that they had any choice. It was all they could do, left without their voices or the use of their hands, and again Beth started to think that she was in the middle of some sort of nightmare. But she was the only one who seemed to think it strange. The other four girls looked blissfully happy, and Beth realised that they all looked remarkably similar. All of them wore sumptuous velvet gowns with their long hair wound up into elaborate arrangements no doubt ideal for being hidden beneath their outdoor bonnets. It reminded Beth of a scene from Gone with the Wind, a film one of the girls her father had employed as a housekeeper cum babysitter during one of her school holidays had convinced her to watch once. She remembered the scene where Scarlett O’Hara was sitting in one of those grand southern mansions with her rich, pampered friends waiting for news of the civil war, the only difference between that and her current situation being that she could not be bored to death by her companion’s vapid chatter as Scarlett had been in the story, since no one in the orangery at Lake House could make even the slightest noise.

Beth tried to make a face, attempting to articulate her disbelief by expression, but Georgina just smiled even more, leaving Beth marvelling at the fact that she had only left Deepdene just over twenty four hours before. In fact, at roughly the same time as she had been fitted for her muzzle by Dr Donovan, but twenty four hours earlier, she had been standing in front of her evil headmistress’s desk enduring yet another lecture, resplendent in her yellow summer dress and grey blazer, well aware that her furious father was due any minute. She had argued just a little with Miss Towner, not that it did her much good, but at least she had the ability to speak up for herself. In Meadvale, just a day later, she could not even scratch her own nose anymore.

“Suck slowly...like a sip please, Elizabeth dear...it is more ladylike...and you will not choke on it either,” Miss Scott instructed her half an hour later, after the guardian had attached a thin clear tube to Beth’s muzzle, the other end attached to a plastic bottle full of brown liquid resting on the low coffee table just in front of her. “Some iced tea will be most welcome but you must drink like a lady dear, not a thirsty guttersnipe.”

“She will soon learn Miss Scott...and she is such a pretty little thing...isn’t she?” Miss Ellis suggested brightly, looking up as she attached a similar tube to Madeleine Craig’s muzzle on the other side of the room.

“She most certainly is...a delightful child...and it really is so kind of you to invite us Mrs Craig...Elizabeth needs to get used to visiting but it is easier for her amongst dear friends of course.” Miss Scott replied, but turning to address her thanks to the lady of the house, who had rejoined the girls again for her tea. She had use of her hands, so she was given a glass rather than a bottle.

“My husband told us that you had a little guest, Miss Scott...and my girls were so eager to meet her that I had already asked Miss Ellis to arrange something as soon as she could...it is clear that God intended us to meet Elizabeth sooner rather than later.” Mrs Craig responded graciously, smiling sweetly at all of the four girls. “She has been away at school, I believe Miss Scott?”

“She has indeed...a fine Christian school, of course...Mr Harrington has invited Elizabeth to visit with us whilst Mr Buckingham is working with the Pastor, after it became possible for the child to leave after her exams.” Miss Scott explained, carefully and deliberately sanitising Beth’s abrupt and totally unexpected arrival in Meadvale. Miss Scott clearly knew the truth but Beth had been told not to mention her problems at school to anyone, and she was really quite happy to put all of that behind her, even if her father was more than likely to raise it all again once he got her home. Especially when he saw her exam results, Beth thought, sending another shiver of regret through her hot, aching body. He had every right to be cross with her she thought, but she could make it all right, as soon as she got a chance to explain her side of the story. She just had to last out until then. “She has just taken her GCSE’s and as she has been studying so hard since Christmas her dear father wants her to have a complete break...a real rest. He has asked me to take good care of her...and I must say that so far Elizabeth has been a total delight.”

“Such a treat for the dear little thing...I know Madeleine and Alice will want to get to know her properly of course. Miss Ellis, would it be possible to arrange one of your most excellent slumber parties? If you think the girls deserve a little treat?” Mrs Craig asked, turning to her guardian, with Beth again noticing that Mrs Craig’s words were much more of a request than an instruction, which seemed rather strange. Miss Ellis worked for Mr and Mrs Craig but Mrs Craig was behaving as if she was as much under the guardian’s control as her two daughters clearly were.

“Of course we can, Ma’am...early next week perhaps, once Elizabeth has properly settled into things...would that be about right, Miss Scott?” Miss Ellis agreed, turning to her friend and colleague for her confirmation, and addressing Mrs Craig with respect rather than any deference.

“On my day off perhaps...and then I could return the favour for you, Miss Ellis?” Miss Scott suggested as Georgina’s drink was attached to her feeding tube. “Elizabeth is naturally inexperienced and I would not leave her with anyone else but you...she will need a firm hand at times.”

“Quite so Miss Scott...although all Daughters of Eve need a firm hand at times of course. I do not think a neophyte like Elizabeth will unduly inconvenience me.” Miss Ellis said as she sat back, watching all four girls starting to drink their tea.

“Oh I do agree...Henrietta and Georgina both need to remember their training and having Elizabeth here will allow me to go back over some things for all their benefit...it will be a good summer for all of them, I hope.”

Not all summer, just three weeks, at the most, Beth almost screamed into her muzzle. Less if she could persuade her father that his new friends really were insane. But she still sat there sucking at her iced tea and listening to Mrs Craig and the two guardians talk, reminding herself why she was putting up with their madness. She even managed a smile back at dear Georgina, who always had a loving smile for her and looked as if God was always sitting on her shoulder. Beth had never met anyone like Henrietta and Georgina, or indeed Mrs Craig and her two lovely daughters, and it was impossible to dislike them when they tried so hard to make her welcome, but she was still determined that their acquaintance, such as it was, would only be a short one.

‘It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the bible describes.’

Thomas Paine

Catherine Henderson used the back door to leave the small rented house. She had told her protection officers that she was staying in for the evening and she knew they would not be watching the rear entrance. It only led to a little back alley, full of dustbins, and she stepped carefully around some pungent detritus, not wanting to ruin her new shoes. They were so expensive. Half of her allowance. She nervously pushed her little black dress down on her thighs, worrying that it was a little too short, but then again, Karl liked her legs. She did not think that she was taking any risks, but there was no way her father would have let her go out with Karl, so she did not have any choice but to cheat and lie. Phillip Henderson was not even a government minister anymore. She did not see why she needed police protection when he was only a backbencher, even if he was leader of the Conservative Party. It was just another excuse to control her, to stop her having the sort of fun her friends were having at university all the time. Karl understood her. He knew she just wanted to have a good time. Reaching the end of the back lane, she turned right, away from the house she shared with four other girls handpicked by her father, looking out for the familiar black Mercedes. She was nineteen, not nine. If she wanted to have some dinner and go clubbing with a handsome man, who paid for everything as well, she did not see what harm it could do. Then she saw the car. She waved and hurried towards it, not daring to run in her heels.

‘Read the Bible. Work hard and honestly. And don’t complain.’

Billy Graham

Elizabeth Buckingham woke early the next morning in extreme discomfort and seriously considered giving in to her father right then and there. Deepdene seemed a much better option than another single minute in the nursery at Broomwaters. She had spent her first night in a guest room, but the previous day, her first as a proper maiden, had ended with her being put to bed with dear Henrietta and Georgina, which was an experience she could still not quite believe. After leaving the Craig’s at about five, they had all returned to Broomwaters, which was basically next door although it involved another fairly lengthy walk covered once more in her cloak, bonnet and veils, to be dressed up for dinner. By then, Beth was already learning that Miss Scott did everything for her charges, and that she was being treated exactly like the Harrington’s girls, but what Miss Scott called her toilette was still a surprise. The three girls were all stripped naked in a large bedroom, and Beth was delighted when her muzzle and mittens were finally removed, but Miss Scott made it clear that she was still not allowed to speak unless she was spoken too. The guardian was really quite brusque with them, and especially with Beth, leading them all into an adjoining bathroom and helping them into a huge bath, all at the same time. It was something Beth remembered enjoying with friends when she was little, but she was embarrassed as a young woman, however Miss Scott and the other girls did not seem to notice, or care. Henrietta and Georgina sat in the hot bubbles, still grinning at her, whilst the guardian washed each of them from head to toe. Beth tolerated it in silence, but was still relieved when Miss Scott helped her out of the water and took her across to the toilet. She was bursting to pee by that stage, and hardly thought about the fact that the guardian was standing over her, until she went to reach for a sheet of toilet tissue and had her hand slapped away. Miss Scott really was going to do everything for her. It was ridiculous and even more embarrassing but she had been told not to speak, and she obeyed those instructions, because she was not really sure what she would or could have said to Miss Scott in the circumstances. Henrietta and Georgina were neither surprised nor embarrassed, and Beth was a guest, one who needed to keep her nose clean if she wanted to prove anything to her father.

Beth was dressed first, but thankfully not muzzled or mittened, in a stunning pale pink silk gown, over the inevitable corset, and when the others were finally ready they were all taken downstairs for dinner. Miss Scott again told Beth that she was only to speak if she was spoken to, and as she was not, after the good evenings were said, she said nothing through the whole meal, only exchanging a few hopefully meaningful glances with her father. It was a rather stiff, formal affair, and it did not last too long for the girls. Once they had cleared their plates, Miss Scott bade them curtsey and kiss their parents good night, before taking them back upstairs. It was only nine o’clock but Beth was almost relieved, as it had been a long and distressing day one way or another, and she was looking forward to an unrestricted night in a nice soft bed.

Not that they went straight to bed, of course. First they had to be undressed again, one at a time. Henrietta was dealt with first by Miss Scott, who said Beth could watch and learn so that she would be ready for her turn, so she sat on the bed with Georgina in the nude, like two toddlers waiting for bedtime, watching Miss Scott work. First, Miss Scott took Henrietta to the toilet, and left the door open so that the other two could see. Beth had sort of half expected that after her experiences during the day, but then in absolute horror she watched the guardian clean and floss Henrietta’s teeth, and even wash her hands and face. Henrietta did nothing for herself, absolutely nothing at all as if she really was incapable, but the next part of the nursery routine made Beth forget all about her frustrations about being treated like a baby. Because before Miss Scott brought Henrietta out of the bathroom, she deftly slipped what looked like a disposable nappy around her slender waist and fastened it in place with Velcro strips. No one said a word, but Beth gaped at Georgina, who just nodded and smiled as if to encourage her, reaching out to take her companions hand, because the demonstration was nowhere near over. Miss Scott produced a corset, not the fairly light one Henrietta had been wearing before. It looked longer to Beth, covering Henrietta from shoulder to thigh, and she watched in awe as Miss Scott started to haul on the laces, before gasping in complete amazement when Henrietta let out a pained whimper. Miss Scott reacted instantly, slapping Henrietta hard on her bare thigh, before turning to fetch her muzzle.

“I said silence, you disobedient girl...now open.” Miss Scott barked, and Henrietta instantly obeyed, opening her mouth and tilting her head back so that her muzzle could be pushed into place. In seconds, Henrietta was not capable of whimpering anymore and her obviously furious guardian returned to the lacing of her corset. Beth watched Henrietta’s face, seeing how painful every pull was, seeing the tears streaming down her face. But her ordeal was not over. Once she was finished with the corset, Miss Scott put Henrietta into a nightdress and then took her over to one of the three beds. Henrietta was made to lie down and Miss Scott produced what looked like a sleeping bag to Beth at first. She threaded Henrietta’s feet into it and then started to work her way up her body as Henrietta disappeared into a tight-fitting cocoon, tucking her arms into sleeves when it reached her shoulders. Beth noticed that the sleeves were not open for Henrietta’s hands, but instead ended in round shapes, and realised that they were basically mittens, but attached to the sleeves. Miss Scott even tied long laces at Henrietta’s wrists, presumably to ensure that she could not free her own hands. Finally, Beth watched Henrietta’s head disappear too. Miss Scott had zipped the horrendous sleeve right up over her head like a body bag to completely cover Henrietta.

Eight hours later, lying in the darkness with tears still in her eyes, Beth had experienced the full horror of what Miss Scott called a sleeping gown, as well as her night stays. She had tried to argue with Miss Scott, pointing out that she did not want to sleep like that and that her father would not want her to either, but the guardian took no notice. Like Henrietta, she was smacked, an experience she found more shocking than painful at first, and despite struggling she soon found herself helpless and shut away in her dark, airless little world. Miss Scott was so strong and Beth had found it impossible to resist her. She could not remember sleeping much at all, because she was continually gasping for air thanks to the combined effects of her corset and the thick sleeping bag. It really was like a nightmare. She was totally helpless and she could not even use her fingers. She had started screaming at one stage, but Dr Donovan’s muzzle was as good as his promise. She did not make even a sound, and she fell silent in the end, conserving her energy for breathing.

Miss Scott released her three charges from their sleeping gowns at eight o’clock, after her standard desirable sleeping time for maidens of ten hours, and sternly informed Henrietta and Elizabeth that they were both going to be punished for their unforgiveable behaviour of the night before. Henrietta immediately burst into tears again, but Beth just stood there, her nightdress hiding the desperate embarrassment of her diaper, waiting to hear what new torture she would have to endure. Rather matter-of-factly, Miss Scott told her that she would be kept muzzled all day and would spend her time studying the bible to reflect on the error of her ways in God’s love. Beth longed to get out of her muzzle, and to see her father, but it seemed that both were going to be denied to her, and she crumpled inside. She did not understand what was happening to her, or how anyone could ever consider any of it normal or right, but Miss Scott did, and she was firmly in charge. Beth could not fight her. She had learned that lesson the previous evening so she had to wait for a chance to talk to her father. She did not care what he was thinking about, or what he was doing, because she knew that he had no idea what his weird friend’s employee was doing to her. So she had to earn the right to see him as soon as possible, and the only way to do that was to suffer Miss Scott’s intentions. So she offered no resistance. Henrietta fell to pieces again, earning herself several more smacks as she was dressed, but Beth let Miss Scott take her to the toilet, wash her all over and put her in another diaper, before being laced into her day corset, the same layers of underwear she wore the day before, and a padded jacket designed to protect her gown from rubbing against her stupid stays. Finally, another velvet gown was put on her, shaped by the annoying plastic cage, and she found herself sitting stiffly in the Harrington’s family drawing room, next to Henrietta. Miss Scott attached tubes to their muzzles again and told them to suck up their breakfasts, before putting headphones on both girls. Almost at once, Beth heard a soft insistent voice in her ears, reciting what she thought were passages from the bible. But that was not punishment enough, of course. Miss Scott told them both that they were in disgrace and that no one wanted to look at two disgraced girls. So she produced two thick blankets and draped them over their heads, covering them as completely as the sleeping gowns had, whilst urging them to concentrate on their studies.

It was a truly astonishing experience. Muzzled, her hands trapped inside her mittens, her corset cutting into her side and dressed in the heavy gown, on top of all the undergarments she was told she had to wear to be decent, Beth could barely move a muscle, let alone think of escape. Miss Scott’s last words had been to tell both girls that if they tried to throw off their blankets they would be punished again, but worse. Beth did not want to think about worse. She tried to think, but the voice in her ears never seemed to stop, and it filled her head like gas. She just sipped at her tube, the sludge of breakfast eventually changing to water, and then back to sludge again, for lunch, and then water once more. Her bladder was full and fit to burst and almost despite herself she began to pray. She could not remember praying since her first term at Deepdene, not seriously, an obedience she soon realised that she did not have to keep up because no one could make her believe. But lost in her own little world, the bible filling her ears, she prayed for mercy.

Unfortunately her prayers were not answered and she had to surrender to the inevitable eventually. She had not thought that her day could get any worse, but sitting there in her own mess, with God’s words urging her to obey Him, she learned that things could always get a just a little bit worse for a disobedient Daughter of Eve. ‘Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine.’ Miss Scott had told Elizabeth that a maiden was a treasure, a jewel to polish in God’s love, and the words seemed to fill her mind, driving out everything else. ’If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.”

’The Bible says, ‘judge not lest ye be judged.’ Our lives are supposed to be hospitals, not courtrooms.’

Tammy Faye Bakker

Dr Susan Johnson slept fitfully and woke earlier than she had hoped, still exhausted from her last shift, and got up to pad around her disorganised flat, searching for food without any mould, and strong coffee. She managed the latter, but she had not shopped for over a week and the cupboard was bare. So she had a shower and headed back to the hospital, to eat in the canteen before reporting an hour earlier than she needed to. She was soon rushed off her feet as usual, the busy accident and emergency department at Croydon General understaffed and overworked, dealing with the results of a collision between a bus and a lorry. There were not enough nurses and the one she did have spoke dreadful English, and needed everything explaining to her at least twice. Susie did not have the time or the patience. She grabbed an hour just before the pubs closed, eating a sandwich and watching the evening news in the staff rest room. The latest complete idiot in charge of the NHS was reintroducing league tables, something the Conservatives had largely got rid of, but the Labour-LibDem alliance had no new ideas, just regurgitated old ones that had failed before, and the SNP seemed to be encouraging them to repeat their past mistakes. Susie ran her hands through her hair and groaned, before grabbing an apple and heading back to the battlefield outside. Politicians did not have a clue what to do about the hospitals, or the schools, or the unemployed, but she did not have time to worry about that. She never had time to worry about anything much. When she got back to the unit the waiting time for a less serious patient was estimated to be six hours and she had to deal with a man who had been bottled in a pub fight. She spent almost an hour picking pieces of glass out of his face, breathing in his alcohol fumes mixed with the foul smell of cigarettes.

She had got used to never having enough of anything at work. Most of the ideals she had left college with had died in the reality of the modern National Health Service. She did not have much time to feel like part of a team. She just hurried from one patient to another, lucky if she could find a nurse who spoke her own language. She needed security sometimes, to deal with the drunks, both happy and angry. And worked too hard and too long to have much of a life outside of the hospital. But she did not despair. Despite everything she was doing what she wanted to do, helping people and saving lives. She just asked herself why it always had to be that way but no one could answer that question. The politicians talked about it at great length but no one held out much hope that things would ever change.

‘The greatest block today in the way of woman’s emancipation in the church, the canon law, the Bible and the priesthood.’

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“She is so very young Charles...adjustments do take time,” David Harrington suggested to Charles Buckingham as he took a sip of his coffee, after dinner, straight after Miss Scott had delivered a full and rather damning report on the behaviour of his eldest daughter and poor Elizabeth Buckingham, who had rather more of an excuse than his Henrietta of course. David Harrington had already made that much clear to his embarrassed guest.

“David...Claire...I must apologise for all the trouble my daughter is causing...please, do just admit that this is all too much of an imposition and let me make alternative arrangements? I do feel that we are abusing your hospitality here?” Beth heard her father reply and she found herself wondering if he was pushing their host to wash his hands of her to suit his own ends somehow. It really would be a massive inconvenience for him to find somewhere else for her to stay. They both had friends but Elizabeth knew that hers were either on holiday or still at school, and whilst Deepdene was out of the question he was not about to pay for her to go on holiday somewhere when he thought she had let him down. He might have somewhere in mind and whilst she could not believe it could be worse than Broomwaters she was also fairly sure that if she let him send her away she would never get to talk to him properly. He would be sentencing her back to Deepdene without consultation, using her unacceptable behaviour as a good excuse. It was becoming a battle of wills she could not afford to lose.

“Charles...please, don’t be ridiculous...these things happen with maidens of this age...and do please remember that Henrietta was punished too and she has no excuse for such terrible behaviour. She most certainly knows better. Maidenhood is difficult my friend and it is a new experience for Elizabeth...earning God’s love is difficult...it would not be so worthwhile if it was easy would it?” David asked, smiling at everyone before turning to his wife. “Claire, can you offer Charles any reassurance?”

“Dear Mr Buckingham...if I may say so, your daughter is bound to struggle at first...and I am sure Miss Scott will agree with me here. Elizabeth seems to have been in a lot of scrapes at school, I believe? But they have failed to deal with the situation there, and have indeed rather callously washed their hands of her? I think this is a cry for help...she needs someone to persevere with her and give her the time and encouragement she clearly needs. In short I think she will benefit from being in a family environment, where we can show her how to earn God’s love.”

“Well said my dear...Miss Scott, your thoughts?” Harrington patted his wife’s hand with obvious affection before addressing the guardian, keen to take some professional advice. “Do you agree with my wife?”

“Mrs Harrington is very perceptive Sir...I do most certainly agree. Elizabeth has done very well so far, considering her background,” Miss Scott began, noting with some pleasure that the child had hung her head in apparent shame. Daphne Scott considered that a good sign of a lesson learned. “She is a little younger than Henrietta and Georgina and she is still very much a schoolgirl of course. She is also new to the Church and it does take some time for a genuine neophyte like Elizabeth to settle. So we must expect bumps along the way in her early days I think...and if I may say so, I made a stupid mistake. She was doing so well yesterday...trying so hard for me. But in hindsight our bedtime routine took her so completely by surprise. I did use Henrietta as an example, rather than trying to explain things to Elizabeth, and extremely unfortunately Henrietta’s behaviour meant that Elizabeth witnessed a rather unfortunate scene instead of a calm bedding routine as I had envisaged.”

“Well now Miss Elizabeth...do you have anything to say for yourself?” Harrington turned to Elizabeth for the very first time since her arrival, his smile betraying his stern tone. Beth had enjoyed, if that was the word, another silent meal, saying little more than a polite good evening to everyone, with her blatantly furious father more or less ignoring her. “I think Mrs Harrington is showing you considerable compassion whilst Miss Scott is blaming herself for your behaviour, but what do you think young lady?”

“I just want to apologise, Mr Harrington...I am your guest and I know I have caused a lot of trouble. It is so kind of you...generous of you...to put me up whilst Dad works...and I am trying to behave.” Beth responded nervously but with great care, choosing each little word cautiously and minding her manners as she tried to mimic the way the other girls seemed to speak. It felt stiff and formal to her but she thought it best to try and fit in and impress her audience, and from the smile on Mrs Harrington’s face she thought it might be working to a certain extent. “It was just that the night stays looked so terrible and scared me...especially after Henrietta cried out...and I have not worn a nappy since I was three Sir...I just panicked and I am so sorry...”

“Certainly Elizabeth first reacted when Henrietta...forgot herself...I am trying to lace her down another inch at night as you know Sir and Madam...but that is no excuse.” Miss Scott cut in as Mrs Harrington reached out to pat Beth’s hand reassuringly, affectionately even as the child’s comments had delighted her. Beth looked at her and smiled, a little embarrassed but also touched by Mrs Harrington’s concern for her. “I obviously restored order but I am afraid that just scared Elizabeth even more...and her distress made what followed even harder for her. If Henrietta had behaved herself, I actually think I could have got Elizabeth into bed without undue mishap...she needed calm and patience...so I must take my share of the blame I am afraid. I had no idea that the child would react so negatively to something as trivial as a diaper...Mr Buckingham, you must understand that Daughter’s of Eve are used to such things and I underestimated Elizabeth’s...inexperience...”

“Quite Miss Scott,” Mr Harrington said, cutting in before Beth had a chance to say that the wearing of a diaper was not a trivial thing to her, which was on the tip of her tongue. But she was instantly sure that it was much better to keep quiet. She was still in trouble and her father was not making much of an attempt to defend her, and she had to concentrate on the bigger picture. “So...let us have no more of this Charles...you and Elizabeth are our guests and she is no trouble at all...Miss Scott may have erred today but she is well qualified to help Elizabeth settle...are you not, Miss Scott?”

“I think so Sir...the introduction of a...an inexperienced girl... to the doctrine is not really something anyone has any real experience of, but I have learned a lot from last night and today. I shall be better prepared in future.”

“And Henrietta...I have to say that I feel that this is all largely...even wholly...your fault my girl...you do realise that your behaviour has been totally unacceptable, I presume?” David Harrington turned to his own daughter, his tone immediately hardening and his expression suddenly severe. Beth glanced at Henrietta and noticed that she had gone rather pale.

“Yes Papa...I let myself down...and you...the whole family...I can only apologise...”

“Mama, your opinion on the matter?” Harrington asked his wife, holding up his hand to silence his shaking daughter.

“Henrietta is not a child anymore, David...or indeed an inexperienced maiden like Elizabeth of course. It is therefore her duty to set a good example to someone like Elizabeth, not be the reason she is scared half to death, Sir.” Mrs Claire Harrington said quietly and sadly, clearly disappointed in her daughter. Beth felt that Henrietta was close to bursting into tears all over again. “So I fully support Miss Scott’s decision to keep both girls in absolute disgrace today of course...but I am not sure it is really enough, considering the seriousness...it is not up to a maiden to moan and squeak during her lacing...her only duty to her guardian is obedience and as Henrietta admits, she has let everyone down, Sir.”

“I must agree with my wife, Miss Scott...I fear in this case you have been rather too lenient with Henrietta,” David Harrington replied decisively but with a sigh, as if his conclusion pained him, putting his cup down on its saucer before staring at his daughter. “Henrietta shall remain in disgrace for another week...I do not want to see or hear from her again until she has learned her lesson if you please...and I think fifty strokes of your inestimable paddle before she goes to bed tonight?”

“Of course Sir and I apologise if you feel my response was insufficient in this case.”

“No, I think you did well to consult us before punishing her this severely...as always you have the girls’ best interests at heart.” Mr Harrington replied, offering the guardian a warm and trusting smile, whilst Beth wondered what a paddle was and if her instant assumption could possibly be correct. But then everything changed for her when her father spoke.

“And for Elizabeth?”

“Oh...Mama...I think you might be best placed to suggest something for our guest?”

“If you think so my love...Mr Buckingham, if Elizabeth were my daughter I feel I would be lenient just this once. Yes we must not spare the rod and risk ruining the child but everything is very new to her at the moment, and as Miss Scott has suggested she may have misjudged the situation when Henrietta let us down. I think Miss Scott is being hard on herself because we are on reasonably fresh ground here...we do not introduce many children of this age to the Church and mistakes will surely be made. We will need to be firm with Elizabeth at times in the future, I am sure, but she also needs love and encouragement to help her find God’s love and the courage to serve Him in all things. So I do not believe that she should remain in any sort of disgrace.” Mrs Harrington let her soft hand rest on Elizabeth’s arm again, giving it a gentle squeeze of reassurance as she addressed the girl’s father.

“However, giving her a taste of the paddle, just to let her know what will happen if she ever misbehaves again, might well be advisable at this stage...do you agree David?”

“I do indeed my dear,” David Harrington sat back in his chair, clearly very pleased with his wife’s thoughtful comments. “Perhaps it will be a negative encouragement in this case but it might just save young Elizabeth here from temptation in the future. Charles, if you agree, I would suggest just twelve strokes for her this time...after that, she can start with a clean slate tomorrow morning Miss Scott?”

“I shall see to it forthwith Sir...and if I may say so I think it is a wise decision. Elizabeth has a lot to get used to and a taste of what she can expect if she fails to find God’s love will hold her in good stead for the future.”

‘The fundamental story arc of the Bible is God is passionate about rescuing this world, restoring it, renewing it.’

Rob Bell

Colin Hughes sat in front of his computer, his favourite place, looking rather carefully into Charles Buckingham’s background, trying to find any previous link to the Reformists, or indeed to HCR, but there was nothing there. HCR was the hugely profitable public company founded by Paul Craig and David Harrington, who still owned just over half of the shares between them, which had been generously funding the Church of Christian Reform and the redevelopment in and around the Surrey village of Meadvale since the company first soared into profit. Hughes had found literally hundreds of links between Craig and Harrington and the Church, and of their long-standing friendship with Michael Winstanley, but Buckingham did not appear anywhere.

Charles Buckingham had been a rising star until he was swept out of power in the recent elections, which was why Hughes knew his face. His American clients liked to keep tabs on up and coming politicians and Buckingham had quickly got on the list, which Hughes kept reasonably up to date. He had been a junior minister at the treasury under David Cameron’s leadership, but Cameron was no more and Buckingham was one of some sixty Conservative MP’s thrown onto the scrapheap by a marked swing to Labour. With Brian Strickland, the Labour leader, in a coalition with Neil Hook’s LibDem’s and Nicola Spurgeon’s Scottish Nationalists, the Tories were left in complete turmoil. Cameron had resigned straight after his defeat and former Foreign Secretary Philip Henderson had won an incredibly bitter campaign to replace him, defeating the enigmatic Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London, and George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Buckingham had made a huge tactical error in the wake of his own election demise, by backing Boris and actually helping to run his office during the leadership election. That did not go down well with Henderson at all, who was well known for harbouring almost any grudge, and it was made quite clear that anyone who had stood against him would be at the back of the queue for vacant seats in the future. In the space of a fortnight, Charles Buckingham had lost his seat and any chance of a future opportunity and a promising career was in tatters. Henderson would be in opposition as leader for at least five years and would lead the party into the next election, which could mean a decade before Buckingham got another chance. If a week was a long time in politics a decade in the wilderness was a lifetime.

So he was an interesting guest to find in Meadvale. Charles Buckingham had never really had a career outside of politics. He had a good degree and he had been a minister, but it was hard for Hughes to find a business reason for him to be meeting David Harrington. Paul Craig and David Harrington were very rich men, serial billionaires, the British version of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Their association with Winstanley’s Church of Christian Reform was not a secret at all, Harrington had made speeches about his faith and their large donations appeared in both the company accounts and their own tax returns. That in turn made Harrington and Craig of interest to Colin’s clients, because the Reformists were linked to the Independent Baptist movement, which included vile organisations such as the raving right-wing Westboro Baptist Church. Therefore Colin Hughes had Harrington, Craig and Winstanley on his watch list, to which he had added Charles Buckingham’s name. It was the nature of his work; see things, make a connection, try and prove a connection so that someone somewhere with very different responsibilities could act accordingly, if it became necessary. It could always be nothing and usually was, but Hughes earned his corn by making his clients aware.

And he had to admit that he was fascinated by the Reformists. Harrington and Craig had such serious amounts of money that they could perform modern miracles with relative ease. It was quite a small church and had few members, but its wealth made it interesting. So he had to ask himself why David Harrington was entertaining an ex-Conservative MP. He could see why Buckingham would want to be there but Harrington and Craig could buy a minister if they wanted one. They did not need a washed up Tory.

‘If you come at the Bible as if it’s a document of encyclopaedic information you’ve pretty much killed any kind of life change in a seeker and unbeliever.’

Erwin McManus

“Henrietta got just what she deserved...as we all would if we behaved like that...honestly girls, squeaking at her night lacing...that really is so immature.” Madeleine Craig suggested in a forced whisper, just in case either of their guardians was within earshot, although they were settled together in the old summerhouse, a massive wooden structure set down near the river at the furthest reaches of Lake House’s quite extensive gardens. Madeleine and Alice said it was one of their favourite spots, but although it was rather a hot afternoon they were all encased in velvet as always. The only concession to the temperature seemed to be that their guardians had not bothered with their heavy cloaks in the gardens. Miss Ellis said that it was permissible to go without cloaks in the garden as they were not overlooked, unless anyone passed in a boat, and as it was intended to be a treat they were not veiled or muzzled for once either. Like all the others Beth had been thrilled, as if it was an unimaginable treat, until she actually caught herself thinking like that, because it was still all such madness to her. She was diapered, wearing a full-length, silk-lined velvet gown, with a matching bonnet and a thick mantle. Her hands were encased in the thick mittens. She refused to start thinking like her companions, because they simply did not know any different, and she was not like them, even if she had to pretend to be.

“She was probably just taken a bit by surprise,” Alice Craig said with obvious sympathy for Henrietta. “Our night stays are severe for our own good...and we can only pray that poor dear Henrietta has learned from the experience in God’s love.” Beth turned her head to look at the shrouded figure sitting all alone in the far corner, well away from everyone else. Henrietta might be in disgrace, but she had still been allowed to visit the Craig’s, because Miss Scott said the extra humiliation would be cautionary for her. She was cloaked, not to mention muzzled and mittened, and she had the familiar blanket over her head, with her ears no doubt full of God’s blessed words.

“Children obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord,” Georgina sighed and her friends all nodded sagely, except for Beth, who looked simply confused and disconcerted. “Colossians chapter three, line twenty, Elizabeth...it is a dutiful maiden’s first commandment in God’s love.”

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right...Ephesians chapter six, line one...our duty is clear, Elizabeth, it is everywhere in the bible.” Madeleine added, her eyes shining as she quoted the holy words, and Beth thought that she was rather pleased with poor Henrietta’s plight. But they were all speaking as if Henrietta’s punishment was a minor thing which she thoroughly deserved; like a grounding or losing her mobile for a week. Elizabeth would never believe that. It had not been a minor thing at all.

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son...or daughter of course...but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes...Proverbs thirteen, line twenty four...it is our Christian duty to obey our parents and the guardians they provide us with to help us, and it is their duty to correct us if we fail in God’s love...praise be unto the Lord God above.” Georgina continued, but Beth could not follow all of their quotations, because it was all so obviously unreasonable. Like Georgina she had watched Miss Scott beat Henrietta after dinner the previous evening and it had been so horrible. The paddle Miss Scott used, a plastic implement, shaped rather like a table tennis bat, landed with an awful thump, time after time, and Henrietta, who was muzzled, writhed in agony lying face down on her bed. Then it was Beth’s turn and she realised why Henrietta had reacted so badly. Each blow was like a flash of lightning across her soft, bare skin, and she was completely defeated after three strokes, let alone twelve, let alone fifty.

“Silence and obedience are essential for any maiden...but at least Henrietta erred in the privacy of her own home. She will be all the better for this correction, I am sure.” Madeleine announced rather pompously as if her statement was obvious, which Beth supposed it was to any other Reformist, but she still thought it was nonsense. She had been horrified by their punishment and she could not think of it as a good thing for anyone.

“She only made a tiny little noise...it was involuntary...an obvious mistake.” She insisted in an attempt to convince the others, glancing at poor Henrietta.

“Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? Ecclesiastes chapter five, line six Elizabeth...our mistakes must always be corrected because we are all Daughters of Eve...before God and in His name, to earn his undying love.” Alice cautioned and Beth gave up, fearing that one of them might say something to their guardian if she said too much in Henrietta’s defence. Because there was nothing that she could say that would change their minds. She had met girls like them before, at Deepdene. Her best friend at school, a girl called Francesca, never ever knowingly broke a rule. In five years of sharing a dormitory with her, Francesca never once left the room without looking perfect, never questioned let alone argued with a teacher, and did every piece of work she was given on time and to the best of her ability. If, or rather whenever, Beth got into trouble, Francesca was always horrified, usually saying that her friend had got off quite lightly regardless of the punishment, because to her the rules were sacrosanct and the consequences of misbehaviour genuinely terrified her. Madeleine, Alice and Georgina were all just the same. Georgina certainly felt sorry for her sister, because they were genuinely close, and Alice was definitely sympathetic, but all three of them were still perfectly sanguine about the brutally severe punishment Henrietta had received for such a minor transgression, because it was apparently administered with God’s love, to help Henrietta be a better Daughter of Eve But, then again to them it was not so minor. Henrietta had sinned and regardless of the severity of that sin she deserved, and indeed needed, chastisement.

“She must be boiling under there,” Beth pointed out, but it was no use. No one else would criticise the punishment because in their eyes Henrietta had sinned and therefore she had to pay the price. So Beth could only let it go. Almost despite herself, she was enjoying the afternoon, because she could speak and she could see. She was learning to be grateful for small mercies, even if she was still hot and uncomfortable. Her hands were still encased in mittens, to prevent her doing goodness knows what, and her genial companions were all fanatical Christians whose beliefs she could not share, but it was still a relief after what felt like days of constant restrictions and endless discomfiture. Miss Scott had delivered the girls to Miss Ellis just before lunch, and they were staying the night as Miss Scott was taking a rare afternoon off. Georgina had explained that sleepovers or slumber parties were a social occasion, a chance to practise their social skills, and had assured Beth that they would get a good chance to talk, or have fun as she put it, and Beth had to admit that it was the best few hours she had spent in Meadvale so far.

“So, Miss Scott has started to finish you two, Georgina?” Madeleine asked, confirming Beth’s opinion that the older Craig girl felt superior to her friends. Beth did not know what finishing meant, but she had already heard the term several times during her short time at Broomwaters.

“She is...and I am a little apprehensive, because Papa expects so much of us, but it is still an honour of course.” Georgina replied as demure and proper as it was possible for any girl to be. “I just hope I am worthy of his expectations.”

“I don’t understand...what is finishing?” Beth had to ask, looking at the others.

“Maidens must be prepared for adulthood and marriage, Elizabeth. None of us are children anymore, but there are things we have to learn before we are truly ready.” Madeleine explained as if talking to a toddler. Beth liked the Harrington’s and Alice seemed very nice too, but she was finding it hard to warm to her older sister. “Starting our finishing means that our parents consider us ready and an engagement usually soon follows. Mine should be announced before Christmas, and I shall probably be married next summer...maybe even before...it is the most exciting time of our lives.”

“Oh I see,” Beth replied with a frown, because she did not see at all, but she did not want to seem slow on the uptake.

“Once finishing starts, maidens attend more social functions, to meet people...it is how marriages are arranged and we must all show ourselves off at our best,” Georgina explained with a smile, patting Elizabeth’s knee with her right mitten, as her mother would have done if she was there. Elizabeth was slowly being adopted by the Harrington family as one of their own it seemed and both the Harrington girls were very protective of her.

“Social events...like parties?” Beth asked, having heard about debutantes, although that sort of thing was terribly old-fashioned and seemed to be the preserve of the mega-rich. But then again, there was no shortage of money at Broomwaters or indeed at Lake House. It was the sort of thing she had read about in magazines like Tattler, next to pictures of Lady Such-and-such and her horse; daft creatures with double-barrelled names in posh frocks meeting the Prince of Wales, or someone much like him. It was not her sort of thing at all.

“Goodness me, no...there is one annual ball, but I am sure we won’t go...it’s usually charitable events, fund-raisers...and there is the village fete...and a few Church events, plus invitations to days like this so that people can get to know us...maybe some dinner parties. All very proper, of course...Miss Ellis will be with me...but it is such a good chance to meet the mothers of prospective husbands...that is how matches are made.” Madeleine informed Beth as if imparting the wisdom of the ages. “A friend of mine met her fiancé’s mother at a sewing bee of all things. The lady was most impressed both by Justine’s fine needlepoint and her respectful attitude...then she played the piano at a dinner party my parents gave, and negotiations were soon underway.”

“So your parents will arrange your marriage?” Beth tried not to sound appalled, but she was, of course. Madeleine was being so matter-of-fact about it all, and Beth wondered if she was getting the wrong end of the stick somehow.

“Of course they will, Elizabeth...they will do their best for me.”

The afternoon passed in similar fashion, with the four girls answering careful questions and Elizabeth Buckingham learning more and more about their life in Meadvale. She thought it was like living in a tiny bubble. None of them seemed to know anything about the real world outside their Church and village, but they did not even care. They hardly asked Beth anything about her own life, and they talked about the rules and customs that regulated their lives as perfectly normal things, almost laughing out loud at Beth when she asked ‘stupid’ questions or expressed any surprise. She got the distinct impression that they all rather pitied the heathens, although they clearly had little idea about them. Beth was there with them and she was made very welcome, but there was a strong sense that she ought to think herself lucky to be there, sharing God’s love. Nothing before her arrival amongst them interested any of them at all, as if they had been told not to ask, and Beth found herself feeling increasingly sorry for them because they simply did not know how restricted they really were, or how abused she suspected many people would say they were. And it was all in the name of a forgiving God which made absolutely no sense. Beth was hardly an expert, but she could not get that out of her head by the time Miss Ellis arrived to take them all back inside. She was only sure of one thing in the end; if she ever heard another bible quotation when she finally left Meadvale she was likely to scream.

Bathing and dressing for dinner and then getting ready for bed afterwards were much the same at the Craig’s as they always were over at Broomwaters. There was no more idle and unsupervised chatter after the afternoon, and the next morning the girls were dressed for a walk into the village, fully veiled, muzzled and enveloped by their cloaks despite the summer sunshine. It was busier than it had been before, but then Beth realised that it was a Saturday so none of the people who lived there were at work or school that time. She had lost all track of the days since she had arrived in Meadvale. Fretting about the comparative crowds, Miss Ellis made them walk in pairs, with linked arms, with the guardian herself taking Beth, and the grim procession visited several shops and curtseyed to dozens of people. Lunch was fed to them through their feeding tubes, and the only excitement of the afternoon was being taken to the bathroom, a humiliating embarrassment Beth was more than ready to suffer to avoid a worse fate. Miss Scott arrived at four o’clock to collect her charges. She said that the girls were going to have an early dinner and then retire, because it was Church first thing in the morning. But as the guardian said, several times, as she zipped them up in their sleeping gowns just after eight o’clock in the evening, they had all enjoyed a wonderful treat with Miss Ellis. Beth lay awake, sweating in her stifling body bag, and wondered what sort of life it was in God’s love when a few hours without a muzzle able to talk to friends but do little else was considered such an indulgence.

‘The Bible has no doubt had much influence in its time, but it provides very few laughs. None, in fact.’

Arthur Smith

“It’s Henderson’s game now it seems...all the other contenders have left the stage. Johnson is slinking off to the backbenches to spare himself the embarrassment of working for a bitter enemy and he will give up his seat at the next election...and so will George Osborne.” Gavin Williams told his eager young acolyte before downing the rest of yet another brandy. He had it all from the horse’s mouth, as usual, of course. If a secret was mentioned in a bar within five miles of Westminster, Williams knew all about it long before anyone else. Not from a publishable source but lobby correspondents and political sketch writers knew about most things from the first whispers in corners. Williams had a problem with alcohol, a problem that was often discussed in the same bars he frequented, but he could write drunk or sober. So Brogan Hardcastle admired him for that, if for little else. Learning the ways of Westminster at his side was a mind-broadening experience. He knew all of the shortcuts, all of the dirty tricks. He knew who would give him a straight answer and he who would lie, and probably why they would lie. Brogan was a wet-behind-the-ears beginner, a freelancer just trying to make a name for herself by taking a low paid internship, and she was drinking in his advice and wisdom, as well as much more neat alcohol than she was accustomed too. It was mostly a strange and often hilariously incoherent mixture of bitterness and bile, about brilliant stories spiked to suit newspaper owners and scandals he was not allowed to expose, but there were also irregular nuggets she found invaluable. However most of those were usually aired in the mornings, before the booze started to dull the senses.

“So what does that actually mean? It’s Henderson’s game now?” Brogan asked, sipping at a truly appalling glass of white wine.

“Obviously the end of the Cameron era...Boris is fifty five and even Gorgeous George is forty eight. Henderson is older than Boris but he will do his five years in opposition and then fight the next election, so even if he loses Boris would be in his sixties...so his chance really is gone. Osborne thought he would be the natural successor but he is linked with endless years of austerity budgets, whether that is fair or not.” Williams explained, waving another note at the barman, seeking a refill. “Osborne will make a fortune in the city and Boris will head back into the media and do his TV panel games. They both know that Henderson is going to build the party is his own image, promoting his own allies, and there is no place for Cameron’s men...so it will be New Tories with lots of new faces. And we will need to watch all the people who supported Boris and George because Henderson will cull them and they will all be bitter little bastards with axes to grind, all desperate to stick in the knife given half a chance. They are the ones who will tell us all the juicy gossip from now on...because they are finished anyway. Henderson may sometimes forget but he never ever forgives. None of them will be in any cabinet he leads, shadow or otherwise.”

“Still...it’s five years till the next election...that’s a long time in politics.”

They are the ones who will tell us all the juicy gossip from now on. Because they are finished...Henderson may sometimes forget, but he never ever forgives. None of them will ever be in any government he leads.”

“Still...there are five years till the next election...that’s a long time in politics.”

“Never parrot that stupid fucking cliché,” Williams snarled, suddenly vehement, telling Brogan that she had touched a nerve. “This the twenty-first century...if a politician out of office is not trending on Twitter or appearing on bloody Question Time or making a fucking documentary about trains or canals, they are dead. Five years is fucking forever. But it won’t be five years sweetie...any fucking idiot can see that. You get this one in and I’ll tell you why Brian Strickland, little Neil Hooks and Nicola Iron Draws Sturgeon will break up long before then. It’s all going to end in some very bitter tears...hopefully.”

‘You stick to the script, the script is the Bible.’

Jennifer Garner

Elizabeth Buckingham knew the rules off by heart, long before she arrived at the Cathedral in Meadvale. Females did not speak in God’s house. Never. Not under any circumstances. So every woman who entered that holiest of places was muzzled. Including Miss Scott, for the first time in Beth’s still limited experience. However, she did note that Miss Scott’s muzzle was very different from hers, one that the guardian could insert and remove herself, without the need for a key from the look of things. But the overall message was clear, no woman, not even a guardian, would make a sound in the Cathedral. Respect, deference and blind obedience were the orders of the day on pain of death, or at least a beating that would make poor Henrietta’s recent misfortune seem like nothing at all. Beth already had an additional layer of gauze over her eyes and before they finally stepped inside the marble edifice Miss Scott pulled down what she described as a blinding mantle, a thick final layer matching the clock and gown which removed the last of Beth’s sight. Miss Scott then took Beth’s elbow and guided the child rather awkwardly to a seat, before Beth did her best to lose herself in prayer. There was simply nothing else to do and she did not like her own thoughts.

Her gown was even heavier than usual, a special Church gown again borrowed from dear Georgina, and the matching cloak seemed thicker too, as if God expected her to be even more effectively covered on His day. And her corset seemed tighter. It was really all she could do to endure the weight, heat and discomfort as she tried to listen to the service. Pastors stood at the altar she was yet to see, said the prayers and regaled the congregation with sermon after sermon and the congregation, at least the male members of it, sang the hymns with admirable gusto. It all seemed to last for hours, but Miss Scott had warned Beth to move just as little as possible, or else, and she tried hard, keeping her head facing piously in the direction of the Pastor’s voices, kneeling, sitting or standing as directed, always helped by someone’s hand on her arm to aide her, because it was not easy dressed as she was. Finally, Miss Scott gently removed her blinding mantle, but without the benefit of natural light she was still really only seeing shadows behind her veils. She just got the impression of a cavernous space, with the most wonderful acoustics. Henrietta sat beside her, still shamefully covered by her blanket to keep her hidden, her disgrace obvious to everyone. Then Miss Scott tapped her wrist and made it clear that she should keep her eyes on the altar. Beth did as she was directed, letting her mind wander towards God’s love.

It was all so confusing that she rarely knew what was going on in front of her. She was so hot she was sure she would feint at any moment, and she was nervous, always afraid that she was making some dreadful mistake. Every minute was torture, but her ears were full of the glory of God, and the passion emanating from those around her, even those who could not make even the slightest noise, was simply palpable. Everything was done in His name. Every sacrifice was made for His love. By the time the four hour service ended, and her father took her arm to help her leave, she felt spent, and she needed his support, as every ounce of her energy had been given up to prayer. Somehow she got back to Broomwaters, but she hardly noticed her cloak and bonnet being removed, thinking only of getting to a seat and recovering from her exertions. But she could not relax. Miss Scott gave her and the Harrington’s a drink but then made them kneel in the family drawing room to continue their prayers. Sunday was God’s day, Miss Scott reminded her as her headphones were put in place. Beth sucked deeply on her water as the first psalm filled her mind, cutting through her exhaustion, and when she heard the voice say her name she was sure she had finally left reality and fallen into her own personal little nightmare.

“Good afternoon Elizabeth, and welcome to the first of your individual lessons. My name is Pastor Michael Winstanley and I have been asked to help introduce you to the many joys of Christian Reform, and thus guide you into the arms of God, our saviour and our reason to love. Everything we do...and now everything that you do...is for His glory and love. His teachings have been passed down to us in the holy Bible and the elders of our Church interpret His words for this modern age. Elizabeth, dear only child of Charles Buckingham, I hope you know you are much loved; you are the precious jewel in your father’s life, but he is frightened that he is losing you to the devil incarnate, to the many temptations of this sick modern world. Lately you have been tempted and you have succumbed to those temptations like the frail Daughter of Eve that you are, but the good Lord has seen fit to deliver you from temptation to us here in Meadvale. He has sent you here to us, so that with your loving father’s blessing we can save you from yourself, from the devil. Remember Elizabeth, you are and will always remain a Daughter of Eve in desperate need of protection, direction and correction. ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’ These things that I tell you are not my ideas, Elizabeth, but those of God, and you must obey Him Elizabeth, and honour His name. I call on you, Elizabeth Buckingham, Daughter of Eve...‘and be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.’ So, you see Elizabeth, we must transform you, we must renew your mind, because you have unwittingly strayed from the path of righteousness and turned to sin and disgrace. You must learn what is and what is not acceptable, and you must strive to be perfect, for the glory of God and to honour your father.”

“Right now, I am sure you feel harshly treated in some ways. Still tainted by the shame of your unforgiveable sins, you hide your heart from God, resisting His call on you, but I beg you, Elizabeth...‘trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding’...because you know nothing of the many evils lurking in this world and you must give your heart to God and those that do, so that we can protect you and help you to earn God’s love. You are still young and impressionable in God’s love...‘train up a child in the way she should go: and when she is old, she will not depart from it’...this is what we shall do for you, Elizabeth Buckingham, as you strive for perfection, because...‘verily I say unto you except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ Elizabeth, this means that you must forget your old ways and learn to follow only the words of the Lord, as instructed by your father and your Pastors, as a child would learn from her teachers. At first, the true path will seem alien to you, but in time you will rejoice that your father loves you enough, and is brave enough, to offer your soul to God. By covering yourself and silencing yourself, you are honouring God because ‘let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also said the law.’ Elizabeth, this is the role of woman...it is written in the bible. Your body and your life are a willing sacrifice to God, in your piety and modesty and obedience, for the glory of God, for His church is the entire world and you must learn to love Him as He loves you.”

Michael Winstanley’s voice did not stop there. It went on and on, until Miss Scott finally removed the headphones and Beth was astonished to discover that the clock on the mantelpiece had moved around to five o’clock. She was so stiff she had to be helped to her feet, and after being fed through her feeding tube she was glad to be bathed and put straight to bed, more exhausted than she had ever been before. But she could still hear that voice. She could not get it out of her head, and her sleep was fitful and restless. Her dreams were not of college, of freedom in London, but of returning to Deepdene. Except she was not wearing the familiar, hated uniform, as she always seemed to be covered, muzzled and veiled, and her headmistress was congratulating her on earning God’s love. She relived all her sins, her attempts to reject the petty rules and restrictions imposed on her, and she was ashamed, not only of her own behaviour but of how she had let her father down, after all he had done for her. She heard Michael Winstanley in the depths of her dreams, telling her to accept her new life to make amends, in God’s loving embrace.

Inside her sleeping gown, she felt suddenly closer to God. She could not get the words out of her head and every time she tried she felt a strong pang of guilt. She was being offered God’s love and she found herself powerless to resist it anymore. She did not even know if she wanted to resist it. She was a Daughter of Eve, a receiver of sin, unable to help herself, and only God’s love could save her from herself.

‘The Holy Bible is an abyss. It is impossible to explain how profound it is, impossible to explain how simple it is.’

Ernest Hello

“So...Charles...you have had some time to look at things...and to get your head around what we are really planning here...do you feel able to give us your considered opinions as yet, my friend?” Pastor Michael Winstanley asked as David Harrington poured his guest of honour another glass of wine. It was Sunday evening and the ladies, all tired after the exertions of earning God’s love, had retired early to recover after a long day of prayer. The three leading lights of the Christian Reformist movement considered it the perfect time to talk to Charles in peace and quiet, without distractions.

“I can certainly try Michael...although I am not at all sure you are going to like what I have to say at this stage,” Buckingham sighed, shifting rather awkwardly in his seat as he prepared to deliver what he realised would be a bitter pill for his clients to swallow. He was really very grateful to David Harrington, Paul Craig and Michael Winstanley in many ways. They had all helped him to a greater or lesser extent, and he knew that he was being offered a lifeline, both personally and professionally, but he was still terribly and perhaps fatally unsure. And he had Elizabeth to think about, too. As he often had in the past, he felt that if he did not have her to think of, to hold him back, to force him tom play safe, things might have been very different for him, but he did have her. There was no point in pretending otherwise. If his wife had not died things would have been different again, of course. Just the thought of her sent waves of grief coursing through his veins, and whatever way he looked at things he felt a failure. In the space of a few weeks Elizabeth’s problems at school had reared their ugly head and he had been booted out of the only job he had ever wanted to do, probably forever. His decision to campaign for Boris Johnson and against Philip Henderson had been an honest one; he firmly believed that Henderson would be a disaster for the party, but ultimately his colleagues seemed to disagree. As a result, he would not be fighting any by-elections any time soon even if he was the prime candidate. He had lost, gambled and lost again, and his political career was as good as over. He could see no way back in the short term, and no politician could ever worry about the long-term. Which made it even harder to ignore a lifeline. It would have been so easy to take what his new friends were saying at face value and jump in with both feet like a drunk at a free bar, because the offer was generous and the financial support for the project undeniably impressive. Harrington and Craig were offering to bankroll the sort of activity any politician would find attractive, and if he played his cards right Buckingham would be at the centre of things, and a rich man whatever the outcome. But all of that counted for nothing to Charles Buckingham if there was no chance of success. He was not in politics to make his fortune. It would be like taking money under false pretences, and he could not do that in all conscience, not to people who had helped him so much already. He had accepted their fee for his opinions, but he was not going to say what they wanted to hear just because they were offering to pay him even more. “I believe your ambitions are laudable. I hope you know that my...interests...in your doctrine are genuine. I have already found a lot of personal comfort in it Michael and your advice has helped me a lot on a personal level...but if you truly think that this country is ready for a Christian Revolution on this scale I think you are sorely mistaken and you will just be wasting your money and time. It’s simply impossible...”

“In what sense impossible Charles?” Paul Craig asked quite calmly, not taking offence. But Michael Winstanley was frowning straight away. Buckingham did not know them as well as he knew David Harrington, but he could sense the change of mood between them. He had first met Harrington at Westminster, at one of those dreadful lobbying events that every MP attended every once in a while, if only for the free food and booze. Charles could not even remember why he went to the British Technology Forum cocktail party because technology was not a subject he was particularly interested in, but he was lonely and bored and frustrated and he ended up talking to a handsome, engaging man who took him out to dinner afterwards so that they continue their conversation, which mostly involved his personal problems. It was just the right time. Buckingham had been bottling everything up for so long and Harrington offered a sympathetic ear, like any good Christian would, allowing Charles to talk about his wife, his concerns for his daughter and his increasingly empty life. He looked at David before replying as if he needed some reassurance.

“Oh...overkill I suppose, if you are looking for one word, Paul. Look, I don’t want to cause any offence here but Meadvale is your template. I know that you have spent the best part of twenty years and countless millions creating your model community...attracting like minds to the cause...and it is splendid...I can see the attraction of living here. But the measures your document...your manifesto...suggests to recreate it across the country are so overwhelming and so very different that no one would ever vote for it...not until Turkeys start voting for Christmas at any rate.” Buckingham tried a smile at his little joke but Craig and Winstanley did not respond, and Harrington looked away. “Your demand for social change certainly does identify some key problems, but the solutions seem...draconian...at best...and I must say it extreme at worst. I know that is a reaction you are quite familiar with...I know you have faced it before and that you do not fear it...but an election is about convincing almost seventy million people...not just a few thousand neighbours in west Surrey. It is much more than overwhelming to anyone not familiar with Meadvale...in its current form it just won’t work at all...you would be dismissed as....”

“So what will work Charles?” David Harrington jumped in, not letting Buckingham finish his sentence, before either of his friends could start to argue. Harrington really did not want an argument at that stage. He had been talking to Charles throughout his thought process and he knew what his friend wanted to say. And Harrington knew it was important, so he wanted Paul and Michael to listen, not explode. “We all knew that this was a first draft, so have you considered what will work Charles?”

“Oh yes...or at least I am trying too...a week is not long and I have to admit that I have been a little distracted...but I need more time.” Charles began, responding to David’s more gentle approach and taking the hint. “You offered me the summer to take things in...and as I see it this meeting tonight is just about my initial impressions...my first thoughts. I do have some ideas and I do think there is something here. I just need some time to knock them into some sort of shape. But this meeting was important to me because I felt that I had to tell you that it will mean watering down some of your ideas. You have to be realistic...the people of this country cannot go from A to B just like that...they will need leading along the path...and even then we would need a lot of luck...and progress will be slower than I think you will like. You deal in miracles Michael, but Westminster is a battleground and to get any traction in the House of Commons you have to have the complete package...policies that resonate enough to get you a majority eventually as well as the credibility to be heard. Farage and UKip rose on the back of a single issue and they are withering on the vine because they just do not have a credible position on anything other than Europe. Nicola Sturgeon has hit the glass ceiling because she is all about Scotland...and as they get washed out with the tide the traditional parties just suck up the votes. So if you are to have any chance of achieving social change you have to come up with a complete package without spooking the electorate...which means taking little steps and taking your time. Years...maybe even decades. There is no other way without revolution...and as it stands, your document would not get you anywhere.

‘Political freedom is a political reading of the Bible.’

Whittaker Chambers

Colin Hughes checked on his sleeping kids and then returned to his office. It was late but he was a natural night owl, preferring to work when the house was all quiet and he could concentrate. His ex-wife hated the habit but it worked much better for a weekend father. But getting up from his desk had made him lose his train of thought and he started to read back through his notes, trying to find his place. He had three names on his list, of great interest to several of his more regular clients for different reasons. Paul Craig and David Harrington, the two major shareholders in HCR, currently the most profitable mobile technology company in the world, and Michael Winstanley, the leading Pastor in the Church of Christian Reform, all of whom lived in the sleepy Surrey village of Meadvale.

Harrington and Craig were interesting guys. Like most new technology businesses, HCR was born in Paul Craig’s back bedroom, where he developed an idea to enable touch screen controls on all sorts of screens, mobile and otherwise. David Harrington, his best friend from University, was the marketing man who sold the idea to the first tranche of venture capitalists and set the company on its path to vast riches. They soon moved into a research facility near Guildford in Surrey and employed a bunch of bright young geeks to perfect their product and produce the first working mock ups. Two years later, after several funding issues, they hit the jackpot via a patented polymer coating sensitive enough to cope with intricate game play on mobile phone screens. The Apple Corporation bought the rights and almost overnight the two young Englishmen were multi-millionaires.

In simple business terms, HCR had gone from strength to strength ever since, turning the founding partners into billionaires several times over. It was quite impossible to put any reliable number on their individual worth, but when Craig and Harrington floated half of the shares on the London Stock Market they both took out nearly nine hundred million pounds in hard cash, and since then their remaining shares had tripled in value. The last Sunday Times rich list suggested that they were both worth over five billion, a number confidently predicted to rise. However, their private lives were of much more interest to Colin’s clients. Donations to Michael Winstanley had started before they could really afford it, and they had both built houses in Meadvale, next to Winstanley and his Cathedral, a lavish building built on HCR money.

Colin Hughes could not pin down the exact start of their close relationship with Michael Winstanley. Paul Craig was clearly something of a nerd, with no public profile at all, but David Harrington had been a bit of a playboy for a while, visibly enjoying the fruits of their sudden wealth, even though both men had married young and were still with their wives. But then even Harrington more or less disappeared from the papers, or certainly stopped attending the kind of events that got him into the public eye in the first place. They both lived quiet lives in their huge Meadvale mansions, providing huge sums to build the village, although Harrington did keep an apartment in London for business. It was not a controversial hobby by any means. In fact, the local newspapers lauded the generosity of the two men, as well as the positive effect the Church was having on Meadvale and the surrounding area. Harrington and Craig were honest Christians, very rich men in their mid-forties with wives and children, and no scandals blotted their copybooks. They did not seek the limelight and the vast majority of their donations were private.

The Church itself made a few headlines over the years, and inadvertently Harrington and Craig were always mentioned, mainly because of the unusual style of dress adopted by the more fanatical disciples. But the coverage was no more negative than the attention shone on the Amish, the Mormons or even the Plymouth Brethren, and certainly not as vitriolic as the abuse reserved for the Muslim Burka or Niqab. The tabloids just had some fun with it on the odd occasion, usually on quiet news days or in the dog days of summer, such as when the huge ‘Cathedral’ was opened in 2014. It was rumoured to have cost someone, allegedly Craig and Harrington, tens of millions of pounds, and the photograph of heavily covered women allowed the Daily Mail in particular to have a little bit of a rant about the rise of Christian Fundamentalism. But it all fell on deaf ears because the Reformists were popular in Surrey and a number of local politicians and celebrities leapt to their defence. The popular concensus was that they were eccentric but entirely harmless, and that their generosity benefitted everyone in the area, regardless of their religious beliefs.

The truth was that, as Hughes had soon discovered out in the field himself, the Christian Reformists were fairly insular, keeping themselves to themselves, whilst working very hard to improve the facilities available to their community, which benefitted anyone else who lived nearby. Church members did not engage in recruitment, aggressive or otherwise, so they did not annoy people like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they were very active in local charities and charitable organisations, raising and providing cash money and offering practical help and assistance. HCR PLC based all of its offices and manufacturing plants in the wider area, making them by far the largest employer and absolutely crucial to the local economy. In addition to anything Craig and Harrington donated via the Church, the company improved roads, built new schools and even invested in affordable housing projects for the benefit of everyone.

In general, from the evidence available even to him, Colin Hughes happily concluded that in Meadvale and the surrounding area it was impossible to think of the Christian Reformists as anything other than a force for good in the Meadvale locale. Other than the sort of angst The Daily Mail and their core readership reserved for those whose beliefs they did not share it was impossible to find any sane individual with any meaningful criticisms. There were no embittered ex-members for instance. Hughes looked very hard, and there was nothing on any of the many cult-buster websites, because no one had any complaints. Yes, some people, no doubt provoked by the Mail, thought that they were weird and openly abhorred the treatment of Reformist women, but there was no evidence of anyone within the Church feeling the same so it never amounted to anything more. Britain was still a free country and diversity was positively encouraged, so if a woman wanted to cover herself she was certainly entitled to do so. Muslins did the same and few people complained about them, and the Reformists were generous, friendly people more engaged with their community than devout religious organisations commonly were.

However, they were also resolutely private people. Non-members could not get into what Hughes dubbed their level one services. Hughes had tried but admittance was by invitation only and he was directed instead to one of several churches dotted around the area which were called Reformist but clearly did not cater for the sort of people whose wives and daughters chose to cover themselves. Colin had attended several of those and saw no one who looked at all out of the ordinary. In his report he described the services he attended as very Bible-specific, and the large congregations as passionate and enthusiastic, but he just felt that it was not the real Reformist experience. The simple fact that no one outside of the Reformists themselves knew much about that experience was the only real mystery. If they had nothing to hide, why were they hiding?

So Harrington and Craig seemed clean, philanthropic and private. But the third man on his list, Michael Winstanley, was a different kettle of fish entirely. His father, Richard, had been a Church of England vicar who left the organisation in disgust in 1992 when the general synod made it clear that they would be appointing women vicars. That did not actually happen until 1994, by which time Richard Winstanley had started his own breakaway church in a one pub, four house hamlet deep in the Surrey countryside to the west of Guildford, not quite into Hampshire. He bought a house with a barn and moved in with his wife, his son and his three daughters, using the barn to preach to the loyal, devoted members of his previous congregation who followed his lead in abandoning the Church of England. Michael Winstanley had just left university at the time, and joined his father as assistant pastor, both working tirelessly to expand their flock, travelling far and wide to preach to whoever would listen, telling their disciples to trust in the Bible, to trust in the words of God, and to strive to earn His love. Richard Winstanley died relatively young from a sudden heart attack but his son took on his burden with considerable relish and some skill, according to reports. He was according to those who had heard him an inspiring preacher, and at some stage around the turn of the century he had to have met and influenced the two partners in HCR.

Colin Hughes could guess that much because it was at that stage that the investment in the Meadvale area began, and he could trace its rapid growth from that time, as the Church’s benefactors hit the big time. The Cathedral started to rise out of the ground beside the River Mead, as did Broomwaters and Lake House, whilst the sympathetic development of the village began in earnest. Hughes had seen the village for himself of course, and he had at first assumed that most if not all of the buildings were old, but in fact hardly anything was more than fifteen years old. Harrington and Craig had bought thousands of acres of land around the village, paying well over the odds at times. A property business they invested in and later bought outright started to build affordable houses in the area and in an interview with the Surrey Mirror Michael Winstanley talked about ‘his’ Church having a vision of building a perfect modern Christian community, totally devoted to living as God intended in peace and harmony.

It was all slightly eccentric stuff, especially when linked with the strange sartorial habits of certain members of Winstanley’s congregation, but it was still not harming anyone else. On the contrary, the local economy and community welcomed the Reformists as a positive influence. There really was no apparent reason for his clients to be concerned with anything as far as Hughes could see. But several of them still were. Every time he sent back a report saying that he could find nothing untoward he was asked to look again, and to keep looking until he found something. And the fees were good, so he kept looking.

Michael Winstanley had travelled quite extensively to meet with other church leaders all over the place, including both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, as well as the lead clergymen of independent churches throughout the world. Especially in the United States where the rise of the extreme Christian right was constantly spooking the Democrats. He had very strong views about what was wrong with modern life and plenty of ideas about how to put things right, very few of which impressed anyone from the left of the political spectrum at all, particularly when he shared them with their own dangerous radicals. So people like Colin Hughes got paid to dig around a little, just in case. Forewarned was certainly forearmed in the corridors of power, but he could not find anything with much of a smell, apart from some of Winstanley’s views, which along with the behaviour of his own close supporters suggested a less than politically correct attitude to the role of women in society.

Hence, Colin Hughes lengthy report would once more be totally inconclusive and he would recommend nothing more than monitoring the situation to see if anything changed. But it would not be him doing the monitoring in the short-term, at any rate. Once he had enjoyed a few weeks with his girls, he was off to take another long look at Vladimir Putin, to see if he could find where the money was being hidden, let alone the bodies. He clients had more or less given up looking for the bodies in reality, but they really did want to find the cash the old rogue was siphoning off, and Hughes would be flat out until at least Christmas tracking bank accounts all over the world, which would be rather more lucrative and probably much more useful in the long-term than worrying about what would just have been yet another small group of religious fanatics if it was not for the small matter of them having two devout billionaires on side.

‘Bible orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.’

Francis Schaeffer

“In the end David the unbreakable link with God is the problem, whether you like it or not my friend...it is unavoidable.” Charles Buckingham sighed as he paced around Harrington’s study, white board pen in hand, brainstorming the problem and speaking his mind without fear of causing offence. It was Harrington’s own idea, the marketing man at work, cutting through the crap and forcing each other to face the real issues. They had already had a free and frank exchange of views and without Craig and Winstanley, who were, Harrington had admitted, less open-minded, they were daring to think the unthinkable. “David Cameron dared to suggest that this was a Christian country in 2014 and the left-wing media attacked as one, whilst the opinion polls lurched down...because God is seen not only as an irrelevance but also somehow dangerous in the political world. I know you don’t believe that...and as a man I don’t either...but as a politician, an expression of strong religious conviction is a mild version of professional suicide. That’s why Blair hid his Catholicism...”

“I can see what you mean but you said it yourself...it was a media reaction...all the leftie luvvies...that does not mean it is what the people believe?” Harrington suggested, pressing Buckingham to justify himself.

“I think it is what most people believe...David, there are what...about five million practising Christians in this country? And at least half of them go once a month or less and really only show their colours at Christmas and Easter...plus the odd wedding or funeral. Add in a couple of million Catholics, a million Muslims and million or so others and round it up to ten million or thereabouts. That means there are fifty five maybe sixty million people who are not really connected to any faith...and that is why the word of God will not get you into Downing Street any time soon.”

“So are you proposing that we drop God from a Christian doctrine?” Harrington asked, not particularly pleased at the direction the conversation was going but also recognising the statistical truth of his friend’s arguments. He recognised the reality of the real world, whereas Paul and Michael were rather more idealistic and less pragmatic.

“Look...you want me to found a party to promote your idea of social change and stand for this area at the next election proposing that we follow the word of God as directed by the Bible...and I am telling you that it will be an embarrassing failure. You guys have outlined a vision and the people of this country will not vote for a vision...especially not a vision that is so openly Christian. They will not vote for your objective, however heavenly that may be, not unless they can see something in it for them, at any rate. They care about jobs, schools, their benefits, hospitals and schools...not necessarily in that order. They care about having their bins emptied, about how much things cost, and about how much their savings are worth, not the moral fibre of our society. They are used to media campaigns, to voting for the man they want to be Prime Minister rather than the man named on their ballot paper. Most of them could not even name their local MP, let alone what he personally stood for. I lost my seat because David Cameron fucked up, not because I was a bad MP. Having a clear vision is a good thing...a great thing...but communicating it to the man in the street...making it relevant to Joe Blogs...is the prerequisite for success...and saying God says so won’t cut it. Michael can think what he likes but the only way this all works is to concentrate on policies and not God’s words. UKip works, or rather worked, up to a point, because their huge single issue is Europe. Every European election and almost every local election, the voters use Nigel Farage as a stick to beat the government with, to express their frustrations with what we all very well know is a big corrupt and dysfunctional mess, but they have only ever managed to get one man elected to Westminster. They had defectors from the Conservatives in 2014 and they held one of those seats in 2015 and 2019 but they did not win any new ones. Not one. Despite all the media exposure Farage achieved. I think I could run a really good campaign here, as the Church is well known and more importantly well-liked, but if I focussed too much on God and made too much of the Christian Reformist doctrine, I still might lose. Because even with a lot of goodwill on our side and a deeper understanding of what and who we are, I will be standing against Philip Henderson as well as the actual man in the blue rosette. The only way you get round all of that is to have some credible, eye-catching policies and to concentrate on high-jacking the agenda...on starting a fresh debate. God is not fresh...He is not a part of our voters lives and they will not listen.”

“We have credible policies...don’t we?”

“Yes but they are too sweeping...too radical...too unpalatable. I need to pull them apart and spin them around...re-present them...but Paul and Michael will not be very keen about backpedalling on God...so I need to find a way to convince them. Politics is not like business or faith...it just doesn’t work in any logical way.”

“Convince me first Charles...and then I will help you deal with Paul and Michael in our own good time,” Harrington smiled, before abruptly changing the subject. “How do you think Elizabeth is doing? I thought she did rather well on Sunday?”

“Oh...I am not really sure...I am hardly talking to her to be honest. Miss Scott is urging me to leave well alone and I am afraid I am happy to do so...because even at dinner in front of all of you the way she looks at me makes me...nervous.” Buckingham admitted, his confidence disappearing the moment his thoughts turned to his personal life. “Everything is such a mess David...I have failed my own daughter and I have just told the only people who seem to want to employ me that their big idea is never going to work in its current form...”

“One piece of advice Charles...as your friend...have the courage of your convictions. You might feel the need to keep God out of our political ambitions, up to a point, but don’t let yourself forget why you personally are here in the first place. You have God in your heart...I think as many people do, you let Him in when you were at your lowest ebb...and you should never be ashamed of what you feel...of what you believe.” David Harrington advised as his companion sat down opposite him. “Elizabeth is a child in the eyes of God...she is your sole responsibility and regardless of what has happened in the past no one can decide her future other than you. She will adapt...in fact she is already adapting according to Miss Scott...but if you think the Church is the right place for her, you have to make it happen...no one else can take that decision, it is all up to you...and that will take a lot of conviction, a lot of simple courage. You can undoubtedly solve all your problems by committing yourself to the cause and how we present that to people...whether that is individually to your Elizabeth or more generally to the electorate...is of rather less importance. But if you commit...if you sell it to me...I will take care of Paul and Michael and you can hide whatever you like from whoever you want to hide it...because we will both know what is in your heart. It is opening your heart as well as your head that is the important thing.”

“You make it all sound so easy David...but at times...when she looks at me...at times I think Elizabeth is starting to hate me...”

“She might...at times...right now...because she has been exposed to temptation and sin and you are determined to save her from the devil’s touch...cleansing her will take time. You have to believe that she will thank you for saving her one day...and then have the courage to act in her own best interests regardless of her reaction now. Unlike politics, fatherhood is not just a popularity contest my friend...you just need to do the right thing.”

July 2019

‘The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its author; salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture for its matter. It is all pure.’

John Locke

For Elizabeth Buckingham, entirely unaware of her dear father’s struggles with his future career and his conscience, life at Broomwaters settled into a very predictable routine. In the mornings the girls studied, with Beth spending several hours each session listening to her own private Pastor Michael talking directly to her. After lunch, usually enjoyed through her feeding tube, they either walked into town or visited friends locally, mostly the Craig’s but several other families, all of whom sometimes visited them, giving the three girls lots of practise in social situations, Beth sharing in the finishing of her companions. Such social visits, either home or away, were rarely as free and easy as their first slumber party, but sometimes they were. If they had been especially good, Miss Scott liked to indulge them, and a little chatter over afternoon tea was something that Beth quickly learned to eagerly strive for. In any case, she survived everything without further mishap. Henrietta was no longer in disgrace, and along with her sister, Georgina, she set their dear friend good examples which she had little choice other than to follow, thus keeping herself out of any further trouble. Her father tried to look pleased whenever she saw him at dinner, but he avoided all private conversations with her, especially when she had been in residence for over three weeks and there was no mention of them going home.

Beth felt as if she had entered some sort of alternative universe. She saw little evidence that the world outside of Meadvale even existed anymore. She lived her life in a much smaller and alien world, with totally different rules, but she did not see how it could last forever. Her father was just trying to bend her to his will, she decided, maybe even to break her, but she remained determined to outlast him by rising above what was happening to her. She had convinced herself that she was allowing herself to be imprisoned at Broomwaters simply in order to set herself free when they had to leave. She longed to talk to him, but he was not ready to talk to her, so she practised patience. It was July and come September she had to go back to school, or to some sort of college. He could not and would not avoid that date. He was usually obsessed with her academic progress, but his work or whatever he was doing seemed to be taking temporary precedence. But she had time on her side. He could not ignore her forever and she intended to have the last laugh, and claim the moral high ground too. He could not keep her prisoner forever.

She got to know the village. She started to realise that its serenity and tolerance was based on money. It was a quaint place and apparently comfortable with Reformism, with heathens happily living and working alongside people with whom they had very little in common on the face of things. But she began to see that the local heathens she met were largely catering to a captive audience. For instance, Mrs Harper’s busy haberdashery catered for the lovers of needlepoint and sewing in general, a pastime every Reformist lady she had met, regardless of age or class, seemed to adore. Henrietta and Georgina would often have their frame on their laps whilst they listened to their lessons, and she imagined others would do the same. Beth had gladly followed suit, because if she did not she would be left in her mittens, and Mrs Harper was making her living out of selling the expensive bits and pieces her suitable new hobby required. Independent bakers, butchers and greengrocers seemed to do an excellent trade, and there were three shops selling the unique fashions of the congregation, whose displays Henrietta and Georgina drooled over. Her friends could go on forever about a touch of lace on a gown, or a certain shade. But without really understanding if it meant anything she could see that the community was also very insular. Everyone seemed to rely on each other, and not look to the world outside. Most of the people she socialised with seemed to be rich, maybe not as rich as the Harrington’s and the Craig’s obviously were, but clearly well off.

So Beth was quite curious when Miss Scott announced that the girls were going to be making some charitable visits in the village. It actually seemed to be part of the finishing process for Henrietta and Georgina, as far as Beth could tell, which she understood involved them becoming quite comfortable in all social situations. But it was also Church work, and therefore taken very seriously, so Beth was not surprised when they were all dressed up to more or less Sunday standards. She had already learned that velvet was the only material considered suitable for a proper lady to wear during the day in Meadvale, regardless of the weather, but Miss Scott seemed particularly keen for them to look their best that particular morning. Incredibly, Beth hardly noticed, in that she was getting used to the restrictions always imposed on her, whilst also being completely surrounded by people who treated it all as absolutely normal. She stood stock still whilst Miss Scott fitted her muzzle, tilting her head as her friends always did, before bobbing a thank you curtsey and earning a smile from her guardian for her efforts. Henrietta had told her that Miss Scott rewarded good behaviour, and it was true. She was really starting to yearn for that little smile or a nod of the head from Miss Scott, because as Henrietta suggested, it was a reassurance.

Her cloak for that morning was rather different, however. It was just as heavy as every other one she had worn, but instead of her arms and useless mittened hands being held inside it, this one had slits, allowing her arms to poke through. She soon learned it was to allow her to hold a basket in the crook of left arm, because she could not carry it any other way in mittens, and from then on she was quite sure their activities that day were going to be very different to anything she had done before in the village. In a few minutes, not quite as heavily veiled as she was for Church but still more than usually, she found herself walking down into Meadvale and heading off into a residential area she did not even know existed. Up until that morning her walks with Miss Scott and the Harrington’s had been restricted to the village centre, around the green, and then the road down to the river and the Cathedral, which led back to Broomwaters via other big houses, such as Lake House. But by turning away from the Cathedral she soon found herself in a more densely populated residential area, with roads of small terraced houses, some semi-detached and even several small blocks of flats, although Miss Scott referred to them as maisonettes. Beth was not exactly shocked, because she lived in Islington, and although her father’s flat was in a nice area she had driven through a rough estate just half a mile away lots of times, but somehow, dressed as they were, it did not seem the right sort of place to be.

“Girls, we are visiting several families here this morning...not all Church members,” Miss Scott cautioned, stopping on the corner of two roads to talk to her three charges about their plans. “However, regardless of their membership...or otherwise...your duty as maidens is always exactly the same. Show absolute respect for and obedience to the words of God and set an appropriate example. Your reputation and that of your parents is at stake. None of these people are as fortunate as you, they cannot dedicate their lives to earning God’s love because they have to work and put food on their tables, they have to pay their rent and cover their bills as well as doing the household chores. But by your actions and behaviour, they should admire you and think well of you and your parents, in God’s love.”

Beth found that little pep talk quite astonishing in the circumstances. She could not speak or use her hands, her sight was dimmed, at best, and she could not move freely in her tight corset and heavy clothes. Miss Scott would have to do all the talking as well as handing out their gifts, whatever was in their baskets, whilst all the girls could do was stand there and perhaps curtsey occasionally. However, she nodded her agreement and understanding of her instructions along with Henrietta and Georgina and did her level best to remember all her lessons, trying to set a good example. Pastor Michael, the voice in her head, kept telling her that her life should be like a beacon to others. She was supposed to be one of the lucky ones in God’s love. She was leading a pious, blessed life in God’s loving embrace, and she ought to be proud to show others what could be done in His name. So, she found herself following Miss Scott as they knocked on all the little doors, sometimes giving something from their baskets, such as tinned food or a small pocket bible as a present, but more often than not just asking after people. Half of the women who answered the little doors were quite obviously Reformists, but they had little in common with the Harrington’s. There were no guardians or servants in those homes, which Beth had got surprisingly accustomed too in just a few weeks in Meadvale, so the mistress of the house answered her own door, and did not wear mittens or a muzzle. Most wore long dresses, because modesty was still clearly required of them, but not velvet ones, as that was far too impractical for doing household chores in, and the skirts were not held wide, because they would not have been able to move around their small rooms without knocking things over. Nevertheless, they were Reformists, and they greeted Miss Scott and the three girls like angels of mercy, thanking them profusely for their kindness and finding the time to call, clearly honoured to be in their presence3. One, a Mrs Ford, who seemed to know Miss Scott quite well, insisted on inviting them all in for a cool drink and a rest, because it was getting really very hot outside and they had all been walking around for hours, and their guardian readily agreed, obliging all four of them to squeeze inside the tiny house. Their gowns took up so much space it was almost impossible, and farcical, but Miss Scott took charge, removing their cloaks one at a time and taking each girl through into the lounge so that they could be sat down and out of the way before another was brought in. Beth was last, and started to feel as she had felt at her first Church service again, but as soon as she was sitting down and a bottle of ice cold water was attached to her feeding tube, she quickly began to revive and take a much keener interest in her latest surroundings.

“And how is that pretty young daughter of yours, Mrs Ford?” Miss Scott asked, sipping her own water, and Beth realised that the guardian had to be tired too. She was dressed more or less the same as them, apart from a muzzle, and she wore gloves instead of mittens, but she had to feel the heat too.

“Chloe is struggling a little Miss Scott as I think you know, thank you for asking...she is a good girl really and she studies so hard...but mixing with heathens at that college means that she is always surrounded by temptation, I am afraid.” Mrs Ford replied, a look of obvious concern on her face. “She finds it so hard to come home and behave as a maiden should...she has homework...and distractions...we have been so worried about her. But she really has to have qualifications to get a decent job, and she is going to have to work because we have had no offers of marriage. We have very little to offer any potential suitor of course, and quite frankly we need the money Miss Scott...”

“Chloe is at a difficult age...as are my three girls here. Did you receive the package Mrs Harrington sent you the other day Mrs Ford?” Miss Scott asked sympathetically.

“Oh yes...such a lovely gown...I did write to thank Mrs Harrington, and Chloe wore it to Church once...but she says it is too impractical and causes too much work for me. She really is a good girl Miss Scott, really she is...always helping me and thinking of me...but...”

“She is a credit to you, Mrs Ford...but she needs a firmer hand, I fear. It really is up to you and your husband to keep her on the path to righteousness, and not up to her to decide what is or is not too much for anyone else.” Miss Scott said, her tone hardening a little as she cut across Mrs Ford, not letting her finish her sentence. “What time is Chloe due home from college this afternoon?”

“Any minute, Miss Scott...she has free periods on Wednesday afternoons and can come home early. I must admit I hoped she would be home before you left...that is why I asked you in...because she needs someone like these wonderful young ladies to look up to, someone to show her the right way to behave.”

“Good...then if you will allow us to, we will wait to see her. Perhaps the girls can all be positive role models for your daughter...and if I may be so bold, perhaps I can assist you in...encouraging...Chloe?” Miss Scott suggested, and Mrs Ford agreed at once, looking quite relieved to have Miss Scott’s help and advice. Miss Scott asked about Mr Ford, and Beth rather lost interest, until just a few minutes later they all clearly heard a key in the front door just feet from the small lounge. Seconds later, a young woman walked into the lounge and did something of a double take. Miss Scott had said that Chloe Ford was pretty, and Beth supposed she was, with long blond hair held back in a ponytail and dressed in a floral print summer dress. She certainly looked demure, a word Beth had heard a lot in Meadvale, but not really modest in a Reformist sense. She looked like a primary school teacher, Beth thought to herself, definitely feminine and certainly not immodest, but even compared to her mother she did not look like a typical resident of Meadvale. For a start, Beth realised that she could see the shape of her body, the bulge of her breasts, and most shockingly of all, her dress had short sleeves. Mrs Ford stood up and introduced her daughter to everyone, and Chloe, hardly saying a word, performed a curtsey which looked strange and awkward in her ordinary college clothes. Because that was what they were Beth decided, imagining what it would be like for a Reformist girl to attend a secular college, surrounded by heathens. Beth had seen college girls in London when she was home for the holidays from Deepdene. She did not know how old Chloe was, but typically colleges took sixteen to eighteen year olds who had left school and were looking to study in a more grown up atmosphere, either as a means of getting their exams before going to university, or sometimes to study other things with a future career in mind. Colleges like that did not have uniforms and like most teenagers, the students would wear jeans, or other quite casual things, and in even in her dress Chloe Ford risked sticking out like a sore thumb.

Beth watched Chloe closely as her mother told her that Miss Scott was there to help her and she thought that the young woman looked less than thrilled at the news. But her mother was not asking her opinion of course, and just moments after arriving home Chloe found herself being escorted upstairs by Miss Scott, leaving Mrs Ford to keep an eye on the three girls. She gave them all another bottle of water, fiddling for a long time with their feeding tubes which she seemed unfamiliar with, and then sat with them, reading from her bible. Beth sat just as still as she could, well aware of her responsibilities, trying hard to concentrate, but was soon distracted by the sudden, harsh sound of a raised voice coming from upstairs.

It really was a small house and the walls were probably not that thick, so Miss Scott’s strong voice was quite unmistakable downstairs. Mrs Ford’s cheeks reddened a little and she read a little louder, but whilst she stopped the girls being able to make out anything being said, she could not quite disguise the sound which replaced the raised voice a few moments later. Beth heard the painfully familiar sound of a paddle connecting ruthlessly with a bare bottom, rhythmically and persistently, many more than twelve times. Beth blocked it out and sought God’s love in the familiar words of the bible, a prayer for Chloe Ford running through her mind all the time, urging the poor girl to accept God’s love.

‘The Bible is clear that those who fail to heed the Lord’s discipline – whether nations, cities, or individuals – suffer devastating consequences.’

Charles Stanley

Legend has it that Sir Isaac Newton solved the mysteries of gravity when an apple fell on his head, and in his dotage Charles Buckingham would say that he solved the conundrum of turning Michael Winstanley’s vision of a Christian country into an electable manifesto at the customer service counter in Meadvale’s one and only garage. He had a puncture coming back from an appointment in Guildford and although he managed to put on the spare wheel, he went straight to the garage to get things sorted out and checked over. The man behind the counter was taking his details, and asking what he wanted done.

“And it’s £7.99 to balance the tyres...always worth rebalancing them if you replace one sir or everything gets out of kilter. It will save you money in the end.”

Rather like Newton, it was more of an eureka moment than the actual solution to the puzzle itself. Charles Buckingham had been introduced to Christian Reformism by David Harrington at perhaps his lowest ebb, a fact Harrington himself had reminded him of during their fruitless brainstorming session. He had never been a regular churchgoer before his wife got ill, but during her agonising decline and after her death, Buckingham found himself at the back of his local church in Islington most Sunday mornings. He was lonely of course. His wife was gone and Elizabeth was away at school, and time and grief hung heavily on his shoulders. But it was almost two long empty years later, with his career about to be shattered and his daughter rebelling against the demands of her cripplingly expensive education that he met Harrington and poured his heart out over a decent steak and several bottles of very expensive wine. Harrington offered an objective shoulder to cry on but it was always more than that for Charles, much more. The two men seemed to have a strong connection and a lifelong friendship had begun, but the thing which changed Buckingham’s life was David’s invitation to a dinner he was having in his London penthouse. He obviously did a lot of work in London, and he found it convenient to have a flat there, although being a billionaire it was rather more than a flat. If he had dinners there, it was rarely anything to do with the Church as his business interests were far broader than that, but it just so happened that one of the other guests that night was Michael Winstanley.

Charles Buckingham was never really sure if that was a deliberate decision made by David Harrington or just a coincidence. If he was honest, he felt the former, because as the evening developed Michael Winstanley encouraged a lively debate on the future of the Conservative Party and what needed to be done to drag the country out of the depression that was already into its eleventh year. Buckingham gave his views and he ended up with an invitation to meet with Michael Winstanley in private. He kept the appointment at a hotel in Marylebone, which ended up lasting nearly eight hours and resulted in him officially joining the Church of Christian Reform, although he was not precisely sure what that really meant at the time. But Winstanley considered it necessary if Charles Buckingham was going to act as a very well paid political consultant for the Church, and perhaps become its first Member of Parliament in due course.

As he grabbed a few scraps of paper from the garage man, desperate to write down the flash of inspiration that had just occurred to him, he was amazed at how fast everything had happened since that meeting with Winstanley. He realised that he had been selected, on Harrington’s recommendation, but he was not initially sure why. He had enjoyed a good four years in David Cameron’s last government, but his rise had been far from meteoric and when the political tide turned he had been kicked out on his ear. He was thirty eight years old, a widower with a troubled teenage daughter, no income and no future, but David Harrington had just got him a job advising a religious fanatic on how to start his own political party. And despite his personal interest in the Church, and the comfort he was feeling as he learned more about God’s love, his initial reaction to what Michael Winstanley and Paul Craig called their either their manifesto or their doctrine was not far short of derision. So in the middle of his personal turmoil involving Elizabeth’s future, and the great kindness shown to them by the Harrington’s, he had to tell a man apparently prepared to pay him one hundred thousand pounds for his considered professional opinion that their well-laid plans were completely unworkable. Meadvale was a model village, a model community, and having taken a long hard look at what the Reformists were doing there he thought it was an admirable effort and a quite remarkable place. But it was also impossible to recreate elsewhere. If Winstanley refused to see that his ambitions were heading for failure.

Michael Winstanley had a very clear vision of the future. For the greater good, the people of Great Britain had to be stopped doing some things and made to do others, which would result in a better place to live. But it was all too harsh, too black and white, and too extreme to gain real popular support. Winstanley wanted to hit the country with just about everything all at once. He had a five year plan that involved moving mountains and feeding the five thousand with little more than one MacDonald’s happy meal. David Harrington had stopped Buckingham short of telling Winstanley and Craig that they had got it all wrong. He urged his friend to take another look and make some alternative proposals, to earn his corn. And he had tried, day after day, but it was impossible to make sense of it all, until the man behind the counter in the garage made an innocent reference to balance. Buckingham scribbled the word on the scrap of paper followed by rebalancing and the phrase ‘out of kilter’ and then the simple word reasonable underlined three times. He paced around the car park whilst they were finishing with his tyres, eager to get back to the study David Harrington had lent him at Broomwaters to flesh out his thoughts. And then he stopped as the sun came out from behind a cloud and looked up at the bright blue sky. Did he believe in God’s will? Did he think that there was a hand on his shoulder, pointing him in the right direction, stopping him going off on the wrong path? Was he meant to come to Meadvale, to find the answer he so badly needed, not only for himself, but for his daughter too?

’The Bible says to ‘fear not’ but this doesn’t mean you should never feel scared. It means when you do feel fear, keep going forward and do what you are supposed to do. Or as I like to say, do it afraid.’

Joyce Meyer

Miss Scott returned Chloe Ford to the small lounge about an hour after they both went up the stairs, by which time Elizabeth, Henrietta and Georgina had cooled down whilst Mrs Ford was starting to sound a little hoarse after reading for so long and so loudly. Not that Chloe Ford was really recognisable anymore. She was wearing a dark green velvet gown every bit as wide and extravagant as her illustrious visitors, presumably the one Mrs Harrington had sent for her, and her long blond hair was pulled up into what Beth knew by then was called a maiden’s bun, a style specifically designed to be compatible with the wearing of coal-scuttle bonnets. Chloe walked rather stiffly to the one remaining chair in the room, a rather stout armchair in the corner, and Miss Scott patiently and gently helped her to sit down, carefully arranging the voluminous folds of silk-lined velvet as she would for any of her charges to prevent unnecessary creasing. Chloe was obviously wearing mittens and a muzzle, whilst her eyes were red and her face was noticeably pale. Once she was settled, Miss Scott turned to Mrs Ford and, much to Beth’s surprise, spoke quite sternly with her.

“Chloe is a maiden, Mrs Ford...the same as any other. She needs firm direction at all times and you must ensure that she behaves...although I do understand that some compromises will need to be made. Even if she must attend this...college...for the sake of her future prospects of course...she must attend as a maiden, and not pretending to be a heathen. She cannot just wear her muzzle and corset for Church...it is not enough, it smacks of tokenism and it allows Chloe to get ideas, Mrs Ford...it is as if your entire family does not respect God enough to honour him and like this it is impossible for you to earn God’s love.” Miss Scott paused and looked around the room, her face grave and her tone serious, and Beth saw Mrs Ford raise a hand to her eye, perhaps brushing away a tear. “I am afraid...but not entirely surprised...that Chloe did not entirely agree with my views...but I think we have resolved that particular issue as I am sure you are aware. But you really must be firmer with her in the future. She must obviously save this gown for best, but you have some quite reasonable alternatives in her wardrobe. She may need to dress practically for college but she must change as soon as she gets home...and there is really no reason she cannot wear her day corset and the necessary protection under her college clothes...if you decide that she really must go. I would also recommend that you muzzle her when she gets home and changes too...I see no need for her to use her voice until dinner with her father...and although she must do any homework she has been set by her tutors she should be put in mittens just as soon as it is done, and then she can concentrate properly on her Bible studies. I also understand that she is finished with college for the summer at the end of this week...so I shall arrange for her to be invited to tea with us and some of the other families along the river to give her some proper encouragement during the holidays. Oh Mrs Ford, I do appreciate the difficulties of your situation and I also admire Chloe’s desire to help you, but she is not helping you by shaming herself like this. It will damage her reputation...and yours Mrs Ford. I know that was never your intention but I am afraid that a Daughter of Eve can so easily take advantage of even the most pious mother in such circumstances.”

“I know she spends too much time away from me...out of the house unsupervised...but we do not have any other choice...” Mrs Ford murmured, cowed by Miss Scott’s lecture.

“She does, but needs must...God’s path is not always the easy path and you must be strong for Chloe, in God’s love.” Miss Scott insisted, whilst checking the clock on the Ford’s little mantelpiece. “I have told her that you will beat her again tonight before you put her into her sleeping gown, Mrs Ford. She needs to know that you are strong enough to control her on your own without my assistance, or we will lose her to the devil Mrs Ford...as surely as the sun rises in the east every morning.”

’This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do.”

Joel Osteen

“Girls like Chloe Ford are completely out of control...it is high time her like were taken in hand by someone.” Madeleine Craig pronounced haughtily when the subject was raised the next afternoon, during the return slumber party. Miss Scott had worked the five girls hard all morning but as a reward for their efforts and good behaviour she had removed their muzzles after lunch and left them alone in the orangery. It was really quite lovely sitting in there, with air-conditioning and a view of the immaculate gardens falling away to the river, and although still wearing their mittens, the girls could relax and chat in private. “Certainly Miss Scott did the right thing by punishing her...that is exactly what the work of the charitable foundation is for...and I do hope her mother beat her again as directed.”

“She really shouldn’t be at college,” Georgina agreed, taking Beth by surprise. She thought of Madeleine as bombastic and overbearing but Georgina was a sweet girl who would never say a bad word about anyone. “She will never attract a husband like that...and her family’s reputation will be totally ruined...her dress really was quite improper...”

“She needs the money...her mother said so...not everyone is rich as you, Georgina.” Beth pointed out, scratching her nose with the end of her mitten, before demurely resting her hands back in her lap. Miss Scott had been teaching her how to sit properly and the position was becoming second nature to her. She knew she needed to scratch less and endure more. She would never earn God’s love otherwise.

“Oh that is just an excuse...all maidens are rich in God’s love...no maiden should be in any sort of public education after the age of sixteen, as there is no legal requirement for it...Chloe is a maiden, not a heathen girl who thinks she can have a career...it is just pointless. That sort of thing might be acceptable for a Baptist...or even a Mormon God help them...but we are Christian Reformists. She is not dressing properly and she is not properly chaperoned whilst she is there...it really is astonishingly reprehensible and a real disgrace.” Madeleine continued and the others all nodded, Beth noticed, dutifully following the party line. Again Beth felt so disengaged from the real world, where money needed to be earned and a girl was as entitled to work as anyone else. “She will never attract a husband like that...she is a disgrace to God’s love and the foundation is saving her from the devil.”

“So how do poor boys marry?” Beth asked, because to her the question was both obvious and reasonable. On the rare occasions she was allowed to talk privately with the other girls she had always been very careful about what she said, partly because she was nervous about getting into more trouble with Miss Scott but mostly concerned about causing offence. She was still expecting to go home of course, and she knew that her father would not be pleased if she offended his friends, but she also liked Henrietta and Georgina. She recognised that she came from a totally different, totally separate world, and she knew that the details of her own life would have shocked them to the core. In comparison, Chloe Ford’s mild transgressions were probably nothing and that was surely why Miss Scott had told her not to talk about her problems at Deepdene. Her father had always wanted her to study hard and do well at school and he certainly would not think that staying in full-time education beyond the age of sixteen was a waste of time. He had always wanted her to go to university and make the most of her opportunities. Charles Buckingham had scrimped and saved to send her to her late mother’s old school because he wanted her to have to best things in life, which was one of the reasons he was so cross about her suspension, of course. Even as she asked the question, everything was still going around and around in Beth’s head, taunting her. No wonder he was so cross with her, because she had thrown all of his hopes and dreams for her back in his face. Thus dumping her on the Harrington’s and allowing her to be treated like a maiden by someone like Miss Scott was no doubt his idea of a punishment to fit the crime. He wanted her to see how lucky she was, to make her surrender to his will and go back to Deepdene for two more years like a good little girl, to prove that he was right all along. But she was becoming equally determined to stand up to him for once, to endure her sojourn in the mad world of Reformism and prove to him that she had a mind of her own, and alternative plans. Deep down Beth knew that her father was no Christian Reformist, even though that was what the Harrington’s seemed to think. Henrietta and Georgina, and more worryingly Miss Scott herself, always talked as if she was staying with them for the foreseeable future, and certainly for the whole summer, but her father could never do that, regardless of what it meant for his doting daughter. Charles Buckingham was a Christian of sorts, she supposed, because he still went to church now and again and he had sent her to a Christian school, but he had never forced it on her, or even talked about it much to her. He also very passionately believed in education for all, not just for boys, although her companions would never understand that and there was little point in trying to make them.

“Oh that depends,” Henrietta replied with an indulgent smile, taking the question seriously in her continued efforts to help Beth settle, a term Beth was thoroughly sick of hearing. “It is often something arranged between family friends and acquaintances, like anyone else...I do not think family fortunes preclude that...but of course Elizabeth, there is not a limitless supply of suitable young men and Mr Ford would not be able to offer much of a dowry or bestow any positive influence on his future son-in-laws career, so her reputation is absolutely vital to her prospects.”

“Chloe and her parents are part of the First Congregation...it is very unusual for a girl like her to go into further education,” Alice added, to more nods from the other girls.

“First Congregation?” It was a term Elizabeth had heard before, but she had never had a chance to ask what it meant before.

“It means what it says Elizabeth...the people who followed Pastor Richard were called the First Congregation...and their descendants like us,” Henrietta explained patiently. “And now it encompasses those who regularly worship at the Cathedral, and are thus part of Pastor Michael’s flock. There are several other Reformist Churches in the surrounding area, with their own Pastor’s mentored by Pastor Michael, who can invite people like you and your father to join us at the Cathedral. I am sure the Ford’s moved here with Pastor Richard...so Chloe really is causing a huge furore.”

“The wicked girl is clearly taking advantage of her poor mother...it is our Christian duty to help her father save them both from the devil’s work,” Madeleine added, sticking her nose in the air as if there was a terrible smell somewhere beneath her.

‘I think a lot of people, even Christians, are willing to be satisfied with gaining lots and lots of biblical knowledge – and many people go to Bible studies and don’t realise it isn’t enough to know what’s right, it’s applying the information and the knowledge that you have.’

Charles Stanley

Charles Buckingham locked himself away in David Harrington’s study and refused to talk to anyone. Even David Harrington, who was understandably curious, because he wanted to finish his proposals before sharing them even with his host, let alone everyone else. He had a lot to get through because he was taking it all back to basics. Not just in terms of the doctrine Michael Winstanley had produced but his own political beliefs and his personal experience of the British political system, all mixed in together. He thought of the raw doctrine as the cure but before he could apply it, or elements of it, he felt that he needed to accurately define the disease. His wife had officially died of cancer, but he reckoned that it was the chemotherapy which had actually killed her, the supposed cure. Her doctors had told him then that it was often impossible to get the balance right, he remembered, hearing that word in his head again as if someone was trying to make him focus. It was all about balance.

British society was sick in so many ways. It depressed Buckingham to list them but it was also no surprise. Everyone knew that so many things were wrong but the political system did not allow anyone the time or the power to provide a cure. Instead, the two main, existing and popular political doctrines of socialism and capitalism fought for the right to tinker around the edges every five years or so. Radical change was seldom if ever proposed because to form a government each major party, either Conservatives or Labour, had to appeal to the moderate centre of the electorate in order to secure a numerical majority. The pendulum swung backwards and forwards for various reasons as dictated by circumstances, personnel or simple tedium, but neither party dared to suggest anything which might spook any floating voters. Mixed in with all the scandals and embarrassments that had tainted all politicians, the pervading atmosphere surrounding politics and politicians had resulted in a series of hung or very finely balanced parliaments. So instead of addressing issues and looking for a cure to the problems in society, the leading political figures spent most of their media time blaming their opponents rather than proposing solutions.

Part of that was because the political elite looked down on the electorate. There was a view amongst some that the voters could not understand the issues, and certainly could not be trusted to make the right decision on a number of things. For instance, Europe. Politicians of both sides were frightened to allow a referendum in case the British public voted to leave, a scenario the majority of Westminster politicians feared greatly. So they refused to explain the real situation because they thought that people would misunderstand the problems and reach the wrong conclusions. Politicians believed they knew best, but made quite sure that they never told their constituents the truth, for fear of confusing them.

Charles Buckingham believed that he had the cure. By going back to basics and ignoring the restrictions being either a Conservative or a Labour party member imposed, he could think the unthinkable and get to the root cause of any problem. The idea of applying a new broom to old problems was immediately attractive. The old ways were simply not working so something new was required. But the most important thing was how it was presented, as he was nervous about being too radical. He wanted to be different without scaring the horses as it were. He needed to work on the language and the scale. He could not afford to preach and he wanted to inspire, but he was reluctant to go too far, too fast. He was not ignoring the broad themes of the Winstanley message. But he had to translate it and make it relevant to someone who did not fear any God, let alone believe in one. He had to find that balance. He had to be demonstrably reasonable.

‘But God will have a people upon the Earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.’

Ellen G. White

Elizabeth Buckingham did not ask any more questions. It was too dangerous. She did not want Miss Scott to find out that she was talking about such things for fear that it was taken as a criticism, and she knew the others would tell their guardians if she said anything which they considered unwelcome. But she was fascinated to hear about the First Congregation and other Reformist churches in and around Meadvale. And she had so little else to think about, other than Pastor Michael’s personalised daily sermons, so she thought about it all quite a lot. That Sunday at Church, she tried to see as much as she could through her extra layers of veils, but it was hard to distinguish anyone or anything in their Sunday best, and she did not really hear anything else of interest either, much to her annoyance. But the very next morning, as she sat in the small drawing room at Broomwaters listening intently to Pastor Michael, and praying along with Henrietta and Georgina, Miss Scott led Chloe Ford into the room and settled her amongst them. The guardian told them that Chloe was spending the day with them, and quite possibly the night if all went well, and if they were all good they would be allowed to walk in the garden later on and chat. It was all the encouragement Beth and her pious friends needed and she found herself praying harder than she had ever prayed before, well aware that Miss Scott was watching her particularly closely. And after a liquid lunch and being put into their cloaks and veils, but without their muzzles, the four girls were finally allowed outside into Broomwaters’ fine gardens, David Harrington’s pride and joy.

“Are you enjoying your holiday from college, Chloe?” Beth asked, walking close by her companion’s side so that their cloaks and skirts brushed together as they strolled down a wide shingle pat, putting one of Miss Scott’s patent conversation openers into practise. Maidens had to be able to converse sociably, when it was permitted, and it was something Miss Scott made her pupils practise every day. Henrietta and Georgina had walked a little ahead, calling out to the family pet, a little terrier, so the two guests were more or less alone.

“Oh yes...thank you, Miss Elizabeth...let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Chloe replied with a stifled sigh, quoting Galatians 6:9, a passage that Pastor Michael had spent a lot of time on with Beth by proxy, so recognised the words and the meaning.

“I hope your mother is being...patient...with you?” Beth asked carefully. She obviously knew that Chloe had been in trouble but did not want to raise the matter directly.

“Is Miss Scott patient with you, Miss Elizabeth?” Chloe almost snapped back, the merest hint of irony in her tone.

“Not noticeably...and please, you do not have to call me Miss Elizabeth, Chloe.” Beth said just as quickly, a little taken aback but doing her best to be friendly. Miss Scott had told her to be polite regardless of the situations. Manners, after all, cost nothing.

“Oh yes I do...I really do...because I am a charity case,” Chloe said with feeling as she let her emotions get the better of her. “Girls like me only get inside a place like this if we are sweeping the floors, wiping your bums or accepting your generosity...like today. And Miss Scott has bribed my mother to do the right thing by me, so I have to mind my manners and be grateful in God’s love.”

“I am sorry...if she is being strict with you...I was just...” Beth stammered, still desperate not to upset anyone. The conversation was not going as she had hoped at all, and she did not really know what to say. But apparently Chloe immediately thought better of her attitude, as nervous of getting into trouble as Beth was.

“Oh...it’s not your fault...you don’t know any better, Miss Elizabeth.” Chloe sighed as they turned towards the marble fountains at the bottom of the gardens, furthest from the house. It was an imposing sight, and she guessed that the water feature probably cost more than her parent’s house. “Girls like you...”

“But I am much more like you than you think, Chloe...I am not like Henrietta and Georgina at all, really I am not. I only arrived here in June, when I finished my exams...I was away at boarding school...and I will be going back...somewhere...in September to take my A levels. I am not like the others,” Beth insisted, trying hard to explain herself in a few short words as she was sure they would not be left alone for much longer. If nothing else Henrietta and Georgina would return to their side.

“You seem quite like them to me.”

“Only to please my father...I am just here by accident, I promise.”

“Ok...maybe...but you are still rich...it’s not the same.”

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of God.” Beth responded thinking Corinthians 10:3-10:6 very appropriate, the words coming easily to her in Michael Winstanley’s soporific voice. “I have been brought up as a Christian, I suppose...my boarding school is a Christian boarding school...but we are not really Reformists. My father and Mr Harrington are business associates, and after my exams...I had some trouble at school...my father thought a summer here would give me a chance to rest and...well, sort myself out, I suppose...and we are certainly not rich, by any means. We live in a two bedroom flat in North London for goodness sake!”

“We have always been Reformists...and it’s different for people like us.”

“I can see that...I am not stupid...it must be awful, going to a normal school or college and then coming home to...” Beth commiserated, but then could not find the words to express herself.

“Oh lots of people do...especially the poor ones...but Mum doesn’t want to leave the First Congregation, and more importantly the stupid Pastors don’t want us to leave. That’s why you lot just turned up on our doorstep...and now everything is different again...Mum and Dad are taking...advice.”

“How do you mean? What has been happening?” Beth asked, desperate to know, sure that Chloe could be a friend for her, someone who was not so totally immersed in the strange world of Meadvale as the others. “Are there other congregations?”

“Mum works...so if she has to go out, she is leaving me alone to pray...just like we did this morning...or I am sent to somewhere where I will be properly looked after, like a neighbour to watch over me. The other congregations...away from the Cathedral...are less extreme. They understand that people have to work, go to school...but our Pastors hate it. They don’t like losing anyone, not when they have us where they want us...so...I have no chance.”

“She leaves you to pray?”

“Corseted, in mittens, kneeling in the lounge. She puts thread around me, so that she can see if I have moved...it is doing my head in...I can’t think anymore and I can’t escape. I don’t want this...I want a life.” Chloe moaned, but then the path widened and the other girls joined them again, and neither Chloe nor Beth could talk like that, honestly and openly, in front of the Harrington girls. But it all made Beth think a lot more. She thought she knew what was happening but she had not actually talked to her father about it, which would be the sensible thing to do. In fact, he had hardly talked to her at all since they arrived at Broomwaters. He could not understand what was really going on, and she wanted to talk to him, to warn him about the reality, because the people he was involved with were obviously insane. He might think he was teaching her a lesson, but he would never be involved with people like that if he knew what was really going on. She was sure of that, and once he knew, once he knew about people like Chloe Ford and understood what happened to his own daughter in the nursery when he was not there to look after her, he would come to his senses.

‘Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy but the Bible says love your enemy.’

Frank Sinatra

“Good old Neil Hooks...he could drive a saint to drink,” Gavin Williams suggested as he leaned back against the bar in a favourite Westminster hole, savouring the sight of his first of the day. “He actually makes Nick Clegg appear quite statesmanlike.”

“Labour certainly don’t like him,” Brogan sighed, perching on a high stool as her mentor drained half of his beer and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

“No one likes him, not even his own party...maybe not even his own mother...and if he had not managed to do a deal with Strickland to enter into this godforsaken coalition he would have been ditched by now for sure.” Williams told her happily as he waved at the barman, not keen on waiting long for a refill. “He is too demanding...because he doesn’t think that dear old Brian has the balls to say no...but someone will, sooner or later, and then we will be back on the election buses again before you know it...and that is fun, believe me.”

“Surely they will sort it out somehow? No one wants another election do they?” Brogan asked, because Gavin liked to be consulted and she liked to get the truth out of him. He did not volunteer much but he loved the sound of his own voice, especially when he was drinking which was most of the time. He loved to pontificate, and it helped her learn the rules of the game.

“Well that depends on whether or not the person calling it thinks he can win...this is never going to last five years. David Cameron went a year early to try and flush out the euro sceptics in his party and Strickland would happily do the same if it means he can rid himself of Hooks and Sturgeon. In the end politicians are all opportunists, so if he thinks the time is right, Strickland will go back to the people.”

“You don’t think much of any of them, do you?” Brogan asked, sipping at her orange juice with some distaste. She did not like pubs. She would have preferred a coffee but Williams did not like to drink alone.

“Oh it’s just a fucking cesspit Brogie...corrupt, selfish and incestuous. It has nothing to do with democracy or anything that remotely resembles it. Almost a third of the people who can vote in this country cannot even be bothered...and that figure rises to preposterous levels for anything other than a general election. No one gives a flying fuck about politics...people like us spend our miserable little lives writing about it but the simple truth is that more people will vote for Simon Cowell’s latest wannabe than for any politician...it’s all a monumental waste of time if you ask me.”

“So why do you bother to write about it then?”

“Because it does matter...it really does...these bastards are screwing us all and someone has to at least pretend they care.” Williams said with some force, starting his third pint. “But they won’t let us write the truth of course...because the whole system would come tumbling down around their ears. They are all out for what they can get...and so are we...except we want truth and justice, don’t we sweet little Brogie?”

“I want to write the truth.”

“Well just don’t hold your breath...you won’t hear much of it, and no one will pay you to write much of it either...not if the truth is that they are all fucking useless, which it is. The system supports the players and we are all players Brogie...they don’t like us rocking the boat too much in case we all get soaked. Everyone is looking after number one...so lose your ideals and lock your moral code in your desk drawer first thing every morning because there is no place for that shit in Westminster.”

’The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

Dwight L. Moody

“Such generous, caring people,” Mrs Ford sighed, admiring the new gown, new to them at any rate, which Chloe had arrived home in from Broomwaters. “Oh darling...this has hardly been worn at all...and it looks so lovely on you Chloe dear. Now let’s settle you down...I have another lesson from Pastor Michael for you to enjoy...he sent it specially. And your father will discuss it with you over dinner, so please make sure you concentrate this time.”

Chloe curtseyed to her mother before following her dutifully into the lounge. She doubted if the gown had been worn at all as she was a little taller than both of the Harrington girls, but there was no point in mentioning that to her parents. They would just be even more thrilled that the Harrington’s were being so kind to them. As her lesson started she tried to stifle her frustrations, but it was almost impossible. She had missed the last two days of term because her father had decided that she would be better off at home, settling into her new routine, and since then she had been invited out to tea at least half a dozen times to learn from the most perfect examples of maidenhood in the whole village. Her summer was going to be one long virtuous slog and there did not seem to be anything that she could do about it, as no one would listen to reason, but come September she still needed to do something with her life, to contribute to the family coffers. Her parents were continually struggling to make ends meet whether they chose to admit it or not. Her father was basically a dustman and her mother cleaned several houses along the river, but they simply did not bring home enough to cover all their bills. Chloe wanted to help, to pull her weight, and repay them for all the sacrifices they had made for her, but her willingness to earn her own money was being misconstrued as some sort of rebellion against the Church, so they were all closing ranks on her. It was quite ironic really. In fact, almost laughable. She was a good Reformist; she believed in earning God’s love and she really knew no other way to live. But girls like her simply could not afford to be maidens. She wanted a nice husband and a lovely little family of her own just like anyone else, and she knew that her beloved parents would have to approve of anyone she chose, as well as deciding on any offers made for her in the future, but she was a realist. She knew how unlikely that was. The First Congregation was not that large. Not many people were looking around thinking that Chloe would make the perfect wife for their son. She was hardly the greatest of catches. Her piety or otherwise would not pay the bills.

However, she deeply regretted her petulant, ill-tempered outburst in front of poor Miss Buckingham, because she knew that her parents expected so much more of her. They were embarrassed at what she had to do to get the qualifications necessary to earn a living and it was churlish and unfair of her to pretend otherwise. She was a good Church girl and a part of her was embarrassed too. It would have been easier if she had stayed on at school to take her A levels, because she could have worn the school uniform then and no one could really ever complain about a school uniform. Indeed the Church had put subtle pressure on to all of the local schools in the area, usually by making large donations and then dropping extremely heavy hints. To ensure that dress codes were tightened up, to make things easier for girls just like Chloe. That was more or less government policy under David Cameron in any case but the Church had recognised the problem and acted positively to make things easier for their disciples. Her old school had reintroduced uniforms for sixth formers a few years before and the basic rules had been significantly enhanced, and more importantly strictly enforced for all pupils, to ensure modesty and decency but also to help Church girls fit in. But Chloe did not want to take A levels. She was a loyal Reformist, and a member of the First Congregation, so she was fully aware that any job she got would have to be considered appropriate. Her father would never let her work in a mixed environment so she needed to find a job where her modesty and reputation could never be compromised, and she decided upon becoming a nursery nurse. So she worked out that she needed to get an NVQ in it, and she could not do one of those at a school, she had to leave and go to college. And the college did not have so much as a dress code, let alone a uniform. Her mother had been uneasy about it, and her poor father downright worried, but she had managed to talk them around, because they knew that she was a good girl at heart, and that her intentions were pure.

Unfortunately she had not managed to convince anyone else. Being a member of the First Congregation meant that she could not take such pragmatic decisions about her future and expect them to go unnoticed. The Reformist community looked after its own, and when they saw a family in need they acted, in God’s love. Miss Scott’s paddle had quickly put Chloe back in her place, and her mother had beaten her twice more since when she tried to argue her case again. If she did not learn her lesson, and could not answer her father’s questions over dinner, she knew it would be three times. So Chloe Ford swallowed her frustrations as a good maiden should and gave herself back to God, as His servant. She knew that she would have to pray for His guidance. If she could earn His love, He would find a way for her to both help her beloved parents and secure her own future.

‘The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people and for the people.’

John Wycliffe

“So...as you can see...I have focussed on just five major areas...employment which always encompasses the benefit system, the health service, education, anti-social behaviour...which we would say includes common indecency and immodesty in our book...and finally, the age of consent for all things which currently have an age limit set in law.” Charles Buckingham said confidently, strolling up and down the side of the room with a remote control in his hand so that he could change his own slides and still be mobile. Harrington, Craig and Winstanley sat in a row on the other side of the large conference room table. They were in what David Harrington called the office wing at Broomwaters, his ingenious answer to the occasional inconvenience of working from home, and despite Buckingham’s enthusiastic and informal start the atmosphere in the room was decidedly cool. Harrington knew what he was going to say, and had bought into his ideas, but Craig and Winstanley looked as if they had been brooding on their last meeting for some months rather than days. “I know that your original document covered just about everything but it was too much to hit people with in one go and these are broadly the issues that matter most to the electorate...or maybe they are the ones in which we can suggest maximum social change with minimum public resistance. Let me make this clear...social change is obviously necessary and I think I can prove that to the media, or at least hold my own in arguing the case...I am just as committed to it as you are...but it is not a term we should focus on too much. It takes too much justifying and the resulting debates will lead us into areas where we risk losing votes rather than gaining them...”

“So you already want to keep God out of things and now you don’t even want to mention the need for social change?” Michael Winstanley interrupted darkly, clearly not feeling very comfortable. Buckingham took a deep breath before responding and glanced quickly at David Harrington, who had warned him to choose his words with extreme care. Talking Craig and Winstanley round to his way of thinking was going to be tough enough without risking any further misunderstandings. Winstanley was God’s man in all things. His faith was genuine and his personal commitment to the cause unlimited, so he tended to expect those around him to act the same way. Harrington had advised that he would need coaxing into seeing things their way. But Charles Buckingham suddenly saw it the opposite way. Michael Winstanley had asked for his professional advice because he was the politician, and therefore Charles had to stick up for himself and give his advice. Regardless of the consequences he intended to be his own man, and not the good Pastor’s pet politician.

“Not entirely...but mostly yes, Michael,” Buckingham snapped back, stepping towards the Pastor and speaking with passion and a little anger. “I came here to look at your plans to launch a new political party based on your vision of social change, by using God’s words as a political doctrine. If I liked what I saw and you liked me, you suggested that you wanted me to stand as a candidate for this constituency and put together as many liked minded souls to fight the next election. So I can only really presume that...after going to so much trouble and expense...you want to win...and whether you like it or not it is votes that count in this game and not prayers. I am standing here as your very well paid political consultant and I am basically interviewing for a job as your political consultant...and I know that you all have very ambitious plans for your new party. Well that’s all fine and dandy but those grand plans are going to be pretty pointless if you alienate half of the electorate by either stuffing God down their heathen throats or pointing out that they are scum. Look, if you don’t want my advice on political matters that is your choice...I’ll be straight out of here, no regrets and no bad feelings...but this is my world, not yours. If you want to know how to make this work, if you actually want to hear my advice, stop sulking like a spoiled child who just had their favourite toy taken away from them and bloody listen to me.”

“Fair point, well made...do get on with it, Charles,” David Harrington said after a silence that seemed to last a lifetime. Then Paul Craig sat back and stretched with a smile playing on his lips and a rather red-faced Michael Winstanley just nodded, to suggest that Buckingham should continue.

“Ok...good...so my initial intention is to focus on the basics...because we can achieve clear differentiation from our opponents in these five areas...and if we try to do too much all at once the message will get lost. As a new party we will be fighting for media time anyway so we can’t overcomplicate things. You have to remember that our audience is not captive in any way...they can turn off the radio, change the channel or bin the newspaper...and their attention span is short...much shorter than you think gentlemen. So my plan is to concentrate on policy ideas...directional changes that underline our message and start a debate. Because we will be the only ones with something new to say...something radical...and that will take everyone by surprise. In fact...if we play our cards right...I am pretty sure that we can cause a media storm in certain areas, whether we are fighting six hundred and fifty seats or just a small proportion of them. But however many candidates we are putting up first time we will not get a second bite at the cherry so we have to have a plan and be professional. We are going to need professional support...media management is a very different skill to mine for instance...and we are going to have to set reasonable objectives. But before we get into any of that, let’s give Michael some partial comfort, because I am not trying to leave God out of this altogether. My suggested name for the new party is the Christian Democrats...the electorate are actually fairly familiar with a number of Christian values, and we are not going to be able to hide who we are funded by in any case. But make no mistake, government has to be a secular business or we get ourselves into all sorts of trouble. So we will be Christians and we will not try to hide it...I am proposing that every candidate we put up has to be a practising Christian, preferably a Reformist, although we all know that will be tough...and our political agenda will be firmly in line with Christian values...but we have to keep any formal Christian agenda out of things for as long as possible. Instead we focus on doing some very simple things that either represent basic commonsense or can be described as reasonable...or even actually desirable. In other words, we pair down the whole damned message about making sacrifices for the greater good and start with the important bits where we will actually get some meaningful public support and expose our opposition’s weaknesses. It is a bit like UKip you see...their basic anti-Europe message resonates with a lot of people...it is only really when they move away from Europe that they get into problems. Basically gentlemen I am proposing a pared down manifesto that might...just might...get some Christian Democratic candidates elected and we build from there. Michael, I know you are impatient because you believe in what you are doing...but you can’t work for the greater good until you are in power and you need me and a team of switched on professionals to get you there. Even then it will take time, but it is possible. We need to employ a good director of communications and get our story straight, but there is definitely a story here. We just have to find a way to make sure the voters get to listen to our message...and present it in a way that they do not reject out of hand. We need to edit and repackage...but let me do it my way and I guarantee that you will have a political party capable of influencing the electorate.”

‘It does not require great learning to be a Christian and be convinced of the truth of the Bible. It requires only an honest heart and a willingness to obey God.’

Albert Barnes

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach...nor to usurp authority over the man...but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed...and then Eve. And Adam was not deceived...but the woman...being deceived...was clearly in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” Pastor Michael’s voice soothed Beth, its lilt kind and gentle. Silence and obedience was good for her. She had no right to question her father’s plans for her. She was just a feeble girl, prone to sin, and her destiny was to be a wife and mother, not any sort of academic. She knew she had failed most of her exams, or at least not achieved the grades she should have. She did not need to wait for a letter to arrive in August to tell her that. She had not worked very hard at all, and yet she was making such a big thing about going to a college of her choice. She had no right to judge. “Judge not, that ye be judged...Mathew 7:1...it is not your place to question your father or the will of God...you do not know better than your father or your elders. Your place is at their feet, on your knees to God, to live a good life, and to bear the seeds of Adam, Daughter of Eve. You are blessed my child; you are kept from sin in the love of God, in His soft embrace. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right, Ephesians 6:1...Children, obey your parents in all things for this is well pleasing unto the Lord, Colossians 3:20. If you love me then keep my commandments John 14:15...And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death Exodus 21:15...Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you, James 4:7. Elizabeth Buckingham, everyone is plagued by doubt at times...it is normal, especially when you are young and on the threshold of adulthood, because the path of true righteousness is hard, but you have to trust in God, and in your father, and in the elders...you are being cleansed of your sins and shown the light...”

It went on and on, hour after endless hour, repeating again and again until she could recite the words herself. She did feel closer to God at Broomwaters. She never thought about God at Deepdene, despite daily prayers, chapel on Sunday and all of that, but in Meadvale, God seemed so close. Everyone talked about Him all the time. She thought, and worried, about sin, and she reflected on her past behaviour in this new light, feeling ashamed of so very many things. But in the back of her mind, she heard Chloe. She tried to think about that, to ignore Pastor Michael in her head, but something kept telling her that she was not like Chloe Ford. She was not from a poor family, even if they were not rich. She wanted for nothing in life. Except independence. But that was wrong of course. She should obey her father and the word of God; that was the true path, not sin and frivolity. She was a Daughter of Eve.

She was fed through her tube at lunchtime. But then, rather than joining the other girls to work on their needlepoint, which had been Miss Scott’s plan, she was put into her veils, cloak and bonnet and taken outside. Miss Scott left her on the terrace in the bright sunshine, starting to sweat, and told her to wait until someone came. She did as she was told, of course. Beth had learned to do that at Broomwaters, without hesitation or complaint, because maidens were dutiful and submissive. She stood still, with her cloak billowing in a slight breeze, and waited, still tasting the last of her lunch on her imprisoned tongue. Her lessons were still playing in her mind, as always taking time to push out of her way, like curtains shutting everything else out of her thoughts. She knew she had learned a lot at Broomwaters, but she reminded herself that her objective was still the same. Her brain fired lines from the bible at her again as if to tell her that she was wrong but she made herself ignore them, knowing that she would enjoy the peace once she had driven the voice away. It always confused her.

“Good afternoon Elizabeth...shall we walk down to the river?” Her father was suddenly beside her, and she wondered if she was dreaming for a moment, but she curtseyed anyway and let him take her arm, her cloak fluttering against his legs in the gentle breeze. “I have some news for you my darling...good news I hope.”

Charles Buckingham paused, his arm around her as they walked, holding her close. Beth looked up at him as best she could in her bonnet and mantle, her bright eyes blazing up at him, wanting to speak, but he just smiled and shook his head. “Silence is so good for you my darling little girl...I know it still frustrates you sometimes, being muzzled, but the inestimable Miss Scott tells me that all Daughters of Eve are just the same, at first. You just need a firm hand...and that was something I so often failed to give you...even sending you away so that someone else could do my dirty work...not a mistake I intend to make again my dear.”

Beth nodded, her heart leaping at the thought that he would not send her back to Deepdene again. That had to be what he meant of course. He walked on and she kept pace, a little out of breath, and she was frustrated, of course. They had not talked for almost six weeks in private and she longed to tell him what she was thinking about both the past and the future. He had left her to stew in her own juice, which she probably deserved, and then, when he did deign to speak to her he chose to do it whilst she was muzzled and could not respond, which started to scare her. If he did not want her to argue, what did he want to say to her and what news could he have that involved her? It was too early for exam results. If she had the date right it was the last day of July.

“So...my news...I came here to look at something for Mr Harrington and his friends...and of course, you ended up coming with me and learning some valuable lessons.” Buckingham continued, chuckling as if he had made a joke. “And now they have offered me a job...a very well paid job...and I suppose a new life. It was not really what I expected when I came down here, but I have been moved by Meadvale, by these kind, faithful people...and I have enjoyed watching you here. I do believe in God’s love...I think it was the only way I could cope with losing your mother...and in just a few weeks I have seen what that love has done for you. My darling girl, you have changed...I have watched you every night at dinner, learning to be so modest, and respectful, and learning your rightful place in God’s love. Now you can continue to learn and I can do the job I believe God has in mind for me, because David Harrington has said that we are welcome to stay here as long as we like. Not forever perhaps, I hope my new job will take me back to London sooner or later, and we will have a home there again, but Meadvale is our home now Elizabeth...we are both going to be very happy here. I just know it my darling...Meadvale is our home and you are a natural maiden, the sort of girl who will thrive in God’s love.”

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