The power game, p.12
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       The Power Game, p.12

           Thomas Keneally
 
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  ‘I suppose,’ said Power, ‘that you are curious as to why I wanted to see you.’

  ‘I presumed the quality of my conversation was sufficient enticement,’ she said.

  He chuckled. ‘I can’t resist unvarnished honesty, even if someone is being honest about their loathing of me.’

  ‘Should you tire of it, I’m sure you can find more than enough disciples, even here.’

  ‘Possibly. Could I trust them, though, to show me a true reflection of the world beyond these walls? No, there are few people who walk in here with exposed intentions. You are one. Walter was another.’

  ‘Walter? What possible intentions could he have had? You’re not referring to …’

  ‘What? No. No. Walter wanted to talk to someone who would give him credit for some wit. He asks questions. I rarely had answers for him, but we lost hours in speculation.’

  ‘He … do you think he is in any danger?’ asked Hannah.

  Power stopped pacing, looked at her sharply. ‘Why?’

  ‘Something he said.’

  ‘Well, there are those who don’t … appreciate him,’ Power said, resuming his pacing. ‘Those who measure a man by his ability to lift a log or steer a boat don’t see the point of Walter. Harefield could be scathing, the chief scorner. Though Walter has Elizabeth to protect him.’

  ‘Elizabeth … Mrs Brewster?’

  ‘Quite,’ said Power quickly. ‘But now to you. I invited you here for your recollections.’

  ‘My recollections of what?’

  ‘Well, that depends. Perhaps if I explain … How much, Mrs Mulrooney, do you know about the crime for which I was transported?’

  ‘Some sort of revolutionary you think yourself, I believe.’

  ‘Well, the unsuccessful sort, as here I am. And to be honest I was not a big preacher of revolution when I was in Parliament.’

  ‘What did you preach?’

  ‘I wanted the yoke of British rule lifted from Ireland. And that in itself was enough, in the eyes of many, to condemn me. But, you see, I felt that a nation born in blood would never properly heal. So I set about agitating for an Irish National Guard, a council, that sort of thing.’

  ‘I have had little news of Ireland for some time,’ said Hannah. ‘I’ve no one left there.’ And I wish I knew how to find the one I have here, she thought.

  ‘I presume I’d have heard if your efforts had been successful,’ she said.

  ‘You’re right, they weren’t. They were opposed by two different groups. The British government, of course. And the more physical Liberty Association – a group I formed myself, to promote a peaceful, ordered liberation. But there will always be those who want barricades and blood. The government wanted me to shut up and wait for my father to die so that I could inherit the estate and the baronetcy that went with it. Suppose they thought that’d settle me down. And some of the Liberty boys wanted nothing less than an armed revolution.’

  ‘Well, I hope they had better luck than the last group of revolutionaries,’ said Hannah.

  ‘They didn’t. Oh, they tried. There was an armed insurrection under the name of the Liberty Association, but without my approval; without any organisation, either, any strategy. It failed. And I was arrested and charged with high treason.’

  ‘And convicted, I assume, given the fact that you are here rather than on your father’s estate. Why not just take your ease there? Why get involved at all?’

  Power sighed. ‘A question that has been put to me before. I am a rare beast in Ireland, a Catholic landlord, and my grandparents were ordinary folk. You see, I cannot use difference of religion as the basis for looking at my tenants as a lesser breed. For if they are lesser, then so am I. Do you realise that at the moment they are precluded by law from education, from serving in juries, from being officers of the court or the army, and from attending universities? They have not been emancipated. And they are not someone else’s people. They are my people. A British parliament keeps them slaves. Only an Irish parliament will liberate them.’

  ‘And time will liberate you,’ said Hannah. ‘And you’ll have the means to return. Unlike so many others.’

  ‘True. While my liberty has been taken, though, I have been left with a lot of time to think. And what my thoughts chiefly turn on is this – is there, perhaps, a better means of achieving Irish independence? I will, when my sentence expires, return, of course. And I fully intend to take up where I left off. But how to do it? How to give it the best chance of success, because if it fails I doubt very much that they will bother transporting me again. I have already paid a high price for my efforts.’

  Hannah could hear the rush of her own blood. Her throat constricted and her teeth jammed themselves together. And here it was – the anger which could only be called forth by what she viewed as an insult to certain of her dead.

  ‘You have paid a price, but it is not a high one,’ she said, looking straight ahead as she feared she would hit him if she saw any hint of self-satisfaction on his face. ‘Your castle sits waiting for you, when you’re able to return and reclaim it. Those you love did not die in the mud, were not tortured, or piked through on their doorsteps. So you may think yourself a hero of the revolution, even though it was a revolution you did not order. But heroism is easy for those who don’t pay the full price.’

  Power stopped walking, frowned, turned to her.

  ‘Ah. I see. I did suspect … it’s why I wanted to talk to you. I have experience of only one revolution, you see. I have spoken, at every possible opportunity, with anyone I can find who has had experience of another. And you – you said that you’d been ticketed for twenty years. Assuming your sentence was seven … Well, it puts you in Ireland at the time of the 1798 uprising. So nearly a successful revolution. The closest to revolution Ireland has been. And you saw it too, yes? You were there?’

  Hannah turned away. The image of tufts of red-gold hair rising from a ruined scalp was one which she had not admitted into her conscious mind for many years; in fact not until very recently, when she had told Monsarrat the story of her past. Now, suddenly, it was one which would not leave her.

  ‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘Yes, I was there. And I cannot speak to you of strategy or armaments. But I can tell you that for every fine speech made, every aristocratic revolutionary who fancied himself a leader, a hundred men, a thousand, died. Because those who make the orders are rarely those who make the sacrifices.’

  Hannah didn’t tell Power all of her story. She did not feel he deserved it. It had taken her some time to give even the most rudimentary details to Monsarrat. The memory of her fiancé, Colm, painful as it was, was still intense, and she feared that sharing too much of it would diminish him, make him insubstantial.

  She didn’t tell Power of walking home after the battle that changed everything. Passing burned or burning cottages, knowing hers would be among them, hoping her father had got out in time. He had, but he had not been allowed to go far. She had found him piked through on a doorstep which now lacked a door. She had buried him and spent the night on his grave.

  She didn’t tell Power of watching in Enniscorthy’s market square, of not recognising Colm among the prisoners. There had only been a few tufts of red-gold hair left on his scalp. The rest had been destroyed when the British had poured pitch over his head and lit it. She realised it was him just before he was lined up and shot.

  And she didn’t tell Power about giving birth in the cramped confines of an Irish cell to a boy who would grow to inhabit the wild vastness of Australia.

  But she did want to leave Power in no doubt as to the nature of her sacrifice, and how she felt it compared to his. ‘My man gave his life, you know,’ she said. ‘Tortured and shot. And my da – defending his farm, and piked through, for all that. So please do not tell me, Mr Power, of the wonders of revolution. Of the glorious sacrifices. Your glorious sacrifice has been to sit here for a couple of years, hoping the world doesn’t forget you, doing everything you can to make sure i
t doesn’t while seeming not to care, after which you’ll be back to your castle in the south. I can never go back. I cannot afford the passage, but even if I could, the Ireland I left no longer exists.’

  Power had left off his pacing entirely. He was standing stock-still, looking at the ground. When he looked up, Hannah was rattled to see the intensity in his eyes. Some might have taken it as an indication that their story had moved him. Hannah, though, was enraged further. How dare you? she thought. How dare you claim my grief? How dare you steal my sorrow?

  He seemed not to notice the angry set to her face, walked up and took both her hands in his. ‘My dear woman. I cannot begin to thank you for the sacrifice you have made for our country. I assure you, I will make sure it is repaid.’

  ‘I do not require repayment,’ she said.

  ‘Well, you certainly deserve it,’ he said. ‘Thank you, truly, for telling me.’

  ‘I’d like to ask you to put it out of your mind as soon as possible. I ask you not to mention it to anyone. It is my private history, not one to be used as gossip or the foundation for a speech.’

  He nodded, seemingly chastened. ‘I am going to take the trouble to defend myself only because I respect you, Mrs Mulrooney, as a veteran of the struggle. I could have stood for the House of Commons of London for County Kerry. I needed only to share the interests of those few powerful men in the county who have a vote. I could have then gone to London and traded my vote with the English Whigs to get a place in the Cabinet, become a great man and utterly forget my peasants except in so far as they might owe me rent. I did not do that. I proposed that we should have an Irish government and parliament, and the reward for that … well, you see it.’

  Hannah felt unexpectedly chastened. ‘I respect your motives, sir,’ she muttered. ‘But that doesn’t mean they can’t get ordinary people like me killed.’

  She thought, best to end this now, and rushed to say something more before he could speak. She saw his mouth open. And now,’ she managed to say, ‘I best be getting back up the hill. Mr Monsarrat will want feeding.’

  ‘Of course. I did, though, have another reason for asking you here,’ said Power.

  ‘Quickly, then,’ she said.

  ‘It feels inappropriate, now, to be bringing it up after what you’ve told me.’

  ‘All right, so, I’ll be leaving.’ She had no interest in standing there while he wrestled with a conscience that she suspected was not as sensitive as he pretended.

  ‘Wait! Wait, please. Ask I will, and I’ll deal with the consequences later. And as I am holding your story to myself, I’d ask you to do the same. Tell me of Mrs Brewster. Is she well? I wondered, have you seen any evidence to suggest that she thinks of a poor prisoner like me?’

  ‘Why on earth would he ask that?’ said Monsarrat. ‘And just as importantly, what on earth did you say?’

  The light on the island was beginning to grow soft, to diffuse itself, to retreat over the corrugated horizon. They had decided to see it on its way, watching the bay and the whalers further out as the dusk blurred them.

  It was Monsarrat’s suggestion – there was an agitation to the way Mrs Mulrooney was moving around the small kitchen where he found her on his return from the light near the painted cliffs. She was always moving but there was usually a smoothness and grace to it, the ease of a woman who was settling into accustomed rhythms, even in an unfamiliar kitchen. Tonight, though, the movements were jerky. Less efficient, too, he noticed, as she returned to the kettle for the fourth time, picking it off the hob to hang it on the hook over the fire before replacing it. He had carried the bench outside so they could watch the bay and make sure the day was truly over, that it didn’t sneak back.

  At his question she had smiled and made no move to flick him with her cleaning cloth, and now her stiffness seemed to be slowly receding with the sun.

  ‘I suppose there are a number of possible reasons,’ said Mrs Mulrooney.

  ‘Surely, only one,’ said Monsarrat.

  ‘Perhaps. Or perhaps he wishes to know whether even when Private Ennis is absent, he is being watched.’

  ‘Either way – what did you say? Did you tell him you had seen her staring at his wall?’

  ‘Certainly not. I simply observed that she was a woman with many calls on her time. He does not need to know everything that transpires outside his wall.’

  ‘I suppose not. Although he does seem to know a fair bit. No doubt Ennis is feeding him information in exchange for letters home. I used to do something similar for people at the Caledonia Inn – take their sentiments and force them into finely tuned words, transcribed for dispatch. People are remarkably desperate to make a good account of themselves when they are represented in front of their families by a piece of paper.’

  ‘Yes, well – Ennis seems to like him, but I don’t think he trusts him. He was cautious when he brought me there.’

  ‘No one seems to trust him. Marley, everyone here, seem desperate for Power to be convicted of this murder. Yet he’d have had to leave his compound for long enough to get to the light, and procure an axe. Hard to see how those things could be done, even without a guard.’

  ‘One thing I’ll tell you,’ said Mrs Mulrooney. ‘I seem to have shamed him into being a little neater. His papers, they were mostly stacked and there were fewer of them. Presumably he tied some of them up, put them away. Anyway, they were certainly less in evidence than our first visit.’

  ‘Yes. Well, you inspire the worst of us to better things, Mrs Mulrooney.’

  She glared sideways at him, and he held up his hands. ‘I assure you, I am not mocking. You must stop seeing derision when there is none.’

  She exhaled slowly, sinking into herself as the breath left her. ‘I’ve been in a bad temper this whole time,’ she said. ‘I regret it, Mr Monsarrat. No, truly I do. The sea journeys, with a horrendous stretch in a carriage to separate them, have put me in an interminable snit. And my ankle still pains me. I shall try to improve, I promise.’

  ‘You’re entitled to far more than testiness,’ said Monsarrat, wondering how many people could cope with worry over a silent son and memories of an encroaching fire. ‘As long as I have access to your intelligence, your skills of observation, I don’t need your good humour, though I will welcome its return.’

  She smiled briefly, and Monsarrat had the disturbing impression it was all she had energy for. She let the weight of her back rest against the wall and they looked for a while in silence as the sea absorbed the last of the day’s light.

  For all that Mrs Mulrooney had promised goose for dinner, they were still there half an hour later, and the sky was now a deep shade of blue, preparing to tip over into blackness.

  Suddenly Mrs Mulrooney leaned forward and pointed down into the darkness of the bay. It was a cloudless night and the moon was not quite full, but it was full enough to allow them to see the sails of a whaler approaching the bay, perhaps now a hundred feet out.

  ‘I’ve been looking at them for the past two days,’ said Mrs Mulrooney. ‘I’ve yet to see them this close in, either the whales or the whalers.’

  ‘The water here would be too shallow for whales, surely? And the whalers never put in here for provisions. So yes … It does seem a little close.’

  The whaling ship had stopped moving. In the silent twilight they had not heard the sound of an anchor chain rolling through the hawse. But Monsarrat could see an undulating darkness against the water. He held up his hand to warn Mrs Mulrooney to silence, but she was watching just as intently as he was.

  In the absence of the squabbling of sea birds, geese, or the yelling of the overseers on the hospital site, the rises surrounding the cove acted like a natural amphitheatre, carrying sound up to the watchers on the cliff. The sound they carried on the air now was the slap of oars on water.

  Monsarrat unfolded himself quickly from the bench, hitting his head on the overhanging eve of the house and not even bothering to rub it as he sprinted across to the commandant
s residence. Mrs Mulrooney followed as quickly as her skirts and ankle would allow.

  ‘What do you mean, landing?’

  ‘Exactly what I said, Captain Brewster,’ said Monsarrat, struggling to hide his frustration. All the man had to do was walk outside and look down towards the bay to see what he meant. Belatedly, the same thought seemed to be occurring to Brewster. He turned to Elizabeth, who was coming in from the back of the cottage with some split logs for the fire.

  ‘Stay where you are. We don’t know who they are or what they intend,’ he said. ‘Mrs Mulrooney, stay here with my wife.’

  Mrs Mulrooney did not make the slightest effort to conceal her frustration. The most interesting thing that had happened since they arrived, and she was trapped in a cottage.

  Brewster started purposefully striding towards the door, before returning to the living room and picking up a musket which had been standing in the corner.

  ‘Ennis should be outside Power’s door,’ said Brewster. ‘We’ll have him raise the alarm, get the whole garrison down to welcome these knaves.’

  Ennis, however, was not at his post. When Captain Brewster and Monsarrat were still some distance from Power’s enclosure, they saw the gate open. Out of it had exploded a tall man, coatless and running faster than Monsarrat would have thought possible for somebody who had only a small patch of dirt to exercise in.

  Because it was obvious, by both his bearing and his haste, that the man bolting down towards the shore was Thomas Power.

  Chapter 11

  Elizabeth Brewster got to her feet as soon as her husband had left the room and began pacing up and down between the fireplace and her chair with every bit as much latent frustration as Power displayed pacing his yard.

  ‘Don’t agitate yourself,’ Hannah said gently. ‘Whoever they are, I’m sure your husband and Mr Monsarrat will stop them causing any trouble.’

 
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