The power game, p.23
The Power Game,
When Elizabeth was back in the bed, the two sides of one pillow rising up to cover her ears, Hannah paused. Once words escaped, they could not be put back into a cell. Elizabeth’s eyes were beginning to close, though. If there was to be a revelation, the time was now.
‘I have word, Mrs Brewster,’ Hannah said. ‘Word concerning Mr Power.’
Elizabeth woke from her drowse immediately, struggling to sit up against the soft mass of goose down. ‘He’s not … They haven’t done anything rash? He is well?’
‘Quite well, as far as I know, for one who is imprisoned,’ said Hannah. ‘But he will not be there for much longer.’
‘They are releasing him? Letting him stay? I knew they would realise eventually that this is as good a place as any for him, escape attempt or not.’
Hannah went over to the bed. ‘May I sit?’ she said. Elizabeth nodded, and Hannah lowered herself onto the bed and took Elizabeth’s hand. ‘They are not releasing him, Mrs Brewster. They are sending him to Macquarie Harbour.’
She watched as Elizabeth’s skin, paler than it used to be but with the pink of returning health, faded to the pallor of the worst of her incapacity.
‘Macquarie Harbour,’ she whispered. ‘One hears stories … A brutal place, I understand. Far more brutal than here.’
‘I know little of Macquarie Harbour,’ said Hannah. ‘But I do know that the administrators of Van Diemen’s Land consider it in their interest to treat Mr Power well, or at least less horrendously than the other convicts.’
‘I’ve heard of a cell they have there,’ Elizabeth said. ‘The roof is too low for a man to stand up and the walls are too close to lie down. Food is delivered through a hole with shutters at both ends, so whoever is in there never sees another person or a beam of light. They leave people there for months. Those locked in there are barely human when they come out.’
‘They would not put him in such a place, Mrs Brewster,’ said Hannah. ‘I am sure of it.’ In fact, she was sure of no such thing, and it was a fate she would not wish even on the vainglorious Power.
‘But if they did,’ whispered Elizabeth. ‘If they did – it would destroy him. Far more quickly than it would most others. He wouldn’t be able to read, wouldn’t be able to write. Thomas Power would cease to exist.’
Tears were making their way down Elizabeth’s face now. She did not wipe them away, perhaps did not even notice them.
I have already lost one of you, Hannah thought. One commandant’s wife who was buffeted by circumstances, easily blamed when she was blameless, easily picked off. You may not be as innocent as she, but I will not see another young woman buried.
‘You have a regard for him,’ she said. ‘It is clear to me, and it will be clear to others if they hear you speak as you do now. I urge you not to.’
‘I have … no more regard for him than I do for any other soul,’ Elizabeth said, contradicted by the tears now marking the coverlet.
‘Now let us have truth between us,’ said Hannah. ‘I bear you no malice, and I would not see you arrested, hanged. But I am not the only one to whom your feelings are apparent. There is a letter, I understand. And it sets a price for the concealment of an inappropriate relationship.’
Elizabeth looked terrified, and Hannah could see her chest beginning to rise and fall at an alarming rate.
‘It … There is no such letter. It does not exist,’ she said.
‘I’m afraid, Mrs Brewster, that it does. You showed it to Power, perhaps to ask his advice. Find out what you should do. I am sure you thought he would burn it. He did not. It is currently in the possession of Mr Monsarrat, who has yet to show it to anyone else.’
‘I thought … I thought he was safe,’ she said. ‘That we had made sure of it.’
This statement jagged on the inside of Hannah’s ear. It was, she thought, as close to an admission as she had heard.
‘Mrs Brewster, you must have a care what you say and who you say it to. Such things, they can be misinterpreted. Not everyone here is a person of goodwill, and some would be only too happy to draw a line between such words and the body of the bosun in the churchyard.’
‘They would be mistaken,’ said Elizabeth, pulling her shoulders back.
‘And don’t I know that,’ said Hannah. Some of Monsarrat and her own arguments in favour of Elizabeth as the murderer made sense. Yet Hannah found it hard to accept the possibility when the office outbuilding contained a man who had the motive, strength and freedom of movement to commit the crime. ‘But you must not give anyone else any excuse to even ask the question, in case they decide the convenient answer is that you yourself are guilty.’
Lieutenant Holloway was sitting opposite Captain Brewster when Monsarrat walked into the small office. The lieutenant was looking happier than Monsarrat had ever seen him, but Brewster was scowling at the fellow in a way that made Monsarrat fear for his safety, let alone his commission.
‘You’re dismissed,’ said Brewster to Holloway, who stood, saluted Brewster and walked past Monsarrat without acknowledgement, changing course to bump into him on his way out the door.
‘Well, Mr Monsarrat, you may consider yourself fortunate. Your standing here is now higher than it has been since your arrival.’
‘Oh? I wasn’t aware that my standing was anything less than high.’
‘You must have known that to Holloway you are less than welcome. He felt the investigation of Harefield’s murder should fall to him. He had fantasies, the little climber, of writing long reports once he had brought the case to a successful conclusion, of writing pamphlets, or stories for the newspaper. Then you arrived and he was brought back down to earth – just an ordinary lieutenant. And now he’ll be lucky not to be an ordinary private.’
‘What has he done?’
‘Written to Richard Marley. About you. Told Marley that you are doing nothing, that you seem to have no urgency to resolve this matter, or the wit to do so. Suggested that you be recalled and he given the task.’
‘Ah. And what is Marley’s view?’
‘That he should concentrate on his duties and leave the thinking to others.’
‘I see. And what is your view, commandant?’
‘I agree with Marley. You have been sent here for a specific purpose. But yes, I would have preferred it if you had made more progress.’
‘I too wish I were closer to the truth, but I’ve yet to find evidence that goes beyond circumstantial,’ Monsarrat said. And at this he had to stop himself from leaping up and bolting for the door. Because he’d remembered the coat he had flung aside when he ran towards the reservoir. The coat which had in its breast pocket Elizabeth Brewster’s letters to Thomas Power, and Harefield’s blackmail note.
But to leave now would be to give up the only advantage he may ever have. He must hope the coat would remain unmolested, by wombats or convicts, for a while longer.
‘If it is a help, I am in a position to enlighten you on certain aspects of how Power’s escape was planned.’
Brewster leaned slowly forward. He looked sceptical, but Monsarrat definitely had his interest.
‘You’re aware,’ Monsarrat said, ‘that Power was in the habit of helping certain soldiers of yours with their correspondence?’
‘Yes. He loves any opportunity to show off.’
‘Well, it would have been easy for him to slide another note in among the pages of endearment, before Mrs Brewster came around to collect the mail.’
‘Mr Monsarrat, I would caution you against any implication that my wife was involved.’
If only I were able to make you such a promise, thought Monsarrat. ‘I assure you, your wife is not a subject of the current discussion,’ he said.
‘Very well. I’m willing to entertain the notion that Power exploited the naivety of certain younger soldiers – I presume you mean Ennis – to get messages across the water. But who received them when they got there?’
‘I am told that Magistrate Ellison was in
‘Quite right. Solid fellow, Ellison, if a little too fond of the bottle. But if Power was sneaking messages off the island under the skin of a personal letter, why didn’t Ellison spot them?’
Monsarrat inhaled, held his breath for a moment. ‘It is my belief, commandant, that he did spot them. That he was their intended recipient; that it was he who organised the escape.’
Monsarrat braced himself for whatever reaction was to come. Anger, disbelief, dismissiveness. What he didn’t expect was laughter. Brewster leaned back in his chair, looked up at the ceiling and roared.
‘Ellison! A secret revolutionary! I must thank you, Mr Monsarrat. There has been precious little to laugh about recently.’
‘I assure you, commandant, that I am not joking.’
‘You must be! The man is barely sober, except on the bench, where he hands out punishments which are moderate in their severity. He totters between the bench and his house in Orford and the docks, and does the minimum required so that he can return to his bottle quickly. He is not a man given to initiative, to the type of misplaced courage it would take to assist Power.’
‘Perhaps he has allowed you to believe that of him, Captain Brewster. I am acquainted with his liking for port, have witnessed it. It may interest you to know though that he has confessed to sympathies which are somewhat anti-authoritarian. And fragments of paper bearing what looks like his handwriting were found in Power’s grate after his escape attempt failed.’
‘Fragments? What are you talking about?’
‘I shall fetch them, with your approval,’ Monsarrat said. ‘I have compared them to some of Ellison’s official documents and I can assure you that the similarity is striking.’
‘Hardly seems like much to go on,’ said Brewster. ‘But I suppose I had best have a look. Please bring them to me. And have a wash while you’re about it. God knows what you’ve been doing, but no one under my command would be permitted to present such a bedraggled aspect.’
The jacket, thankfully, was still where Monsarrat had flung it, somewhat concealed by the bushes in which it had landed, and unmolested as its pockets contained nothing to tempt geese or wombats.
He had no intention now of going back to the magistrate’s cottage to wash. Ellison might be there, and he would as soon not see the man he had just, unsuccessfully, accused of treason.
He might, under different circumstances, have felt guilt accusing Ellison. After all, the man was acting in accordance with his own beliefs, trying to bring balance to an unbalanced world. Similarly motivated actions had sent Monsarrat across the seas, or so he liked to tell himself. He never liked to confront the vanity which had also prompted his crime.
But Ellison’s lunge at Mrs Mulrooney had driven the fellow feeling out of Monsarrat’s mind. Such villainy deserved punishment, one way or another.
‘Oh dear, what would Miss Stark say, to see you in such a state?’
Mrs Mulrooney’s substantial personality was not matched by her birdlike frame. Her habit of taking short, quick steps, barely troubling the ground with her weight, allowed her to move more silently than most.
‘You mustn’t sneak up on a man,’ he said.
‘A man must not allow himself to be snuck up on.’
Mrs Mulrooney must be missing Parramatta to invoke Sophia Stark, a woman she loathed.
‘Miss Stark? I imagine she’d feel she had a lucky escape,’ Monsarrat said, looking down at his sweat-stained shirt. ‘Grace O’Leary, however, would commend me for casting my jacket aside in the service of the truth – after laughing at me, of course.’
‘A better match for you altogether, that one, if I may say so,’ said Mrs Mulrooney.
‘You may, and I would like to meet the man brave enough to try to stop you. And on the subject of men – how are you faring after beating off Ellison’s attentions?’
‘He is far less persistent than the geese – that I will grant him. I have not seen him today. But Jones has. Gave him a letter, one that might contain certain facts in regard to you, Mr Monsarrat.’
‘Yes, that is a concern. I have just been to Brewster to discuss it. Tried to convince him of Ellison’s complicity in plotting Power’s escape. He was sceptical, shall we say. This is why I am fetching my jacket, you see. I wanted to show him the fragments you found in Power’s fireplace.’
‘And how did the jacket come to be treated in such an appalling fashion in the first place?’
‘I needed to get to the reservoir. Quickly. There was someone there who I believed might have interesting information in relation to Harefield’s murder.’
‘I hope it was worth it,’ said Mrs Mulrooney. ‘It most certainly was. I was told that Elizabeth Brewster followed Harefield the night he was killed. And she was followed herself. By Walter.’
‘No,’ Mrs Mulrooney whispered. She narrowed her eyes at him, looking worried and defiant at once. It was an expression he had seen before. She wore it when she believed an innocent was being threatened. ‘No, you will not bring this information to the commandant.’
‘I have no intention of doing so, as a matter of fact,’ he said. ‘Even if Walter is guilty, he is innocent, and we are not the only ones on the island to think so, I am sure.’
‘I need your strongest assurance, Mr Monsarrat,’ Mrs Mulrooney said. ‘Walter Gendron’s name will not be mentioned in connection with Harefield’s death.’
‘You have my word,’ said Monsarrat. ‘However, I very much fear a conversation is taking place which will make my word worthless to anyone on this island except you.’
‘Well, we had best get down there,’ Mrs Mulrooney said. ‘Regardless of what’s being said about you in that room, you need to be there to hear it.’
This time Monsarrat opened the door without knocking. He knew Brewster would be offended at the imposition, but he felt that was the least of his concerns, and he badly wanted to get a sense of the ambience of the room before the men in there had had a chance to rearrange their expressions.
Brewster was sitting at his desk holding a letter in both hands, his eyes flicking over the page, jumping from bottom to top and back again. His jaw was clenched in a way that looked painful.
Ellison, on the other hand, was lounging – if such a thing were possible in the small chair he had appropriated – legs casually crossed, leaning back, looking around the room to entertain himself while Brewster absorbed the contents of the letter.
When he heard the door opening, Ellison turned and smiled broadly. ‘Mr Monsarrat! What a pleasure to see you. I must say, I am very much looking forward to hearing your defence.’
‘I have done nothing which requires defending, as it happens, Mr Ellison. A statement not everyone here can make.’
Brewster glared at him with fury. ‘Have you not, indeed?’ he yelled. ‘Because this document tells me you are intimately familiar with the need to defend your behaviour! I have in front of me a report from the lieutenant governor’s office. The records of a convict who goes by the name of Hugh Llewelyn Monsarrat.’
‘The colonial secretary has his share of magistrates, Mr Monsarrat,’ said Ellison. ‘It’s quite a brotherhood. They were only too happy to help me when I read a troubling letter to a convict in Parramatta. One which spoke of the writer’s firsthand knowledge of deprivation of liberty.’
Monsarrat thought there was still a small chance that the contents of the document were not as damaging as he feared. Best to extract as much information as he could before going on the defensive.
‘I would have thought perusal of the personal correspondence of others beneath you,’ said Monsarrat.
‘It does, commandant,’ Monsarat said, ‘give credence to certain theories: who is in a position to view all letters leaving the island.’
‘The precise nature! My God, you’re like Power. You use words to create confusion rather than to give information. And I am sick of the both of you. The precise nature of my concern, Monsarrat, are your former convictions. Two of them! Good Lord, you sat at my table, ate my food and never thought to mention your criminal past. Had I known of it, I assure you I would have had Jones turn his cutter around as soon as it tied up on the dock the day you arrived.’
Brewster had dispensed with the ‘Mr’. A troubling sign.
‘Captain Brewster, I am who I have always claimed to be. A member of the governor’s staff. My superior is intimately acquainted with my background, and sent me nonetheless. In fact, perhaps because of it. I won my freedom through delivering justice to the murderer of a young woman, a woman not unlike your wife, and the wife of a commandant, for that matter. Not only that, but it must be said that I have more than a passing acquaintance with legal matters.’
‘Yes,’ said Ellison slowly, ‘but from the wrong side of the bench, my friend, would you not say?’
‘Regardless of what side of the bench,’ said Monsarrat, ‘my past status has no bearing on my ability to function in the present.’
‘No bearing!’ said Brewster. ‘You concealed the fact that you are a felon!’
‘I am now at liberty. I was granted a ticket of leave by the commandant at Port Macquarie, and it was unconditional.’
This, of course, was not precisely true. Monsarrat’s ticket of leave relied on his continued utility, and continuing ability to deal with those cases which could not be resolved through the usual channels. It struck him hard once more that his decision to keep any suggestion of Walter’s complicity private would very likely put this freedom at risk. Yet he still felt no urge to trade one for the other.
‘Why did you not reveal this as soon as you realised that we viewed you as somebody who had always been free?’ demanded Brewster.
The Power Game by Thomas Keneally / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes