The power game, p.24
The Power Game, p.24Thomas Keneally
‘It is hardly unusual, in Parramatta at least, for a senior administrator to be a former convict. Barely one in ten people there arrive free. And for his own reasons my superior decided to omit the information when he was corresponding with Richard Marley about my secondment here,’ Monsarrat said. ‘I am not clear on exactly what those reasons were; however, I felt it best to respect his wishes.’
‘While showing a complete lack of respect for me and everyone else on this island – everyone else who has managed to come here without the encumbrance of chains. Ellison and I managed it easily enough, and many others besides,’ said Brewster. He Brewster turned to Ellison. ‘I’m indebted to you for bringing this to my attention. And as for you, Monsarrat – your fabrications regarding Ellison’s involvement in Mr Power’s escape are clearly just that.’
Ellison looked at Monsarrat, and grinned broadly.
‘Sir,’ said Monsarrat. ‘My past does not change the fact that I have evidence of Mr Ellison’s complicity in Thomas Power’s attempted escape.’
‘Scraps of paper! Not even words! Not worth my time, not a second of it.’
‘Actually,’ said Ellison, ‘we had better examine them, commandant. I would not like you to wonder.’
Brewster sighed, massaged the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb. ‘If you insist. Monsarrat, you said you were going to fetch them. I presume they are there?’ He nodded to the coat which Monsarrat was still holding over his arm. Ellison reached out quickly and snatched the coat away, fishing in its pockets.
‘Mr Ellison, that is my personal property,’ said Monsarrat. ‘Most inappropriate to rummage through it. I must insist that you hand it back immediately!’
‘Insist all you want, Monsarrat,’ said Ellison. ‘I am seizing it in my capacity as a magistrate. Who knows, maybe you stole it?’
He continued feeling his way through the pockets, drawing out the charred pieces of paper. They looked to Monsarrat even more insubstantial than they had when Mrs Mulrooney had first shown them to him. They could be taken away by a breath of wind, committed to the bay and the sea is beyond.
Ellison looked at each piece of paper in turn, raised his eyebrows sceptically, and handed them to Brewster. Brewster balanced his spectacles on his nose, held the scraps of paper pinched between his fingers, and turned them over a few times. ‘It’s difficult – impossible – to see how any firm conclusion can be drawn from these,’ he said. ‘I have had correspondence from Ellison myself – his hand is even, regular, with little to distinguish it.’
‘You’ll find, if you examine the records,’ said Monsarrat, ‘that he employs a different hand in the composition of official documents for the lieutenant general. One which is identical to that which is before you.’
‘No, Mr Monsarrat, I will not have it. You have been caught in a fabrication. Your character, which I assumed to be of the best, I now know to be of the worst. It is disgraceful that you seek to impugn a magistrate of long-standing with such insultingly flimsy evidence.’
While Brewster was examining the scraps of paper, Ellison was going back through Monsarrat’s coat pockets to draw out the more substantial wad of letters. He unfolded them slowly, as though he were sitting at his desk with a glass of port at his elbow, and began to read. As he did, he made small noises of surprise.
Brewster had finished berating Monsarrat by now, and was looking at the magistrate.
‘Well, my dear James, it seems that our friend in the guardhouse managed to attract the attention of a lady,’ Ellison said. He continued shuffling the papers. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Then someone found out. Look.’
He handed the blackmail note over to Brewster, who read it, squinting. ‘Do you know, this looks an awful lot like Harefield’s writing,’ he said. His mouth began to stretch in a teeth-baring smile. ‘You know what this means, Henry, don’t you? Harefield was blackmailing Power! After which he is found rolling back and forth in the waves with great big indentations hacked into his shoulders. This seals it. It must have been Power!’
He stood up, still smiling, reading the letter again. But when he looked up, at Monsarrat, the smile had gone.
‘This was in your possession. And you have been concealing it.’
Ellison was shaking his head in theatrical disapproval.
‘Not concealing it,’ said Monsarrat. ‘Holding it while I sought more complete information.’
‘You’re one of them, of course, I must remind myself,’ said Brewster. ‘Probably holding it back out of fellow feeling. No, no, that would be too honourable a course, if a misguided one. How much was Power paying you to keep this back?’
And here it comes, thought Monsarrat. The shadow which unfurled inside him, always called by anger, pushing out reason. The rush of blood, the knowledge that he was about to say something that could prove fatal to his hopes of resolving the situation in a way which did not end up with Walter at the end of a rope. The affront, though. The spittle, which he could feel on his nose from the commandant’s outburst. The assumption that he was dishonest. It was not to be borne.
Monsarrat took a step forward, so that he and Brewster were face to face. ‘I would like to remind you, commandant, that I am no longer a convict. Before my fall I was a gentleman. And I retain more of a gentleman’s sense of honour than some would credit! Nor am I here under false pretences. I am clerk to the governor’s private secretary in Parramatta, and on Maria Island at the request of the administration of Van Diemen’s Land. And I insist that you treat me with the dignity that fact calls for. If you impugn my integrity, I can assure you there will be consequences.’
‘Integrity! My God, you proved yourself to have none – twice! I will impugn it all I like.’
‘That is your choice, sir, and it is my choice to deal with the insult in an appropriate manner. That can wait, though. I can assure you that Power is paying me nothing. He is angry at me for alerting you to his escape – and may I remind you that were it not for my intervention he would likely be on his way to America now – on his way to denounce this place to the United States Congress. You, commandant, would need to write a very long, involved and difficult report on how you managed to let this settlement’s most notorious prisoner disappear. If you would like me to acquaint a certain Richard Marley with the fact that you were taking your ease in your cottage while a whaler slid into the bay, I would be more than happy to. Otherwise, I suggest that you moderate your tone.’
Brewster took a few steps backwards and sat down. ‘As you say, Monsarrat,’ he said, struggling to maintain any semblance of composure, ‘this can all wait. Why do you believe this letter may not have been meant for Thomas Power?’
‘It might have been given to him – by someone seeking counsel on how to respond to it. It was found interleaved with some other documents which came from an external source. And I would prefer to be addressed as Mr Monsarrat, thank you, commandant.’
Ellison, all the while, had been sitting in his chair, leaning back, enjoying the spectacle and grinning. ‘Those other documents you speak of, Mr Monsarrat,’ he said. ‘Would they happen to be these? They do appear to bear all of the signs of hero worship turned more amorous. There is a feminine hand – not that that necessarily means they were written by a female, of course: one has heard the rumours about Power’s proclivities. Perhaps they were written by Private Ennis? Or perhaps that Shanahan, the convict who used to work for Power’s father, the one who has been dispatched to the reservoir? In any case, it is difficult to think of anyone on this island who would be in a position to give Harefield what he wanted. Anyone except Thomas Power, prior to his incarceration. Well, apart from the commandant’s family, of course.’
Brewster glanced at Ellison, frowning slightly. ‘Give me those letters, if you please,’ he said.
‘Commandant, no!’ Monsarrat cried.
Both men looked at him, Ellison with an expression suspiciously close to enjoyment.
‘I would strongly advise you,’ said Monsarrat,
‘I happen to dislike complete darkness,’ said Brewster, holding his hand out for the letters.
Ellison raised his eyebrows, shrugged and handed the papers over, grinning all the while. He had stopped lounging, was sitting forward in his chair unable to disguise his avidity.
Brewster started reading, frowned, shuffled the papers, read again, frowned again, and looked up. ‘Mr Monsarrat, is this some sort of joke?’
‘I assure you, it is not. Were I to wish to joke with you, I would take pains to ensure you found it funny.’
‘And these were found in Power’s cottage?’
‘Yes, after his escape attempt, after he was put in the guardhouse.’
‘So there is a chance they have been placed there by someone else?’
For the first time Brewster wasn’t glaring at Monsarrat but looking at him with shock. Monsarrat almost felt for the man.
‘I’m sorry, commandant, no. There is very little chance of that. The letters were found underneath the floorboards close to the hearth, a repository which only Power was aware of until I discovered it.’
‘Why, James, do you suggest that the documents were put there by someone else?’ asked Ellison.
‘Because, Henry, as I believe Monsarrat is well aware, they are written in the hand of my wife.’
By late afternoon, Elizabeth Brewster was sleeping. Just as well, thought Hannah. She would need her strength. Hannah knew Mr Monsarrat would be as good as his word, would protect Walter. But now there were others involved. It was difficult to say where things would end up.
She had just returned from the kitchen with a pot of fragrant tea for Elizabeth on her waking when she heard the door pushed inward with a force which spoke of great anger.
James Brewster appeared in the doorway. ‘Get out!’ he shouted at her.
The yell woke Elizabeth, who struggled to a sitting position against the mounds of soft pillows. ‘There is no need to shout,’ she said, seeming to forget any fear in her sudden return to consciousness. ‘You should know that. Mrs Mulrooney has been tending to me, and does not deserve such rude treatment.’
‘And I? What treatment do I deserve? To be betrayed in the settlement I rule, with the worst of men, someone who could have been taking his ease in a castle in Ireland but chose instead to mount a treasonous rebellion?’
‘It was not his rebellion,’ Elizabeth said.
James Brewster strode into the room towards the bed and Hannah took the opportunity to skirt him, unnoticed, and stand by the door. Elizabeth glanced over at her, a silent plea to stay.
‘And you would know, wouldn’t you, whose revolution it was? Did he tell you when you visited him in his cottage? Did you and he laugh about how you were fooling me? When you were planning his escape?’
He walked over to the bed, grabbed her elbow and dragged her out so she landed heavily on one knee before getting to her feet. He clamped his hands on each shoulder and shook her so violently that her head snapped backwards and forwards, in a way which made Hannah fear for her neck.
‘Tell me! Tell me what you planned, when you planned it!’
He let go for a moment, and Elizabeth backed away. ‘There is nothing to tell,’ she whispered.
‘I have seen the letters, stupid woman! There is a lot to tell, and you will tell it.’ He reached out his arm and struck her with the back of his hand so hard that she fell to the floor. There was blood down the front of her white nightdress. She tried to raise herself by one hand, but her eyes were unfocused, blinking, and darting around the room without seeming to fix anywhere.
Hannah raced back into the room, around Brewster, taking Elizabeth’s elbow and helping her waver to her feet.
‘Commandant, there is no call for that,’ Hannah barked, and immediately regretted it. This was a man who was not in control of himself, and who had no love for convicts when he was. My God, she thought. I can’t command him as he deserves to be commanded – a sweet tone could be the only defence I have. Her voice, though, when she spoke, did retain some of its raw authority. ‘No reason to strike your wife at the best of times, let alone when she is ill,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you go into the parlour? I will bring you tea and set Mrs Brewster to rights.’
The captain looked at Hannah for a moment, and she realised what she had done. Jumped into a situation not even the strongest tea could fix. Put herself in the path of a man in the grip of an unrestrained violence. She searched his face for any indication of what was to come. She found nothing, a stare which reflected no humanity, and no recognition that the women in front of him were as human as him.
Then James Brewster pulled back his arm again, and hit Hannah across the face. ‘Convict manners! It’s not your place to intervene between husband and wife!’
Hannah had planted her legs when she had spoken to him, because that was what she did when she was confronting somebody. It was as well she had, because it stopped her falling as heavily as Elizabeth had, perhaps saved her from hitting her head, so that at least one of women in the room retained her wits.
She still found herself sprawled on the ground. She slowly got to her feet, dragging herself up by the coverlet, scattering drops of blood onto the bed.
‘You must send for the doctor, sir,’ she said, feeling a slick wetness emerge with the words. ‘Your wife – surely you can see, you have injured her grievously. Whatever you intend, I am certain it is not murder.’
‘Murder … Now, what an interesting idea,’ said Brewster.
‘You will not be killing her, commandant. Not without killing me as well.’
‘I had no intention of killing my wife. I am beginning to wonder, though – now that you mention it – whether she might be entirely blameless in the matter of the death of the bosun.’
He smiled, a vicious contortion of his mouth. He took another step towards her and she forced down a choking fear that arose with the knowledge that he could come at her again unchallenged.
‘Now, I will ask you once more, and I recommend that you do not defy me,’ he said. ‘Get. Out.’
Hannah turned and walked as steadily as she could from the room – the man might be able to split her lip, but she would not allow him to make her run.
But she did run, as soon as she was clear of the cottages, down the hill and past the commissary to a tent pitched by the construction site.
James Brewster had nearly pawed the door off its hinges when he left his office, sprinting up the hill towards his cottage. Monsarrat made to go after him but was held back by hand on his shoulder.
‘Mr Monsarrat – I did not know those letters were from Mrs Brewster. I would never have handed them over. I will do all I can for her now. But I must now speak plainly,’ said Ellison.
‘Plain speech would be wonderful, but it will have to wait. I have fears for Mrs Brewster’s safety.’
‘He won’t kill her,’ said Ellison. ‘Bad for the reputation. He would never be tried for it, of course – these things happen, the number of ladies who have come before me saying they have fallen downstairs … And if they themselves say that – probably under duress, but who’s to know – I am powerless to do anything about it.’
‘Your fine feelings did not prevent you assaulting my housekeeper, and I fear they won’t stop your friend assaulting her either.’
‘I am appalled at myself for that, admittedly,’ Ellison claimed. ‘But Brewster is not my friend. He is an inconvenient part of the landscape, who needs to be worked around, like a rock, although far more susceptible to flattery, fraternal nudges, reminders that he and I are the authorities here – that sort of thing. But there is a matter of urgency at hand. I don’t think Mrs Brewster’s life is in danger, but her face may not look as pretty as it did – and you are right, we must protect the innocent. Must we not, Mr Monsarrat?’
‘There might be nothing left
There was, he saw, lunging and limping towards him, a creature from a nightmare. A bloodied face, a bloodied shirt, and wild, desperate eyes.
He ran to her, took her elbow. ‘Did Brewster do this?’ he asked in a voice he was barely able to control.
‘Never mind about that now,’ muttered Mrs Mulrooney. ‘You can give me sympathy later, but for now we need to fetch Dr Chester.’
Ellison was lumbering up the hill behind them. Monsarrat turned, caught him in a glare which must’ve singed some of the whiskers he had allowed to grow.
‘This is a man who will restrain himself, is it? A man who can be trusted not to kill someone. Make yourself a force for good, Mr Ellison – go and fetch Dr Chester.’
‘I suggest that you do that, Mr Monsarrat,’ said Ellison. He looked at Mrs Mulrooney, frowning. ‘Are you hurt?’ he said.
‘I can’t imagine what would make you think that, Mr Ellison.’
‘Get Chester, and hurry,’ Ellison said to Monsarrat. ‘I have a far better chance than you of convincing Brewster that there is nothing to be served by this wickedness.’
When Chester saw Mrs Mulrooney – who had followed Monsarrat despite him calling over his shoulder for her to go and rest in the commissary – he took her to a cot, sat her down and started palpating her cheek to feel for evidence of a broken jaw.
‘I’m not badly hurt, doctor,’ said Mrs Mulrooney. ‘Mrs Brewster is, though. She was struck, fell, hit her head. Dazed, doesn’t seem entirely certain where she is, although I’m fairly sure that she knows she does not want to be there.’
Chester wasted no time on questions. He told Mrs Mulrooney to rest and ran to the door, with Monsarrat following.
When they got to the cottage Brewster was standing outside, his arms folded.
‘I’ve been told your wife is injured, commandant,’ said Chester. ‘I would like to examine her.’
‘You do not have my permission,’ Brewster said. ‘She tripped, hit her head. She is resting now. I am certain she will recover shortly.’
The Power Game by Thomas Keneally / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes