The power game, p.27
The Power Game, p.27Thomas Keneally
‘If you were expecting congratulations,’ said Monsarrat, ‘don’t expect any from me.’
‘Nor would I, dear boy. I do intend to atone, should a suitable opportunity arise. In the meantime, you and I have something a little more urgent to do. Shall we resume? I am not sure we have yet applied enough hyperbole to the remarkable fortitude of the commandant in bringing a killer to justice.’
‘Do you truly think there’s a chance that we might escape?’ asked Elizabeth. She had slept badly and woken in the early hours, waking Hannah in turn. Now, with the sun well and truly up, she was slumped in a chair.
‘Well, I believe it’s the best chance you have,’ said Hannah. ‘I suppose it all comes down to how much you trust Mr Ellison.’
‘Oh, he has been marvellous,’ said Elizabeth. ‘I don’t believe he would do anything to harm us.’
‘I must say, you and I have had different experiences of him,’ said Hannah. ‘Why do you hold him in such high esteem?’
‘Being the wife of James Brewster is tiring. Being the sister of Walter is tiring, Mrs Mulrooney. Please don’t misunderstand, I adore my brother. But he does need a certain amount of protecting. Nonetheless, looking after him is not nearly as exhausting as being married to a man whose regard for you depends on how he thinks others will see you. On whether you are pretty enough, pliable enough, to make a superior think, Well, he must not be such a bad fellow with a wife like that. The one area in which James has never taxed me is conversation. I don’t think he entertains the notion that I might have an opinion on any matter beyond the walls of this cottage. And if he has, he certainly would not care to hear it.’
‘Yes, I can see how you would find that stifling. Suffocating, in fact.’
‘You know, Mrs Mulrooney, when you are in the middle of the heat of summer, you don’t understand just how uncomfortable you are until the cool change arrives. On his first visit here, James paraded around like some sort of actor. Barking commands, demonstrating his authority. Whenever anyone is on the island from outside, he behaves as though he is the general of a large army, rather than somebody whose main task is to stop convicts from killing each other and hopefully to encourage them to get some work done. So when Mr Ellison first called on us, he said that he could see James was frightfully busy – and James always nods when somebody tells him how busy he is – and wondered whether I might show him the more scenic parts of the settlement. I took him up towards the painted cliffs, and as we walked he asked me what I had read recently.’
‘Seems an inoffensive question,’ said Hannah.
‘Oh, it is. It’s just one I am not accustomed to being asked. I am not sure James realises I can read. Anyway, I told Ellison I had recently been reading William Hazlitt’s The Spirit of the Age and he clapped his hands and laughed as though I’d said the wittiest thing in the world. He said it was one of his favourites. He offered to bring me books that he had finished with. He said he was sure a place like this smothers an intelligent soul. And one day, in a package of books he brought me, I found a volume by Thomas Paine. Rights of Man, it was called. A dangerous book to have, full of revolutionary ideas. Some would say even possessing a copy amounted to treason.’
‘Why would he take such a risk?’
‘He hedged it. When I held it up he said he had no idea how that scurrilous piece of work got in there, that he had confiscated it from an educated convict. But he made no move to take it back, and so I read it. In secret, of course – God knows what James would have done if he had found it. And the ideas – the depiction of the world where people are not treated like cattle. Perhaps it might even be a world where striking someone is forbidden, even if you are married to them. So I made no move to give it back to Ellison straight away, and when I returned it to him I said that it was as well he had confiscated it because such a book might give a person notions. And we wouldn’t want that.’
‘He was recruiting you,’ said Hannah.
‘Yes, he was, although of course I had no idea of it at the time. He had been a friend of one of Power’s co-conspirators, one of those who gave up his parole, who promised not to escape in exchange for a ticket of leave which would keep him here until his sentence expired. The fellow had pushed Mr Ellison out of the way when a cart horse broke free and went cantering through Triabunna. And the man had felt bad about his own freedom when his great friend Thomas Power languished across the water on a matter of principle. So Ellison agreed to help him and therefore Power.’
Hannah started, aghast when she heard the door open. Private Ennis was still at his post. When she had returned, he had pretended not to see her as she moved as silently as possible past him and into the cottage.
Elizabeth was staring at the bedroom door. Possibly wondering who would come through it. Possibly fearing she knew.
‘Mrs Brewster,’ a voice called out down the hallway. ‘Mrs Brewster, would you kindly come into the parlour?’
Elizabeth slowly exhaled. It was not the voice of her husband. Nearly as bad – Lieutenant Holloway was the one calling. But at least he was unlikely to strike anyone.
Hannah helped Elizabeth put on a robe, knot her hair up, and drape herself in the shawl.
Holloway wasn’t alone. A blurred shape came hurtling towards the women as soon as they stepped into the other room. Walter, seemingly heedless of his great, broad-shouldered mass, ran at Elizabeth and Hannah. ‘I’m sorry!’ he wailed. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. You said not to tell. But James made me!’
Holloway scowled at Walter. ‘I should have put you in irons,’ he said.
He turned to Elizabeth.
‘Your brother has confessed to the murder,’ said Holloway. ‘He will be held here under guard until a transport is ready. You will go in the same boat which will convey Power on the first section of his journey to Macquarie Harbour, after it disgorges another gaggle of convicts on to this island. Until then, please be aware that you are now considered prisoners and will be treated as such, if any attempt to leave is made.’
He looked at all of them in turn, including Hannah, clearly seeing no reason not to include her in the category.
‘Now, come and sit down, Walter,’ said Elizabeth, looking exhausted now Holloway had left. ‘Here, have my seat. You like my seat, don’t you? And I daresay our rations will continue unchanged, at least as long as there is still food in the kitchen. Perhaps Mrs Mulrooney should make you a cup of tea?’
He nodded vigorously, began to wail again.
Hannah rushed off, sending up a quick prayer to St Lawrence, the patron saint of cooking, giving thanks for her continuing access to a kitchen. When she got back, Walter had his head in his hands, his shoulders heaving.
‘James doesn’t like me,’ he was saying. ‘He’s angry with me all the time.’
‘It’s all right, Walter,’ Elizabeth said, stroking his mop of unkempt dark hair.
‘Why is he angry with me for Harefield when I did it for you?’
‘He is angry with both of us, no doubt,’ said Elizabeth. ‘But you’re not to worry, Walter. Things will work out, and there are plans being put in place right now to make sure they do.’
‘Can we still go to America with Thomas?’
Elizabeth looked up sharply, raised her eyes at Hannah. An acknowledgement that there were questions to be asked, and that Elizabeth hoped they would not be asked now. A plea to leave them until later. Hannah nodded.
‘Possibly America,’ said Elizabeth. ‘But not with Thomas, I’m afraid, Walter.’
‘But I don’t want to go if he’s not coming. We can’t leave him behind!’
‘I’m afraid that’s precisely what we will have to do, eventually,’ said Elizabeth. ‘He will not be here on the island for long, in any case. Did you not hear what Holloway said? You and I are going to take a trip with Magistrate Ellison, in the same boat as Mr Power.’
When Walter beamed, Elizabeth shook her head. ‘It will not be a pleasure trip, I’m
‘Should we tell Thomas what we’re doing? So he’s not confused?’
‘No, Walter, I’m sorry, but we can’t leave here until it is time to get on the boat.’
‘Then I shall not be able to say goodbye to the seals, either?’
‘They will understand,’ said Hannah. ‘They are used to us coming and going, and there may be others along the way.’
‘I should have thought to try and train them,’ said Walter. ‘Perhaps they could have been coaxed into carrying messages.’
‘Ah, but we’ve Mrs Mulrooney for that,’ said Elizabeth, smiling at the housekeeper.
‘And I’m given to understand that there is a certain odd goose on the island who is also quite good at giving a signal,’ said Hannah. ‘I would dearly like to hear its call, before it flies north.’
Elizabeth laughed quietly. ‘Perhaps you may yet get the opportunity,’ she said. ‘Geese, after all, are very obliging when someone is willing to listen to them.’
James Brewster put down the document, and nodded. ‘It is adequate,’ he said.
It was, in fact, almost complete fabrication. It cast Brewster as a highly intelligent, perceptive and courageous officer who would not allow even marital affection to interfere with the carriage of justice.
‘I imagine you will want to write your own letter to go with this,’ said Ellison.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Brewster. ‘You seem to have captured the situation perfectly well.’
‘Ah, but surely you want to acknowledge Mr Monsarrat’s role? The perspicacity of his investigation, and his part in preventing the escape of Mr Power.’
‘I understood, magistrate, that the entire purpose of this document was to acquaint the lieutenant governor with my role in bringing the guilty to justice, and mine only.’
‘Yes, of course, and you are absolutely right, James. However, the mark of a true hero is his humility. Please don’t forget that I deal with these people in Hobart all the time, and I have a reasonable sense of what is likely to impress them. If you were to say that here is a report which describes, in perhaps too glowing terms, your part in all this, but that mention must be made of the services performed by Mr Monsarrat – well, I think it would create a very favourable impression.’
‘All right. If you think it is what they want to hear.’
‘It is, it is. Mr Monsarrat and I would be delighted to draft something up for your signature, wouldn’t we?’
‘I will be of service in any capacity needed,’ said Monsarrat.
‘Will you, indeed,’ said Brewster. ‘You’ve been of very little service to me.’
‘Except in preventing what would possibly have been the most embarrassing escape in the history of the colony,’ said Ellison mildly. ‘But of course, I can always acquaint those in Hobart with the facts myself.’
‘No, write the damn thing and bring it to me. But be quick about it – Jones is leaving within the hour.
Ellison stood, bowed, and said, ‘As you wish, naturally.’
‘I must thank you,’ said Monsarrat, as they made their way back up the hill to work on the second document. ‘Anything which convinces my superior in Sydney that I am worth freedom due to my usefulness – well, it is a great service you do me.’
‘Not at all, Mr Monsarrat. And it must be said that after certain packages are sent across the seas, it might be in order for me to take some time away from Van Diemen’s Land. I would like to think I would find a welcome in Parramatta.’
‘You most certainly will, from me. I cannot speak for Mrs Mulrooney …’
‘I have done my best to make peace with her,’ said Ellison. ‘She is a sound woman, and a fair one. I do not believe I will ever be foremost in her thoughts, but I do think, hope, I’ve done enough to avoid her throwing the slops bucket at me should I ever appear at your door.’
‘Well, as to whether any of us have done enough to avoid that …’
Ellison chuckled. ‘And I wonder, Mr Monsarrat, whether I might ask you another favour.’
‘Sadly it is impossible for me to see Thomas Power again. Your little accusation saw to that. I would, however, very much like to get a message to him. Might I request that you tell him something?’
‘It depends what it is. But if it falls short of treason, I’ve no objection.’
‘If you would be kind enough to tell him that the flax crop here is not expected to do well anymore, but that we hope there might be a prospect of a better harvest at Macquarie Harbour.’
‘Very well. If you wish me to discuss flax.’
‘Oh, flax is so important, Mr Monsarrat. Without it, there would be no sails. If we were not able to cultivate a strong enough crop, it’s highly likely that all of us would be trapped in a penal limbo forever.’
Monsarrat had not seen Mrs Mulrooney for two days. This was the longest he had been without her company almost since he had met her and he lamented her absence.
The report, with its accompanying letter dripping with false humility, had skipped over the waves with Jones. Since then Brewster had been ignoring Monsarrat’s existence as much as possible, and Monsarrat and Ellison had settled into an odd, fraternal existence in the magistrate’s cottage.
This morning Monsarrat tried to apply the basic principles of tea-making Mrs Mulrooney had taught him, producing a pot to which Ellison did not seem to have any objection. For Monsarrat, though, used to Mrs Mulrooney’s brews, it was watery and unsatisfying.
Mrs Mulrooney must, he thought, be finding it very stifling in that cottage with only Walter and Mrs Brewster for company. Brewster had given an order that no provisions were to be delivered to them, but Ellison had talked him around. ‘How would it look, dear fellow? You are maintaining the fiction that she is under guard to prevent molestation from a convict, so if she is suddenly deprived of rations … well, people will talk.’
Monsarrat still made use of the bench he had dragged against the cottage wall. Ellison had given up the pretence of doing any work in the evenings and joined him, sipping from an earthenware cup which contained a dark red liquid.
Both Ellison and Monsarrat were now ghosts on the island. Monsarrat was alarmed by how easily the lack of activity convinced him to accept a cup or two of port from the magistrate’s seemingly unending supply. They did not, however, have over-long conversations. Both of them knew that Monsarrat was well aware of Ellison’s part in the attempted escape, but should Monsarrat ever feel inclined to bring his role in the whole business to any official attention, he could not point to a single statement in which Ellison had admitted guilt. And any attempt to lay blame at Ellison’s door would also be frustrated by Thomas Power, who had still admitted to nothing.
Monsarrat had visited Power, as Ellison had asked him to. He had anticipated some resistance from James Brewster, but as Monsarrat was no longer in a position to influence his advancement one way or another, Brewster appeared not to care and waved a casual permission when Monsarrat visited his office to ask.
It seemed almost impossible that Power was unaware of the jolting developments of the past few days. That not a whisper had managed to trickle in through the guardhouse door. But Brewster had given orders that Power’s guard – at the moment an older private who obeyed the commandant without question – should station himself outside the guardhouse rather than inside, to prevent him being influenced by the man.
Power nodded, thanked Monsarrat when he delivered Ellison’s message about the flax. When Monsarrat told Power of Walter’s crime, though, the fellow rested his head in his hands for a moment, forcing the heels of his palms into his eyes. It was a tactic Monsarrat knew well. When male tears were seen as an almost fatal weakness, most knew how to prevent their emergence.
‘That brave, stupid boy,’ said Power. ‘He’s too good for this place, Mr Monsarrat. He is a pilgrim here, comes from somewhere in w
‘He will continue to have the protection of his sister,’ said Monsarrat. ‘I do not know exactly where they are bound, or what she intends to do for money …’
‘Oh, that’s taken care of. She will know where to go, the same place I was going. No, I shan’t tell you where. But arrangements have been made for funds to be available. The only difference is she will be passing herself off as a widow, rather than a woman married to a baronet.’
‘You don’t intend to attempt another escape on the journey then?’
‘Mr Monsarrat, please. I know you’re an intelligent man, so do me the same credit by not asking such questions, ones which are destined to remain unanswered. Anyway, an attempt by me to escape would draw attention to Elizabeth and Walter, make their own liberation less likely. It’s too dangerous. They won’t hang me, but they would have no such scruples about putting Walter at the end of a rope.’
‘That’s … admirable.’
‘Yes, well, I am occasionally capable of selfless action, despite what Mrs Mulrooney might think. Please give her my regards, by the way. Whether she wants them or not.’
‘What will you do, then? If escape is no longer your goal?’
‘Read. Write, if I’m allowed to. Wait for the end of my sentence, at which point I will buy a passage on a ship bound for England and then Ireland. Everyone will profess their delight at my return, although many of them no doubt will have found life rather restful in my absence, will dread the upheaval. My children will not recognise me and my wife will pretend that my absence was a minor inconvenience.’
‘And rebellion? Any more ambitions in that regard?’
‘I will act as the situation demands. I always have. Those of the Catholic faith in Ireland risk imprisonment for practising their religion, a situation I cannot allow to continue, and will not when I eventually return. May I ask you a question, Mr Monsarrat?’
The Power Game by Thomas Keneally / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes