The power game, p.29
The Power Game, p.29Thomas Keneally
Monsarrat smiled. Mrs Mulrooney’s shortbread was clearly a far better diplomatic tool than the commandant’s manner.
When he eventually walked back up the hill, the rain had eased slightly. At least he could keep his eyes open, did not have to keep blinking against droplets hurled into his face by the wind.
In the magistrate’s kitchen, Mrs Mulrooney was scrubbing the table for the fifth time. ‘I’m looking forward to going to work on a table in Parramatta,’ she said, looking to see what mail there might be. ‘Padraig, I’ve been trying to write a letter to him. I want to ask him to come back, Mr Monsarrat,’ she said. ‘Do you think the sale of that jewellery would have occurred by now?’
The jewellery which would give her affluence. ‘In all likelihood,’ said Monsarrat, smiling at her. ‘We will find out when we reach Sydney, in any case.’
‘And when will that be?’
‘Soon, I hope. I am anxious to get back as well.’
Mrs Mulrooney smiled. ‘If there’s one thing I can assure you of, Mr Monsarrat, it’s that Grace O’Leary will be waiting for you in Parramatta. After all,’ she said, smiling more broadly, ‘she doesn’t have any choice.’
‘If I had a cleaning cloth …’
‘Ah, but you don’t. You wouldn’t know what to do with it. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the remains of your attempts at tea, Mr Monsarrat. Those poor little leaves, abusing them so when they were just trying to give you some flavour. I’ve put the kettle on for some more, but I let it boil away. I can’t seem to settle to anything. Worrying, you know, about Elizabeth and Walter. That this storm might have put paid to their plans to get away.’
‘Well, they would have made it across to the bay before the storm hit. And don’t forget that Ellison is currently the only one in Triabunna – in fact, the whole of Van Diemen’s Land apart from this island – who knows why they are there. His report to Marley is unlikely to have reached Hobart. I think they’ll get away safely enough. I imagine they are watching for the first break in the weather. As is Jones, by the way. We may well find ourselves taking the first leg of the journey back to Parramatta tomorrow.’
Mrs Mulrooney crossed herself. ‘I hope Jones isn’t going to make us hop into a boat in this weather, or anything like it. Then again, I would rather make it over in wild seas than stay anywhere near that man.’
Brewster had moved back into his cottage and had brought a convict who had previously served as a footman in to cook and make tea and tidy the place.
‘I saw him,’ said Mrs Mulrooney. ‘Just before the rains hit. He was pacing around the side of the house, looking at the water. God knows what he was thinking. Nor do I care, to be honest. I hope, Mr Monsarrat, that there will be a consequence to all this for him.’
‘Apart from the consequence he is already enduring, I doubt it. It was the price of Walter and Elizabeth’s freedom to cast him as the hero. He will tell the story of his heroism to himself over and over again until he has convinced himself it is the truth. Above all, he will keep seeking advancement, and probably get it. He’ll be fine. That kind always is.’
‘And what about our kind, Mr Monsarrat?’
‘We will do as we always do. I will do my best not to run foul of the administration again, to retain my freedom. I will visit Grace. And I will continue to try to be worthy of your friendship. As for you, though – you’re very probably a rich woman now. What will you do?’
‘I tell you, Mr Monsarrat, the sooner I get my son back to my side, the happier I will be. And now I’m in a position to set him up in a public house – wouldn’t it be wonderful if that public house could be in Parramatta? So when we get back I’m going to bend everything towards that. When you leave me alone long enough with your incessant demands for tea, and your wailing about how you never get any shortbread.’
Monsarrat wouldn’t have believed he’d see Hannah Mulrooney smiling on a boat, yet today she seemed unable to stop. The storms of Van Diemen’s Land were now several hundred leagues to the south, and the Parramatta sun was shining on the river as the boat was pushed along towards home by the incoming tide.
In anyone else, Monsarrat would have believed that the smile was prompted by the fact that a significant sum of money had just been deposited with the Bank of New South Wales. But this woman was more likely to be smiling at the prospect of home after nearly a month’s absence, her own kitchen with utensils which knew how to behave, and a promise of people to fuss over.
He would not have thought her capable of showing any more delight, until she noticed who was at the dock. A slight woman in a clean but plain muslin dress which, Monsarrat knew, was nevertheless the finest gown she had ever owned, stood waiting. Her hand had been claimed by a little girl, who was scanning the river while clinging to a small cloth doll, as though expecting it to be stolen. Mrs Mulrooney gasped and her eyes began to shine.
Helen started talking before Mrs Mulrooney had set foot on the plank which a seaman had placed on the gunwale, leading down to the dock. ‘I’ve been doing as you asked, missus, and the cottage is still standing and in good order. I’ve been scrubbing the table every day, just like you said, and staring at the pots and pans, although what good that does, I don’t know. It has been done, though, I promise.’
For someone with a fear of the water, Mrs Mulrooney stepped remarkably quickly down the flimsy plank which was all that stood between her and the Parramatta River. ‘How did you know we would be back today?’ she asked Helen.
‘We didn’t, missus. Eliza insisted we come down here every day, looking for you. Have done for the past week.’
Mrs Mulrooney straightened, as Monsarrat walked down the plank himself and saw to their luggage.
‘Oh, there’s no need to walk, missus. James – Mr Henson, that is – has gone to fetch a cart. He’s been looking in on us, from time to time. Well, every day.’
When they were settled in the cart, Mrs Mulrooney said, ‘Helen, you have been setting the mail aside, of course.’
‘I would have, missus, but none has come.’
‘Are you certain about that? It wasn’t left to the side of the door?’
‘No, I’ve looked, like I promised.’
Mrs Mulrooney frowned. ‘Nearly a month since I first wrote to him,’ she said. ‘I would have thought … Never mind. I believe, Helen, that Mr Monsarrat may have some questions for you.’
Helen looked expectantly at Monsarrat. He cleared his throat – he did indeed have a question, though one he would have preferred not to ask in an open cart with the genial Henson in earshot.
‘I don’t suppose, Helen,’ he said, ‘that you have visited the Factory in our absence?’
Helen frowned. ‘Only once, sir, and then just for a short time. I know nothing of any of the doings there, or any of the women.’
Monsarrat nodded. He doubted that Helen was telling the truth. First-class prisoners were allowed visitors on Sundays, and if Helen had gone and sat with some of her former penitentiary mates, she would know more than a little about the goings-on behind the arched gates with their fancy clock. But convicts, when they did not want to give away information, could be stubborn. And Helen, who had been through horrors, did not deserve an interrogation.
The cottage, when the group drew up to it, had clearly been cared for with an attention even Mrs Mulrooney couldn’t fault. Monsarrat felt great relief to be home, which was sorely tempered by a niggling but persistent alarm that had started to ring when Helen had demurred at providing any information about the inmates of the Female Factory.
It was odd, the next morning, to be walking up the hill with the colonnaded stone building at the top, skirting around the back past the Government House stables towards the office outbuilding where Ralph Eveleigh had had to do without a clerk for a few weeks.
Eveleigh barely looked up when Monsarrat rapped on his door. He finished the document he had been working on, looked up and gestured Monsarrat to a seat. ‘I have had correspo
‘I was indeed in the right place to stop the infamous Thomas Power in his attempt,’ said Monsarrat.
‘Yes, well, given that, Mr Marley is not quibbling about the fact that it was the commandant, not you, who identified the killer of the bosun.’
‘I am glad to hear it.’
‘You should be,’ said Eveleigh. ‘Your continued freedom relies on your utility.’
‘And my utility, it would seem, relies on the concealment of my background, sir.’
‘Ah’ said Eveleigh. ‘Yes. Well, they are a little more conservative down there. I doubted you would have found any cooperation, had it been known.’
‘Perhaps if you had informed me of your decision in that regard, sir, I might have been less surprised.’
‘Yes, well, I’m sorry about that, but I knew you would never agree to it. And I trusted you to have enough intellectual agility, shall we say, to manage the situation when you found out.’
‘Intellectual agility is one thing, sir, but if you’ll forgive me, I do not like being put in a position where I have to dissemble in order to achieve what you sent me there for.’
Eveleigh sighed. ‘Monsarrat,’ he said, ‘I expected you would feel this way, and to be honest, I would probably feel the same in your situation. But our nicer emotions must sometimes be forced to submit to practicalities.’
‘Well, the practicalities of the situation were that when a certain magistrate discovered the truth, I was very nearly drummed off the island.’
‘Yes, magistrate … Ellison, is it?’ He riffled through a stack of papers on his desk. ‘I had another letter yesterday from Marley. He begs to inform me that since the culprits were delivered from Maria Island, they seem to have disappeared. Odd, no? He wonders if we know anything about it.’
‘Yes, it is odd,’ said Monsarrat. ‘Ellison always struck me as very upright. Unimaginative, a lover of rules. A typical magistrate.’
‘Well, if he were typical of our Parramatta magistrates, I really would be concerned. Marley has had enough help from us, in any case. They can deal with that one by themselves. I assure you, I will not be sending you back there, nor anywhere for some time.’
‘I am glad to hear it, sir. I was hoping, in that regard, to ask you a favour, and what I have to ask is not onerous.’
‘Sir, I wish for permission to visit Grace O’Leary this Sunday. She is still a third-class convict, and not allowed Sunday visitors. But perhaps if you were to intercede with the superintendent …’
Eveleigh shifted in his chair, looked at the ceiling for a moment. ‘Mr Monsarrat, it will probably alarm you to hear that certain magistrates here have discovered your regard for the Irishwoman. And there is one in particular who wants to cause you trouble. Reverend Bulmer has taken it upon himself to prevent any further relationship developing between you and the O’Leary woman.’
‘How on earth? She will be free next month!’
‘Yes, but she is not free yet. And you know yourself, Mr Monsarrat, that once a convict is assigned away from Parramatta, he or she does not necessarily come back when they earn their freedom.’
‘But what has this to do with Grace? I don’t … You can’t mean …?’
‘I’m afraid I do. Reverend Bulmer had Grace assigned to a property in the west. I don’t know where, nor does anyone but him. Mr Monsarrat, she is gone.’
Monsarrat almost gasped aloud at the desolation he felt in that moment.
‘In that case, sir, I need your permission to search for her.’
‘I don’t think a day or two’s journey will bring you closer to her. And a day or two at a time is all you will be able to afford.’
‘Sir, may I then request a leave of absence?’
‘I must deny it, Monsarrat. I am sorry. Last week, a man was shot in Sydney.’
‘And cannot the constabulary deal with that?’
‘No. This one is earmarked for you. The slain man was the editor of the Sydney Chronicle. It seems he ran afoul of some of those who also have made it their business to torment you. There are conflicts within conflicts within conflicts – requires a delicate touch. So I’m afraid, Mr Monsarrat, that this must take up the bulk of your time. And we must resolve it before the governor arrives.’
‘Why? Surely this will not be the only unsolved murder he confronts.’
‘Ah, but this one is dangerous. Perhaps fatal for the unwary. I do, Mr Monsarrat, wish you the best of luck.’
We have taken more liberties with history in The Power Game than we have in previous Monsarrat books.
Maria Island is a lesser known sister to the famously brutal Tasmanian penal stations at Macquarie Harbour (established in 1822) and Port Arthur (1830). It was envisaged as a gentler place, a settlement for colonial offenders whose crimes were not sufficiently serious to warrant the institutionalised torture purveyed at more infamous penal stations. In fact, administrators during the late 1820s believed convicts were committing minor crimes to get sent to Maria.
Once they got there, though, some of them tried to leave, and the escapes by canoe described in this book were a frequent headache for the administration.
It is believed Aboriginals from Oyster Bay journeyed frequently to the island.
Triabunna, from where the Maria Island ferry departs now, appears in this book but was not founded until 1830. Today’s visitors to Maria Island can see buildings from throughout the island’s penal history, which began with the foundation of Darlington in 1825. A few of the buildings (such as the commissariat store where our fictional Elizabeth and Walter laboured, which now houses the visitor centre) would have been there in 1826 when Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney arrive. However, most of Darlington dates from later in its first period as a penal station, which ran to 1832, or from its second incarnation from 1842.
While they may be anachronisms, most of the buildings in The Power Game did actually exist at one stage or another. The commandant and visiting magistrate’s houses stood where they stand in Monsarrat’s world, for example, and the reservoir Monsarrat visits is around an hour’s stroll through the bush from Darlington.
There are a few notable exceptions. We are not aware of a light as described in this book (although whalers frequently visited the waters around Maria Island). The man on whom the character of Thomas Power is based (more on him in a moment) had a cottage which was next to the convict penitentiary, and not walled in – we’ve restricted him for narrative reasons.
There are also some living anachronisms in this book. Because of its remote location and undeveloped bushland, a number of threatened species were introduced to Maria Island in the 1970s. These include the Cape Barren geese (which are every bit as strident as portrayed in the novel), kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and Tasmanian devils. Many of these animals can be seen in great abundance by visitors to the island today, but would not have been there at the foundation of the penal settlement.
William Smith O’Brien
The greatest living anachronism in this book is William Smith O’Brien, the inspiration for the character of Thomas Power (although Power is a more flamboyant character than O’Brien, who was said to be reserved).
O’Brien, like Power, was an Irish nationalist and son of a baronet. A leader of the Young Ireland movement, he was arrested for high treason in 1848 and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – a sentence which, fortunately for him, was commuted to transportation.
In an attempt to neutralise the Young Irelanders as a political force, O’Brien and others transported with him were offered freedom within the colony in exchange for their ‘parole’ – a promise not to escape. It was a promise O’Brien was unwilling to make so he was sent to Maria Island, arriving there in November 1849.
Nine months la
From these remnants of historic tapestry we hope we have managed to produce a narrative engrossing enough to justify the liberties we have taken.
Also by Meg and Tom Keneally
The Soldier’s Curse
‘With The Soldier’s Curse Monsarrat is fairly launched into what promises to be both a troubling future for him and a sure entertainment for readers’ Peter Pierce, Australian
In the Port Macquarie penal settlement for second offenders, at the edge of the known world, gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat hungers for freedom. Originally transported for forging documents passing himself off as a lawyer, he is now the trusted clerk of the settlement’s commandant.
His position has certain advantages, such as being able to spend time in the Government House kitchen, being supplied with outstanding cups of tea by housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney, who, despite being illiterate, is his most intelligent companion.
Not long after the commandant heads off in search of a rumoured river, his beautiful wife, Honora, falls ill with a sickness the doctor is unable to identify. When Honora dies, it becomes clear she has been slowly poisoned.
Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney suspect the commandant’s second-in-command, Captain Diamond, a cruel man who shares history with Honora. Then Diamond has Mrs Mulrooney arrested for the murder. Knowing his friend will hang if she is tried, Monsarrat knows he must find the real killer.
‘A series that promises to add a new dimension to the Australian crime scene … Things can only get more interesting’ Sydney Morning Herald
The Power Game by Thomas Keneally / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes