Unholy Alliance, page 1
A Marc Edwards Mystery
Published by Bev Editions at Smashwords
Copyright 2015 Don Gutteridge
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Table of Contents
About the Author
Other Books in the Marc Edwards Mystery Series
Excerpt From Minor Corruption
Toronto, Upper Canada: 1840
The blizzard that howled across the icy expanse of Lake Ontario and struck the defenceless city broadside on this particular midwinter evening was little noticed by the five gentlemen seated in the drawing-room of the Bishop’s palace on Front Street. After all, supper had been lavish, as usual, and more than satisfying, especially so since not one of the prelate’s guests felt himself to be less than deserving of the great man’s largesse. Friday evening was secular night at John Strachan’s palatial residence, an opportunity for men of worth and promise to congregate, sup well, gossip idly, and then move on to discuss the pressing political issues of these turbulent times. Though the guest-list varied from week to week, those attending invariably shared a number of beliefs and convictions. That all were adherents of the Church of England was a given, and whether that fact was instrumental in shaping the rest of their character or not, they were, to a man, High Tory in their politics, conservative in their morals and demeanour, terribly sensitive to distinctions of race and class, and inclined towards capitalist enterprise. And no less importantly, they were susceptible to a good cigar and a fine sherry.
Enjoying the latter post-prandial refreshments, while the wind scoured and screeched against the red-brick walls and mullioned windows, were Ignatius Maxwell, receiver-general of Upper Canada and judge-designate; Ezra Michaels, local chemist; Ivor Winthrop, furrier and land speculator; Carson James, a non-practising barrister with a very rich wife; and their host, John Strachan, the recently elevated Bishop of Toronto.
“That was one superb dinner, Bishop,” James said, inhaling deeply, “and, if I may say so, was meticulously presented. I don’t know where you find such well-mannered and properly trained servants, but they are most impressive.”
“Worth their weight in gold,” Michaels added, reaching for the sherry. “We’ve had three maids and two houseboys since September.”
“You’d think with so many people out of work and begging for employment, that they’d be happy to do an honest day’s work without complaining or demanding higher wages,” Winthrop said solemnly.
“Or dropping the crystal,” Maxwell said with a chuckle.
“I take no credit for my servants’ performance,” Strachan said in the deep, authoritative voice that had made his sermons at St. James justly renowned. “It is Mrs. Strachan alone who manages my household, with thrift and a good heart.”
“I take it you’ve all heard about poor Macaulay?” James said.
Several murmurs followed this remark, but Michaels, looking puzzled, said, “You mean his wife going off to Kingston to see her specialist?”
“I did hear that,” James said, “but I was referring to what happened to his butler before Christmas.”
“Ah, yes,” Michaels said, flushing slightly. “Alfred Harkness had been with the Macaulays for over twenty years, hadn’t he?”
“Cancer. Out of the blue,” Maxwell said. “Mercifully, he didn’t suffer long.”
“It is not given to us to know when it is we are to meet our Maker,” the Bishop intoned. “For which mercy we should be eternally grateful,” he added.
“Even with all his money, Macaulay won’t find it easy to replace Alfred Harkness,” James said with a certain degree of satisfaction.
“The fellow was a gem,” Michaels sighed.
For a few moments the assembled worthies stared into their sherry, contemplating the virtues of the late Alfred Harkness.
It was Receiver-General Maxwell who broke the silence. “It’s still a puzzle to me how a chap like Garnet Macaulay, with his father’s fortune in hand and a splendid estate like Elmgrove, should have thrown his lot in with the Reformers. Old Sidney would turn over in his grave if he could see what a radical his son has become.”
“But I’ve felt the same all these years about Dr. Baldwin and his intransigent son,” Strachan said forcefully. “They sit in their pew before me Sunday after Sunday, professing to be loyal Anglicans, and then do everything in their power outside of church to destroy the foundations upon which it stands by spreading the infections of liberalism and democracy amongst us.”
“Well, they are Irish, after all,” Maxwell said with another chuckle. “That often explains the inexplicable.”
“True,” James said, not chuckling. “But the Macaulays were as English as Cheshire cheese, weren’t they?”
Ivor Winthrop, who had been following the conversation closely but not contributing, suddenly said, “English or Irish, the man’s already solved his butler problem.”
This remark, apparently incontrovertible, left the others without a reply. Finally, the Bishop said, “You mean he’s already replaced Harkness?”
Winthrop, lantern-jawed with bold black eyes that rarely came to rest in their bony sockets, smiled and said, “I’m sure he has.”
“Then you’ve got a sharper ear on the rumour mill than any of us,” Michaels said, impressed despite himself. “My lad delivered some medicine to Elmgrove a few days ago, and there was no sign of a butler.”
Pleased with the attention he’d garnered, Winthrop said slowly, “Quite so. You see, my sources tell me that the new butler has not yet arrived, but is most assuredly on his way here.”
As it was now clear that Winthrop intended to keep them dangling, James happily fed him his next cue: “On his way from where?”
“England,” Winthrop said, and leaned over to the trolley near the blazing hearth to refill his sherry glass.
“Garnet Macaulay is importing a butler all the way from England?” the Bishop said in a tone so accusatory that the bloodhound dozing by the coal-scuttle flinched.
“At this time of year?” Maxwell said, incredulous.
“Some stranger he hasn’t even met?” Michaels said, more incredulous still.
“What in the world is he trying to prove?” James said.
“I’m told the fellow is already on his way overland from New York City,” Winthrop said, glancing at Michaels. “The roads are as passable as they ever get – with the winter we’ve had.”
“But a sea voyage in February?” said Michaels, ever practical and not a little awed.
“And just how did you come by this information?” Strachan inquired, visibly irritated that such a singular event should be unfolding among the better class without his knowledge or consent.
“My brother’s butler, in Cobourg,” Winthrop said, but not before
But not, the glower on Strachan’s face suggested, as far as the bishop’s palace, seventy miles closer.
“Know anything about him?” James asked.
“Not much. Macaulay has numerous relatives back home, so I assume he got a recommendation from one of them.”
“Some snooty cast-off,” Michaels said.
Maxwell was heard to chuckle again as he said, “Believe it or not, I understand that Alfred’s younger brother, Giles, thought he might be offered the post.”
“Macaulay’s coachman?” Michaels said, amazed. “A mere stableman? You can’t be serious. The fellow’s a boor. Even the pigs out there keep clear of him.”
“Well, I’m told he took the idea seriously,” Maxwell said.
The Bishop cleared his throat. “You see, gentlemen, what comes of too much social levelling – stable hands aspiring to be butlers and valets. What next?”
The deluge apparently, for a deep, chastening silence settled on the company, during which there was heard only the wheeze of cigars and the silky slither of sherry over lip and tongue.
“I wonder if this present storm has made the township roads impassable?” the Receiver-General mused, nodding towards the windows on the south wall of the large room, upon which the snow was beating with pale, padded fists.
“Or even the Kingston Road,” Michaels added, referring to the main overland link between Kingston and Toronto.
“It might well delay the arrival of His Excellency,” James said. Governor Poulett Thomson was expected to pay a visit to the capital of Upper Canada sometime in the next few weeks.
“Possibly,” the Bishop said. “In the least it may serve to disrupt the impious gathering of Reform leaders that my agents tell me is planned for later this month, probably out at Spadina House.”
“Assuming God is still in our camp,” Maxwell said.
“Let them meet and chatter like monkeys all they want,” James said bravely. “We have little to fear from that rabble once the Union Bill is passed and a new parliament is elected.”
“I’m not sure we should be that confident, Carson,” Maxwell said. “After all, we did oppose the Union Act last fall for good reason. No-one with a shred of decency wanted Upper Canadians to be yoked with French rebels and seditionists, or the populace that blindly supported their pathetic uprising. But I still think we were right in accepting the inevitable – and then making sure the new proposals worked in our favour.”
“What do you think, Bishop?” James said. “Can our British values and our way of life prevail?”
Strachan put down his sherry. “I don’t see why not. We’ve managed, haven’t we, to get a single legislative assembly in which we have as many seats as Quebec with a third less population? And Lower Canada will assume our share of the huge public debt.”
“And English will be the language of record in that Assembly,” Maxwell beamed.
“And I would expect that the twenty members of the upper body, the Legislative Council, will be appointed judiciously from our midst by the Crown, as they are now,” said Winthrop, who had never disguised his desire to be one of the chosen himself. “With that body to check the excesses and shenanigans of the Assembly, and a British governor to select and ride herd on his Executive Council, it’s hard to see how we cannot carry on as we always have.”
“Of course, there will have to be some Councillors appointed from Quebec,” Maxwell conceded, “and two or three cabinet posts as well. But surely we’ll elect sufficient English-speaking members from Montreal and elsewhere to supply a quorum of like-minded souls from that province.”
“My contacts in Quebec,” Winthrop said, “have informed me that some creative gerrymandering is already proposed for the Montreal area, and that our man in London, Robert Peel, has even suggested these ridings each be represented by two members to ensure an English presence from Quebec.”
“What do you hear about the capital?” James said to Winthrop.
“It will not be Quebec City or Toronto,” Winthrop said. “It’s almost certainly Montreal or Kingston.”
“With Kingston the most likely site,” the Bishop added, with a nod that left little doubt about the reliability of his information, “despite the fact that there are no parliamentary facilities and not a single habitable hotel in that fortress of stone.”
Ivor Winthrop smiled, something he normally did only when all other responses failed him. “That is so, sir. I have spent much time in that grim town in recent months pursuing the fur business, and been appalled at the condition of some of its roads and buildings. But from the point of view of any businessman with an entrepreneurial spirit, it is a potential lodestone.”
“How so?” Michaels inquired.
“If no facilities now exist there to house a legislature of a hundred and four members and provide them with suitable living quarters and commercial shops appropriate to their needs and station, then such facilities will have to be constructed, furnished and serviced, will they not?”
The thought of such unbounded mercantile possibility left the gathering without speech for some moments.
“I hesitate to toss a fly into the ointment,” James said after a while, “but I would be remiss if I did not relate to you the substance of a rumour making the rounds in our circle.”
“About Hincks and some of the French rebels?” Maxwell said.
James’s face fell, then he looked merely relieved. “You mean there’s nothing to it?” he said hopefully.
“Oh, there’s something to it all right,” Maxwell said. The others sat forward in their chairs, except for the Bishop who, it seemed, knew exactly what was coming. “We know that Hincks and Louis LaFontaine have been corresponding for several months.”
Francis Hincks was a leading Reformer and editor of the radical newspaper, the Examiner. Louis LaFontaine had been a prominent MLA and a rebel supporter during the revolt in Quebec in 1837. Since his release from prison by Lord Durham following the failed uprising, he had become the leading spokesman for the malcontents among the French populace.
“But Hincks and LaFontaine have little in common,” James pointed out. “They may claim to be reformers, but the reforms the French want are not those of the English. Are they?”
The Bishop harrumphed. “Both the French Rouge party and our Reformers will do anything to embarrass and disenfranchise established authority of any kind. That is their raison d’être. On many issues, should they ever agree to cooperate in the new joint parliament, they could form a single block and cause some disruption there. But from what we know so far, they are a long way from any sort of détente.”
Receiver-General Maxwell took up the argument from that point. “Remember, the French still feel victimized and utterly defeated. The Union Bill itself is seen as a travesty by them. They have no tradition of parliamentary procedure and political negotiation. They have a religion to protect. And so on.”
“So there is little chance that any coalition of Rouge and Reform could result in their influencing the direction in which the united provinces must develop?” Winthrop said.
“Even with the remote possibility of their controlling the Assembly at some distant time in the future,” Maxwell said, “the appointed Council and the cabinet, along with the governor’s prerogative, should act to keep matters in perspective.”
“Still,” James said, “Poulett Thomson has shown a predilection for choosing his Executive Councillors from amongst the elected members of the current Assembly.”
“And there’s a possibility he’s coming to Toronto to offer Robert Baldwin, the arch-Reformer, a cabinet post,” Michaels said, alluding to yet another rumour circulating in the capital.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Maxwell said, “calm down. You’re beginning to talk as if the Governor favours responsible government, but he has assured
Carson James went suddenly pale. “I - I’m not so sure about that,” he said.
The Bishop glared at him, his eyebrows alarmingly rigid. “Explain yourself, sir.”
Trembling at the Bishop’s response or the implications of what he had to say to him, James replied: “My wife’s niece is a maid out at Spadina, where Governor Thomson and the Baldwins met in secret during the debate over the Union Bill last fall. One day, she told me, she overheard Thomson tell Robert Baldwin that he could not guarantee him responsible government in the new order, but that he felt certain it would come about – naturally and inevitably.”
“The blackguard!” Michaels cried, spilling his third sherry.
Maxwell chuckled softly. “But he said that merely to get Reform support for his bill, the wily old bastard.”
Much relief followed upon this compelling insight.
Hesitantly, James said, “But what if the Governor was being wily with us as well? After all, he’s a Whig, not a Tory.”
After the merest pause, Maxwell said, “True. But he’s also a governor, a vice-regent with near-absolute power. And I’ve never seen any gentleman – Whig, Tory or otherwise – relinquish such power voluntarily. And certainly not to a polyglot crew such as is likely to compose the new Assembly in Kingston or wherever.”
The murmurs of enthusiastic assent were stilled by Bishop Strachan raising his hand as if he were bidding his congregation to prayer. “I believe you are right, Ignatius. On the other hand, we have no more guarantees offered us than the rabble do. I fear we must scotch the serpent in its nest, not wait for it to grow into some hydra-headed beast of the Apocalypse. Should Monsieur LaFontaine and Mr. Baldwin-Hincks find enough common ground to dominate the new Legislative Assembly, it may well prove to be a most unholy alliance.”
Other author's books:
- Vital SecretsDesperate ActsSolemn Vows (Marc Edwards)Dubious AllegianceTurncoatDeath of a PatriotSolemn VowsUnholy Alliance
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