Napoleon's Last Island

Free Napoleon's Last Island by Tom Keneally

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Authors: Tom Keneally
price goods achieved on their way to our island. Mr Solomon was something of a scholar, too, and had a fine library, and on top of that produced the island’s news-sheet, whose next instalment would of course be devoted to the general enthusiasm for, and the arrival of, the monster.
    We went and drank tea with Mrs Solomon and her daughter Esther in their house above the Solomon establishment, in which Mr Solomon level-headedly had throughout the day attended to the needs of come-to-town householders and farmers combining their purchases with standing in the foreshadow of the colossus. The furnishings where we sat were very sombre and the curtains of deep damask or velvet, and silverware and the candlestickof seven separate candles – a Jewish mystery – stood on the sideboard.
    Suddenly it was darker, for it got dark early in this slot in the cliffs. The sun was still high enough for most places and, no doubt, still shone on The Briars.
    â€˜Surely soon,’ said Miss Solomon.
    Into that afternoon torpor came, with fast steps on the Solomon stairwell and appearing in the door, Adela Porteous. On her reddish complexion there sat a layer of sweat. She was a girl of neat bones and a confidence I did not know how to imitate but passionately wished I could. I know she thought me crass or stupid or vile, and I had been told to be wary of her by Esther herself. Adela also seemed, ridiculously, to think that because we lived in the hinterland we were somehow debased, and it was true that a lot of Jamestown’s gossip was about improprieties, references that sometimes surpassed my understanding, in the inner reaches of the island.
    Something else had stimulated her today, though, and she was willing to include the Balcombes in what she had to say to the Solomons. She gasped twice to show that this was not normal island news.
    â€˜My father found out this morning that Boney and his Frenchies are to be accommodated at our place. The admiral has arranged it. We are all in a confusion, with the maids, stupid creatures, and the slaves who think Boney is an incarnate devil, and men moving some of our best furniture into the chambers where Boney will stay. We’ll have detachments of guards on the door to save us from being murdered in our beds.’
    â€˜I thought that the Ogre was staying with us,’ said my mother.
    â€˜Oh, I don’t know about the future,’ said Miss Porteous airily. ‘But the Portions will be first!’ She shivered theatrically. ‘Thank God for the soldiers.’
    â€˜Wouldn’t their first task be to guard against General Bonaparte’s escape?’ asked my mother, who had a clear disdain for this boastful news. I believe we were suddenly quite jealous; not the Solomons, though, who seemed to possess a wisdom and dispassion peculiar to themselves. And not Jane. But my motherand I – we were capable of jealousy. Of wondering why a vapid girl as Adela should have such prime proximity to the Ogre.
    Any further conversation with the breathless girl was cut short by the sound of the returning band leading a regiment who had seen Spain and Toulouse and left their dead brothers on that alien ground, and had gone up to pitch tents on Deadwood Plain. There was a determined, far-from-routine booming from the cannon up the many-stepped ladder above the town’s roofs, and answering fusillades from the Castle Terrace. Soldiers lined up either side of Main Street and you could hear the thunderous smartness of their boots in the heavy air.
    We stood up from the teacups and walked downstairs, proceeding behind the backs of the lined-up infantry, Miss Porteous, mouth agape with her grin of anticipation on her way to her father’s balcony; and we set off towards the warehouse where, to return the Solomons’ kindness, we had offered mother and daughter a view from the window of our father’s office.
    We found his clerks had crowded into that office too, and

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