‘It’s a wonder old Tommy Aiken sleeps at night,’ said Mabel,
her hands on her broad hips, just the right shape for hoisting heavy baskets of linen.
And saying thus she effected the miraculous: silencing the chatter of the women,
who suddenly busied themselves with peeling potatoes and stoking the fire
as though they hadn’t all been thinking the exact same thing.
‘And now young Clancy here with us, I wonder if he knows what his uncle did?’
Mabel roared. Oblivious, perhaps, to the collective discomfort of the devoutly superstitious crossing themselves –
who dared not to speak of ghosts and murderers. The illusion that they left it all in the old country broken in fragments,
the new land was just as haunted as home. And was it that they’d brought the ghosts with them?
How outlandish to imagine ethereal spectres bound in heavy chains on the wave-tossed convict ships.
‘Why don’t ye ask him?’ asked one, and she was quickly hushed by the group.
It was too terrible to contemplate. And Clancy Aiken, how much he looked like his old uncle,
The dark hair and dark eyes, the deathly pale skin, the long fingers and the high cheeks –
The collectively repressed memories lifted to the surface at the arrival of the young man
Hired to muster the herefords in the High Country before the winter snows.
‘Let’s not hold him to the sins of his family,’ said another,
‘It’s not as if looking like a monster makes ye one.’
But the silence that had settled on the group remained.
Did they know for certain that they could trust a man whose visage so resembled one they had once feared?
‘Tommy was never found guilty – they never found a body, and maybe Nellie still wanders the bush.’
‘Maybe she still lives on.’