A poor boy, an orphan, had been engaged by Clarkson as a servant. Much of the hard rough work about the kind of bush farm established by the squatter, fell to his share; he was not ill fed, for Mrs. Clarkson saw to that, but his promised wages never were paid. The lad complained to his few acquaintance that nearly the whole sum due to him for two years’ service was still in his master’s hands, and though he dared not let Clarkson know that he had complained, he took courage, by their advice, to threaten him with the law. One day soon after this, Clarkson and his servant were both engaged loading a kind of raft, or flat boat, with various produce for market. A dispute arose between them, the boy fell or was pushed overboard, and though the creek was quite shallow, and he was known to be able to swim, he was never seen from that time.
This was the story which had been whispered about until Mrs. Costello heard it, and which now returned to her mind with horrible force. A murderer, a double, a treble murderer—(for was not Christian dying from the consequences of his guilt?); she felt at that moment no resignation, but a fierce desire to push aside all the cruel, complete, false evidence, and force justice to recognize the true criminal.
“Coward that I am!” she cried in her heart. “But I will at least do what I can. To-morrow I will let the truth about myself be known, and try whether that cannot be made to help me to the other truth. To-morrow, to-morrow!”
She reached home exhausted, yet sustained by a new energy, and told Lucia her story and her determination. To her, young and impatient of the constant repression and concealment, this resolve was a welcome relief; and they talked of it, and of the future together until they half persuaded themselves that to restore to Christian his wife and daughter would be but the beginning of a change which should restore him both life and liberty.
The arrival of letters at the Cottage was somewhat irregular and uncertain. Mails from England and the States reached Cacouna in the evening, and if a messenger was sent to the post-office the letters could be had about an hour afterwards. Since Maurice had been in England, the English mails were eagerly looked for, and Mr. Leigh never failed to send at the very first moment when it was possible there might be news of him. Lately Maurice’s correspondence had been nearly equally divided between his father and Mrs. Costello; and Mr. Leigh had wondered not a little at the fretted impatient humour which showed itself plainly at times in his share of the letters written in that silent and shadowy sickroom at Hunsdon. But Maurice said nothing to him of the real cause of his discontent—very little of his plan of returning to Cacouna; and it was Mrs. Costello who received the notes which acted as safety valves to his almost irrepressible disturbance of mind.