The River Runs Deep – Episode 01

Sailesh Thakrar © The main characters from the story Illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

Here’s our latest fiction serial for you to enjoy, set in the 1800s. A new instalment will be posted daily…

Laura Sinclair stuffed an apple and a freshly baked maple syrup cookie into the capacious pocket of her pinafore and dashed from the house.

In a flash, she was across the porch, down the steps, around Ma’s daffodil patch and away towards the oak.

The Sinclairs’ oak was a very big, very old tree.

Billy-Bob’s grandpa had often told them this tree was already ancient when Scottish pioneers like the Sinclairs, Robertsons, Mathiesons and Carmichaels first settled hereabouts, founding the nearby town of Deep River.

Laura rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes.

She missed the kindly old gentleman such a lot, but not nearly so much as poor Billy-Bob and his pa and ma must be doing.

Kilting her skirts, Laura climbed the massive oak up into the treehouse she and her pa were making for her tenth birthday.

It would have been finished if Pa wasn’t away from home so much.

He was away right now, working aboard the flat-bottomed sternwheeler Missouri Belle.

If only they’d built the treehouse higher up she might have been able to watch out for the Belle, her whistle blowing and smokestacks billowing as she steamed towards Deep River.

A few miles outside the prosperous little town and branching away from the great river were the swift, rushing waters of Pipers Creek.

Along its fertile banks lay the Sinclairs’ white-painted, red-roofed homestead, with its orchard, meadow and well-tended fields of corn, wheat and vegetables.

The creek gradually wound from sight into thick woodland, and far beyond those woods was the Robertson family’s cabin.

It looked down upon the sprawling Overton mine, with its squalid shanty town of miners’ dwellings.

A world away in the opposite direction, across Pipers Creek to the east, stood the long-derelict Delderfield mansion.

There was something peculiar about the place.

From her perch, Laura could see its broken shutters, overgrown verandas and crooked, rusting gates quite plainly through the still-bare trees.

She reckoned that, years ago, something really bad must have happened there. Something so bad that the Delderfields went away and never came back.

“Laura!” Shona Sinclair called from the foot of the oak tree. “Supper’s ready. Come and get washed up!”

“I can’t think why you want to sleep in a treehouse!” Bea opined with a shudder while they ate supper.

“It’ll be cold and uncomfortable. It doesn’t even have a roof!”

“It will as soon as Pa gets home,” Laura argued, glowering across the table at her older sister.

“The tarp we’ve rigged up is just as good as any roof.

“You’d know that, if you’d ever come up to see the treehouse,” she added.

“You won’t catch me climbing trees,” Bea retorted, moving a pitcher of milk out of reach of their brother’s questing hands.

“Well done, Bea!” Shona exclaimed, her own hands occupied cutting Walter’s carrots into small pieces.

“Laura, I know you’re looking forward to sleeping in your treehouse,” she went on.

“But nights get cold. Why not leave it a while longer?”

“It’s almost spring. I won’t be cold,” Laura protested.

“You promised I could sleep there one night when it wasn’t raining and there was no school in the morning!”

“I did,” Shona admitted. “Very well. I’ll fetch an old quilt and blankets.

“If you’re cold, come indoors, understand? I’ll leave a lantern on the porch so you can see your way.”

The instant supper was cleared and the dishes put away, Laura began relaying her bedding, the drawing tablet and pencils Pa had brought her from St Louis, some cookies, another apple and a billy-can of milk into the oak.

It was almost nightfall by now, and Laura rolled back the tarp roof.

Pretty soon, the moon would be up and its silvery light pouring down into her treehouse.

Snuggling beneath the covers, Laura sighed, surrounded by familiar and comforting sounds.

She could hear the rush of the creek, the rustle of animals snuffling amongst the tangled undergrowth and the soft calls of birds settling for the night.

To be continued…

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