The River Runs Deep – Episode 03

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

Billy-Bob and the Sinclair sisters usually walked to and from school together, but today the girls walked home without him while he stayed in town.

It was too far for Hannah to walk from their cabin into Deep River, and the family didn’t have a buggy, so Grandpa had always fetched groceries and suchlike.

Now, Billy-Bob made it his job.

“Give your mother my regards,” Adelaide told him, helping him pack his purchases.

When he came within sight of their cabin, Billy-Bob saw his mother struggling to manoeuvre the hearth rug over a washing line strung across the front yard.

Despite being so poorly, Hannah Robertson prided herself upon keeping their home clean and neat as a pin.

Now spring was well and truly here, it was time for beating the rugs.

Breaking into a run, Billy-Bob took the heavy rug from her arms and picked up the beater.

“I’ll see to this, Ma.”

“Did you have a nice day at school?” Hannah asked as he brought in the rug and put it back before the hearth.

Billy-Bob rummaged in his school bag, fishing out a thick book.

“I borrowed this from Miss Adelaide’s new lending library.”

“I’ve heard about that,” his mother replied, taking the book with both hands and gazing at the cover. “Shona told me – such a fine idea of Miss Adelaide’s.

“I do wish I could read, Billy-Bob, and write, too.”

“It’s not your fault you had no schooling, Ma,” he declared, putting his arm about Hannah’s thin shoulders. “I’ll always do any reading you want.”

“You’re a good boy,” she murmured. “Why don’t you tell me what the book’s about?”

“It’s ‘The Three Musketeers’. Miss Adelaide said it’s a grand adventure. I’ll read it to us after supper,” Billy-Bob began eagerly.

“I’d wanted to borrow ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’,” he went on, “but somebody already had it.

“Grandpa told me about it ages ago. When it’s returned, Miss Adelaide said she’ll set it aside for me.”

“It’ll be nice to hear about the Musketeers.” Hannah gazed up at her son. “I miss Grandpa telling us stories in the evening, and his fiddle playing.

“Your pa does, too. Not that he’d show it. It’s not his way.”

Billy-Bob didn’t say anything. He loved his pa, but he never had been able to ask him questions and tell him things like he had with Grandpa.

“Why don’t you go and meet your pa from work later?” Hannah suggested.

“Grandpa often did, and they’d have a little talk. Just the two of them.”

Whenever a shift ended, the Overton mine reminded Billy-Bob of an ants’ nest you’d accidentally stepped into.

People were swarming up from deep in the earth and scattering every which way.

Jostling through the surging stream of workers who’d neither breathed fresh air nor seen daylight for better than 12 hours, Billy-Bob hunkered down outside the mine office and waited for his father.

On their way home, Billy-Bob told Caleb about school.

“You must always study hard and make sure you do well at school,” Caleb stressed, glancing back to the workings.

“So when you’re a man, you can get far away from this godforsaken mine.

“It’s been the ruination of our family. I wanted a better life for you and your mother,” he finished remorsefully.

“We do all right, Pa,” Billy-Bob stated loyally. “Better than most folks.”

“It’s not enough, Billy-Bob,” Caleb responded, resting a hand upon his son’s shoulder as they approached their cabin.

“Andrew!” Shona laughed, coming down from the porch. “You’re supposed to be picking raspberries, not eating them!”

“Need to be sure they’re ripe, don’t we, Walter?” Andrew grinned, winking down at the boy clutching his hand.

“Only way to be sure is by sampling a few.”

“If you sample any more, Pa,” Laura chimed in, tying an apron about her waist, “we won’t have enough to make jam.

“Look, there’s Billy-Bob!” Speeding through the gate, Laura headed him off on the creek path.

“Where are you going?” she asked her friend.


“We’re making jam! Why don’t you stay and help?”

Billy-Bob shook his head, going on his way.

“I have things to do.”

To be continued…

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