The River Runs Deep – Episode 05

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

Her first concern was Zebulon.

While Hal organised food and sleeping arrangements for Valerie and Portia, she and Mr Watts tended the wounded man as best they could.

He was in pain. The wound itself was red and angry, and Zebulon was shivering violently, coming to and from consciousness.

Adelaide touched a hand to his forehead. He was burning up.

He needed proper doctoring, but Deep River’s physician was a slave owner, opposed to abolition.

“I’ll go back to town, Edgar. Fetch what medicaments I have,” she murmured.

“If only William were here! He’d know how best to help this poor soul.”

“He was a wise man. Knew everything about plants and herbs and the old ways of doctoring and brewing remedies,” Mr Watts reflected.

Adelaide rode swiftly from Delderfield.

During the years they’d worked together on the railroad, she’d assisted William while he’d tended sickness and wounds.

Entering the store, Adelaide began gathering various medicaments William had prepared, and prayed she remembered all he’d taught her.

During that same hot summer night, miles away at the Robertsons’ cabin, Billy-Bob stirred from sleep. He was thirsty.

The kitchen lamp was lit and Caleb was seated at the table, head bowed as he studied ledgers, invoices and assorted papers spread before him.

Engrossed in his task, Caleb was unaware of the boy’s presence until Billy-Bob spoke.

“Is that stuff from the mine?” he asked curiously, pouring a cup of water.

“You’ve never brought anything home from the mine before.

“What is it, Pa? It must be real important.”

“No, it’s…” Caleb faltered. “I just need to make sure I’m right.

“Go back to bed,” he muttered, taking out Grandpa’s old pocket-watch. “It’s late and you’ve school in the morning.”

“It’s vacation, Pa,” Billy-Bob replied in exasperation. “School’s out for summer.”

“Of course.” Caleb nodded distractedly. “Sleep well.”

Although there was no school, Billy-Bob had to be up early for his job at Miss Adelaide’s.

When he went into the kitchen, the mine’s papers were gone from the table.

Caleb wasn’t there.

“Where’s Pa?” he asked his mother.

“Chopping kindling.” Hannah smiled, but her smile didn’t light up her eyes like it usually did.

“Pa was up all night, wasn’t he?” Billy-Bob asked in a rush. “What’s wrong, Ma?”

“I don’t know.” She stared up at him. “Something’s troubling your pa, but he won’t tell me what it is.

“He doesn’t want me worrying.” Hannah poured coffee into a large cup, starting towards the door.

“But not knowing worries me even more.”

Billy-Bob eased the cup from her thin hands.

“I’ll take this out to Pa.”

Caleb was round back of the cabin, splitting the last logs from the woodpile into kindling.

“There’s nothing for you to fret over,” he reassured in answer to Billy-Bob’s concern.

“Something needed figuring out. Came upon it unexpected, is all.”

Caleb blew upon the hot coffee before going on.

“I’ve been sorting through Grandpa’s belongings. I reckon he’d want you to have his fiddle.”

“But I can’t play properly.”

“You were learning,” Caleb countered. “Your grandpa tried teaching me when I was a boy, but I’ve a tin ear.

“He believed you had the makings of a fine fiddler.”

Stooping, Caleb collected up the kindling.

“We’ll want more wood for that pile soon.”

“I’ll gather as much as I can on my way home,” Billy-Bob promised, shouldering a heavy bundle of kindling.

“We’ll cut it together tonight,” Caleb replied, adding as he led the way to the cabin, “I reckon I’ll get to the mine early today.

“You can’t tarry, either.” Suddenly smiling, he ruffled Billy-Bob’s hair. “You’re a working man now, son.

“Your ma’s going to love that fancy bonnet!”

To be continued…

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