The River Runs Deep – Episode 07

Sailesh Thakrar © Billy-Bob picking apples Illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

Laura ran most of the way from the Robertsons’ cabin.

It was a hot summer morning and she was breathless when she arrived home.

She headed straight into the kitchen.

“Ma said she’ll stay with Billy-Bob’s ma a while longer.”

“That’s good,” Bea replied, glancing up from the oven. “Mrs Robertson shouldn’t be on her own while she waits for news.”

Pa and Billy-Bob had been searching for Mr Robertson.

Laura didn’t need to ask if they’d found him. She knew from Bea’s face.

“I sent Billy-Bob home,” Andrew explained some hours later, packing his kit-bag ready for sailing aboard Missouri Belle.

“Told him to try persuading Hannah to stay with us until Caleb shows up.

“If Caleb had an accident on his way home last night, we’d have found him by now.” Andrew frowned. “Where is he?”

That afternoon, Laura and Bea took Walter to the riverfront to wave their father off on his voyage.

Andrew held Walter in his arms, showing him how the barges shunted tons of coal aboard Missouri Belle, when Captain Frank Leasowe strode down the gangplank.

The Belle’s owner was a portly man of middle years who was well-liked around Deep River.

Seeing the sisters, he greeted them amiably before disappearing into the Transport and Supplies warehouse.

The Sinclairs said their goodbyes as Captain Leasowe emerged from the warehouse, locked in conversation with a man Laura recognised.

“Pa!” She tugged his sleeve. “That man with the captain came to the Robertsons’ cabin this morning looking for Billy-Bob’s pa. What’s he doing here?”

“Where do you think Missouri Belle’s coal comes from?” Andrew laughed, shouldering his kit-bag before starting aboard.

“Ty Skinner is the mine’s manager, so he and Captain Leasowe do a lot of business together.”

Adelaide wandering about the countryside, gathering herbs and plants for brewing into her teas and remedies, was a common sight in Deep River and folks paid it little heed.

She ambled with her trug along the winding banks of Pipers Creek, threading through shady fringes of woodland before emerging by the Delderfield place.

Edgar had already left, travelling by night and resuming his work elsewhere on the underground railroad.

Fugitive slaves Zebulon, Valerie and Portia remained in hiding at the old house, awaiting a signal to continue north towards the next station on their journey to Canada.

“How are you feeling?” Adelaide asked warmly, following Valerie into the concealed room where the injured Zebulon was being tended.

“I’m doing all right, thanks.”

“He isn’t sleeping well,” Valerie put in softly. “It’s pain wakes him, ma’am.

“But when Portia changed his bandages this morning, the wound looks to be healing fine.”

“That is good news,” Adelaide replied, dipping into the depths of her trug.

“I’ve brought a pot of balm and another batch of tincture for the pain.”

“Don’t suppose you made it taste better this time?”

“Afraid not.” She smiled ruefully at Zebulon, setting down the medicaments before glancing to the sisters. “Hal’s had word. You’ll be leaving tomorrow night –”

“What about Zeb?” Portia cried. “He can’t walk yet. We ain’t going without him!”

“When he’s recovered, Zebulon will follow you along the line,” Adelaide reassured her. “Until then, either Hal or I will be here with him.”

“Portia’s right,” Valerie declared. “If it weren’t for Zeb telling us about the railroad and taking us with him, we’d still be Mr McSween’s slaves!”

“You still are McSween’s slaves!” Zebulon cut in. “And will be till you’re across that border.

“As soon as I get my strength back, I’ll be up the line like Miss Adelaide says. Meantime, you go tomorrow. Understand?”

“We mightn’t be proper free yet,” Portia argued, “but we’s more free than we’ve ever been!

“Free folks make up their own minds about doing what’s right.”

She turned to Adelaide for support.

“Ain’t that so, ma’am?”

Adelaide returned the younger woman’s smile.

“Yes, I believe it is. It’s your and Valerie’s choice to make.”

“Well, I ain’t happy about it!” Zebulon grumbled, wincing as he levered himself on to one elbow.

“Just take your medicine and get used to it,” Portia retorted. “Because Valerie and me are staying until we can all go together!”

To be continued…

An error has occurred while loading your details. Please click the following link to try again - if the issue persists, please don't hesitate to contact us. Try again by refreshing the page.