The River Runs Deep – Episode 09

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

The families ate supper together before Shona hitched up the buggy to drive Hannah home.

Billy-Bob, Laura and Bea walked, dawdling along the creek bank towards the Robertsons’ cabin and watching for the evening’s first candle-bugs, darting like pinpricks of gold light above the water’s edge.

The sun had gone down, and although it was still warm, there was a nip in the air that meant autumn wasn’t far off.

“School will start soon,” Laura observed gloomily.

“I’m not going back.”

Shocked, both sisters rounded on Billy-Bob.

“You can’t quit school!” Laura exclaimed. “You’re clever!”

Billy-Bob shrugged.

“I need to get a job.”

“You already have two jobs,” Bea argued. “You work at Pipers Creek and in Miss Adelaide’s –”

“I mean a proper job,” Billy-Bob interrupted. “Ma and me have no money.”

The necessity of earning enough to pay their way until his father came home preyed on Billy-Bob’s mind, and he could think of little else while he was helping at Miss Adelaide’s next day.

The store was busy today, because three of its regular drummers called with suitcases of wares.

The haberdasher and the man from the candy company arrived in Deep River on the stagecoach, as did most other travelling salesmen.

The bookseller, however, drove a canvas-covered prairie-schooner loaded down with chests of books.

“Mr Scott’s delivered the titles we ordered for the lending library,” Adelaide said when there was a lull.

“He brought these two on approval.

“I’d welcome your opinion on if they’d be worthwhile additions to our shelves.”

She smiled, delving into a box on the counter and withdrawing a handful of candy sticks.

“The candy man has a new line in flavours and left these samples. Will you try them?”

“Sure!” Billy-Bob grinned. “I’ll share them with Laura and Bea and see if they like them, too.”

“That’s a splendid idea,” Adelaide replied, reaching for his broom. “I’ll clean up, Billy-Bob. Get yourself off home.”

Stuffing the candy into the bib of his coveralls, Billy-Bob went on to the street, but he didn’t head homewards.

He started through town, looking for any place hiring help.

Nobody had hiring signs up, so he began going door to door, asking straight out if there was any work.

The livery stable, the hotel, the bakery, the laundry, café, barbershop, the forge – he tried them all without success.

He hovered out front of the Silver Dollar Saloon, uncertain if he should go inside.

“What you up to?”

Billy-Bob spun around. He’d noticed the sheriff standing smoking a cheroot in front of his office, but hadn’t realised Pearce was watching him.

“Get over here!”

Billy-Bob did as he was told.

“Why are you hanging round town?” Pearce demanded.

Spotting the candy, he whipped it from Billy-Bob’s coveralls.

“You bin stealing, boy? Like father, like son, eh?”

Amongst the clutter and disarray of her room in the staff wing, Edith Havilland was curled up on the window seat overlooking the imposing driveway of Claremont House School, humming softly to herself.

Last semester, she’d been a pupil here at the small, select boarding school for girls in New Prospect, Connecticut.

But now, at the onset of a new academic year, Edith had been appointed by Principal Winifred Buckley to teach music and composition.

She paused humming, writing the notes into her battered music book.

Absorbed with composing a new melody, Edith hadn’t noticed tapping at her door, so was taken aback when the door opened and Cassie Jennings, the school secretary, came in.

“I did knock, but you mustn’t have heard,” Cassie said cheerfully, brandishing a letter.

“You have mail. Is it from your brother, Lieutenant Havilland?”

“It isn’t from Charles,” Edith replied, shaking her head. “I’ve not heard from him since he visited the Delderfields earlier this year.”

“I met him then,” Cassie recalled, who’d been much impressed by the handsome army officer.

“You are fortunate having such a gallant, considerate brother, Edith.”

“Charles attends to duties and responsibilities assiduously,” Edith commented, slipping the unopened letter into her music book.

Charles was her guardian and Edith didn’t doubt for a second he’d been relieved to discover Principal Buckley had offered her an appointment at Claremont.

It resolved the problem of what was to be done with his young sister now that her education was complete.

“I saw a very debonair picture of him in the society pages,” Cassie gushed, perching on the edge of Edith’s bed.

“He was at a swanky ball with Colonel Delderfield and his wife and daughters.

“The newspaper hinted at a romance between the lieutenant and one of the Delderfield girls. Is it true?”

“I know nothing of my brother’s friendships.” Edith shrugged.

“I’ve never met the Delderfields, though I understand the colonel has helped Charles considerably with his career.”

When alone, Edith read her letter.

Another rejection! Another music publisher had declined her compositions.

Placing the letter in her desk drawer, she returned to the window seat, but the melody had left her.

Unable to write, Edith gazed down to the driveway. Pupils were arriving with their parents.

Edith’s heart went out to the new ones: a little scared, overwhelmed and tearful at leaving home for the first time.

Suddenly, memories of saying goodbye to her own parents flooded her mind.

She’d tried not to cry, because Papa said she was seven and too big to cry.

She’d watched them boarding their carriage: Mama so pretty in her travelling gown and Papa in his blue uniform with the shining buttons and braid.

Edith wanted them to be proud of her.

She’d been standing waving when Matron had gripped her hand, firmly leading her indoors.

Edith had turned, waving still, watching them go.

It was the last time she ever saw her parents.

To be continued…

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