The River Runs Deep – Episode 10

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

“Even when we were young, Hannah never made a fuss about her birthday. And now, with Caleb not being here…”

Shona sighed, putting finishing touches to the cake she and the girls had baked that morning.

“I want us to make it nice for her,” she finished.

“It’s a beautiful cake.” Bea smiled. “Mrs Robertson will be delighted.”

It was a lemon layer cake, baked in two wooden rings, filled with raspberry jam and topped with candied lemon slices from Miss Adelaide’s store.

“Billy-Bob told me his ma is looking forward to coming over,” Laura said, watching Shona carry the cake into the pantry and place it on the marble shelf.

“I asked him to bring his fiddle so he can play for us. Billy-Bob’s a real good fiddle player!”

Billy-Bob came to Pipers Creek after finishing work at the store, carrying not only his precious fiddle, but also a hat box.

“Pa knew I was saving up for Ma’s birthday,” he told Laura when she ran to meet him.

“He said he was proud of me, and that Ma would love the bonnet.

“It’s one of the last things Pa ever said to me.”

Billy-Bob swallowed hard, suddenly looking like he was going to cry.

Laura pretended not to notice, busying herself with retying the ribbon on her braid as they continued towards the house.

Soon after, Shona returned with Hannah in the buggy.

Every time Laura saw Mrs Robertson she looked thinner, paler and more poorly, but that afternoon she smiled a lot and looked happy as she opened the gifts.

There was a beautifully embroidered handkerchief from Bea, and from Laura a slightly mis-shapen patchwork pin-cushion.

Walter had drawn a picture of his little wooden horse on wheels, while Shona had crocheted a warm shawl with a pair of matching gloves.

When Hannah carefully took the blue bonnet with the pink flowers from the hat box, Billy-Bob leaned close to her ear.

“It’s from Pa and me,” he whispered. “Happy birthday, Ma.”

After the presents and cake, Billy-Bob took up his grandfather’s fiddle.

Shona accompanied him on the old piano and the Sinclairs’ homestead at Pipers Creek rang out with tunes as everybody sang along.

All too soon, Shona hitched up the spring wagon, which had room for everybody, and the families drove out to the Robertsons’ cabin.

“Thanks for everything you’ve done,” Hannah said softly when they went indoors. “I’ve had a –”

A rap at the cabin’s door interrupted her and, because she was nearest, Laura pulled it open.

Standing on the stoop was the man she’d first set eyes on the morning after Mr Robertson disappeared, and again that afternoon at the riverfront, talking with Captain Leasowe.

Ty Skinner, the mine manager, looked surprised to see so many people in the cabin’s living-room but, stepping within, tipped his hat.

“Beg pardon, Mrs Robertson. I’ve this for you.

“It’s not my doing, ma’am,” he added hastily, handing a letter to Hannah.

“It came direct from the mine’s head office in St Joe. I’m real sorry, ma’am.”

With that, Ty Skinner was gone, closing the door noiselessly behind him.

“What does it say, Billy-Bob?” Hannah asked anxiously, passing the letter to him.

He unfolded a legal-looking letter.

Although Billy-Bob didn’t understand some words, the meaning was plain.

Stunned, he met his mother’s fearful eyes.

“We’ve to leave here.” Billy-Bob could scarcely speak. “They’re taking the cabin away from us!”

To be continued…

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