The River Runs Deep – Episode 11

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

“The sun always shines on Founders’ Day,” Captain Leasowe said heartily, emerging into the lobby of the Hawthorns, where Myrtle was waiting with his coat and hat.

“Why, I was only saying to Mrs Leasowe that I don’t recall there ever being a single cloud in the sky on Founders’ Day!”

“True enough, sir,” his housekeeper responded, drawing open the front doors. “It’s fine weather for the celebrations.”

“The new governor is honouring us with his presence at the dancing this evening,” Captain Leasowe went on, adjusting his hat.

“The Founders’ Day festivities must go like clockwork, you hear?

“We don’t want to look bad for the governor,” he concluded. “You got enough help? The townswomen and all?”

“More than enough, sir,” Myrtle reassured him, handing her master the notes for his speech at the schoolhouse.

“The whole town lends a hand on Founders’ Day, sir.”

Frank Leasowe nodded, striding down the steps to where his groom waited.

The captain was the wealthiest man in town, as well as its most generous benefactor, and every year he delivered his speech to the children of Deep River and declared the rest of the day a holiday.

“You’re to come straight over to the Hawthorns, Laura. No dawdling!” Shona was saying as she and her daughters hurried into town, laden with cakes, pies and cookies.

They parted near the store. Shona turned for the Hawthorns and the girls for the schoolhouse.

“School isn’t the same without Billy-Bob,” Laura grumbled, dragging her heels.

“It’s a real shame his ma’s too poorly to come to the picnic,” Bea remarked, grabbing her sister’s arm and breaking into a run.

“Quick, Laura. There’s the bell!”

Later, when Laura and Bea arrived at the Hawthorns, there was a flurry of comings and goings, with town folk and maids, grooms and outdoor hands pitching in together, preparing for the festivities.

Laura spotted Billy-Bob right away, unloading trestles and boards from the store’s wagon, ready for setting up picnic tables.

Over near the big house, Miss Adelaide walked with a woman dressed in black.

Pinned to her gown was a timepiece that glinted in the sunlight, and there were keys hanging from a belt at her waist.

“That’s the housekeeper,” Bea explained. “Miss Myrtle’s in charge and she’s very strict!”

Bea steered Laura to the back of the big house and they almost bumped into their mother, scurrying from the kitchen, followed by a young maid.

“You’re here!” Shona exclaimed, consulting a list of chores to be done. “Bea, you’re in the kitchen.

“There’s a tub of oranges needs grated and juiced for the punch bowls.

“Laura, you’re to help Josephine,” she finished, starting toward the barn, where Andrew and Hal were fixing up a stage for the musicians.

Laura fell into step with Josephine, darting a sidelong glance at the tall, slender girl who looked about Bea’s age.

She was wearing a spotless, starched white apron and a little white hat that somehow managed to stay perched on the very top of her head.

It was odd, Laura noticed, because although Josephine’s shoulders were straight and her head up, her eyes were always down.

They walked across the lawns toward the swathe of hawthorns where the picnic tables were assembled.

Without raising her gaze from the ground, Josephine turned to Laura.

“We’re to put up the bunting, miss.”

“I’m not miss; I’m Laura!” Laura exclaimed, turning to the older girl. “I’m glad we’re not in the kitchen with Bea grating oranges.”

“Me, too.” Josephine looked at Laura for the first time, a mischievous smile lighting her face. “I’d rather eat worms!”

Laughing, both girls ran the last few yards, diving into the baskets of bunting Adelaide brought earlier.

Setting to work festooning everything in sight, they fell into easy conversation.

“When we finish, we’ve to do the barn for tonight’s dance,” Josephine pointed out, threading bunting around an archway of leafy boughs.

“Oscar will be there, trimming and filling lamps.He’s the cook’s boy. Does heavy work in the kitchen.”

“Do you work in the kitchen?” Laura queried, untangling a knot in a garland of paper bluebirds.

Josephine shook her head.

“I need to keep my hands nice. I often wait at table. Whenever Master’s playing cards with his friends in the drawing-room, I take in the brandy and cigars.”

To be continued…

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