The River Runs Deep – Episode 12

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

“My, you and Josephine worked hard!” Shona exclaimed later, admiring the bunting. “It’s beautiful.”

“Ma, you were a maid, weren’t you?” Laura remarked. “When you were young?”

“I was.”

“What was it like?”

“I enjoyed it, and the Delderfields were a good family to work for.” Shona smiled, remembering. “It was through them I got to know your pa.

“In the days before Captain Leasowe came to Deep River and took over everything, the Belle was owned by the Delderfields.

“One day, your pa called at their house, and that’s how we met.”

“Was their house as grand as Captain Leasowe’s?”

“Grander!” Shona laughed. “It was a beautiful place in those days.”

“It still looks grand,” Laura considered. “I’d like to take a look inside.”

“You’re never to go anywhere near that house.” Shona’s rebuke was sharp. “It’s falling down and dangerous, Laura.

“Besides, you mustn’t trespass on other folks’ property. It’s still owned by Delderfields’ kin back east.”

It was time for the picnic.

The musicians playing at the barn dance were set up on the lawn, playing a medley of lively tunes while folks got settled.

Josephine, accompanied by fellow maids, was darting back and forth from the kitchen with platters, bowls and plates bearing the Founders’ Day feast.

With a flourish, the musicians struck up Captain Leasowe’s favourite tune as, with a burst of applause from everyone present, the captain and Mrs Leasowe emerged from the house.

“Jo!” Laura called, patting the seat next to hers. “I’ve saved you a place.”

Josephine shook her head, eyes downcast.

Turning on her heel, she fled across the lawn after the other maids, disappearing from sight.

Scrambling to her feet, Laura started after her new friend, but Bea pulled her back.

“You’ll get Josephine into trouble. She and the other slaves aren’t allowed to eat with us, Laura.”

During the rush to clear up after the picnic and get ready for the barn dance, Myrtle sought out Adelaide, who was on the lawn tackling crumpled heaps of linen.

“It’s Josephine,” the housekeeper murmured.

“Last night, Master lost heavy at cards to a sugar planter up from Louisiana,” Myrtle went on, her brow furrowed.

“The planter said, instead of cash money, he’ll settle for Josephine.

“He’s travelling back to Louisiana tonight, Adelaide, and he’ll take my granddaughter with him!”

Adelaide lost no time conferring with Hal.

“Myrtle will cover Josephine’s duties, and it’s possible her absence won’t be noticed for some while,” he deliberated thoughtfully.

“It’s too dangerous taking her to Delderfield in daylight, not least because Zebulon and the sisters are there,” he added.

“Delderfield’s out of the question,” Adelaide agreed. “I’ve driven back and forth from town several times.

“Nobody will remark upon my doing so again.

“I’ll load the laundry on to the wagon and be on my way within the hour.”

The store’s wagon trundled slowly from the Hawthorns without challenge.

Once clear of the Hawthorns, Adelaide wished she could reassure the frightened girl lying concealed within the false wagon bed that all was well.

It was a hot afternoon, without a whisper of breeze. She drove at a leisurely pace, but Adelaide’s heart was hammering.

Gradually, she began breathing a little easier.

Over-arching trees offered dappled shade and welcome respite from the sunlight as, slowing the horses’ pace, Adelaide manoeuvred the vehicle around a sharp bend in the narrow road.

Dr Booth emerged from the shadows, raising a hand.

“Miss Adelaide!” he called, striding toward the wagon. “A moment – if you please.”

To be continued…

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