The River Runs Deep – Episode 13

Sailesh Thakrar © Alfred Wynne takes Edith's hand Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

“Doctor Booth!” Adelaide exclaimed. “Surely you aren’t leaving the Founders’ Day celebrations already?”

“Physicians are at the beck and call of patients,” he replied, leading his limping horse from the roadside.

“Might I prevail upon your assistance?”

“Gladly. Where are you bound?”

“Ridgeway’s. If you take me to town, I’ll hire a horse and have mine tended.”

After leaving Dr Booth at the livery, Adelaide drove into the yard behind her store and bundled Josephine indoors.

“I must send a message,” she explained. “Shan’t be long!”

Adelaide made for the telegraph office.

Leonard Scott, the mild-mannered travelling salesman with his prairie schooner packed with books, was their only chance of getting Josephine away from Deep River before she was missed.

The Founders’ Day festivities were in full swing, but Laura wasn’t enjoying herself.

She felt bad for Josephine and was searching for her new friend.

Spotting Billy-Bob loading the store’s wagon, Laura asked if he’d seen Jo. He hadn’t.

He looked sad and Laura guessed he was worrying about his ma.

“I’ll give you a hand.”

As they drove into the yard behind the mercantile, Billy-Bob turned to her.

“Something’s wrong, Laura. Miss Adelaide wouldn’t leave a loaded wagon out here!”

“Perhaps she’s inside?”

Fishing a key from his pocket, Billy-Bob let them both in.

“Miss Adelaide?” he called. “Are you –”

Entering the parlour, he stopped dead. He was staring at a girl, who was staring back with huge, frightened eyes.

“It’s – it’s all right, miss,” he stammered. “We won’t hurt –”

“Jo!” Laura cried, following Billy-Bob into the parlour.

“I reckon I’ll tend the horses and unload the wagons,” Billy-Bob said.

“I’m hiding,” Josephine whispered to Laura when he’d gone.

“Master was selling me, so Granny Myrtle fixed for me to run away.”

“Where are you going?”

Josephine shrugged.

Soon, Adelaide returned; taken aback at finding Laura and Billy-Bob sitting in the parlour.

“All is well,” she reassured them. “I’ve contacted a trusted friend and we await his reply.

“Meanwhile, we must disguise Jo as a boy.” Adelaide turned to Laura.

“Go to the store and get work clothes to fit her, and a hat with a wide brim.”

A few hours later, while she and Billy-Bob were walking homeward, Laura tried not to cry.

Until today she’d never set eyes upon Josephine, yet saying goodbye to her just now had been real sad.

“Don’t tell anybody about this,” Billy-Bob warned. “You’d put Josephine, Miss Adelaide and other folks in danger. Understand?”

She nodded.

“I hope Miss Adelaide’s friend fetches Jo soon. Where will he take her?”

“They’ll head north. Across free states that don’t have slavery.”

“Will Jo be safe, then?”

Billy-Bob shook his head.

“Even in free states, when runaway slaves get caught, they’re taken back to their owners.

“Any folks helping slaves get in trouble, too.”

“When will Jo be safe?”

“Not till she’s in Canada. She will be free there.”

“I don’t know how far Canada is,” Laura mumbled. “How do you know this?”

“I’ve learned plenty at ‘The Clarion’ with Mr Carmichael. He lets me borrow books and I read a lot.

“I’ve found out about the election this November. If I were old enough, Abraham Lincoln would get my vote!”

Following the sweeping curve of Pipers Creek, they reached the Sinclairs’ homestead.

Laura hesitated.

“What will Captain Leasowe do when he finds Jo is gone?”

“Raise the alarm, so everybody knows to be on the look-out for a runaway,” Billy-Bob replied.

“Then he’ll send out his men and hounds. There will be a reward for whomever catches her.”

To be continued…

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