The River Runs Deep – Episode 16

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

“One of Mrs Kennedy’s lodgers is moving out, so we’re renting his room,” Billy-Bob related.

They were in the clearing beside Indian Pond, showing Walter how to sail his boat on the water.

“It’s real small, but all we can afford,” he added. “We won’t be able to take most of our things with us.”

“When are you going?”

“End of the week.”

“It’s late for them to be in bloom,” Billy-Bob remarked, pointing to a clump of plants.

Laura knelt for a closer look at the flowers.

“What are they?”

“Bonnybells.” He coloured, smiling. “That’s what Grandpa called them. I don’t know their real name.”

“They’re real pretty, and they smell nice, too.”

“Reckon I’ll gather some for Ma – she loves flowers.”

It was a long walk home and it was late afternoon before they reached the Robertsons’ cabin.

Laura’s heart lurched. Her mother was coming out to meet them.

“Billy-Bob,” Shona began. “I’m so sorry . . .”

Still clutching the flowers and the carved sail boat, Laura hunkered down with Walter in front of the cabin.

After a while, Billy-Bob came out.

He didn’t say a word. Just met Laura’s eyes and reached out his hand.

She gave him the bonnybells and he took them in to his mother.

Hannah was buried in the old resting place in the woodland, beside Grandpa William and generations of Robertsons.

Laura, Bea and Shona helped Billy-Bob pack up and leave the cabin.

He was fixed to move into Mrs Kennedy’s rooming-house, but Shona wouldn’t hear of it.

“Edith is in class.” Cassie led the way into her office, showing him a seat. “What brings you to New Prospect, Lieutenant Havilland? Are you on leave?”

“I’m engaged upon Army business.”

“Bravely serving your country is such a noble, courageous and dangerous calling, Lieutenant.”

“It’s in my blood,” he responded. “Ours is an old Army family.

“My father and mother were travelling to a new posting out west when they were ambushed by hostiles. There were no survivors.”

Cassie’s hand flew to her mouth.

“That’s terrible!”

“It’s a long time since,” Charles remarked. “I was still a cadet at West Point.”

They conversed until recess, when Cassie showed Charles to Edith’s room.

Charles immediately saw the bouquet of flowers and the corsage beside it. There was no card with either.

The door opened and Edith entered, setting books upon her cluttered desk, making space for them next to Alfred’s beautiful flowers.

She touched her fingers to the corsage. She’d wear it to the theatre this evening. It was the opening night of Alfred’s play.

“Edith,” the lieutenant commanded irritably. “Look at me while I’m speaking!”

Stirring from her reverie, she glanced at him.

“What is it?”

“I’m dining with the Delderfields. The colonel and his wife have requested you be present.” He strode to the door. “I’ll collect you at seven thirty.”

“I have an engagement.”

Charles turned on his heel, considering his young sister’s bright, defiant eyes.

“I have only twenty-four hours in New Prospect,” he said. “I’ve been courting Miss Pippa Delderfield and intend making an offer of marriage.

“Her family wishes to meet you. This evening is important, Edith.

“I won’t allow you to jeopardise my plans,” Charles warned, his fury measured. “I demand obedience.”

“I’m not free this evening.” Edith headed for the door. “Goodbye.”

Cassie beamed when the lieutenant returned to her office.

“You’ve seen Edith?”

“Indeed.” Charles laughed. “And her array of exquisite flowers!”

“Your sister always has lots of flowers, Lieutenant.”

“I asked Edith about her admirer,” he related untruthfully.

“She was coy. Do you know the young man, Miss Jennings?”

“Alfred’s a jobbing actor.”

“I fear for Edith. She’s naïve.” Charles frowned. “It troubles me to be far away and unable to watch over her.”

“She’s fortunate to have such a devoted brother.”

He hesitated, capturing the woman’s gaze.

“Miss Jennings, may I beg a great favour?”

To be continued…

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