The River Runs Deep – Episode 17

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

Grandpa William taught him it was a man’s job to rise early and light the fire.

Billy-Bob had done that at the cabin after Grandpa and Pa were gone.

Now he was at the Sinclairs’, he lit the fire every morning.

On schooldays, he, Laura and Bea walked into town together.

The girls were deep in conversation, but Billy-Bob wasn’t listening.

He was turning over in his mind a discussion he and Mr Carmichael had had.

The recent presidential campaign laid bare the divide between North and South. Southern states had warned they’d secede if Lincoln was elected.

Abraham Lincoln was president now. Would the South carry out its threat to form a Confederacy?

“See you tonight, Billy-Bob!”

He waved as the sisters headed for the school house.

Billy-Bob strode on through town towards the office of “The Clarion”.

During the early hours of the first Sunday in December, Missouri Belle sailed into Deep River, bringing Andrew ashore.

Coming from church, Billy-Bob noticed Andrew talking to the schoolmarm, but didn’t pay it any mind.

That afternoon, Billy-Bob was up in his barn loft.

When he’d come to live at Pipers Creek, the Sinclairs had given him the big, airy loft so he could keep some belongings from the cabin.

He was reading when he heard footsteps below.

“You’ve made a real nice den here,” Andrew said, climbing up. “Real nice.”

He pulled up the other chair.

“I’ve fixed for you to go back to school after Christmas.”

“What about my job at ‘The Clarion’?”

“Hal will understand,” Andrew said. “A boy your age should be in school.”

“Boys younger than me work in the fields and down the mine,” Billy-Bob replied.

“I’m obliged, sir, but I’m not quitting the newspaper.”

“I knew your father a long time,” Andrew persisted. “You going to school and having a good life is what he’d want –”

“My father is dead!” Billy-Bob shouted, his eyes blazing.

Four months of anger, frustration and grief were boiling over.

“He must be dead.” The boy was on his feet, pacing the boards of the loft. “But what happened to him?

“Where’s my pa, Mr Sinclair? Where is he?”

“Tomorrow you’ll be in New York,” Edith murmured.

She was backstage, lending a hand with props, costumes and scenery ready for transportation.

The play’s successful run in New Prospect had concluded, and the production was embarking upon a tour, taking Alfred away from her for a year.

“I’m sorry I can’t see you off,” she said sadly. “I’ve choir practice.”

“I’ll write often.” He grinned. “I’ll walk you back to school. You have to get your choir up to scratch for the big concert.”

Edith had chosen several less familiar pieces for Claremont’s Christmas concert, and the finale was new to the girls and proving challenging.

Nonetheless, Edith was pleased with that afternoon’s practice, and afterwards wrote to Alfred.

“Have I caught the mailbag?”

“Just.” Cassie smiled.

“Alfred left for New York today.” Edith slipped the envelope into the bag. “I want my letter to be there for him when he arrives.”

Edith felt a lump in her throat as the choir sang, concluding Claremont’s Christmas concert.

There was a hush in the hall before the audience erupted into applause, many rising to their feet.

“Miss Havilland!”

Turning, she saw a young lady hurrying towards her.

“Your choir is glorious! I love music, and I’ve wanted to meet you for ages.

“I’m Pippa Delderfield.”

“I wish to apologise for not coming to dinner,” Edith began, showing Miss Delderfield into her room.

“Charles explained you were indisposed,” Pippa replied.

“I didn’t realise Charles told you I was ill.” Edith was warming to Pippa and spoke frankly.

“I was going to the theatre that evening. Opening night of ‘Tartuffe’.”

“I saw ‘Tartuffe’, too. Wasn’t it amazing?” Pippa exclaimed. “Do you agree?”

“I do!” Edith laughed, finding herself telling Pippa all about meeting Alfred and their falling in love.

“But since he went to New York, I haven’t heard from him,” she confided. “I felt sure he would write.”

The new friends lapsed into companionable silence in the flickering firelight.

“Where are you spending Christmas?” Pippa enquired suddenly.

“Here at Claremont.”

“You must come for Christmas with us,” Pippa insisted. “Mama and Papa will be delighted.

“Our spending the festive season together is perfect,” Pippa interrupted.

“We’re practically family, and when Charles and I marry, you and I will be sisters.

“I won’t take no for an answer,” Pippa added, putting on her gloves. “The carriage is waiting. If we set off now, we’ll be in time for tea.”

With that, the pair hurried downstairs, Edith popping into the office to mail a letter to New York.

To be continued…

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