The River Runs Deep – Episode 18

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

Cassie watched the door close behind the women before removing Edith’s letter from the mailbag.

Unlocking the drawer in her desk, she withdrew an unsealed package addressed to Lieutenant Charles Havilland and slipped the letter inside.

The package contained letters Edith had written to Alfred, and those he had written to her.

Persuaded by the Delderfields to remain at their home until Claremont’s new semester, Edith had had the happiest time.

It was with a heavy heart she began packing.

“Any chance of your playing hooky?”

Edith laughed.

“Whatever are you up to now, Pippa?”

“Not a thing.” Pippa grimaced. “When I marry, I’ll come into my inheritance from Great-aunt Phyllida. It’s a grand old house in Missouri.

“I asked Papa to arrange for you and me to take a trip to Deep River to see my house. He wouldn’t hear of it.

“He says it’s far too dangerous for us to travel,” Pippa finished crossly. “According to my father, there’s going to be a war.”

“I wish we could have persuaded him to go to school,” Shona said while she and the girls prepared for Burns Night. “Billy-Bob works hard, and he’s too serious for a young boy.

“Has he said how he feels about tonight, Laura?”

Laura shook her head. Burns Night was full of traditions.

Andrew would pipe welcome to friends when they arrived and, at the end of the night, Grandpa William Robertson had played the “Fiddler’s Lament” as they said their farewells.

This year, Andrew had asked Billy-Bob to play.

After Andrew’s piping came “The Selkirk Grace” and traditional supper until the hour grew late and everyone joined hands for “Auld Lang Syne” before starting homewards, accompanied by Billy-Bob’s haunting lament.

Billy-Bob sat in the chair, the fiddle across his lap and tears in his eyes.

“You played real good.” Laura sat across from him.

“Last year, Grandpa was here. So were Ma and Pa. Now they’re all gone.”

Noticing “The Clarion” on the table, Laura picked up the paper.

“What does this list mean?”

“South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia.” Billy-Bob reeled off the southern states. “Louisiana will be next.

“They’ve quit the Union and declared themselves a separate nation.”

Laura didn’t understand, but something in Billy-Bob’s eyes frightened her.

“It’s a civil war and Deep River’ll be in the thick of it.”

Billy-Bob was right. Louisiana did join the Confederacy, and so did Texas.

Winter became spring, and at the beginning of April word came that Josephine was in Canada.

Shortly before sunrise on April 12, 1861, Confederate cannon bombarded Fort Sumter.

After an exchange of fire lasting 34 hours, Union forces surrendered.

North and South were at war.

There were military encampments, skirmishes and battles across Missouri during those early weeks of conflict.

At Pipers Creek, the family were fearful, not least whenever Andrew was far from home, sailing aboard Missouri Belle.

They got on with school and work, doing chores and tending their land, striving to keep everything going along just like always.

Laura spent another hot night in her tree house.

She lay listening to Billy-Bob doing his chores. He was always first up and about.

“Laura, are you awake?”

Leaning from the window, she saw him beneath her tree, wearing his good clothes.

“Why are you gussied up?” Laura demanded, shinning down the oak.

She noticed Billy-Bob was carrying his old valise and fiddle case.

“Why have you got your things?”

“I’m joining-up, Laura. I’m joining the Union Army. I have to do what’s right,” he spoke softly.

“I’ve left a letter for your ma and pa.

“I can’t take this with me.” He offered her the fiddle.

“Will you keep the fiddle for me till I come home?”

Laura gulped.

“I promise.”

With that, Billy-Bob raised his hand and walked away from Pipers Creek.

Laura stood, clutching the fiddle against her.

“Come home safe,” she whispered, watching till he disappeared from sight.

To be continued…

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