The River Runs Deep – Episode 21

Sailesh Thakrar © Billy-Bob rode into town Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

The mansion looked exactly how it must have done in its glory days.

Edging down to the road for a closer look, William could see light within the windows and hear children playing in the snow.

There was a woman’s voice calling the boys indoors.

They must have done as they were bidden, for William’s keen ears caught the sound of a door closing and the Delderfield garden fell silent.

Continuing on his way, he wondered who’d spent a fortune restoring the old place.

He’d ask Miss Adelaide. She was sure to know.

He recalled her once telling him that when she and Hal were young, they’d been close pals with the Delderfield children and had had many happy times at the mansion.

There was something else she’d told him, too, about when they were older and grown up.

The eldest daughter, Phyllida Delderfield, had caused a scandal by running away from home and going north to work with the Abolitionists.

It was almost dark before he reached the Kirkstones.

After tending his horse and lighting a fire, William brewed a pot of coffee and set to fixing some food.

He’d hole up here for a day or two and keep his long hair and beard a while longer. He didn’t want to be recognised in Deep River. Not yet.

“All four patterns would make pretty dresses,” Laura was saying, while the sisters were peeling vegetables at the table.

“Have you and Gideon chosen yet?” she asked.

“That’s the problem.” Bea frowned. “Gid doesn’t have a favourite, so he’s left it to me – and I can’t decide!”

“You’ll have to make up your mind,” Shona advised from the stove.

“If Miss Adelaide is to send for the pattern and the material and we’re to finish the dress –

“Walter!” she exclaimed sharply, spotting the boy staring through the windows. “Get on with your schoolwork.”

Muffled by the falling snow, Missouri Belle’s deep, sonorous whistle boomed in the distance, heralding her arrival.

“Your pa’s home at last!” Shona breathed, eyes shining.

“Bet it was boiler trouble,” Walter remarked.

He had a keen interest in anything mechanical, and the Belle was days overdue.

“When Pa took me aboard last year, I heard the fireman saying her boiler has more patches than a quilt and needs a new one before she blows up.”

“Bad weather will have delayed her,” Laura interrupted, glaring at her brother.

“Laura’s right. The Belle might have been frozen up somewhere,” Bea chipped in.

“We’re not often together when Missouri Belle sails in,” Laura began, hugging her mother.

“Shall we welcome Pa ashore like we did when we were little?”

Aboard Missouri Belle, Edith took a final look around her cabin to ensure she wasn’t leaving anything behind.

Turning to the steward at the door to take her portmanteau on to the deck, she tipped the boy generously.

“You’ve looked after us so very well, Cesar, in the most trying circumstances.”

This was her first journey aboard a riverboat, and it had been an adventure!

In the midst of a blizzard, Missouri Belle had had to put in at a place called Cobb’s Landing for repairs.

There wasn’t a hotel for miles around to accommodate passengers ashore, so everybody had to remain aboard.

Rumours circulated that the river might freeze around the boat and they’d be marooned until spring.

Passengers organised communal activities to keep up spirits, and Edith enjoyed sing-songs and played cards with a genuine riverboat gambler.

The days went by and, each night, in her cabin, music flowed from Edith’s pen.

The vessel moored at the quayside, the gangplank lowered and Edith sought out Andrew Sinclair.

He was coming down from the wheelhouse and she hurried across the deck to meet him.

To be continued…

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