The River Runs Deep – Episode 22

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

“Thank you for your patience with my questions about life on riverboats, Mr Sinclair,” she began, offering her hand.

“I’ve lots of ideas for tunes now.”

“Glad to help,” he responded with a smile.

“You have a swell visit with your kinfolks, Miss Havilland.”

That evening, while Pippa was upstairs settling her sons, Barty and Charlie, for the night, Edith sat playing piano in the drawing-room at Delderfield.

She loved being at the beautiful old house with Pippa and the boys.

After Pippa’s marriage to Charles in 1861, the bride had continued living with her parents in Connecticut.

Soon after the war ended, however, and despite fierce objections from Charles and the Delderfields, Pippa was determined to go to Deep River and finally see her inheritance.

Edith remembered that trip well.

The two women had travelled during summer vacation and it had been a glorious day when they’d set eyes upon the derelict mansion.

“I’m not becoming the kind of army wife my mother was,” Pippa had declared as they peered through grimy windows to see the rooms within.

“Always uprooting and being posted to wherever the fighting or the troubles are, I want a proper home for my children.

“This is my house, Edie – my inheritance from Great-aunt Phyllida. I intend bringing Delderfield back to life!” she finished.

And that was exactly what Pippa had done.

The drawing-room door opened and Edith turned from the piano as Pippa came in, a dog-eared book of fairy tales under one arm.

“They’ve gone to sleep?”

“At last!” Flopping on to the sofa, Pippa smiled at her sister-in-law. “I haven’t heard that melody before. Is it new?”

Edith nodded, playing the piece to its end before rising from the piano and joining Pippa on the sofa.

“I wrote it aboard Missouri Belle. It isn’t quite finished.”

“It’s beautiful.” Pippa paused. “Has something happened, Edie? You left Delderfield only a few weeks ago, yet you are back. Why aren’t you in New Prospect?”

“Principal Buckley is taking my classes while I’m away,” Edith replied, her eyes twinkling. “It was she who suggested I take a sabbatical.”

“What’s going on?”

“The Connecticut Music Society has commissioned me to compose for their annual festival –”

“That’s wonderful!” Pippa exclaimed. “The festival is old and prestigious, so it’s small wonder Miss Buckley gave you time off.

“Will you stay here while you write?”

“If you’ll have me.”

“That’s the best news! The boys and I have such fun whenever you’re here,” Pippa responded warmly.

“But why did you come with the riverboat in winter?”

“Blame Charlie and Barty!” Edith laughed.

“The day I heard about the festival, I received a letter from the boys.

“Charlie wrote about his papa out west, fighting the Indian Wars, and Barty drew me pictures of riverboats.

“That set me thinking that I could hardly compose ‘Riverboat Sketches’ for the festival until I’d sailed aboard one, could I?” she added.

“Mr Sinclair told me lots of stories and Captain Leasowe was very helpful, too.”

“I believe he owns several boats, besides Missouri Belle,” Pippa remarked, retrieving a copy of “The Clarion” from the rack. “That reminds me . . .

“This is the programme of events at Leasowe Hall,” Pippa went on, passing the paper to Edith.

“‘Under The Gaslight’ is coming to Deep River and the principal players are listed.

“That is your Alfred, isn’t it?”

“Yes. That’s my Alfred,” Edith reflected ruefully, reading the notice.

She’d truly loved him and believed he had loved her, too.

She’d written many letters, but never once heard from Alfred after he left for New York.

William was melting snow over the camp fire when he heard the distant, distinctive wail of Missouri Belle’s steam-whistle.

She was finally on her way home, bringing Andrew with her.

Watering his horse and brewing a pot of coffee, William pictured the family at Pipers Creek.

He well remembered the anguish of waiting for somebody who didn’t come home when they should have.

He hunkered down for another night at the Kirkstones. He’d head back into town tomorrow and get started on what he was here to do.

To be continued…

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