The River Runs Deep – Episode 25

It was late on the first evening William was home. After a fair amount of dawdling, Walter had gone to bed. 

Despite the cold, Bea and Gideon were taking plenty of time to say their goodnights out on the porch. 

Shona and Laura were occupied with the day’s last chores, and Andrew was packing his kitbag ready for sailing aboard Missouri Belle next morning. 

“It’s too bad you have to leave so soon,” Laura grumbled. “You’ve hardly got back!” 

“We lost time because of that boiler trouble,” he explained. “Time’s money for Captain Leasowe. 

“He’ll have the riverfront hands working flat out all night, loading the Belle ready to sail first thing.” 

Laura frowned. 

“Isn’t it odd, Billy-Bob going to Captain Leasowe for a job?” 

“A man looking for work goes to who’s hiring,” Andrew replied practically. “There’s not much around this time of year.” 

“He was quick offering help to Bea and Gideon fixing up their new home,” Shona said, soaking the porridge oatmeal.  

“Even as a boy, Billy-Bob – William, I mean – never was shy of hard work.” 

“He and Gideon seemed to get along well,” Laura remarked.  

“After supper, when Ma, Bea and I were looking through the dress patterns again, I noticed them talking together.” 

“They’ve the Union Army in common,” Andrew said. “Though I don’t reckon William will speak to us about the war any more than Gideon does.” 

“They’re serious young men,” Shona added, setting the table for morning.  

“William’s spent years going from place to place and never settling. It must have been a lonely life.” 

Laura thought about that while she stacked the clean crockery on to the dresser. 

A while ago, she’d noticed Billy-Bob putting on his coat and going out through the garden door. 

He’d taken a lantern, and from the kitchen window she’d watched its light moving across the snowy yard and disappearing towards his barn loft. 

Her chores done, Laura fetched the battered fiddle case she’d kept safe in the tallboy drawer and pulled on her boots and cape. 

Andrew glanced up from stuffing shirts into his kitbag. 

“Don’t bombard William with questions,” he advised quietly. 

“I want to return this to him, Pa, that’s all.” 

Running across to the barn, Laura drew open the heavy door to find William grinning down at her from the loft. 

“How did you know I was here?” she exclaimed, tucking the case under her arm. 

“I’ve ears like a hawk.” 

“And eyes like an elephant!” Laura finished, recalling Grandpa Robertson’s old saying. 

Clambering up into the loft, she met her childhood friend’s eyes. He’d been named after his grandpa. 

“William’s a fine name, and you said that’s what folks call you now, but you’ll always be Billy-Bob to me. Is that all right?” 

“Do I have a choice?” he countered wryly, his grin widening. 

“Welcome home.” She held out the case. “I’m glad you’re back, Billy-Bob.” 

“Thanks.” Taking the case from her, he turned away, but not before she glimpsed sudden emotion springing to his eyes. 

“I thought about this old fiddle a lot while I was away,” he murmured. “And about being with you all.” 

“Pa said I wasn’t to ask questions,” Laura blurted out. 

“He’s a wise man, your pa,” William interrupted. “You should mind what he says. 

“Don’t expect you will, though,” he added with a resigned smile. 

“You’ve been away for so long and we didn’t hear from you,” Laura rushed on. “Now, you turn up and I wondered why . . .” 

Her voice trailed into silence, and Laura watched William look away from her to glance around the loft. 

“I’ve unfinished business in Deep River,” he said, turning and looking straight at her.  

“The night before my father disappeared, he brought work home from the mine. He’d never done that before. 

“Next morning, I was sweeping out front of Miss Adelaide’s store and Pa came into town. I watched him go into the sheriff’s office. It was the last time I ever saw him. 

“I don’t know what happened,” William went on. “All I know is that my father didn’t steal money from Overton’s, and I intend to prove it.” 

“How? Whatever can you do?” Laura reached out and clasped his hands. “I’ll help any way I can, Billy-Bob, and so will Pa and Ma –” 

“No. Keep out of this, Laura,” he cut in. “What I’ve told you stays between us. 

“I’ll have a better chance of digging out the truth if nobody knows I’m looking.” 

To be continued…

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