The River Runs Deep – Episode 29

It was the largest, most elaborate card Laura had ever set eyes upon, and the passion of Paul’s kiss drove from her thoughts any notion of the Valentine she’d already received . . .

A while later, her heart singing with happiness, Laura set to work preparing the hall.

At the far end was a curtained platform, which served as a stage with wings and backstage storage.

Drawing open the curtains, she helped Paul push the upright piano out on to the platform.

“How many musicians are coming?” she queried nervously.

“You’re sure they’re bringing their own instruments? We only have this old piano and –”

“Don’t flap, Laura!” he responded impatiently. “All four players are excellent. The Ridgeways wouldn’t hire them for parties if they weren’t top-notch.”

Reassured, Laura placed the ticket table into position.

She wished the musicians would hurry up and get there so they could be playing as folks started arriving for the ball.

Laura was carrying one of the enormous bowls of fruit punch when finally she heard the doors opening and approaching voices and footfalls.

Carefully setting down the punch bowl, she spun round with a relieved sigh.

But it wasn’t the musicians entering the hall. It was Miss Adelaide, the Havilland ladies and Mr Carmichael.

“It’s wonderful, Laura!” Adelaide exclaimed, gazing around. “You’ve worked really hard.

“We came early to ask if we might lend a hand with anything and make ourselves useful.”

“That’s thoughtful. I am a bit worried about –” Laura broke off.

The door opened again and this time a morose-looking man she didn’t recognise wandered inside.

He was carrying a concertina. She stared past him to the doorway, but nobody followed him.

“Where are the rest of the musicians?”

“In jail,” he remarked, walking into the hall.

“What do you mean?” Paul demanded angrily, catching the man’s arm. “What’s happened?”

“They went to the Silver Dollar hours ago. Got drunk, I guess. In a fight, mebbe.”

The man shrugged, ambling towards the platform and picking up a chair as he went.

“I’m Temperance. Stayed in the hotel.”

“Paul . . .” Laura began.

“I’ll get Pearce to release them,” he snapped grimly, already heading for the door. “I’ll be right back.”

Laura glanced at the platform, where the man was seated, softly playing a polka on his concertina.

Turning to the others, she managed a small smile.

“I’m sure Paul will sort things out with Sheriff Pearce. The musicians will be here soon.”

“I don’t doubt Paul’s capability of persuading the sheriff,” Adelaide began, “but if the men are intoxicated, it’s unlikely they’ll be in any condition to play.”

“But they must!” Laura cried. “Tonight will be a disaster! You can’t have a ball without dancing and musicians.”

“We’ll manage,” Adelaide reassured her. “We’ve musicians of our own. And William will be along directly, too.

“Pippa.” She turned to the Havilland ladies.

“You’ll play piano, won’t you? Edith, you can play virtually any instrument and I’ve a guitar at my store.

“Hal, you’re accomplished on the spoons –”

“Steady on.” Hal laughed. “I haven’t played the spoons in nigh on thirty years!”

“Then it’s high time you did!” Adelaide replied, looking round as the doors opened and the Sinclairs, William and Gideon entered the hall.

Swiftly bringing them up to speed with the goings-on, Adelaide went on.

“William, we need you to join our little band tonight. Will you go home and collect your violin, please?”

“I have a fiddle at Delderfield,” Edith chipped in, smiling across to William.

“You’re welcome to borrow it, Mr Robertson. It would save a long drive out to Pipers Creek.”

“Thank you kindly, ma’am,” he responded warmly, meeting her eyes.

“The whole town’ll start arriving for the ball soon, so we’d best be on our way.”

Everything started happening at once and Laura didn’t have any more time to fret.

Pippa Havilland and Hal took their places on the platform alongside the concertina man and were playing a medley of tunes when a cluster of folks, dressed in their finest, arrived.

More kept coming. A heartening line formed at Johan’s table, each ticket sold raising money for the Deep River needy fund.

Johan signalled for Laura to come over while his aunt and uncle were getting their tickets.

“Uncle James has offered to call the dances,” Johan explained. “I’ve told him what’s happened with the regular musicians.”

“My goodness, Johan, I’d forgotten about a caller!” she exclaimed, looking up at a mountain of a man with a thick beard.

“Will you really call for us, Mr Young?”

“Lead me to it, ma’am,” he responded cheerfully. “I used to be real light on my feet, years ago.

“Reckon I know all the dances and the calls that go with ’em.”

William and Edith were back and up on the platform, adding violin and guitar to the tunes.

James Young was calling, couples were dancing, and Laura was making conversation with Mr and Mrs Tyrell, when Paul returned from the town jail, stopping at the door.

Hastily excusing herself, Laura sped across to him.

“Isn’t it wonderful! Everything’s going to be all right, Paul!” she cried, love and laughter in her eyes as she gazed up at him.

“Well, aren’t you going to ask me to dance?”

To be continued…

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