The River Runs Deep – Episode 32

Fetching the mail was among Laura’s regular duties at the Hawthorns.

Years ago, soon after she’d been taken on by Irene Leasowe, Laura had collected the letters and seen there was one for Miss Myrtle.

Letting herself into the grand house through the side door, she’d made for the housekeeper’s room.

“I never got a letter before,” the elderly woman had murmured, hesitantly taking the envelope and darting an anxious glance up at Laura.

“Has the missus seen this?”

“No,” Laura had replied, a mite perplexed. “I haven’t taken the rest of the mail through yet.”

“That’s good.” Myrtle had expelled a relieved sigh.

“Missus wouldn’t stand for it. Old ways don’t change, child. Not for a long time.”

Laura hadn’t asked any questions, but during the years since that morning, no other servants had ever received mail.

On the rare occasions a letter arrived for Miss Myrtle, Laura took great care that it was never seen by Captain or Mrs Leasowe.

Myrtle confided the letters came from her granddaughter, Josephine, in Canada, and Laura made a confession of her own – how she and Billy-Bob had been at Miss Adelaide’s with Josephine on the afternoon she’d run away.

The friendship between the two women deepened into real closeness, and Laura looked forward to hearing news of Jo and her life in Canada.

She’d married a Canadian and was very happy, but then word came that Jo had miscarried her first baby.

Jo was with child again now, perilously near her time, so when Laura collected the mail and there was a letter for Miss Myrtle, she ran to the Hawthorns, praying the news would be good.

Offering the letter to Myrtle, Laura was astonished to see the housekeeper take the envelope with a shaking hand and tuck it deep into her pocket.

“Aren’t you going to read it?” she exclaimed.

“When I get a chance, I’ll slip out to Miss Adelaide’s,” Myrtle replied. “She reads Josephine’s letters for me.”

“Oh!” Laura cried, crestfallen. Hadn’t Billy-Bob once told her that slaves were forbidden to learn reading and writing?

“Miss Myrtle, would you like me to read Jo’s letter?”

The news, written by Josephine’s husband, Clifford, answered Myrtle and Laura’s prayers.

Jo was safely delivered of a healthy daughter.

Mother and babe were doing fine and, Clifford wrote, they were naming their little girl Myrtle, after her great-grandmother.

Later, Laura went into town for Mrs Leasowe, and while there called at the hotel.

“Sorry, Laura – you’ve missed Mr Paul.” Johan smiled from reception. “He won’t be long.”

“It wasn’t Paul I came to see,” Laura began breathlessly. “I came to ask a favour, Johan.

“Can you please show me how to teach somebody how to read?” she asked.

As usual, that evening Laura met Bea when she finished work.

As the sisters hurried homewards, she explained about Johan studying to be a teacher.

“I thought he’d lend me a teaching book or something, but right away he said he’d like to help.

“I asked Miss Myrtle, and she likes Johan, so it’s all fixed,” Laura finished.

“The only thing we haven’t arranged is where we’ll have the lessons. We can’t go to the Hawthorns.”

“No, the Leasowes wouldn’t allow that,” Bea agreed. “Besides, this is Miss Myrtle’s personal business and nothing to do with them.

“Why not hold your classes in the little sitting-room at our house?” she went on, a note of pride in her voice as she spoke of the house she was to share with her fiancé after they married.

“You’ll be welcome. Although we’re there a lot of the time fixing things up, we won’t disturb you.

“Gid and I would be married and living in our house now but for Captain Leasowe – blast the man!”

“Bea!” Laura exclaimed, but she couldn’t blame her sister’s strong language.

The day before Pa was due to sail aboard Missouri Belle, he’d found out she was making two extra stops during the trip and wouldn’t be returning to Deep River in time for Bea’s wedding.

To be continued…

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