The River Runs Deep – Episode 36

William finished his round of early morning chores at Pipers Creek and decided to make a start in Shona’s little kitchen garden.

He was fetching tools from the shed when Laura strode across the yard.

“Leave out your striped shirt and I’ll sew a button on it.

“One’s been missing for more than a week.” She tutted. “And don’t forget to invite Edith to supper. Bea and Gideon are coming over, too.”

“I was in the Army. I can sew on my own buttons.” He grinned. “I’ll remember to ask Edith.”

“Be sure you do.” Laura broke off as she heard cheery whistling.

Glancing behind her, she saw Walter emerging from the house.

Slinging his schoolbag over one shoulder, he took the steps in a single bound and swaggered down the path, passing Laura without so much as a glance in her direction.

“Until you started walking over to the Uttley place every morning and calling for Minnie, you used to be so bad-tempered on a school day.

“Now look at you!” she teased, a hand on her hip. “Up with the lark, chirpy as a cricket, and you’ve brushed your hair!”

“Very funny,” Walter retorted, pausing to call across to William. “Will, I’ll give you a hand with that planting after school.”

“Thanks, but I’m not due at the waterfront till second shift, so I’ve time.” William caught the boy’s eye and winked. “Have a nice day at school!”

William hadn’t even worked his way down to the end of the row when the gate banged open and Walter pelted up the path, breathing hard.

“William, come quick! A wagon’s overturned down Snake Pass!

“The wheel’s busted and the driver’s under it!” Walter gasped, his eyes scared.

“I cut the horse loose, but the man is just lying there!”

After shepherding the boy indoors to Shona’s care, William strode out to hitch up the cart and found Laura had already done it.

She was up on the seat, waiting for him.

“Is Walter all right?”

“He will be.” William climbed up. “I don’t think you should come.”

“If the man’s badly injured, it may need two of us to lift him clear of the wagon,” she replied.

“I’ve brought blankets and some cloth for bandaging.”

Whenever Walter went to meet Minnie, he took a shortcut, but in the cart, William and Laura had to go the long way round.

Narrow and over-arched with trees closing in from both sides, Snake Pass weaved between steep hills, twisting and turning until it opened out west towards the pioneer trails.

Approaching a bend, William drove cautiously and they saw the schooner, overturned and smashed.

The horse Walter had cut loose hadn’t strayed far.

They saw the old pioneer lying in the dirt, the wagon over his motionless body.

Jumping down from the cart, William sprinted to the man’s side.

Looking back to Laura, he shook his head. The old timer was dead.

He touched his fingers to the man’s neck and saw a raw red wheal across the front of his throat.

William had seen injuries like this before. He knew exactly what had caused it.

Straightening, he stood still, raising his face to scan the trees on either side of the pass.

“What are you doing?” Laura called.


Approaching a tree growing at an angle to the wagon, William shinned up the trunk, running a hand around the bark.

He did the same thing with a tree opposite. The barks of both were scarred.

It was an old trick. A man on a galloping horse would have been killed outright.

“Laura, can you catch the horse and hitch him to our cart?” he called to her.

While she was doing that, William prowled round some more, still searching.

There were no footprints, but beneath one of the trees a cigar end was lying discarded in the earth.

Pocketing it, he glanced to the schooner. It was an old wagon in dire repair, and likely wouldn’t have made it out of Missouri.

Yet it was well-stocked with supplies, and a search of the dead man’s pockets revealed a wad of dollar bills.

When Laura led the horse from amongst the trees, William was laying the body into the cart.

“He hasn’t been robbed,” William began. “Somebody was waiting here for him.

“They strung a rope across the pass at a height to knock a man driving a wagon to the ground.

“They finished him off and wrecked the wagon to make it look like it was an accident.

“It was an ambush. This man was murdered!”

Laura paled.

“I know him, William,” she mumbled. “I saw him at the Hawthorns yesterday.

“He’s a friend of Captain Leasowe . . .”

To be continued…

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