The River Runs Deep – Episode 39

Laura was relieved that she’d seen little of her mistress that morning.

Irene Leasowe was working in her husband’s study, as she did whenever the captain was away aboard Missouri Belle.

When Laura took in her tray of mid-morning coffee, Mrs Leasowe was adding columns of figures in a large ledger.

“Will there be anything else, ma’am?” Laura asked, collecting several letters for mailing from the tray.

Irene didn’t look up and merely shook her head.

Emerging from the study into the hallway, Laura involuntarily glanced to the front door, seeing again the bewhiskered old man greeting Captain Leasowe with a hearty word and a broad grin.

Mere hours later, he was lying lifeless in Snake Pass.

With her morning duties about the house fulfilled, Laura set off into town.

She was longing to see Paul.

She couldn’t confide in him, but the longing to feel his arms about her was overwhelming.

She approached Tyrell’s hotel, paying scant attention to the Ridgeways’ carriage a few yards away.

Paul was alone in the lobby, hurriedly fixing a flower into his buttonhole and clearly about to go out.

“Laura!” He glanced round. “Whatever are you doing here?”

“I – I just wanted to see you,” she mumbled.

“Anything important?” Without waiting for her reply, he continued. “I’m away on hotel business and cadging a ride with the Ridgeways.”

After stooping to kiss her, he strode across the lobby.

She saw Paul greeting whoever waited for him in the Ridgeway carriage, and watched while the elegant vehicle whisked away.

“Laura, are you all right?” Johan’s quiet voice came from behind her. “Is there anything I can do?”

She shook her head.

“That’s real thoughtful, Johan, but I’ve the mail and errands to do.”

The rest of the day seemed endless.

That evening at the supper table, there was only Ma and herself.

“You look tired,” Shona remarked. “You should have an early night. I’ll fix you some honey milk.”

Sitting in bed, sipping the warm, soothing drink, Laura’s eyes grew heavy, but the solace of sleep would not come.

She couldn’t settle to read, so taking up her mending basket, she went along to fetch the striped shirt with the missing button from the room where Billy-Bob now slept.

Reaching into the tall closet, her elbow knocked against a bundle on the middle shelf.

It tumbled out, scattering its contents across the wooden floor.

Stooping to gather them, Laura recoiled.

The shirt forgotten, she ran downstairs to wait for Billy-Bob.

At long last, she heard the click of the wicket gate.

“I found a saddlebag!” she cried, meeting him on the porch. “I saw –”

“Shh! You’ll wake your ma and Walter,” he muttered. “We’ll sort it out tomorrow.”

“No, Billy-Bob! It has to be now!”

“We’d best go to the barnloft where we can talk.”

In the barn, Laura saw deep lines of anxiety and exhaustion etched around his eyes and she hesitated.

Billy-Bob got straight to the point.

“You found my saddlebag?”

“I wasn’t prying!” she blurted out. “I went to fetch your shirt – but there was a gun!

“A gun like Sheriff Pearce wears. With money and wanted posters and letters with all different names.

“It’s not only that,” Laura rushed on. “You’ve been different ever since we found the old man.

“You even told me to lie about what happened to him.

“It’s like I don’t know you any more, Billy-Bob,” she finished, avoiding his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Laura,” William murmured. “Once I saw Fred Brunning’s body, I had no choice.”

“I don’t understand.” She shook her head. “You’re not making sense.”

“When I came back to Pipers Creek, you asked what I’d been doing. I said I’d moved from job to job.

“That was true,” William began. “In the war I served alongside a Scotsman . . .”

“You told us he saved Mr Lincoln’s life,” she recalled, “but you never said anything more about him.”

“He grew up in Glasgow, the son of a police sergeant who died in the line of duty,” William explained. “We both lost our fathers early.

“Maybe that was a bond between us. We got along and worked well together.

“He’d come to America as a young man and joined the police department in Chicago as a detective.

“In time, Allan set up on his own, investigating counterfeiting, embezzlement, railroad theft cases and the like.

“That’s how he met Abraham Lincoln, who was a lawyer for the railroad company.”

William took a breath.

“During the war, Allan did secret work for Mr Lincoln and the Union.”

“Was he a spy?” Laura’s eyes were wide. “Is that what you did in the war?”

William didn’t answer.

To be continued…

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