The River Runs Deep – Episode 44

It was set to be a warm day, but was cool still, with morning dew glistening on the grass and dampening the hems of Laura’s skirts as she set up a table beneath the oak tree.

Seeing Edith and her nephews approaching, she hurried across.

“You’re nice and early! Morning’s the best time for picking raspberries – especially the first harvest of the season.”

“William said we’ll eat breakfast under a tree,” Charlie declared.

“With raspberries topping our oatmeal for the first time since last summer, so it’s a special breakfast.” Laura laughed, handing each boy a basket.

“There’s something up this tree!” Barty cried, his face upturned to the boughs. “There’s a door up the tree!”

“It’s the door to my treehouse. There are windows, too. See?”

“Is it truly yours?” Charlie enquired, considering Laura. “You’re grown-up.”

“When I was about your age, my pa, Billy-Bob and I built the treehouse together,” Laura explained.

“May we see it?” Barty asked. “We’ve never been in a treehouse.”

“I haven’t been up there for ages, so I’ll have to check everything’s safe,” Laura responded with a broad smile.

“Any chance of help picking these raspberries?” Andrew’s voice drifted across as he emerged from the soft-fruit garden and started towards them.

“Have you picked raspberries before, boys?” he asked.

“No, sir,” Charlie replied.

“Well, there’s a knack to raspberry-picking . . .”

Watching the three disappearing amongst the canes, Laura smiled, turning to her companion.

“It’s grand having Pa ashore, Edith. The longer Missouri Belle is away being repaired the better.

“It must’ve been awful for you the last time she had boiler trouble,” Laura went on thoughtfully. “Stranded in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard.

“You might have been frozen up till the thaw!”

“I didn’t fully realise the seriousness of our situation,” Edith admitted. “I merely drank in the atmosphere and adventure and started writing!”

“How are the ‘Riverboat Sketches’ coming along?”

“Almost finished.”

“You won’t leave Deep River, will you?” Laura asked, her thoughts flying to Billy-Bob’s unhappiness if Edith were to go away.

Shaking her head, Edith laughed.

“Not for a while yet. I am returning to New Prospect for a week for Claremont’s parents’ day at the end of the school year, though. I couldn’t miss it.”

“You love teaching, don’t you?” Laura smiled. “I can see it in your eyes. Johan is the same. He’s a wonderful teacher already.”

“Teaching is tremendously fulfilling,” Edith agreed. “Laura, I dearly want to ask William to accompany me to New Prospect.

“Do you think he might come?”

“I’ve never seen Billy-Bob happier than since you’ve been together,” Laura replied.

“He’ll go anywhere in the world with you,” she added with a smile. “He loves you so much.”

The day after he’d found his father, William quit his job at the waterfront.

Since then, he’d spent a lot of time holed up amongst the pines on the high ground above the mine, observing the comings and goings at the Overton Mining Company office, where Caleb Robertson had been clerk.

As soon as the present clerk took his lunch break, William walked down to the office.

It was a hot day and the door was wide open.

Ty Skinner was standing sorting through a cabinet, his back to the doorway.

William knocked, strode inside and introduced himself.

“You’re a Pinkerton,” Skinner murmured, sitting back at his desk and staring up at the younger man.

Passing a hand across his perspiring forehead, he cleared his throat.

“I heard about Caleb being found in the mine. My condolences.”

“Thank you,” William replied, taking a seat at the desk where his father had spent his working life. “When my father disappeared, you claimed money had gone missing?”

“That’s correct,” Skinner replied, nodding. “A considerable sum.”

“You figured my pa stole the cash and ran off with it?”

“I didn’t want to believe it. I’d known Caleb a long time, but . . .” He shrugged. “It was you and your ma I felt sorry for. Left in the lurch that way.

“Even when the company sent your ma that notice to quit the cabin, I turned a blind eye and let you stay on till you found somewhere to go.”

“We appreciated your consideration,” William remarked, forcing painful memories from his thoughts and steeling his mind to the job he’d come here to do.

“What I can’t figure out, Mr Skinner,” he went on, “is why my pa was in the mine?

“Even if he stole the money, why do you reckon he’d go down the mine?”

To be continued…

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