The River Runs Deep – Episode 46

Being out in the dead of night took Adelaide back to her Underground Railroad days, not least because Edgar Watts was at her side.

They observed four riders walking their horses from town, the posse and its prisoner briefly illuminated in light spilling from the Silver Dollar, before being swallowed from sight into the darkness.

“A rookie sheriff, a Pinkerton and a lawyer-cum-newspaperman,” Edgar remarked in a low voice. “I never saw such an unlikely posse.”

“Three fine and brave men,” Adelaide whispered, starting towards her store. “Andrew Sinclair is going to the best sheriff this town has ever had.

“Coffee, Edgar?”

“Please.” He stifled a yawn. “We’ve much to organise before I leave at daybreak.

“When will you tell Myrtle about Stephen?”

“I’ll slip over to the Hawthorns first thing in the morning.”

As soon as Laura arrived for work, she was waylaid by Miss Myrtle.

“They’ve found Stephen!” Myrtle whispered, bustling Laura into the privacy of the housekeeper’s room. “They’ve found him!”

Lost for words, Laura hugged the woman tight.

“I’m so glad!”

“When I spotted Adelaide sneaking up the garden at the crack of dawn,” Myrtle recalled, shaking her head, “you can guess what I thought.

“But soon as she saw me, she waved and was smiling so I knew what she had to tell me was all good.

“Stephen’s living in a town in Massachusetts – still caring for horses.” She laughed affectionately.

“When the missus wakes, I’m asking for the day off to visit my daughter,” Myrtle finished, her eyes shining. “If she says no, well, I’ll go anyhow!”

The Hawthorns felt peculiarly empty after Miss Myrtle set off.

Although Laura went about her duties, her mind was sorely distracted, fretting about Pa, Billy-Bob and Mr Carmichael on that dangerous journey to Buckley County.

The morning chores done, Laura took Mrs Leasowe’s mail into town and was near the sheriff’s office when her heart leapt.

Hitching up her skirts, she ran for all she was worth, bursting in through the door.

“Holy smoke, Laura!” Andrew yelled, catching hold of her. “You scared the daylights out of me!”

“You’re back! Are you all right?” She stepped away, searching his face. “Is Billy-Bob all right? And Mr Carmichael?”

“Of course. Fearless bunch like us.” He grinned. “I’ve been home to see your ma and just been through all this with her.”

“Is Billy-Bob at home?” she asked rapidly. “Oh, he’ll be over with Edith at Delderfield –”

“Slow down, lass. Yes, William did call on Edith, but now he’s gone to North Carolina.”

“Why on earth has he done that?”

“He’s meeting Mr Pinkerton over there. They aim to bring a witness back with them.”

“A witness?” she echoed, baffled. “A witness to what?”

“Never you mind.” Her father chivvied her towards the door. “And leave me to settle in as sheriff.”

Laura made for the hotel, eager to see Johan and share Miss Myrtle’s news.

Later that week, Laura received a telegram from Billy-Bob.

She was to meet the stagecoach and get Mr Pinkerton and the witness from North Carolina settled into the hotel without fuss.

Billy-Bob had shown her a wartime picture of the dark, bearded Scotsman standing beside Mr Lincoln, so she immediately recognised Allan Pinkerton.

“Miss Sinclair.” He shook her hand. “I understand you have arranged our accommodation?”

“Yes, but where’s Billy-Bob – William, I mean.” She looked past the two men to the stagecoach. “Isn’t he with you?”

“William alighted a mile back and is continuing to your home on foot,” Mr Pinkerton replied. “It would be imprudent for us to be seen together.”

With that, Laura had to be content.

That evening when she finished work, William was waiting for her.

“I figured walking you home would be a good chance for us to talk,” he explained.

“Everything that’s been happening . . .” She sighed. “I don’t understand any of it, Billy-Bob, and I want to. I want to know.”

Drawing a slow breath, he fell into step beside her.

“In North Carolina during the gold rush, three miners were driving their gold out to a small private mint.

“On the way, they were waved down by a couple of pals, Sidney Oswald and Fred Brunning –”

“Fred Brunning? The man we found in Snake Pass?”

William nodded.

“All five were local fellers. They knew each other, so the miners stopped the wagon.

“Oswald killed two and left the third for dead, but he didn’t die.

“Soon as he was found, he swore on oath who the culprits were, but Oswald and Brunning were gone.

“Brunning took his share of the gold and went to California. Sidney Oswald changed his name to Frank Leasowe and started a new life.

“In time, he and his wife came here, moved into the Hawthorns and settled in Deep River.”

He paused, looking at Laura.

She didn’t say a word, trying to take in what he was telling her.

“The man you brought from North Carolina,” she began. “Who is he, Billy-Bob?”

“The third miner. He can swear Frank Leasowe is Sidney Oswald,” William replied.

“Missouri Belle is expected in Deep River early tomorrow morning,” he concluded. “As soon as Leasowe steps ashore, your pa will arrest him for murder.”

To be continued…

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