The Dividing Tide – Episode 04

It was Saturday afternoon in Georgia, USA, and Red Leaf Gold Mine was shut until Monday morning.

Thomas stood at the edge of the forest, gazing at the scene below.

He breathed in the sweet, pine-scented air as he absently ran the cold metal rim of his pan through his hands. It felt good to be out of the dark confines of the tunnels.

His friend, Isaac, came up to stand beside him and together they gazed at the misty blue mountains receding into the distance.

Then they turned and made their way down the hillside, clambering over the rocky outcrops to the sparkling stream that snaked and gurgled along the valley floor.

Abe Blake, who owned Red Leaf, also owned the valley known as Claw Creek. It had been part of the land he’d won in the Gold Lottery of 1832.

Thomas and Isaac, having worked in many gold mines in their travels through Georgia, considered Abe one of the fairer employers.

One of the benefits he allowed his workers was to prospect on his land, in their own time, and he claimed a fifth of the gold they found in return.

Gold. It was what life was about in these parts. It was what had brought Thomas to America, though he hadn’t been smitten with “gold fever” as a lot of the men had. Many lived and breathed only to find the yellow metal and thought of little else, almost as if a spell was cast upon them.

Steady hard work and careful living meant Thomas had saved a modest sum in the Bank of Riversville, but the fortune he’d set out to find had never materialised.

But he’d become philosophical over the years, and instead had grown to love the space and grandeur of the mountains.

He watched a plume of smoke float lazily up from the Cherokee village further upstream, then tracked a hawk sweeping across the clear sky high above them. Peace invaded his heart.

Brushes of red and gold amongst the pines reminded him of the woods behind the harbour at Bidreath. With the memory came the familiar pang. Eight years ago he’d left his mother and daughter to fend for themselves . . .

As if Isaac read his thoughts, he spoke.

“Done anything about going back to England yet?”

Thomas shook his head.

“Keep meaning to.”

Both men were silent as they reached the sandy edge of the river and followed it upstream to where the water curved, slowing to a wide pool.

“I’ve known a lot of men like you, Tom.”

Thomas turned to him.

“Men like me?”

“Them as left home in order to find answers,” his friend replied. “Could be you’ve found yours here. Mayhap you don’t need to go back at all.”

They reached the bend in the river. Thomas stooped at the edge of the water, scooped up a handful of dirt and placed it in his pan, tipping it sideways to add some water.

“I have to go back,” he replied. “For my family’s sake, if not for mine. I’ve stayed away so long they probably think I’m dead.”

“Why haven’t you gone afore, if you feel like that?”

“I don’t know. I should have.”

It was true. There was no justification for his prolonged absence from his family. Only the grief, which had been so hard to bear and which he feared might await him upon his return.

“It was as if I was suffocating after my wife died.” Slowly and methodically, he rocked the pan. “When I came here I could breathe again. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

He laughed uncertainly, letting the muddy water drain back into the river.

Stooping down beside him, Isaac listened.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.