- 39. The Dividing Tide – Episode 39
- 40. The Dividing Tide – Episode 40
- 41. The Dividing Tide – Episode 41
- 42. The Dividing Tide – Episode 42
- 43. The Dividing Tide – Episode 43
- 44. The Dividing Tide – Episode 44
- 45. The Dividing Tide – Episode 45
“The mood in town’s growing ugly,” Thomas told Ahyoka, staring absently at the flurry of snowflakes swirling against the frosty window pane.
The Georgia snows, which had begun soon after the rains, had continued unceasingly for several weeks and the daylight reflected from the tall drifts sent a ghostly glow around the whitewashed walls.
They were sitting in the schoolroom at the Mission House, where they had lived since their marriage in the missionary church, for the cabin in the hills had become far too dangerous a place with the amount of looters around.
The room, with its rows of empty benches, seemed far too large without the children to occupy it, but with the missionaries gone there were no teachers to teach them any more.
“Ellis warned me it might come to this,” he murmured. “We have to keep you out of sight till we can leave.”
Thomas remembered the advice his friend had given him as he’d helped them pack the wagon for the long journey to Oklahoma.
“I’d stay put, if I were you, Tom. If Ahyoka is seen out and about, she’s likely to be taken with no questions asked. The only thing the soldiers will see is the fact she’s Cherokee. Nothing else will matter.”
The enforced Cherokee march was well underway now but stragglers were still being apprehended, and as each day passed Thomas’s reluctance to leave his wife alone increased.
“The split between those in favour of Removal and those against it is growing,” he continued. “I don’t want you going amongst them any more. It’s too dangerous.”
“I cannot stay in the house all the time, Thomas,” she remonstrated. “Surely there are enough people on our side to make my presence safe?”
“Maybe.” He smiled, but he felt far from convinced.
Feelings ran high on the subject and only yesterday a fight had broken out at the mine between two men arguing the case.
He got up and picked up a log from the basket beside the stove. Then he lifted the lid of the burner, and a shower of red sparks showered upwards as he placed it inside.
“A free Cherokee’s like a red rag to a bull to some,” he told her. “They’ve got fines now for anyone acting against Removal, and there’s even talk of imprisonment. People will be afraid to stand by you, Ahyoka.”
“I have you as my husband, remember, Thomas.” She looked at him steadily as he sat down again beside her, her eyes as dark as the plaits that lay across her poncho.
“It’s not enough. What could one man do against a mob?”
As soon as he’d spoken the words, he wished he hadn’t, for her face paled. The last thing he’d wanted to do was to frighten her.
“I’ve thought of giving up my job at the mine while we wait it out,” he continued, “but I’m worried any change might bring more attention to us.
“It’s better to act as normally as possible and simply keep you out of sight. As soon as the snows start to melt and the Federal Road is passable again, we’ll leave.”
“But where will we go?’ she asked. “This is my home. It is the only place I have known.”
“We’ll go to England until things settle down.”
It was the first time he had put his idea to her, and he knelt beside her to take her hands in his.
“Before we were married, I was planning to return home,” he confessed. “I need to see my daughter and make things right with her, to ask for her forgiveness for my long neglect.”
Her glance fell to the floor.
“It won’t be for ever,” he said gently. “I know your heart is here, and mine is too, now.” Gently he cupped her chin in his hand.
“We’ll come back when things are no longer so uncertain. I’ll ask Isaac to write and let us know when that time comes.”
She attempted a smile.
“The government might not allow me to leave the country, Thomas. If they are sending all the Native American tribes to live on the plains, why would they let one Cherokee escape?”
He’d thought of that. In fact, he’d thought of little else for days.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly.
It was a grave concern to him and one he didn’t know the answer to.
“But you’re my wife now, and that’s how the law has to see it.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find a way, even if we have to disguise ourselves to get aboard a ship!” he joked, trying to lighten the seriousness of the situation.
Ahyoka gave a little smile.
“When it’s safe again, we’ll return,’ he promised. “We’ll buy some land the lottery owners don’t want, and work it like you and your grandfather did. Would you like that?” He held her hand tightly in his.
“I would like that very much,” she whispered. Then she smiled at him. “I have decided to give you Cherokee name,” she said. “It is Degotoga. It means “‘standing together.’”
Thomas felt his heart swell. He felt proud to have been given a name from such an honourable culture.
“Yes,” he said softly. “Whatever the future holds, we’ll stand together.”