The Dividing Tide – Episode 47

Thomas stared at the Savannah shipping clerk in astonishment.

“No ships leaving the port at all? Are you sure?”

“There are some, but none going to the Cornish ports. You’ve just arrived?”

“This afternoon, yes.”

“It’s been this way for several weeks. It’s absolute chaos.”

“We heard news of a dispute on the road here, but I had no idea it was as bad as this.” He was thoughtful for a moment. “What about Bristol, or London? Any berths to be had there?”

“Every one of them taken for weeks to come. We have been ordered not to accept any more bookings for the time being. Every ship with permission to leave is packed full to the rigging with passengers. There’s not a berth to spare. I’m sorry, sir.”

Thomas took a deep breath. What was he to do now? He thought of all the people cleared from the hills to make way for the gold prospectors, of the families he’d seen with his own eyes being forced from their homes and fields.

If they’d do that, he thought grimly, what was to stop them searching for stragglers? The authorities in Georgia may already have sent word to the ports asking them to be on the lookout for Native Americans trying to escape.

One thing was certain. He had to get Ahyoka away.

“I assure you there is not a berth to be had anywhere at the present time, sir,” the clerk said, looking across Thomas’s shoulder at the queue that was gathering behind him. “If I were you, I’d find a bed until it’s all sorted out.

“Come back when the ban is lifted, and I promise you I will find you the first passage I can.”

There was nothing for it but to leave, and reluctantly Thomas made his way out of the office. The midday sun struck upon his head and shoulders as he closed the door behind him and he was soon mopping his brow as he made his way back along the Savannah River to the harbour’s edge.

The clerk was right about the chaos, he thought, as he made his way between the piles of goods. There was merchandise stacked everywhere: sacks of cotton from the plantations, barrels and lumber, deerskins and hides, all filling the air with strange odours.

The river itself was full to bursting with ships. Timbers creaked, pennants flapped, voices called and gulls screeched. Normally, he would have viewed the busy scene with interest, but today he felt weighed down with care.

He found Ahyoka sitting where he had left her on an upturned crate, clutching the rolled-up blanket one of her tribeswomen had given her, his carpet bag at her feet.

She looked at him expectantly as he stooped down beside her, but before he could speak, there came the sound of tramping boots.

He spun round. A cluster of blue uniforms was making its way towards them. Quickly he stood up, picked up his bag and helped Ahyoka to her feet.

“Militia!” he whispered urgently. “Come. We must get away.”

He hurried her through the throng of people, not slowing until they had reached the edge of the crowd. Only then did he allow himself a glance over his shoulder, and what he saw made him sigh with relief.

It seemed the soldiers were not interested in them at all. They were making their way towards a ship where an argument was taking place over the loading of goods.

Nevertheless, the incident felt like a warning and he decided the best thing to do would be to continue into town. As they walked, he told Ahyoka about the shipping dispute and the scarcity of berths.

Instead of being upset as he had thought she must be, she was philosophical.

“We must do what the clerk suggests, Thomas, and find somewhere to stay.”

He slipped an arm about her waist and drew her to him, grateful for her fortitude.

“Then let us go and do the impossible.” He smiled.

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.