Indian Removal Act
THOMAS GREYSON SPLASHED water on his face. Had he only been with the Cherokee for two weeks? Certainly, these had been the most trying days of his life. Adjusting to this new place and a new way of living had proved difficult.
He remained crouched over the bowl, the water beading on his forehead. And, taking in slow, deep breaths, he watched as the droplets fell into the small pool. Rippling in response, the liquid hypnotized him.
After several moments, he grabbed for a towel and swiped it across his face. If only he could wipe away the stress and frustration as easily as he did those lingering drops of moisture.
“Come, Greyson. No time for pretty-pretty face.”
Thomas jumped. His gaze searched out the source of the intrusion. Glancing toward the now open door of his small cabin, he saw his new friend, Atohi. The man’s long dark hair framed rigid features. And there was no hint of a smile.
Had the man had no sense of privacy? Perhaps it was not so important in this culture.
Nevertheless, he owed Atohi much. He would never have made it this far without the man’s guidance. Thomas could forgive the man’s lack of decorum.
Atohi frowned and let the door shut, disappearing as the wooden barrier slammed into place. Would he not wait for Thomas’s answer?
Releasing his grip on the towel, Thomas moved to follow.
As he stepped out of the cabin, the bright sun proved brutal. He raised a hand to cover his eyes.
Where was Atohi?
He spotted the his retreating friend several paces away. It would be best not to linger. Not even to let his eyes adjust.
“Wait.” Thomas reached back to secure the door.
Atohi turned. “I go, you go. No wait.”
So, the man also had no sense of patience.
Jogging, Thomas soon closed the distance. It would do no good to arrive so far behind his guide. No, that would not bode well for him.
What would come of this meeting? How would he be received? Thomas picked at the corner of his vest. When a thread came loose, he caught his nervous habit and forced his hands to his side.
But why shouldn’t he be nervous? This meeting could change everything—how the people accepted him, whether he would be allowed to continue teaching the children, and if he could proselytize. That was of utmost importance.
“What should I expect?” Thomas matched his step to Atohi’s.
“Expect men. Men in a circle.” Atohi spoke as if to a child. But he did not pause in his step or his speech.
Thomas stifled a laugh despite the tension building within himself. “I meant–what will they think of me?”
“I not know what they think. Maybe they think good. Maybe not. I not know.”
As if the tribal council wasn’t intimidating enough! This would be the first time they convened since Thomas came to live among the Cherokee.
“What I mean to say is, how should I conduct myself?” Thomas rubbed the back of his neck. It did not soothe the hairs standing on end.
Atohi grunted. “Should not ask so many silly questions.”
Thomas halted. Silly questions? Is that what Atohi thinks?
Atohi continued walking, neither pausing nor looking back.
Thomas shook his head and raced to catch his guide once again.
The remainder of their walk was spent in silence. Thomas did not know what to say. And, though it seemed rather uncomfortable, Atohi seemed to relish the quiet between them.
Tendrils of smoke curled and reached for the clouds just above the tree line. The smell of burnt wood and ash enticed Thomas’s nostrils. And the faint sound of drums beating caused his heart to thump louder.
He swallowed hard against a suddenly dry mouth. Was he so put off by this meeting? So worried? Thomas took a moment to turn his heart, and mind, heavenward.
Lord, You are in control. May Your will be done.
As he refocused on his surroundings, the trees opened to a clearing. There, among the teeming of natural life, sat the distinguished men of the tribe.
Ten men, in their prime, sat in a semi-circle around a small fire conversing in a language he’d yet to master. Did they talk about the state of affairs of the tribe? Perhaps they discussed members of the tribe—how they fared this season. Or maybe they shared about those would needed assistance.
Atohi did not stop until he was an arm’s length away from the circle.
Were they to stand so close? Would they not intrude on the private matters of the council?
Unmoved by Thomas’s reluctance, Atohi stood his ground, watching, waiting.
Thomas fought the urge to drop to his knees in supplication, but remained upright and stepped to Atohi’s side. He would have to trust his guide.
At this distance, he could make out the lines of the stern faces, lit by the flames. His breath caught, and his pulse quickened. These were a proud people. He stood as straight as possible, chin up, mimicking a confidence he didn’t feel.
The tribe’s councilmen continued their discussion as if nothing had happened. No one acknowledged or even seemed to realize that he and Atohi stood just beyond their intimate gathering.
Time passed, but some moments later, a quiet came over the circle. A break in their discourse?
Should he introduce himself? Was that why they waited? That was why he came.
He stepped forward.
Atohi’s hand shot out.
His eyes caught Atohi’s. There was no mistaking the rebuke, though Atohi’s gaze never moved from the council members.
Why was he to delay?
Atohi still did not look in his direction.
Thomas let out a long breath. Perhaps this would be one more thing he needed to accustom himself to. He wanted to show respect. So, he stood in silence next to Atohi while the council picked up their interchange once more.
More time passed as Thomas stood as he was, waiting to be addressed. Sweat teemed from the pores on his forehead. Was the strain of standing still truly so much? How long would this continue?
Atohi jabbed his arm.
Jerking his head toward his guide, Thomas wiped at his forehead and rubbed his injured arm.
Atohi tilted his head in the direction of the seated council.
Thomas shifted his gaze to them.
Ten sets of eyes watched him.
His heart skipped a beat.
Gathering his wits and sending up another quick prayer for wisdom, he forced his feet to carry him into the open space in the semi-circle.
“Great men, I bring greetings from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.” His voice broke. He clasped his hands behind his back. Had any of the men noticed them shaking?
Atohi, still just beyond the circle, translated for him.
Thomas continued. “I am honored you have decided to allow me to live among your people. It is my hope that my presence here will be to our mutual benefit. And will lead to a greater understanding between our peoples.”
The men of the council exploded with speech, shooting words and phrases back and forth, some even thrown in Thomas’s direction. Arms and hands were flung toward him.
Thomas fought the urge to shrink back. He furrowed his brows and bit at his lip. What are they saying? Why are they so enraged?
After a few moments, the man at the top of the semi-circle spoke. His voice was strong and sure, a deep baritone that commanded attention. Was he the chief of this tribe?
All discussion halted. Had he demanded silence? Some of the men hung their heads.
The chief spoke again.
Atohi, translating for Thomas, seemed to be the only man who dared open his mouth.
“We have come to understand that there are many opinions on this matter. But we have all agreed to welcome this man into our village. He is under our protection and will enjoy our good will. This is what I say.”
Some of the men nodded, their faces drawn and serious. Others turned away.
The chief’s eyes leveled on Thomas. “Welcome to our home, missionary. We ask that you respect our customs and beliefs and keep your heart open to hear what we say. I hope you may see there is much to learn, not only to teach.”
Thomas held the man’s gaze, pushing his earlier trepidations to the side. He squared his shoulders and firmed his posture.
The chief’s dark eyes shone with life. Thomas saw in the lines on the chief’s face the story of a man who had lived many years for his people, who concerned himself with their needs. How many tough decisions had this man made in his lifetime?
Thomas respected what he saw. He bowed. “I am eager to learn.”
Though he kept his eyes on the chief, he saw in his periphery the untrusting gazes of some of the men in the group. They peered at him with menacing glares. He chose to ignore them and take away the faces in the group that gave him hope. Those whose eyes were bright with expectation.
Adsila carried a bucket of fresh water into the house, trying not to slosh too much onto the floor. She stepped to the stove and relinquished her burden. Rubbing her hands together, she attempted to ease the soreness in her palm.
“Thank you,” Mother said, moving her hands over the heated surface, busying herself with the details of the evening meal.
Looking about the room, Adsila did not see Father. Had he not returned? What could have kept him? She fought to ease the tightness forming in her chest. There was no reason for concern. He would be home any minute.
Brushing hair from her face, she took a deep breath and attempted to soothe her anxious thoughts. The council meeting should have ended by now. He must be headed home this very moment.
Father would no doubt be in a strange mood. He always was after these meetings. Did they remind him of things past, of times forgotten? Perhaps he mourned the things that would never be for his children.
Glancing at her younger brother struggling through a reader at the table, her heart weighed heavy. Tsiyi would never know what it was to live in a tent as their people had for centuries. Her own memory of that time faded. Many moons had passed since they built this house of wood.
She barely remembered the feel of deer skin against her flesh. Now she wore a gingham dress. Adjusting to cotton clothing had not been easy. It was course against her skin and gathered snugly against her figure in places. Adsila tugged at the waist band. She’d been but a child when her people stopped wearing animal pelts, switching to more ‘civilized’ clothing. Still, she could remember…
The door creaked.
Her gaze turned.
Father’s tall form appeared in the doorway.
She moved to greet him. “Good day, Father.”
Father smiled and reached to place a hand on her shoulder. “Good day, my daughter.”
Skin, tanned and worn by days spent in the sun, appeared to have deeper lines than usual. His hand lay heavy on her shoulder, as heavy as the burden he carried for his people. Blinking at her, he squeezed slender joint before releasing it.
He continued into the house, pausing by Tsiyi. Father placed the same hand on her brother’s head, rubbing at the dark hair.
Moving a few steps farther in, Father greeted Mother.
Adsila averted her gaze. The happenings between her parents were theirs alone. Stepping to the cupboard, she fetched bowls for their stew. As her fingers touched the cool sturdy tin dishes, she heard the whisperings of her parents. Was that a giggle from Mother?
Smiling, Adsila set the bowls on the wooden table.
Father came to the table and sat.
She placed a dish in front of him. “How was the council meeting?”
A clank sounded from the kitchen.
Mother’s stirring spoon had hit the side of the pot. Had she dropped it?
Adsila frowned. Her boldness never settled well with Mother.
Father leaned back in his chair and met Adsila’s gaze. Unlike Mother, he never seemed disturbed by her questions. “There was much to discuss. It has been too long since last we met.”
Worries over their farms and livelihood took up more and more of the council members’ time. They hadn’t the opportunity to meet as often. Gone were the days when they hunted for short spurts and had ample daylight still for matters of tribe and family. The strains of farm life were difficult. All the more so for men who had enjoyed a much different life.
But that was before.
Mother brought the large pot of stew to the table, setting it in the center. She waved Tsiyi away from the table.
He put away his reader and returned to the table.
Adsila slipped into her seat, eyes wide and mind full of questions. But she must wait. Such conversation would not be allowed in Tsiyi’s presence.
After Mother sat, the meal began.
They ate in silence. Did they each feel the weight of the meeting upon Father? He broke the stillness after several moments.
“What have you learned in school?” Father leaned forward, eyeing Tsiyi.
Tsiyi shrugged. “We learned about water today.”
“Water? What do you need to know about water that you do not already?” Father’s gaze darkened, and his brows came together.
Adsila lifted her spoon to her mouth glancing between Father and Tsiyi.
For his part, Tsiyi appeared not to notice the change in Father’s demeanor, slurping his soup before continuing. “It exists in three states: water the liquid, like we drink it, water the solid, like when the pond freezes in the winter, and water as steam, like when Mother boils a pot.” Father’s concern seemed to go unnoticed.
Adsila rolled her eyes.
“Hmmm.” Father nodded and looked down at his food. It seemed he did not see the point in spending time on such nonsense.
Adsila took another bite then fidgeted with the vegetables in her stew.
“Mr. Greyson said that it is like God.” Tsiyi’s eyes widened as he chewed from one side of his mouth.
Adsila raised an eyebrow. That would get a rise out of Father.
“Like the Great Spirit?” Father refused to use the Christian name ‘God.’ “How?”
“He said God exists in three forms: God the Father, God the Son, Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit.” Tsiyi’s eyes lit up.
Father grunted. He was quiet for a moment, then spoke. “But we know that the Great Spirit is one.”
“Mr. Greyson said that, too. He told us that God is three, but He is still just one God. Just like all forms of water are still water.” Tsiyi continued to eat unaffected by Father’s reaction. Did he not see?
Father became silent. Did he have no response? After a few breaths, he did speak. “What do we know of the Great Spirit?” His face was unreadable, a blank canvas.
“The Great Spirit created all things and presides over all things,” Tsiyi recited, chin high.
“Yes. Unetlanvhi is all places, at all times, and knows all things. And lives above to watch over. There is none greater.” Father’s mouth was set, drawn in place.
“But, Father,” Tsiyi started, leaning over his plate. “What if—”
“There is none greater.” Father’s firm voice filled the small cabin.
Tsiyi quieted. “Yes, Father.”
Adsila scooted her bowl forward, long since finished with her meal. Something wasn’t right. What happened at that meeting? She looked at Mother. The older woman’s gaze met hers, eyes serious. She knew it, too.
“I think,” Mother said, standing and reaching for the empty dishes. “It is time you two got fresh air.”
Tsiyi smiled broadly. “May I go to Mohe’s house and ask if he can play?”
Jumping up, Tsiyi ran out the door before Adsila was out of her seat.
Adsila stepped toward the door, but as she reached for the latch, she halted.
Turning back toward her parents, she took a deep breath and gathered her courage. “Mother, Father, I wish to stay and hear about the council meeting.”
Both sets of eyes were upon her. Mother’s were wide, but Father simply blinked.
“Adsila,” Mother began, her voice harsh and scolding, “You—”
Father held up a hand. He tilted his head and nodded for Adsila to continue.
Taking a step forward, she sucked in another breath through her teeth. “I am old enough now. I want to know about the affairs of our tribe. I’m a member of this tribe, and it affects me, too. I’m not a child anymore. I’ll be married someday soon.” She nearly choked on the words but kept going, her argument pouring out of her like rushing water. “And I want to be treated as an equal…as an adult.”
Father sat in silence. His features betrayed no sign of what he might be thinking.
Adsila kept her chin up.
After a long moment, Father waved an open palm toward the vacant chair.
A rush of blood pumped through her body. But she contained her excitement as she settled into the chair.
Father watched her. Was he gauging her reaction? A slight smile broke through his features.
Mother took her seat as well. Her features were passive, but her tight posture and refusal to look in Adsila’s direction betrayed her true feelings.
It stung that Mother did not think Adsila was old enough, but Father’s word was final on the matter.
Father’s eyes became clear and serious. “There was much discussed. But one matter is of great importance.” His gaze caught Mother’s. Something passed between them that Adsila could not identify.
She caught herself playing with her fingers and moved her hands into her lap.
“What is it, Father?” Adsila cringed at the lingering silence.
Father heaved a sigh. “The United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act.”
A strangled cry escaped Mother’s lips as her hand flew to her mouth. Did this mean something to her?
Adsila looked between them.
Their faces were downcast.
Mother’s eyes glossed over.
Father reached for her hand.
Adsila found herself fidgeting again.
An uncomfortable quiet fell over the room.
“What? What does this mean?” The words burst from her mouth before she could stop them.
Father’s gaze jerked toward her.
His dark orbs, too, were glassy.
Clearing his throat, he blinked away any hint of tears. “It means that we are to be moved from our lands, the lands our ancestors have inhabited for generations, to lands west of the Mississippi River.”
Adsila’s stomach lurched. A knot formed in her middle and it weighed a hundred pounds. Her facial features contorted.
“B-B-But,” she stammered, finding her voice. “They can’t do that! It’s not right! It can’t be. Not even by their laws.”
Father gave her a long look. His eyes seemed deeper in that moment. The lines in his face did, too. He was worn. Worn by the decisions he and the council made over the years and worn by the decisions that were out of their hands.
“You are still young, my daughter. You do not yet know the true nature of the white man. He will find a way to get what he wants.”
She couldn’t speak. Her head swam and her skin became clammy. Even breathing was a struggle.
What were they going to do?
Lillian Greyson closed her Bible and set it in her lap, the aged leather binding was warm in her hands. The Psalms brought no joy, Proverbs no wisdom, and the Gospels no hope. Not today. Not when her mind was so clouded. She couldn’t see past the fog of worry to find the peace that passes understanding, which God promised she would find in Him and His Word. Not lately. And not today. How could she see past herself to focus on God when her youngest son, her Tommy, was in the midst of great trial?
How her heart ached for him. Why couldn’t he be more like his brother and sister? How she wished he would have found a ‘regular’ vocation, marry, settle close to home, and start a family. Why did he have to become a missionary? Why couldn’t God call him to be a preacher here in Charlotte?
Lillian did long for her children to follow God’s path for their lives, but she had to admit that her idea of God’s plan had a rather narrow scope. And God was big. Had she not taught her children that very thing?
The sound of newspaper crinkling drew her attention. Her husband glanced in her direction, the paper now drawn down past his face, his eyes on her.
“Finished your reading already?” Arthur pulled the pipe from his mouth.
“It’s no use.” She laid her Bible on the side table.
He cocked his head to one side.
Lillian could not disguise the demons that plagued her. Not from her husband. No, he knew her too well.
“Thomas is a grown man, Lillian. We have to let him live his own life.” He brought his paper down to his lap.
“But the Indian Removal Act…”
“Has nothing to do with him.” His voice was firm, face drawn. “He is a protected citizen of the United States.”
“That’s what they said about the Indians.” Her own voice sounded meek. Did her concern have to be so ridiculous?
“Absurd.” Arthur confirmed, putting his paper to the side, a harsh motion. “They’re not like us.” His chest puffed, and his free hand clenched into a fist.
Lillian nodded, lowering her head and looking at her lap, her hands fidgeting with the fabric of her dress. He spoke the truth.
“Besides,” he continued, “I think we can rest assured that our government will take care of the Indian removal as delicately as possible. No one wants trouble.” Arthur spoke with gentleness, but his voice did not invite discussion.
Lillian sighed. Her husband was wiser about these things than she. Splaying out her hands, she studied her fingernails.
“If it will make you feel better, why don’t you write the boy a letter?”
“What a marvelous idea!” She clapped her hands.
Without further prompting, she moved to her correspondence desk and pulled out paper and pen. It took only a handful of seconds to gather her thoughts before she began.
“Dearest Thomas, I hope this letter finds you well…”
Thomas released a deep sigh. Having finished his lessons for the day and dismissed his students, he took a moment to gaze over his humble classroom. Was he reaching them? His students performed well in their subjects. But had he made any lasting impact? He sighed as he rubbed chalk dust from his hands. Perhaps only time would tell.
He gathered his things and made short work of closing the small schoolhouse. Stepping out of the makeshift building, a breeze flowed over him. His eyes slid shut. If only it could take his worries and cares with it. The burst of air washed over him and refreshed his senses. And he allowed it. For several blissful moments.
His shoulders tightened, and his brow furrowed. What interrupted his peace? The children. Their eyes stared into him even now. Wanting, hurting, asking for something deeper than grammar and equations. While it was important they get good instruction in these basic subjects, it was vital they learn about God, about Jesus, about the Gospel.
Opening his eyes, Thomas gazed across the landscape. There were a few cabins visible. The Cherokee, his mission field, had proved more resistant than he anticipated. His studies had taught him how much they had given up to become ‘civilized.’ Much of who they were now lay in the past. He began his walk toward his own cabin.
Did his students’ parents believe he now asked them to give up the last bit of their culture? Their religion? Was that the reason for the difficulty he had becoming acquainted with his neighbors?
He was invited to sup with Atohi and his family once a week, and he had the school. Beyond that, no one else would open their doors, or their hearts. Or listen to the message he brought. It didn’t matter what the chief said, he was an outsider.
His cabin neared. The structure’s modest proportions were nothing compared to his parents’ large home in Charlotte, but it belonged to him.
Ducking, he stepped through the door, set his school supplies down, and crossed his arms as his gaze wandered about the small space. It needed a good cleaning. There were dirty plates and a pile of clothes in the corner—it made him long for one day of his mother’s housekeeper’s time.
Still, just as much as this humble abode belonged to him, the chores did as well.
He needed respite for his soul. Having no one but God to talk to or share his concerns with, he often found himself in need of time alone with God. So, he grabbed his knapsack and walked back into the sunlight.
Working his way up the creek, he left even the small village behind as he sought a quiet spot in which to commune with God. He lengthened his stride. The worries of the past days faded as the cabins shrunk.
He pulled on the strap of his knapsack, reassured by its weight. It was but a slight burden, bearing only his Bible, a block of wood, and his whittling knife.
From his youth, his father worked with him to whittle, using first soap and a dull blade. Soon after, he graduated to wood and a real blade.
His mother had encouraged him to pursue art and sculpting as he grew, but his true passions lay with God’s direction—the mission field. There was nothing like using his hands to create statuettes of birds, squirrels, and many other things of God’s natural world. But it could never be more than a hobby.
Glancing back, the village had long since disappeared. Perhaps now he should look for a place to nest down. Then he could read and study to his heart’s content. And pray. Perhaps even work the knife over the block and create something new.
A tree nearby stood tall and proud. The grass around it appeared a lush seat. Nature’s chair, already prepared for him. He stepped toward the aged oak, placing a hand on the trunk and shrugging the knapsack off his shoulder. Gazing up the height of the tree, he wondered at the storms it had weathered. Would he, too, prove sturdy enough to stand such tests?
Water splashed. Where did that come from? It seemed close. Should he concern himself with it? Perhaps it was nothing more than a wild animal further upstream. Or was it? He wouldn’t have to go but a few feet. Would it be dangerous to sneak up on such an animal with no rifle?
The splashing continued.
Nothing too large, he wagered.
Thomas pulled the bag back over his head, the strap resting across his chest, and stepped in the direction of the sound. The creek made a sharp turn a few yards upstream from the tree.
He followed the bend, keeping his footfalls as soundless as possible. Slowing his steps as he drew ever nearer. Thomas came to a stop the moment he was certain he had come upon the animal. Holding his breath, he lifted a shaking hand and pushed a limb to the side.
A young Indian woman stood in the creek, water up to her knees. More striking was what she wore—a traditional deer skin dress. He had never seen such, except in pictures.
Belted at the waist with fringe on the hem and on the sleeves, it was rather…becoming. And because of the depth of the water, she had hiked the skirt up until the hem only covered her down to mid-thigh. Long, black hair hung loose, flowing about her shoulders.
His face warmed. He wanted to turn away, to back up, to slip back from this scene. In truth, he should. But he couldn’t. She was captivating. The young woman hummed a tune that could have been as old as her people and moved back and forth in the water to a rhythm all her own. Was she from a nearby village? Perhaps she sought the same thing he did—solace.
Yes, he should go. Moving one foot back, he leaned his weight on it. Still, he could not tear his eyes away. As he pressed back on his foot, the ground moved underneath him. And he slipped.
When he stopped sliding down the small embankment, he was in the creek. Jarred, but as he moved, nothing seemed broken. Opening his eyes, he shifted forward, squatting on his toes, and found himself at the blunt end of a rather large branch. Mere inches from his chest.
Two angry deep brown eyes glared at him from the other side of the scary-looking limb.
His hands shot in the air.
“What are you doing here? Spying on me? White man!” Her voice was strong, harsh. Not at all like the gentle cadence he’d just heard.
“No.” He backed up as he rose, nearly tripping on the smooth stones in the creek.
She kept step with him, not allowing one inch of distance to come between him and the branch.
“I was…I was walking along and came upon you…by accident” He tried to find his voice.
“By accident? You expect me to believe that?” Her eyes flashed. One side of her dress kept slipping down, exposing a perfectly browned shoulder.
He lowered his eyes. “I promise you. I am the village missionary. My village is three miles…that way.” Thomas pointed behind himself.
“Missionary? So, you are the one teaching our children lies.” Her voice gave no hint of softening. She raised the branch higher so that it was no longer at chest level, but in his face.
“Yes. I mean, no! I mean…” He touched the branch with one finger to ease it back down. Clearing his throat, he attempted to speak more firmly. “I am the missionary sent to teach. But I speak only truth.”
Her lips curled into a snarl. “I suppose that is what you believe.” She lowered the branch…slowly.
“Please.” He stuck his hand over the lowering branch. “My name is Thomas.”
She stared at his hand, eyes dark and hard.
“You should make your way back to the village before it gets dark, Missionary.” She moved away.
He let his hand fall to his side.
“And you are?” he called after her.
“Someone who doesn’t trust you,” she said over her shoulder.
He pursed his lips. What more was there to say? Thomas swallowed against the tightness in his throat.
One more person who didn’t trust him.
His hands balled into fists. Was there nothing he could do to change his plight? Moving toward the embankment, he stepped out of the creek.
But before he began his climb, he paused. Nothing would excuse him not being a gentleman. He ground his teeth. “Shall I escort you back to the village?”
No answer. Not even a sharp rebuke.
But she had vanished.
Walter Buckner made his way toward the capitol building. His steps were slower than usual. Two things were true: one, the senator would already be in his office and two, the senator would not be in a pleasant mood.
Head down, Walter tried not to think on what the day would bring. Which only made those thoughts run rampant. Would the senator be angry? Would he take it out on the staff?
Walter collided with something solid.
“Watch where you’re going,” a voice said in a coarse tone.
Walter looked up. One of his colleagues jerked and smoothed at his jacket, struggling to regain his composure.
“Sorry, Harry. I was…my mind was somewhere else.”
“No worries. We’re all a little uneasy these days.” Harry flashed Walter a winning grin. A grin that had probably gotten him into politics, and would keep him there.
“Walk with me?” Harry waved toward the building.
Walter nodded, taking up step next to Harry and trying not to rush.
Silence fell between them for a few moments, but Harry broke it soon enough. “What do you think of Senator Frelinghuysen’s six-hour filibuster?” A sly smile pulled at Harry’s lips. “And all for nothing. I tell you, your boss…”
“What?” Walter’s tone was more abrasive than he’d intended.
“I was only…”
“I know.” Walter softened his voice. “But you have to respect the man, standing for his beliefs…especially when they aren’t popular.”
Harry quirked a brow, but remained silent.
“He has to have nerve to do what he did.” Why did he feel the need to defend the Senator?
Harry nodded. “That’s true. But don’t you think he should keep his evangelical Christianity out of his politics?” His voice was plain, matter-of-fact even. “I daresay he won’t go far if he doesn’t.”
Walter wished to speak further, to remind Harry that the position of United States Senator is quite a distinguished honor. But he bit his lip.
They entered the building in silence and neared the hallway where they would need to part company.
Harry nodded as they separated. “See you later, Walter.” Then, with a quirky smile and a wink, he added, “Keep your head on straight.”
“I will. Sorry again about bumping into you.”
Harry raised an arm. “No worries.” He called without turning his head.
Walter continued the several feet remaining to the offices of New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen. Lanterns were on, but there was no movement within. So, the senator had arrived, but no one else.
Opening the door with as little noise as possible, he set his things down on his shared desk and sighed. Must he intrude on the senator’s privacy? But it was his duty to check in and ensure there was nothing he needed.
Making quick strides through the large space, he made his way to the inner office’s door. It was already cracked. He knocked with soft raps, causing the door to open a hair’s width more.
“Senator Frelinghuysen? It’s Walter…uh…Mr. Buckner.” Walter could not get used to the way in which the senator addressed his staff so formally.
“Yes?” the gruff voice responded.
Was that an invitation? It must be. Walter opened the door enough to slide halfway into the room. The senator sat in his chair, turned with its back to the door and the senator facing the grand window. A Bible sat opened on his desk.
“Sir, can I get you anything? Coffee, perhaps…?” Walter’s voice sounded meek, even to him.
“No, Mr. Buckner. I’m quite all right.” He appeared to be deep in thought.
“Very well, sir.” Walter pivoted, prepared to extricate himself from the senator’s private office.
“Mr. Buckner?” Walter heard the senator shift in his chair.
“Y-yes, sir?” Walter almost tripped over his own feet spinning around but recovered quickly.
“What do you think about this business with the Indians?” The senator inclined his face toward Walter, his features offered no clues as to what he was thinking.
Wow! Walter almost crumpled under the weight of such a question from his superior, the man who, in many ways, held the reins on his future. This man’s opinion mattered to so many. Walter’s opinion hadn’t mattered much to anyone…ever. And now this great man asked for it.
“I think,” he started, clearing his throat. He dared not draw out his answer, but his mind became a blank. “That is, I believe they were told to assimilate and they would be fine. They did, and now everything is not fine.”
“Hmmm,” Frelinghuysen muttered. He made no further sounds. Was this space for Walter to continue?
Walter swallowed hard. Could the senator hear it? Fighting the urge to wring his hands, Walter continued, “I do hope the Act is carried out in the way it was written…for everyone’s sake.”
At that, Frelinghuysen turned his chair around. His eyes seemed to pierce Walter’s; his face was drawn and serious. “I will tell you this, Mr. Buckner. President Jackson has never been much on the letter of the law.”
Adsila laid her mother’s traditional deer skin dress back in the heirloom trunk where it belonged. She smoothed her hands over the fine hair of the dress. Would it be for the last time? Mother and Father did not know about these jaunts in the wilderness with the dress. What would they think if they knew? Would they be proud of their daughter for keeping the spirit of her people alive? Or would they scold her for her inability to let go? Would they be afraid? For what would happen if a white soldier found her instead of that missionary?
Still, Adsila could not help but smile when she remembered the way the angles of his face played as he looked at her. He couldn’t hide his thoughts. Were all white men so obvious? Her smile drooped into a frown. It was him, after all, and his people who were responsible for the wrong wrought upon her people. No, he didn’t deserve any more consideration. Not one more thought.
Pulling her hair into a braid, she stood and moved to step out of her parents’ partitioned off room. Clanging pots sounded from the direction of the kitchen. Mother was at work. Adsila had best help prepare dinner.
She finished with her hair and smoothed over her dress before stepping into the main living area. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight that greeted her, for there he was. Right there at her family’s dining table. How?
“Adsila,” Mother said, interrupting Adsila’s thoughts.
Adsila’s eyes met Mother’s. She smiled a bit too broadly.
“This is Tsiyi’s teacher, Mr. Greyson. Tsiyi found him by creek side and invite him to dinner.” In Iroquois, she said, “That brother of yours, I don’t know what to do with him!”
“How nice.” Adsila felt the edges of her mouth creeping up, too.
Thomas had come to his feet as Adsila had entered the room, and his eyebrows shot up.
“Nice dress.” Was that all he could manage?
Mother gave them both a strange look, brows furrowed, mouth drawn.
“I mean, nice to meet you…Adsila.” Thomas’s cheeks turned as red as the poppies in a nearby field.
“Where is Tsiyi?” Adsila sidestepped Thomas.
“He out to field to get Father.” Mother stirred dinner, still smiling over at Thomas. And in Iroquois she spoke, “Although what your father is going to say…I’ll tell you what your father’s going to say. He say he’s going to straighten out one young Cherokee brave, that’s what your father say.”
Thomas smiled back at Mother but he shifted, as if uncomfortable with the foreign language flying around.
“Mother’s English is not so good,” Adsila explained then chided herself. Why should she care what he thought? Or how uncomfortable he was?
“Ah,” Thomas said, his body relaxing into the chair a bit more.
The door opened just then, directing all their attention that way. Father and Tsiyi entered the house. Thomas stood once again.
“Hello, sir.” He held out his hand.
Again with that hand.
“Thomas. Thomas Greyson. I am humbled that you would have me into your home to sup with your family.” His voice sounded sturdy. Much more so than Adsila expected.
Adsila watched as Father met Thomas’s eyes. Would he throw the man out? Against all odds, Father raised his hand to grasp Thomas’s, and Adsila let out a breath she didn’t realize she held.
“I am called Gawonii. Wife is Inola. Please,” Father said in a pleasant voice. “Sit. Wife is good cook.”
Thomas smiled, taking his seat again. “I don’t get the pleasure very often.”
Father nodded and sat in his seat across from Thomas. “Wife cooking great pleasure.”
Mother blushed as she placed the pot of venison stew in the middle of the table. She then spoke to Tsiyi in Iroquois, instructing him to wash up for dinner. Adsila grabbed bowls and utensils from the cabinet, setting them around the table before taking her seat. It wasn’t long before all, including Mother, were seated and eating. There were moments of somewhat awkward silence. Were her parents expecting her to play host to this man, relying on her English? How she wished Father would say something. At last, Father answered her unspoken plea.
“It is good you teach young ones about water,” Father said, his eyes meeting Thomas’s. “Not so good you teach about God.”
Adsila almost choked on her food, but instead swallowed hard. Such a heavy comment so early in the meal.
To his credit, Thomas seemed unmoved. “It is my calling to teach about God. God told me to preach the good news.”
“Remember what chief said. You respect. Keep heart open. Learn.” Father’s voice remained pleasant though his eyes were serious.
Thomas nodded. “Then tell me,” he said, leaning forward. “What would you have me know?”
“I would tell of Great Spirit.” Father’s eyes were bright then.
Now here we go. Adsila took a deep breath and resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
“The children have mentioned the Great Spirit,” Thomas said, smiling toward Tsiyi. “But I’m not sure I understand.”
Father looked over to Adsila. She squared her shoulders under his scrutiny. Then he began to speak in Iroquois. Adsila translated, looking over to meet Thomas’s gaze.
“Unetlanvhi is the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit lives above and presides over all things. The Great Spirit is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. And Creator.”
“That sounds very much like the God of the Bible.” Thomas nodded.
Father continued, so did Adsila. “Signs, visions, dreams, and powers are gifts of the spirit. Our world is intertwined with the spirit world.
“Hmmm…” Thomas mumbled. There was another moment of silence as he stared down at the table.
What was he doing? Perhaps thinking on what he had heard?
At last, he looked up. He seemed a little taken aback that they were all staring at him, but he recovered well.
“Thank you,” he said to Father. Then he looked to Adsila, “And thank you. You have both given me much to think about.”
The dinner bowls were quite empty at this point, and no one had much appetite for anything else, so Mother rose to gather the dishes.
“It was a wonderful meal.” Thomas nodded to Mother.
She smiled in return.
“I tell you, Greyson,” Father said. “Wife cooking…” He made a motion with his hand over his tummy.
They all laughed. It was easy to get caught up in the warmth of the moment, but Adsila did not forget for one second who Thomas was — a white man. The white man meant greed and untrustworthiness.
Arthur Greyson bore a precious gift for his wife. One he knew she would be particularly grateful for. And it didn’t cost him one cent. He stepped out of his office and made his way down the stairs and into the parlor where he would be certain to find her.
Lillian sat on a sofa, a book raised just below her face. Her brows came together. Did the reading frustrate her so? Or was it that she struggled to focus?
Peering at the title, he decided the latter. For it was Emma, her favorite book.
Grunting, she turned the page. A bit harsher than necessary. Yes, something vexed her.
“Darling?” Arthur spoke into the silence, thick with tension.
She startled, eyes cutting toward him as she dropped the book into her lap. A hand flew to her chest. “Arthur.” Sucking in a breath, she continued, “You surprised me.”
“As it would seem.” Why would his presence create such alarm?
Still heaving, Lillian leaned forward and retrieved her book. Once it was settled again on her lap, she met his eyes.
His lips curled into a smile. “I have something for you.”
“Oh?” Lillian pressed her lips into a semblance of a smile.
For his sake? No matter. He reached into his jacket pocket and produced an envelope. “This came today.”
“From Thomas?” Her eyes widened, a spark lighting from within.
“Yes. From Thomas.” He smiled, reaching forth and handing over the coveted letter.
“Have you read it?” The words leapt from her mouth. Did she not notice that the envelop was still sealed?
“I thought we could read it together.”
Her hands shook as she moved the small package in her hands. So much so she couldn’t seem to open it.
He put forth a hand.
She slipped the letter into it. “You read it to me.”
Arthur took the seat next to her then opened the envelope easily and pulled out the paper within.
Lillian leaned over his shoulder, fingers stretching forth to touch the writing. As if she needed to confirm for herself that it was by Thomas’s hand.
Tearing his gaze from her forlorn features, Arthur cleared his throat and focused on the words splayed out before him.
“Dearest Mother and Father,
“Your letter finds me in good health and well-encouraged by your prayers and words. I am in a small farm village of some eighteen families. I have contact with nearly all through my students. There are twenty-two students in my class. All seem eager to learn about Science, Math, English…every subject but religion. It is difficult. I incorporate God in all of my lessons in some way, but getting through to them…that is different.
“Their religion seems to be the last piece of their culture they can hold to, and they are holding firm! They believe in a Great Spirit that created all things and presides over all things. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t seem as if the Great Spirit and our God are dissimilar. I have had my suspicions that they may, in fact, be serving our God, but calling Him by another name.
“I hoped you might write Andover Theological Seminary or the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and ask if they have any information on this topic. Or on the religion of the Cherokee.
“It is not as easy as I had anticipated to form relationships with the people of this village. They are not trusting. But I believe that if I am persistent, God will bless my efforts. I have one friend, my guide, Atohi, and have recently made a new acquaintance with the family of one of my students.
“Thank you for the news of Phillip and Emma and their families. I know Mother will be glad for the new arrival this Christmas! Hopefully, I can make my way home before the year is out. Until then, you are in my prayers. Keep me in yours.
Silence stretched across the space as the last word seemed to echo.
“He sounds lonely.” Lillian dabbed at her eyes.
Arthur looked at her. “He sounds as if he’s doing well. Perhaps having some adjustment pains.”
Lillian sighed and pulled out her handkerchief. Were these the beginning tears of the torrent yet to come?
He put his arm around her. “Rest assured, all is well. Thomas has a good head on his shoulders. And the Lord goes with him. What was it you would tell the children? The Lord hems them in behind and before. He has never failed them. He will not fail our son now.”
Lillian burst into tears, pressing the handkerchief over her face. “I fear my faith is not that strong, Arthur! I am a hypocrite. A Pharisee. I say those words, but don’t live life believing that.”
How was he ever going to contain this?
“There, there.” He pulled her into his embrace. “That is not so. You have the strongest faith of any woman I know. We have weathered many storms together, and you will find that your faith will persevere through this one.”
“I wish I could believe you.” She laid her head against his shoulder.
“You don’t have to. Believe God.”
Charlotte Frelinghuysen awaited her husband’s arrival home. Though she sat, her feet would not still. They danced about on the carpet, moving back and forth. The Senator spent more and more time at his office these days. And it was with a despondent spirit that he returned home.
She did not begrudge him his work or its importance, but she missed him. Missed his smile. The recent goings on with the Indians had weighed on him.
The door opened, and she jumped to her feet. Stepping into the hall, she looked in the direction of the door. Her husband’s tall form stood within the lit foyer. She rushed toward him.
“My darling, you are home!” She grasped for his arms before he’d had a chance to pull his jacket off.
Leaning down, he kissed the side of her face. Still, he held something back. His body did not relax, nor did his features soften.
She motioned down the hall from whence she had come. “Sit with me for a while.”
He shrugged off his jacket and met her eyes. Most days, he would go straight to his office and remain there until dinner. Could she communicate with her features how desperately she longed for some of his time?
After a few seconds of silence, he nodded.
She slipped an arm through his elbow and led him to the parlor. Was his lack of resistance a product of her pleading, or of his weariness?
As they entered the grand room, she called for tea. Teatime had come and gone, but dinner would be a couple hours coming, and Charlotte wished for anything to help her husband ease his heavy burden.
Frelinghuysen deflated into his favorite chair, sighing deeply as he all but melted into the piece of furniture.
She took a seat on the settee nearby. Should she avoid all talk of his troubles? Or would he rather speak of them? Might she offer him comfort for his troubled mind?
“What concerns you so?” She kept her voice soft.
He met her gaze.
There was much to read in those deep orbs. Such turmoil. Would he speak of it? Or dismiss her question? The lines under his eyes became more evident every day.
“It is this Indian Removal Act.” His words were measured.
She concentrated so that her features would not show her surprise. His trust in sharing touched her heart.
“It should never have happened.” He rubbed a hand down his face.
Would that she could do the same and wipe away such worries! He had poured himself into defending the Indians. And for what? Did he feel as defeated as he appeared?
“You are not responsible for that. Can you not see that you did everything you could? To the very extent of what was even possible?” Her voice rose before she could gather her calm and bring it to a more reasonable level. He didn’t need her to become emotional right now.
“Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that while I rest comfortably in my home, safe, that thousands of Indians go to sleep, not knowing what the next days will bring.” He dropped his face to the ground. Why must his heart be so in his politics? Because that’s the kind man he was. And she loved him for it.
“I thought you said this whole thing would be done peaceably. That there will be treaties, exchanges of land…” Her eyebrows moved together.
He met her eyes again. “I wish I could believe that is what will happen. But I do not have faith in our president’s respect for the law.” Frelinghuysen leaned forward, brows raised.
“Like it or not, President Jackson is bound by the law. He can’t just willy-nilly go and do whatever he wants.” Charlotte kept her hands in her lap. She found it difficult not to wave them about as she spoke.
Frelinghuysen held her eyes but said nothing.
There was something more behind his gaze that made her a little uneasy. The wife of a politician did not survive if she remained uneducated about the political machine. And Charlotte knew that the government was set up with a system of checks and balances. Whether Jackson liked the way the law was written or not, he would have to follow it. Or he would face the consequences.
Choctaw Trail of Tears
ADSILA PACED IN her home’s living area. The bedrooms, partitioned off to the sides, were only big enough to hold their pallets. This larger area gave her more floor to pace. And pace she did.
Much had happened in these last weeks. Too much to process. The Choctaw signed a treaty with the U.S. Government. They would be removed from their land. Tears stung her eyes anew. How could this be? What would become of her people?
Her little family had been helpless to do anything but read about it in the Cherokee Phoenix. Their world had changed. It was no longer safe. Even now, her father was at another council meeting. She could only imagine they discussed the ramifications of what all these happenings would mean for the Cherokee.
Knock, knock, knock! The sound on the front door pulled at Adsila.
Moving to open it, she wiped at stray tears. She pulled the latch up and swung the door open. And found herself looking into the blue-gray eyes of Mr. Thomas Greyson.
Her heartbeat quickened, and her face heated. She found her body wound tight as a spring and all too ready to strike at the closest target. He seemed to fit the bill. Without a thought, her mouth coiled, perhaps into a scowl.
The man stood, breaths coming in gasps. His brows furrowed. What was his trouble?
Only then did she notice that Thomas Greyson carried Tsiyi. Her focus shifted toward her brother.
His face was twisted.
“Tsiyi!” She reached forth her fingers to touch his face. Was he in pain? What happened?
Adsila moved a step back, allowing Thomas to enter.
“He hurt his ankle playing with the other boys. I do not think it is broken.” Thomas’s words came in a calm, even tone.
A fire flared in Adsila. Where did it come from? “I did not realize you were a doctor, too.” Folding her arms, she planted her feet as Thomas passed her. Immediately, she wanted to take her words back. She sounded so mean! But the bigger part of her wanted to offend him.
He paused. Because of her words? “I’m not. But I’ve seen plenty of these kinds of injuries. If you’d like, I can go for the healer,” he said, a bit abruptly.
She glared at him. How dare he speak to her like that!
Thomas stared back at her. His eyes like steel.
Thomas broke their eye contact and looked at the boy in his arms. “I think Tsiyi may be more comfortable in his bed.” He spoke with more gentleness, but there was still a slight edge in his voice.
Adsila nodded then lead Thomas farther into the house to Tsiyi’s pallet. The cushioned surface was not much, but it was where Tsiyi laid his head each night.
Thomas stepped past Adsila, brushing her shoulder with his.
She jerked her arm away.
He laid Tsiyi on the blanketed surface with great care, placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You are very brave, young warrior.”
She watched the exchange and fought the urge to let go of her anger. His demeanor toward her brother was so gentle, so kind, so understanding.
But it wasn’t enough. It didn’t change the fact that his people lay in wait, watching, coveting her people’s homeland. Ready to take what was not theirs.
Thomas stood then turned to face Adsila.
“Shall I go for the village healer? Or for the doctor?” He lowered his voice, standing closer to her than she liked. It made her…uncomfortable.
Her nerve endings seemed to be firing at once. Still, she couldn’t make herself step away.
“I can take care of my brother,” she shot back, seething through her teeth more than she meant to. Her head swam. Why was she behaving this way? Did her anger truly burn this hot? She thought of the Choctaw again. Yes, she had every right to be as angry as she pleased.
He grasped her arm and led her away from Tsiyi’s partitioned off room.
As they moved farther into the great room, she jerked away as if his touch burned. In truth, her flesh had heated several degrees, even through the fabric of her sleeve.
“What do you think you are doing?” she fumed, stomping her foot. How dare he touch her!
“Taking this away from Tsiyi.” His breathing was ragged, but his voice remained calm. “I don’t know what I have done to you, but this is a bit much.”
“Well, then, perhaps you should just leave.” She crossed her arms over her chest—as much to protect herself as to appear stern.
He threw his hands into the air. “As you wish.” Without anything further, he made his way to the door, flung it open, and slammed it behind himself.
She gripped for anything solid nearby. The top of a dining chair saved her. Sliding into its firm seat gave her the support she needed to let out a long, rough breath. There was a chill all of a sudden. Her hands moved over her upper arms, rubbing warmth into her limbs. Why did the room feel so empty?
Her eyes fixed on the door. Would he reappear? Come back to finish the argument? To further his point?
Nothing. The door remained as it was, slightly ajar from being slammed.
Running a hand over her hair, she attempted to clear her thoughts before she checked on her brother. Yes, that’s what she needed to focus on—Tsiyi. Not this white man who had come as a bad omen into their lives.
Walter Buckner was seated in Senator Frelinghuysen’s office once again, paper in hand. His current task—to take notes for the senator. He found himself in the senator’s office more frequently of late. And it was Frelinghuysen who requested his presence. All in all, it was a good sign.
Frelinghuysen finished his dictation and reached for his coffee.
“Sir,” Walter said, he wished his voice wasn’t shaking. “If I may, there is something I wanted to ask.”
Frelinghuysen arched a brow. “Please, continue.”
Walter looked behind himself. The door was indeed closed. They were alone. No one else would bear witness to what was probably an inappropriate question.
“You said last week that you did not trust President Jackson to follow the letter of the law. What did you mean?”
Frelinghuysen gave him a long look. Then sipped at the coffee.
“I meant exactly what I said. The Indian Removal Act allows for treaties and agreements with the Indians regarding their land and their removal. We hope to exchange land west of the Mississippi River for their land. But I fear that is not how things will proceed.”
“Won’t President Jackson have to abide by what Congress has passed?”
“Do you not remember what happened to the Creek Indians during President Adams’ Administration?” Frelinghuysen set his cup down and steepled his fingers.
Walter nodded. “There was some kind of treaty dispute, and they were removed because they wouldn’t leave.” But it was a treaty dispute — surely the Senator wasn’t suggesting that President Jackson would forego the treaties and…
“The original treaty had been nullified, and a new treaty took its place that allowed the Creek to stay. The governor decided to ignore the new treaty and have them removed anyway.” Frelinghuysen’s eyes seemed deeper in that moment, more serious. They held Walter’s.
“Then why didn’t the President send in the army to enforce the treaty?” The simple question came with a shrug of his shoulders. It seemed clear to him.
“He started to. But President Adams decided not to intervene because he feared a civil war. And, as he put it, ‘the Indians are not worth going to war over.’ If you’ve spent much time around President Jackson, you’ll have heard the same kind of sentiment.” The disdain was evident in the senator’s voice.
“But you don’t agree?” Walter said more than asked, eyebrows lowered ever so slightly.
Thomas flung the door behind himself. It clapped and bounced shut. He was fuming! What was that woman’s problem? Had he not been the good guy?
He brought Tsiyi home and offered his assistance. And the way she spoke to him… The flash in her eyes… Those eyes…
He shook his head. Don’t start that!
Thomas glanced about his cabin for sanctuary… a safe haven for his mind. Planning his next day’s lessons?
Moving to his desk, he picked up the English textbook. He then worked on sentences for the children to practice. They could write sentences about the fruits of the spirit.
Joy is being happy when life is hard. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of tranquility. Faithfulness is being firmly devoted to God. Love is an intense feeling of deep affection.
Intense feeling. He couldn’t escape that phrase. What he felt around Adsila was certainly intense. Although ’affection’ may not be the term he would use to describe his feelings. What word would he use?
Her features appeared in his mind’s eye. It wasn’t long before he found himself dwelling on the contours of her face.
Thomas shook his head. Shoving the papers away, he stood. Then he paced in the small space, hands hooked behind his neck, pulling his head forward. He had to clear this thing from his mind.
Spotting his satchel on the bed, he paused and sat on the mattress next to it. Reaching in, he pulled out his whittling knife and his most recent project—a bird. He had already roughed out the form. This would be a great distraction.
Sliding farther on his bed so that his back settled against the wall, he grabbed a basket to catch the shavings and began to work his knife against the wood. He immersed himself in the experience. The grain of the wood, slightly rough in his hands, was real and raw. As he breathed in the smell of the hewn strips, he remembered leaning against a tree, smelling the bark as his breath quickened.
He went back to that day when he watched the young Indian maiden in the stream. Adsila, her long, lustrous hair flowing as she moved, playing as if no one watched her.
Jerking himself out of his vision, he chided himself for letting his thoughts run rampant. He refocused on the wood block. And paused.
The bird’s eyes had become eyebrows, the beak a slope of a nose, human eyes took shape, and the feathers became roughed out hair.
His hands shook. What was he going to do? How was he to get her out of his head?
He threw the block of wood against the opposite wall.
Pulling his feet onto the bed, he propped his knees up and rested his elbows on them, letting his head fall into his hands.
Then he prayed.
Winter came. The air was much cooler and the wind brisker. Arthur Greyson tired of hearing his wife moan after Thomas—the poor conditions he lived in, and how he must be suffering in the cold. Often, he turned to his paper, raising it over his face so she would suppose he was otherwise engaged and leave him be.
On this particular day, there was a column about the goings on with the Indians. The columnist spoke of how the Indians, the Choctaws, were being migrated from their lands in Mississippi to their new lands. The government, in accordance with the treaty, spared no expense to aide them in their move. Five steamboats and forty government wagons along with food rations were only part of what Jackson’s administration did to ensure the safety of the Choctaw Indians as they made their way to their new home. And though there was some amount of death due to sickness and old age along the way, thousands now enjoyed the bounty of their promised land.
In truth, it was of little interest to Arthur. Except that Lillian would surely be happy to hear that the government concerned itself with the welfare of the Indians.
“Look, my dear,” he spoke up from behind his paper. He pulled it to the side but dared not lower it one inch. “It’s an article about the Indians.”
“Oh?” Lillian’s voice piqued. “The Cherokee?”
“No, the…” He looked over the article again. “Choctaw.”
“Oh.” Her gaze fell to her sewing once again; her voice sounded thin.
“It talks of how the president went about getting them to their new land. Sounds all well and good, my dear. Seems as if the government has this thing under control.” He raised his voice, speaking with confidence. Would that reassure her?
“That’s good, dear,” Lillian said, but her eyes remained on her work.
“If all the removals are this quick and easy, perhaps Thomas will be home before you know it.” Arthur’s gaze rested on Lillian. Had he encouraged her?
Lillian’s eyebrows went up. She clearly hadn’t thought of that.
“Either way, it’s fine news.” Arthur turned his attention back to his paper.
Lillian nodded and went back to her cross-stitch.
Gawonii picked up the most recent copy of the Cherokee Phoenix. He was not anxious to read it. A few of the council members had already made the effort to stop by his farm and report to him what they had read. But he needed to see it for himself. Holding the paper carefully, almost reverently, he made his way back home. He would read it with his wife. They would face this together.
As he entered his home, he found Inola awaiting his return. A solemn look in her eyes greeted him. She had made coffee for them both. The steaming cups set in front of their dining chairs.
Gawonii settled the paper in front of himself and began to read. This whole edition discussed the removal of the Choctaw.
“We were split into two groups. One to Memphis and one to Vicksburg. I was in the group that traveled to Memphis. We were to be transported by wagon, but flash floods made this impossible. The plan was then that five steamboats would ferry us to river-based destinations. But the rivers were clogged with ice for weeks. So, we remained in Memphis.
“Food ran low and there would be no travel for weeks. Sleet and snow covered us. Our daily ration consisted of a handful of boiled corn, one turnip, and two cups of heated water. Eventually, forty government wagons were sent to transport us to our new home. Nearly 4,000 of our number died on this journey from our ancestor’s land to the new land promised to us. Our chief called it a trail of tears and death. Truly it was. The group into Vicksburg has still not arrived. We pray for their safety each day.”
Gawonii finished reading and looked up. Tears streamed down Inola’s face. But she reached over and wiped at his cheeks. That was when he realized he cried, too.
Thomas made his way to the creek. Fresh water was needed for cooking dinner and for his washbowl. He read a puritan book of prayers as he walked. The simple faith of the puritans refreshed him every time he opened the book.
He heard the movement of the stream but resisted looking up, as he was in a particularly entrancing passage. The next thing he knew, he felt cold liquid on his leg and heard a woman’s voice.
“Watch where you’re going!” came the harsh admonishment.
Thomas all but dropped his book, apologizing as he tried to collect himself.
Nearly to the stream’s edge, the young woman had turned just as he was walking up. His appearance must have caused her to lose control of her bucket. So, water had spilled on her skirt and his pants leg. Now that he had taken in the situation, he looked up to meet the eyes of the young woman he had intruded upon.
His eyes met the deep brown ones of Adsila.
“Do you always walk about with your nose in a book?” Adsila said with a sharp tone, shaking her skirt.
“N-no,” he stammered. “I…I’m sorry. Let me refill your bucket for you.” He stuck his hand out to reach for it.
She jerked her bucket back, spilling more water on herself and then speaking in Iroquois. Her voice harsh and her face appearing just as disagreeable, he knew that whatever she said, it wasn’t good.
She spun around, back toward the creek, and bent down to fill her bucket again.
He kneeled next to her, dipping his own bucket in the stream.
“I truly am sorry,” he said with sincerity. “Not just for this, but for whatever I did to make you so mad at me.”
She said something else in Iroquois.
“I really don’t like it when all of you do that to me.” His voice was rougher then.
She stood straight up and fairly spat back at him. “Well, there are plenty of things about your people we don’t like.” With that, she turned on her heel and started walking away from him.
“What?” he fumbled, completely baffled by her retort. As quick as he could be, he was on his feet and going after her. “What is that supposed to mean?” he called after her.
“You are so close-minded,” she said, still a few steps ahead of him.
He quickened his pace to catch up. “If I’m so close-minded, why is it that I was willing to listen to your father speak of your religion, yet you won’t give me the courtesy to do the same?” he challenged her.
She turned on him then and stared, folding her arms in front of her chest.
He stopped in his tracks, startled by her reaction.
They stood staring at each other for several moments.
“Well?” she finally said.
“Well, what?” He tilted his head.
She let out a sigh and rolled her eyes as if she were dealing with a small, annoying child. “I will listen. Speak.”
“Is there something wrong with here?”
“I would prefer somewhere that’s not in the middle of the path.”
She let out another breath and took his arm, surprising him with the contact. He followed her to a nearby oak, strong, sturdy, and tall. She set her water bucket down and settled herself next to the large trunk.
He looked down on her for a moment, still taken aback by the happenings of the last few seconds.
She raised a hand and indicated the ground in front of her.
Thomas sat his water bucket down and slowly lowered himself into a cross-legged position in front of her.
“It begins,” he started, “With God. He created the heavens and the earth…” He told her as briefly as he could about Adam and Eve and how sin came into the world. He talked about Abraham and the promise. And he also talked about Jesus, the promised Messiah, who came and died for our sins, that we might once again commune with God and be righteous in God’s eyes.
Adsila listened, silent. It was the longest time they had spent in each other’s company without a harsh word.
He finished talking about Jesus’s resurrection, conquering death for all time, and that He would return one day to take those who had accepted Jesus’s gift of salvation to heaven. Once again, silence.
“There is a Cherokee legend about God, Ye ho waah. That Ye ho waah came down in the form of man. Just as you say.”
“I thought your Cherokee word for God was Uh-net-lahn-vee?” he tried.
“Unetlanvhi is the Great Spirit.”
“I don’t understand.” Thomas rested an elbow on his knee, leaning forward.
“The Cherokee believe in one God, Ye ho waah. But Ye ho waah consists of three ‘god heads’: the Great Spirit, Ye ho waah in the form of a man, and Ye ho waah.”
“So, do you worship three gods?”
She shook her head. “No, Ye ho waah is one.”
Thomas’s heartbeat quickened. His pulse raced. “This is very much like the Trinity”
She nodded. She could see it, too.
“Then perhaps they are one and the same”
“Perhaps,” she agreed, shrugging. “But I think the elders will have a harder time agreeing with you. Like Father, many are clinging to the last shred of our culture.”
Thomas nodded, his heart dropping.
Adsila shifted to get to her feet. “I must be going. Thank you for telling me.”
Thomas hurried to his feet. “Thank you for listening. And for telling me of Ye ho waah.”
Adsila nodded before she turned and walked away.
Thomas watched her go, glued to the spot and unable to look away.
Harry Corbell excused himself as he made his way over to sit next to his friend, Walter. They didn’t have much opportunity to talk at work, as their respective senators’ offices were not near each other. However, when they were here, in the Senate chambers, he often found his way over to sit near Walter. He, in truth, had little respect for Senator Frelinghuysen. In his opinion, the man hung on too tightly to his Christianity. That was no way for a politician to behave!
Harry’s opinion of Walter, however, was much different. Walter was loyal. He was a man of conviction. And the public liked that. Harry hoped that he could influence his friend to direct that loyalty toward the right goals and not be led down the path Frelinghuysen walked. A path Harry was certain would cause his political career to be short-lived.
Walter’s political career was just beginning, and Harry could see a lot of potential in him. Potential he could utilize for his own gain.
“Hey, Walter,” Harry said, settling in his seat.
“Hey,” Walter whispered back, but his attention seemed elsewhere. Following Walter’s gaze, Harry saw that he was engrossed in what transpired below on the Senate floor.
“What’s happening?” Harry leaned toward Walter.
“Shhh,” Walter cut him off.
Harry turned his attention to the goings on below but had a hard time following, as he had missed quite a bit.
After some of the senators spoke on the floor below the gallery where they sat, Walter finally leaned toward him. “Oh, it’s nothing important. That new financial bill.”
“Ah. Any discussion about the Indian situation?” He leaned closer to Walter.
“Some. Nothing of any consequence.” Walter waved a hand dismissively.
“Senator Jamison says that the President is very pleased with how the Choctaw removal went. He hopes to model the other removals after it.”
Walter turned to stare at Harry.
“What?” Harry leaned away.
“All those people, freezing in the cold with barely enough food to eat? And what about the Vicksburg group? Lost in the Lake Providence swamps for God knows how long with that incompetent government appointed guide”
“Come now, Walter. Stop being so melodramatic. They’re just…” he let his sentence trail off.
“Say it, Harry, say it. They’re just Indians. That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it?” Walter’s voice raised, and his face colored.
“Calm down,” Harry said, looking around, all too aware that they were drawing unwanted attention. “You’ve been listening to Senator Frelinghuysen a little too much.”
“And you’ve not been listening enough. You’re out of touch with reality if you think that was at all humane what happened to those people.” Walter pounded his fist against his thigh, his eyes and face tight.
“I’m going to urge you to calm down one more time,” Harry said, raising his chin and trying to exude a confidence he didn’t feel in that moment.
“Or else?” Walter challenged.
“Or else, I’m going to leave.” Harry held his chin up.
“No need.” Walter grabbed his papers and shoved it into his bag. “I’ll go.”
With that, Walter stood and made his way out of the Senate chambers, fuming as he went.
Thomas preparing himself for the school day. Leaning over the water bowl, he moved a blade across his face.
The door creaked.
He jerked his head toward the intrusion, nicking himself in the process.
Though he had been startled at first, he wasn’t altogether surprised to see Atohi standing in the open doorway. He had no respect for privacy.
“Ah, pretty pretty face!” Atohi’s mouth spread across his features.
Smiling back, Thomas nodded. Tempted to ask the man to knock next time, he bit his lip. It would be a waste of breath.
“What brings you to my humble cabin at this hour?” Thomas shifted his focus back to his water bowl to and raised his blade once more.
“Good, strong cabin,” Atohi argued. “Maybe small, but sturdy.”
“Yes, yes,” Thomas sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. Why did the man take everything so literally? “You are right.” He lifted his gaze to catch Atohi’s eyes. “That still doesn’t answer my question.”
Atohi arched a brow. “Come to see how school.”
Thomas waited for him to finish. But the silence lingered. Perhaps that was the entire statement. What could he mean—how school? How is school? Maybe.
He swallowed and supposed so. “It goes well,” Thomas said, making a final swipe with the blade before shifting to watch Atohi again.
The man eyed some of Thomas’s whittling projects displayed on a small shelf.
“I enjoy the children, and it seems they are learning.” Thomas closed the blade and set it down.
“Hope my son is good student.”
“Mohe? He is an excellent student.” Thomas splashed water on his face. The remainder of the soap dripped into the bowl. And all was removed with a thin towel.
“How you like life in village?” Now Atohi’s dark eyes were fixed on Thomas. Such intensity.
“I enjoy it more every day, I think. I have made a new acquaintance.” He dropped the towel by the bowl and quirked his mouth
Atohi’s features contorted into a rather quizzical expression. “Acquaintance?” The word came out a bit awkward.
“Acquaintance…friend. In English we use different words to describe friendships—close friends, best friends, and acquaintances—more distant friends.”
“Ah,” Atohi said, but he didn’t seem to understand.
“The farmer that lives over the hill, not far from the creek. I think his name is…” Why couldn’t he recall the man’s name?
“Gawonii.” Atohi rescued Thomas’s troubled memory. “I know. I have heard.”
“Heard?” Thomas’s eyebrows shot up. What should he make of that? “Good things? Or bad?”
Atohi shrugged. “Why must be good or bad? Why cannot just be?”
Thomas rolled his eyes. Atohi could be so aggravating. “His son, Tsiyi, is in my class, but the daughter, Adsila, is not.” His heart skipped a beat. Looking away from Atohi and busied himself with his satchel. Did his features betray his elevated interest? He hoped not.
“No. She is of age.”
“Of age?” Thomas paused, turning back toward his friend.
“To be wife.” Atohi smiled
“Ah,” Thomas tried to ignore the slight twinge that ran along his spine.
“She will make good wife. Good with herbs. Maybe best garden in whole village.”
“Really?” Thomas looked up from the books he loaded into his bag.
“Do not understand ‘really’.”
“It’s a question that means…” Thomas started, but lost his words. How did one explain ‘really’? “It’s not important.” He returned to his packing. But his thoughts were on Adsila.
Atohi’s deep voice broke in. “I think it is time to go to schoolhouse.”
Thomas glanced at his pocket watch and groaned. His students would be there before him.
School would not start for thirty minutes, but all his students came early. And if he wanted to be the first one at the schoolhouse, which he preferred, he had to get there…thirty minutes before school started.
“I thank you for your visit.” Thomas nodded at his friend as he rose to his full height.
Atohi nodded. “Wife expect you to dinner tonight.”
“Tell her I’ll be there.”
His frind nodded again and stepped out of the cabin, leaving Thomas rushing to pull himself together.
Adsila pulled her blue dress from its place in her nook. Tugging it on, she readied herself in a hurry. Her hands moved over the folds of the thin material, but her thoughts drifted to her conversation with Thomas the day before.
Father did not talk much about Ye ho waah in human form. This story about Jesus was new. Could it be true? All of it? Could there be sin in her that she must be saved from? Or was this only for the white man? She did not feel bad or evil. Wasn’t she a good person? Did she truly need saving?
The more she thought on it, the more questions arose. But, she pushed those thoughts to the side and focused on readying herself for the day.
Mere moments passed before she stepped into the great room, hair braided and face washed. She moved to the dish cabinet, pulling the small door open to reveal the modest plates.
Mother brushed past her, carrying steaming food to the table. She continued on to the door and, swinging it open, yelled for Father.
Tsiyi limped toward the dining room table, the uneven rhythm of his footfalls pulling Adsila’s attention briefly from her task.
Offering him a small smile, Mother pulled his chair out and spooned food onto his plate as soon as Adsila set it in front of him.
“Your ankle should have healed long ago. If you wouldn’t insist on playing so!” Mother clicked her tongue against her teeth.
He nodded, tilting his head down, his shoulders tucked.
Mother looked to Adsila. “You’ve been wearing that dress quite a bit lately.”
Adsila’s hands flew to the pleats at her waist. Why should she be favoring any dress in particular? If anything, she had trouble not over-wearing her red dress. Perhaps that’s it. She had focused on not wearing her red dress as much and started grabbing for the blue one.
Mother turned and heaped food onto Father’s plate.
Shrugging it off, Adsila filled her own plate. Then it struck her—this was the dress she wore the night Thomas Greyson came for dinner. He had said ‘nice dress.’ At the time, he meant to comment on having seen her wearing the deerskin dress earlier that day, but…
No, she was overthinking this. He was not the reason she donned this dress with greater frequency.
The door opened.
Father. Coming in from the field.
He sat, and they began their dinner ritual.
Still, thoughts of the dress and why she might be wearing it more often continued to nag her.
Charlotte Frelinghuysen walked up the stairs into her home. The exhausting day wore on her, but she had accomplished much. A women’s booster club meeting, a church fundraiser, and lunch out with her closest friend filled her morning hours. As she entered the house, she was assisted out of her coat by one of the housemaids.
“The senator is in his office,” the maid told her.
“Oh?” Charlotte tried to hide her surprise. Her husband rarely came home before dark, and to be home in the middle of the day was unheard of.
Charlotte looked up the stairs toward his office door. Did she dare intrude on the privacy of his office? Normally, the answer to that question would be a resounding ‘no,’ but this being a strange set of circumstances, she decided she must.
Climbing the stairs with measured steps, taking each stair quietly, she made her way up. It took no time at all before she stood at the door to her husband’s office. Knocking with the lightest rap possible, she held her breath.
“Come,” her husband’s deep voice said.
Pushing the door open, she stepped inside. He sat at his desk, hunched over some papers. She wished she could see his face, but he sat with his back to her.
“Darling?” Her voice sounded above a whisper. It still seemed as if she were violating some unspoken boundary between them.
“Charlotte” He turned, clearly not expecting her.
She held her breath.
“Charlotte, I’m glad you are home.” He stood and came over to greet his wife with a warm embrace.
She wrapped her arms around him, letting out her breath. Still, she remained unsure how to proceed on these unfamiliar terms, in his office, in the midst of the workday. What could possibly have happened?
“I understand you had quite the morning,” he commented as he pulled back to look at her.
“Yes, it was. But you,” she started, gaining confidence. “You’re home!”
His countenance darkened then. There were those lines on his face again.
“Please, tell me what has happened, Theodore.” Her voice softened.
“I do not wish to weigh you down with the details of…”
“But it burdens you, darling. Let me share that load with you.”
She could see that there was a war within him: the desire to protect her and the wisdom of what she was saying. Eventually, the wisdom won out.
Frelinghuysen took his wife’s hand and led her over to his desk. He indicated a seat nearby and he sat in his desk chair.
She sat as he had indicated. Her heart thumped loud in her chest, but she forced her features to remain calm.
“I’ve not been completely honest about what’s been happening with the Indians,” he said with measured words.
“Yes. I know you have read some things in the paper about the removal of the Choctaw, but I tell you, Charlotte, that’s not how it was.” His eyes focused on hers.
“Then tell me.” Her voice sounded small, even to her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear this.
He described what he knew of the conditions of the trip and the journey of the Choctaw. He told her of the sickness, of the death. Charlotte tried to remain as still and calm as she could though she felt tears sting her eyes. At some points, she fought the urge to stop him. But she let him continue.
“How can God let something like this happen?” She wiped at her eyes.
“He has put us in place to prevent this. To be the voice of the orphan and the widowed. Of the disabused and mistreated. And I failed.” He spoke of failure, but his face was not downcast. His features were strong and determined.
“But you did everything you could.”
“And I fear it’s about to happen again.” His voice was even as he spoke.
He drew his chair closer to hers. “The Creek Indians still living in Alabama have appealed to President Jackson. They are asking, well, pleading for protection from the state government.”
“What is Alabama trying to do?” She blinked a few times.
“They are attempting to get rid of tribal governments and extend state laws over the Indians. Their goal is to get their land. Somehow, some way.”
“Won’t the president help them? They are citizens, aren’t they?” Her voice was stronger than she would have expected.
“Not technically.” He lifted a hand to emphasize the last word.
“I thought that the Indians had been told that if they became civilized, they would be the same as citizens.”
“Yes, but not technically citizens.” He again emphasized the word ‘technically.’
“That won’t stop the president from helping the Indians, will it?” Her eyes glistened anew. She knew the answer, but hoped for reassurances that weren’t to come.
“Charlotte, there’s something you need to understand about President Jackson. He wants nothing more than to see all Indians abolished from our lands by whatever means necessary.”
“Lord, may it never be!”
“Yes, we need to pray. And pray hard. We need the Lord to show us His hand, His will.”
Thomas worked to clean the children’s slates. It was a mindless task. One that gave him the chance to think on other things. Was he reaching the young Cherokee? Would he? What kind of impact could he make on this village if the people despised him so?
The floor creaked. In the direction of the door.
Jerking his head, he set eyes upon Adsila.
She stood in the doorway, her gaze sweeping around the empty classroom.
His breath caught. Why had she come? To see him? No that wasn’t possible. For Tsiyi? Yes, that must be. To help Tsiyi hobble home.
He cleared his throat. “Mohe went with Tsiyi. Did you not pass them?” Maybe she had come to see him?
Her eyes met his. They were intense. But her features were tight, betraying nothing. “I came another way. By the stream.”
She did seem to enjoy being near the creek.
Silence fell between them. A somewhat uncomfortable silence.
Thomas set down the slate he had nearly finished cleaning and turned his body toward her.
“Thank you,” she said spinning and stepping through the door.
“Adsila,” he called, maneuvering around his desk.
She halted and half-turned. Facing him, one of her eyebrows rose.
He paused. Was that all the response he would get? Letting out a breath, he continued, “I wondered if you thought any more about our talk.”
“Our talk?” Her brows furrowed.
“About Jesus. About his sacrifice.”
“Oh.” She looked away. Was she thinking on it?
He held his breath, praying she did.
“No.” She turned her face toward his again.
What? How had she…? He caught her eyes.
She peered at him, almost into him. Was she waiting for his response?
Pushing aside his disappointment, he attempted to keep his voice even. “If you decide you want to talk about it, or have questions, my door is open.”
Her face contorted. “But your door was closed.”
Should he laugh or cry? Just like Atohi, so literal. “It’s an expression. It means ‘I’m always available to talk’.”
She searched his features. Was she not sure he spoke the truth?
After a few moments, she said, “I see. But there is no need. I have no questions. No talk needed.”
His brows met, but then sighed. “Just…I am here if you do.” He threw his hands up and turned back to his desk. Picking up a slate, he wiped at the chalk marks. She would be gone soon enough. Wshat had kept her here this long was a mystery to him.
“And what makes you think you have all the answers?” There was an edge to her voice.
When he looked up, he fought to keep his surprise from showing. She had come several paces into the room. How did she move so stealthily?
Keeping his voice in check, he said with an even tone, “I never said I have all the answers.” He continued to work on the slates, but he found it difficult. Why? Because she now stood a mere three feet away? “I only think I can answer some of the questions you may have about our talk.”
She arched a brow. “Oh? And if you have any questions…” She paused. Was she searching for her words? “You can ask someone else”
How dare she take the tone with him. What nerve to scoff at his well-intentioned offer! And he had only ever approached her with the kindest of manners. What had he done to deserve this?
“Don’t worry,” he shot back, thrusting the slate he held to the desk. “I will.”
He abandoned the cleaning altogether and, coming around the desk again, closed the gap between them. Why was he letting her get a rise out of him? How was it that she could draw such intense emotion out of him?
“Good. Because I don’t care what you think!” Her eyes flashed.
His breath quickened. Was the room spinning? But she remained at the center of it all: her and that blue dress. How was it that every time he saw her, she wore that blue dress? The same one he commented on that night he dined with her family.
He shouldn’t, but he leaned closer. Their faces were inches apart.
She didn’t pull away. But her hands curled into fists. Was he havin the same effect on her that she was on him? He could barely see straight. And he was certain his heart would thump right out of his chest.
The heat between their bodies was stifling. He had to resist the strong urge to crush her to himself. No, that would not end well.
He lowered his voice until it was not much more than a whisper. “If you don’t care what I think, why do you keep wearing that dress?”
Adsila opened her mouth.
Nothing came out.
He stared into her eyes. This was dangerous.
Her voice rang out between them. “Because I only have four.”
He pulled back. “Oh.”
Had he imagined everything? It had nothing to do with him? Naught but the product of a limited wardrobe?
He stepped back.
She let out a ragged breath. Had she been holding it?
When he looked at her, she caught her lower lip between her teeth.
He drew himself away and turned to his desk, his back to her. Leaning one arm on the classroom wall, he took several deep breaths. Only then had he truly regained control.
“Adsila, I…” he said as he turned.
But she was gone.
Trouble for the Upper Creeks
ATOHI CAME UPON the small house over the hill and near the creek. He waved at Adsila tending to her herbs in the side garden as he walked by. She smiled and waved back before turning her attention back to her plants.
Making his way to the door, he knocked. A moment later, Inola greeted him.
“Atohi, it is good to see you,” she said as she wiped her hands on her apron. “How is your wife?”
“She is well, but growing quite large as her time nears.”
“It won’t be long now, and you’ll be sharing those sleepless nights again.” Inola winked.
Atohi smiled. “I was here to speak with Gawonii. But I didn’t see him in the field.”
“He went into the center of the village for the paper. You know how he is. He should be back soon, though. Come in.” She stood to the side and welcomed him in. “I’ll make you some coffee.”
Atohi nodded and stepped in. He always enjoyed this particular home. He was surrounded by the most pleasant smells. Surely, the cook that inhabited this home was one of the best in the whole Cherokee nation.
Inola bustled about warming the water on the stovetop and setting out cups for herself, Atohi, and Gawonii. Atohi took a seat at the table and watched her move about the kitchen as if it were the most natural place for her. His own wife was a decent cook, but her place was definitely among the animals of their flock. Since she was most at home tending to the cows and chickens, Yona’s cooking could not compare to Iona’s. When the water reached its boiling point Atohi could almost taste the hot beverage he would be graced with. Creak. The noise came from the door as Gawonii entered the small cabin, his attention on the paper in his hands, brows furrowed.
Inola’s facial expression became one of great concern. “What is it?”
Gawonii closed the door behind himself, lest Adsila hear. They continued to try to keep her in the dark as much as possible. As he turned back toward Inola, his eyes landed on Atohi. His eyebrows shot up, and a smile touched his lips.
“Ah, Atohi, how are you?”
“I am well. And you, sir?” Atohi hesitated. Something weighed on the man in front of him.
“Well, but not at all pleased by the news we are getting these days,” he said, raising the paper into the air.
“I know. It is sobering. I haven’t had a chance to read the paper today, though.”
“Today’s paper reports of two Indian groups,” Gawonii shared, turning his attention back to the paper. “The Seminoles are at Payne’s Landing on the Ocklawaha River for treaty negotiation.”
“Treaty negotiation?” Atohi’s breath caught. “Will all Indians just give up their land? What about the Cherokee?”
“Surely not,” Gawonii said, jaw set. “I won’t. This land is part of my soul. I will stay and fight.”
“Please don’t talk like that.” Inola blotted at her eyes with the edge of her apron.
“We must start talk like this.” Gawonii hit the paper. “The Upper Creek Indians have just earlier this month signed a treaty. Their land will be divided into allotments.”
“Allotments?” Inola asked, clearly not understanding.
“Each Creek will own his own allotment and can sell or exchange as he pleases,” Gawonii attempted to explain.
“I still don’t trust the white man to be fair,” Atohi said, eyes narrowing. “They are devious.”
Gawonii remained silent.
Just then, Tsiyi stepped into the house, Adsila not far behind him. She was shaking dirt off herself, but her eyes were wide and her forehead wrinkled.
Inola rose from her seat. “Tsiyi What are you doing home? It is the middle of the school day.”
Tsiyi shrugged. “We were at recess, and three men with painted faces came. They began to talk with Mr. Greyson. He told us to go home. So, we did.”
It looked like the blood had drained from Adsila’s face, and she rushed out of the home.
Inola looked after her momentarily but turned back to Tsiyi. “These men, what did they look like?”
“They were Cherokee,” Tsiyi said. “With paint on their faces.”
“Tell me of the paint,” Gawonii said, his jaw set and eyes serious.
“Black across their eyes. Red streaks down their cheeks. And white on their foreheads,” Tsiyi said; he bit his lip and frowned. “Is everything okay?”
Atohi looked at Inola and Gawonii. He vocalized what they all knew to be true. “War paint.”
Adsila rushed into the schoolhouse. Overturned desks and chairs up-ended filled the room. Papers and books were scattered everywhere. Where was Thomas? Had they…?
Stepping farther into the room, she swallowed to keep from vocalizing her concern. Her knees trembled as she moved forward. Would they hold her? Closing her eyes, she breathed in. She had to be stronger than this.
The sound of another breath, drawn in, this one ragged, gave her hope. He was alive!
Her gaze moved around the space. Where was he?
As she came close to the chalkboard, she spotted his limp form, slumped against the back of his desk.
“Thomas?” Her voice shook. Stronger. You must be stronger.
A weak groan was his only response. He made no move to so much as turn in her direction. He was still. Too still.
“Thomas, please look at me,” she said, fighting the fear welling within. She took tentative steps toward him.
Pressing a hand to the floor and grasping for the top of the desk, he struggled. Was he attempting to stand?
“Thomas!” She rushed for him. Ducking under an arm, she helped him rise.
The guttural cry he emitted caused her stomach to knot. Did she truly care so much?
Would he now face her? She looked at him, but could see only a portion of his profile.
He passed a few labored breaths.
How could it be that they pained her too?
Turning his head, he caught her eyes.
As much as his gaze tempted her, she could not keep from examining the wounds marring his features. Blood seeped from the corner of his bruised lip. A red gash over one of his eyebrows stretched to his hairline. Swollen patches on his jaw promised bruises in the days to come.
He attempted to turn away. Was her stare too much?
She grabbed his shoulders.
Were there bruises under his clothing as well?
She jerked her hands back. Had she hurt him?
Still, she could not help herself. She needed to see him. Lifting two fingers to his jaw, she turned his face back toward her. “Thomas, what happened?”
He shook his head and looked down.
“Please.” She stretched her hand across his cheek, urging him to look at her once more. “Tell me.”
“So fast.” He let out a breath. “It all happened so fast.” His eyes held hers. “And I don’t even know who they were.”
Her heart sank. The attack was no mystery. Tsiyi had spoken of Cherokee in war paint. Who else could it have been? Cherokee traditionalists, on the warpath, seeking revenge wherever they could find it.
She frowned, working to keep her anger out of her features. While it was true that white settlers were brutalizing her people needlessly, it didn’t give these men the right to beat Thomas.
Her resolve melted.
Thomas wasn’t responsible.
Not for the poor treatment of the Cherokee. Not for the Indian Removal Act.
None of it.
Her eyes met his again. And the close proximity of their bodies became uncomfortable. She took one step back.
“Adsila?” He searched her eyes. “Do you know something?”
“I…” The words wouldn’t come. Many emotions coursed through her, none that she could put a name to. But not one of them spoke of hate. How was it that she didn’t hate Thomas after all? Rather there was something more in her heart she couldn’t understand. Something warm. And unnerving.
She found her voice. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Taking his hand, she grabbed the cloth he used to clean the slates. Careful to take slower steps, she led him out of the schoolhouse and toward the creek. Drawing him to sit down by the stream alongside her, she faced him. And, dipping the cloth into the cool water, she brought it to his lip.
He startled and pulled back, but leaned toward her again and allowed her to press the clot to heis wound once more.
She continued to work, wiping all traces of blood from his face.
He stared into her eyes as she did so.
This, too, she found both pleasing and unsettling.
After she cleaned the last cut, she leaned back. “There,” she said, as she let the cloth fall into her lap. Her eyes, no longer occupied with his injuries, found his. Could she read his thoughts? How was it that she found herself so fearful of her own?
Thomas cleared his throat.
“Thank you.” He reached forward and touched her hand.
She looked down at their overlapping fingers. How could she face hi with her next words? “I am so sorry…for what happened.”
He ducked his head. Was he attempting to catch her eyes? “Why? You are not responsible.”
She looked at him. So kind. So gentle. “But it was an act of my people. Taking out their anger for the white man on you.” Tears stung her eyes.
“Do you think I am responsible for what is happening to your people?” His voice was soft and kind. Too kind.
And she knew. In that moment it was clear. He had known about her anger toward him. Despite her tears, she turned to meet his eyes again. But she saw no accusations there, only sympathy.
“No.” And she believed that with every part of her being.
He exhaled, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he spoke, “You are no more responsible for the actions of your people than I am for the actions of mine.”
She nodded, basking in his grace. He had every right to turn her earlier anger toward him back against her now. Only he didn’t. And then she understood why she needed Jesus. While it may be true that her life was full of good things, there were things in her life and in her soul that were sinful. Her anger toward Thomas was but one example.
She needed God’s forgiveness.
She needed His grace.
Thomas’s face twisted, and he held his side.
“What is it?” She leaned forward, laying a hand on his shoulder.
He held up a hand. “Just a muscle cramp.”
“We must get you to the medicine man.”
“I don’t think…”
She gave him a look she hoped invited no argument.
He nodded his surrender.
Lillian Greyson was well pleased. So far, two Indian groups had signed treaties, and one more was in the works. It did seem as if her son would be home soon. But tonight, they would not focus on that. Tonight would be about her oldest son, Phillip. He had accepted a promotion to partner at his law firm. It was very exciting, to say the least. So, Phillip, his wife, Clara, and their two children would be dining with Arthur and Lillian tonight.
Even now, Lillian put the finishing touches on the table arrangements. Everything was ready. And just in time. They would be here any minute.
“Could you go tell Mr. Greyson that it is time to gather in the parlor?” she asked the housemaid.
The maid nodded and headed out of the room.
Just then, the door chimed. Lillian moved toward the entrance in time to hear the butler greeting her son and his family.
“Dearest Phillip!” Lillian said, coming around the corner with open arms.
“Mother!” Phillip opened his arms for her embrace.
Lillian couldn’t help but think of Thomas for a moment while in Phillip’s embrace. Was he warm? Being cared for? Did he have friends? As she pulled back from Phillip’s shoulder, she pushed the thoughts of Thomas from her mind and turned her attention to the children in her midst.
“Come give Grandma some love.” She leaned down and extended her arms toward them.
The two brown-haired children stepped into her waiting hug.
As she stood back up, Clara put a hand on her shoulder. “How are you, Mrs. Greyson?”
“Quite well, thank you. And you’re looking well”
“Thank you. I’m trying a new hairstyle.”
“It’s very becoming,” Lillian said, hoping her voice did not betray her true thoughts. Clara’s hair looked ridiculous. Far too elaborate for any everyday style, she might as well have been going to see the queen of England in that up-do. Curls everywhere. And Lillian wagered about a thousand pins to keep it stable.
“Ah, there’s the man of the hour!” Arthur said from the top of the stairs. They looked up to watch him descend toward them.
“Grandpa!” the children called.
He pulled them into his arms once he reached the bottom of the stairs.
“I think we should all move into the parlor where there’s more room,” Lillian suggested.
Everyone followed her as she made her way to the family parlor. The children ran to their corner of the room. Lillian always made sure to pull out some games and toys for them. The adults were then free to enjoy the sitting area and converse until the butler called them for dinner.
The men launched into conversation about politics and the happenings of the day, leaving Lillian and Clara to each other.
“So,” Lillian said, looking over at Clara, hunting for something to say. “Anything new with you?”
“No. The children take up much of my time. And with Phillip’s promotion, I would like to think we will see more of him, but I doubt that will be the case.”
“What fills your day while the children are in school?” What could she possibly be doing with her time?
“You know, I enjoy painting and sewing. I keep up with the house and correspondence with my family. I do wish I had some other outlet.” The last word came out a bit shaky.
“You should come join me at the women’s booster club. It would be a good opportunity for you to get out of the house and into the community” Lillian tried to be helpful, but she and Clara never did have the best relationship. Maybe inviting her into her own booster club was a mistake.
“That sounds like something I would be interested in.”
There was a silence between them for a few moments.
“How is Emma and her newest addition?” Clara tried a new subject, inquiring after Phillip and Thomas’s sister.
“Oh, the new little one is absolutely delightful. But I know Emma is tired.”
Clara excused herself to check on the children, and Lillian began to pick up on the conversation between the two men.
“I read that seven Seminole chiefs went to inspect the new reservation before signing a treaty,” Arthur was saying.
“I bet all of Washington D.C. is holding its breath. None of the other tribes have been so bold.” Phillip let out a stiff a laugh.
“I don’t know that President Jackson has anything to worry about.” Arthur spoke with a more serious tone. “What are the Indians going to do even if they don’t like what they find? They can’t realistically stay here forever.” Arthur stressed the word ‘realistically.’
“What do you mean? It’s their land. Why can’t they stay as long as they please?” Phillip’s confusion played on his face.
“It’s not that simple. Did you read about the treaty the Creek Indians signed?”
“Yes. I thought it was a fair treaty. It gave the Indians a chance to decide for themselves and their families if they wanted to sell their own land.” Phillip’s tone matched Arthur’s.
“Have you not also read that squatters and land speculators are defrauding the Creeks out of their allotments? There’s been fighting and all manner of violence breaking out because of it.”
Phillip raised a brow. “And what is the governor doing about it?”
Arthur shrugged. “Nothing, as far as I know. No reports of any intervention by the governor or the state militia. And President Jackson is taking a hand’s off approach to this one, it seems.”
“How will all of this affect Thomas?”
“Thomas?” Lillian joined the conversation, a lilt to her voice.
“I was just wondering what affect all this business with the Indians will have on Thomas where he is,” Phillip explained.
“He’s with the Cherokee. We’ve heard nothing of the Cherokee in the news,” Arthur spoke up quickly. He gave Phillip a sharp look.
“That’s right,” Phillip nodded toward his father. He then turned toward his mother. “I’m sure Thomas is doing well. Have you heard from him lately?”
“We heard from him a while ago. He is doing well. He wrote to us of his students and the connections he is making. We’re so proud of him.”
“That’s great, Mother. I’m really glad to hear he’s thriving.”
At that moment, the butler entered the parlor and announced dinner.
“Shall we?” Lillian stood, hands clasped to hold them steady. All this talk, and her poor Thomas…
Arthur stood. “We shall.” He reached over for Lillian’s hand and escorted her out of the room.
Dinner waited. Thomas was fine. Warm. Happy.
Then, why the trembling hands? Lillian swallowed the lump in her throat and held tight to Arthur.
Adsila leaned back, angling her body toward the sky. The heat covered her skin. Closing her eyes, she sighed as the rays bathed her. She soaked up the light much as her plants did. Would it rejuvenated her the same? Couldn’t she just sit here forever? Why couldn’t life be as simple as her garden? Without complications?
But it wasn’t.
And she couldn’t pretend it was.
Mother and Father must not realize how thin the walls of their small cabin truly were. Their words penetrated her solitude. Would she rather not know?
Her heart poured hot liquid. Tiny rivers formed on her face.
Yes, she mourned for the Choctaw, the Creek, and even more…for what may happen to her people.
The wind lifted her braid slightly. Would it carry her fears away?
She exhaled into the wind.
Could He hear her? She had never prayed to the Christian God.
God, are you there? Do you care about my people? Didn’t you care about the Choctaw? The Creek?
Thomas says You care, but You allowed them to be…
What? What words to put to it?
If You are almighty and all-powerful, could You not have stopped it?
Thomas’s voice came to her, “God has a plan in all things. We don’t always understand, but if we look for it, we can see His hand.”
Is that true, God? Could this be Your plan?
A shudder shook her shoulders.
If so, I’m not sure I want any part of You. A good God would not allow such suffering.
“God is unchanging. God is love. God is good.” Thomas’s voice continued in her head. “We cannot lean on our own understanding. Our perception is imperfect.”
Could Thomas be wrong? A part of her wanted to believe, but what she saw around her didn’t fit the idea of a loving, merciful God.
Thomas had said God was big enough for her questions. She gazed toward the clouds.
Help me understand. If You truly are who Thomas says You are, help me understand.
A man cleared his throat behind her.
She jerked her head around, nearly losing her balance. She caught herself just short of falling face first in the dirt.
Thomas stood by the fence, a half grin on his face. How long had he been there?
“Thomas! I…” she said, trying to stand up. Had she been praying out loud? What had he heard?
“I didn’t mean to intrude.” But his smile widened to cover his entire face.
Her features warmed. He must have heard everything.
Once the dirt was beneath her feet and her dress smoothed over, she raised her eyes to meet his again. “I’m sorry, when did you…where did you…?”
She couldn’t even form a sentence. Swearing briefly in her native tongue, she cursed her tongue-tie.
His eyes were bright. Amused?
“I didn’t wish to disturb you. You seemed so peaceful.”
She folded her arms over her chest and looked toward the ground. Couldn’t she become a bird and fly away?
“But I didn’t want to eavesdrop either.” He tilted his head and caught her eyes. “Honest.”
She glanced at what a picture he made, hunched over and head cocked to the side. He looked like his body was disjointed. A little laugh escaped her lips.
He straightened and chuckled, too. Did he know what a sight he was?
Either way, it felt good to share a laugh.
“You’re not intruding.” She stepped toward him, maneuvering out of the small gate to stand next to him. “I was just thinking.”
He nodded, but his gaze drifted to something in the distance. Where were his thoughts?
“Did you need to speak with my father? I can fetch him.” She turned in the direction of the house.
“No,” he said, placing a hand on her arm.
She glanced at the place where he made contact. Why did his touch heat her skin so?
He pulled his hand back. Did he think he had offended?
“I, um, came to talk to you.”
“Me?” What would he need with her? While they’d had their share of interactions, it was always a result of them being thrown together. Single men only sought maidens out for one reason.
“I need to ask a favor.” He shoved both hands in his pockets.
What kinds of favors did white men ask maidens for? She leaned against the fence post. Her stomach turned.
“I need to be away. Only for a few days. I wondered if you could…if you wanted to…if you’d be willing to…take up teaching at the school? Just until I get back.”
A knot pinched in the pit of her stomach. “You’re leaving?”
His gaze leveled on her, his blue eyes darker than she had ever seen. Was he weighing some decision?
Finally, he spoke. “The state of Georgia has passed a law that prohibits white men from living on Indian land without a state license.”
She shook her head. State law? What could this mean? Keeping white men off Indian land? Wasn’t this a good thing? Except…except it would mean all the missionaries, the teachers, any aide would be forced to leave.
One of the missionaries, Samuel Worcester, believes this law is a way the state is taking power form the Cherokee Nation. Passing a law to tell them how to manage their own territory. Twelve of us missionaries are going to New Echota to protest.”
“You and other white men are going to protest your government for the sake of the Cherokee?” Her eyes widened. There was a strange sensation high in her chest. Not unpleasant exactly.
“Of course.” His eyes searched her features. “What they are doing is not right. Your people should be allowed to govern yourselves. The Cherokee have a governing system. It’s not as if it’s anarchy down here.”
The tingling in her chest intensified and filled that space until it seemed it would burst she was so…happy? But why did the knot in her stomach continue to tighten?
“So, will you?” His eyes were bright, his voice soft and low.
“Will I what?” What had he asked her again?
“Will you take charge of the school while I’m gone?”
“Do you think I am the most qualified?” Her brows furrowed. “What about Atohi?” She could not be the most suitable replacement.
“Not the most qualified? I think you could teach the children a lot about herbs and gardening. You have the best English in the village. Besides, Atohi’s wife will deliver any day now.”
Her face heated all the more. Such compliments! But he was right about Yona.
“If you are certain. I will accept.” She managed to make her mouth broaden into a smile she wasn’t sure she felt.
“I am certain.” He placed a hand on hers.
And it came—that silence in which they just stared at one another. What was he thinking? Drawn into those blue-gray eyes, she found it difficult to think. And, try as she might, she could not tear herself away.
Thomas disrupted their gaze by turning, and then pulled his hand away.
She gripped the fence to keep from swaying toward him. Did he notice?
“Thank you, Adsila. I am much relieved to know I leave the classroom in good hands.”
She offered him a weak smile. Her thoughts and emotions were too tangled for anything more. “When will you leave?”
“Three days from now.”
The knot tightened. It was unbearable now. She placed a hand over her middle.
“Could you come to the schoolhouse tomorrow? It would give me a chance to tell you where we are in math, reading, and science.”
She nodded, afraid to speak, afraid of what she may say.
“I’ll be going, then.” He turned.
What was she going to do? Could she let him walk away? Her heart thundered. And her throat tightened as his steps carried him away from her.
“Dinner?” she called.
“What?” He spun, an eyebrow quirked.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” She let out a long breath.
He smiled. “Love to.”
Walter Buckner moved his pen across the paper. Today, he was answering constituent mail. It was not his favorite part of his job, but he believed it was necessary. The senator’s staff must not forget the men whose votes got Frelinghuysen here, and, by extension, them.
The Indian issue was a hot topic right now. Some wanted Frelinghuysen to support the removal of the Indians, but many who voted him in because of his political bend, were encouraging him to keep fighting for their Christian duty to the Indians. The more this political debacle continued (there was no other word for it), the more Walter was sure it would forever tarnish the reputation of Jackson’s presidency.
Mabel, Frelinghuysen’s secretary, stopped by Walter’s desk.
“Here’s some more mail for you.” She placed a stack of opened envelopes on his desk.
“Thanks, Mabel.” He didn’t even look up from his current letter.
“I think you may be taking all of this a little too…” Mabel started.
Walter looked up. “A little too?”
“I don’t know. Seriously?” She posed the question to him. But it was more of a statement.
“Seriously?” he repeated.
“Look, I know this is a stepping stone for your career. So, you have to take it seriously. But you’ve taken this whole Indian issue one step further.”
“It’s a serious issue, Mabel.”
“Isn’t it enough that it weighs on the Senator so much? Do you have to carry such a burden, too?”
“I think that not enough people are taking it seriously,” Walter said in as gentle a tone as he could, but his voice was rising.
“What do you mean by that?”
“People are dying, Mabel. By the hundreds. And here we sit in our comfy offices, sipping coffee, worrying that we might be taking things too seriously.”
“I was just trying to help,” Mabel offered.
His volume dropped, and his voice calmed again. “I know. I just think we all need a good dose of reality around here. It’s not enough and too much all at the same time, you know?”
“No. I really don’t know.”
Walter grunted. “Maybe it’s just me.”
“Maybe it is.” Mabel shrugged. “Maybe you need a day or two off. Stress getting to you.”
“Maybe,” Walter conceded. He was done trying to convince her.
Thomas gazed at the men in the room around him. Many of them knew each other. He, being new to his placement, had yet to become acquainted with the other missionaries on this field. But he took some comfort in knowing that they were all here for the same reason. They had one shared purpose.
It wasn’t long before a man approached him. The man had a long nose, dark eyes set deep in his face, and a wide, thin mouth. Short, dark hair topped his head. Stopping just short of Thomas, the man stretched out his hand.
“Welcome to New Echota. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“I don’t believe we have. I’m Thomas Greyson.” Thomas slid his hand into the man’s.
“Samuel Worcester.” The man shook his hand heartily. “I’ve heard good things about you Thomas. You showed a lot of promise at Andover Theological Seminary.”
“Thank you, Mr. Worcester. It is an honor to meet you. I’ve heard plenty about you as well.”
“Please, call me Samuel. How are you finding your field?”
That’s interesting. Jumping right to the meat of it. “I am adjusting well, I think. Finding the Cherokee rather resistant to any semblance of a new religion.”
Worcester nodded. “I encountered similar challenges early on.”
Thomas’s eyes lit up. “How did you overcome them?”
“You just have to be patient. And prayerful. Remember, it is God Who works on the heart. You are there to bear the message.”
Thomas nodded, Worcester was right. “I have had an interesting conversation or two with an Indian maiden in the village. She had enlightened me to some of the Cherokee beliefs about Ye ho waah. Is there any possibility that the God they worship and our God is one and the same?”
“I have wondered the same thing and have no answer for you. It is best that they come to a right understanding of Christ, in my opinion.” Worcester’s eyes lingered on Thomas, they seemed to peer into Thomas’s soul.
“I understand,” Thomas said, nodding. “This maiden, Adsila, seems to be slowly coming around to that understanding. I cannot be certain, but I believe I see something happening in her heart.”
Worcester’s eyes remained hard on Thomas, and after some moments, softened. “I should caution you about your entanglements with the maidens in the village. It may be best that you work on the men and children and let them spread the message to the young women.”
Thomas’s brows furrowed. “I don’t…” he started.
“Just a thought,” Worcester interrupted. “Now, someone had best call this meeting to order. And I suppose that someone is me. It was nice to meet you, Thomas. May God continue to bless your work.”
With that, Worcester moved away and toward the front of the room. Then, speaking in a loud voice, he called for the attention of all the missionaries. But Thomas wasn’t listening. He was too deep in thought about what Worcester had just said to him. Was he getting too close to Adsila? There had been looks, glances, touches…but nothing sinful. And he had to admit there was a stirring within him. But was it wrong, as Worcester had suggested? They were both unattached. Or was Worcester referring to the fact that she was Cherokee and he was white? Surely not.
Shifting his focus, he tried to take in what Worcester was saying. He spoke of the plight of the Cherokee, which they all knew about. And of this recent law. Then he opened the floor for suggestions.
“I think we should protest in the capitol!” one man shouted.
“But what kind of message would that send?” another said.
“We ought to go about this peaceably,” a tall red-haired man said.
“Jesus wasn’t too peaceable about running the merchants out of the temple!” the first man said.
“I don’t think we should encourage any level of violent protest,” the second man inserted.
“What’s violent about standing at the capitol stairs with signs?” the first man spoke out again.
“You know those types of protests aren’t apt to stay so calm. They for sure aren’t viewed with high regard,” the man with the red hair argued. “What about a petition or a resolution?”
Several men spoke at the same time, many in agreement.
“What’s to say the governor won’t just throw it in the trash?” the first man brought up.
“What’s to say he won’t?” the man with the red hair shot back.
Things were becoming heated.
Worcester raised his arms. “Gentlemen,” he called over the congregation.
“It seems to me that we have two choices before us: a verbal protest at the capitol or a written protest in the form of a resolution. Are we prepared to vote?”
There were mumbles around the room, but a general state of agreement. So, Worcester called for those in favor of the verbal, physical protest. Only four raised their hands. When he asked for those who supported the resolution on paper, the remaining seven raised their hands, including Thomas. He was in no way in favor of anything that could be misconstrued as violent. And so, it was done.
Worcester drew up the resolution and they all penned their names to it. They then prayed over the petition and were dismissed.
Governor George Rockingham Gilmer sat at his desk. A handful of his staff assembled around him, prepared to do his bidding. On his desk sat the resolution that had been signed by twelve Cherokee missionaries at New Echota. It enraged him. His face burned hot. How dare they oppose him!
“Sir,” his chief of staff spoke up. “Shall we take the resolution before the Senate?”
“I think it needs to go before the House,” another staff member said.
“Or maybe forward it on to the president,” someone else piped in. “Let him take the political nose dive for it.”
“No” Gilmer shouted. “No, no, no, no, no. This is the law and they will abide by my laws! If they won’t get a license, arrest them. Arrest them all.”
Thomas waved an arm over Adsila’s plant. “Thank you, for teaching us more about your plants.”
The children clapped for Adsila.
“And thank you for teaching us so many things these last several days while I was away.”
Adsila bowed her head toward the class before stepping out of Thomas’s way.
“Now, boys and girls,” he addressed the group. They had gathered at the front of the class where they could see the plants better. “Where does the plant get the water?”
“From the rain,” one student replied.
“That’s right, from the rain. Does rain always fall calmly from the sky?” He looked up at the ceiling.
“No. Sometimes it’s a big storm,” another, older student replied.
“Does the plant still need that rain?” Thomas ran his fingers through the leaves.
“Yes,” several students said together.
“Does the plant understand what a storm is?”
They were silent for a moment.
“No,” one student shouted out.
“What about us? When God sends a storm, say, a hard time into our lives, do we always understand?” He held his hands out, palms open to them.
There was silence.
“No. We’re not always going to understand. But He will send rain, or blessings we need for growth, in the midst of that storm. We must endure the storm to receive the needed rain. Just like the plant. We can know two things: that God is with us through the storm and that He has a plan to grow us.” He held two fingers out.
Several blank faces stared back at him.
A small sigh escaped his lips. He smiled at his class. They will learn…in time. “That may be enough for today. Let’s go back to our seats and gather our things.”
The children stood and made their way back to their seats as instructed. Thomas turned his attention to Adsila, smiling.
Just then, the door to the schoolhouse burst open and a handful of soldiers filed in.
Thomas stepped in front of Adsila. “Gentlemen, this is a schoolhouse full of children. This is no way to conduct your business.” He held his arms up and stepped forward in an attempt to distract the men from the children.
“Trust me, Mr. Greyson,” the leader said. “We have no interest in the Indian children. Just you.”
“Me?” He dropped his arms. At least the children would be safe.
“You have violated Georgia law by living on Cherokee land without a state license. We are here to arrest you,” he said in a gruff voice, stopping just short of Thomas and Adsila.
Adsila wrapped an arm around one of his.
Another of the soldiers stepped forward and took Thomas’s other arm.
“Adsila,” Thomas looked over at her. “Please get the children out of here.”
She opened her mouth. But soon closed it and released his arm, stepping around him.
Adsila spoke in Iroquois, and the children scattered with Adsila right behind.
The soldiers, for their part, barely afforded them one glance.
“Thank you,” Thomas said to the militia’s leader, once Adsila and the children were out of the schoolhouse. “For waiting. I will come with you willingly.”
“Yes, Mr. Greyson, you will,” the leader said, a gleam in his eye.
Arthur Greyson took slow steps down the hall toward the parlor. How was he going to share this news with his wife? How would he contain her reaction? She would be overcome at the news. But tell her, he must. So, he took a deep breath and stepped into the parlor.
Lillian Greyson sat on the sofa with her book. She looked up as he entered the room. “Arthur, what brings you down to the parlor at this hour?”
He sat next to her and took the book from her hands. Laying it aside, he grasped her hands in his.
“Arthur, what is it? You’re scaring me.” Her eyes were wide and her mouth drawn.
“Lillian, it’s Thomas.” He started in a measured, calm voice. “Something has happened…” he tried to continue, but she burst into his sentence.
“Oh, dearest Lord, it cannot be! Not my Thomas!” Her hands flew to her mouth.
“Quiet now, Lillian! Let me finish. He is well. He has just been arrested.”
“Arrested?” One hand remained over her mouth, the other landed over her heart.
“Yes, apparently the state of Georgia passed some law about white men living on Indian land, and he refused to acquire the proper license.”
“Why?” The word was barely audible.
“I don’t know all the details. But Phillip is going down to Georgia to do whatever he can to help in his defense.”
All in all, she reacted better than he’d expected.
“Well, I’m going, too!” She found her voice. The statement was strong.
“Come now, Lillian, you must see that you cannot. The best thing we can do for Thomas is to stay here and pray. He doesn’t need us distracting him right now.”
“I won’t distract him, Arthur. He needs his mother.” Her hands were on the lapels of his jacket. She was pleading with him. Now, this was the reaction he had expected.
“Lillian, I won’t allow it. Now, stop talking like that,” he said, rougher than he’d intended.
Lillian remained silent, but tears streamed down her face.
He spoke in a gentler tone then, as he wrapped an arm around her shaking shoulders. “I know this is hard for you, darling. It’s hard for me, too. But we have to trust Phillip. We have to trust God.”
Theodore Frelinghuysen put down his paper. It was incredible, just incredible.
“More tea, dear?” Charlotte asked.
“No, thank you,” he said, setting his paper to the side. Jackson’s re-election campaign was in full swing. He was touting himself as a hero. The Republicans were painting him as a self-appointed king. However, the thing that disturbed Frelinghuysen was the emphasis of the campaign and the focus of everyone’s attention these last few weeks: the banks. How absurd.
“Something troubling?” Charlotte asked as she worked her needlepoint.
“This campaign of Andrew Jackson’s.”
“I saw an interesting political cartoon the other day. What was it? Something about a hickory stick.” She laughed. “Oh, I wish I could remember what it was.”
“Hmmm,” he mumbled.
“Do you think he’ll be re-elected after this business with his cabinet all resigning over Mr. John…oh, what’s his name?”
“John Eaton,” Frelinghuysen said flatly.
“Terrible business, if you ask me. Shameful!”
His wife spoke of an affair between a married woman and a man that Andrew Jackson appointed to his cabinet. The couple insisted that they were just friends until her husband died, and the two married following his death. The whole thing was suspicious.
“But, Andrew Jackson’s marriage was quite the scandal itself,” Charlotte continued.
Frelinghuysen remained quiet, but he knew what his wife referred to. Rachel, Jackson’s wife, married him before her divorce to her first husband was final.
“That White House, I tell you, full of scandal.”
Frelinghuysen stood and walked over to the window. His eyes moved over the gardens beyond, enjoying the greenery of summer. Sometimes his wife did walk the line of a gossiper. He wanted neither to encourage her nor upset her by pointing it out for the hundredth time.
“Theodore? Is everything all right?” She put her work down and looked over at him.
“Yes,” he called back to her. “Everyone is caught up in this whirlwind of scandals. The banks. His cabinet. His wife. I just wish there was more to be done for the Indians. I wish more people were concerned. Seems we’ve all moved on to the next issue, while they are still suffering.”
He didn’t turn to look at her, and she was silent behind him for several moments.
“You can’t make people care,” she said in a soft voice.
“I know. But I wish I could make people aware.”
Adsila made her way home after a long day at school. It wasn’t that the children wore on her, but something else. There were reminders of Thomas everywhere. She thought about him when she taught, when she cleaned, even as she walked to and from the schoolhouse. And at night, she did not have peace. Her mind continued to dwell on thoughts of how he must be faring.
The school became the place where she poured all her energy each day, every day. She gave the children everything she had in herself to give, just as Thomas would want her to. But she wasn’t able to talk to them about God. Not like Thomas.
Often, she thought about what he had said about storms and rain. Was God growing her through some sort of trial? If so, she wished she could see Him more clearly. Her heart ached for the struggles she faced. First, to know that within the next few years her people faced removal from their land in some manner, and second, to know that her friend, Thomas, was in pain somewhere. He was suffering for taking a stand for her people.
Lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t realized how close she was to home. The familiar sights of the farm and her garden were now in plain view. In no time, she was opening the door and entering the small house.
Once inside, she came face to face with her mother and father. She quite nearly smacked into them. They had been waiting on her. Tsiyi was nowhere to be found.
“Adsila,” Father said in a low, solemn voice. “Please, sit.”
“Has something happened to Tsiyi?” Her heart raced.
.” Her father repeated. This time he pulled out a dining chair for her.
No need to argue. She slid into her chair across the table from where Mother now stood.
“What is it, Father? What’s happened?”
“It is Thomas Greyson,” Father said, his voice gentle and his eyes sad.
Adsila’s heart sank. She felt tears prick at her eyes. She looked at Mother. Her face was downcast as well.
“The missionaries have been convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labor at the state penitentiary in Milledgeville.” Father’s eyes remained on Adsila, his words came slowly.
All the blood drained from Adsila’s face. She couldn’t speak. Her mouth was dry. But her eyes were full of moisture.
Mother reached over to lay a hand on her arm.
“How?” Adsila squeaked out.
“It will be as the Great Spirit wills it,” Father said.
How could that be right? How could the Great Spirit, or God, or either one will such a thing? She knew what Thomas would say — that she must have faith. She would only see God’s hand if she had faith.
May it be as You will, God.