By Arline Chase
The Drowned Land, is a collection of the first stories Chase ever wrote and was first published as an anthology by ebooksonthe.net in 1999 . The anthology became an Epic Award finalist that year. The title novella won the Maryland Governor’s Award for fiction in 1980, but was not published for another two years, finally being serialized in Chesapeake Bay magazine. “A Man’s Share” and "Bond of Gold" also appeared there. Others of the stories appeared in several little and literary magazines that are no longer in publication.
Characters featured in the stories,many are based on family history eventually made their way into Chase's first novel, Killraven.
ISBN 978-1-59431-952-9 Historical Fiction / Short Fiction/ Maryland/ Chesapeake Bay
Also available in RTF and HTML formats.
THE DROWNED LAND
“Got any of your strawberry preserves, darling? They’d go right good with these pancakes.” James grinned at his plain but pleasant-faced wife. Lottie, six years his senior, had long been considered a spinster before their marriage.
There were some people on the island who thought it was because, as the only living child Tyrus Bolden had, Lottie was heir to a l50 acre farm, the skipjack Monnye B, and a half-interest in the island lumber mill, where James had worked the spring before. But whatever his motives, the young man seemed genuinely fond of his wife.
“That looks some good.” James dug his spoon into the sugary red fruit and licked his lips in anticipation. “Won’t be nothing’ like that aboard the dredger. “I’m going to miss your cooking, Lottie.”
“Oh, James, you can take a couple of jars with you.”
“Won’t be the same without the company,” James said with a wink.
“I do wish that you’d sail closer to home.” Lottie's mother, Monnye, spoke clearly across the table. “At least so’s you could get back on the weekends, Tyrus. It’s hard on the young’uns to be apart for so long a time. How do you ‘spect their family to come, when you haul James off to Tolchester for the whole winter looking for fatter oysters.”
“Monnye we talked about this before. The bottoms around here is scraped near-about clean a shellfish. We can make out a lot better up north. They got plenty time to raise young’uns. You was forty-six when Lottie was born.”
“I know that.” Monnye’s eyes twinkled. “But if Lottie was to wait that long, I’d be 92 before ever I clapped eyes on a grand-baby. I ain’t prepared to hold off that long.”
“Ain’t asking you to. Only thing is I need to make a good season’s catch. The saw mill needs a new engine that’s going to cost a pretty penny. Sage Proudfoot’s got the store, so he’s always got cash money on hand for his half—me, I only got the farm and a boat. Cash ain’t so easy to come by.”
Tyrus bit into a crisp piece of bacon, crunching the rind
between his mail order teeth.
“It was a sorry day to me when you bought into that mill.” Monnye waved a gnarled finger at her husband.
“Your eighty-six years old Tyrus! You got no business sailing off the whole winter long like a young man.”
“Too old am I?” Tyrus asked, stung to the quick. “That’s what they said thirty years ago when I wanted to enlist. But I went to war, didn’t I? Driving supply wagons for General Lee.”
“Yes you did.” Monnye nodded.
“I didn’t know you held with slavery, Ty.” James reached for more pancakes. In Garrett County, where I come from, we were mostly abolitionists.”
“Hold with slavery?” Tyrus looked surprised. “Any Bolden would tell you that was a sorry business! Against the Lord’s teaching and mighty unprofitable to boot.”
“Then why support Lee?”
“You think Lee was fighting for slavery? No—he was a-fighting for Virginny. For the South. Defending his home, same as I was. This here’s the Free State, ain’t it? Didn’t our grandfathers come here so’s to have the right to live the way they wanted? Weren’t no money-grubbing, northern, know-it-alls going to come down here and tell me what to do!”
“But Maryland was neutral during the war, sir. We didn’t
side with the Confederacy."
“Maybe not over where you come from. But people on this side of the bay found our homes in danger and we fought! Damn Hicks and his Know-Nothing Party. He cost us the war.”
“And came from this very County too, Tyrus.” Monnye’s voice was quiet but firm. “Why plenty of men right from this island fought for the north. That’s all past now. No need to get worked up over what was done thirty years ago. You went bravely and I’ve no doubt you would do it again. The Lord knows you’re a strong-willed man. But I’d rather have you home with me now—not sailing all over creation.”
“Oh, we’ll be safe enough, Ma.” James winked at Lottie “Besides, absence makes the heart grow fonder. When I do get home, me and Lottie’ll be making up for lost time— then you’ll get those grand-babies for sure.”
“Pshaw! Don’t talk folly, James.” Monnye sipped her coffee.
“I cain’t help it.” Lottie spoke for the first time, her blue eyes brimming with tears. “I wish James wasn’t going. Why don’t you let him stay home on the farm, Papa? He don’t
know nothing about dredging anyway.”
“Keep a man home all winter? When there’s naught to but tend the animals and split a little kindling? Not likely!”
A tap came on the back door. “That’ll be Frank.” Lottie jumped up and when she swung the heavy door open, she
saw as she’d expected, the black face of their hired man, Frank Robinson, grinning at her. “Come in. I’ll fix you a plate. It’s going to be a long day’s work.”
“Yes ma’am.” Frank entered the kitchen and went to sit on a backless chair in the chimney corner.
Lottie piled bacon high around a stack of pancakes and put three eggs on top, handed it to Frank, then filled a white mug with steaming coffee. After refilling the cups on the table, she replaced the agate coffeepot on the cookstove.
“Have some preserves, Frank.” James reached back to hand him the jar.
“Thank you kindly.” Frank spooned strawberries liberally over his pancakes.
“Mind you, Lottie! Put more wood in the fire before you set back down,” Tyrus instructed. “It’s a long walk from Smithville, and it made ice last night. I reckon Frank’s nearabout chilled through.”
“Yessir.” Frank grinned and forked half an egg into his mouth. “Weather sure look funny this morning too.”
“How so?” Tyrus asked, instantly alert.
“Water funny-colored when I was coming across the floating bridge. Greeny-like. Birds flying strange too. Ol’ fishhawk fly off to the woods and seagull moving inland. Slaughter creek got a right good chop on it, yet there ain’t no wind to speak of. No more than a baby’s breath, but it blowing out’n the southwest.”
“Big storm coming.” Tyrus grunted. “Last two-three days ‘fore it’s over. First the wind’ll fall south, then southeast, and when she backs up nor’east, we’ll be in for a gale.”