Chesapeake Harvest [Chesapeake Series Book 1]
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by Terry White
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: Chesapeake Harvest visits Maryland''s Eastern Shore with the earliest colonists where they battle harsh weather, fever and swarms of mosquitoes to forge a new land. Voyage across the sea with Mary Charles and share her life on a frontier farm as an indentured servant. Learn the ways of country life with a woman who holds love as an ideal to guide her life. Come to Chesapeake country!
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2008 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: May 2008
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [263 KB]
Reading time: 180-252 min.
My name is Mary Charles and I sailed on the Godspeed from London on the thirteenth day of April in the year of our Lord 1643. It was a Friday. I was so excited to be free of my life on the streets of the ugly city, not to mention the stinking gaol where I sojourned for a time, I was glad to be aboard a stout ship bound for the colonies.
Some may call me a whore, and blast them for it. I did what a woman does to keep herself from death in a hard and unyielding world. You think yourself better because your pockets jingle with coin and you see the world from the window of your fine coach? Think again. I simply did what I had to do to stay alive.
I was once among the privileged, but I succumbed to love and you see where it got me. My true love, or so I believed the scoundrel Edward Patty to be, brought me to this state--an indenture scooped up from gaol and crowded into the hold of this stinking tub to spend five years of my life in something like slavery to whatever master would pay my passage at the end of the journey to the New World.
Of possessions, I had few enough when the ship left the quay, a little bundle held one cheap dress, some under things, and a locket with miniatures of the mother and father tied on a ragged string. All else I lost through my own folly.
Love? There was a time I wouldn't give you a tuppence for it, although some folks hold it as an ideal for a happy marriage and a good life. Blast Edward Patty and his slick words and tender hands. He had my maidenhead and carried me off under cover of night from my parent's estate with promises of even better, all my heart could desire.
The truth of it was Edward was a liar and a gambler, and when he had gone through the coin and jewelry I had brought with me from my former life, he spent more and more time away from the ugly room in which I was installed to wait for my babe.
I lost the child in a welter of blood and pain, alone, without a woman to hold my hand or ease the birth. She, it was a girl, was tiny enough to hold in the palm of my hand. I felt my daughter's heart beat like a cornered rabbit; she wailed no louder than a kitten, shuddered once and passed into spirit before I could call her name. I meant to call her Eleanor for my mother, and when I had the strength, I baptized the tiny thing with a little murky water from the chipped pitcher and wrapped her in my last clean petticoat.
I found the energy to carry my child to a church to beg for her burial with my last shilling, but Edward came into the room and seeing my weakened state, said he would see to the matter. He took the pitiful bundle and that final coin, saying he would return anon. He never came back; curse his black and shriveled soul. I never knew if he honored my child's life or threw the pitiful thing on a refuse heap on his way to his next drink.
Two days later the landlady, a hunchbacked woman with hard eyes and crumpled hands, came to the door and ordered me away. I begged to stay a while, so weary I was from my labor and weeping for Edward's return, but she would have none of it. I must go and I was not to linger. She stood and watched as I gathered my few possessions and all but crawled into the street.
The first week I lived on the sale of what was to have been my wedding dress, a beautiful thing I would have no use for in my ruined state. The second week saw the sale of my best boots, and the third a necklace of small pearls given to me on my eighth birthday.
After that, I had no choice, nor anything to sell.
I am ashamed to say I offered myself on the streets, looking to young, fresh-faced men of about my own age at first, but I soon learned such men had few coins to spare. Later, having learned this lesson, I turned my attention to older men of substance who wore finely tailored suits and silk cravats. For the most part, they had hard hands and harder hearts, but I earned my way and am not ashamed to admit I was a doxie, for there were many of us girls on the street, making a living with our cunnies.
One of these kind gentlemen, I will call him John; asked me if I would come with him to his rooms, and as it was December and the deep cold from the river made my very bones ache. I said I would. I would have followed the Devil straight to Hell, I was so very cold. The man could have been a demon bent on mayhem. I agreed to his request simply to warm my freezing feet.
John plied me with wine and ordered a bath of heated water so I could bathe. I was astounded; most men paid their coin and had their way with no thought of the vessel that received them. John, on the other hand, bathed me as if I were a child, toweled me dry with the softest of cloths, and brushed my long auburn hair until it shone. This done, he took me to his bed and was my lover in truth, if only for the night.
In the morning, I donned the drab leavings of my wardrobe when he came to me from another room. Putting his hands on my shoulders, he looked at me closely, as if I were some precious gem or fine artifact from a fanciful civilization long gone from the world.
"You are in truth, a most beautiful creature," he breathed, kissing me quite thoroughly.
"Pray tell, my dear. Why are you on the street?
And I, befuddled by the sweet attention after the unkindness of London's back streets, told my story amid gasps and sobs. John gave me his handkerchief and rubbed my back like a little child who had stubbed her toe. I had not known such tenderness for years and it left me quite undone.
"I was not mistaken then," he said at last. "I knew you were of the gentry. How sad is your story. Surely you could go home to your people, and have a good life once again?" He offered to purchase a new dress, a ticket on a northbound coach. He even said he would escort me home if that be my wish.
"You jest, Sir." I shook my head and sniffled into the sodden linen square he had produced for my sudden tears. "Do you think my parents would take a London dragtail to their daughter's bed? Truly, to tell the world I was dead would be their better choice."
I could not bear the thought of the sorrow I would witness if I were to show up at my parent's home. They would have been embarrassed and angry at my defection. It would not be fair to them to reappear like the Prodigal Son and expect to be nurtured and loved like their little girl again.
My beloved John shook his head. "And do they have to know all of your adventure?" He walked around me, clockwise, then counterclockwise, taking my measure with his eyes. "Perhaps I could help you, my dear? You are quite beautiful, you know. It would please me to buy you a wardrobe, to take you home."
I could remember a day when I spent a great deal of time in front of my mirror, plying creams to keep my skin soft and supple, applying subtle touches of color to my lips and cheeks. The young men of my class had flocked around me, eager to win my hand and dowry, but I had given my heart to Edward Patty and the rest transpired as you now know. My time on the streets had coarsened my skin and left me in near rags. I had no doubt I was a beauty no longer despite John's tender words. Besides, I no longer believed in love.
But this kind man had resurrected hope in my life and I was once again pampered and petted, swathed in silks and furs. In my dreams this would last forever, but forever is finite and it was not long before my John's extremely elderly parents came to the city and saw the use their kind hearted son had put to the considerable funds they sent him each month. He wept when he told me I must leave him. He said his fortune had gone, that his parents wanted him to come home, education or no.
Again I was ejected from my home, this time with a valise full of dainty frocks and footwear, enough in fact to get me through the winter did I live frugally without heat or much to eat in London's bitter cold. A traveler may tell you that England's biggest town is a beautiful city with lovely architecture and fine sights, but if one is poor and without a protector, the skies stay as gray as factory smoke and the nights are peopled by monsters in human garb.
When I could, I would avail myself of a meat pasty or twist of chestnuts roasted on the street to bring the feeling back to my frozen fingers and nourishment to my shrunken stomach. I had reached a time in my life when I did not scruple to serve a man in a convenient alley for the coin he offered when once I would have demanded he pay the pennies for the rent of a room for an hour for both our comfort.
How I avoided the pox I will never know. Perhaps my womb, which refused to fill again with child, also repelled the disease? I had no way to know. I simply survived.
One day when the mist grew hearty, coating the cobbles with a film of dirty ice, I went out to my corner, doubting the passage of any man willing to hand over his money for a tup in the alley. In time, my shawl was spangled with icy crystals and I could no longer feel my feet. I lingered on the street nonetheless, hoping against hope for my sustenance to appear.
Night fell, not so much a blanket of darkness, but a fading of light that left the street barely lit by the odd window along my lane. I slipped and skittered on the slick ice, trying not to fall as I finally turned toward my room, a wretched attic space shared with mice and spiders.
"Here, Missy," a rough hand took my elbow and whirled me around. I saw a swarthy face, wreathed by a grizzled beard and hair stuffed under a broken leathern hat. "Don't ye fall now."
I pulled my arm away. "I am fine, Sir," I said, hoping for a different customer, hoping for none. "I only live just down there." I pointed to a street across the way, not the way to my sleeping place. I had learned not to let the gentlemen know where I lived. I had met girls who told me stories of a murderer who gutted London whores and left their bodies in puddles of gore. We all hoped we would not meet that dreadful killer, but we all had no choice but to continue to ply our sinful trade.
"How much the night Missy?" my burly mate asked. He smelled of fish and the tar on his pigtail. His gait was a sailor's, rolling as if he walked a plank deck. He could have used a bath.
"I must to home, Sir," I quavered, suddenly afraid. I should not have been. This was not the London killer, only a simple sailor bent on relief from the deprivations of a long posting on a ship just in from the New World.
We talked a pace, and after a while I led him to my cot and let him have his way after all. To do the man justice, he was tender and loved me well. I could not have asked for a better lover, for this unlikely man treated me as he might a sweetheart and left me no worse off than when we met.
When he had finished slaking his needs Moses, for he had been named for an Old Testament saint, told me of how he had been pressed and put to sea when just a boy. He had met many a maid in many a port, and said his best was the landing at the colony called Maryland on the coast of what some called New England.
"It is as pretty a land as you could wish," he said, describing the marshy flats and rich woodlands inhabited by friendly natives. He told me the story of Jamestown settlement and the mystery of how all within the town had disappeared while waiting for supplies from England.
"A'course, they were all toffs, without a notion of how to hold a hoe or ply a spade." Moses spat into the tiny fire I lit for his comfort." He said he would settle there given his choice, but common sailors never knew their last port and he had no reason to settle up until then since he was still able-bodied and had a certain affection for the sea.
I fell asleep to the sound of his gravely tones and the warmth of a bear-like arm around my shoulder. In the morning he took his leave, saying he would come to find me the next time his ship made port in London.
And then he was gone.
Some say the life of a whore is ugly and degrading, but I found that the men I encountered during my stay on London's streets were more hungered for affection than for any less handsome motive. Often, they showed care for my person and did not hesitate to give me more than I asked for my services.
Perhaps I was lucky. I knew such times would end as I grew older; and as time passed, I fixed my attention on the dream of this place called Maryland. Perhaps there would be some way I could travel to the New World? I began to walk nearer and nearer the quay, looking for sailors who could tell me more about the colonies growing in the New World.
"Don't go to Plymouth," the sailors said. "For the inhabitants have taken their religion to a point where one dare not have a moment's peace. They fair preached me out of town. I wouldn't go back there for all the fish in the sea."
New Amsterdam was said to be dangerous a place fit only for cutthroats and thieves, but Maryland and Virginia, endowed as they were by the Crown, were growing to be the most pleasant of places to live and trade. In time they became my secret goal, a place I saw as heaven in my mind's eye.
As for the men, I took their coins and listened to their dreams. When they were gone, I took the dreams for my own.