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The mad hermit of Lacompte Marsh.

Joined
Oct 2, 2004
Messages
17,291
Part 1.

The eastern shore marshes have a very long history of being a place of refuge for all types of people seeking to stay out of sight for reasons of thier own. Durring the war for our indepenence from England the marshes were havens for blockade runners using fast sailing shallow draft schooners to smuggle powder and shot to the Colonials. In the years before the civil war they sheltered runaway slaves on the trip north using the underground railway. Quakers would ferry the runaways across the bay to the marshes where they were met by local help that knew how to get through on the hidden pathways over to Delaware and then north.

In the 20th century rumrunners would use fast motor launches to smuggle the crates of bootleg whiskey inland on the uncharted paths of narrow winding water. With the limited visability among the tall reeds and one twisting waterway looking like the next, it was a very easy place to get lost in. Only those very familiar with them would venture into the marshes. But they were a place of incredable beauty, with a diverse wild life. Hawks, ospreys, muskrat, fox, deer, and even the once in a while bobcat. Some people made a good living off of the eeling. The eels would be cleaned and packed in salt and shipped off to France and the rest of Europe as a culinary delicacy.

It was into these marshes I had traveled many times in the summers I spent with my paternal relations in what can only be decribed as a Huck Finn dream come to life for this transplanted Washington D.C. city boy. On this one occasion in the summer of 1958, I had a true mystery happen that I would wonder about for the rest of my life.

This one day I was going with Tyrone, the son of my grandads hired man Jackson. Tyrone had a nice little eel trapping set up and we were off to clear the traps. The day was grey and flat hazy with hardly a puff of breeze. Lacompte Bay was where grandad had his place on the water, and he and Jackson were working on a repair, so I had the day off. I had been friends with Tyrone for many summers now and he invited me along to the eel traps in the marsh. We set off in his old wood skiff with the little Evinrude poping away on the stern. We got to the marsh and poled the boat in among the shallows to trap after trap. In our youthfull bliss, we never noticed the dark storm front moving in till we heard the deep rumble. By then it was too late to head home.

Among the marsh was scattered high spots that were isolated little islands of thick pines, making dark hiding places for all kinds of creatures, not all on four legs. With the fast approaching rumble of the storm Tyrone shouted to head for one of those thick pine coverd islands and we poled with great vigor. Tyrones family were decendents of the slaves that lived in that area for many generations and knew the marsh well. Within a few minutes we reached the closest one and pulled up the skiff and grabbed our .22 rifles and bolted for cover. It was only then we saw it.

Set back among the dark pines was a small 2X4 tarpaper shack, just like the kind the illeagal poachers and market hunters would use. And it was occupied. The son of freed Maryland slaves and the son of Irish imigrants were about to meet face to face the man the locals called the mad hermit of Lacompte Marsh.

Nobody knew where he had come from or anything about him. He had just seemed to suddenly exist in their life, appearing in town once in a while to buy some can goods or dry goods. If you wanted out of season venison he was the one you talked to. Same with muskrat pelts. He was known to have a fierce temper and people in general had as little to do with him as possable. To us yougsters he was part myth, part boogyman of the marsh we would frighten our juniors with.

By now the thunder was loud enough that we felt it in our chests and a cool breeze had sprung up and we could see a wall of rain in the distance out over the Chesapeake bay coming our way fast. Tyrone yelled hello at the shack and a black haired large angry man appeared at the door and demanded to know just what the hell we wanted. At that point we were not too sure if it was better to face the storm out in the open marsh. The large man looked past us at the aproaching rain and told us if we wanted to drown then stay right there, or get inside. We got, just as the first of cold drops hit our backs.

What we found inside was startling. Expecting a mess of a shack I was taken back by the almost military barack neatness of the inside. The big blackhaired man standing oposite us was looking at us with a half amused expression, perhaps at our unease of finding ourselves in such company. Close up he did not look all that frightening, exept for the size of him. He must have stood at least 6' 3 or 4, with alot of beefy mussle in wide shoulders. With the long black hair and full beard I was strangely reminded of a large newfoundland dog. Then he grinned at us and said to us "Whats the matter boys, think I'm gonna skin ya for your pelts?"

Since he did not seem like he was going to kill us outright, we relaxed a bit and I looked around me a little more. By now the rain was pounding on the slanting tarpaper roof loud enough to have to shout. The thunder rattled your bones. There were shelves nailed up on the wall studs and a row of books stood on one of them. I took a step over and saw most were high level reading. Kippling, Keats, Melville. And a King James bible. With my looking at the books he came up beside me and asked if I like to read. I told him I did and then amazingly he asked if we wanted a cup of tea. There was a rough table and chair, and a couple of wood milk crates upended, and he told us to have a seat on the crates.

There was a circle of rocks in the corner with a large tin can hobo stove and a blackened pot. He poured some water in and put it too heat with some twigs burning in the hobo stove and took a large square tin off a shelf. Then he took out the largest clasp knife I ever saw. It was a very big seamans knife, with a sheepsfoot blade at least 5 inches tip to kick. Stag handles with deep ridges and popcorns gave it unmistakable charater. It opened with a good metalic snick and he gently pryed open the lid of the can of tea. A lanyard dangled from the shackle that was nicely braided and ended in a small monkey fist. I must have been gaping, because he looked over at me and grinned again, and asked "Do you like knives, boy?"

It was only then I noticed his eyes. They were blue, but had the look. I don't know why, or how, but it seems that men who have been to sea alot have that look. He had bright piercing blue eyes, and somehow I knew he had seen the deep water.
 
You sure have a store of experiences to draw from when it's time to pull up a log around a fireplace. You also have a knack for writing.

And you make me wish I could spend some time exploring Chesapeake Bay.
 
Bringing this back up for my kids to read tonight.. :)

In case any of y'all missed it perhaps you may want to give it a look this evening.:thumbup:

Anthony

ps{good stuff!}
 
Thanks Jackknife. The story is getting very interesting at first I thought it was a Halloween Story but now I don't know. Can't wait for part Two.
 
Yeah I remember this one, I went back after I first came here, to read just about every one of your stories jackknife. A very good one this is indeed.

Peter
 
:)

your quite welcome Mate, I just HAD TO hear the rest of that, and knew others would want it...
 
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