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A Man and a Maid
By JESSICA J. HASKELL
ALL WAS stir and bustle at old Fort Western on the Kennebec that September day in 1775; for Arnold and his eleven hundred were coming up the river. From miles around had patriots gathered, from Cobbosseecontee, from Gardinerstown, to do honor to that valiant band. Perhaps patriotism was not unmixed with other motives, for Captain Howard of the Great House could, and did, on occasion, set before his guests a feast worthy of a king, worthy even of the stout King George himself.
The motley throng collected on the river bank and gazing down its winding current, looked, for the most part, far fitter for some quiet English village than for that wilderness country. Conspicuous among them were the Howards, "an exceedingly hospitable, opulent, polite family," their ideals and their clothes — from London town; William Gardiner in powdered wig and lace ruffles; Major Colburn; Colonel Cushing and a long list of lesser notables and their wives, all in holiday attire.
At the left, with the company but not of it, silent in the midst of noise and laughter, one group accorded well with wooded hill and quiet river, twenty or more Abenaki braves from Swan Island, picturesque in hunting garb. Perhaps none of all that company felt more interest and curiosity than did those dusky warriors, on whose island one of Arnold's ships in its passage up the river had come to grief; but their stolid faces showed no trace of animation, their occasional guttural ejaculations no sign of fire within.
Perhaps three paces in front of these silent braves stood their sachem, Jacataqua, a maiden scarce eighteen, in whom showed the best traits of her mingled French and Abenaki blood. Slender, lithesome, with olive skin and dark, flashing eyes, her black hair in two heavy braids to the fringed tip of her leather hunting skirt, she might well arrest the admiring gaze of any man. So thought the good Squire Bridge of Pownalborough, as he turned to catch her hesitant question: "These Anglese for whom we watch, who are they?"
"Soldiers who go to fight the English at Quebec," replied the Squire, then, turning to his neighbor, "Who comes with Arnold, Cushing, you should know?"
"Why, where were you, man, when they passed Pownalborough
"Over at Freetown. A neighbor broke his leg; tree fell on him."
"Well, they say he has Roger Enos, a good, cautious man; Henry Dearborn; a Swede or a Dane, I'm not sure which, one Christian Pebiger; and, Oh, yes, the son of the President of the College of New Jersey, Aaron Burr, a mere lad, who, gossip declares, rose from sick bed to come. Arnold has a fine command, but these lads don't realize what they're attempting, the wilderness and winter coming on."
"That's true, that's true, but we'll give 'em a good send-off here. There'll be a barbecue to-morrow, a big one."
"Wonder who'll supply the meat?"
Jacataqua had been following the colloquy with interest, and at the final question was on the point of speech, when a stir and a rustle and then silence drew her attention to Captain Howard, approaching with the more notable of his guests. It was upon the reckless, dashing Arnold that all eyes were turned. Few in that throng but knew far better than the young commander what hardships, what dangers he was to face. Jacataqua's Abenakis stood in the same stolid silence, still a group apart; but the maiden herself, her vivacious French blood momentarily in the ascendant, slipped between the sturdy squires to a point of vantage from which she might gaze upon this warrior whom all men seemed to honor. One swift glance she gave the hero, then her black eyes met a pair as dark and flashing as her own, met and were held in an impassioned gaze that to the Indian maid lasted eons. The good Squire Bridge, who had puffed up to Jacataqua's side, saw and smiled.
"That, that Anglese," demanded Jacataqua, "who?"
"Thet? Thet's young Burr, the one Cushing said got off a sick bed to come. And he'd better have stayed," he added, sotto-voce, "if the tales of his ways with the lasses are true. An Indian, even an Abenaki, is treacherous and ondependable."
But Jacataqua had not heard his soliloquy. Like a startled fawn she had slipped back to her people. Young Burr but waited to gain his genial host's attention to ask excitedly, "Who is that beauty?"
"That's Jacataqua, half French, half Abenaki, sachem of the Indians of Swan Island. You passed the wigwams of her people on your way up the river. No settler, no warrior of her tribe is her equal in the hunt. But, my boy," he added kindly, "remember Indian nature, even half French, is not to be trusted."
His warning speech was wasted; young Burr had vanished! "Well, youth calls to youth," said the kindly Captain, "yet I fear no good will come of it."
Meantime Aaron Burr was standing before the Indian princess; for the first and only time in his life at a loss before a woman. Nor was Jacataqua more at ease. Yet, primitive and direct, it was she who opened the conversation and opened it with a challenge. "These," with a wave of her brown hand toward Howard and the group of officers, "these want meat. You hunt with me? I win."
More eagerly than he had ever accepted invitation from the most polished provincial hostess did young Burr pick up the challenge.
Like two children they set off for Howard Hill, from whose sheltering woods predatory bears issued to spoil the Captain's corn. The steep ascent won, they gazed together upon the winding Kennebec in all its quiet beauty. Perhaps Burr was not to spend in all his varied later career a happier or a more carefree day than that in the woodlands on Howard Hill. Jacataqua, at the call of youth, bubbled forth in irrepressible gayety. And that hunting trip was a distinct success from the utilitarian standpoint; for three bears, a mother and her two cubs, bore witness to the maiden's unerring aim.
Next day the three appeared, the "piece de resistance" of a feast as generous and as varied as epicure could wish. Venison, beef, pork, dried salmon, bread, corn, potatoes, melons, golden pumpkin pies, — all the wealth of wood and field, hospitably poured out before the welcome guest. One wonders if the starving, dying soldiers above the Chaudière, as they gnawed hungrily at moccasins and bullet pouch ever saw in delirious vision that glorious feast at old Fort Western. A rum punch crowned the feast with toast and song. (That very punch bowl, china and of modest dimensions, still exists and was in Howard Hall when Mr. Gannett, descendant of Captain Howard, entertained the Connecticut Foot Guards in 1913 on land his ancestor once owned and over which Burr and Jacataqua had wandered in carefree abandon.)
Of all these feasters none were so gay, none so joyous as were young Burr and the dusky Indian princess. Youth and warm blood were theirs; no premonition of after days could sadden them. Burr was strongly drawn to the Indian maiden, interested and attracted by her beauty and by the romance of the situation; Jacataqua, with all the strength of her wild and passionate nature yielded to the fascination that Burr was to exercise at will, over all women.
The three days of the army's stay at Fort Western were for the youth a pleasant diversion; for the maiden, happiness unmeasured. Hunting trip succeeded hunting trip, the two were constantly together. When the moment of departure came, Jacataqua pleaded to be allowed to follow the expedition with some of her people. Two white women, the wives of James Warner and Sergeant Grier of the Pennsylvania Corps, were to share their husbands' hardships and bravely does history say they acquitted themselves. Jacataqua's skill in hunting, her knowledge of trails and carries, of roots and herbs, the woodcraft and boatcraft of her people — all could be of use to the expedition, all argued in her favor, so Arnold gave his consent, albeit with grave doubts of the outcome.
Nowadays, with trolley or motor car, the trip from Fort Western in Augusta to Fort Halifax in Waterville, is but an hour's swift and pleasant progress. In 1775 with the hastily constructed bateaux of green pine, the heavy supplies and overloaded boats, the way was slow and painful. At Three Mile Falls, below Fort Halifax, the crews must wade to their waists always, often almost to their chins. At the foot of the falls, the bateaux must be unloaded and they and their contents carried on tired backs through the well nigh pathless forest till the rapids were safely skirted. Hunting trips still gave youth and maiden the opportunity to spend happy hours together, though Burr shirked no part of his share of hardship. His activity and willingness endeared him to the rank and file; his birth and breeding to their officers. But that sunshine of universal approbation was not to continue.
At Fort Halifax a welcome, not so lavish as that at Fort Western, but adequate and cordial, awaited the weary host. Colonel Lithgow was in command of the fortress and with him was his daughter Sarah, an acknowledged belle and toast.
"These bateaux will be bringing you a beau," joked the old sergeant, a privileged family friend. "But one lad brings his own lassie. Young Burr has with him, they say, the Indian princess, Jacataqua, sachem of Swan Island. For love of him alone she's followed many a weary mile."
"Who is this Burr?" queried the fair Sarah, her nose at a scornful angle.
"His father's president of the College of New Jersey. A fine family, but a wild lad, though a brave one; and a way with the lasses, it seems."
A slight sniff was the sergeant's only response, but his twinkling eyes noted the unusual care of the toilet in which the haughty lady helped her father receive his distinguished guests.
As Burr entered the rough room he stopped short at the vision of loveliness before him and gazed with all his ardent heart in his dark eyes. But the great lady of Fort Halifax was as proud as the maiden of Fort Western had been eager. She hardly seemed to see the dazzled Burr, acknowledging the presentation with the briefest and coldest of murmurs. Inspired with sudden passion for the haughty beauty and little accustomed to rebuffs from the fair sex, Burr began a systematic wooing. His ardent missives, romantically written on birch bark and appropriately dispatched by the hand of an Indian messenger, though well calculated to win a lady's heart, were scorned by the divine Sarah.
Jacataqua, quick to feel change of mood in her lord, soon found the key to his sullen silence and abstraction. Wild with jealous rage, she determined to rid herself of her hated rival. At last her careful watch of Sarah Lithgow's movements was rewarded. Stealthily she slipped after the unconscious woman, gliding from tree to tree, clutching her hunting knife, keen and sharp-edged. A quick spring, then a leap from behind, and Jacataqua's hunting knife fell harmless on the moss, struck down by the indignant hand of Burr. The eyes of love had been even keener than those of jealousy!
By all the rules of melodrama Jacataqua should have slunk away, foiled and desperate, while the fair Sarah fainted gracefully in her rescuer's arms and revived to forgive him all. Alas, Arnold's men were fated to be lucky neither in love nor in war, despite the old saying! Sarah Lithgow went haughtily on her way in real or feigned unconsciousness of her recent peril, and without a single backward look, leaving Jacataqua cowering at Burr's feet in mute petition for forgiveness.
The onward march fortunately put an end to an almost intolerable situation, giving Burr work after his own heart and enough of it to soothe the sting of hurt vanity. Jacataqua followed humbly after; her woodcraft and hunting skill, as well as that of her people, proving of incalculable value to the harrassed remnant of Arnold's troops. When stern necessity called for the slaughter of Dearborn's dog and those of the other soldiers, in order to feed the starving men, Jacataqua's hound was spared through gratitude. And not alone in the hunt was the Indian maid of use to the troops. Skillful, like all her people, in finding and preparing medicinal roots and herbs, and with an instinctive talent for nursing, she soothed many a sufferer. Jacataqua the joyous, happy girl, had left Fort Western; Jacataqua, the saddened woman, with all a woman's capacity for help and comfort, trod the paths along the Chaudière!
She and Burr had come together again, her beauty and his character made that inevitable; but their old, free comradeship was gone. The wild and haughty princess had become the meek and watchful Indian squaw, catering to the strange whims of her white lord; proud to serve him in the lowliest tasks, her happiness, his smile; her misery, his frown. Rarely now did her French vivacity bubble up; only on some expedition in the depths of the wild, free forest.
Burr was of real value in the expedition. Abstemious and careful, he stood the privations of the march better than stronger men. His boatcraft, learned from Jacataqua, commanded the respect of his comrades; his careless valor won their admiration. In the Chaudiére's swift current Burr's career was almost ended; wet and exhausted, he struggled out, to the Indian maiden's efficient care.
One brilliant exploit the young man performed for which he merits the praise of history; the carrying of dispatches from the impatient Arnold to the apparently dilatory Montgomery. Accounts of this performance differ, but all agree that he made the trip disguised as a Roman Catholic priest. Burr is conceded to have been a master of the Latin language, and to have had a fair acquaintance with French; the Catholic priesthood were, for the most part, in sympathy with the rebels, so there seems a reasonable probability of the story's truth. Jacataqua could have helped him in perfecting his disguise and in a knowledge of the patois. Certain it is that Aaron Burr carried Benedict Arnold's message to Montgomery; the proof exists in the form of a letter, brief and unilluminating, written by Arnold to Montgomery himself.
"This will be handed you by Mr. Burr, a volunteer in the Army, and son to the former President of New Jersey College.
"He is a young gentleman of much life and activity, and has acted with great spirit and resolution on our fatiguing march. His conduct, I make no doubt, will be sufficient recommendation to your favor.
"I am, dear Sir, your most obed't h'ble,
"Brigadier General Montgomery."
Montgomery approved of Burr to such an extent that he gave him a captain's commission and made him one of his aids. The eager youth, anxious to prove his worth, got permission to drill a party of fifty picked men to mount scaling ladders in full accoutrement and with silent speed; all this a preparation for a night surprise of the upper city. To his chagrin, his promising plan was abandoned in favor of one less likely to succeed.
In the actual charge up the terrible heights of Quebec Aaron Burr showed commendable courage and coolness; struggling to reanimate his fleeing troops. Seemingly careless of death, his place was in the front. One Chaplain Spring was witness of one of his exploits. Though slight in physique Burr carried the heavy body of his dead commander, Montgomery, some distance on the field. Spring, in the same town with Burr after fifty years, when told he would suffer in the public estimation by calling upon him, refused to heed this well-meant and highly politic advice, saying that the image of "Little Burr" staggering through the snow under the weight of Montgomery's body, was too vivid in his mind. Critics have questioned the truth of this story, but it accords well with what we know of Burr.
And all this time the faithful Jacataqua had followed, followed! Through the pathless forest, in the midst of countless dangers and hardships had she pursued her loyal way, unwearied and undaunted. At Porte aux Trembles, so the story goes, Jacataqua and Burr again out hunting, necessity this time their spur, came to a brook, and thirsty, bent to drink. Lacking a cup, Burr, courtly in the wilderness, had filled his cap and was offering it to Jacataqua, when a British officer, also hunting, politely offered his drinking cup. After some conversation, delighted with each other, the two officers advanced to the middle of the stream, shook hands and solemnly pledged friendship.
It was to the care of this officer and in the protection of one of the nunneries of Quebec, tradition has it, that Burr left the faithful Jacataqua. 'Tis a pretty tale, but it strains one's credulity to the breaking point. The true ending of this tale of a man and a maid in the Maine of long ago we shall, doubtless, never learn. But of this we are sure, Jacataqua's loyal love and faith failed as tragically and as completely as did Arnold's bravery. Both tried and suffered; neither won the goal. Heaven grant that the last days of the Indian princess were happier than those of Arnold or of Burr!
One cannot help wondering if, in later life, Burr's thoughts ever wandered to Jacataqua and the carefree days along the Kennebec. Certain it is that no more romantic tale of faithful love can be found on history's pages than that of the Indian princess, Jacataqua, for the faithless, fascinating Aaron Burr, in the province of Maine in that fateful year of 1775.