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When Jean Vincent Followed the Trail

In 5 short Chapters

Chapter I

Many years ago in the year 1652, a little boy was born in Oleron, France. His mother died when he was less than two years old. His father was a rich and powerful baron of the land. He owned many houses scattered through the provinces near the Pyrenees Mountains. He was not an unkind father, but he was always too busy to spend any time with his children, so he left them to the care of servants, nurses and the Jesuit Priests.

When this boy was very little, he trotted about the castle after his older sister and watched the women embroider and weave by hand yards and yards of glistening silk made from the worms that fed on the mulberry trees which grew around the castle grounds. As he grew to be older, that was too tame a life for him, so with his older brother, he rode on his spirited little pony, a falcon on his wrist and half a dozen dogs barking at his heels. He even followed the hounds and saw them kill the wild boar, whose fierce tusks gored the dogs as they pulled him down. In the evening, when the lords and barons joined his father at supper, he was allowed to remain and toss off his glass of wine and give his toast to the fair ladies present, as if he were grown up.

Once his father took him to Paris, where reigned one of the most powerful monarchs of all Europe, King Louis XIV. Jean Vincent, for that was the little boy's name, was dressed in his best doublet or jacket of blue velvet, slashed on the sleeves, with white satin puffs showing through the slashes. His trousers were velvet, too, and he wore white silk stockings and pointed leather shoes with gold buckles. His hat was of felt with a long, white ostrich feather, fastened on with another buckle, also of gold, while lace ruffles hung over his hands, - not much of a costume for a boy to wear to climb a tree! O, yes, he wore a long pointed knife called a dagger or poniard, such as a noble wore to kill if he were attacked by thieves. Often he used it to thrust or prick a servant who did not move quickly enough to carry out his orders.

Jean Vincent
Jean Vincent (The Baron Castine) in Youth

The King liked the looks of Jean Vincent and told his father that when the boy was twelve, he should be made one of the gentlemen of the court.

The next year the boy's father died. His older brother became the baron, taking, as was the custom, all the lands and houses. Then the sister married and most of the gold and jewels went for her marriage dot. There seemed nothing left for Jean Vin-cent but to go up to the Court at Versailles and remind his Majesty, King Louis, of his promise. When he arrived at Court, Louis XIV readily agreed to take him into his service, saying, ''Little Jean, I will soon give you a chance to become a great warrior in our next war with England.''

An ancient court was a bad place for a lad of twelve, for many reasons. First, in the King's household lived so many noble gentlemen that there was not enough work for half of them. They spent their time playing dice, drinking, teaching cocks to light, and ferrets to catch rats, and in doing even worse things. Jean grew very tired of it. He wanted leather buskins and jerkins and a good stout helmet on his head.

The French were having trouble with their colonies in Acadia, the new world over the big ocean. Louis and his great Cardinal decided to send one of the King's crack regiments over seas to settle all difficulties. So the Carignan Salieres were shipped to Quebec. Jean Vincent, though only fourteen, belonged to that regiment. It was a beastly trip across the ocean and even the noblemen were crowded like cattle in the small cabins of the vessels transporting them.
While Jean Vincent had a fine swagger and felt himself every bit as brave as the colonel, there were days when he could not lift his head and wished himself either back at court or at the bottom of the ocean, anything to get rid of that dreadful mal de mer, as the French call sea sickness.

At last Jean Vincent found himself in Quebec, glad enough to be ashore and starting real life. Like the boys of this century, he was fascinated by pirates and the Red Man. The lure of the wild drew him and this odd little New World town, so like and yet so unlike the towns of his own dear France, enticed him.

The year that followed was exciting enough to suit him. His regiment was continual engaged in skirmishes around Quebec. He saw the many horrors of Indian warfare. At first, to be sure, he turned sick at the cruel practice of scalping. A painted, half-naked Indian Chief, with his snaky war bonnet of feathers waving down his back, was not a pleasant sight to see standing over some poor French soldier, especially if he raised his tomahawk to bury it in the skull of his young victim.

Chapter II

At last the Indian trouble was settled. The Salieres were disbanded and that was why Jean Vincent found himself, at fifteen, left stranded in New France with little money or train-ing for a pioneer life. In his possession was one other asset which proved to be the very best thing in his whole life. It was the royal grant of a considerable tract of land in a wild country many miles south of Quebec and no way to get there.

Other young ensigns of his regiment had been given land nearer Quebec. In the neighborhood of the fort where Jean Vincent lived, was a holy mission of the Jesuit Priests. Jean had heard them talking about this settlement which had been given him by the King. Scarcely any one lived there but a tribe of Indians called Abenakis. Jean had often been to the chapel to confess his sins, for he was a good Catholic.

One day in the late summer he gathered all his belongings at the barracks and put them in a stout sea chest which had a rude lock. He sent this over to the cabin of Father Bigot, meaning to ask him if he would send it by the first French ship sailing for Pentagoet. Jean, that youngest ensign in the Salieres, was certainly good to look at, as he stood tapping at the Jesuit's cabin door. He had the dash and dare of youth, the '' devil-may-care" and imperious way of the French nobility of that date. The bright uniform of the already disbanded King's regiment gave an added glitter and authority to his boyish figure.

At his knock the holy man opened the door. ''Bon soir, Reverend Father," said young Jean, making the sign of the cross as he spoke.

The priest, a man of delicate frame, clad in a long black robe with a cord tied about his waist, motioned for the lad to enter. Jean Vincent stood near the table.

''Father Bigot, they tell me in the parish of St. Anne, that you are the only one now in Quebec, who knows about the shores of Pentagoet which is to be my new home. I have come to ask you how I may best arrive at that settlement."
''Be seated, my son," said the priest. ''God has directed your footsteps here at this opportune moment. Tomorrow at dawn three Algonquins who belong to the Abenaki tribe will start for Pentagoet. They are Indian runners who brought messages to our Governor that a band of the Iroquois are on the war path. I will send a message by them commending you to their powerful chief, Mataconando. They will also show you the way to your new possessions.

Jean expressed his thanks and the Holy Father continued: "My son, you are over young, yet. Carry yourself with humility, make a good accounting to his Majesty by the manner in which you rule your land and the savage tribe which is settled there. See that you lead them to God."

Chapter III

The next morning, at the first cock's crow, from the little cabin of the old Indian woman, Monique, who lived beneath the shadow of the Jesuit mission, silently started two stalwart Indians, followed in single file along the trail by two lads. The younger was Jean Vincent. He wore knee breeches of stout cloth, heavy leather gaiters with moose-hide shoes. To be sure, a soft blue silken shirt or blouse tied by a black kerchief was next his skin, but it was completely hidden by a thick leathern jerkin. He was slender, about five feet nine in height. He had good features, dark brown hair, a keen blue eye and a laughing mouth full of strong white teeth. He appeared to have the bright, joyous disposition usual with the French. On his back he wore a pack done up in a blanket, an arquebuse or old-fashioned musket was slung over his shoulder. In his belt was a hunting knife and a small hatchet.

The lad walking behind him so silently, was larger, a handsome Indian of seventeen. He, too, had a pleasant mouth with big white teeth, but he marched along without saying a word or even giving a smile. He wore a full Indian suit of deer skin, slashed and fringed. Slung beside his pack was a strong bow and a quiver of cruel arrows. A scalp-ing knife was in his belt.

Only occasionally did the Indian runners ahead turn to speak to them. Most of the conversation with Jean Vincent was carried on by signs. They knew a few words of French and he knew some words of the Iroquois language which they understood. So they filed on through the Plains of Abraham until they reached the banks of the St. Lawrence. Quietly, the head Indian drew out his canoe from its hiding place. He motioned to Jean Vincent to take the seat arranged for a passenger. The others, kneeling, plied their paddles with swift, sure strokes, until they reached Port Levis, eleven hundred yards across on the bank opposite Quebec. They carried around the Falls of Chaudiere which fell, one magnificent leap of 135 feet, and began the ascent of the Chaudiere River.

The sun was bright and the September air was fresh with tonic. Jean Vincent was enjoying the canoe ride, but why such gloom? His companions made him weary. O, for a jest with a fellow officer of his regiment!

About sundown, they reached a small stream, branching from the main river, winding like a shining snake through fields growing sere and brown. The sheltering knoll of hemlocks and red cedars was perfect for a camping ground. The packs were unstrapped. One of the older Indians took out a line and fish hook which he had carved from bone, lighted his pipe and began to smoke as he fished from a neighboring rock. The other Red Man took two sticks which he rubbed very briskly together and soon a tiny spark fell to the little heap of dry pith he had gathered, and in a moment more a fire of bark and twigs burnt merrily.

The lad had found some saplings growing against a big boulder, facing the water. He bent these over and fastened them for an Indian shelter called a wickie-up. He cut a few boughs from the hemlocks and cedars and threw them into the little hut. At first, Jean Vincent stood doing nothing, then he began to help the boy cut boughs. When their work was done, he pointed at the Indian boy and said to him, first in French and then in Iroquois, ''What's your name? ''
Without a smile the older lad said, ''Wenamouet.''

''Where do you live?" ventured Jean Vincent.

"Pentagoet," said the other.

''I like you,'' said Jean, ''and I am going to live there, too. Please be friends with me."

To his surprise Wenamouet's features flashed into a dazzling smile.

"I like you now. I talk little French. Father Bigot, he told me."

Thus began their friendship.

They helped the fishermen until they had a string of perch, which they broiled over the live coals of the fire. Then they flung their tired bodies on the sweet hemlock boughs. For a moment Jean Vincent watched the twinkling stars shining between the branches of their shelter and soon was deep in sleep.

Chapter IV

So they went on for a week or more. Up the Chaudiere to Sartigan, from there to the Big Pond (Lake Megantic). Partridge and game were plentiful and the rivers teemed with fish. All three Indians knew both by instinct and experience, where to get the best fish. The French lad was happy in the life on the trail and friendship was slowly but surely cementing between him and Wenamouet. The day they completed the passage of the chain of lakes in the shadow of Mt. Bigelow before making the trail for Dead River, Jean Vincent and Wenamouet left the older men fishing and went deeper into the woods to follow a red-winged blackbird and see what small game was at hand. They had lost their trail on the border of a swampy stretch, when a long, piercing yell sounded across the tops of the swaying pines.
''What's that?" said Jean in a hushed voice.

''H'st!'' said Wenamouet, with his lips close to Jean's ear, ''Iroquois war whoop. I have seen signs all about. They trailed here today."

On their return to their camping ground, they found it deserted, except for a broken arrow and an Iroquois mask over which they stumbled. The mask was a strange bit of wood neatly fitted with two halves of a copper kettle, with two holes left for eyes. Their Indian runners had surely been taken captive by the hostile tribe and all food, blankets, and even the canoe had disappeared.

Two sorry lads sat among the boughs that night, not daring to have a fire, scarcely daring to breathe. They were on the alert at the crackling of every twig. The forest was alive with noises. Amid the sobbing of the wind in the branches, sounded the lonesome call of the loon in the bog. A wolf raised his hideous voice from the fastnesses of the mountain. Every now and then came the weird, blood-curdling whoop of the Iroquois as they wound their way along the carry with their sullen, half dead captives, the sound ever growling fainter as they left the Abenaki's trail to go westward to seek the Mohawk trail.

Toward dawn Jean fell asleep. Not for several hours did he wake to the peaceful twitter of small birds and the dancing sunlight through the inter-laced branches. His young friend stood over him, gently shaking him.

''Arise, sluggard, it is time to eat, ''' said Wenamouet, pointing to a wild duck which he had just brought from the marsh. In a moment Jean Vincent was ready to help. They plunged the bird into the brook until its feathers were dripping wet, then buried it in the hot coals of the fire which the Indian boy already had made. In a short time they pulled it out, easily skinned off the outside and the meat was done to a turn, without scorching.

All day they wandered over the carry, often losing the trail, then finding it again, until they reached Dead River. The French lad had been considering all day their dilemma. Not a sign of human habitation, no canoe, no supply of food, no definite trail, what would become of him if anything should happen to his young friend? Could the Indian boy find the trail so blindly blazed?

''Wenamouet, can we ever get to Pentagoet alone?" asked he, wistfully.

''I think I lead right," said the Indian.

''Have you ever been over it before?" queried Jean Vincent.

''Ninny, how come Wenamouet at Quebec?" he answered.

''Where do we go now and how can we go up this river, you call Dead, without a canoe?" insisted Jean.

''Indian show stupid paleface,'' laughed the copper-colored lad. ''Come help me now," he continued, ''I command, too. My father heap big chief, before he went to Happy Hunting Grounds. I have right to wear eagle feathers in hair just as much as little French lord."

He led the way into the deep woods, where he selected six good-sized logs which were lying rotting on the ground. They managed to drag them out, one at a time, to the river bank. There Wenamouet cleared the decayed leaves from the hollow inside, placed the logs together, tied them securely with stout thongs, which he unwound from under his deerskin hunting jacket. They made a good firm raft. With their hatchets and hunting knives, they hurriedly shaped a passable paddle and a pole. On this frail craft, they launched forth down the river, Wenamouet paddling and Jean Vincent helping with the pole at all dangerous turns. Barring an occasional upset, they made good time in reaching ''The Forks'' where Dead River meets the Kennebec. Here the trail divided. The Abenaki's course lay up the river to Moosehead Lake. The trail that Benedict Arnold covered a hundred years later was down the Kennebec.

Chapter V

After several days of paddling the raft on the river and of nights spent in the woods along the bank, they came to Moosehead. Jean Vincent was appalled at the thought of venturing on the rough water with that tiny log raft. Even the Indian boy shook his head thoughtfully when he saw the great waves crested with foam kicked up by the October winds sweeping over the mountain tops. Then a piece of luck came their way. Wenamouet found, under a low spreading willow near the lake's outlet, a good, strong canoe with two new paddles. It was the first time Jean had seen him express any emotion. Wenamouet began to tread the measure of an Indian dance. Clapping his hands, he grunted, ''Ugh, my father, he ask the Great Spirit to help his son," and he repeated some sort of prayer in a dialect that the French boy could not follow.

With this help in a time of great need, the two boys continued swiftly on their way. Wenamouet realized how much more of the trail remained to be covered and he was anxious to hasten along before November ushered in her ice and snows. The nights were growing cold. They had but the thin blankets about their packs.

It was a short carry from the top of Moosehead Lake to the west Branch of the Penobscot. A long paddle followed to Chesuncook Lake, where they were obliged to carry at many impassable places until they came to Lake Pemadumcook. By this time November was at hand. The nights grew bitter and only their roaring campfires kept them from freezing. They were now in the land of the Abenakis and were no longer afraid of hostile tribes.

The rabbit had changed its brown coat for its winter one of white. The squirrels and all small animals had drawn into their winter holes. Food grew very scarce. Two days and nights went by without a morsel of any kind to eat. Then they found some withered acorns, so bitter, but something to ease the gnawing pangs of their hunger. Jean Vincent was ready to give up. Then passed two more days absolutely without food. Wenamouet saw Jean Vincent chewing at a piece of leather cut from his leggings. The Indian stomach is accustomed to long winter fasts in hard years, but not so the French.

''Sacre Bleu!" said Jean in quaint French oath, ''Wenamouet, shoot me with this arquebus as soon as you will, but I beg of you don't scalp me."

Faint, dizzy, unable to stand or drag one foot after the other, the boy threw himself on the ground and began to moan in his agony. Wenamouet wanted to comfort him, but he knew they must keep on. Death was staring them in the face. If only they could reach some Indian village, where they could get food and a bit of rest.

Then Wenamouet uttered a cry of glad surprise and Jean opened his eyes to see his companion run to a rock which showed through the light coating of snow. Wenamouet began to peel off some moss, having a red, shell-shaped leaf, covered with caterpillars and spiders. He took a piece of bark and made a dish to hold water. Then, from the camp fire which he had made to warm Jean, he took red-hot rocks and these he dropped into the water until it boiled and from the moss and hot water he made an insipid tasting soup, which was nourishing enough to bring renewed life and hope to Jean.

Then Wenamouet taunted him to get the boy's courage back, saying, ''Shall I tell the pretty squaws at Pentagoet, that the French blackbird showed the white feather on the Abenaki trail? Come, little brother, take heart once more and I will tell you the story of the Great Moose."

So all the way to Mattawamkeag, the true friend, the Indian lad, kept Jean's mind from his bodily ills by stories of Indian lore. All the way from Quebec he had been teaching him woodcraft, how to blaze a trail, the habits of game, where the best fish hide, all the things the Indian learns through his early boyhood.

At Mattawamkeag, the Sagamores of the Indian village welcomed them with hospitality. They gave them food and let them rest in the wigwam until their strength returned. Wenamouet accused Jean Vincent of taking notice of the handsome Indian girls, who wore their hair braided in a becoming style and wore deerskin dresses, richly embroidered with porcupine quills and shells. He confessed they did make an attractive picture to a lad lost in the wilderness for two months.

Straight down the grand old Penobscot, still in their borrowed canoe, they paddled. A carry at Bangor, a tussle with the wind and rapids at Bucksport narrows and Jean Vincent as he came out into the glory of the broad, open bay, felt as if he must be nearing the ocean. Wenamouet steered their birchen craft with long, graceful strokes through the back cove and into the narrow channel between the red-green marshes, around the sandy point into the deep, blue harbor. Jean saw the gently curving beach, fields sloping to the water ^s edge, a babbling brook lined with small fruit trees, and, back against the cool evergreens, a hill sloping each way to a white beach; a fort, a chapel, a house or two, and here and there in quiet domesticity, a wigwam with a thin line of smoke floating peacefully upward.

''What place is this?'' asked Jean Vincent.

''Pentagoet," said Wenamouet.

As Jean Vincent, Baron Castin of St. Castin, stepped from the canoe to the beach, hope and happiness filled his boyish soul with a sweet content.

How he ruled his Abenakis, how he gained a wife and what befell his friend Wenamouet is a story that has already been twice told.

Louise Wheeler Bartlett


Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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