Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Captive in the Maine woods

This story appeared on page 1 of the Boston Daily Globe of Monday morning, October 11, 1897. I found it when I was looking for information about the rumored monster of Lake Sysladobsis. Once I read this headline, I knew I had to revive the work of this uncredited Boston reporter, and the story of Rosie Pelletier’s abduction by an all-too-human monster.
It is summer, August in Maine of 1895, a long time ago. In the wooded country near the New Brunswick border at St Croix, in the small town of Lake Lambert, a wedding is taking place in the morning hours. Eli Sirois and Rose Pelletier, surrounded by a small crowd of friends, are united in love. The festivities continue into the evening hours with a dance in the little two-room house. It is a small but lively party, easily drowning out the chorus of crickets in the woods outside with bursts of laughter and the tromp of dancing feet and all the noise that can be made with handheld musical instruments.

A loud concussion stops all the friendly warmth like the arrival of the bad fairy in the old story of Sleeping Beauty. Peter Bubeer, tall and lean, angry and drunk, has arrived with his wedding gift – two loaded guns. The first crash is both barrels of his shotgun, fired into the ceiling. The second, sharper shot is his revolver, aimed without care at the stunned groom.

There is a lot of smoke, and noise, and screaming. Before the guests can sort it all out, the door of the cabin has shut on them. The shrieks of the bride being carried off into the night are all that is left for them to follow, and they disappear too. Eli, bleeding from the gunshot wound to his arm, rallies the guests and they erupt into the night, calling and searching for Rosie and the villain, but they have disappeared, leaving no trace.

For the next two years, Eli is consumed with his search, pressing every hunter and lumberman who passes through the small community to keep their eyes open for his bride while they are out in the woods. A hunting guide himself, Eli spends much of his time in the forest, either on his own or with hunting parties who hire him. They tolerate his strange choice of routes and locations – they know he is hunting something more valuable than trophy game. Besides, he such a good guide that he leads them to plenty of animals whichever way he goes, and it is certainly an interesting trip to tell friends about at the club back in Boston, when they get home.

Sometimes, when he is free from hire, he simply disappears for days at a time, led by daytime visions or dreams in the night – visions that remind him of this or that hidden nook or cranny, giving him new ideas for where to find Bubeer, to track down where the villain has sequestered Rosie, somewhere out there in the woods south of Lambert Lake.

Each time he returns alone to his cabin.

It is mid-September in the year 1897. Local trapper Joe Lacoot sets out from Forest Station, a tiny settlement along the New Brunswick border. His plan is to work his way through the forest of northern Washington County. A group of New Yorkers is looking for a small area in which to set up their own private game club. He travels through some areas he’s never been to before, and two weeks into his ramble, he finds himself arrived at Sysladobsis Lake, or ‘Dobsis, as it is more conveniently called. The next step is to take a shortcut from ‘Dobsis to Saponic (just southeast of the small town of Burlington).

By the time 3:00 in the afternoon rolls around, Lacoot has been pushing through the undergrowth for hours. With relief he emerges suddenly into a clearing in the woods. There is a small pond nearby. Across the clearing he sees some animals, though not the usual woods creatures he is used to. After approaching cautiously, he determines that they are a thin and rangy pigs -- like the feral pigs found down South, aptly called razorbacks or “racers.” But amongst their number moves a beast like no other he has seen. A closer look and he still cannot believe his eyes.

There, grubbing and rooting in the undergrowth with the pigs, is a man on all fours. It cannot be possible, but there he is, in front of Lacoot, in the broad daylight of the autumn afternoon. Periodically in his poking under the dirt, the desperate brute uncovers a string of wild potato or ground nuts, and sits down to devour them. The opportunistic pigs crowd around him each time he begins to dig again, and he elbows them aside as he continues his never ending search for more food.

Lacoot stands some time watching this, amazed. The man acts in all ways like an animal. He is naked except for a bundling of fabric over his back, and he wallows in the dirt. Lacoot's alarm grows as he assesses the situation. He dares not approach the motley herd any closer, knowing how ferocious wild pigs are. At the same time, he cannot consider shooting at the pigs beforehand, knowing that in the chaos he has as good a chance of hitting the strange human amongst the beasts.

A pragmatic man, he simply decides to back into the bushes, and work his way around. Using the edge of the small pond to guide him, he begins to strike another path. To his surprise, he comes across another clearing. There is a little thatch-roofed shack made of birch bark, saplings and spruce boughs. A person runs out as Lacoot emerges from the woods, shrieking in terror, and makes for the shelter of the forest.

As shocked as he was by the four-legged man, he is certainly more shocked now, but his mind catches up quickly to the events. The long hair and the person's ragged garb point Lacoot towards the realization that this is a female alone in the woods, and he halloos at her to stop. Speaking encouragingly to the mystery woman, he is relieved to see her hesitate and finally stop at the edge of the forest.

Halting explanation from him turns into a conversation as she begins to respond, finally asking him who he is and where he is from. As soon as he mentions that he lives at Lambert Lake, she fairly erupts across the clearing, running to him. At first he is unsure whether or not she is simply a maniac determined to kill him, but then as she stumbles in her haste he sees she is weeping, and his heart goes out to her.

Falling on her knees in front of him, she sobs, "Are you really and truly Joe Lacoot? Don't you know me?" Lacoot shakes his head -- her fair skin is dark with exposure, her bones show through her emaciated frame. Her sobs redouble as she cries, "Why I'm Rosie Pelletier!" Lacoot is speechless as his mind works furiously to put everything together. Rosie weeps more and more, lamenting that Eli Sirois will never again want his young bride in this condition. Lacoot comforts her and gradually she calms down. As they talk, she makes him realize that the human in the pig herd is the very villain sought after by all of Lambert Lake.

"That thing is Pete Bubeer," Rosie nods. "He's been like that more than a year and a half. I tried and tried to get away from here. I'm a wicked woman for making him that way, but I couldn't help it -- I struck him with an ax, and he's been like that. But I was trying to get away, Joe, and he followed me and choked me every day, and each time I got away into the woods he came after me and abused me and made me go back with him to this awful place."

Rosie tells Lacoot how the kidnapper Bubeer had muffled her cries so the search parties couldn't follow them in the woods that night. She heard her friends calling for her but her efforts to respond were in vain. Over the next few days Bubeer dragged her through the woods away from town, tying her to trees at night and beating her when she refused to follow him voluntarily, subjecting her to brutalities she had difficulty finding the words to describe to her rescuer.

He would pick a likely spot to settle, stay a few days, become uneasy, and then force her to resume the march into the wilderness in some random direction. Disoriented by constant beatings and fatigue, the young woman would have had a hard time finding her way back to civilization even if she had escaped her captor.

Her wedding night was the last time she had seen another human being until that afternoon when Joe Lacoot emerged from the woods, 50 miles from the town of Lambert Lake.

Rosie admits to Lacoot that her repeated flights into the woods from their final stopping point, from which Bubeer dragged her back each time, were delirious efforts to lose herself in the woods and wait for death, a preferable outcome to what Bubeer was subjecting her to each day at their camp. But Bubeer was an expert tracker and had no trouble finding her each time. The last time, after a particularly heinous experience at his hands, she had run over a mile into the woods, only to be dragged back yet again. But this time her captor was lax, and as he shoved her back into the shack, she darted to the ax in the corner and in her fury drove it into his skull.

Rosie expected him to be dead, but instead the ruffian survived, though after his recovery it became clear that he was now, as she termed it, "an idiot."

Rosie tells Lacoot how Bubeer now imagines himself a pig, and is no longer interested in her, having no grasp of language with which to talk to her anymore. The only time he reacts to her is when she seizes one of his fellow swine to kill for food. She feels guilty for what she did to him, but how can she be truly sorry? He treated her like an animal, and now he himself is the animal. Rosie has no trouble believing that God has something to do with this outcome.

She fears his idiocy will some day turn to outright madness, and that he will attack her then in vengeance, but so far Bubeer has descended each day further into habits docile, gross and stupid. She tells Lacoot how she patiently waited for a hunting party or lumber crew to come this way, knowing if she set out into the trackless forest not knowing her location, it would be a death sentence. Over the months, the pigs had added to their own number, and she has kept herself from starvation by killing and eating one of them periodically, though each time she risks the rage of her deranged kidnapper by invading the pig sty, which he considers his own territory.

Lacoot lets her finish her account, and then without further delay he outfits her with makeshift clothing and shoes for the return trip. They leave the idiot behind with the pigs.

After an arduous hike, Lacoot places the half-starved and exhausted girl in the safety and comfort of a friend's hunting camp while he strikes quickly through the forest to Lambert Lake. The news brings excitement, and the locals can hardly wait for Eli Sirois to hear it for himself. He is away on an expedition to Grand Lake with some Massachusetts sportsmen, but the locals haven't the heart to set out to bring Rosie home without him. Perhaps she will have a chance to recuperate and shed some of the marks of starvation by the time the rescue party arrives at the camp where she now mends.

The authorities at the nearest settlement will be directed to the sorry hideaway in the woods where Bubeer scratches his sustenance from the dirt with the pigs. The officials will no doubt remove him to some place of detention, maybe even the insane asylum at Augusta. The hogs will be shot, and the camp will be burned. It is a monument to the bitterest anguish any Maine bride ever felt, and no one will be sorry to see it destroyed forever.

1 comment:

Mongoose said...

Very interesting story. Thank you for finding and sharing this one!