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Arago in love

In The Hunt for Earth Gravity, the voyage of the Uranie was compressed into just over five pages, but that still allowed space for Jacques Arago’s description of his last minute dash from Apra Harbour to Hågatña (and back) for a final farewell to a Chamorro girl with whom he had fallen, very temporarily, in love. The extract was taken from Page 55 of the 1823 English translation of the second volume of his 1822 Promenade Autour du Monde (almost always found bound together with the first volume).

“….. we are all on board; the anchor is to be weighed tomorrow at an early hour; it is past noon; to reach Agagna I must perform a journey of three leagues; and yet I hasten thither …. I wish to see, to hear her once more. If you had known her, you would pardon my weakness; and perhaps you would not pardon me for leaving her.

I arrived at Agagna, breathless, exhausted with fatigue; she also was still weeping. You will believe that there was sincerity in this attachment, when I shall have told you that this young woman was a savage. Oh! Yes, I was very wrong in returning to see her.”

In the Promenade this was all he had to say about the affair, but in 1839 he published another version of his adventures, the Souvenirs d’un Aveugle, in which he told his readers a great deal more, including that the name of the lady (or girl – she was only 14) was Mariquitta. They also discovered that there was actually a picture of her in the earlier book, identified only as “A young girl of Guam going to Mass”. Her story begins on page 259 of the Souvenirs.

A thickset, nimble and energetic man had come to Humata with the governor, and offered himself to us to do our errands and guide us in our excursions. On the day of our arrival, I took him as a guide, and we did not return to the village until the evening, after sunset. I learned in this excursion that he was from Agagna and that his wife was very pretty but had an even prettier sister, called Mariquitta.

– Here, said I to my guide, here is a piastre for you, for your wife a handkerchief, and for your sister this pretty blessed cross. Are you happy ?

– She will be much more so.

– Who do you mean by ‘she’ ?

– Mariquitta.

– Why ?

– She asked me so much to bring her a relic.

– So she is very devout?

– Of all of us, she is the one who prays best

– How old is he?

– Fourteen.

– No husband?

– She has refused ten, twenty, and often she cries without us knowing why.

– Didn’t you ask her the cause of her tears?

– Yes, but she says that we would not understand her, that she is not from this country, that she suffers within, that she dreams every night of demons and angels, and she adds that she will kill herself soon: maybe she is crazy. Yesterday, however, we had to laugh while going to church. It was the first time she went there with a headscarf, because we are not rich.

 – Here, will you also give this madwoman, this Mariquitta, this pretty scarf, to wear when she next goes to pray.

– Oh ! please go to Agagna, senor, because otherwise my sister will come here to thank you, and we don’t want that, for fear of leprosy.

– Prepare her for my visit.

– Your name ?

– Arago.

– Señor Arago, my sister Mariquitta will be waiting for you at her door with your scarf on her head. You will see how pretty she is! Her house is the fourth on the left before you reach the Palacio. 

– I won’t forget. Adios.

– Adios, señor.

This seems an unlikely conversation, but Arago was obviously thinking of it when, on page 248 of the Promenade, he wrote that:

Here, as in Spain, the husbands are very jealous of their wives; lovers of their mistresses: but, these excepted, you may pay your court, if you please, to their sisters and friends; what is that to them: What is not appropriated to themselves is no concern of theirs: and you will find the men shameless enough to offer you, as soon as you enter their houses, one of their relations, for fear you should cast an eye on their wives.

We have already been told that Mariquitta’s sister was very pretty, and her husband was evidently taking no chances. Nor was Arago a man to neglect an opportunity. The story continues on page 261 of the Souvenirs

The evening of my arrival in Agagna, I saw, indeed, a young girl at the door of the house indicated, while the crowd gathered around us to see us more closely and hear us speak. I only looked at her out of the corner of my eye, so as not to attract her attention, but when night came, under some pretext, I approached the house, where they were kneeling for the Angelus. Mariquitta spoke aloud; the rest of the family answered in concert. They were about to get up when I heard these words:

– An ‘Our Father’ for Señor Arago.

And the prayer was devoutly and gently articulated. I climbed the four or five steps of the exterior ladder, and knocked on the door of the house, which was half-open. Mariquitta rose like a surprised gazelle at the sound.

 – It’s Arago! cried she.

– Who told you, Mariquitta? 

– It’s you: you’re Arago.

And the poor girl religiously kissed the little crucifix that her brother had given her from me, and she looked at me with two big liquid eyes that said to me, “All this is for you.” I was offered a seat and Mariquitta lay on a coarse mat, her head on my lap, while the rest of the family moved here and there in the same room.

– Do you want tobacco? said this pretty girl, do you want sicas cake? do you want coconut, a mat, a hammock, a kiss?

– I want everything.

– You will have everything, but from me only, because I want only to serve you.

It was, I swear, a new and unexpected sensation. Since my departure, and except among the Chinese in Diely, I had heard only threats, snarls of fury and cries of rage. Here, a soft voice, expressions of kindness, of gratitude, and then two black and tender pupils that never left me, two small hands that were delivered to me with innocence and joy, with smiles on the lips. I thought I was in a new world. I was indeed. Her brother arrived an hour after me.

– Here he is ! cried Mariquitta, leaping at his neck; here he is ! Thank you brother

– Oh ! I was sure he would come.

– And not me.

– Will you stay here for a long time?

– Two or three months, I hope

– And after that, she said, in a trembling voice, – will you leave?

– Yes.

– Your gift is not blessed, she said, rising, – here is your scarf and your crucifix, I don’t want them any more.

She opened the door, went down the steps of the ladder and disappeared into the shadows which already spread across the earth.

I spent the night in a hammock in the hospital, perturbed by this unforeseen encounter, which was also causing confusion in the family. However, overcome by exhaustion, I fell asleep, and upon waking I saw Mariquitta on the ladder, swinging gently with the help of a small rope hanging from a coconut palm. 

– Ah! there you are! you made us very sad.

– I was, also. Are you still sad?

– Oh! the pain does not go away so quickly; it comes suddenly and then it stays.

– Where did you spend the night?

– Over there, near the church. I prayed to God to grant me a wish.

– What did you ask him for?

– Good health for you for two or three months, and then a serious illness.

– Thank you for those wishes.

– If God is good, he will hear me. When one is ill, one does not set sail, one does not travel the world, one stays where one is; if you only knew how happy we are in Guahan, especially in Agagna! we have two houses built next to each other, we can have two hammocks close together, we can love each other and pray to God together. You see that I have asked heaven for something very proper.

– But why do you love me, Mariquitta, I who have done nothing to deserve it?

– I don’t know if I love you; but, you must see that last night the moon was beautiful, today the sun will be beautiful, and will be so as long as you stay on our island.

– Yet there is a big ugly cloud that rises and comes towards the sun to hide it.

– Ah! It is because you will leave.

And Mariquitta’s eyes filled with tears, and her hand ceased to caress me, and she seemed to be waiting for the reassuring words that I could not utter.  I tried to make her understand that I had duties to fulfill and that her feelings for me were probably only a passing fancy. At this, she rose abruptly, rushed to an large tree on which were a few resinous branches and threw on to them the scarf I had given her. Her sister could only save a shred of it, which Mariquitta snatched from her and threw in the fire, with a sort of anger where you could see was not anger at all.

– Child! I said to her, I have scarves in my bags more beautiful than that one, and I promise you that they are all for you.

– I’ll burn them all!

– With us, Mariquitta, we only give to those we love.

– So you love me?

– Yes.

– I like that better than all your presents, and since you love me, you will not leave.

The pretty Chamorro rose more cheerfully, did the housework with the rest of the family, said the morning prayers aloud and deftly cut for me a green coconut; then came delicious bananas and the so refreshing and sweet watermelon.

But I did not know what to think of this tenderness, at once so naive and so ardent. I had believed until then that the sweetest passions of the soul, such as love and friendship, came only with civilization, and my experiences had strengthened this conviction, which had become stronger every day. The treatment by a master of his slave could sometimes produce in the latter a desire for revenge or liberation; but love, the sympathy between two natures so distinct and, so to speak, so different, was something that my reason refused to admit.

Mariquitta was an exception in this exceptional country, and she kept to the customs by which her life was surrounded only to the extent that was required of her. On the other hand, if I had not been attracted towards this young and charming girl by those intimate feelings which one often experiences and which can conquered in defiance of reason, it would have all too easy to use her simply as a  subject for my traveller’s studies. But as soon as the heart and the mind are in conflict, it is dangerous to act in a situation which one does not fully understand. Mariquitta’s openness laid bare her people’s Spanish present and Chamorro past, and offered me a way to study these without fear of too gross an error. So I often noticed that her tenderness for me became more ardent when her father or sister were listening to her naive expressions.

When Mariquitta was happy, they said to her: Have you seen him? If her eyes were clouded with sadness, they said to her with a smile: He will come. She came with me when I went hunting and her keen eyes found for me from afar the birds that I wanted, and as soon as fatigue or the heat forced me to rest, this young child, whom the heat could not deprive of energy, turned her attention to protecting me from the bites of the insects and scorpions that infested the forest. In her mad hope of seeing me live on Guhan, she brought me the most refreshing fruits, and sometimes she pointed out to me a stormy sea, as if to frighten me, and without saying a word she sought with her eyes to draw the secrets from my soul.

Poor child! The day of separation was soon to come.

One evening when, confined to the house by a terrible storm, preceded by a strong earthquake, I told her of my sadness at having to leave her, she said, in a sad voice:

– You will leave me much sooner than you think.

– How then ?

– In a few days you will die .

– Who told you ?

– Are you not going to Tinian?

– Yes.

– Well ! The canoes in which you make the trip often capsize: there can be a storm like the one today, and you can’t swim.

– Such storms are rare here.

– There happen, though, and then we die.

– You will pray for me, Mariquitta.

– Yes, but first for myself.

The moment of departure for the ‘island of antiquities’ having come, she came with me to the shore without uttering a single word, but only looked and pointed at the clouds, which the wind was pushing violently towards Tinian. As I was boarding, I said, in a voice that I tried to make comforting:

– Goodbye, in eight days I will be back with you.

– Or me with you.

– You will bring me bad luck, Mariquitta.

– I’ll give you back what you give me.

– Will you love me during this separation?

– Since I love you now!

 This answer would not have been logical in Europe, and I admit that I felt myself distant from my poor naive conquest.

The trip to Tinian lasted a week, and during this time the church did not lack votive offerings. My little cross had been hung at the foot of the crucifix decorating the high altar, and the fine scarf with which Mariquitta veiled herself so gracefully did not leave the crude box that held it.

“Prayers,” said young Chamorro to me, “are nothing without sacrifice; if I had not given my treasures to God, if I had lost the scarf, if I had eaten sandias (watermelons) or bananas, you would be dead.

– So, I owe you my life?

– Yes.

– Well ! so much the better, because life with love like yours is happiness.

– And yet your two or three months of stay here will end soon.

– Go, my angel, I will always think of you.

– Poor friend, to think is to die.

– And all that -, she said to me with candour, – is not to force you to stay, since you must leave me, but to make you regret it in the future.

Mariquitta had soul enough for two, in a country where it was difficult to imagine of everyone that they had even one.

Eventually the day of our separation came; the officers and crew were recalled to the corvette, still moored in Apra Harbour, the cannon announced the fatal hour, and Mariquitta said just these two words to me, with a big tear in her eyes:

– I will come with you.

Her father, mother and sister wanted to come also, and we all got into their canoe. Having arrived at the anchorage, we first went ashore to eat, and then made our last farewells.

– Give me your hat -, said Mariquitta, – and your neck-cloth: tomorrow I will hurry to church where my scapular and crucifix are; I will have many things from you! … Oh, Dios! Dios!!…

And she rushed into the wood and disappeared. Her sister and I went looking for her, and after an hour we found her at the foot of a banana tree which she was holding tightly.

– Thank you – she said to me, seeing on my features a pain that I could not control;  – Thank you, because you love me, don’t you? I wanted to die, but now I’ll live. Go. 

– Do you want to come with us?

 – Go; someone will tell me about you when you’ve gone.

– Who, Mariquitta?

– He or she, you know who.

I rejoined the ship, where they were already turning the capstan, followed with my hand, my eyes and my heart my good Chamorro, whose graceful silhouette disappeared through the trees. But a few moments later the wind changed, and without another change in the weather we were not to set sail until sunrise the next day,.

– Oh ! so much the better! – I cried, – I will see her again!

I went ashore at around six o’clock, and, in my deep regret at leaving a young girl who had shown me such true and uncomplicated love, I begged Lamarche, my friend and first lieutenant of the corvette, to have my belongings put ashore, in case they took advantage of a favourable wind and sailed before I returned. In matters of the heart, it is not my own sorrow that disturbs me, but it is for the other person that my sorrows are sharp and severe.

The sun was setting, yet I flattered myself that by hurrying I could arrive in Agagna before midnight. To make the distance shorter, I decided to leave the beaten and winding track that borders the shore and take a short-cut through the woods. O ,n this island there are no terrors to be faced; no fierce beast roams these solitudes, no poisonous snake slithers beneath the grass, no horde of savages wanders to threaten a lost traveller with its fury and rage: only a few buffaloes come down from the mountains into the plain and flee at the sight of man; some wild deer start at the noise and leap into the thickest bushes, where they find secure shelter. The air was still, the leaves were silent, and there was that kind of solemnity when yourself find yourself alone in such immense forests, where you might dream at leisure of independence and freedom. 

Driven by love, what happened to me was what always happens to anyone who is sure that the shortest way between two points is straight line: I got lost, and I only noticed it when return was impossible. What could I do? Move always forward, at the risk of becoming more completely lost. On the one hand, I imagined the corvette close to weighing anchor; on the other, I rejoiced to the bottom of my heart at the unexpected good luck I intended to bring to Mariquitta, the poor child that I had left in tears, who, without knowing why or how, had trusted in God to always keep me near her. Alas!, does reason ever prevail in the matters of the heart?

Night was fast falling, but I had already crossed the stony bed of a dry stream, which I guessed flowed down to Toupoungan. With that to guide me, I redoubled my efforts. Everywhere the scented earth was covered with fresh and vigorous vegetation; everywhere also were those immense giants, the coconut trees, the palm trees, the fig and its protruding roots, the breadfruit, so beautiful, so imposing, so useful. In my admiration I forgot the corvette, and almost Europe. A second stream, which I had noticed near Assan, guided me again, and it was not long before I made out the silhouettes of the first houses of Agagna.

Poor Mariquitta! I said to myself in a whisper, running still faster, tomorrow there will be another painful separation; but again I will hear your sweet words, again I will wipe your tears!

When I reached her threshold, at the foot of the small ladder, I listened with dread; I feared to hear sighs mixed with sobs, but all slept  peacefully, all was calm; one would have said that no passion was there, and Mariquitta slept still more deeply than her sister. I was exhausted, and yet I wanted to leave immediately; but longing and sorrow were stronger: I sat down quietly on the ladder, which had witnessed so many secrets in silence. I took the fine scarf from around my neck and placed it by the head of this forgetful young girl, and waited for the dawn, which did not take long to appear. Mariquitta woke up, opened her eyes and saw my gift:

– Dios! Dios! she cried, Arago is dead; an angel has brought me this scarf, which I had not dared ask him for.

She got up, saw me and uttered a cry:

– Are you then not leaving?

– Yes, but I wanted to see you again: I am leaving more calmly, because you were sleeping: grief hardly sleeps.

– No, but it kills.

– So you will perish from my going?

– Yes.

But Mariquitta did not die. One of my friends, Mr. Bérard, on his last trip, saw this young Chamorro girl and also gave her rosaries, scapulars, handkerchiefs and necklaces.

Guhan is, however, more than ten thousand leagues from my homeland

It is a fine romantic story but, as always with Arago, and particularly with the later Arago of the Souvenirs, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Certainly it is hard to believe the Bérard saw Mariquitta again. He did make a second voyage to the Pacific, with Duperrey in the Coquille, but the ship sailed no nearer to Guam than the Carolines, and unless he made a side trip in a smaller boat (and why would he do that?), Bérard could not have been on Guam.

Mariquitta was to have another French visitor, but she had to wait twenty years for him to arrive. Élie Le Guillou sailed with Dumont d’Urville’s second expedition, which came to Guam in 1839, and he brought with him an early copy of the Souvenirs as a guide. He found Mariquitta ….

…. for whom the poor Arago, who has left fragments of his heart in all the corners of the globe, once thought to abandon his family and his homeland ….

…. still living in the same house near the Palacio, and on page 221 of his own Voyage autour du Monde he ungallantly noted that she had changed.

Alas! the years pass swiftly in the Marianas; old age comes early, and time, even more than her love, has left its mark on the fresh face of the beloved Mariquitta, ….. I spoke to her of Arago; she shook my hand; I gave her a blessed rosary in his name, she thanked me with a tear. All this was touching, it was a cult of the past that was still alive, strong and powerful in the present, and no doubt also in the future.

She would, by this time, have been about thirty-four years old, so it is not surprising that she had changed. It would probably have been no consolation to her to know that Arago, had he been there, would not have been able to see any differences, because he had become completely blind a few years earlier.