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Chris Scott Wilson
When America needed a hero…
One man had them all.
His name was John Paul Jones.
Born plain John Paul on July 6, 1747 at Arbigland in Galloway, Scotland, he was the son of an estate gardener. At sea by the age of 13, by 21 he was master of John, trading between Scotland and the West Indies. With the aim of becoming a Virginia plantation owner, he formed a partnership in Tobago. After killing a mutineer in self-defense and fearing a kangaroo court, he fled the island. He enlarged his name to John Paul Jones to escape detection; then in 1775 on the outbreak of the War of Independence, he volunteered for America’s infant navy.
Off Flamborough Head, just south of Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast four years later, John Paul Jones became a legend.
“…as in the words of the traditional folk song Scarborough Fair, the word fair was not the name of a market, but had been used as an adjective placed after the noun, rather the same as saying fair Scarborough, meaning beautiful.” Allinson’s English Usage, Stockton 1953.
La Belle France
JULY 15, 1778
She probably has the most delightful derrière in all France, John Paul Jones thought, watching the pale orbs of Therese de Chaumont’s bottom rotate as she walked naked to the side chamber off her boudoir. Therese’s ash blonde wig curled erotically almost halfway down her back, the ridge of her spine melting into flesh above a voluptuous posterior. She was surprisingly long-legged, slender calves enhanced as she tiptoed, half turning to beam a languid smile, dewy eyed with the aftermath of lovemaking.
“I will not be long, Cheri,” she whispered, lips once again sliding into that smile of promise. And it will not be long before I am ready again, John Paul Jones thought as he stretched lazily among the crumpled sheets of the four-poster bed. He wiggled his toes and raked his fingernails gently across his bare chest, remembering her own talons when she screamed her delight at the fusing of their bodies. She knew all the tricks too. Enough to sate a man’s hunger but still leave a handful of embers glowing in the pit of his stomach which she could fan back into desire with the merest gesture; a smile, a glance, any time she wished. Any time at all.
John Paul Jones let his eyes range around the opulence of Therese’s boudoir; expensive Chinese hand-woven carpets brought by ship from the Orient, silk drapes, row upon row of bottles containing rare scents and essences that cluttered the surface of the dressing table. Oil paintings adorned the flock papered walls and each item of carefully selected furniture bore an embossed C surrounded by a gold wreath of oak leaves as though dismissing any dispute over the room’s ownership. Although appreciative of luxury, John Paul Jones found the unashamed declaration of wealth overbearing, used as he was to the more spartan furnishings of a captain’s cabin aboard ship.
Had he come across half the oceans of the world, he thought, to become nothing more than a woman’s toy? To come wagging his tail and panting like a puppy every time she crooked a finger, offering solace with a shrug of her tanned shoulders, or promising the heat of her loins with a smoldering glance?
But perhaps a lap dog was the best thing to be right at that moment. His mistress could possibly hold the only solution to his dilemma. Their affaire had begun seven months earlier, when he had first been presented at court in Paris. He had thought her stunning and he wondered how he had known at that first meeting he could be forging an alliance to prove fruitful in months to come. In retrospect, it was almost as if the gods had planned it. How could he have chosen her from the numerous and enticing ladies he had encountered in those early months in Paris, she whose husband had the ear of King Louis XV, serving on the Privy Council, a hand in every pie whose recipe contained the French Navy?
Which was one of the reasons John Paul Jones thought her a bitch. It was a paradox, he admitted reluctantly, considering her a bitch for cuckolding a husband that he respected. Perhaps it alleviated his own guilt.
Sieur de Chaumont had not always been her husband’s name. Born Jacques Donatien le Ray, he had gambled heavily in the East India trade and made his fortune. Now, while serving on the Privy Council and holding other honorary appointments, he owned a fleet of merchant ships and procured vast numbers of supplies for the French Navy. With his current status had come his title and ownership of the mansion where John Paul Jones now lay in bed, the Hotel Valentinois in the western Paris suburb of Passy. Benjamin Franklin also lived at the hotel, a strong link with America during these years of the War of Independence, as America struggled to throw off the stifling yoke England was determined to keep fastened on her fast expanding colonies. Like a mother reluctant to admit her children can fend for themselves, England refused to untie the apron strings.
Right now, without a ship, Therese’s friendship could be the most worthwhile he pursued. She was younger than her husband and had a way of getting what she wanted. If protocol and the power of the infant American Congress could not obtain John Paul Jones a ship, then perhaps Therese tickling her husband’s ear, and through him the ear of King Louis…
He grimaced at the elaborate woven canopy of the four-poster. What if she wanted to keep him in her bed so much she did nothing to procure him a berth, only whispered empty promises as she held him to her soft breasts and clasped him in the warmth of her thighs? It had been two months now since Ranger was taken from him, and now she lay at anchor being refitted and supplied for a voyage back to America. A ship he could have done so much with, and already had done.
Ranger had been only two months old when Paul Jones took command. 318 tons, built at Portsmouth in New Hampshire, she lay 100 feet long overall. Square rigged on her three masts with her black topsides slashed by a yellow stripe, Jones had admired her rakish bows and undercut stern. Although he’d had to modify her masts, the original sail plan more suitable for a sixty-four gunner than the 18 nine-pounders she carried, Jones had been pleased with her. An American ship with which to fight the stubborn English, and she had served him well.
He had set sail from America in November 1777 and shortly after his arrival in France, the affaire with Therese had begun. By April the following year he had sailed out of Camaret and Ranger had shown her mettle. After only four days at sea, the brigantine Dolphin had fallen to Ranger’s hooded charm. Jones had scuttled Dolphin, reckoning her valueless as a prize, but if his men grumbled, their disappointment was erased two days later with the capture of Lord Chatham, a 250-ton ship. His exploits did not end there. After a brush with a king’s revenue cutter, Ranger sank a Scots coasting schooner off the Mull of Galloway. Later the same day he sank a Dublin sloop to prevent the Admiralty in London learning his whereabouts, anxious as they were for their men-o’-war to find and destroy Ranger before Paul Jones could cause any more havoc in England’s shipping lanes. After two abortive land raids and a hard won victory over HMS Drake, he had taken another brigantine, Patience, before a victorious return to France.
And then the news he was to lose command of Ranger. His orders on leaving America had been to take command of a new frigate, which would be bought in France by the American Commissioners in Paris and then operate under their instructions. That he should use France as a base was an openhanded gesture of support by King Louis to the youthful nation, although it well suited his purpose that the Americans were snapping at English throats. But when Paul Jones arrived on French soil, the Commissioners sidestepped and paper shuffled, muffling the possible acquisition of L’Indien, a ship at Amsterdam on the Zuider Zee that Jones thought a capable vessel. While he was at sea in Ranger, a political wrangle broke out between the Dutch, French, and Americans. On his return he relinquished command of Ranger to Lt. Simpson who received orders to make ready and sail home, then Jones found out L’Indien was not to be his.
And now he had no ship at all. Jones squirmed under the caress of the satin sheets at the indignity of it all. If the war was left to soldiers and sailors they would damn well get on with it. Politicians would waggle silver tongues forever. Meanwhile the English were sinking American ships, and with them the hopes of a young and free country.
Angry, he swung his bare feet to the floor, his soles settling into the luxury of the Chinese carpet. He would go and see them again. Franklin would help him. God knows, he had promised often enough. Jones trusted him, which was more than he could say for Monsieur Sartine, the French Minister of Marine. That man could sidestep with all the speed and grace of a thoroughbred mare threatened by a puff adder. He stood up abruptly and strode to the chair where he had hung his uniform coat. His breeches, underwear, and white shirt lay neatly folded on the seat.
“Where do you go Cheri?”
He turned at Therese’s throaty purr. She stood in the doorway, one hand playing idly on the wooden doorjamb. Her powder and lip rouge had been repaired and her body glistened with a light coating of oil. She wore only a gold neck chain he had given her, booty from Ranger’s voyage. He gazed at the links hanging low over her perfect breasts, then across the gentle swell of her stomach to the lush triangle nestling at the junction of her thighs. Still angry, he jerked his eyes back to her face, trying to hide his approval.
“I go to find a ship.”
She smiled, teasing. “Put your trust in me, my Captain. Sail in me and I will find you a ship.”
“A voyage of delight?” he asked, thinking only a French woman could say something like that and not sound ridiculous.
Her smile tipped the corners of her mouth. “As the Greeks said, we will ride the wine dark sea together.” She shifted her balance onto one foot, accentuating the swell of her hips. The ash blonde wig coupled with the painted-in beauty spot on her left cheek declared her breeding, but her eyes and sensual mouth together with her stance provoked heady images of gutter lust.
Paul Jones felt the heat rising as he toyed with his shirt. Slowly, he slid one arm into the soft cotton sleeve, tearing his eyes away from the threat of imprisonment. “I must have a ship. That is why I came to France.”
She soft footed over the carpet to him, standing so close he was forced to look at her. She brushed a hand across his shoulder, stroking his chest as though he was a wild animal that could savage her at any moment. Her fingertips sent delicious shivers through his skin. As she gauged her effect on him, Therese’s nimble fingers feathered across to his other shoulder, edging the single shirtsleeve down his arm. It crumpled unnoticed to the floor. His eyes were again captive.
“You shall have your ship, Captain. I promise it.”
He did not believe her, but at that moment he had other, more urgent needs. He raised a hand to cushion a rounded breast, weighing it for the precious thing it was. The rosebud of a nipple sprang alive at his touch. His nostrils flared with the fragrance of her oiled body and his hands involuntarily began to brush and stroke her sculptured back as she molded against him. When she turned up her face he silenced the pout of her lips with a kiss that reached long and deep into the moist cavern of her mouth. Her hands slid to his waist, talons gently raking, hungry. He broke free of her greedy lips and flung his head back, laughter bubbling in his throat.
“Therese, you have the way, my lady.”
She squinted a little, her dark eyes sparkling at the victory within her grasp. “Do you yield, Captain?”
“Yield?” His laughter was a joyous ring. He scooped her into his arms, took three steps, and then lowered her onto the rumpled sheets of the bed. Playfully, she pulled the satin across her hips, gripping the material tightly. He hung over her, plumbing the mysterious depths of her eyes for long seconds. “One day, Therese, your husband will come home at the wrong time, then I will never get a ship. And you will no longer have a husband.”
She smiled knowingly. “But not today. Today he is at the ministry, fighting for you.”
“And I am here, fighting for you?”
She tilted her head back arrogantly, clinging to the protection of the sheet. “I repeat. Do you yield, Captain?”
His eyes glinted mischievously then he took his weight on one hand while the other ripped away the sheet to expose her.
“Yield?” he grinned. “I have not yet begun to fight!”
The knocking at the door was low but insistent.
John Paul Jones was instantly alert. He freed himself from the tangle of Therese’s sleepy arms to sit bolt upright. “Who in God’s name is that?” he demanded in a whisper.
Therese made a face. “My chambermaid, I think.”
“And if it is not?”
She came awake then, aware of their compromising position, but still sure of the caller. She curled an arm about his neck and pulled him down to her face, eyes wide. “My gallant Captain! Caught in flagrante delicto with the lady of the house!” She covered her mouth with a hand. “Oh the shame! We shall be the scandal of Paris.”
He shrugged her away angrily, springing from the bed to pluck his shirt from the floor where it had fallen an hour earlier.
“If we are caught, my Captain, I shall tell them it was worth it,” she smiled, amused.
“Enough of your jokes,” he replied in a fierce whisper.
The knocking resumed, louder than before. Therese’s smile faded. She waved to the side chamber that served as a bathroom. “In there quickly, and do not forget your shoes.”
Paul Jones had already begun moving before she finished speaking. He stopped in mid stride, arms full of clothes as he looked back at his buckled shoes still resting beneath the chair. With a muttered curse he shifted his bundle under one arm before scampering back to grab the offending shoes. He was aware of how ludicrous he must look while she lay serenely composed in bed. As he squeezed into the bathroom he heard her call, then came the sound of the door opening.
“Excuse me, Madame,” the chambermaid apologized, “but an important dispatch has been delivered for Captain Jones.”
“From whence? And why do you come to tell me?” Therese demanded in the haughty voice she reserved for the servants.
“From the Minister of Marine, Madame. The captain is not to be found in either the hotel or the grounds. I thought perhaps Madame might know his whereabouts.” The implication was plain enough as she paused, and Paul Jones thought he detected a hint of conspiratorial amusement in the girl’s voice as she continued. “But of course, Madame, I did not know you were in be…resting. Excuse my interruption. I will look elsewhere.” She turned to leave but halted at a wave of Therese’s hand.
“Did I excuse you?”
“Where is this dispatch?”
“An officer of the American Navy brought it. He is in the lobby downstairs. What shall I tell him?”
“Tell him he is to wait until the captain is found. Very well, you may go.”
Paul Jones heard the door close as he tucked his shirt into his breeches. He stepped into his shoes and after a glance to make sure his stockings were straight, he ventured back into the bedroom. He couldn’t help thinking how perfect Therese looked, naked to the waist, dominating the room from the center of the vast bed.
“You heard, Cheri?”
He nodded, examining his profile in the mirror over her dressing table. His hazel eyes picked out the long strands of chestnut hair that had escaped his queue to lie ruffled along a cheek. “I must see what news has come.” He fussed with the vagrant locks, catching, then impressing them into captivity. Satisfied, he pulled on his blue uniform jacket, cursorily brushing at the gold piping and epaulets lest any more of his hair had escaped. When the last button was fastened he belted on his sword scabbard before picking up his tricorn hat.
“I told you my husband would make you happy today,” she cooed from the bed as though her earlier promise had been magically fulfilled.
“As happy as his wife makes me,” he flattered, thinking only of the dispatch. He took one last look at his high cheekbones in the mirror, searching for traces of her powder but found nothing. He strode quickly to the bed where she put up her cheek to be kissed, a hand playfully tickling his thigh. “I must go.”
“I hope you have your ship, Captain, but I hope she is not as pretty as me,” she sulked.
Always needing compliments. “Nothing could equal your rigging,” he smiled, hiding the lie. She accepted his words at face value, no doubt reluctant to believe otherwise. Her pout softened into a smile to match his own.
“Go quickly, before I refuse to let you leave.”
“Adieu,” he said.
Her smile disappeared as she shook her head. “Your French. That means goodbye. I prefer Au revoir, till I see you again.”
“Yes,” he said, closing the door behind him. His French wasn’t that bad. And he did not think she had missed the point.
A young man in an American uniform rose from a chair to meet him as he strode into the lobby. The midshipman was stockily built, his long sideburns giving the impression of a wealthy farmer. Only his threadbare uniform and badly scuffed shoes destroyed the illusion. He looked only a few years junior to John Paul Jones’s own thirty years. An honest looking young man, Jones liked him instinctively. That hopefully he was the bearer of good news led him to ignore the scruffy uniform as he eyed him expectantly.
“Midshipman Dale, sir, with a dispatch from the Minister of Marine.” He stood stiffly to attention, the package offered.
The captain raised an eyebrow. “I may not be whoever you seek.”
For a moment Dale looked flustered. “The dispatch is for Captain Jones, and you are he, sir. I have seen you in the office of the Commissioners, and every American sailor in France knows who you are, sir.”
“I’m glad somebody does, even if it’s only the lower decks,” Jones mumbled. Dale frowned, but the captain brushed the remark aside. “Give me it.” He opened the canvas bag and used his thumbnail to split the wax seal imprinted with the Commissioners’ stamp. He skimmed the parchment quickly. It was there. Therese hadn’t lied after all. Her husband had been working on his behalf. And Franklin too. A ship. A ship. He refolded the sheet and pushed it back in the bag, then looked at the young officer who was watching him thoughtfully. “Midshipman Dale, you said?”
Dale stiffened. “Yes, sir.”
“What are your orders?”
Dale’s eyes sought the canvas bag. “To await any reply you may care to send, sir.”
Jones nodded. “Have you ever been to Le Havre?”
“Neither have I, and I hope it won’t be an experience we’ll regret.”
“Is there any reply for the Commissioners, sir?”
Jones smiled. “We won’t know that until we’ve been to Le Havre. We go to inspect a ship.”
They journeyed beyond daylight and into the night, west from Paris as fast as the horses could pull the coach. The road was tiresome, deep mud of the previous winter baked by the July sun into ruts. The driver goaded the overworked team, his whiplash drawing dark streaks into the white lather flecked across their shoulders. Inside, on hard leather seats, the two American officers endured the jolting of stiff springs. Paul Jones thought back to when he had first boarded a ship at thirteen in his native Scotland and remembered wondering if he would ever grow used to the pitching and tossing of a rough sea. Now he appreciated that the motion of a ship was heaven compared to the rigors of land travel. They maintained a sporadic conversation, not too informally as befitted the difference in ranks, but mutual discomfort built a bridge between them. Even so, the tortured creaking of the coach coupled with the rattling of the wheels and the drumming of horses’ hooves on the pockmarked road proved too formidable an obstacle.
The Deux Soldats was little more than a farmhouse, so close to the road its walls were spattered with dried mud from rushing wheels. Yellow rectangles of light cast into the night from the inn were a pleasing sight, and Jones was grateful to stretch his legs when he dismounted in the courtyard. Inside, there were few customers, the landlord quickly fetching a carafe of wine. The captain shrugged off his cloak as the innkeeper’s wife brought bread and cheese before retreating to make up two beds for her unexpected guests.
“God knows when we shall reach Le Havre,” Jones wondered aloud, excitement over the waiting ship dulled by fatigue. He noted wryly Dale’s appetite had been little blunted by travel as the young man broke bread before even sipping at his wine.
“The coachman said tomorrow afternoon, sir,” the midshipman offered before reapplying attention to his supper.
“Sooner the better. I’d trade one day’s ride in that infernal coach for ten Atlantic crossings.”
Dale grinned. “I would agree with you there, sir.”
Jones raised a smile. “Have you made many crossings? Your uniform appears to have.”
Dale glanced down at the abused cloth with distaste. “I have not had either the opportunity or the finances to replace it, sir. With all the confusion of the war I am owed many months’ wages. It is all I can do to live.”
“A common enough complaint,” the captain conceded, wondering why Dale had not been paid if he was attached to the American Commissioners in Paris. “Tell me about your war.”
“When the fighting began, sir, I was on the side of the Loyalists.” He paused, examining Paul Jones’s face, offering as an excuse, “I was born in Virginia.” He fingered his hair, drawing a new parting to show a long scar running arrow straight across his scalp. “A Yankee musket ball did that, sir, on the Rappahannock River. A marine shot at me from a cutter. When I woke up we had escaped, but were later captured by the US brig Lexington.”
“Commanded by John Barrie?” Jones queried.
Dale’s eyes flickered to the older man. “Yes sir, and a finer officer, if you’ll beg my pardon, I’ve yet to meet. He talked with me often. On his advice I joined his crew as midshipman. Later, Lexington was taken over by Henry Johnson. Last year we crossed the Atlantic to cruise around the British Isles, but when we turned for home we ran into a fight and Lexington was taken. Along with the other officers I was sent to Mill Prison at Portsmouth.”
Jones nodded. “I have heard of it.”
Dale smiled, eyes belying the merriment of his mouth. “I had heard of it too, sir, but nothing I heard prepared me for it. The stench of so many men thrown together and herded like pigs, rotting in their own filth. Even pigs would have turned up their noses at the swill we were fed. Shipboard vittles, salt beef with maggots and rotten hardtack with weevils would have been a gourmet’s delight after the slops at the Mill.” His voice trailed away while Jones noted the relish with which Dale contemplated the plain bread and cheese on the table.
“You were set free?”
Dale sighed. “I escaped. A whisper, a bribe, and one night the turnkey stood with his back to me for a few seconds longer than he should. I kept away from the port, knowing they’d expect me to try for a ship to France, but after two weeks of near starvation I was caught stealing bread.” He lifted the crust from his plate for emphasis. “When they took me back I went into the Black Hole. Evil it was. I’m a man used to wide-open spaces and a broad blue sky or a tower of billowing canvas, snowy in the sunlight. Salt spray on my cheeks and the humming of the wind in the rigging. Sunlight. A simple thing we take for granted. The Black Hole was the only name for it. Not a spark of light. Not the glow of a firefly or the crimson of a dying ember. Not even moonlight. Only darkness. So thick you could rub the substance of it between your fingers. But you couldn’t even see your fingers, not if they were touching your nose, and you wondered if you had arms and legs or if you ever had them at all.”
“I began to sing. Rebel songs my uncle taught me. He had been raised in Ireland and knew the songs the English hate. I sang them once and I sang them again, louder. And I kept on singing until I had no voice to croak the words. Every time I was ready to collapse with fear in that cold dark place, when the rats ran over my legs or their teeth nipped at my trousers, I sang.”
“When they let me out, everyone in the prison had heard of me, and when another escape was planned I was invited. We were lucky. We made it. One of the men had family connections and was able to get us onto a fishing boat. The crew did not like it, but blood is thicker than water, so they hid us under canvas and shared what little food they had. We were grateful for crumbs. And then in the cold dawn they landed us on a deserted beach near Dieppe. A brigantine flying American colors lay in the harbor so we presented ourselves to the officer of the watch.” Dale grinned, remembering the lieutenant’s horrified face. “He must have thought we were demons cast up from the bowels of Hell. With one thing and another I came to be in Paris, a messenger for the Commissioners.”
Paul Jones gazed impassively at the young man, masking his admiration. The boy told a good tale, and had confirmed first impressions. The captain drained his glass then stood. “Interesting story. Well Mr. Dale, I’ll bid you goodnight. We travel at dawn.” He crossed to climb the stairs slowly, his cloak casually slung over one shoulder.
Richard Dale watched him go. He had heard much of Captain John Paul Jones and his eagerness to be hero, but the only side Dale had seen was quiet and thoughtful. He realized then Jones had given away nothing of himself, but there had been something behind those hazel eyes, something a man could respect. Dale munched the remaining cheese, wondering if a giant lurked within the captain’s slight frame. There was something strange about him that made him different to any other man Dale had ever met, even John Barry who had convinced him to join the American side. Suddenly, Dale knew he only had to be asked and he would serve under John Paul Jones wherever he went.
Le Havre bustled in the July sunshine. Fishing boats bobbed at their moorings while crews mended nets and sorted gear on decks slippery with fish scales and fresh blood. Their catches had been transferred to the stalls that stood shoulder to shoulder between the capstans where shouts of invitation could be heard to inspect the wares laid in handwoven creels. The smell of fish and sea hung over the people moving to and fro on the quayside, buying and selling, coins and smiles and curses changing hands.
Paul Jones’s heart filled with joy as he saw the ocean, the mistress whose demands outstripped even those of Therese de Chaumont. But it was only a glimpse, sunlight sparkling from the water, spied through an alley between tall stone buildings. The coach rattled on through the wide streets that racked away from the harbor. He had endured indescribable discomfort in the bucking coach since dawn. Only to grab a hasty meal and change horses had they stopped. His face felt grimy and the thin coat of road dust powdered his uniform.
As they neared the quay the streets grew more crowded, the driver threading between carts laden with fish returning from market. Tinkers and hawkers bartered on every corner. Women carrying baskets looked up as the coach passed, faces prematurely aged by the strain of childbirth and hard work. Ragged urchins ran alongside begging alms, eyes wide at the blue finery of the two officers. It seemed everywhere dirty cherubs stared and grinned cheekily.
Paul Jones ignored them all, eyes above their heads toward the ocean and the ship he had come to see. Slower now, the horses shambled to a walk, rattling harness bits between stained teeth and tossing tangled manes. In the center of the market where the harbor steps led down to the water, the driver hauled back on the reins and wound them around the brake lever. The team came to a stamping halt, iron shod hooves scraping sparks from the cobbles.
Brisk now, Jones threw open the coach door and stepped down. Faces turned to him as he doffed his tricorn hat to smooth back his hair before firmly placing the hat back on. His step was so confident people moved instinctively from his path as he walked to a capstan wrapped with the painter of a ship’s boat moored at the steps. A sailor in a blue shirt with a belaying pin stuck in the waistband of his canvas trousers guarded it. When he saw the captain approaching, he unfolded his arms and came to attention. Richard Dale materialized from the captain’s wake to confront the sailor.
“Seaman, where lies Epervier?” the midshipman demanded.
The sailor’s head moved a fraction. “Yonder in the bay, with the black and yellow topsides, sir.”
Dale looked out to where a captured English corvette bravely held her head into the breeze as though remembering better days. Her topsides were holed and scarred by ball, her gunwales splintered by grapeshot. Shrouds and ratlines were ragged, a tangle of blocks and pulleys. The mainmast remained as a cracked stump, standing six feet above the bloodstained deck. Her foremast carried depleted yards, hastily jury-rigged under storm canvas, now furled. She wore the desolate air of a captive, her weary timbers deaf to the enticing whispers of the open sea, miserable among the cluster of fishing boats and coasters. Richard Dale’s mouth tightened as he stepped closer to John Paul Jones.
“That’s her, sir. L’Epervier.” The midshipman felt like a child beside the captain. It wasn’t the difference in years, more the quiet oozing confidence, an assurance of capability. Jones revealed little, but there was a certainty about his slim shoulders. Show him a problem and he would smooth it away. Dale tried to fathom the aura and came no closer to an answer. He noted Jones’s relaxed stance but suspicion nagged that he was looking at a purring cat that could turn into a tiger in a bare instant.
Unaware of Dale’s perusal, Paul Jones clasped his hands behind his back. He stared out into the bay, legs planted firmly on the land as though on the quarterdeck of a rolling ship. His eyes were cold, calculating, his chiseled face granite. But his voice betrayed disgust and disappointment as he turned away from the battered corvette.
“I see her,” was all he said.
“Damn them! Damn their eyes!” Paul Jones spat, hands bunching into fists. Sun flashed from the buckles of his highly polished shoes as they crunched on the gravel as he strode back and forth. Sweat glistened on his forehead and upper lip as if his frustration was boiling out into the summer air.
The gardens at the Hotel Valentinois were exceptionally beautiful that year, Therese de Chaumont thought, turning a deaf ear to the captain’s blasphemy. She sat quietly on the long seat, immaculate coiffeur untouched by the breeze, satin ruffles of her gown falling in a carefully arranged cascade about her tiny feet. A parasol defended her complexion and bare shoulders from the summer sun while a fan lay in her lap should the heat become uncomfortable.
While the captain ranted, she viewed the work of her gardeners. The lawns were perfect, symmetrically divided by raked gravel paths into rectangles, arcs, and octagons. Flowerbeds blossomed, kaleidoscopes of color contrasted by lustrous evergreens. Although the blooms gave her immeasurable pleasure, the trees were her special delight. Sycamores, poplars, ash, and beech arranged into copses to breathe life, but best of all she loved the oaks. Tall and broad and strong like a man in his prime, eager and reaching for the sky, but firmly rooted, something to cling to. But what brought joy also brought sorrow. With the passing of the seasons their branches grew a little wider, a little denser, adding to their beauty, while hers was flawed a little more each year. A wrinkle, a sag, a bulge. As she contemplated the ageing process, a butterfly tumbled and danced over the nearest flowerbed. Her eye picked out a dying flower among healthy companions. She looked away to her trees, knowing how the flower felt.
“It’s all so unfair!” Paul Jones spluttered.
Therese’s reverie snapped and she glanced at him, still pacing as though on a quarterdeck sailing into battle. “L’Epervier wasn’t pretty then?” she asked, amused, recalling their encounter when he had left her arms to fly to Le Havre.
He grunted. “Pretty enough, but only a corvette. Sixteen guns, that’s all, and shot to pieces. They didn’t tell me that in the dispatch. I trailed a hundred miles to see a floating hulk that needs a six-month refit. I’m a captain not a lieutenant getting his first command. Do they expect me to rout the English navy with a crippled sixteen gunner?”
“I thought you could do it in any vessel?”
He humphed, not rising to her bait. “Not even I could accomplish it with that ship.”
“What did you do, Cheri?”
Jones stopped pacing and turned to study her, his eyebrows raised. “Do? What do you suppose I did? I sent that midshipman back to the Commissioners with a letter politely but firmly declining the command. And then do you know what they had the gall to do?”
How beautiful he looks, she thought, offering no comment.
“On my last cruise in Ranger, unescorted, I took six ships, one of them Drake, an English man-o’-war, and believe me it was no easy victory. The English fought well and hard. Then what could I do with a squadron? I could harry the English just like the foxes they so love to hunt. I could turn their attention from America to defending their own island. I went to M’sieur Sartine, your fine Minister of Marine. He sat there in his silk suit with a lace handkerchief held under his nose all the time we talked. Perhaps we Americans offend him in some way…”
“But no, Cheri, they say he has bad lungs. He coughs blood all the time,” Therese interrupted quietly. The comment did not divert his attention.
“Be that as it may. Regardless, it is application to duty we are discussing. He invited my ideas so I outlined several that would benefit both America and France. I could break the English trade routes from the East Indies, Hudson Bay, or the Baltic.”
“He listened?” She twisted her parasol to attract his attention.
Paul Jones nodded. “Oh yes, he listened. Long and well. I presented each plan in detail, showing how each could be accomplished.” He paused, lips pursed in disapproval. “As far as he was concerned there was only one problem. Each plan called for ships. Plans he agreed with, plans he enthused over, but he could not promise me ships. All I need is two or three frigates and supply vessels. Not a lot to ask when it could mean the breakdown of English trade and their loss of ocean supremacy.”
As far as Therese was concerned, the issue reeked of politics, soldiers, and sailors naive enough to assume they only had to ask and they would be given tools for the job. True, that was how it should be, but in real life these things took time, the seemingly simple task of giving one tool requiring endless delicate maneuvers in closed chambers, promises given and favors conceded before bargains could be struck, always the politics. She knew they would eventually give him the ship he apparently so desperately needed, it was merely a matter of when.
“He offered you nothing?” she asked quietly.
He nodded, tendons writhing along his cheekbone. “He generously offered me Renommee, a frigate, but remembered she had already been given to a French captain. Then he suggested I take command of, how did he say it, ‘a number of small armed vessels’ out of St. Malo to disrupt the English privateer fleet in the Channel Islands. Then he had another bout of memory, casually mentioning that Prince de Nassau-Siegen would be in overall command, and a man like myself would not mind lending my experience to royalty.”
He resumed pacing, bristling with humiliation. “It is not enough for him to deny me a ship, but when he offers one he refuses me full control. When I sail in a squadron, I will command or nothing.” He lapsed into an uneasy silence.
Therese studied the garden. In the distance a fountain played carelessly, the column tumbling onto water lilies where golden carp swam lazily. “What now, my Captain?” She feared his answer would take him from her.
He halted again, hand gesturing. “I have directed the midshipman who accompanied me to Le Havre to tell me of any suitable ship brought into France as a prize, and I have written to everyone who may be able to help.” He stepped to the seat and sat down slowly as though his tirade had drained his strength. As the bench took his weight Therese squirmed like a puppy, smiling at him coyly while making sure he was in the best position for a view of her charms so amply displayed by the low neckline of her gown. He turned to smile wanly, nothing lost on him.
“Until I hear of a ship, I do as I have done. I wait.”
Knuckles rattled at the bedroom door.
Therese was seated at her dressing table, brushing the short mousy hair she always hid beneath her ash blonde wigs. Fresh from her bath, the water only just emptied and carried away by the maid, she was dressed only in her negligee.
“One moment!” she called. Quickly, she retrieved a powdered wig from its stand and carefully eased it over her own hair. Though she wore no rouge, she knew her skin glowed from the hot bath. With a glance to reassure herself she was presentable, she shifted position on the stool, presenting a half profile to the door, her best angle. “Entrez!”
The brass handle twisted and a moment later her husband was in the room, face flushed, brow furrowed in an anger she recognized as all too familiar, advancing toward her flapping a sheet of parchment in an outstretched hand.
“The man is insufferable, I tell you. But what can one expect of these foreigners, these jumped-up Americans? Do they think we all hold office merely to serve them? That all of Belle France hangs on their every whim? The man is a guest in my house, too, and he has the effrontery…If I had my way I would pack the scoundrel off on the next ship across the Atlantic and good riddance. I would even pray for storms.”
As he came to a panting stop Therese hoped her alarm at his outburst did not show. So her husband had found out after all. Her little affaire was over. She had enjoyed Paul Jones in all senses of the word and was reluctant to let him go. But then Donatien always found out in the end. At least this time there had been something to discover, not like that time with the cavalry officer, the cuirassier, with his polished breastplate. A strutter and braggart, all mouth and no finesse. No, perhaps she could correct that: all talk and no finesse. That’s all he knew how to do with his mouthtalk. Precious little had occurred before Donatien had come into her bedchamber just like this, demanding truth and fidelity. Now she gazed impassively at him. He was dressed in a dark frock coat and knee breeches so he had come straight from his offices in the city. Her thoughts raced madly but she could find no excuses to offer.
Le Ray de Chaumont glanced at the parchment again and shook his head, the high collar of his shirt cutting a thin red line into his shuddering jowls. As he scanned the letter his cheeks flushed and when he began to read aloud he almost stuttered with rage. “I mean, listen: ‘The minister has treated me like a child five successive times by leading me on from great to little and from little to less’.” De Chaumont was breathless. “He even hints, sacre bleu, at challenging the Minister of Marine to a duel in defense of his sacred honor. Mon Dieu, My God, can you imagine it?”
Therese almost laughed aloud with relief. So the letter was from her captain, not a letter about him. Complaining about his lack of a ship, as usual. Composure restored, she tried to imagine a duel between the determined American and the diminutive Sartine with his weasel face, coughing specks of blood into his lace handkerchief while he parried rapier thrusts. The delicious image was shattered by her husband.
“My life is becoming complicated beyond measure. Sartine pesters me every minute I spend at the ministry when I am trying to arrange supplies. He seems to hold me personally responsible for this coarse American just because he stays in my house. M’sieur Franklin stays here too but I am not blamed when he falls foul of the King’s ministers.” De Chaumont looked about to collapse, eyes casting restlessly around the room, his body uncoordinated as if he did not know whether to go or stay. “The minister can make life very awkward. It would be easy for him to cancel my supply contract.”
“But surely there are conditions?”
“Conditions nothing. If he wanted to cancel it, he would find a way, believe me.”
Therese smiled reassuringly. “But even so, you would still have your fleet of merchant ships.”
Her husband’s face was scarlet. “My fleet? With things as they are, I should be ruined. The English are making trade impossible by blockading ports, and even when my ships can put to sea they are waylaid by privateers who hide behind the English flag and steal my cargoes. No, without the navy contract everything I have would be lost.”
Therese rose from her stool to take his arm and lead him to the chaise-long where they sat down together. She could almost feel the heat from his burning face and she began to fear for his health. In truth, she had never been madly in love with him. In a way he was handsome, but when they had been introduced she had discounted the difference in their ages, his wealth and power a greater attraction than his features. Her most pressing need at that time had been to obtain financial security, and a bonus was the respect she would command as the wife of a Privy Councilor to the King. Although throughout their marriage she had always had “escorts,” she had invariably taken pains to be discreet. If her husband found out, then few other people did. Over the years she had come to feel comfortable with him, a comfort enhanced by the luxury his wealth provided. But every franc belonged to him. He had settled a little money on her at the beginning of their marriage but she had given that to her parents so her sister would have a dowry to attract a husband. Since then, Donatien had only given her an allowance, paying all the other bills himself, most notably those of her couturier who supplied an endless stream of expensive gowns. Without a franc more of independence than on the day they met, the idea of possible bankruptcy was horrifying. Given a choice between her American captain who had no appreciable money, or her wealthy husband, there was no choice. She had to protect and preserve what she already had.
Therese placed a comforting arm around her husband’s portly shoulders. “Donatien, my love, calm yourself. You will only become ill if you agitate yourself so.”
“But that American. He makes my blood boil…”
“Never mind.” She pulled him to her, carefully lowering his head onto the soft cushion of her breasts, only thinly disguised by the negligee. Rocking him like a child, she billed and cooed, stroking his head. “I have an idea.”
“Oui, yes,” he murmured.
Her mind was working overtime. “You have a privateer, don’t you?”
She snorted. A fitting name. “Why not offer her to Captain Jones?”
Donatien jerked up his head, struggling for freedom from the nest of her arms. “What? Let that upstart of a colonist command one of my ships? I would never dream of it! He would wreck her on some wild scheme. He is a maniac…” His voice trailed away as he studied his wife’s tolerant smile. After a moment his mouth relaxed and widened into a grin. “You sly little vixen. You want me to give him a ship to get him out of my way at the ministry. And of course, you think what is one ship when my whole fleet stands to be lost for the sake of a navy contract? And if I do M’sieur Sartine a favor by ridding him of the American, so when I renegotiate the supply contract, I should get even better terms.”
Therese said nothing, just gave him the beauty of her smile before lowering his head again to her bosom. This time he came easily, tension dispelled by the implanting of the idea. He sighed in contentment.
“You always manage, Therese, to make it seem so simple.”
“That’s all I am,” she purred. “A simple woman who wants to help her husband.”
“And you do,” he said, curling an arm about her narrow waist. He turned his face, pressing into the fragrance of her breasts. “You help me by just being you. Just being here for me to look at.” Both his hands were roving now, plucking and smoothing the thin material that displayed every contour of her body. “Just by touching you.” He pulled back from her, then with fumbling fingers parted the gown to devour her creamy flesh with his eyes. “And you smell so wonderful.”
His face was again red, this time with excitement. Lust garnished his eyes, his mouth working with anticipation. He surveyed the plain of her stomach with his fingers, stroking tentatively before impatience urged them toward her center. Gently, she placed a restraining hand over his.
“My husband, you must be warm wearing those clothes. I think you would be cooler without them.”
He laughed and struggled to his feet, eagerly unbuttoning his waistcoat. “Again, Therese, you are right.”
She laughed with him, but there was no warmth in her eyes.
The Hotel Valentinois boasted a vast library. But for the door and windows, the long walls were clothed with towering bookcases. Footsteps from the blocked floor echoed among the plaster relief friezes of the high ceiling before being soaked up by the thousands of calf-bound volumes. It was not a study where a man could wallow comfortably among his papers. For all its worth the showcase library was austere and forbidding, containing none of its owner’s character.
Donatien Le Ray Chaumont sat at the huge desk, his fingers tapping noiselessly on the leather surface. Opposite, in his uniform as always, Paul Jones sat on a straight-backed chair. He held a glass of burgundy as he listened to the older man. De Chaumont made an expansive gesture. “…and so you see, Captain, I know of your difficulty regarding the acquisition of a command. This is why I am offering L’Union, my own privateer. You may sail her against the English and do as you wish with her.” Paul Jones said nothing, leaving de Chaumont to interpret his silence as speculation. The Frenchman raised what he hoped was a conspiratorial smile. “I can see you are wondering why I should do this. Is that not so? I will put your mind at rest. As you know, I own a fleet of merchantmen. Any disruption you cause to the English can only benefit me. More ports will be open to my ships.”
The American’s eyes never left the Frenchman’s face. He had already classified him. All those books leering down, the majority of them probably never read. But they had all been carefully rebound in matching calf, titles blocked in gold leaf. The man was a collector. He surrounded himself with things for the sake of possessing them. Beautiful books, beautiful ships, and probably beautiful women too. How many mistresses did he have, to supplement the meager diet Therese must allow him? Did he now want to add an American captain to his army of employees?
De Chaumont eyed him warily. “I take your silence as serious consideration of my offer. I will not press you for an answer at this exact moment. You may let me know your decision at your leisure.” He sat back, a faint smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“That will not be necessary.” Jones had put it all together. It was another of Sartine’s ploys. Use de Chaumont to give him a privateer instead of the squadron he needed. All of them thought he would eventually accept any ship to be offered. In reality a privateer was little more than a pirate ship.
“You have reached a decision?” De Chaumont was eager.
The American drained his burgundy glass then placed it on the edge of the big desk. He rose to his feet, drawing his shoulders back as he smoothed down his waistcoat.
“Sir, I am not my own master, I serve the Republic of America. I cannot from my own authority serve either myself,” he smiled to lessen the sting “…or even my best friends. I must therefore decline your generous offer.” He paused, probing the Frenchman’s expression before nodding curtly. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have matters to see to.” Without offering his hand he turned and walked away, heels tapping a stubborn tattoo across the wooden floor.
When the double doors closed, de Chaumont remained staring at the heavy paneling. That damned captain. He was pomposity personified. Perhaps the best thing would be to get him out of France all together. Preferably back to America, out of harm’s way. And the man for that job was Benjamin Franklin, the main American representative in Europe. Franklin may not like the idea, but it could be demanded as a favor when agreement was needed over more crucial matters than securing a ship for an arrogant glory hunter, which Jones undoubtedly was.
As it always did, the real power lay in politics.
Benjamin Franklin’s suite of rooms at the Hotel Valentinois also overlooked the gardens. His cluttered writing desk faced a broad expanse of manicured lawns and flowerbeds, now filled with dying blooms. A barrel-bodied man, his chair creaked a complaint when he dropped a paper he was studying and leaned back, allowing his gaze to stray to the window. Autumn had transformed Therese’s beloved trees to metaled clusters of copper, bronze, and gold. While he watched, the wind stripped the crackling leaves by the handful, flinging them into the air to dance and flutter before planing down to the hardening earth. Dissatisfied, the wind picked at them so they rustled, cartwheeling along the deserted gravel paths, drifting between the tree trunks to lay a multihued carpet.
Another year, thought Franklin as he clasped his hands across the bulging expanse of his waistcoat. Another year and more pressure. Pressure that gained nothing, applied by schemers, deceivers, and liars all scratching their way, clawing upward to where the real power lay. He sighed, then plucked his pince-nez spectacles from the bridge of his nose and placed them on top of the discarded paper. He had never felt so tired. Always one step forward and two back. He rubbed a hand across his eyes, massaging his nose where the glasses had left ugly red marks.
What did the French have against John Paul Jones? He was a fine captain with an impeccable record. Entering the merchant marine at thirteen during wartime he had not lacked courage even as a boy. Working his way up to mate, his chance had come at the age of twenty-one. Traveling home to England as a passenger from America on the brig John, he had stepped willingly into the breach to take command when the master and first mate both died of fever. Nobody else on board was a competent navigator. On docking in Kirkcudbright in Scotland, not far from his hometown, the owners had appointed him captain, sailing the trade routes to the West Indies. Four years later he was master of Betsy, a large square-rigger which also traded in the Indies.
It was also to his credit that as soon as Congress had aired an inclination to seek independence from mother England, Jones had volunteered for America’s non-existent navy. He had gained an appointment as first lieutenant when the Navy was formed and posted to Alfred, a 22-gun frigate where one of his duties was to command the lower gun deck. Only a short year later as the navy acquired more vessels he had been given the temporary rank of captain, commanding the sloop Providence. Quickly amassing an impressive record of engagements and victories, he had proved his worth. Although in Franklin’s opinion, nepotism in Congress had robbed Jones of his rightful seniority on the captains’ list. That situation had been rectified the following year when they had given him the newly built Ranger. And everybody who mattered in France knew what he had accomplished in that ship.
That was what Franklin found so irritating. The French knew all about Jones’s exploits and yet Sartine and de Chaumont were trying to force deals in which the major stipulation was Jones should cease to use France as a base. More clearly they wanted him an ocean away, back in America. Somebody needed something badly if they were prepared to lose a man who might make all the difference in the war at sea. And without doubt, whether they could see it or not, ocean supremacy was a major factor in gaining victory. If that could be engineered, then anything was possible. America could become an important power in its own right. Franklin knew all too well that Jones had collected a few enemies. It was often the case with naval captains who were a law unto themselves at sea, literally masters of all they surveyed, to the point of life and death over their crews. That sort of training, unfortunately, did not lend itself to the more subtle approaches required in politics.
Franklin sighed as he picked up the resume of Jones’s career once again to study it. Damned Frenchmen. Why should he lose the best opportunity America had of striking hard against the English?
Somebody knocked at the door. Franklin continued to scan the sheet then dropped it and instead stared blindly out of the window, lost in thought. When the knocking began again, he blinked, remembering he had dismissed his secretary for the day. “Enter!” he called.
“Good afternoon, sir,” the quiet voice without any trace of accent said behind him.
He turned to look up. “Ah, Captain Jones.” He extended a hand, too tired to rise from the chair. After the handshake he gestured vaguely. “Find yourself a chair.” With a glance at the window he raised his eyebrows. “And not such a good afternoon after all. Winter is almost upon us.”
“I count each and every day,” Jones said dryly.
“How long is it now?”
“Almost five months, sir.”
“It appears you give offence.”
“Not to you, I hope, sir.”
Franklin waved a dismissive hand. “Of course not, but you are somewhat persistent. I meant you have managed to fall foul of the two Frenchmen best qualified to help you secure a ship. I do not know what you have done, but I do know many find de Chaumont’s wife very personable. A man of my age and commitments does not notice these things, but…” his voice trailed away in speculation.
Paul Jones waited for Franklin’s customary chuckle, but the older man merely lapsed into silence, eyes sliding to the window. Jones waited. There was obviously more to come.
Benjamin Franklin began to polish his glasses. “What with one thing and another, procuring you a ship is proving somewhat difficult.” He glanced up, his gaze meeting the young captain’s eyes before returning to the soft cloth as he diligently rubbed each circle of glass. “It appears we will have to take the matter in hand ourselves.” He glanced up as Jones shifted in his chair. “I shall amend that statement. You will have to take the matter in hand. You understand that if I am seen to take a leading position it would jeopardize all I and the other American representatives in this country are trying to accomplish.”
“Then how is it to be done?”
Franklin smiled. “You will find a ship, publicly stating you are to buy her from your own reserves and equip her for a voyage. When you have done that, I will pass by M’sieur Sartine and de Chaumont. Diplomacy will compel King Louis to show willing by footing most of the bill.”
“How can you be so sure? I do, of course, have funds, but they are tied up in Virginia.”
“The inheritance from your brother William?”
“Yes, but my assets are all in land, and now would not be the best time for liquidating them. Even if it were possible, it could not be done overnight.”
“That will not be necessary. It has only to be known you are prepared to buy a ship and equipment. It will not actually be necessary to raise the money.”
Jones still appeared skeptical. “With respect, sir, I do not wish to appear naive, but what if King Louis is not induced to dip into the royal coffers? M’sieur Sartine as Minister of Marine and Le Ray de Chaumont as Privy Councilor both have the ear of the King.”
Franklin nodded. “Yes, they both have influence, but it would be impolitic for them to advise against helping you if you present them with a ship that is suitable. Their sole excuse to date has been that you have found each vessel they have offered you to be inadequate, thus laying the blame at your feet.” He held up his spectacles to examine the polished lenses against the light from the tall window. “In the rare event of your fears materializing, then the money will be forthcoming from Congress. That I can guarantee, but even so, nobody but you and I will know. To all intents and purposes you will have bought the ship. Do you agree to those terms?”
John Paul Jones pursed his lips. He would have mortgaged his soul for a ship. The right ship. His shoes had lost too much leather tramping the soil of France and he had lingered too many hours in Therese de Chaumont’s clinging arms when his conscience dictated he should be at war. He nodded. “Yes, I accept your terms.”
“Good. There remains only one thing to do.”
Franklin put on his glasses in a business-like manner, then smiled. “Go out and find yourself a ship. Have you any thoughts on the problem?”
Jones nodded. “I have written to everyone who may be able to help, but my faith lies strongest in James Moylan, a merchant at Lorient. In my various dealings with him, he has served me well and I trust his judgment. He has promised to write as soon as he finds a likely vessel.”
“Do you think your presence would encourage him?”
“Then I suggest you journey to Lorient to see him. Your absence from Paris would please M’sieur Sartine of whom we do not wish to make too great an enemy, and I also think it would please de Chaumont. Even he is beginning to think his young wife spends too much time keeping you company.”
Jones did not miss the glint in Franklin’s eye. “As always, sir, your advice is sound.”
Benjamin Franklin smiled. “My advice may not be the best in the world, but I think it’s the best you’ll get on this windy autumn afternoon.”
As the crow flies, Lorient lies 450 kilometers from Paris on the southern coast of Brittany. Danger lurked on every bend. Fragile wheels and axles were threatened by unexpected ridges or rocky-bottomed, ill-used river fords. Horses’ legs could snap like twigs trapped in the uncharted shifting reefs of potholes scoured out of the king’s highway by the autumn rain and the creaking wheels of overladen carts. The pensiones and inns of the road were the gathering houses of ruffians and brigands eager to fleece travelers of every franc their silk-lined pockets might hold and every trinket a lady’s luggage might contain, even to the theft of her virtue. Not only the men were highwaymen. Many a traveler, keen to spend the night between fresh cotton sheets with a wholesome country wench, woke from a sated slumber to find his watch and purse had vanished along with his bed companion.
Paul Jones had traveled the same road earlier during his stay in France when visiting Brest at Brittany’s tip where the French fleet lay at anchor. Now, his hand was always near the hilt of his sword. Any stranger to peer suddenly in the coach window was likely to be greeted by the wide muzzles of the two pistols he wore pushed into his belt. Even when he slept, a loaded pistol was always tucked under his pillow.
He was weary. The enthusiasm incited by Franklin at the Hotel Valentinois had seeped away with each jarring rattle of the coach as the driver bullied the horses with his whip. Listening to the crack of the lash and the jingling of the harness rekindled memories he would rather forget. Aged sixteen at the close of war in 1764, he had been released from his article of apprenticeship after serving only three years on Friendship, a brig trading out of Whitehaven to Barbados and Virginia. He had secured himself a position as third mate on King George, also sailing out of Whitehaven. What Congress’s record of his service did not show was that King George had been a “blackbirder,” a slaver carrying negroes on the middle passage from Africa to wherever there was a market. Her live cargo had been sold to the highest bidder at the auction block.
It was no trade for the squeamish and the stench of a slaver could be detected ten miles downwind, but a young man with little or no hope of a regular berth had to take whatever he could secure. Like it or not, his four years in the blackbird trade had taught him much. The two years on King George and another two on Two Friends, sailing out of Kingston, Jamaica as chief mate.
Paul Jones wrinkled his nose in distaste. Strange how a few whip cracks and the rattle of harness could induce perfect recall of the slaves’ jangling neck and ankle irons and the damnable stench of an abominable trade where human beings were treated with less care than animals. It was certainly a smell he would never forget. He shrugged away the memory as the coach slowed, the driver screaming curses. Thrown from side to side as the narrow iron wheel rims skidded on cobbles, Paul Jones threw up the blind. Holding on to his hat he leaned out into a bitter sea fret that drove into his cheeks.
“Where are we, coachman?” he yelled.
On the box, the driver wrestled with the traces, guiding the two wheel horses. “Lorient!” he called into the fading day.
“Thank God,” the American muttered, ducking back inside from the blinding rain. His journey was over. But then he wondered if his journey would ever be over, and if his feet would ever pace the hollow planking of a quarterdeck. If at times he hated the sea with its feminine temperament, and saw his voyaging as purely the means to gain enough wealth to buy the plantations he hoped to eventually own, then the last few months had proved how much he hated the land. At least on the open sea under a wide spread of canvas he was the temporary master of his own destiny. Ashore, his motivation seemed to leak away as he shunted between diminishing hopes of escaping the land’s miserly clutches.
The coach slowed and he could hear the driver calling to somebody in the street. A voice answered and the horses’ hooves picked up tempo again, but after several corners they mercifully came to a standstill.
“Voila M’sieur, there you are, sir. We are here.”
Paul Jones fastened the buttons of his coat and curled his cloak about his shoulders before opening the door. The mist’s clammy fingers gripped his flesh as he climbed down on shaky legs to stand on the glistening cobbles. The coach almost filled the narrow street, one pair of wheels in one gutter while the other side of the mud-spattered vehicle almost scraped the bow windows on the opposite side of the street. Candlelight flickered behind a curve of bull’s eye glass while a lantern outside a door illuminated a polished brass plate that simply read: James Moylan Merchant. Jones consulted his fob watch then tucked it safely back in his waistcoat pocket. A little after five. By all appearances Moylan was still in his office.
“Wait here for me,” he said to the coachman who was winding the traces about the brake lever. Receiving a nod, he turned back to lift the brass knocker and hammer his presence.
Almost immediately the door opened to admit him.
END OF SAMPLE
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