The Tory Lover -- Contents

The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
Chapter XXII
THE GREAT COMMISSIONER

"The Philosopher sheweth you the way."
 

     The heads of the high Vitré houses nodded together above their narrow streets, as if to gossip about two unexpected cocked hats that passed below. This uniform of the Continental navy was new enough, but old Vitré had seen many new and strange things since she herself was young. The two officers had an air of proud command about them, and seemed to expect the best rooms at the inn, and the best wines.

     "'T was here the famous Marchioness de Sévigné dwelt!" exclaimed Wallingford, with triumph. "My mother often read a book of her letters to my father, on a winter evening. I thought them dull then, but I know now 't was most pretty reading, with something of fresh charm on every page. She had her castle here at Vitré; she was a very great lady," continued the lieutenant, explaining modestly. "She spoke much in her letters about her orange trees, but I think that she was ill at ease, so far from Paris."

     "We could visit her to-night, if she were still in Vitré," said the captain. "'T would pass our time most pleasantly, I dare say. But I take it the poor lady is dead, since we have her memoirs. Yes, I mind me of the letters, too; I saw them in a handsome binding once at Arbigland, when I was a lad. The laird's lady, Mrs. Craik, read the language; she had been much in France, like many of our Scottish gentlefolk. Perhaps 't was her very castle that we observed as we came near the town, with the quaint round tower that stood apart."

     "'T was the chapel of Madame," said the old French serving man on a sudden, and in good English. "Messieurs will pardon me, but my grandfather was long ago one of her head foresters."

     The gentlemen turned and received this information with a politeness equal to that with which it was given.

     "'T is a fine country, France," said the little captain handsomely. "Let us fill our glasses again to the glory of France and the success of our expedition." Then, "Let us drink to old England too, Mr. Wallingford, and that she may be brought to reason," he added unexpectedly, when they had drunk the first toast. "There is no such soldier-breeder as England; and as for her sailors, they are the Northmen of old, born again for the glory of a later time."
 

     The next day but two they came into the gate of Paris, and saw the dark prison of the Bastille, the Tour St. Jacques, and the great cathedral of Notre Dame. It was late afternoon, and Paris looked like a greater Vitré, but with higher houses that also nodded together, and a busier world of shops and palaces and churches. Wallingford returned with older eyes to see much that had escaped him as a boy. And to Captain Paul Jones there was a noble assurance in finding the capital city of his adopted country's allies so rich and splendid; above all, so frankly gay. There was none of the prim discretion of those English and Scottish towns with which he was most familiar. Paris was in her prime, and was wholly independent of trifles, like a fine lady who admitted these two admiring strangers to the hospitality of her house, with the unconcern of one whose dwelling was well furnished and well served. The old French kings had gone away one by one, and left their palaces behind them, - the long façades of the Louvre, and the pleasant courts of the Palais Royal, and many another noble pile. Here in Paris, Mr. Benjamin Franklin, the Bon Homme Richard, was bearing his difficult honors as first citizen of a new republic, and living on good terms with the best gentlemen of France. His house, which he had from Monsieur Le Ray de Chaumont, was at the other end of Paris, at Passy, a village beyond the suburbs of the great town; and next morning, the young men, well mounted, rode thither with a groom behind them, and alighted at the Commissioner's door.
 

     Mr. Benjamin Franklin was in the midst of his morning affairs. He was dressed in a suit of reddish-brown velvet, with white stockings, and had laid his white hat beside him on a table which was covered with papers and a few serious-looking books. It was a Tuesday, and he had been to court with the rest of the diplomats, having lately been presented with the two American Commissioners, his fellows, to his majesty the King.

     He rose with a courteous air of welcome, as the young men entered, and looked sharply at them, and then at their uniforms with much indulgent interest.

     "You are the representatives of our navy. 'T is a very dignified dress; I am glad to see it, - and to receive its wearers," he added, smiling, while the officers bowed again gravely.

     "I was in a poor enough undress at my first visit, and fresh from travel in the worst of weather," said Paul Jones, lowering his voice at the sad remembrance.

     "Mr. Wallingford!" and the old Commissioner turned quickly toward the younger guest. "I remember you as a lad in Portsmouth. As for my good friend your honored father, he will be unforgettable to those who knew him. You begin to wear his looks; they will increase, I think, as you gather age. Sit ye down, gentlemen, sit ye down!" and he waved them to two straight chairs which stood side by side at some distance down the room, in the French fashion. Then he seated himself again behind his table, and gave audience.

     Captain Paul Jones was occupied for a moment in placing his heavy sword. Wallingford was still looking eagerly toward their host.

     "You are very good to remember me, sir," he said. "I counted it a great honor that my father let me attend him that day, at Mr. Warner's dinner. You will be pleased to know that the lightning conductors are still in place on the house, and are much shown to strangers in these days as being of your planning."

     The philosopher smiled at his young friend's warmth; there was something most homely and amiable mingled with his great dignity.

     "And my friend Mr. John Langdon? I have deeply considered our dispatches from him, and especially the letter from Robert Morris, which agrees in the main with your own ideas, sir," and he bowed to Captain Paul Jones. "And my friend Langdon?" he repeated, looking for his answer to the lieutenant.

     "Mr. Langdon was very well, sir, though much wearied with his cares, and sent his best remembrances and respects in case I should be so honored as to see you. And also Mr. Nicholas Gilman, of Exeter, who was with him, beside many Portsmouth gentlemen, your old friends."

     "Our men at home carry the heaviest burdens," said Mr. Franklin, sighing, "yet I wish every day that I might be at home, as they are."

     "My first lieutenant, Mr. Simpson, is the brother-in-law of Major Langdon," said Captain Paul Jones, flushing like a boy as he spoke. He could not help a somewhat uncomfortable sense of being on the quarter-deck of a commander much greater than himself, and an uncertain feeling about their relations that tried him very much, but he wore a manly look and kept to his quietest manners. He had parted from the Commissioner, at their last interview, in deep distress and a high passion.

     "You have found Lieutenant Simpson an excellent officer, no doubt, with the large experience of a Portsmouth shipmaster," observed Mr. Franklin blandly. He cast a shrewd look at the captain; but while his firm mouth set itself a little more firmly, there was a humorous gleam of half inquiry, half indulgence, in his wide-set eyes.

     "You have spoken him, sir," acknowledged Captain Paul Jones, while with equal self-possession and a touch of deference he waited for the Commissioner to lead the conversation further, and thereby did not displease Mr. Franklin, who had feared an interview of angry accusation and indignant resentment. Wallingford, too, was conscious of great pleasure in his captain's bearing.

     There was a pause, and Mr. Franklin looked again at the captain, and bowed slightly from his chair.

     "You may say what you have come to say to me, Captain Paul Jones. You can no doubt trust Mr. Wallingford, you see that I have for the moment dismissed my secretary."

     "I can trust Mr. Wallingford," answered the captain, holding himself steady, but rising from the chair unconsciously, and taking a step nearer to the table. His new cocked hat was crushed under his arm, and Wallingford could see that the whole figure of the man was in a nervous quiver.

     "I can trust Mr. Wallingford," he repeated sternly, "but I am sorry that I cannot say the same of Lieutenant Simpson. I have suffered too much already at his hands through his endeavors to supplant me as commander of the Ranger. He has descended to the poor means of disputing my authority before my crew, and stimulating them in their rebellion and surly feelings. A crew is easily prejudiced against its superiors. You must be well aware, sir, how difficult a proper government may become at sea; 't is a hard life at best for crew or captain, and its only safety is in wise control and decent obedience."

     "Do you desire to make formal complaint of your lieutenant? It is hardly my province," said the Commissioner. The amused look had left his eyes, and they were as firm now as if he were a great judge on the bench.

     "I respect your anxieties," he added next moment, when he saw that he held the captain in check. "I am not unaware of your high aims, your great disappointment, or your most difficult conditions of the present. But these conditions and the varieties of human nature among so large a ship's company were not unknown to you. The uncongenial man and the self-seeking, unwilling assistant must always be borne with patience, among our fellows. Besides, we pardon anything to those we love, and forgive nothing to those we hate. You may go on, sir."

     "The trouble has come in great measure from an open understanding, long before we set sail out of Portsmouth, that I was to be given another frigate immediately upon my arrival, and that Simpson was to take command of the Ranger in my stead," said Paul Jones. "Now that all is over in regard to the Indien, he can fret under the long delay no worse than I, but shows his impatience of my orders at times and seasons when it ill befits him, and most wrongs and debases me; he behaves, on the slightest provocation, as if I had deeply injured him, and gives no reason why. He is my senior in age, which has added much to the difficulty between us. He loses no chance to hint that I am bent on selfish ends; even, I believe, that my principles, my character, may be questioned in this matter. My crew have become sensitive to the fear that I cannot be trusted, owing to my Scottish birth and early life spent upon British vessels, - as if they were any of them of a very different blood and descent! There is a worse man on board than Simpson, a man named Dickson, who, to further his own ends, furthers the lieutenant's. He has insisted from the first that Mr. Wallingford is a Tory spy, and that the Ranger should be in the hands of those who could fill their pockets with prize money. He, and perhaps Simpson himself, bewail their disappointment at discovering that a man-of-war is not the same as a privateer. Their ignorance of statecraft and the laws of naval science and duty seems to make them smile with derision at all proper discipline as if at some pompous horseplay."

     The captain's face was red now, and his voice sharpening to undue loudness; but at an anxious gesture from Wallingford he grew quiet again.

     "I come to ask you, Mr. Commissioner, if by any means I can further this business and hasten my transfer to another ship; but I must first do what I can with the Ranger. She is unfit for any great action, but we can make a pretty showing in small matters. My head is full of ideas which I should be glad to lay before you. I desire to strike a smart blow at the English coast, to counteract the burnings of our towns at home, and the interference with our shipping, and to stop the prisoning of our sailors. I can light a fire in England that will show them we are a people to be feared, and not teased and laughed at. I ask you now how far France is ready to help me."

     "We have good friends in England still," said the Commissioner slowly. "Some of the best minds and best characters among Englishmen see our question of the colonies with perfect fairness; the common people are in great part for us, too, and I have not yet lost hope that they may win the day. But of late things have gone almost too far for hope. Mr. Wallingford," and he turned abruptly toward the lieutenant, "I must not forget to ask you for your mother's health. I have thought of her many times in her widowhood; she would ill bear the saddest loss that can fall upon any of us, but she would bear it nobly."

     The captain felt himself silenced in the very gathering and uplift of his eloquence, when he was only delayed out of kind consideration. Roger Wallingford answered the kind old man briefly and with deep feeling; then the conference went on. The captain was in full force of his honest determination.

     "Since I cannot have the Indien, as we well know, what ship can I have?" he demanded. "Shall I do what I can with the Ranger? 'T were far better than such idleness as this. When I have seen my friend the Duke of Chartres again, things may take a turn."

     "He can do much for you," answered Franklin. "I have been told that he speaks of you everywhere with respect and affection. These things count like solid gold with the indifferent populace, ready to take either side of a great question."

     "I feel sure, sir, that the blow must be struck quickly, if at all," urged the captain. "If nothing is to be expected from France, I must do the best I can with the means in my hand. I must make some use of the Ranger; we have already lost far too much time. They hampered and delayed me in Portsmouth for month upon month, when I might have been effective here."

     "When you are as old as I, Captain Paul Jones, you will have learned that delays appear sometimes to be the work of those who are wiser than we. If life has anything to teach us, it is patience; but patience is the hardest thing to teach those men who have the makings of a hero in their breasts." And again he fell into expectant silence, and sat behind his table looking straight at the captain. Wallingford's heart was touched by a recognition of Paul Jones's character, which had been so simply spoken; but that man of power and action took no notice himself, except to put on a still more eager look, and shift his footing as he stood, doing honor from his heart to Mr. Franklin.

     "Will you not sit, captain? We have much talk before us. It astonishes me that you should have gained so warm a love for your adopted country," said the Commissioner.

     "I have to confess that England has been to me but a cruel stepmother. I loved her and tried to serve her, boy and man," answered the other. "When I went to live in Virginia, I learned to love my new country as a lover loves his mistress. God forgive me if I have sometimes been rash in my service, but Glory has always shone like a star in my sky, and in America a man is sure of a future if it is in his own breast to make one. At home everything is fixed; there are walls that none but the very greatest have ever climbed. Glory is all my dream; there is no holding back in me when I think of it; my poor goods and my poor life are only for it. Help me, sir, help me to get my opportunity. You shall see that I am at heart a true American, and that I know my business as a sailor. Do not join with those who, with petty quibbles and excuses, would hold me back!"

     The passion of Paul Jones, the fire and manly beauty in his face, his look of high spirit, would have moved two duller hearts than belonged to his listeners. Mr. Franklin still sat there with his calm old face, and a look of pleasant acceptance in his eyes.

     "Yes, you are willing to go forward; the feet of young men are ever set toward danger," he said. "I repeat that we must sometimes be heroes at waiting. To your faith you must add patience. Your life of effort, like mine, must teach you that, but I have had longer to learn the lesson. I shall do all that I can for you. I respect your present difficulties, but we have to live in the world as it is: we cannot refashion the world; our task is with ourselves."

     "Quel plaisir!" said the little captain bitterly, under his breath.

     The pleasant French room, with its long windows set open to the formal garden, was so silent for a time that at last all three of the men were startled by a footstep coming out of the distance toward them, along the loose pebbles of the garden walk. They could not help the feeling that a messenger was coming from the world outside; but as the sound approached the window they recognized the easy clack of a pair of wooden shoes, and the young gardener who wore them began to sing a gay little French song. Captain Paul Jones moved impatiently, but Mr. Franklin had taken the time for thought.

     "My friend Mr. David Hartley, a member of Parliament, who has been my willing agent in what attempts could be made to succor our prisoned sailors, begs me to have patience," he said reflectively. "He still thinks that nothing should persuade America to throw herself into the arms of France; for times are sure to mend, and an American must always be a stranger in France, while Great Britain will be our natural home for ages to come. But I recalled to him, in my answer, the fact that his nation is hiring all the cutthroats it can collect, of all countries and colors, to destroy us. It would be hard to persuade us not to ask or accept aid from any power that may be prevailed with to grant it, for the reason that, though we are now put to the sword, we may at some future time be treated kindly!

     "This expects too much patience of us altogether," he continued. "Americans have been treated with cordiality and affectionate respect here in France, as they have not been in England when they most deserved it. Now that the English are exasperated against us we have become odious as well as contemptible, and we cannot expect a better treatment for a long time to come. I do not see why we may not, upon an alliance, hope for a steady friendship with France. She has been faithful to little Switzerland these two hundred years!"

     "I cannot find it in my heart to think that our friendship with our mother country is forever broken," urged Wallingford, speaking with anxious solicitude. "The bond is too close between us. It is like the troubles that break the happiness of a family in a day of bad weather; it is but a quarrel or fit of the sulks, and when past, the love that is born in our hearts must still hold us together."

     "You speak truly, my young friend," said the old Commissioner; "but we have to remember that the lives of nations are of larger scope, and that the processes of change are of long duration. I think that it may be a century before the old sense of dependence and affection can return, and England and America again put their arms about each other."

     Paul Jones fretted in his gilded chair. The carved crest of Monsieur de Chaumont was sharp against his back, and the conversation was becoming much too general.

     "Our country is like a boy hardly come to manhood yet, who is at every moment afraid that he will not be taken for a man of forty years," said Mr. Franklin, smiling. "We have all the faults of youth, but, thank God, the faults of a young country are better than the faults of an old one. It is the young heart that takes the forward step. The day comes when England will love us all the better for what we are doing, but it provokes the mother country now, and grieves the child. If I read their hearts aright, there have been those who thought the mother most deeply hurt, and the child most angry. You will have seen much of the Loyalists, Mr. Wallingford, if I mistake not?"

     Wallingford colored with boyish confusion. "It would seem most natural, sir, if you take my mother's connection into account," he answered honestly. "She and her family are among those who have been sure of England's distress at our behavior. She is of those who inherit the deepest sentiments of affection toward the Crown."

     "And you have been her antagonist?"

     The question was kindly put, but it came straight as an arrow, and with such force that Paul Jones forgot his own burning anxiety for the French frigate, and turned to hear Wallingford's answer. All his natural jealousy of a rival in love, and deep-hidden suspicion of a man who had openly confessed himself a conservative, were again roused.

     "I have taken oath, and I wear the uniform of our American navy, sir," replied Wallingford quietly. "My father taught me that a gentleman should stand by his word. I was not among those who wished to hasten so sad a war, and I believe that our victory must be the long defeat of our prosperity; but since there is war and we have become independent, my country has a right to claim my service. The captain knows the circumstances which brought me here, and I thank him for giving me his confidence." The young man blushed like a girl, but Captain Paul Jones smiled and said nothing.

     "You have spoken like your father's son, - and like the son of Madam Wallingford," added Mr. Franklin. "I must say that I honor your behavior. I trust that your high principle may never fail you, my young friend, but you are putting it to greater strain than if you stood among the Patriots, who can see but one side." The sage old man looked at the lieutenant with a mild benevolence and approval that were staying to the heart. Then a shrewd, quick smile lighted his eyes again.

     "You should be one of the knights of old come out on his lady's quest," said Mr. Benjamin Franklin; and the young man, who might have blushed again and been annoyed at the jest, only smiled back as he might have smiled at his own father, whose look had sometimes been as kind, as wise and masterful, as this of the old Commissioner.

     Captain Paul Jones was in no mind that this hour should be wasted, even though it was a pleasant thing to see an old man and a young one so happily at home together. He wished to speak again for himself, and now rose with a formal air.

     "Sir, I pray you not to condemn me without hearing me. I have my enemies, as you have come to know. I am convinced that at least one of Mr. Lee's secretaries is a British spy. I do not blame England for watching us, but I accuse Mr. Lee. If his fault is ignorance, he is still guilty. I desire also to lay before you my plans for a cruise with the Ranger."

     Mr. Roger Wallingford left his own chair with sudden impulse, and stood beside his captain. He was a head taller and a shoulder-breadth broader, with the look of an old-fashioned English country gentleman, in spite of his gold lace and red waistcoat and the cocked hat of a lieutenant of marines.

     "I have already reminded you, sir, and the other honorable Commissioners," the captain continued, speaking quickly, "that I have the promise of a better ship than the Ranger, and that my opportunities of serving the Congress must wait in great measure upon the event of that promise being fulfilled. I have also to make formal complaint of the misdemeanors of some members of my present crew. I have fixed upon the necessity of this, and the even greater necessity for money, as our men lack clothes, and we are running short in every way. Our men are clamorous for their pay; I have advanced them a large sum on my own account. And we are already short of men; we must soon take action in regard to the exchange of prisoners toward this end."

     "Wait a few moments, Captain," said the Commissioner. "Mr. Deane and Mr. Adams should listen to your reasonable requests and discuss these projects. With your permission, we can dispense with the advice of Mr. Lee. I have here under consideration some important plans of the French Minister of Marine."

     There was a happy consciousness in the hearts of both the younger men that they had passed a severe examination not wholly without credit, and that the old Commissioner would stand their friend. There were still a few minutes of delay; and while the captain hastily reviewed his own thick budget of papers, Wallingford glanced often at Mr. Franklin's worn face and heavy figure, remembering that he had lately said that his life was now at its fag-end, and might be used and taken for what it was worth. All the weight of present cares and all the weariness of age could not forbid the habit of kindly patience and large wisdom which belonged to this very great man.
 

     "You are a dumb gentleman!" exclaimed the captain as they came away. "You sat there, most of the time, like an elder of the kirk, but you and Mr. Franklin seemed to understand each other all the better. The higher a man gets, the less he needs of speech. My Lord Selkirk and his mates and my dear Duke of Chartres, they do it all with a nod and a single word, but poor folks may chatter the day through. I was not so garrulous myself to-day?" he said, appealing for approval; and Wallingford, touched by such humility, hastened to assure him that the business of the Ranger had been, in his opinion, most handsomely conducted. The captain's fiery temper might well have mounted its war chariot at certain junctures.

     "Listen!" said Paul Jones, as they climbed the long slopes toward Paris and their good horses settled into a steady gait. "I have often been uncertain of you since we came to sea; yet I must have a solid knowledge that you are right at heart, else I could not have had you with me to-day. But you have been so vexingly dumb; you won't speak out, you don't concern yourself!" and the captain swore gently under his breath.

     Wallingford felt a touch of hot rage; then he laughed easily. "Poor Dickson will be disappointed if I do not prove a spy in the end," he said. "Look, captain; Mr. Franklin gave me these letters. The packet came for us by the last ship."

     The lieutenant had already found time to take a hasty look at two letters of his own; his young heart was beating fast against them at that moment. His mother's prim and delicate handwriting was like a glimpse of her face; and he had seen that Mary Hamilton had also written him in the old friendly, affectionate way, with complete unconsciousness of those doubts and shadows which so shamed his own remembrance.


NOTES

"The Philosopher sheweth you the way": From Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86), "A Defence of Poesie": "And what so much good doth that teaching bring foorth , (I speake still of morall doctrine) as that it mooueth one to do that which it doth teach. For as Aristotle saith, it is not gnosis, but praksis must be the frute: and how praksis can be without being moued to practise, it is no hard matter to consider. The Philosopher sheweth you the way, hee enformeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousnes of the way, as of the pleasaunt lodging you shall haue when your iourney is ended, as of the many by turnings that may diuert you from your way."
     See also, James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), "Under the Old Elm" (1875), section VII, subsection 3. This poem was composed for a centennial celebration of Washington's first command of the American Army, and published in Under the Old Elm and Other Poems (1885).
(Research: Gabe Heller).
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Marchioness de Sévigné: Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné (1626-1696). Her correspondence with her daughter, more than 1500 letters, was published between 1725 and 1734. Jewett could have read the letters in French or in an English translation such as Sarah Buell Hale's The Letters of Madame De Sévigné to Her Daughter and Friends (1855).
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Northmen of old: Reference to British sailors' racial ancestry. See Jewett's The Normans.
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lightning conductors: Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing the lightning rod.  Charles H. Brewster in Rambles about Portsmouth, First Series, 1859, speaks of the Jonathan Warner house in Ramble 25: "This house is provided with a lightning rod, which was put up in 1762 under the personal inspection of Doctor Benjamin Franklin -- and was probably the first put up in New Hampshire."
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Quel plaisir: What a pleasure.
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France ... has been faithful to little Switzerland these two hundred years: This may be somewhat of an exaggeration. The principle of Swiss neutrality was established after a war with the French in the early 16th Century. Switzerland achieved recognition as an independent nation with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years' War.
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The Tory Lover -- Contents