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A Novel of John Paul Jones (#2)
Author: Nicholas Nicastro
2013 Reissue Edition
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $16.95; 324pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-058-0 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-059-7 e-book
A Novel of John Paul Jones (Vol. 2)
Author: Nicholas Nicastro
The company lay napping
on the shore in parti-colored heaps of taffeta, muslin, and silk. Around
them, the carcasses of Muscovy ducks and larded turkeys were similarly
heaped on silver picnic services. The bones, like the mouths of the smeared,
sleeping picnickers, were still dressed with remnants of braised onion
and spinach and croutons. Neither heap moved much under the early August
sun. Only the odd protuberant belly rose and fell in a slow, indolent
Meanwhile, out on the water, two vessels
closed on one another. The first was commanded by the ninth Comte de la
Rochejaquelein, future lord of the Loire estate of the eighth Comte, Minister
of Royal Fishponds and Warden of Lepidoptery. A boy most resplendent in
his gilded and piped admiral's uniform, he waved a tasseled sword above
his head, shouting insults at his opponent in whatever English words came
"You cellar of salt! Feckless puppy!
Son of a mountainous continent! Come now to taste my metal!"
His opponent was the American captain, John
Paul Jones, late of the storied action against HMS Drake near Belfast,
now plowing a deep furrow in the water as he calmly directed his vessel
athwart the comte's. Already he had gained the positional advantage, coming
about on the other's bow as its crew struggled helplessly to turn their
broadside toward the enemy. Jones, sensing a rout, did his opponent the
courtesy of offering quarter.
"You have fought most well, Mister
Count, and have done your king's navy much credit. But may I prevail upon
you now to forego the needless suffering of yourself and your crew?"
The boy spat in the water and fixed a contemptuous
eye on Jones.
"Mon cher le Capitaine, my disadvantage
is but temporal. Do yourself upon me and suffer thereafter!"
Jones swung his craft around into the wind
and presented his broadside to Monsieur le Comte's bow. The latter stood
with most evident courage on his deck, one leg cocked forward, as if prepared
personally to receive the captain's fire. Jones obliged. Digging his oar
deep under the surface of the pond, he flicked it deftly upward to produce
a sharp swell that set the other rowboat to violent rocking. This maneuver
cost the boy his footing, pitching him into the outstretched arms of his
sisters. Jones then brought his blade down in a series of abrupt chopping
motions, striking off arcing sheets of water, deluging the enemy and spoiling
the ostrich plume on Monsieur le Comte's hat. The girls squealed and kicked;
the deeply moistened comte took a spray of pond water full in the face
and was momentarily speechless. Jones rowed away, and was far out of range
when the children finally managed to get their hands in the water to answer
his barrage with a random burst of meager splashes.
"A baptism by fire!" Jones taunted
them, sitting back as his boat glided. "Be but thankful I did not
board you outright!"
"After him!" the young
comte screamed. His sisters leaned dutifully on their oars. Indeed, Jones
was impressed with the latters' fighting spiritthey compared favorably
to the lowborn male clodhoppers and pressed pub crawlers who blighted
most of France's warships.
Jones did not bother to row. Instead, he
let his adversary close in behind him. And when he began to take watery
"fire" from the cupped hands of the comte, he suddenly slapped
the pond with both oars, again sending a devastating salvo directly behind
him. While the others were momentarily disarrayed by this counterpunch,
Jones's oars bit the water in opposing directions and spun his boat around
as if on a pivot (suggesting something of the unique joy of commanding
a Roman galley, he mused). Then he surged forward again, passing the enemy
on his port side.
Another wave of water broke over the comte's
gunwales. This time, however, Monsieur le Comte's larboard oarsman, his
cousin Delphine, managed a slice at the water herself. Jones's white linen
blouse was wet to his skin.
"A creditable shot!" he praised
her. "Perhaps it is you who should be in command, instead of Mister
"She knows her place subalterne.
As will you!" the boy sneered, attempting several more ineffectual
swipes with his sword.
Jones commenced another turn.
"Captain Jones! If you please!"
Someone, a periwigged servant, was calling
to him from the shore.
"Yes?" he answered, squinting
through the raking sunlight at the figure on the grass.
"Monsieur, it is your coach to L'Orient.
They wait in the courtyard."
They were early. Jones put his head down,
all humor gone.
"Yes. I will be there," he said.
He pulled for the shore with long, easy
strokes. His many weeks of waiting, of pining and pleading for an opportunity
to repeat his success with the Ranger, albeit on a grander scale,
were finally at an end. The many days of staring at himself in mirrors,
wondering if his valor was spent, his career prematurely nipped, his character
destined never to be well and publicly established, were over. Except
for a slight paunch born of too many well-sauced French meals, he believed
himself the same man who departed Portsmouth eighteen months before. Indeed,
the same man who captained his first ship more than ten years before.
The same man, except for a few more creases now lining his parlor-pale
But a new anxiety dogged him now: the worry
that his success had been not only a matter of good luck (of course it
was), but a matter of inspirationof the kind of grace that comes
to boy post captains and heartsick poets who amuse Fate with their pretensions.
This next cruise would not be inspiring. Its success would be the fruit
of long and tedious labor and, more precisely, of politicking, which to
him was the very opposite of poesy. Would he fail now, without the excuse
The comte's boat was now close behind him.
"You flee in fear!" the boy was
saying. "Strike your flag, I say!"
"If I had a flag, I would strike. I
"Patronizer. You break off to take
"Alas, the Bon Homme Richard
is waiting for me. Pray excuse my surrender."
"But I have not yet begun to fight!"
the boy wailed. He tossed himself in the well of the rowboat, initiating
a tantrum: "No! No! No! No! No! Cowards! Cheaters! I claim my destiny!
Fight with me!"
His plumed hat had come off in the course
of this performance. While he was thus engaged, Delphine seized it and,
fluffing the damp comb, set the hat on her own head.
"The Admiralty salutes you, le Capitaine
Paul Jones!" she shouted to him. "Now go forth and tame the
This amused Jones. On shore, he bowed deeply
to her, and then to the rest of the guests. The latter were red-eyed and
uncomprehending, freshly awoken by the messenger's arrival.
When he had mounted the stairs up to the
Hotel Valentinois, one of the picnickers, a minor chevalier whose only
battles were with tough cuts of meat at the dinner table, turned to his
"Remind me, who is that man?"
"The American captain, Paul Jones.
You met him this morning at quoits."
"Oh yes, the short, earnest one. I
remember. His French is terrible." And he fell back to resume his
©2013 Nicholas Nicastro