Toulouse, France 1776
The 20 year-old French candlemaker was late in the process of preparing for marriage to pretty, brown-haired Isabelle Chouvais, the daughter of a local wine merchant who had serviced the Simonieux family for years. The wedding was to take place later that month of September. He was enjoying the stage of finally belonging in to proper social circles among the married tradesmen of the city by being formally and officially spoken for earlier that year. Isabelle was considered a quite suitable mate at the same age as him, with a good Catholic upbringing and a healthy familiarity with him from their school days. In full medical procedure, her physical constitution had been carefully examined for childbearing beforehand, with both families in attendance to be reassured that the recurring scourge of infant deaths would not plague the young lady. Thankfully to all concerned, the fiancée was regarded to be not too delicate to withstand a successful brood and a prudent lady found with not the slightest ailment of any sort. Proudly placed in the salon of the Simonieux family home, the doctor's record deeming her fit for all wifely and motherly duties sat on a fine table next to the small head portrait of him. He looked at both the note and the portrait lovingly. The portrait was painted by a longtime friend of the family Jean-Marie-Joseph Ingres, an excellent decorator and draftsman who was teaching a drawing class for art students in nearby rural area Montauban. After at first being just a good, regular customer of the Simonieux candle shop, Monsieur Ingres had become a well appreciated, trustworthy visitor to the household, faithfully attending every one of their special occasions and the wedding would be no exception. Free of charge, five years before he had painted miniature portraits of the entire Simonieux family, all displayed in the salon. Unsurprisingly, he offered to paint a portrait of Isabelle soon after the wedding day, as a gift, of course. The features in the painting did Jacques good justice to his real appearance. He resembled most his mother Hélène, with wavy auburn hair and her lips with the shape of a diamond stretched at both left and right ends, a mildly elf-like nose and almond-shaped brown eyes. He thought of himself fortunate to be found of such pleasing appearance to Isabelle even when they were children. Like his two older brothers Pierre-François and Rémy, he bore a slightly tanned, Mediterranean tone to his skin, much unlike the painted white faces of the Parisian dandies of the day. His 19 year-old sister Babette was fair-skinned with a beauty of face that attracted silversmith Jean-Luc Charbois who her mother declared should be her suitor. To the frustration of her mother, she made a habit of avoiding Jean-Luc's calling by sneaking away to spend time with the only one her heart yearned for – an Italian boy from the Toulouse orchestra. Her music-loving beau impressed her by claiming that he had once been personally applauded by Antonio Solieri – Austria's royal court composer who would attain notoriety as the unsuccessful rival to the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To improve the charm of the story, he emphasized the coincidence of the Austrian emperor being the brother of Queen Marie Antoinette. To criticize the love affair, her mother insisted that the story was a falsehood. The youngest in the family, Marie Simonieux had tragically died in a carriage accident at the age of 12 three years before.
She was not the first to have ever been chosen to be his wife. When he was at the age of 16 and eager to be married and start his own family like his oldest brother Rémy did, he became married to a quiet young woman of the same age named Nathalie, a baker's daughter. The following year she had died of what a few of the townspeople of Toulouse thought was syphillus. During the time the rumor had somehow been spread, Jacques had been stricken aghast with horror for a spell when a detail implied that the disease in her had been contracted from another young man in the city. As it turned out, the rumors were rendered untrue when a better-educated doctor who had come all the way from Switzerland had surmised that the death was caused by some kind of blood disease unable to be explained let alone cured. With Isabelle presumed to be waiting in tow the entire time after the death, Jacques never forgot the tragedy of it. As far as their families, including Nathalie's knew, Isabelle had never even known she existed. The mystery of who started the rumor and why would remain in the Simonieux family.
His father Jean-Louis was the first to notice that his son was somewhat frustrated about having to wait until Isabelle's father would come back from Poland on business before the time of the wedding. But to the rest of the family that was no dire matter. During visits with friends, from time to time Jean-Louis as the master of the house had to think of ways to explain away the strange case of his son Pierre-François as a well-mannered, handsome, healthy 23 year-old never having been married or even reportedly ever fallen in love. Pierre-François physically took after his father, with brown wavy hair and an oval-shaped face that was fuller than that of Jacques, and with thicker eyebrows, and with a fuller nose. The Madame and Monsieur had tried to match him with nice ladies of reasonably fair countenance who would take a liking to him and in a few cases expressed fondness openly, but there seemed be no manly interest by him for any of them. Though never bringing it up to other members of the family, at least not yet, Jacques knew Pierre-François would find himself a wife on his own accord. The two brothers had been closest in personal communication due to their working with each other in the candle making room of the shop every day, while oldest brother Rémy would be the one to manage the vending of the candles, including deliveries. Rémy's wife was pregnant with their third child and he contributed sufficiently, proud of the fact that the family candle business was rarely troubled.
Unlike many people of Paris, the Simonieux family was not one to discuss politics much less exchange questionable opinions about the king, and even more notably his choice for a queen. Political affairs would seem like a distant province to Jacques and Pierre-François until the following morning after the family's dinner with Monsieur Ingres, who had come to the Simonieux home to ask about the upcoming wedding and kindly plan for an evening at the next Toulouse symphony concert to celebrate.
Back to work as usual at the candle shop with their aprons on and hair tied back in a ribbon medium-length tail, Jacques and Pierre-François noticed a portly man about town walk in. They had never seen him before. He had a wooden cane, a snowy-white powdered wig and the smell of someone who frequently conducted business with seamen. He did not come to talk about candles.
"Bonjour, les jeunes messieurs. Je voudrais proposer quelque chose à vous. D'abord, connaissez-vous parler anglais?"
("Good morning, young sirs. I would like to propose something to you. First, do you know how to speak English?")
Jacques saw Pierre-François gesture to himself quickly, then wipe his wax-caked fingers on his apron. He could tell by the man's accent that he was French, so it was apparent that the man was not asking the question for his own sake. Jacques remembered well when Pierre-François had Wednesday evening English language lessons from a bookseller named Phillipe Gaubin, beginning sometime in 1769 and ending in December of 1773. Monsieur Gaubin had told the family how he had learned English himself during a long-term stay in the American colony of Pennsylvania, speaking like an English colonial as opposed to talking in the accent of the people of England. The dialect of the Colonies was what Pierre-François once said he strongly preferred. The bookseller would come over to the Simonieux home, when the other members of the household would have to go upstairs so that the private lessons would not be disturbed. Pierre-François was the only Simonieux family member who had any interest in making use of Monsieur Gaubin's English language tutoring services. When asked what inspired him to want to learn English, Pierre-François explained that it was the language of somebody from the Colonies he and many other French people, most fashionably in Paris, admired greatly as a scientist, inventor, and philosopher – Benjamin Franklin. Jacques recalled the gift that the man had given Pierre-François at the conclusion of the studies as a thoughtful reward for excellent progress – a copy of Poor Richard's Almanac.
The man who came into the shop continued.
"C'est mes affairs mais c'est aussi politique. À Paris on sait que les nouvelles a l'Àmerique du nord deviennent plus et plus intéressantes. Pour la première fois, il y existe des colons qui veulent couper le règle brittanique complètement, et tout contre le roi George le troisième. Ils ont déclaré leur pays d'etre libre! Imaginez-ça! Bien sur, le roi d'Angleterre est terriblement en colère, et les Anglais veulent bloquer tous les routes de nos produits envoyés à travers le Mer Atlantique, tout pour détruire le marchet entre nous et les colons. Hélas, les Brittaniques restent nos énnemies. Si seulement j'aurais pu voir le regard sur son visage quand il a vu la déclaration – une déclaration écrit à quitter sa controle des colons et les Colonies au meme temps. Quelle courage, les colons là-bas! Alors, jeune messieur, ça signifie, pour moi et quelques autres ici en France qu'on a besoin de fournir des routes sécrètes pour maintenir nos affairs, et donc on a besoin aucuns gars qui peuvent parler anglais pour conduire les échanges sécrètes."
("It's my business but it's also political. In Paris we know that the news in North America is becoming more and more interesting. For the first time there are colonials who want to cut the British rule completely, and all against King George the Third. They declared their country to be free! Imagine that! Of course, the king of England is terribly angry, and the English want to block all the trade routes of our goods sent across the Atlantic Ocean, all to destroy the market between us and the colonials. Alas, the British remain our enemies. If only I could have seen the look on his face when he saw the declaration – a written declaration to quit his control of the colonials and the Colonies at the same time. What courage, those colonials over there! So, young sir, that means, for me and others here in France that we need to furnish some secret routes to maintain our business, and therefore we need any fellows who could speak English to conduct the secret exchanges.")
The man was obviously someone who wanted to facilitate the covert stretching of France's own market interests against England in light of what was happening in the American colonies. The man looked at Jacques and asked if he too could speak English.
"Non, monsieur." ("No, sir.")
The man added a little more.
"Les colons qui suivent leur but de la liberté, ils refusent à acheter les choses d'Angleterre, alors ils sont pretes à acheter les notres meme plus."
("The colonials who are following the goal of liberty, they refuse to buy things from England, so they are ready to buy ours all the more.")
Jacques looked at his brother as Pierre-François perked up, with his eyebrows perched as if he'd hadn't been so fascinated with anything for quite a long time. Pierre-François asked "La liberté, monsieur?" ("Liberty, sir?")
"Oui, la liberté. C'est une terme utilisée dans la déclaration écrit don't que j'en dit."
("Yes. Liberty. It's a term used in the written declaration that I told you about.")
The nearest seaport to Toulouse was Marseilles on the southern-most tip of France.
"Je ne vie assez prés de la cote." ("I don't live near enough to the coast"), lamented Pierre-François.
The man explained that in order to help keep the trade route operation secret, the loading and shipping convoy employed occasional volunteers brought by carriage from neighboring towns and villages farther inland from the outermost ports, but not the middle provinces. It was presumed that the middle regions of the country would be most likely to send up word of the secret operation to Paris by whatever political informers could tell the royal court, eventually reaching the king. Naturally, there was fear that the king would not approve, at least not yet. The man described how the undercover suppliers designated the secret trade routes so as to segment them away from the usual main established routes that went to continents other than North America. The branches, movement, and chain of authority, following purely French ways of organization were more tightly structured and vertically designed than any British commerce official could infiltrate successfully, or so it was intended.
The man paused for a few moments, allowing Pierre-François to ponder what he was proposing during a slow, careful dipping of a candle wick into a basin of rich, piping hot wax. Jacques didn't immediately try to imagine what his brother was probably thinking at that exact moment. It sounded to Jacques like the man was encouraging Pierre-François to visualize himself being part of a late night crew of young Frenchmen speaking English as a second language to seamen loading and unloading crates on a dock. Such would be seamen not only braving the ravages of ocean voyage with costly French cargo but also braving the risk of mutiny and capture by British warships.
The man did not say what his name is, but offered to leave and return the next day for word of whether or not Pierre-François would be interested in accepting his proposal. The man had no intention of interfering with the candle maker's normal rate of work. Nonetheless, the proposal was not to be taken lightly. What the man was offering Jacques's brother was young, fresh accompaniment in his own state of being a profiteer of the American colonial rebellion. In actual terms, he was asking Pierre-François if he would like to become a smuggler.