Ch. 2

Jacques knew his brother would need the whole rest of the day and throughout the evening to think about what was just proposed by the man who came into the candle shop. Before he left, the man said he would come back the next day for Pierre-François's answer to the proposal to take him on as a deck hand in a secret trade operation. Jacques and his brother rightly assumed that the man had been making rounds to employ others for the position, at their places of trade and as a routine, presumably until the positions would be satisfied. There was no pressure for Pierre-François to say yes.

The next afternoon at the candle shop, the man had returned, learning directly from Pierre-François that he was able to take the time to participate in the operation. This was mostly due to the fact that he had no wife to care for and no children to help tend to after a full day of work in his trade. The man had pointed out that each of the secret deck hands would be fully able to arrive for the duties. There would be no such occurrence as overwork of one deck hand, as far as the man assured them. Family life would be little disrupted, even as volunteers living outside the port city of Marseilles would be away from their homes for days and nights on end. What the man represented applied the best of respect to European values. As far as Jacques was concerned, it was perhaps an additional source of motivation for his brother to accept the proposition. Jacques was unaware of how the idea of what the operation was to accomplish in total outweighed appreciation that Pierre-François working at night as a deck hand would not ruin the functioning of the Simonieux household or the family candle trade. Due in part to the fact that Jacques didn't know how to speak English, he accepted that he was not invited to be a part of his brother's participation in the operation. Then there was the matter of his upcoming marriage event. Young men who were about to be married would be too distracted, he surmised, especially in that the entire operation was to be doubtlessly regarded as a very unique and politically inspired undertaking. What would the rest of the family and others who know them think? Business associates in town would notice Pierre-François's absence in the candle shop. What's more, who in normal civilian French society would take on loading dock work at night?

Fully aware that his brother was likely to accept the proposal even after hours of thinking it over, Jacques struggled with the idea that Pierre François's involvement in the operation might have a questionable effect on the wedding. It might create an air of discomfort. As far as Jacques could imagine, talk during the time of the feast may gravitate toward the matter of his brother's new project. Doubtless once the work would be started there would be wondering openly about why any member of the Simonieux family, known for virtuous, valuable service in the trade of candle making would take on such a project, even if it would only be a temporary one. In a sense, Jacques was eager to find out if it would even make a difference in the end.

The early morning came without open discussion on the subject at bedtime the night before. That night had been his brother's last chance to have time to think deeply and silently about the decision he was about to make, fully concentrating on it before the usual time to concentrate on candle work.

Jacques came into his brother's room. "Pierre-François, tu reveilles?" ("Pierre-François, are you waking up?")

His brother answered with more than just to let him know he was awake for another day of work.

"Oui. J'ai revé d'accepter le travail surtout pour la liberté des Americains. Pas pour gagner plus d'argent, pas simplement pour pratiquer mon anglais, et pas pour faire quelque chose so different à part de fabriquer des chandelles. La liberté pour les Americains serait plus importante que ces choses que je voudrais pour moi-meme. Alors, j'accepterai la proposition."

("Yes. I dreamt to accept the work all for the liberty of the Americans. Not to earn more money, not simply to practice my English, and not to do something so different besides make candles. Liberty for the Americans would be more important than these things that I would want for myself. So, I will accept the proposal.")

With no advice from anyone else, Jacques's brother had made his decision overnight, finally though a dream he had that it would be the right thing to do. Jacques was astonished that the influence of what the man who came to the shop to make the proposal had said about liberty had come to be so strong. All along since the man had walked out of the shop, Jacques had presumed that just the excitement of getting involved with something that had political purpose, and perhaps the challenge and satisfaction of practicing English in the process, would be the only drive for Pierre-François to decide to accept. After all, the political purpose applied to the people of the American colonies – a place not a single member of the Simonieux family had ever been to and a people they had never met nor conducted business with.

Overpowering the banality of ordinary candle work for the morning hours, Jacques saw Pierre-François's eyes to be noticeably bright, what an Englishman would call "chipper", obviously eager for the man's arrival. Jacques almost envied him, wishing he too could be propositioned for something that was much greater than fine candle making. He however felt nothing to imply to himself that his upcoming occasion to be married was of lesser significance, whether by his own Gallic pride nor by his view of his brother. Older brother Rémy had for a long time been the kin the both of them had aspired to become like, and as soon as their personal circumstances would allow. For that reason, they both were glad that Rémy had not been privy to the proposal, even though they both knew he would soon find out about Pierre-François's decision to take the work project. Young sister Babette, they already were confident about, would never mind the position of Pierre-François doing what he was about to do, just as they never minded the childish affections and precocious romantic ways of hers. The reasons were natural, and in fact very French.

Jacques was scratching the sleeve of his white shirt as the familiar man walked in, dressed in the same clothing he had worn the day before, and smelling the same. To impress the man, Pierre-François said what he wanted to say in English.

"I've made my decision, sir. I've decided to accept the work you have proposed to me yesterday."

Although Jacques knew that his brother was saying yes to the proposal, he didn't understand the language of him saying it. So that Jacques wouldn't feel left out of hearing the important statement, Pierre-François repeated word for word an exact translation.

"J'ai fait ma décision, monsieur. J'ai décidé à accepter le travail que tu m'a proposé hier."

Back to speaking their native language, the man wasted no time when discussing the details of the work further than what was described the previous day. This time it was about who to meet for the gathering of volunteers and what to do as a new man on the crew arriving on the first night. Food and wine would be for purchase out of the money earned for the work, as in a sort of commissary. Boarding for volunteers who reside outside of the port city of Marseilles would be a secret shelter as well. It was to be the storage attic above a pier office. As the man said, crew workers who happen to live in or near the port would simply go home at dawn, some by quiet carriage rides provided graciously. This man was a bookkeeper of the secret work and held the roster of workers, never to be seen at the dock at night. It was assumed that the man covered his secret affiliation with daytime dock supervision duties to the conventional pier activity with seamen, including captains of the ships. Even without knowing his name, hints came that the man was clearly in an individual to be respected by whoever was in service to him. Exemplifying French tradition of highly formal administrative practices, the man described his own responsibilities of being as careful as possible with every item of paper note, known as a dossier, concerning each crew member as well as his work. The man added his opinion that if never lost or destroyed, the dossiers of this secret operation may someday be a valuable artifact in the history of their country. As explained, and just so Pierre-François would be aware of it, all documentation of the secret operation's Marseilles port functioning depended on the man.

Luckily, Jacques knew of a friend from his years of attendance in the Toulouse parish school who would be available to replace Pierre-François in the candle shop for the time being until word would arrive when Pierre-François would return from participation in the secret loading dock work. The man had no need of any formalities except for Pierre-François's signature on a contract, both knowing that the candle business would not suffer from the absence of Pierre-François. The timing was perfect. The friend, a local city boy named Gilles Déchamps was about to start an apprenticeship of candle making. Pierre-François and Jacques both paid him a visit immediately after the day's work. The man, continuing to refrain from saying who his name was, came along with them to see to it that the boy would agree to start the apprenticeship under the Simonieux family and no one else. That, of course, would serve as an assurance that Pierre-François would not have to return to his normal candle making prematurely and lose his place in the loading dock work. There was no need for even the smallest trifle of misinformation to encourage the compliance of Gilles. The alibi would be simply that Pierre-François would be unable to make himself present in the candle shop for a spell. The secret operation was not to be mentioned to the boy. For Pierre-François and his enthusiasm to be a part of the secret work, he was fortunate that Gilles was finished with his schooling and ready for work in the town. Happily, Jacques remembered childhood visits to each other's homes, and knew Gilles could be trusted for favors whether they had to do with business or not. The boyhood companion had once rescued a large parcel of Simonieux candles worth several francs away from a bandit. Jacques had sensibly told the man so. During the discussion with Gilles of the apprenticeship, the subject of the boy's attendance at the wedding became secondary.

Then, the inevitable question came. It was a question even a child would think of. Wouldn't the rest of the Simonieux household fret with wonder the entire time? At the instant of thinking about it, the greatest dilemma would be what to explain upon his return from the secret loading dock work, particularly out of the vicinity of where they live. Jacques felt his brother's hand on his shoulder and knew that neither of them would create the false illusion that the absence of Pierre-François had anything to do with the candle business. That would simply be beneath their dignity and level of maturity, not to mention that there would be no way to prove such a thing, and certainly not to the benefit of the candle shop. Jacques decided that now was the time to think of something to say to the rest of the family that would not even slightly imply that Pierre-François had been involved in something so much as indirectly political.

Pierre-François was the one who had the idea of what to say.

"Nous pourrions les dire que je faisais un projet charitable, celle qui soit parmi tes affairs privés, en dehors des affairs familiales."

("We could tell them that I was doing a charitable project, that which is among my private affairs, outside the family affairs.")

After all, if the rest of the Simonieux family would have no qualms about any privacy of a potential courtship of a lady for marriage, there would be no reason to question a social project away from the family activities. A social charity project may be a Church-ordained one, the partaking of which would not be unheard of for any member of their family. For example, what if Pierre-François wanted to do something nice for the local parish to go along with the sentiment of his brother's church wedding ceremony? He was certainly the type who would. For all the rest of the family may imagine, if not the idea of a charitable project, the stay of Pierre-François outside the province might be nothing more complicated than an exploration of another city as a self-imposed means by which he could finally find himself a wife. He was not a pauper and could financially afford to do so. As for the actual reason to do something different from candle making for a little time, the element of charity would be no lie. The entire secret operation as a whole, to begin with, was considered a charitable act for the American rebel cause for independence.

Though he was excited for his brother, Jacques was equally excited that his fiancée's father had sent a letter to let the Simonieux family know that he was about to finish his business in Poland and return to Toulouse to give his daughter in marriage to Jacques. The letter had arrived the day following the decision of Pierre-François to take on the secret dock work. As if part of a special occasion itself, Monsieur Simonieux, as head of the household, read aloud the letter for everyone to hear, and to Jacques it sounded as sweet as the wine that went with dessert. Even sweeter, of course, would be her return. Unfortunately, Jacques had not been allowed to see her during her father's time of business outside of France. She was not even permitted to send him a private letter herself, or arrange for her father to include her words in his own. Alone in bed at night, he had been wondering if he would have been able to see her had there been no obligation of her father to travel out of the country, or even the province. He had accepted it without resentment or complaint, as did her family as well. As a scoff at the silliness of absurd French "rules", an Englishman would have joked that such a requirement placed upon young Jacques may be just a made-up and altogether unnecessary stipulation intended "to make the heart grow fonder". A true Frenchman might have derived enjoyment out of an Englishman being confounded as to whether or not the rule is real and applies to all common folk of France, or merely by the individual choice of the family, or to both families of the bride and groom alike. To an English observer, the French could be proud to pretend that a rule like that is absolutely beneficial for the time of a wedding, and not just for civil and material preparations for the occasion. A newsprint cartoon depicting that, as yet another laugh at English culture given certain political ramifications, would be great fun to share at the secret operation dock work. Doubtless Jacques knew Pierre-François would be open to it, as would Pierre-François's favorite American by which he was inspired to learn to speak English, Benjamin Franklin.

As both Jacques and his brother realized, there would be one complication besides the possibility that the unusual new task for Pierre-François may take on a strange feeling for the family at the wedding. There was no audacity to request to the important man who met them that Pierre-François forego his participation until after Jacques' wedding. Had the secret dock work bore no political involvement, the two brothers would have taken it upon themselves to make such a request.

There was the risk of the secret night crew being discovered by the authorities, and worse, maybe a British infiltrator disguised as a French volunteer for the secret work, speaking the language and covering an English accent. During the time of the discussions with the man who had proposed the task to him, there was no mention of what crewmen need to do to protect themselves as they go about the work. The closest they came to hearing of a precaution was a brief reply that the crewmen be dressed in black cloaks and wearing black caps on their heads, as in winter funeral attire, when Pierre-François asked how he is to be attired for the work. Obviously, the black clothing would be to blend in with the dark of the night, and for the purpose of what the secret dock work was meaning to begin with, gallantly tolerated in the warm weather of the region. Whether upon his return home or before, if the Simonieux family would hear of the actual task being done, there would be the fear that Pierre-François would likely end up in jail.