Tuesday, April 12

A Letter Smuggled Home

This letter has been translated from its original French: 

Messer. Francois Rochambeau 
Hotel Marzon
Market Street
New Orleans

Dear Sir,

   I write to you from the island of Bermuda, which is much more agreeable than Halifax. Had we been forced to spend the winter there I  am sure I would have lost my nose and ears to the cold! It was completely disagreeable before we left and not yet full winter! I find Bermuda to be not very different than Louisiana. 

  There are a number of American prisoners here, some soon to be exchanged. It is through them that I hope to send this letter. I have talked long with them about my misfortune of being pressed, for it would not do for them to know that I had volunteered when I saw that to resist was useless.

 Aside from being in a service not of my choosing, and missing Marie and the boys with all my heart, I find myself satisfied enough in my present circumstance.  The Acasta is what the English term a "happy ship", which is not to say the crew is always merry, but they are content enough most of the time. The Captain, his name is Freymann, is a taut but very fair man, and his officers seem to follow his example. He has spoken to me on several occasions, as he often comes to the sick bay to visit the sailors that are hurt, always with a cheerful word for them and most admire and respect him for doing so. He seems to think me more learned than I am, I am not sure why, perhaps because I have often served the doctor in his natural philosophy pursuits. The Saints know all the science knowledge I have was gained only from you and dear Messr Duval. The last time he spoke to me the Captain asked me of my thoughts on some philosopher's - a fellow Frenchman who's name escapes me- theory of transmutation. On confessing my ignorance of such a theory he explained it to me. A taper was burning, it being dark below decks, and he explained that the theory holds that the candle does not actually burn into nothing, but is transformed into gases and wind. Do you know of this theory? If this were true, might it not be possible to direct the wind from a controlled flame- of burning oil perhaps- and cause a ship to move even in a dead calm? I shall ask him this if he speaks to me of it again. I have learned it is considered improper in an English ship to speak to the Captain without his addressing you first.

The Doctor, his name is Roberts, I have become rather fond of, although he is often a very private fellow. I think the Doctor began to like me better when he found I had no love for Bonaparte. I have heard him tell other officers that I am a "Monarchist". He has often left me in charge of his duties when he dines ashore or aboard another ship.  He recently showed me my name as "Asst Surgeon" for the Acasta in the Navy List. This is good for me as my pay is more. I am sure this is somehow due to his influences, and I am grateful. It could go poorly for me if we are captured, but that is a bridge I shall cross if ever I come to it. Just between us I think he may be more than a surgeon and natural philosopher. He has been kind enough to allow me to read his medical books which are in French. As I was returning one I happened to pick up one in English to look at the pictures it contained. A leaf of paper fell out which had curious rectangles cut out of it- they fit the lines of the book and perhaps would show only certain words on a page? Although no one saw me I felt I had violated the trust of this man who had shown me only kindness. The less I know of such things the better. We have spent some time here trying to find a certain sea bird he wished to collect, but so far he has been disappointed. The bird is called a "cahoe", do you know it? So far we have yet to see, much yet collect, this bird.

The Carpenter, his name is Apple, is my particular friend. As it happens we had known each other long before, although I did not know him for the years which had passed and that he has lost a number of fingers since he was  young. We are tie mates- although he has the best of this partnership- for as you know time has left little for him to deal with on me, whereas he has a beautiful queue reaching to his belt. He tells me he can make mine handsome by interspersing it with oakum. What do I care for my own beauty  - I have already captured the last woman I intend to pursue! He is also fond of cocking and has a good head for it. There is a pit here and we go there whenever we have liberty. We have done well enough with our winnings that the other fellows now ask us to choose their birds.  

My taper burns low and I have a busy day tomorrow, the Doctor being ashore. I have enclosed a letter for Marie. God willing we will be sent from here to a blockade of New Orleans.

I am, as always Sir, forever your servant, 

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