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The Unspeakable Gentleman by John P. Marquand





I have seen the improbable turn true too often not to have it disturb me. Suppose these memoirs still exist when the French royalist plot of 1805 and my father's peculiar role in it are forgotten. I cannot help but remember it is a restless land across the water. But surely people will continue to recollect. Surely these few pages, written with the sole purpose of explaining my father's part in the affair, will not degenerate into anything so pitifully fanciful as the story of a man who tried his best to be a bad example because he could not be a good one.

It was my Uncle Jason who was with me when I learned of my father's return to America. I still remember the look of sympathetic concern on his broad, good-natured face, as I read my father's letter. There was anxiety written there as he watched me, for my uncle was a kindly, thoughtful man. For the moment he seemed to have quite forgotten the affairs of his counting house, and the inventory of goods from France, which a clerk had placed before him. Of late he had taken in me an unaccustomed interest, in no wise allayed by the letter I was holding.

"So he is here," said my Uncle Jason.

"He is just arrived," I answered.

"I had heard of it," he remarked thoughtfully. "And you will see him, Henry?"

"Yes," I replied, "since she asked me to."

"She had asked you? Your mother? You did not tell me that." His voice had been sharp and reproachful, and then he had sighed. "After all," he went on more gently, "he is your father, and you must respect him as such, Henry, hard as it is to do so. I am sorry, almost, that he and I have quarreled, for in many ways your father was a remarkable man who might have gone far, except for his failing. God knows I did my best to help him."

And he sighed again at the small success of his efforts and returned to the papers that lay before him on the counting house table. His business had become engrossing of late, and gave him little leisure.

"Do not be too hard on him, Henry," he said, as I departed.

It was ten years since I had seen my father, ten years when we change more than we do during the rest of a lifetime. Ten years back we had lived in a great house with lawns that ran down to the river where our ships pulled at their moorings. My father and I had left the house together--I for school, and my father--I have never learned where he had gone. I was just beginning to see the starker outlines of a world that has shaken off the shadows of youth when I saw him again.

I remember it was a morning early in autumn. The wind was fresh off the sea, making the pounding of the surf on the beach seem very near as I urged my horse from the neat, quiet streets of the town up the rutted lane that led to the Shelton house. The tang of the salt marshes was in the wind, and a touch of frost over the meadows told me the ducks would soon be coming in from shelter. Already the leaves were falling off the tall elms, twisting in little spirals through the clear October sunlight.

And yet, in spite of the wind and the sea and the clean light of the forenoon, there was a sadness about the place, and an undercurrent of uneasy silence that the rustling of the leaves and the noise of the surf only seemed to accentuate. It was like the silence that falls about a table when the guests have left it, and the chairs are empty and the lights are growing dim. It was the silence that comes over all places where there should be people, and yet where no one comes.

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