by Lucy Barton
The greatest colonial American love story ever told.
|This is a true story. It is the story of two lovers from the American colonies. There was no revolution, or talk of discontent, and there was no United States of America, at least in the beginning of our story. It begins with a young lad walking down a street in the town of Philedelphia, eating a loaf of bread, and two more loaves of bread are under each arm. This lad is a youngster, newly arrived from Boston. He passes by a certain house, and notices a young lady staring at him. He looks so comical, the young lady bursts into laughter, Behind her, an older gentleman frowns at the youth, and the young lady retreats out of sight. The young man resumes his walk, and eats his bread with a good appetite. The name of this lad is Benjamin Franklin, and the young lady in the house is Deborah Reed, who shall be very important to young Benjamin, as we shall see.....
It was spring. A glorious spring! All seemed blithe as the sun streamed over the landscape. However, all was not well at the respectable Reed house. Sixteen-year-old Deborah Reed was weeping in the garden. In the house, at his desk, Mr. Reed was writing a letter to a certain John Rogers, whom he had known for a considerable time. Mrs. Reed went first to the garden, and then into the house, to talk with her husband.
"Dearest, I've just spoken with Deborah. She is most upset. Did you know that young Mr. Franklin had been by two nights ago? That's all I could get out of Deborah." Mrs. Reed looked at her husband, who scratched away industriously, then laid his pen down with a sigh.
"Yes, I am fully aware of Mr. Franklin's visit. He came to propose marriage to Deborah. I had a word with him before he left. John Rogers will receive my letter and hasten to this house as soon as he can. You had best prepare Deborah's chest of goods. There shall be a wedding within a fortnight and John Rogers shall be the bridegroom. Say no more, it is settled and there's an end of it."
Mrs. Reed shook her head, but she obeyed her husband. She glanced out a window at her daughter, mopping her streaming eyes with her handkerchief and trying to be brave, for everyone's sakes. Mrs. Reed shook her head again and hastened to prepare the little chest of linens and tableware she had saved for her daughter upon her marriage.
Onboard a fine sailing vessel, the young printer-man, Benjamin Franklin, was peering out to see with a sea-glass. He was on his way to Europe, where he was to speak with the English courts out of the better interest of the colonists. Several taxes had cropped up and caused grief, then anger. The colonists were as lions in fragile cages. Perhaps the king would listen to Benjamin Franklin, Printer, and revoke these unlawful taxes.
Ben's brow furrowed when he reflected upon the little scene at the Reed house a few evenings before. He had known about the trip to Europe for a while, and mentioned it to both Mr. Reed, and then to Deborah, prior to his proposing to this beloved little Pennsylvanian gem. How sweet she was, how ideal! Ben had known other women in his eighteen years, yet none had the appeal or the charm that Miss Deborah Reed possessed.
Sadly, this happy prospect was not to be. Mr. Reed disapproved of Ben's own ambitions and trip to Europe, and advised both Ben and Deborah to put aside silly dreams and be practical young people. Practical, indeed! Benjamin Franklin had a respectable trade as a printer. This little mess in Europe would be easily untangled and all would be well before long. He was still reflecting upon this belief as the ship pulled out of the harbor and slid across the sea.
Within a week, the dashing John Rogers arrived, as promised, and Mr. Reed had the great privilege of escorting the bride to the porch of their church, and watching his secret dreams for his daughter finally come true. The bride and the bridegroom climbed into a fine carriage and proceeded to their new home, but Deborah glanced once behind her with a look in her eye as she waved farewell to her family.
In Europe, Benjamin Franklin found the higher living of the aristocracy fascinating. Half the time he forgot his purposes as he entered the ale-houses and card-tables. Women greeted him with powdered wigs, fine gowns, and made-up faces. These pretty porcelain ladies appealed to him in their own way. One night, he returned to the tavern where he was staying and found a letter for him from the former Miss Reed, now Mrs. John Rogers. Ben read the letter over and over, set it down, and stared at the fire in the grate. So, there was an end of it. His little Pennsylvanian gem was no longer within his reach.
Back in the American colonies, Deborah put on a brave face as she attempted to settle down as a wife. John Rogers was a determined man. He went to the tavern and left his young bride alone all day. Deborah sat by a window and sighed as she looked out onto a bleak and squalid alley, across from her new house. A candle-maker lived next door as her closest neighbour. The scent of tallow was in the air. Deborah had unpacked her pretty chest of linens and silver, and these were on display in the hall.
One evening, John came home reeking of drink. He started to yell at his wife. "You'd better let me take care of those silver cups and forks that you brought with you," he said, staggering slightly. Deborah said not a word, only gathered up the silver articles and handed these over to John.
"Those farmers at the tavern were talking heavy tonight. Sounds like war is at hand. I'll hide these silver things so that no one will find them. Have no fear, my dear, all will be well." John Rogers stuffed a sack with the silver cups and utensils and made for the door. The following evening he demanded the brass candlesticks. Then it was the silver platter with the cover. Again and again, he asked for Deborah's household goods. Each evening he took them away in a sack, and then he demanded something else the next evening.
Once all the goods were stored in John's secret place, nothing more was said for some time. He returned to the tavern again and drank until very late hours, and poor Deborah stayed at home and did embroidery, or entertained the candle-maker's wife, who dropped in very rarely. Then there came a day where John Rogers came home no longer. Deborah waited for several days, then she finally threw on a cloak and went to make inquiries.
At the tavern, Deborah found several men drinking heavily. John was not amongst them. One of the men, who was still in his sences, told Deborah some news that made her spellbound.
"John Rogers hired a ship two nights ago, Mrs. Rogers," this man said. "It sailed out, but no one knows where it was going. John Rogers had taken several loads of goods onto the ship long in advance, then he just up and sailed away two nights ago. I thought maybe you knew?"
"I knew nothing, sir," sobbed Deborah. "I waited a long time, but he never came home. I decided to come and learn whatever I could. He took everything that I had with me. My silver goods, and some fine china, linens and things. Oh, I was a fool to have married him. Now I'm a beggar!"
Poor Deborah went back to the silent and empty house, and the next day she called on the candle-maker's wife, to ask if she might be able to provide some assistance if possible. She related her tale, and the other lady nodded. "Of course, you're welcome to help with the candle-making! It's a busy time now, and those new taxes make everything so much harder! Your assistance is welcome, I'll see to that myself!"
And so it came to be that Deborah Reed took up a small job in helping to make candles. The young girl she had been was a woman when a ship pulled into the harbor, carrying as a passenger Benjamin Franklin, Printer. He disembarked and hired a carriage to take him to a tavern for a meal. It had been a very long time since he had been in the colonies, and one reason for his return was to follow up on a certain letter he had received from a lady he had known before he had departed for Europe. There had been a son born to this woman, Ben's son. The child's name was William.
Ben had been home for a fortnight when he finally decided to inquire as to the health and wellness of Mrs. John Rogers. The news he received was alarming. John Rogers had never returned after sailing off for what people now believed to be southern waters. His wife remained alone in their house, living off a pittance as a candle-maker's helper. Ben was furious at John Rogers and filled with sorrow for poor Deborah. He hired a carriage to take him to the house where she was living.
Deborah was sitting at her window, mending her best dress for winter. It was so hard to get by on a pittance! The poor woman tucked a dark curl beneath her starched cap and stitched away. Outside, there came the rumble of wheels on the road. A tap at the door sent her scurrying down the stairs, feeling a strange lifting of the heart as she ran. The door was flung open, and it seemed as though the Creator had flung His rainbow into the house.
"Benjamin! Oh, Benjamin!" Deborah could say nothing more. She drew Ben Franklin, Printer, into the house, and they stood together for a while, saying not a word, only allowing each other's presence to speak for themselves. Deborah led Ben to the fireplace and offered him a stool. Ben sat and accepted the hand of this fine woman, squeezing it with a tenderness that she herself had missed so much.
"I've come to offer my personal congratulations on your marriage, late in the day as they might be," Ben began, slowly. Then, glancing around the room, he added, "I understand there was some trouble surrounding the character of your husband. Might I inquire as to his whereabouts? I do not wish any harm upon yourself, least of all caused by my presence."
"You've nothing to fear, sir," Deborah murmured. "John took a ship to the southern waters, and he has never returned, nor has he sent any letters to announce his presence from any port. Oh, Benjamin, what I have suffered since our marriage was begun! John has taken all my household goods, and the little money I had. I'm left with nothing! Nothing!"
Benjamin was silent as Deborah wept and shared her tragic tale with him. He looked around the dark, gloomy house, and made up his mind to sweep up the pieces of this tragedy, and rearrange them to bring back the joy for this most beloved lady.
"Come along, my dearest," he said finally. "It is not fitting to live in the den of a robber. John Rogers was a robber in two ways. First he robbed me of a good woman who should have been, and yet shall be, my wife. Second, he robbed you of your little fortune, as well as left you desolate, in heart, body, and mind! Such a thing shall not be again. That much I promise you."
"Oh, Ben, I cannot be your wife! How can I be, with John away, perhaps yet living? It would be wrong, a sin!"
"Never you mind, Deborah. You and I are equals in certain ways. You shall come to my house, live there all your days, and serve as a mother for my son, William. Our Creator shall be merciful to us both. For, after all, was it not He who showed us all what mercy is, and the meaning of it? The Church might not be able to say that you and I are husband and wife, but you and I, betwixt ourselves and the Creator, shall know it to be true within our hearts. Come, I say, and leave the rest to me."
And so it came to be that Deborah Reed left the silent, desolate house where she had served John Rogers for naught, and entered the house of Benjamin Franklin, where she took upon her heart the role of wife to Benjamin, and mother to William. Young William embraced her, and she took great pleasure in sitting in a corner by the fire, listening to items of news that Benjamin would read aloud in the daily papers.