Episode 3. A Summer in New Jersey
Such a hot and hazy day... I don't even feel like riding. Anyway, my father says that I'm almost an accomplished horseman now, so I'll have "a headache" and stay in my room. I am now unpacking, finally, the trunk that arrived from London. It can only be Caldwell's production, this trunk, with funny notes tucked here and there, plus a teasing one about my hasty departure "like a thief in the night." As if it were my fault! At the very bottom I peek at an intriguing layer of papers, all mixed up. On top of them, my best friend's triumphant message: "New clues to the Temple Mystery!" Caldwell's goal in life, he used to say, was to discover my identity.
And so, not long after my departure, Caldwell took advantage of a brief trip by Headmaster Elphinston to his native Scotland and sneaked into his office through a window. He brought out a handful of letters all bearing the name Tempel, all written in Elphinston's beloved phonetic spelling. The correspondence was between our revered headmaster and his former right hand man, the Reverend Jonathan Odell, who sailed off to New Jersey eight years ago under the patronage of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. I see that Odell, too, has adopted the phonetic spelling — my Grandfather, of course, had to invent one of his own, but more of that later if I ever get to it. I opened one of the letters to see what Odell has to say about me.
"Govvernor Franklin is highly plezed widh dhe accounts yoo guiv ov dhe young Tempel; and begs dhat no expence, ov anny kind, may be spared in hiz edducacion."
"Aha!" exclaims my clever Caldwell. "And who is this 'Govvernor' who wants you so well educated? What does he know that we don' t know?" Caldwell, my old pal, I must tell you without further delay that the 'Govvernor' in question is my father, not an Arabian prince, or a maharajah, as you imagined, but the ruler of New Jersey who signs his official documents in the following manner:
"By His Excellency William Franklin, Esq, Captain General and Governor in Chief In and over the Province of Nova-Caesarea or New Jersey, and Territories there on depending in America, Chancellor and Vice-Admiral in the same, etc."
Not bad, eh? Now I am dying to know what that "etc." at the end stands for. Give me time.
Back to the trunk. Next I found a letter from 1771, from Elphinston to Odell. I must have been eleven by then. He says "Nor must I omit dhe verry successfool, and daily more promissing Tempel hoo wil doutles repay evvery pains, and proov wordhy hiz distinguished frends." This is pure Elphinston, not to be taken too seriously. He assured all parents that their child was a genius, so everybody was happy, while his Kensington School prospered. Luckily for us, the kind man did not believe in corporal punishment. Caldwell and I did our mischief in peace.
And in 1772 ... more praise! "Dear Tempel becoms daily hwat hiz wisest frends wish. Hiz understanding and temper excellent: hiz advancement dherfore ampel, widhout prematurity."
What does he mean, no prematurity? That I'm slow, retarded?
The following year: "Dear Tempel rizes a noble fellow..." Oh no, please! I wasn't noble, I broke a number of school rules. I paw through more papers... Here's a recent one, January 1774. Elphinston to Odell: "Verry real sattisfaccion doz dhe doctor expres in dhe advancement ov Tempel, nor perhaps dhe les, dhat, without prematurity (hwich seldom prommises) dhe sprightly and goodnatured littel fellow (by no means littel for his age, or littel in my eyes) bespeaks alreddy various ingenuity. He dances, plays, and draws uncommonly, he can indeed take anny likenes. Nor must you fancy him engroced by dhe ellegant arts. He haz had dhe onnor of introduccion to Cezar, Virgil, Horrace, and dhe Greek testament..."
So it pops up again, the lack of prematurity! Obviously an asset in the Headmaster's eye, or is he fooling himself in that as in so many other respects?
If he could see me now, trying to thread my way not only through what Father calls "the unnatural disputes between Britain and her colonies" but also through the rival factions in America, Grandfather's Patriots (also known as Rebels) versus Father's Loyalists! "Littel Tempel" is growing up fast-and sometimes painfully.
Elphinston, I now realize, knew perfectly who I was and so did Odell.
But I found still more in the trunk. A last, hasty scrap from Caldwell reads: "Elphinston is the brother of Mrs. Margaret Strahan." Not much on the surface but perhaps the key to my earliest childhood. William Strahan and his family were Grandfather's closest friends in London. He had corresponded with Strahan long before going to England himself, both of them being printers and doing business together. When they finally met in London, Grandfather was so taken with that whole family that he contemplated a marriage between Aunt Sally and the Strahan son. The problem was that Deborah, my non-grandmother, could not bring herself to leave Philadelphia, let alone allow their daughter to cross the Ocean, so the project was abandoned. Nobody, of course, asked Sally for her opinion. She certainly would have had a more interesting and brilliant life in London, especially after Strahan the elder became a member of Parliament.
Back to baby Temple (me!) who had to be taken care of after his father married the glamorous Elizabeth Downes, daughter of a Barbados planter, and sailed with her to America. The unwanted child by another woman must have been entrusted to the Strahan circle that included a Mrs. Woolford. That Mrs. Woolford used to visit us on Craven Street, always fussing over me, bringing me a present, calling me her darling little protégé, to my vague irritation. And now Mrs. Stevenson, in her last letter, urges me to write to Mrs. Woolford (my surrogate mother?). The pieces of the puzzle are coming together.
I lie down on my bed and try to remember my hazy life in London before boarding school. Much more vivid than Mrs. Woolford is the image of Mammy Thackeray, a loud and jolly black woman dressed in bright clothes. I think I remember her picking me up and hugging me tight. I think I remember a vivid blue necklace that I tried to put in my mouth. Or is it all a dream? Could Mammy Thackeray have been my nurse? Was I tucked into bed, after all, when I was very small?
Enough brainwork. Better take a nap. The True Conduct Of Persons of Quality that my father left beside my bed will help me doze off in no time.