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“Sit here, Mary, there is someone I want you to meet,” Jane said.

                “Who?”

                “You will see. It is someone famous. You will be very impressed.”

                Mary deferred to her step sister and sat down. There was another vacant chair with a small round table between them. With the exception of Jane, she knew no one at this party. At barely fifteen years of age, she had been to very few such events. She sat alone for some time until she was approached by an elderly gentleman, walking unsteadily.

                “Excuse me, Miss, may I sit in that chair please. I am in need of some rest.”

                “By all means,” Mary said. “Please do.”

                The man was quite old, even by the standards of the young Mary. Seventy years or more, perhaps. She wasn’t sure if his unsteadiness was a result of his advanced years or the liquor, the odor which accompanied him.

                He awkwardly placed a large ornate mug on the table. “I have never seen anything quite like that,” Mary said, pointing at the vessel, which she believed contained the liquor that contributed his current condition.

                “It is a gift from His Majesty,” he said proudly. “It came from Hannover.” He paused then said, “His Majesty is also the King of Hannover,” perhaps assuming the young woman he was speaking to lacked the years or education to know that relatively common fact.

“I don’t mean to pry,” Mary said, “but I am unfamiliar with your accent.

                “I was born in the Colonies.” He paused again. “That is, in the former colonies.”

                “An American?” she said. “I don’t think I have ever met an American before.”

                He seemed to become more sober as he spoke. “Although I was born in North America, I have always been a British subject, and took the Loyalist side during the rebellion. I was formerly the Royal Governor of the New Jersey Colony, and I was imprisoned for two years.”

                “My word.”

                “For my service I was awarded a pension by his Majesty and this stein.”

                “Stein?”

                “That is the German word for this drinking vessel.” He held it up, looked at its contents as though considering another drink, but then replaced it on the table.

                There was a quiet pause, until he spoke again. “I’m sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. You must think me improper to presume to converse with such a young lady.”

                “Not at all,” Mary said. “I appreciate the company. My step-sister seems to have deserted me.”

                “I am sorry,” he said. “My name is William Franklin.”

                “Franklin?” Mary said. “The only American I’ve ever heard of is Benjamin Franklin. I don’t suppose you are related.”

                The man closed his eyes, and took his time to respond. “Benjamin Franklin is actually my father,” he said, seriously. “He was not married to my mother when I was born,” he said. “Does that shock you?”

                “No,” Mary answered. “I am young, but I am familiar with the ways of the world. “My sister, Fanny, and I have a different father. My mother and a soldier. . .”

                Mr. Franklin interrupted her. “It is difficult having a famous father, especially one who turned against his king and country,” he said. “And against his own son,” he added.

                “I know what it is to have a famous parent, or perhaps infamous in my case,” Mary said. “My mother was a controversial writer. She wrote a book suggesting that men and women should be treated as equals,” she went on. “Her name was Mary Wollstonecraft. She died eleven days after I was born. I am named for her, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.”

                There was another pause. Awkward, that is, for Mary. Mr. Franklin did not seem to mind. “The only thing I actually know about your father is something about an experiment with a kite and lightning,” Mary admitted.

                “Yes, of course, everyone knows about that. Except everyone doesn’t know that I was there was well and was part of the experiment.”

                “I didn’t know that.”

                “Most people don’t. My father accomplished many things, I must admit. Only, I was a part of that one.”

                “How fascinating.”

                “We proved a connection between lightning and electricity.”

                “Electricity?” Mary was unfamiliar with the word.

                “Yes,” Franklin said. “That discovery later saved his life, again with my help.”

                “What do you mean?”

                “Before the rebellion, my father and I were working toward the same goal, to prevent a rebellion, and calm the relationship with the crown and the colonies. We went on a mission to Canada to try to mediate the grievances on both sides. The journey was very hard on my father. He became weaker and weaker as the weather worsened. We were caught in a horrible thunderstorm and my father collapsed. We took shelter in a nearby barn. I thought he was dead. I could feel no pulse and could feel no breath coming from him. It was dark, and there was no one else near. I could hear the lightning strike the lightning rod on top of the barn. The lightning rod was another invention of my father. A metal spike is placed on the roof of a building. The lightning is attracted to the metal spike which is connected to a wire that runs into the ground, keeping the lightning from directly striking the building and preventing fires,” Franklin explained.

                “I remembered our experiment,” Franklin continued, “and took the wire from the ground and placed it on my father’s bare chest over his heart, holding it with a piece of leather I found in the barn. After what seemed to be an eternity, a bolt of lightning struck the rod and the electricity was conducted down the wire and into my father’s chest. The electricity caused a violent convulsion in a violent body spasm. It was followed by another lighting strike, then another, my father convulsing and shaking until he was revived, and was again breathing.”

                “Are you saying you brought him back from the dead?” Mary asked incredulously.

                “I believe his heart had stopped, and the electricity carried through the wire. The lightning revived him.” Franklin paused, as though reliving the incident exhausted him. “The next day he was better. When I recounted the events of the previous evening, he was doubtful that my ministrations saved him, and told me to never repeat the story to anyone. He feared the local villagers would accuse us of witchcraft and come for us carrying pitchforks and torches.”

                “What happened next?”

                “We continued our journey. Our attempts at peacemaking came to naught, of course. There was a rebellion, and the rest is history. England lost their American colonies. I lost my home, my fortune and father.”

                “But you saved your father’s life. Surely that is something.”

                “Yes, but even now I think that if I had not succeeded in that barn, would the outcome of the war and revolution been different. Without his leadership and influence, perhaps the rebels might not have prevailed.”

                “Regardless,” Mary said. “I think what you did was remarkable. You are a new Prometheus.”

                “I hope not,” Franklin responded. “You may recall it did not end so well for him.”

                “Nevertheless, no doctor could have done what you did. I will always remember this story, and think of you as a doctor. Doctor Franklin.”

                “You are very kind, Miss, however. . .” Franklin stopped speaking suddenly and went pale. The alcohol had caused a sudden call of nature. “You must excuse me.” He rose delicately and shuffled unsteadily away.

                Mary was again alone, until her step sister, Jane returned, now in the company of a handsome young man. “Mary,” Jane said, “I would like to introduce you to Percy Shelley. The poet,” Jane added.

                “I am familiar with Mr. Shelley’s work, Jane,” Mary gently chided.

                “It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Godwin. Your sister has told me so much about you.”

                Mary blushed and stifled a childish giggle. Mr. Shelley’s attention was momentarily drawn away from Mary. “What an interesting mug,” he said, referring to the abandoned drinking vessel on the table. “Is it yours?” he asked.

                “No,” Mary answered. “That is Doctor Franklin’s stein.”

Charles West

               

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