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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHome As Found - Chapter 18
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Home As Found - Chapter 18 Post by :DerekGehl Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2723

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Home As Found - Chapter 18

Chapter XVIII

"Thine for a space are they--
Yet shalt thou yield thy treasures up at last;
Thy gates shall yet give way,
Thy bolts shall fall, inexorable Past."


BRYANT

Captain Ducie had retired for the night, and was sitting reading, when a low tap at the door roused him from a brown study. He gave the necessary permission, and the door opened.

"I hope, Ducie, you have not forgotten the secretary I left among your effects," said Paul entering the room, "and concerning which I wrote you when you were still at Quebec."

Captain Ducie pointed to the case, which was standing among his other luggage, on the floor of the room.

"Thank you for this care," said Paul, taking the secretary under his arm, and retiring towards the door; "it contains papers of much importance to myself, and some that I have reason to think are of importance to others."

"Stop, Powis--a word before, you quit me. Is Templemore _de trop_?"

"Not at all; I have a sincere regard for Templemore, and should be sorry to see him leave us."

"And yet I think it singular a man of his habits should be rusticating among these hills, when I know that he is expected to look at the Canadas, with a view to report their actual condition at home."

"Is Sir George really entrusted with a commission of that sort?" inquired Paul, with interest.

"Not with any positive commission, perhaps, for none was necessary. Templemore is a rich fellow, and has no need of appointments; but, it is hoped and understood, that he will look at the provinces, and report their condition to the government, I dare say he will not be impeached for his negligence, though it may occasion surprise."

"Good night, Ducie; Templemore prefers a wigwam to your walled Quebec, and _natives to colonists, that's all."

In a minute, Paul was at the door of John Effingham's room, where he again tapped, and was again told to enter.

"Ducie has not forgotten my request, and here is the secretary that contains poor Mr. Monday's paper," he remarked, as he laid his load on a toilet-table, speaking in a way to show that the visit was expected. "We have, indeed, neglected this duty too long, and it is to be hoped no injustice, or wrong to any, will be the consequence."

"Is that the package?" demanded John Effingham, extending a hand to receive a bundle of papers that Paul had taken from the secretary. "We will break the seals this moment, and ascertain what ought to be done, before we sleep."

"These are papers of my own, and very precious are they," returned the young man, regarding them a moment, with interest, before he laid them on the toilet. "Here are the papers of Mr. Monday."

John Effingham received the package from his young friend, placed the lights conveniently on the table, put on his spectacles, and invited Paul to be seated. The gentlemen were placed opposite each other, the duty of breaking the seals, and first casting an eye at the contents of the different documents, devolving, as a matter of course, on the senior of the two, who, in truth, had alone been entrusted with it.

"Here is something signed by poor Monday himself, in the way of a general, certificate," observed John Effingham, who first read the paper, and then handed it to Paul. It was, in form, an unsealed letter; and it was addressed "to all whom it may concern." The certificate itself was in the following words:

"I, John Monday, do declare and certify, that all the accompanying letters and documents are genuine and authentic. Jane Dowse, to whom and from whom, are so many letters, was my late mother, she having intermarried with Peter Dowse, the man so often named, and who led her into acts for which I know she has since been deeply repentant. In committing these papers to me, my poor mother left me the sole judge of the course I was to take, and I have put them in this form in order that they may yet do good, should I be called suddenly away. All depends on discovering who the person called Bright actually is, for he was never known to my mother, by any other name. She knows him to have been an Englishman, however, and thinks he was, or had been, an upper servant in a gentleman's family. JOHN MONDAY."

This paper was dated several years back, a sign that the disposition to do right had existed some time in Mr. Monday; and all the letters and other papers had been carefully preserved. The latter also appeared to be regularly numbered, a precaution that much aided the investigations of the two gentlemen. The original letters spoke for themselves, and the copies had been made in a clear, strong, mercantile hand, and with the method of one accustomed to business. In short, so far as the contents of the different papers would allow, nothing was wanting to render the whole distinct and intelligible.

John Effingham read the paper No. 1, with deliberation, though not aloud; and when he had done, he handed it to his young friend, coolly remarking--

"That is the production of a deliberate villain."

Paul glanced his eye over the document, which was an original letter signed, 'David Bright,' and addressed to 'Mrs. Jane Dowse,' It was written with exceeding art, made many professions of friendship, spoke of the writer's knowledge of the woman's friends in England, and of her first husband in particular, and freely professed the writer's desire to serve her, while it also contained several ambiguous allusions to certain means of doing so, which should be revealed whenever the person to whom the letter was addressed should discover a willingness to embark in the undertaking. This letter was dated Philadelphia, was addressed to one in New-York, and it was old.

"This is, indeed, a rare specimen of villany," said Paul, as he laid down the paper, "and has been written in some such spirit as that employed by the devil when he tempted our common mother. I think I never read a better specimen of low, wily, cunning."

"And, judging by all that we already know, it would seem to have succeeded. In this letter you will find the gentleman a little more explicit; and but a little; though he is evidently encouraged by the interest and curiosity betrayed by the woman in this copy of the answer to his first epistle."

Paul read the letter just named, and then he laid it down to wait for the next, which was still in the hands of his companion.

"This is likely to prove a history of unlawful love, and of its miserable consequences," said John Effingham in his cool manner, as he handed the answers to letter No. 1, and letter No. 2, to Paul. "The world is full of such unfortunate adventures, and I should think the parties English, by a hint or two you will find in this very honest and conscientious communication. Strongly artificial, social and political distinctions render expedients of this nature more frequent, perhaps, in Great Britain, than in any other country. Youth is the season of the passions, and many a man in the thoughtlessness of that period lays the foundation of bitter regret in after life."

As John Effingham raised his eyes, in the act of extending his hand towards his companion, he perceived that the fresh ruddy hue of his embrowned cheek deepened, until the colour diffused itself over the whole of his fine brow. At first an unpleasant suspicion flashed on John Effingham, and he admitted it with regret, for Eve and her future happiness had got to be closely associated, in his mind, with the character and conduct of the young man; but when Paul took the papers, steadily, and by an effort seemed to subdue all unpleasant feelings, the calm dignity with which he read them completely effaced the disagreeable distrust. It was then John Effingham remembered that he had once believed Paul himself might be the fruits of the heartless indiscretion he condemned. Commiseration and sympathy instantly took the place of the first impression, and he was so much absorbed with these feelings that he had not taken up the letter which was to follow, when Paul laid down the paper he had last been required to read.

"This does, indeed, sir, seem to foretell one of those painful histories of unbridled passion, with the still more painful consequences," said the young man with the steadiness of one who was unconscious of having a personal connexion with any events of a nature so unpleasant. "Let us examine farther."

John Effingham felt emboldened by these encouraging signs of unconcern, and he read the succeeding letters aloud, so that they learned their contents simultaneously. The next six or eight communications betrayed nothing distinctly, beyond the fact that the child which formed the subject of the whole correspondence, was to be received by Peter Dowse and his wife, and to be retained as their own offspring, for the consideration of a considerable sum, with an additional engagement to pay an annuity. It appeared by these letters also, that the child, which was hypocritically alluded to under the name of the 'pet,' had been actually transferred to the keeping of Jane Dowse, and that several years passed, after this arrangement, before the correspondence terminated. Most of the later letters referred to the payment of the annuity, although they all contained cold inquiries after the 'pet,' and answers so vague and general, as sufficiently to prove that the term was singularly misapplied. In the whole, there were some thirty or forty letters, each of which had been punctually answered, and their dates covered a space of near twelve years. The perusal of all these papers consumed more than an hour, and when John Effingham laid his spectacles on the table, the village clock had struck the hour of midnight.

"As yet," he observed, "we have learned little more than the fact, that a child was made to take a false character, without possessing any other clue to the circumstances than is given in the names of the parties, all of whom are evidently obscure, and one of the most material of whom, we are plainly told, must have borne a fictitious name. Even poor Monday, in possession of so much collateral testimony that we want, could not have known what was the precise injustice done, if any, or, certainly, with the intentions he manifests, he would not have left that important particular in the dark."

"This is likely to prove a complicated affair," returned Paul, "and it is not very clear that we can be of any immediate service. As you are probably fatigued, we may without impropriety defer the further examination to another time."

To this John Effingham assented, and Paul, during the short conversation that followed, brought the secretary from the toilet to the table, along with the bundle of important papers that belonged to himself, to which he had alluded, and busied himself in replacing the whole in the drawer from which they had been taken.

"All the formalities about the seals, that we observed when poor Monday gave us the packet, would seem to be unnecessary," he remarked, while thus occupied, "and it will probably be sufficient if I leave the secretary in your room, and keep the keys myself."

"One never knows," returned John Effingham, with the greater caution of experience and age. "We have not read all the papers, and there are wax and lights before you; each has his watch and seal, and it will be the work of a minute only, to replace every thing as we left the package, originally. When this is done, you may leave the secretary, or remove it, at your own pleasure."

"I will leave it; for, though it contains so much that I prize, and which is really of great importance to myself, it contains nothing for which I shall have immediate occasion."

"In that case, it were better that I place the package in which we have a common interest in an _armoire_, or in my secretary, and that you keep your precious effects more immediately under your own eye."

"It is immaterial, unless the case will inconvenience you, for I do not know that I am not happier when it is out of my sight, so long as I feel certain of its security, than when it is constantly before my eyes."

Paul said this with a forced smile, and there was a sadness in his countenance that excited the sympathy of his companion. The latter, however, merely bowed his assent, and the papers were replaced, and the secretary was locked and deposited in an _armoire_, in silence. Paul was then about to wish the other good night, when John Effingham seized his hand, and by a gentle effort induced him to resume his seat. An embarrassing, but short pause succeeded, when the latter spoke.

"We have suffered enough in company, and have seen each other in situations of sufficient trial to be friends," he said. "I should feel mortified, did I believe you could think me influenced by an improper curiosity, in wishing to share more of your confidence than you are perhaps willing to bestow; I trust you will attribute to its right motive the liberty I am now taking. Age makes some difference between us, and the sincere and strong interest I feel in your welfare, ought to give me a small claim not to be treated as a total stranger. So jealous and watchful has this interest been, I might with great truth call it affection, that I have discovered you are not situated exactly as other men in your condition of life are situated, and feel persuaded that the sympathy, perhaps the advice, of one so many years older than yourself, might be useful. You have already said so much to me, on the subject of your personal situation, that I almost feel a right to ask for more."

John Effingham uttered this in his mildest and most winning manner; and few men could carry with them, on such an occasion, more of persuasion in their voices and looks. Paul's features worked, and it was evident to his companion that he was moved, while, at the same time, he was not displeased.

"I am grateful, deeply grateful, sir, for this interest in my happiness," Paul answered, "and if I knew the particular points on which you feel any curiosity, there is nothing that I can desire to conceal. Have the further kindness to question me, Mr. Effingham, that I need not touch on things you do not care to hear."

"All that really concerns your welfare, would have interest with me. You have been the agent of rescuing not only myself, but those whom I most love, from a fate worse than death; and, a childless bachelor myself, I have more than once thought of attempting to supply the places of those natural friends that I fear you have lost. Your parents--"

"Are both dead. I never knew either," said Paul, who spoke huskily, "and will most cheerfully accept your generous offer, if you will allow me to attach to it a single condition."

"Beggars must not be choosers," returned John Effingham, "and if you will allow me to feel this interest in you, and occasionally to share in the confidence of a father; I shall not insist on any unreasonable terms. What is your condition?"

"That the word money may be struck out of our vocabulary, and that you leave your will unaltered. Were the world to be examined, you could not find a worthier or a lovelier heiress, than the one you have already selected, and whom Providence itself has given you. Compared with yourself, I am not rich, but I have a gentleman's income, and as I shall probably never marry, it will suffice for all my wants."

John Effingham was more pleased than he cared to express with this frankness, and with the secret sympathy that had existed between them; but he smiled at the injunction; for, with Eve's knowledge, and her father's entire approbation, he had actually made a codicil to his will, in which their young protector was left one half of his large fortune.

"The will may remain untouched, if you desire it," he answered, evasively, "and that condition is disposed of. I am glad to learn so directly from yourself, what your manner of living and the reports of others had prepared me to hear, that you are independent. This fact, alone, will place us solely on our mutual esteem, and render the friendship that I hope is now brought within a covenant, if not now first established, more equal and frank. You have seen much of the world, Powis, for your years and profession?"

"It is usual to think that men of my profession see much of the world, as a consequence of their pursuits; though I agree with you, sir, that this is seeing the world only in a very limited circle. It is now several years since circumstances, I might almost say the imperative order of one whom I was bound to obey, induced me to resign, and since that time I have done little else but travel. Owing to certain adventitious causes, I have enjoyed an access to European society that few of our countrymen possess, and I hope the advantage has not been entirely thrown away. It was as a traveller on the continent of Europe, that I had the pleasure of first meeting with Mr. and Miss Effingham. I was much abroad, even as a child, and owe some little skill in foreign languages to that circumstance."

"So my cousin has informed me. You have set the question of country at rest, by declaring that you are an American, and yet I find you have English relatives. Captain Ducie, I believe, is a kinsman?"

"He is; we are sister's children, though our friendship has not always been such as the connexion would infer. When Ducie and myself met at sea, there was an awkwardness, if not a coolness, in the interview, that, coupled with my sudden return to England, I fear did not make the most favourable impression, on those who witnessed what passed."

"We had confidence in your principles," said John Effingham, with a frank simplicity, "and, though the first surmises were not pleasant, perhaps, a little reflection told us that there was no just ground for suspicion."

"Ducie is a fine, manly fellow, and has a seaman's generosity and sincerity. I had last parted from him on the field, where we met as enemies; and the circumstance rendered the unexpected meeting awkward. Our wounds no longer smarted, it is true; but, perhaps, we both felt shame and sorrow that they had ever been inflicted."

"It should be a very serious quarrel that could arm sister's children against each other," said John Effingham, gravely.

"I admit as much. But, at that time, Captain Ducie was not disposed to admit the consanguinity, and the offence grew out of an intemperate resentment of some imputations on my birth; between two military men, the issue could scarcely be avoided. Ducie challenged, and I was not then in the humour to balk him. A couple of flesh- wounds happily terminated the affair. But an interval of three years had enabled my enemy to discover that he had not done me justice; that I had been causelessly provoked to the quarrel, and that we ought to be firm friends. The generous desire to make suitable expiation, urged him to seize the first occasion of coming to America that offered; and when ordered to chase the Montauk, by a telegraphic communication from London, he was hourly expecting to sail for our seas, where he wished to come, expressly that we might meet. You will judge, therefore, how happy he was to find me unexpectedly in the vessel that contained his principal object of pursuit, thus killing, as it might be, two birds with one stone."

"And did he carry you away with him, with any such murderous intention?" demanded John Effingham, smiling.

"By no means; nothing could be more amicable than Ducie and myself got to be, when we had been a few hours together in his cabin. As often happens, when there have been violent antipathies and unreasonable prejudices, a nearer view of each other's character and motives removed every obstacle; and long before we reached England, two warmer friends could not be found, or a more frank intercourse between relatives could not be desired. You are aware, sir, that our English cousins do not often view their cis-atlantic relatives with the most lenient eyes."

"This is but too true," said John Effingham proudly, though his lip quivered as he spoke, "and it is, in a great measure, the fault of that miserable mental bondage which has left this country, after sixty years of nominal independence, so much at the mercy of a hostile opinion. It is necessary that we respect ourselves in order that others respect us."

"I agree with you, sir, entirely. In my case, however, previous injustice disposed my relatives to receive me better, perhaps, than might otherwise have been the case. I had little to ask in the way of fortune, and feeling no disposition to raise a question that might disturb the peerage of the Ducies, I became a favourite."

"A peerage!--Both your parents, then, were English?"

"Neither, I believe; but the connection between the two countries was so close, that it can occasion no surprise a right of this nature should have passed into the colonies. My mother's mother became the heiress of one of those ancient baronies, that pass to the heirs- general, and, in consequence of the deaths of two brothers, these rights, which however were never actually possessed by any of the previous generation, centered in my mother and my aunt. The former being dead, as was contended, without issue--"

"You forget yourself!"

"Lawful issue," added Paul, reddening to the temples, "I should have added--Mrs. Ducie, who was married to the younger son of an English nobleman, claimed and obtained the rank. My pretension would have left the peerage in abeyance, and I probably owe some little of the opposition I found, to that circumstance. But, after Ducie's generous conduct, I could not hesitate about joining in the application to the crown that, by its decision, the abeyance might be determined in favour of the person who was in possession; and Lady Dunluce is now quietly confirmed in her claim."

"There are many young men in this country, who would cling to the hopes of a British peerage with greater tenacity!"

"It is probable there are; but my self-denial is not of a very high order, for; it could scarcely be expected the English ministers would consent to give the rank to a foreigner who did not hesitate about avowing his principles and national feelings. I shall not say I did hot covet this peerage, for it would be supererogatory; but I am born an American, and will die an American; and an American who swaggers about such a claim, is like the daw among the peacocks. The less that is said about it, the better."

"You are fortunate to have escaped the journals, which, most probably, would have _begraced you, by elevating you at once to the rank of a duke."

"Instead of which, I had no other station than that of a dog in the manger. If it makes my aunt happy to be called Lady Dunluce, I am sure she is welcome to the privilege; and when Ducie succeeds her, as will one day be the case, an excellent fellow will be a peer of England. _Voila tout_! You are the only countryman, sir, to whom I have ever spoken of the circumstance, and with you I trust it will remain a secret"

"What! am I precluded from mentioning the facts in my own family? I am not the only sincere, the only warm friend, you have in this house, Powis."

"In that respect, I leave you to act your pleasure, my dear sir. If Mr. Effingham feel sufficient interest in my fortunes, to wish to hear what I have told you, let there be no silly mysteries,--or--or Mademoiselle Viefville--"

"Or Nanny Sidley, or Annette," interrupted John Effingham, with a kind smile. "Well, trust to me for that; but, before we separate for the night, I wish to ascertain beyond question one other fact, although the circumstances you have stated scarce leave a doubt of the reply."

"I understand you, sir, and did not intend to leave you in any uncertainty on that important particular. If there can be a feeling, more painful than all others, with a man of any pride, it is to distrust the purity of his mother. Mine was beyond reproach, thank God, and so it was most clearly established, or I could certainly have had no legal claim to the peerage."

"Or your fortune--" added John Effingham, drawing a long breath, like one suddenly relieved from an unpleasant suspicion.

"My fortune comes from neither parent, but from one of those generous dispositions, or caprices, if you will, that sometimes induce men to adopt those who are alien to their blood. My guardian adopted me, took me abroad with him, placed me, quite young, in the navy, and dying, he finally left me all he possessed As he was a bachelor, with no near relative, and had been the artisan of his own fortune, I could have no hesitation about accepting the gift he so liberally bequeathed. It was coupled with the condition that I should retire from the service, travel for five years, return home, and marry. There is no silly-forfeiture exacted in either case, but such is the general course solemnly advised by a man who showed himself my true friend for so many years."

"I envy him the opportunity he enjoyed of serving you. I hope he would have approved of your national pride, for I believe we must put that at the bottom of your disinterestedness, in the affair of the peerage."

"He would, indeed, although he never knew anything of the claim which arose out of the death of the two lords who preceded my aunt, and who were the brothers of my grandmother. My guardian was in all respects a man, and, in nothing more, than in a manly national pride. While abroad a decoration was offered him, and he declined it with the character and dignity of one who felt that distinctions which his country repudiated, every gentleman belonging to that country ought to reject; and yet he did it with a respectful gratitude for the compliment, that was due to the government from which the offer came."

"I almost envy that man," said John Effingham, with warmth. "To have appreciated you, Powis, was a mark of a high judgment; but it seems he properly appreciated himself, his country, and human nature."

"And yet he was little appreciated in his turn. That man passed years in one of our largest towns, of no more apparent account among its population than any one of its commoner spirits, and of not half as much as one of its bustling brokers, or jobbers."

"In that there is nothing surprising. The class of the chosen few is too small every where, to be very numerous at any given point, in a scattered population like that of America. The broker will as naturally appreciate the broker, as the dog appreciates the dog, or the wolf the wolf. Least of all is the manliness you have named, likely to be valued among a people who have been put into men's clothes before they are out of leading-strings. I am older than you, my dear Paul," it was the first time John Effingham ever used so familiar an appellation, and the young man thought it sounded kindly--"I am older than you, my dear Paul, and will venture to tell you an important fact that may hereafter lessen some of your own mortifications. In most nations there is a high standard to which man at least affects to look; and acts are extolled and seemingly appreciated, for their naked merits. Little of this exists in America, where no man is much praised for himself, but for the purposes of party, or to feed national vanity. In the country in which, of all others, political opinion ought to be the freest, it is the most persecuted, and the community-character of the nation induces every man to think he has a right of property in all its fame. England exhibits a great deal of this weakness and injustice, which, it is to be feared, is a vicious fruit of liberty; for it is certain that the sacred nature of opinion is most appreciated in those countries in which it has the least efficiency. We are constantly deriding those governments which fetter opinion, and yet I know of no nation in which the expression of opinion is so certain to attract persecution and hostility as our own, though it may be, and is, in one sense, free."

"This arises from its potency. Men quarrel about opinion here, because opinion rules. It is but one mode of struggling for power. But to return to my guardian; he was a man to think and act for himself, and as far from the magazine and newspaper existence that most Americans, in a moral sense, pass, as any man could be."

"It is indeed a newspaper and magazine existence," said John Effingham, smiling at Paul's terms, "to know life only through such mediums! It is as bad as the condition of those English who form their notions of society from novels written by men and women who have no access to it, and from the records of the court journal. I thank you sincerely, Mr. Powis for this confidence, which has not been idly solicited on my part, and which shall not be abused. At no distant day we will break the seals again, and renew our investigations into this affair of the unfortunate Monday, which is not yet, certainly, very promising in the way of revelations."

The gentlemen shook hands cordially, and Paul, lighted by his companion, withdrew. When the young man was at the door of his own room, he turned, and saw John Effingham following him with his eye. The latter then renewed the good night, with one of those winning smiles that rendered his face so brilliantly handsome, and each retired.

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