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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 1
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 1 Post by :earnforever Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3403

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 1

Chapter I

An inner room I have,
Where thou shalt rest and some refreshment take,
And then we will more fully talk of this

ORRA.


The coast of England, though infinitely finer than our own, is more remarkable for its verdure, and for a general appearance of civilisation, than for its natural beauties. The chalky cliffs may seem bold and noble to the American, though compared to the granite piles that buttress the Mediterranean they are but mole-hills; and the travelled eye seeks beauties instead, in the retiring vales, the leafy hedges, and the clustering towns that dot the teeming island. Neither is Portsmouth a very favourable specimen of a British port, considered solely in reference to the picturesque. A town situated on a humble point, and fortified after the manner of the Low Countries, with an excellent haven, suggests more images of the useful than of the pleasing; while a background of modest receding hills offers little beyond the verdant swales of the country. In this respect England itself has the fresh beauty of youth, rather than the mellowed hues of a more advanced period of life; or it might be better to say, it has the young freshness and retiring sweetness that distinguish her females, as compared with the warmer tints of Spain and Italy, and which, women and landscape alike, need the near view to be appreciated.

Some such thoughts as these passed through the mind of the traveller who stood on the deck of the packet Montauk, resting an elbow on the quarter-deck rail, as he contemplated the view of the coast that stretched before him east and west for leagues. The manner in which this gentleman, whose temples were sprinkled with grey hairs, regarded the scene, denoted more of the thoughtfulness of experience, and of tastes improved by observation, than it is usual to meet amid the bustling and common-place characters that compose the majority in almost every situation of life. The calmness of his exterior, an air removed equally from the admiration of the novice and the superciliousness of the tyro, had, indeed, so strongly distinguished him from the moment he embarked in London to that in which he was now seen in the position mentioned, that several of the seamen swore he was a man-of-war's-man in disguise. The fair-haired, lovely, blue-eyed girl at his side, too seemed a softened reflection of all his sentiment, intelligence, knowledge, tastes, and cultivation, united to the artlessness and simplicity that became her sex and years.

"We have seen nobler coasts, Eve," said the gentleman, pressing the arm that leaned on his own; "but, after all England will always be fair to American eyes."

"More particularly so if those eyes first opened to the light in the eighteenth century, father."

"You, at least, my child, have been educated beyond the reach of national foibles, whatever may have been my own evil fortune; and still, I think even you have seen a great deal to admire in this country, as well as in this coast."

Eve Effingham glanced a moment towards the eye of her father, and perceiving that he spoke in playfulness, without suffering a cloud to shadow a countenance that usually varied with her emotions, she continued the discourse, which had, in fact, only been resumed by the remark first mentioned.

"I have been educated, as it is termed, in so many different places and countries," returned Eve, smiling, "that I sometimes fancy I was born a woman, like my great predecessor and namesake, the mother of Abel. If a congress of nations, in the way of masters, can make one independent of prejudice, I may claim to possess the advantage. My greatest fear is, that in acquiring liberality, I have acquired nothing else."

Mr. Effingham turned a look of parental fondness, in which parental pride was clearly mingled, on the face of his daughter, and said with his eyes, though his tongue did not second the expression, "This is a fear, sweet one, that none besides thyself would feel."

"A congress of nations, truly!" muttered another male voice near the father and daughter. "You have been taught music in general, by seven masters of as many different states, besides the touch of the guitar by a Spaniard; Greek by a German; the living tongues by the European powers, and philosophy by seeing the world; and now with a brain full of learning, fingers full of touches, eyes full of tints, and a person full of grace, your father is taking you back to America, to 'waste your sweetness on the desert air.'"

"Poetically expressed, if not justly imagined, cousin Jack," returned the laughing Eve; "but you have forgot to add, and a heart full of feeling for the land of my birth."

"We shall see, in the end."

"In the end, as in the beginning, now and for evermore."

"All love is eternal in the commencement."

"Do you make no allowance for the constancy of woman? Think you that a girl of twenty can forget the country of her birth, the land of her forefathers--or, as you call it yourself when in a good humour, the land of liberty?"

"A pretty specimen _you will have of its liberty!" returned the cousin sarcastically. "After having passed a girlhood of wholesome restraint in the rational society of Europe, you are about to return home to the slavery of American female life, just as you are about to be married!"

"Married! Mr. Effingham?"

"I suppose the catastrophe will arrive, sooner or later, and it is more likely to occur to a girl of twenty than to a girl of ten."

"Mr. John Effingham never lost an argument for the want of a convenient fact, my love," the father observed by way of bringing the brief discussion to a close. "But here are the boats approaching; let us withdraw a little, and examine the chance medley of faces with which we are to become familiar by the intercourse of a month."

"You will be much more likely to agree on a verdict of murder," muttered the kinsman.

Mr. Effingham led his daughter into the hurricane-house--or, as the packet-men quaintly term it, the _coach_-house, where they stood watching the movements on the quarter-deck for the next half-hour; an interval of which we shall take advantage to touch in a few of the stronger lights of our picture, leaving the softer tints and the shadows to be discovered by the manner in which the artist "tells the story."

Edward and John Effingham were brothers' children; were born on the same day; had passionately loved the same woman, who had preferred the first-named, and died soon after Eve was born; had, notwithstanding this collision in feeling, remained sincere friends, and this the more so, probably, from a mutual and natural sympathy in their common loss; had lived much together at home, and travelled much together abroad, and were now about to return in company to the land of their birth, after what might be termed an absence of twelve years; though both had visited America for short periods in the intervals,--John not less than five times.

There was a strong family likeness between the cousins, their persons and even features being almost identical; though it was scarcely possible for two human beings to leave more opposite impressions on mere casual spectators when seen separately. Both were tall, of commanding presence, and handsome; while one was winning in appearance, and the other, if not positively forbidding, at least distant and repulsive. The noble outline of face in Edward Effingham had got to be cold severity in that of John; the aquiline nose of the latter, seeming to possess an eagle-like and hostile curvature,--his compressed lip, sarcastic and cold expression, and the fine classical chin, a feature in which so many of the Saxon race fail, a haughty scorn that caused strangers usually to avoid him. Eve drew with great facility and truth, and she had an eye, as her cousin had rightly said, "full of tints." Often and often had she sketched both of these loved faces, and never without wondering wherein that strong difference existed in nature which she had never been able to impart to her drawings. The truth is, that the subtle character of John Effingham's face would have puzzled the skill of one who had made the art his study for a life, and it utterly set the graceful but scarcely profound knowledge of the beautiful young painter at defiance. All the points of character that rendered her father so amiable and so winning, and which were rather felt than perceived, in his cousin were salient and bold, and if it may be thus expressed, had become indurated by mental suffering and disappointment.

The cousins were both rich, though in ways as opposite as their dispositions and habits of thought. Edward Effingham possessed a large hereditary property, that brought a good income, and which attached him to this world of ours by kindly feelings towards its land and water; while John, much the wealthier of the two, having inherited a large commercial fortune, did not own ground enough to bury him. As he sometimes deridingly said, he "kept his gold in corporations, that were as soulless as himself."

Still, John Effingham was a man of cultivated mind, of extensive intercourse with the world, and of manners that varied with the occasion; or perhaps it were better to say, with his humours. In all these particulars but the latter the cousins were alike; Edward Effingham's deportment being as equal as his temper, though also distinguished for a knowledge of society.

These gentlemen had embarked at London, on their fiftieth birthday, in the packet of the 1st of October, bound to New York; the lands and family residence of the proprietor lying in the state of that name, of which all of the parties were natives. It is not usual for the cabin passengers of the London packets to embark in the docks; but Mr. Effingham,--as we shall call the father in general, to distinguish him from the bachelor, John,--as an old and experienced traveller, had determined to make his daughter familiar with the peculiar odours of the vessel in smooth water, as a protection against sea-sickness; a malady, however, from which she proved to be singularly exempt in the end. They had, accordingly, been on board three days, when the ship came to an anchor off Portsmouth, the point where the remainder of the passengers were to join her on that particular day when the scene of this tale commences.

At this precise moment, then, the Montauk was lying at a single anchor, not less than a league from the land, in a flat calm, with her three topsails loose, the courses in the brails, and with all those signs of preparation about her that are so bewildering to landsmen, but which seamen comprehend as clearly as words. The captain had no other business there than to take on board the wayfarers, and to renew his supply of fresh meat and vegetables; things of so familiar import on shore as to be seldom thought of until missed, but which swell into importance during a passage of a month's duration. Eve had employed her three days of probation quite usefully, having, with the exception of the two gentlemen, the officers of the vessel, and one other person, been in quiet possession of all the ample, not to say luxurious cabins. It is true, she had a female attendant; but to her she had been accustomed from childhood, and Nanny Sidley, as her quondam nurse and actual lady's-maid was termed, appeared so much a part of herself, that, while her absence would be missed almost as greatly as that of a limb, her presence was as much a matter of course as a hand or foot. Nor will a passing word concerning this excellent and faithful domestic be thrown away, in the brief preliminary explanations we are making.

Ann Sidley was one of those excellent creatures who, it is the custom with the European travellers to say, do not exist at all in America, and who, while they are certainly less numerous than could be wished, have no superiors in the world, in their way. She had been born a servant, lived a servant, and was quite content to die a servant,--and this, too, in one and the same family. We shall not enter into a philosophical examination of the reasons that had induced old Ann to feel certain she was in the precise situation to render her more happy than any other that to her was attainable; but feel it she did, as John Effingham used to express it, "from the crown of her head to the sole of her foot." She had passed through infancy, childhood, girlhood, up to womanhood, _pari passu_, with the mother of Eve, having been the daughter of a gardener, who died in the service of the family, and had heart enough to feel that the mixed relations of civilised society, when properly understood and appreciated, are more pregnant of happiness than the vulgar scramble and heart-burnings, that, in the _melee of a migrating and unsettled population, are so injurious to the grace and principles of American life. At the death of Eve's mother, she had transferred her affections to the child; and twenty years of assiduity and care had brought her to feel as much tenderness for her lovely young charge as if she had been her natural parent. But Nanny Sidley was better fitted to care for the body than the mind of Eve; and when, at the age of ten, the latter was placed under the control of an accomplished governess, the good woman had meekly and quietly sunk the duties of the nurse in those of the maid.

One of the severest trials--or "crosses," as she herself termed it--that poor Nanny had ever experienced, was endured when Eve began to speak in a language she could not herself comprehend; for, in despite of the best intentions in the world, and twelve years of use, the good woman could never make anything of the foreign tongues her young charge was so rapidly acquiring. One day, when Eve had been maintaining an animated and laughing discourse in Italian with her instructress, Nanny, unable to command herself, had actually caught the child to her bosom, and, bursting into tears, implored her not to estrange herself entirely from her poor old nurse. The caresses and solicitations of Eve soon brought the good woman to a sense of her weakness; but the natural feeling was so strong, that it required years of close observation to reconcile her to the thousand excellent qualities of Mademoiselle Viefville, the lady to whose superintendence the education of Miss Effingham had been finally confided.

This Mademoiselle Viefville was also among the passengers, and was the one other person who now occupied the cabins in common with Eve and her friends. She was the daughter of a French officer who had fallen in Napoleon's campaigns, had been educated at one of those admirable establishments which form points of relief in the ruthless history of the conqueror, and had now lived long enough to have educated two young persons, the last of whom was Eve Effingham. Twelve years of close communion with her _eleve had created sufficient attachment to cause her to yield to the solicitations of the father to accompany his daughter to America, and to continue with her during the first year of her probation, in a state of society that the latter felt must be altogether novel to a young woman educated as his own child had been.

So much has been written and said of French governesses, that we shall not anticipate the subject, but leave this lady to speak and act for herself in the course of the narrative. Neither is it our intention to be very minute in these introductory remarks concerning any of our characters; but having thus traced their outlines, we shall return again to the incidents as they occurred, trusting to make the reader better acquainted with all the parties as we proceed.

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