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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 5
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 5 Post by :earnforever Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2745

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 5

Chapter V

What country, Mends, is this?
Illyria, lady.

TWELFTH NIGHT.


Captain Truck cast an eye aloft to see if everything drew, as coolly as if nothing out of the usual course had happened; he and his crew having, seemingly, regarded the attempt to board them as men regard the natural phenomena of the planets, or in other words, as if the ship, of which they were merely parts, had escaped by her own instinct or volition. This habit of considering the machine as the governing principle is rather general among seamen, who, while they ease a brace, or drag a bowline, as the coachman checks a rein, appear to think it is only permitting the creature to work her own will a little more freely. It is true all _know better, but none talk, or indeed would seem to _feel_, as if they thought otherwise.

"Did you observe how the old barky jumped out of the way of those rovers in the cutter?" said the captain complacently to the quarter-deck group, when his survey aloft had taken sufficient heed that his own nautical skill should correct the instinct of the ship. "A skittish horse, or a whale with the irons in him, or, for that matter, one of the funniest of your theatricals, would not have given a prettier aside than this poor old hulk, which is certainly just the clumsiest craft that sails the ocean. I wish King William would take it into his royal head, now, to send one of his light-heeled cruisers out to prove it, by way of resenting the cantaverous trick the Montauk played his boat!"

The dull report of a gun, as the sound came short and deadened up against the breeze, checked the raillery of Mr. Truck. On looking to leeward, there was sufficient light to see the symmetrical sails of the corvette they had left at anchor, trimmed close by the wind, and the vessel itself standing out under a press of canvas, apparently in chase. The gun had evidently been fired as a signal of recall to the cutter, blue lights being burnt on board of both the ship and its boat, in proof that they were communicating.

The passengers now looked gravely at each other, for the matter, in their eyes, began to be serious. Some suggested the possibility that the offence of Davis might be other than debt, but this was disproved by the process and the account of the bailiff himself; while most concluded that a determination to resent the slight done the authorities had caused the cruiser to follow them out, with the intention of carrying them back again. The English passengers in particular began now to reason in favour of the authority of the crown, while those who were known to be Americans grew warm in maintaining the rights of their flag. Both the Effinghams, however, were moderate in the expression of their opinions; for education, years, and experience, had taught them to discriminate justly.

"As respects the course of Captain Truck, in refusing to permit the cutter to board him, he is probably a better judge than any of us," Mr. Effingham observed with gentlemanly reserve--"for he must better understand the precise position of his ship at the time; but concerning the want of right in a foreign vessel of war to carry this ship into port in a time of profound peace, when sailing on the high seas, as will soon be the case with the Montauk,--admitting that she is not there at present,--I should think there can be no reasonable doubt. The dispute, if there is to be any, has now to become matter of negotiation; or redress must be sought through the general agents of the two nations, and not taken by the inferior officers of either party. The instant Montauk reaches the public highway of nations, she is, within the exclusive jurisdiction of the country under whose flag she legally sails."

"Vattel, to the back-bone!" said the captain, giving a nod of approbation, again clearing the end of his cigar.

Now, John Effingham was a man of strong feelings, which is often but another word for a man of strong prejudices; and he had been educated between thirty or forty years before, which is saying virtually, that he was educated under the influence of the British opinions, that then weighed (and many of which still weigh) like an incubus on the national interests of America. It is true, Mr. Effingham was in all senses the contemporary, as he had been the school-fellow, of his cousin; that they loved each other as brothers, had the utmost reliance on each other's principles in the main, thought alike in a thousand things, and yet, in the particular of English domination, it was scarcely possible for one man to resemble another less than the widowed kinsman resembled the bachelor.

Edward Effingham was a singularly just-minded man, and having succeeded at an early age to his estate, he had lived many years in that intellectual retirement which, by withdrawing him from the strifes of the world, had left a cultivated sagacity to act freely on a natural disposition. At the period when the entire republic was, in substance, exhibiting the disgraceful picture of a nation torn by adverse factions, that had their origin in interests alien to its own; when most were either Englishmen or Frenchmen, he had remained what nature, the laws and reason intended him to be, an American. Enjoying the _otium cum dignitate on his hereditary estate, and in his hereditary abode, Edward Effingham, with little pretensions to greatness, and with many claims to goodness, had hit the line of truth which so many of the "god-likes" of the republic, under the influence of their passions, and stimulated by the transient and fluctuating interests of the day, entirely overlooked, or which, if seeing, they recklessly disregarded. A less impracticable subject for excitement,--the _primum mobile of all American patriotism and activity, if we are to believe the theories of the times,--could not be found, than this gentleman. Independence of situation had induced independence of thought; study and investigation rendered him original and just, by simply exempting him from the influence of the passions; and while hundreds were keener, abler in the exposition of subtleties, or more imposing with the mass, few were as often right, and none of less selfishness, than this simple-minded and upright gentleman. He loved his native land, while he saw and regretted its weaknesses; was its firm and consistent advocate abroad, without becoming its interested or mawkish flatterer at home, and at all times, and in all situations, manifested that his heart was where it ought to be.

In many essentials, John Effingham was the converse of all this. Of an intellect much more acute and vigorous than that of his cousin, he also possessed passions less under control, a will more stubborn, and prejudices that often neutralized his reason. His father had inherited most of the personal property of the family, and with this he had plunged into the vortex of monied speculation that succeeded the adoption of the new constitution, and verifying the truth of the sacred saying, that "where treasure is, there will the heart be also," he had entered warmly and blindly into all the factious and irreconcilable principles of party, if such a word can properly be applied to rules of conduct that Bary with the interests of the day, and had adopted the current errors with which faction unavoidably poisons the mind.

America was then much too young in her independence, and too insignificant in all eyes but her own, to reason and act for herself, except on points that pressed too obviously on her immediate concerns to be overlooked; but the great social principles,--or it might be better to say, the great social interests,--that then distracted Europe, produced quite as much sensation in that distant country, as at all comported with a state of things that had so little practical connexion with the result, The Effingham family had started Federalists, in the true meaning of the term; for their education, native sense and principles, had a leaning to order, good government, and the dignity of the country; but as factions became fiercer, and names got to be confounded and contradictory, the landed branch settled down into what they thought were American, and the commercial branch into what might properly be termed English Federalists. We do not mean that the father of John intended to be untrue to his native land; but by following up the dogmas of party he had reasoned himself into a set of maxims which, if they meant anything, meant everything but that which had been solemnly adopted as the governing principles of his own country, and many of which were diametrically opposed to both its interests and its honour.

John Effingham had insensibly imbibed the sentiments of his particular sect, though the large fortune inherited from his father had left him too independent to pursue the sinuous policy of trade. He had permitted temperament to act on prejudice to such an extent that he vindicated the right of England to force men from under the American flag, a doctrine that his cousin was too simple-minded and clear-headed ever to entertain for an instant: and he was singularly ingenious in discovering blunders in all the acts of the republic, when they conflicted with the policy of Great Britain. In short, his talents were necessary, perhaps, to reconcile so much sophistry, or to render that reasonably plausible that was so fundamentally false. After the peace of 1815, John Effingham went abroad for the second time, and he hurried through England with the eagerness of strong affection; an affection that owed its existence even more to opposition than to settled notions of truth, or to natural ties. The result was disappointment, as happens nineteen times in twenty, and this solely because, in the zeal of a partisan he had fancied theories, and imagined results. Like the English radical, who rushes into America with a mind unsettled by impracticable dogmas, he experienced a reaction, and this chiefly because he found that men were not superior to nature, and discovered so late in the day, what he might have known at starting, that particular causes must produce particular effects. From this time, John Effingham became a wiser and a more moderate man; though, as the shock had not been sufficiently violent to throw him backward on truth, or rather upon the opposing prejudices of another sect, the remains of the old notions were still to be discovered lingering in his opinions, and throwing a species of twilight shading over his mind; as, in nature, the hues of evening and the shadows of the morning follow, or precede, the light of the sun.

Under the influence of these latent prejudices, then, John Effingham replied to the remarks of his cousin, and the discourse soon partook of the discursive character of all arguments, in which the parties are not singularly clear-headed, and free from any other bias than that of truth, Nearly all joined in it, and half an hour was soon passed in settling the law of nations, and the particular merits or demerits of the instance before them.

It was a lovely night, and Mademoiselle Viefville and Eve walked the deck for exercise, the smoothness of the water rendering the moment every way favourable. As has been already said, the common feeling in the escape of the new-married couple had broken the ice, and less restraint existed between the passengers, at the moment when Mr. Grab left the ship, than would have been the case at the end of a week, under ordinary circumstances. Eve Effingham had passed her time since her eleventh year principally on the continent of Europe, and in the mixed intercourse that is common to strangers in that part of the world; or, in other words, equally without the severe restraint that is usually imposed there on the young of her own sex, or without the extreme license that is granted to them at home. She came of a family too well toned to run into the extravagant freedoms that sometimes pass for easy manners in America, had she never quitted her father's house even: but her associations abroad had unavoidably imparted greater reserve to her ordinary deportment than the simplicity of cis-Atlantic usages would have rendered indispensable in the most, fastidious circles. With the usual womanly reserves, she was natural and unembarrassed in her intercourse with the world, and she had been allowed to see so many different nations, that she had obtained a self-confidence that did her no injury, under the influence of an exemplary education, and great natural dignity of mind. Still, Mademoiselle Viefville, notwithstanding she had lost some of her own peculiar notions on the subject, by having passed so many years in an American family, was a little surprised at observing that Eve received the respectful advances of Mr. Sharp and Mr. Blunt with less reserve than it was usual to her to manifest to entire strangers. Instead of remaining a mere listener, she answered several remarks of the first, and once or twice she even laughed with him openly at some absurdity of the committee of five. The cautious governess wondered, but half disposed to fancy that there was no more than the necessary freedom of a ship in it all,--for, like a true Frenchwoman, Mademoiselle Viefville had very vague notions of the secrets of the mighty deep--she permitted it to pass, confiding in the long-tried taste and discretion of her charge. While Mr. Sharp discoursed with Eve, who held her arm the while, she herself had fallen into an animated conversation with Mr. Blunt, who walked at her side, and who spoke her own language so well, that she at first set him down as a countryman, travelling under an English appellation, as _a nom de guerre_. While this dialogue was at its height of interest--for Paul Blunt discoursed with his companion of Paris and its excellencies with a skill that soon absorbed all her attention, "_Paris, ce magnifique Paris,_" having almost as much influence on the happiness of the governess, as it was said to have had on that of Madame de Stael, Eve's companion dropped his voice to a tone that was rather confidential for a stranger, although it was perfectly respectful, and said,--

"I have flattered myself, perhaps through the influence of self-love alone, that Miss Effingham has not so far forgotten all whom she has met in her travels, as to think me an utter stranger."

"Certainly not," returned Eve, with perfect simplicity and composure; "else would one of my faculties, that of memory, be perfectly useless. I knew you at a glance, and consider the worthy captain's introduction as so much finesse of breeding utterly thrown away."

"I am equally gratified and vexed at all this; gratified and infinitely flattered to find that I have not passed before your eyes like the common herd, who leave no traces of even their features behind them; and vexed at finding myself in a situation that, I fear, you fancy excessively ridiculous?"

"Oh, one hardly dare to attach such consequences to acts of young men, or young women either, in an age as original as our own. I saw nothing particularly absurd but the introduction;--and so many absurder have since passed, that this is almost forgotten."

"And the name--?"

"--Is certainly a keen one. If I am not mistaken, when we were in Italy you were content to let your servant bear it; but, venturing among a people so noted for sagacity as the Yankees, I suppose you have fancied it was necessary to go armed _cap-a-pie_."

Both laughed lightly, as if they equally enjoyed the pleasantry, and then he resumed:

"But I sincerely hope you do not impute improper motives to the incognito?"

"I impute it to that which makes many young men run from Rome to Vienna, or from Vienna to Paris; which causes you to sell the _vis-a-vis to buy a _dormeuse_; to know your friends to-day, and to forget them to-morrow; or, in short, to do a hundred other things that can be accounted for on no other motive."

"And this motive--?"

"--Is simply caprice."

"I wish I could persuade you to ascribe some better reason to all my conduct. Can you think of nothing, in the present instance, less discreditable?"

"Perhaps I can," Eve answered, after a moment of thought; then laughing lightly again, she added, quickly; "But I fear, in exonerating you from the charge of unmitigated caprice, I shall ascribe a reason that does little less credit to your knowledge."

"This will appear in the end. Does Mademoiselle Viefville remember me, do you fancy?"

"It is impossible; she was ill, you will remember, the three months we saw so much of you."

"And your father, Miss Effingham;--am I really forgotten by him?"

"I am quite certain you are not. He never forgets a face, whatever in this instance may have befallen the name."

"He received me so coldly, and so much like a total stranger!"

"He is too well-bred to recognise a man who wishes to be unknown, or to indulge in exclamations of surprise, or in dramatic starts. He is more stable than a girl, moreover, and may feel less indulgence to caprice."

"I feel obliged to his reserve; for exposure would be ridiculous, and so long as you and he alone know me, I shall feel less awkward in the ship. I am certain neither will betray me."

"Betray!"

"Betray, discover, annihilate me if you will. Anything is preferable to ridicule."

"This touches a little on the caprice; but you flatter yourself with too much security; you are known to one more besides my father, myself, and the honest man whom you have robbed of all his astuteness, which I believe was in his name."

"For pity's sake, who can it be?"

"The worthy Nanny Sidley, my whilom nurse, and actual _femme de chambre_. No ogre was ever more vigilant on his ward than the faithful Nanny, and it is vain to suppose she does not recall your features."

"But ogres sometimes sleep; recollect how many have been overcome in that situation."

Eve smiled, but shook her head. She was about to assure Mr. Sharp of the vanity of his belief, when an exclamation from her governess diverted the attention of both, and before either had time to speak again, Mademoiselle turned to them, and said rapidly in French--

"I assure you, _ma chere_, I should have mistaken monsieur for a _compatriote by his language, were it not for a single heinous fault that he has just committed."

"Which fault you will suffer me to inquire into, that I may hasten to correct it?" asked Mr. Blunt.

"Mais, monsieur, you speak _too perfectly, too grammatically, for a native. You do not take the liberties with the language that one who feels he owns it thinks he has a right to do. It is the fault of too much correctness."

"And a fault it easily becomes. I thank you for the hint, mademoiselle; but as I am now going where little French will be heard, it is probable it will soon be lost in greater mistakes."

The two then turned away again, and continued the dialogue that had been interrupted by this trifling.

"There may also be one more to whom you are known," continued Eve, as soon as the vivacity of the discourse of the others satisfied her the remark would not he heard.

"Surely, you cannot mean _him_?"

"Surely, I do mean _him_. Are you quite certain that 'Mr. Sharp, Mr. Blunt; Mr. Blunt, Mr. Sharp,' never saw each other before?"

"I think not until the moment we entered the boat in company. He is a gentlemanly young man; he seems even to be more, and one would not be apt to forget him. He is altogether superior to the rest of the set: do you not agree with me?"

Eve made no answer, probably because she thought her companion was not sufficiently intimate to interrogate her on the subject of her opinions of others. Mr. Sharp had too much knowledge of the world not to perceive the little mistake he had made, and after begging the young lady, with a ludicrous deprecation of her mercy, not to betray him, he changed the conversation with the tact of a man who saw that the discourse could not be continued without assuming a confidential character that Eve was indisposed to permit. Luckily, a pause in the discourse between the governess and her colloquist permitted a happy turn to the conversation.

"I believe you are an American, Mr. Blunt," he remarked; "and as I am an Englishman, we may be fairly pitted against each other on this important question of international law, and about which I hear our worthy captain flourishing extracts from Vattel as familiarly as household terms. I hope, at least, you agree with me in thinking that when the sloop-of-war comes up with us, it will be very silly on our part to make any objections to being boarded by her?"

"I do not know that it is at all necessary I should be an American to give an opinion on such a point," returned the young man he addressed, courteously, though he smiled to himself as he answered--"For what is right, is right, quite independent of nationality. It really does appear to me that a public-armed vessel ought, in war or peace, to have a right to ascertain the character of all merchant-ships, at least on the coast of the country to which the cruisers belong. Without this power, it is not easy to see in what manner they can seize smugglers, capture pirates, or other wise enforce the objects for which such vessels are usually sent to sea, in the absence of positive hostilities."

"I am happy to find you agreeing with me, then, in the legality of the doctrine of the right of search."

Paul Blunt again smiled, and Eve, as she caught a glimpse of his fine countenance in turning in their short walk, fancied there was a concealed pride of reason in the expression. Still he answered as mildly and quietly as before.

"The right of search, certainly, to attain these ends, but to attain no more. If nations denounce piracy, for instance, and employ especial agents to detect and overcome the free-booters, there is reason in according to these agents all the rights that are requisite to the discharge of the duties: but, in conceding this much, I do not see that any authority is acquired beyond that which immediately belongs to the particular service to be performed. If we give a man permission to enter our house to look for thieves, it does not follow that, because so admitted, he has a right to exercise any other function. I do believe that the ship in chase of us, as a public cruiser, ought to be allowed to board this vessel; but finding nothing contrary to the laws of nations about her, that she will have no power to detain or otherwise molest her. Even the right I concede ought to be exercised in good faith, and without vexatious abuses."

"But, surely, you must think that in carrying off a refugee from justice we have placed ourselves in the wrong, and cannot object, as a principle, to the poor man's being taken back again into the country from which he has escaped, however much we may pity the hardships of the particular case?"

"I much question if Captain Truck will be disposed to reason so vaguely. In the first place, he will be apt to say that his ship was regularly cleared, and that he had authority to sail; that in permitting the officer to search his vessel, while in British waters, he did all that could be required of him, the law not compelling him to be either a bailiff or an informer; that the process issued was to take Davis, and not to detain the Montauk; that, once out of British waters, American law governs, and the English functionary became an intruder of whom he had every right to rid himself, and that the process by which he got his power to act at all became impotent the instant it was without the jurisdiction under which it was granted."

"I think you will find the captain of yonder cruiser indisposed to admit this doctrine."

"That is not impossible; men often preferring abuses to being thwarted in their wishes. But the captain of yonder cruiser might as well go on board a foreign vessel of war, and pretend to a right to command her, in virtue of the commission by which he commands his own ship, as to pretend to find reason or law in doing what you seem to predict."

"I rejoice to hear that the poor man cannot now be torn from his wife!" exclaimed Eve.

"You then incline to the doctrine of Mr. Blunt, Miss Effingham?" observed the other controversialist a little reproachfully. "I fear you make it a national question."

"Perhaps I have done what all seem to have done, permitted sympathy to get the better of reason. And yet it would require strong proof to persuade me that villanous-looking attorney was engaged in a good cause, and that meek and warm-hearted wife in a bad one!"

Both the gentlemen smiled, and both turned to the fair speaker, as if inviting her to proceed. But Eve checked herself, having already said more than became her, in her own opinion.

"I had hoped to find an ally in you, Mr. Blunt, to sustain the claim of England to seize her own seamen when found on board of vessels of another nation," resumed Mr. Sharp, when a respectful pause had shown both the young men that they need expect nothing more 'from their fair companion; "but I fear I must set you down as belonging to those who wish to see the power of England reduced, _coute qui coute_."

This was received as it was meant, or as a real opinion veiled under pleasantry.

"I certainly do not wish to see her power maintained, _coute qui coute_" returned the other, laughing; "and in this opinion, I believe, I may claim both these ladies as allies."

"_Certainement!_" exclaimed Mademoiselle Viefville, who was a living proof that the feelings created by centuries of animosity are not to be subdued by a few flourishes of the pen.

"As for me, Mr. Sharp," added Eve, "you may suppose, being an American girl, I cannot subscribe to the right of any country to do us injustice; but I beg you will not include me among those who wish to see the land of my ancestors wronged, in aught that she may rightfully claim as her due."

"This is powerful support, and I shall rally to the rescue. Seriously, then, will you allow me to inquire, sir, if you think the right of England to the services of her seamen can be denied?"

"Seriously, then, Mr. Sharp, you must permit me to ask if you mean by force, or by reason?"

"By the latter, certainly."

"I think you have taken the weak side of the English argument; the nature of the service that the subject, or the citizen, as it is now the fashion to say at Paris, mademoiselle--"

"--_Tant pis_," muttered the governess.

"--Owes his government," continued the young man slightly glancing at Eve, at the interruption, "is purely a point of internal regulation. In England there is compulsory service for seamen without restriction, or what is much the same, without an equal protection; in France, it is compulsory service on a general plan; in America, as respects seamen, the service is still voluntary."

"Your pardon;--will the institutions of America permit impressment at all?"

"I should think, not indiscriminate impressment; though I do not see why laws might not be enacted to compel drafts for the ships of war, as well as for the army: but this is a point that some of the professional gentlemen on board, if there be any such, might better answer than myself."

"The skill with which you have touched on these subjects to-night, had made me hope to have found such a one in you; for to a traveller, it is always desirable to enter a country with a little preparation, and a ship might offer as much temptation to teach as to learn."

"If you suppose me an _American lawyer_, you give me credit for more than I can lay claim to."

As he hesitated, Eve wondered whether the slight emphasis he had laid on the two words we have italicised, was heaviest on that which denoted the country, or on that which denoted the profession.

"I have been much in America, and have paid a little attention to the institutions, but should be sorry to mislead you into the belief that I am at all infallible on such points," Mr. Blunt continued.

"You were about to touch on impressment."

"Simply to say that it is a municipal national power, one in no degree dependent on general principles, and that it can properly be exercised in no situation in which the exercise of municipal or national powers is forbidden. I can believe that this power may be exercised on board American ships in British waters--or at least, that it is a more plausible right in such situations; but I cannot think it can be rightfully exercised anywhere else. I do not think England would submit to such a practice an hour, reversing the case, and admitting her present strength: and an appeal of this sort is a pretty good test of a principle."

"Ay, ay, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as Vattel says," interrupted Captain Truck, who had overheard the last speech or two: "not that he says this in so many words, but then, he has the sentiment at large scattered throughout his writings. For that matter, there is little that can be said on a subject that he does not put before his readers, as plainly as Beachy Head lies before the navigator of the British Channel. With Bowditch and Vattel, a man might sail round the globe, and little fear of a bad landfall, or a mistake in principles. My present object is to tell you, ladies, that the steward has reported the supper in waiting for the honour of your presence."

Before quitting the deck, the party inquired into the state of the chase, and the probable intentions of the sloop-of-war.

"We are now on the great highway of nations," returned Mr. Truck, "and it is my intention to travel it without jostling, or being jostled. As for the sloop, she is standing out under a press of canvas, and we are standing from her, in nearly a straight line, in like circumstances. She is some eight or ten miles astern of us, and there is an old saying among seamen that 'a stern chase is a long chase.' I do not think our case is about to make an exception to the rule. I shall not pretend to say what will be the upshot of the matter; but there is not the ship in the British navy that can gain ten miles on the Montauk, in her present trim, and with this breeze, in as many hours; so we are quit of her for the present."

The last words were uttered just as Eve put her foot on the step to descend into the cabin.

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