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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 8
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 8 Post by :earnforever Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :1803

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 8

Chapter VIII

But then we are in order, when we are
Most out of order.

JACK CADE.


Disappointed in his private appeal to the captain's dread of popular disapprobation, Mr. Dodge returned to his secret work on deck: for like a true freeman of the exclusive school, this person never presumed to work openly, unless sustained by a clear majority; canvassing all around him, and striving hard to create a public opinion, as he termed it, on his side of the question, by persuading his hearers that every one was of his particular way of thinking already; a method of exciting a feeling much practised by partisans of his school. In the interval, Captain Truck was working up his day's reckoning by himself, in his own state-room, thinking little, and caring less, about any thing but the results of his figures, which soon convinced him, that by standing a few hours longer on his present course, he should "plump his ship ashore" somewhere between Falmouth and the Lizard.

This, discovery annoyed the worthy master so much the more, on account of the suggestions of his late visiter; for nothing could be less to his taste than to have the appearance of altering his determination under a menace. Still something must be done before midnight, for he plainly perceived that thirty or forty miles, at the farthest, would fetch up the Montauk on her present course. The passengers had left the deck to escape the night air, and he heard the Effinghams inviting Mr. Sharp and Mr. Blunt into the ladies' cabin, which had been taken expressly for their party, while the others were calling upon the stewards for the usual allowance of hot drinks, at the dining-table without. The talking and noise disturbed him; his own state-room became too confined, and he went on deck to come to his decision, in view of the angry-looking skies and the watery waste, over which he was called to prevail. Here we shall leave him, pacing the quarter-deck, in moody silence alone, too much disturbed to smoke even, while the mate of the watch sat in the mizzen-rigging, like a monkey, keeping a look-out to windward and ahead. In the mean time, we will return to the cabin of the Effinghams.

The Montauk was one of the noblest of those surpassingly beautiful and yacht-like ships that now ply between the two hemispheres in such numbers, and which in luxury and the fitting conveniences seem to vie with each other for the mastery. The cabins were lined with satin-wood and bird's-eye maple; small marble columns separated the glittering panels of polished wood, and rich carpets covered the floors. The main cabin had the great table, as a fixture, in the centre, but that of Eve, somewhat shorter, but of equal width, was free from all encumbrance of the sort. It had its sofas, cushions, mirrors, stools, tables, and an upright piano. The doors of the state-rooms, and other conveniences, opened on its sides and ends. In short, it presented, at that hour, the resemblance of a tasteful boudoir, rather than that of an apartment in a cramped and vulgar ship.

Here, then, all who properly belonged to the place were assembled, with Mr. Sharp and Mr. Blunt as guests, when a tap at the door announced another visiter. It was Mr. Dodge, begging to be admitted on a matter of business. Eve smiled, as she bowed assent to old Nanny, who acted as her groom of the chambers, and hastily expressed a belief that her guest must have come with a proposal to form a Dorcas society.

Although Mr. Dodge was as bold as Caesar in expressing his contempt of anything but popular sway, he never came into the presence of the quiet and well-bred without a feeling of distrust and uneasiness, that had its rise in the simple circumstance of his not being used to their company. Indeed, there is nothing more appalling, in general, to the vulgar and pretending, than the simplicity and natural ease of the refined. Their own notions of elegance lie so much on the surface, that they seem at first to suspect an ambush, and it is probable that, finding so much repose where, agreeably to their preconceived opinions, all ought to be fuss and pretension, they imagine themselves to be regarded as intruders.

Mr. Effingham gave their visitor a polite reception, and one that was marked with a little more than the usual formality, by way of letting it be understood that the apartment was private; a precaution that he knew was very necessary in associating with tempers like those of Steadfast. All this was thrown away on Mr. Dodge, notwithstanding every other person present admired the tact with which the host kept his guest at a distance, by extreme attention, for the latter fancied so much ceremony was but a homage to his claims. It had the effect to put him on his own good behaviour, however, and of suspending the brusque manner in which he had intended to broach his subject. As every body waited in calm silence, as if expecting an explanation of the cause of his visit, Mr. Dodge soon felt himself constrained to say something, though it might not be quite as clearly as he could wish.

"We have had a considerable pleasant time, Miss Effingham, since we sailed from Portsmouth," he observed familiarly.

Eve bowed her assent, determined not to take to herself a visit that did violence to all her habits and notions of propriety. But Mr. Dodge was too obtuse to feel the hint conveyed in mere reserve of manner.

"It would have been more agreeable, I allow, had not this man-of-war taken it into her head to follow us in this unprecedented manner." Mr. Dodge was as fond of his dictionary as the steward, though he belonged to the political, while Saunders merely adorned the polite school of talkers. "Sir George calls it a most 'uncomfortable pro endure.' You know Sir George Templemore, without doubt, Miss Effingham?"

"I am aware there is a person of that name on board, sir," returned Eve, who recoiled from this familiarity with the sensitiveness with which a well-educated female distinguishes between one who appreciates her character and one who does not; "but have never had the honour of his acquaintance."

Mr. Dodge thought all this extraordinary, for he had witnessed Captain Truck's introduction, and did not understand how people who had sailed twenty-four hours in the same ship, and had been fairly introduced, should not be intimate. As for himself, he fancied he was, what he termed, "well acquainted" with the Effinghams, from having talked of them a great deal ignorantly, and not a little maliciously; a liberty he felt himself fully entitled to take from the circumstance of residing in the same county, although he had never spoken to one of the family, until accident placed him in their company on board the same vessel.

"Sir George is a gentleman of great accomplishments, Miss Effingham, I assure you; a man of unqualified merit. We have the same state-room, for I like company, and prefer chatting a little in my berth to being always asleep. He is a baronet, I suppose you know,--not that I care anything for titles, all men being equal in truth, though--though----"

"--Unequal in reality, sir, you probably meant to add," observed John Effingham, who was lolling on Eve's work-stand, his eagle-shaped face fairly curling with the contempt he felt, and which he hardly cared to conceal.

"Surely not, sir!" exclaimed the terrified Steadfast, looking furtively about, lest some active enemy might be at hand to quote this unhappy remark to his prejudice. "Surely not! men are every way equal, and no one can pretend to be better than another. No, no,--it is nothing to me that Sir George is a baronet; though one would prefer having a gentleman in the same state-room to having a coarse fellow. Sir George thinks, sir, that the ship is running into great danger by steering for the land in so dark a night, and in such _dirty weather. He _has many out-of-the-way expressions, Sir George, I must admit, for one of his rank; he calls the weather _dirty_, and the proceedings _uncomfortable_; modes of expression, gentlemen, to which I give an unqualified disapprobation."

"Probably Sir George would attach more importance to a _qualified disapprobation," retorted John Effingham.

"Quite likely," returned Mr. Dodge innocently, though the two other visiters, Eve and Mademoiselle Viefville, permitted slight muscular movements about the lips to be seen: "Sir George is quite an original in his way. We have few originals in our part of the country, you know, Mr. John Effingham; for to say the truth, it is rather unpopular to differ from the neighbourhood, in this or any other respect. Yes, sir, the people will rule, and ought to rule. Still, I think Sir George may get along well enough as a stranger, for it is not quite as unpopular in a stranger to be original, as in a native. I think you will agree with me, sir, in believing it excessively presuming in an American to pretend to be different from his fellow-citizens."

"No one, sir, could entertain such presumption, I am persuaded, in your case."

"No, sir, I do not speak from personal motives; but of the great general principles, that are to be maintained for the good of mankind. I do not know that any man has a right to be peculiar in a free country. It is aristocratic and has an air of thinking one man is better than another. I am sure Mr. Effingham cannot approve of it?"

"Perhaps not. Freedom has many arbitrary laws that it will not do to violate."

"Certainly, sir, or where would be its supremacy? If the people cannot control and look down peculiarity, or anything they dislike, one might as well live in despotism at once."

"As I have resided much abroad, of late years, Mr. Dodge," inquired Eve, who was fearful her kinsman would give some cut that would prove to be past bearing, as she saw his eye was menacing, and who felt a disposition to be amused at the other's philosophy, that overcame the attraction of repulsion she had at first experienced towards him--"will you favour me with some of those great principles of liberty of which I hear so much, but which, I fear, have been overlooked by my European instructors?"

Mademoiselle Viefville looked grave; Messrs. Sharp and Blunt delighted; Mr. Dodge, himself, mystified.

"I should feel myself little able to instruct Miss Effingham on such a subject," the latter modestly replied, "as no doubt she has seen too much misery in the nations she has visited, not to appreciate justly all the advantages of that happy country which has the honour of claiming her for one of its fair daughters."

Eve was terrified at her own temerity, for she was far from anticipating so high a flight of eloquence in return for her own simple request, but it was too late to retreat.

"None of the many illustrious and god-like men that our own beloved land has produced can pretend to more zeal in its behalf than myself, but I fear my abilities to do it justice will fall far short of the subject," he continued. "Liberty, as you know, Miss Effingham, as you well know, gentlemen, is a boon that merits our unqualified gratitude, and which calls for our daily and hourly thanks to the gallant spirits who, in the days that tried men's souls, were foremost in the tented field, and in the councils of the nation."

John Effingham turned a glance at Eve, that seemed to tell her how unequal she was to the task she had undertaken, and which promised a rescue, with her consent; a condition that the young lady most gladly complied with in the same silent but expressive manner.

"Of all this my young kinswoman is properly sensible, Mr. Dodge," he said by way of diversion; "but she, and I confess myself, have some little perplexity on the subject of what this liberty is, about which so much has been said and written in our time. Permit me to inquire, if you understand by it a perfect independence of thought, action, and rights?"

"Equal laws, equal rights, equality in all respects, and pure, abstract, unqualified liberty, beyond all question, sir."

"What, a power in the strong man to beat the little man, and to take away his dinner?"

"By no means, sir; Heaven forbid that I should maintain any such doctrine! It means entire liberty: no kings, no aristocrats, no exclusive privileges; but one man as good as another!"

"Do you understand, then, that one man is as good as another, under our system, Mr. Dodge?"

"Unqualifiedly so, sir; I am amazed that such a question should be put by a gentleman of your information, in an age like this!"

"If one man is as good as another," said Mr. Blunt, who perceived that John Effingham was biting his lips, a sign that something more biting would follow,--"will you do me the favour to inform me, why the country puts itself to the trouble and expense of the annual elections?"

"Elections, sir! In what manner could free institutions flourish or be maintained, without constantly appealing to the people, the only true sources of power?"

"To this I make no objections, Mr. Dodge," returned the young man, smiling; "but why an election; if one man is as good as another, a lottery would be cheaper, easier, and sooner settled. Why an election, or even a lottery at all? why not choose the President as the Persians chose their king, by the neighing of a horse?

"This would be indeed an extraordinary mode of proceeding for an intelligent and virtuous people, Mr. Blunt; and I must take the liberty of saying that I suspect you of pleasantry. If you wish an answer, I will say, at once by such a process we might get a knave, or a fool, or a traitor."

"How, Mr. Dodge! I did not expect this character of the country from you! Are the Americans, then, all fools, or knaves, or traitors?"

"If you intend to travel much in our country, sir, I would advise great caution in throwing out such an insinuation, for it would be apt to meet with a very general and unqualified disapprobation. Americans are enlightened and free, and as far from deserving these epithets as any people on earth."

"And yet the fact follows from your own theory. If one man is as good as another, and any one of them is a fool, or a knave, or a traitor,--all are knaves, or fools, or traitors! The insinuation is not mine, but it follows, I think, inevitably, as a consequence of your own proposition."

In the pause that succeeded, Mr. Sharp said in a low voice to Eve, "He is an Englishman, after all!"

"Mr. Dodge does not mean that one man is as good as another in that particular sense," Mr. Effingham kindly interposed, in his quality of host; "his views are less general, I fancy, than his words would give us, at first, reason to suppose."

"Very true, Mr. Effingham, very true, sir; one man is not as good as another in that particular sense, or in the sense of elections, but in all other senses. Yes, sir," turning towards Mr. Blunt again, as one reviews the attack on an antagonist, who has given a fall, after taking breath; "in all other senses, one man is unqualifiedly as good as another. One man has the same rights as another."

"The slave as the freeman?"

"The slaves are exceptions, sir. But in the free states except in the case of elections, one man is as good as another in all things. That is our meaning, and any other principle would be unqualifiedly unpopular."

"Can one man make a shoe as well as another?"

"Of rights, sir,--I stick to the rights, you will remember,"

"Has the minor the same rights as the man of full age; the apprentice as the master; the vagabond as the resident; the man who cannot pay as the man who can?"

"No, sir, not in that sense either. You do not understand me, sir, I fear. All that I mean is, that in particular things, one man is as good as another in America. This is American doctrine, though it may not happen to be English, and I flatter myself it will stand the test of the strictest investigation."

"And you will allow me to inquire where this is not the case, in particular things. If you mean to say that there are fewer privileges accorded to the accidents of birth, or to fortune and station in America, than is usual in other countries, we shall agree; but I think it will hardly do to say there are none!"

"Privileges accorded to birth in America, sir! The idea would be odious to her people!"

"Does not the child inherit the property of the father?"

"Most assuredly; but this can hardly be termed a privilege.

"That may depend a good deal on taste. I should account it a greater privilege than to inherit a title without the fortune."

"I perceive, gentlemen, that we do not perfectly understand each other, and I must postpone the discussion to a more favourable opportunity; for I confess great uneasiness at this decision of the captain's, about steering in among the rocks of Sylla." (Mr. Dodge was not as clear-headed as common, in consequence of the controversy that had just occurred.) "I challenge you to renew the subject another time, gentlemen. I only happened in" (another peculiarity of diction in this gentleman) "to make a first call, for I suppose there is no exclusion in an American ship?"

"None whatever, sir," Mr. John Effingham coldly answered. "All the state-rooms are in common, and I propose to seize an early occasion to return this compliment, by making myself at home in the apartment which has the honour to lodge Mr. Dodge and Sir George Templemore."

Here Mr. Dodge beat a retreat, without touching at all on his real errand. Instead of even following up the matter with the other passengers, he got into a corner, with one or two congenial spirits, who had taken great offence that the Effinghams should presume to retire into their cabin, and particularly that they should have the extreme aristocratical audacity to shut the door, where he continued pouring into the greedy ears of his companions his own history of the recent dialogue, in which, according to his own account of the matter, he had completely gotten the better of that "young upstart, Blunt," a man of whom he knew positively nothing, divers anecdotes of the Effingham family, that came of the lowest and most idle gossip of rustic malignancy, and his own vague and confused notions of the rights of persons and of things. Very different was the conversation that ensued in the ladies' cabin, after the welcome disappearance of the uninvited guest. Not a remark of any sort was made on his intrusion, or on his folly; even John Effingham, little addicted in common to forbearance, being too proud to waste his breath on so low game, and too well taught to open upon a man the moment his back was turned. But the subject was continued, and in a manner better suited to the education, intelligence, and views of the several speakers.

Eve said but little, though she ventured to ask a question now and then; Mr. Sharp and Mr. Blunt being the principal supporters of the discourse, with an occasional quiet discreet remark from the young lady's father, and a sarcasm, now and then, from John Effingham. Mr. Blunt, though advancing his opinions with diffidence, and with a proper deference for the greater experience of the two elder gentlemen, soon made his superiority apparent, the subject proving to be one on which he had evidently thought a great deal, and that too with a discrimination and originality that are far from common.

He pointed out the errors that are usually made on the subject of the institutions of the American Union, by confounding the effects of the general government with those of the separate states; and he clearly demonstrated that the Confederation itself had, in reality, no distinctive character of its own, even for or against liberty. It was a confederation, and got its character from the characters of its several parts, which of themselves were independent in all things, on the important point of distinctive principles, with the exception of the vague general provision that they must be republics; a prevision that meant anything, or nothing, so far as true liberty was concerned, as each state might decide for itself.

"The character of the American government is to be sought in the characters of the state governments," he concluded, "which vary with their respective policies. It is in this way that communities that hold one half of their numbers in domestic bondage are found tied up in the same political _fasces with other communities of the most democratic institutions. The general government assures neither liberty of speech, liberty of conscience, action, nor of anything else, except as against itself; a provision that is quite unnecessary, as it is purely a government of delegated powers, and has no authority to act at all on those particular interests."

"This is very different from the general impression in Europe," observed Mr. Sharp; "and as I perceive I have the good fortune to be thrown into the society of an American, if not an _American lawyer_, able to enlighten my ignorance on these interesting topics, I hope to be permitted, during some of the idle moments, of which we are likely to have many, to profit by it."

The other coloured, bowed to the compliment, but appeared to hesitate before he answered.

"'Tis not absolutely necessary to be an American by birth," he said, "as I have already had occasion to observe, in order to understand the institutions of the country, and I might possibly mislead you were you to fancy that a native was your instructer. I have often been in the country, however, if not born in it, and few young men, on this side of the Atlantic, have had their attention pointed, with so much earnestness, to all that affects it as myself."

"I was in hopes we had the honour of including you among our countrymen," observed John Effingham, with evident disappointment. "So many young men come abroad disposed to quarrel with foreign excellences, of which they know nothing, or to concede so many of our own, in the true spirit of serviles, that I was flattering myself I had at last found an exception."

Eve also felt regret, though she hardly avowed to herself the reason.

"He is then, an Englishman, after all!" said Mr. Sharp, in another aside.

"Why not a German--or a Swiss--or even a Russian?"

"His English is perfect; no continental could speak so fluently, with such a choice of words, so totally without an accent, without an effort. As Mademoiselle Viefville says, he does not speak well enough for a foreigner."

Eve was silent, for she was thinking of the singular manner in which a conversation so oddly commenced, had brought about an explanation on a point that had often given her many doubts. Twenty times had she decided in her own mind that this young man, whom she could properly call neither stranger nor acquaintance, was a countryman, and as often had she been led to change her opinion. He had now been explicit, she thought, and she felt compelled to set him down as a European, though not disposed, still, to believe he was an Englishman. For this latter notion she had reasons it might not have done to give to a native of the island they had just left, as she knew to be the fact with Mr. Sharp.

Music succeeded this conversation, Eve having taken the precaution to have the piano tuned before quitting port, an expedient we would recommend to all who have a regard for the instrument that extends beyond its outside, or even for their own ears. John Effingham executed brilliantly on the violin; and, as it appeared on inquiry, the two younger gentlemen performed respectably on the flute, flageolet, and one or two other wind instruments. We shall leave them doing great justice to Beethoven, Rossini, and Mayerbeer, whose compositions Mr. Dodge did not fail to sneer at in the outer cabin, as affected and altogether unworthy of attention, and return on deck to the company of the anxious master.

Captain Truck had continued to pace the deck moodily and alone, during the whole evening, and he only seemed to come to a recollection of himself when the relief passed him on his way to the wheel, at eight bells. Inquiring the hour, he got into the mizzen rigging, with a night-glass, and swept the horizon in search of the Foam. Nothing could be made out, the darkness having settled upon the water in a way to circumscribe the visible horizon to very narrow limits.

"This may do," he muttered to himself, as he swung off by a rope, and alighted again on the planks of the deck. Mr. Leach was summoned, and an order was passed for the relieved watch to remain on deck for duty.

When all was ready, the first mate went through the ship, seeing that all the candles were extinguished, or that the hoods were drawn over the sky-lights, in such a way as to conceal any rays that might gleam upwards from the cabin. At the same time attention was paid to the binnacle lamp. This precaution observed, the people went to work to reduce the sail, and in the course of twenty minutes they had got in the studding-sails, and all the standing canvas to the topsails, the fore-course, and a forward stay-sail. The three topsails were then reefed, with sundry urgent commands to the crew to be active, for, "The Englishman was coming up like a horse, all this time, no doubt."

This much effected, the hands returned on deck, as much amazed at the several arrangements as if the order had been to cut away the masts.

"If we had a few guns, and were a little stronger-handed," growled an old salt to the second-mate, as he hitched up his trousers and rolled over his quid, "I should think the hard one, aft, had been stripping for a fight; but as it is we have nothing to carry on the war with, unless we throw sea-biscuits into the enemy'!"

"Stand by to _veer_!" called out the captain from the quarter-deck; or, as he pronounced it, "_ware_."

The men sprang to the braces, and the bows of the ship fell off gradually, as the yards yielded slowly to the drag. In a minute the Montauk was rolling dead before it, and her broadside came sweeping up to the wind with the ship's head to the eastward. This new direction in the course had the double effect of hauling off the land, and of diverging at more than right angles from the line of sailing of the Foam, if that ship still continued in pursuit. The seamen nodded their heads at each other in approbation, for all now as well understood the meaning of the change as if it had been explained to them verbally.

The revolution on deck produced as sudden a revolution below. The ship was no longer running easily on an even keel, but was pitching violently into a head-beating sea, and the wind, which a few minutes before, was scarcely felt to blow, was now whistling its hundred strains among the cordage. Some sought their berths, among whom were Mr. Sharp and Mr. Dodge; some hurried up the stairs to learn the reason, and all broke up their avocations for the night.

Captain Truck had the usual number of questions to answer, which he did in the following succinct and graphic manner, a reply that we hope will prove as satisfactory to the reader, as it was made to be, perforce, satisfactory to the curious on board.

"Had we stood on an hour longer, gentlemen, we should have been lost on the coast of Cornwall!" he said, pithily: "had we stopped where we were, the sloop-of-war would nave been down upon us in twenty minutes: by changing the course, in the way you have seen, he may get to leeward ward of us; if he find it out, he may change his own course, in the dark, being as likely to go wrong as to go right; or he may stand in, and set up the ribs of his majesty's ship Foam to dry among the rocks of the Lizard, where I hope all her people will get safely ashore, dry shod."

After waiting the result anxiously for an hour, the passengers retired to their rooms one by one; but Captain Truck did not quit the deck until the middle watch was set. Paul Blunt heard him enter his state-room, which was next to his own, and putting out his head, he inquired the news above. The worthy master had discovered something about this young man which created a respect for his nautical information, for he never misapplied a term, and he invariably answered all his questions promptly, and with respect.

"Dirtier, and dirtier," he said, in defiance of Mr. Dodge's opinion of the phrase, pulling off his pee-jacket, and laying aside his sow-wester; "a cap-full of wind, with just enough drizzle to take the comfort out of a man, and lacker him down like a boot."

"The ship has gone about?"

"Like a dancing-master with two toes. We have got her head to the southward and westward again; another reef in the topsails," (which word Mr. Truck pronounced _tawsails_, with great unction,) "England well under our lee, and the Atlantic ocean right before us. Six hours on this course, and we make a fair wind of it."

"And the sloop?"

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