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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHome As Found - Chapter 24
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Home As Found - Chapter 24 Post by :DerekGehl Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2195

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Home As Found - Chapter 24

Chapter XXIV

"You shall do marvellous wisely, good Reynaldo, Before you visit him, to make inquiry Of his behaviour."

HAMLET

Ann Sidley was engaged among the dresses of Eve, as she loved to be, although Annette held her taste in too low estimation ever to permit her to apply a needle, or even to fit a robe to the beautiful form that was to wear it, when our heroine glided into the room and sunk upon a sofa. Eve was too much absorbed with her own feelings to observe the presence of her quiet unobtrusive old nurse, and too much accustomed to her care and sympathy to heed it, had it been seen. For a moment she remained, her face still suffused with blushes, her hands lying before her folded, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, and then the pent emotions found an outlet in a flood of tears.

Poor Ann could not have felt more shocked, had she heard of any unexpected calamity, than she was at this sudden outbreaking of feeling in her child. She went to her, and bent over her with the solicitude of a mother, as she inquired into the causes of her apparent sorrow.

"Tell me, Miss Eve, and it will relieve your mind," said the faithful woman; "your dear mother had such feelings sometimes, and I never dared to question her about them; but you are my own child, and nothing can grieve you without grieving me."

The eyes of Eve were brilliant, her face continued to be suffused, and the smile which she gave through her tears was so bright, as to leave her poor attendant in deep perplexity as to the cause of a gush of feeling that was very unusual in one of the other's regulated mind.

"It is not grief, dear Nanny,"--Eve at length murmured--"any thing but that! I am not unhappy. Oh! no; as far from unhappiness as possible."

"God be praised it is so, ma'am! I was afraid that this affair of the English gentleman and Miss Grace might not prove agreeable to you, for he has not behaved as handsomely as he might, in that transaction."

"And why not, my poor Nanny?--I have neither claim, nor the wish to possess a claim, on Sir George Templemore. His selection of my cousin has given me sincere satisfaction, rather than pain; were he a countryman of our own, I should say unalloyed satisfaction, for I firmly believe he will strive to make her happy."

Nanny now looked at her young mistress, then at the floor; at her young mistress again, and afterwards at a rocket that was sailing athwart the sky. Her eyes, however, returned to those of Eve, and encouraged by the bright beam of happiness that was glowing in the countenance she so much loved, she ventured to say--

"If Mr. Powis were a more presuming gentleman than he is, ma'am--"

"You mean a less modest, Nanny," said Eve, perceiving that her nurse paused.

"Yes, ma'am--one that thought more of himself, and less of other people, is what I wish to say."

"And were this the case?"

"I might think _he would find the heart to say what I know he feels."

"And did he find the heart to say what you know he feels, what does Ann Sidley think should be my answer?"

"Oh, ma'am, I know it would be just as it ought to be. I cannot repeat what ladies say on such occasions, but I know that it is what makes the hearts of the gentlemen leap for joy."

There are occasions in which woman can hardly dispense with the sympathy of woman. Eve loved her father most tenderly, had more than the usual confidence in him, for she had never known a mother; but had the present conversation been with him, notwithstanding all her reliance on his affection, her nature would have shrunk from pouring out her feelings as freely as she might have done with her other parent, had not death deprived her of such a blessing. Between our heroine and Ann Sidley, on the other hand, there existed a confidence of a nature so peculiar, as to require a word of explanation before we exhibit its effects. In all that related to physical wants, Ann had been a mother, or even more than a mother to Eve, and this alone had induced great personal dependence in the one, and a sort of supervisory care in the other, that had brought her to fancy she was responsible for the bodily health and well-doing of her charge. But this was not all. Nanny had been the repository of Eve's childish griefs, the confidant of her girlish secrets; and though the years of the latter soon caused her to be placed under the management of those who were better qualified to store her mind, this communication never ceased; the high-toned and educated young woman reverting with unabated affection, and a reliance that nothing could shake, to the long-tried tenderness of the being who had watched over her infancy. The effect of such an intimacy was often amusing; the one party bringing to the conferences, a mind filled with the knowledge suited to her sex and station, habits that had been formed in the best circles of christendom, and tastes that had been acquired in schools of high reputation; and the other, little more than her single- hearted love, a fidelity that ennobled her nature, and a simplicity that betokened perfect purity of thought Nor was this extraordinary confidence without its advantages to Eve; for, thrown so early among the artificial and calculating, it served to keep her own ingenuousness of character active, and prevented that cold, selfish, and unattractive sophistication, that mere women of fashion are apt to fall into, from their isolated and factitious mode of existence. When Eve, therefore, put the questions to her nurse, that have already been mentioned, it was more with a real wish to know how the latter would view a choice on which her own mind was so fully made up, than any silly trifling on a subject that engrossed so much of her best affections.

"But you have not told me, dear Nanny," she continued, "what _you would have that answer be. Ought I, for instance, ever to quit my beloved father?"

"What necessity would there be for that, ma'am? Mr. Powis has no home of his own; and, for that matter, scarcely any country----"

"How can you know this, Nanny?" demanded Eve, with the jealous sensitiveness of a young love.

"Why, Miss Eve, his man says this much, and he has lived with him long enough to know it, if he had a home. Now, I seldom sleep without looking back at the day, and often have my thoughts turned to Sir George Temple more and Mr. Powis; and when I have remembered that the first had a house and a home, and that the last had neither, it has always seemed to me that _he ought to be the one."

"And then, in all this matter, you have thought of convenience, and what might be agreeable to others, rather than of me."

"Miss Eve!"

"Nay, dearest Nanny, forgive me; I know your last thought, in every thing, is for yourself. But surely, the mere circumstance that he had no home ought not to be a sufficient reason for selecting any man, for a husband. With most women it would be an objection."

"I pretend to know very little of these feelings, Miss Eve. I have been wooed, I acknowledge; and once I do think I might have been tempted to marry, had it not been for a particular circumstance."

"You! You marry, Ann Sidley!" exclaimed Eve, to whom the bare idea seemed as odd and unnatural, as that her own father should forget her mother, and take a second wife. "This is altogether new, and I should be glad to know what the lucky circumstance was, which prevented what, to me, might have proved so great a calamity."

"Why, ma'am, I said to myself, what does a woman do, who marries? She vows to quit all else to go with her husband, and to love him before father and mother, and all other living beings on earth--is it not so, Miss Eve?"

"I believe it is so, indeed, Nanny--nay, I am quite certain it is so," Eve answered, the colour deepening on her cheek, as she gave this opinion to her old nurse, with the inward consciousness that she had just experienced some of the happiest moments of her life, through the admission of a passion that thus overshadowed all the natural affections. "It is, truly? as you say."

"Well, ma'am, I investigated my feelings, I believe they call it, and after a proper trial, I found that I loved you so much better than any one else, that I could not, in conscience, make the vows."

"Dearest Nanny! my kind, good, faithful old nurse! let me hold you in my arms: and, I, selfish, thoughtless, heartless girl, would forget the circumstance that would be most likely to keep us together, for the remainder of our lives! Hist! there is a tap at the door It is Mrs. Bloomfield; I know her light step. Admit her, my kind Ann, and leave us together."

The bright searching eye of Mrs. Bloomfield was riveted on her young friend, as she advanced into the room; and her smile, usually so gay and sometimes ironical, was now thoughtful and kind.

"Well, Miss Effingham," she cried, in a manner that her looks contradicted, "am I to condole with you," or to congratulate?--For a more sudden, or miraculous change did I never before witness in a young lady, though whether it be for the better or the worse----These are ominous words, too--for 'better or worse, for richer or poorer'----"

"You are in fine spirits this evening, my dear Mrs. Bloomfield, and appear to have entered into the gaieties of the Fun of Fire, with all your--"

"Might, will be a homely, but an expressive word. Your Templeton Fun of Fire is fiery fun, for it has cost us something like a general conflagration. Mrs. Hawker has been near a downfall, like your great namesake, by a serpent's coming too near her dress; one barn, I hear, has actually been in a blaze, and Sir George Templemore's heart is in cinders. Mr. John Effingham has been telling me that he should not have been a bachelor, had there been two Mrs. Bloomfields in the world, and Mr. Powis looks like a rafter dugout of Herculaneum, nothing but coal."

"And what occasions this pleasantry?" asked Eve, so composed in manner that her friend was momentarily deceived.

Mrs. Bloomfield took a seat on the sofa, by the side of our heroine, and regarding her steadily for near a minute, she continued--

"Hypocrisy and Eve Effingham can have little in common, and my ears must have deceived me."

"Your ears, dear Mrs. Bloomfield!"

"My ears, dear Miss Effingham. I very well know the character of an eaves-dropper, but if gentlemen will make passionate declarations in the walk of a garden, with nothing but a little shrubbery between his ardent declarations and the curiosity of those who may happen to be passing, they must expect to be overheard."

Eve's colour had gradually increased as her friend proceeded; and when the other ceased speaking, as bright a bloom glowed on her countenance, as had shone there when she first entered the room.

"May I ask the meaning of all this?" she said, with an effort to appear calm.

"Certainly, my dear; and you shall also know the _feelings that prompt it, as well as the meaning," returned Mrs. Bloomfield, kindly taking Eve's hand in a way to show that she did not mean to trifle further on a subject that was of so much moment to her young friend. "Mr. John Effingham and myself were star-gazing at a point where two walks approach each other, just as you and Mr. Powis were passing in the adjoining path. Without absolutely stepping our ears, it was quite impossible not to hear a portion of your conversation. We both tried to behave honourably; for I coughed, and your kinsman actually hemmed, but we were unheeded."

"Coughed and hemmed!" repeated Eve, in greater confusion than ever. "There must be some mistake, dear Mrs. Bloomfield, as I remember to have heard no such signals."

"Quite likely, my love, for there was a time when I too had ears for only one voice; but you can have affidavits to the fact, _a la mode de New England_, if you require them. Do not mistake my motive, nevertheless, Miss Effingham, which is any thing but vulgar curiosity"--here Mrs. Bloomfield looked so kind and friendly, that Eve took both her hands and pressed them to her heart--"you are motherless; without even a single female connexion of a suitable age to consult with on such an occasion, and fathers after all are but men----"

"Mine is as kind, and delicate, and tender, as any woman can be, Mrs. Bloomfield."

"I believe it all, though he may not be quite as quick-sighted, in an affair of this nature.--Am I at liberty to speak to you as if I were an elder sister?"

"Speak, Mrs. Bloomfield, as frankly as you please, but leave me the mistress of my answers."

"It is, then, as I suspected," said Mrs. Bloomfield, in a sort of musing manner; "the men have been won over, and this young creature has absolutely been left without a protector in the most important moment of her life!"

"Mrs. Bloomfield!--What does this mean?--What _can it mean?"

"It means merely general principles, child; that your father and cousin have been parties concerned, instead of vigilant sentinels; and, with all their pretended care, that you have been left to grope your way in the darkness of female uncertainty, with one of the most pleasing young men in the country constantly before you, to help the obscurity."

It is a dreadful moment, when we are taught to doubt the worth of those we love; and Eve became pale as death, as she listened to the words of her friend. Once before, on the occasion of Paul's return to England, she had felt a pang of that sort, though reflection, and a calm revision of all his acts and words since they first met in Germany, had enabled her to get the better of indecision, and when she first saw him on the mountain, nearly every unpleasant apprehension and distrust had been dissipated by an effort of pure reason. His own explanations had cleared up the unpleasant affair, and, from that moment, she had regarded him altogether with the eyes of a confiding partiality. The speech of Mrs. Bloomfield now sounded like words of doom to her, and, for an instant, her friend was frightened with the effects of her own imperfect communication. Until that moment Mrs. Bloomfield had formed no just idea of the extent to which the feelings of Eve were interested in Paul, for she had but an imperfect knowledge of their early association in Europe, and she sincerely repented having introduced the subject at all. It was too late to retreat, however, and, first folding Eve in her arms, and kissing her cold forehead, she hastened to repair a part, at least, of the mischief she had done.

"My words have been too strong, I fear," she said, "but such is my general horror of the manner in which the young of our sex, in this country, are abandoned to the schemes of the designing and selfish of the other, that I am, perhaps, too sensitive when I see any one that I love thus exposed. You are known, my dear, to be one of the richest heiresses of the country; and, I blush to say that no accounts of European society that we have, make fortune-hunting a more regular occupation there, than it has got to be here."

The paleness left Eve's face, and a look of slight displeasure succeeded.

"Mr. Powis is no fortune-hunter, Mrs. Bloomfield," she said, steadily; "his whole conduct for three years has been opposed to such a character; and, then, though not absolutely rich, perhaps, he has a gentleman's income, and is removed from the necessity of being reduced to such an act of baseness."

"I perceive my error, but it is now too late to retreat. I do not say that Mr. Powis is a fortune-hunter, but there are circumstances connected with his history, that you ought at least to know, and that immediately. I have chosen to speak to you, rather than to speak to your father, because I thought you might like a female confidant on such occasion, in preference even to your excellent natural protector. The idea of. Mrs. Hawker occurred to me, on account of her age; but I did not feel authorised to communicate to her a secret of which I had myself become so accidentally possessed,'

"I appreciate your motive fully, dearest Mrs. Bloomfield," said Eve, smiling with all her native sweetness, and greatly relieved, for she now began to think that too keen a sensitiveness on the subject of Paul had unnecessarily alarmed her, "and beg there may be no reserves between us. If you know a reason why Mr. Powis should not be received as a suitor, I entreat you to mention it."

"Is he Mr. Powis at all?"

Again Eve smiled, to Mrs. Bloomfield's great, surprise, for, as the latter had put the question with sincere reluctance, she was astonished at the coolness with which it was received.

"He is not Mr. Powis, legally perhaps, though he might be, but that he dislikes the publicity of an application to the legislature. His paternal name is Assheton."

"You know his history, then!"

"There has been no reserve on the part of Mr. Powis; least of all, any deception."

Mrs. Bloomfield appeared perplexed, even distressed; and there was a brief space, during which her mind was undecided as to the course she ought to take. That she had committed an error by attempting a consultation, in a matter of the heart, with one of her own sex, after the affections were engaged, she discovered when it was too late; but she prized Eve's friendship too much, and had too just a sense of what was due to herself, to leave the affair where it was, or without clearing up her own unasked agency in it.

"I rejoice to learn this," she said, as soon as her doubts had ended, "for frankness, while it is one of the safest, is one of the most beautiful traits in human character; but beautiful though it be, it is one that the other sex uses least to our own."

"Is our own too ready to use it to the other?"

"Perhaps not: it might be better for both parties, were there less deception practised during the period of courtship, generally: but as this is hopeless, and might, destroy some of the most pleasing illusions of life, we will not enter into a treatise on the frauds of Cupid, Now to my own confessions, which I make all the more willingly, because I know they are uttered to the ear of one of a forgiving temperament, and who is disposed to view even my follies favourably."

The kind but painful smile of Eve, assured the speaker she was not mistaken, and she continued, after taking time to read the expression of the countenance of her young friend--

"In common with all of New-York, that town of babbling misses, who prattle as water flows, without consciousness or effort, and of whiskered masters, who fancy Broadway the world, and the flirtations of miniature drawing-rooms, human nature, I believed, on your return from Europe, that an accepted suitor followed in your train, in the person of Sir George Templemore."

"Nothing in my deportment, or in that of Sir George, or in that of any of my family, could justly have given rise to such a notion," said Eve, quickly.

"Justly! What has justice, or truth, or even probability, to do with a report, of which love and matrimony are the themes? Do you not know _society better than to fancy this improbability, child?"

"I know that our own sex would better consult their own dignity and respectability, my dear Mrs. Bloomfield, if they talked less of such matters; and that they would be more apt to acquire the habits of good taste, not to say of good principles, if they confined their strictures more to things and sentiments than they do, and meddled less with persons."

"And pray, is there no tittle-tattle, no scandal, no commenting on one's neighbours, in other civilized nations besides this?"

"Unquestionably; though I believe, as a rule, it is every where thought to be inherently vulgar, and a proof of low associations."

"In that, we are perfectly of a mind; for, if there be any thing that betrays a consciousness of inferiority, it is our rendering others of so much obvious importance to ourselves, as to make them the subjects of our constant conversation. We may speak of virtues, for therein we pay an homage to that which is good; but when we come to dwell on personal faults, it is rather a proof that we have a silent conviction of the superiority of the subject of our comments to ourselves, either in character, talents, social position, or something else that is deemed essential, than of our distaste for his failings. Who, for instance, talks scandal of his grocer, or of his shoemaker? No, no, our pride forbids this; we always make our betters the subject of our strictures by preference, taking up with our equals only when we can get none of a higher class."

"This quite reconciles me to having been given to Sir George Templemore, by the world of New-York," said Eve, smiling.

"And well it may, for they who have prattled of your engagement, have done so principally because they are incapable of maintaining a conversation on any thing else. But, all this time, I fear I stand accused in your mind, of having given advice unasked, and of feeling an alarm in an affair that affected others, instead of myself, which is the very sin that we lay at the door of our worthy Manhattanese. In common with all around me, then, I fancied Sir George Templemore an accepted lover, and, by habit, had gotten to associate you together in my pictures. Oh my arrival here, however, I will confess that Mr. Powis, whom, you will remember, I had never seen before, struck me as much the most dangerous man.--Shall I own all my absurdity?"

"Even to the smallest shade."

"Well, then, I confess to having supposed that, while the excellent father believed you were in a fair way to become Lady Templemore, the equally excellent daughter thought the other suitor, infinitely the most agreeable person."

"What! in contempt of a betrothal?"

"Of course I, at once, ascribed that part of the report to the usual embellishments. We do not like to be deceived in our calculations, or to discover that even our gossip has misled us. In pure resentment at my own previous delusion, I began to criticise this Mr. Powis--"

"Criticise, Mrs. Bloomfield!"

"To find fault with him, my dear; to try to think he was not just the handsomest and most engaging young man I had ever seen; to imagine what he ought to be, in place of what he was; and among other things, to inquire _who he was?"

"You did not think proper to ask that question of any of _us_," said Eve, gravely.

"I did not; for I discovered by instinct, or intuition, or conjecture--they mean pretty much the same thing, I believe--that there was a mystery about him; something that even his Templeton friends did not quite understand, and a lucky thought occurred of making my inquiries of another person."

"They were answered satisfactorily," said Eve, looking up at her friend, with the artless confidence that marks her sex, when the affections have gotten the mastery of reason.

"_Cosi, cosi_. Bloomfield has a brother who is in the Navy, as you know, and I happened to remember that he had once spoken of an officer of the name of Powis, who had performed a clever thing in the West Indies, when they were employed together against the pirates. I wrote to him one of my usual letters, that are compounded of all things in nature and art, and took an occasion to allude to a certain Mr. Paul Powis, with a general remark that he had formerly served, together with a particular inquiry if he knew any thing about him. All this, no doubt, you think very officious; but believe me, dear Eve, where there was as much interest as I felt and feel in you, it was very natural."

"So far from entertaining resentment, I am grateful for your concern, especially as I know it was manifested cautiously, and without any unpleasant allusions to third persons."

"In that respect I believe I did pretty well. Tom Bloomfield--I beg his pardon, Captain Bloomfield, for so he calls himself, at present-- knows Mr. Powis well; or, rather _did know him, for they have not met for years, and he speaks of his personal qualities and professional merit highly, but takes occasion to remark that there was some mystery connected with his birth, as, before he joined the service he understood he was called Assheton, and at a later day, Powis, and this without any public law, or public avowal of a motive. Now, it struck me that Eve Effingham ought not to be permitted to form a connection with a man so unpleasantly situated, without being apprised of the fact. I was waiting for a proper occasion to do this ungrateful office myself, when accident made me acquainted with what has passed this evening, and perceiving that there was no time to lose, I came hither, more led by interest in you, my dear, perhaps, than by discretion."

"I thank you sincerely for this kind concern in my welfare, dear Mrs. Bloomfield, and give you full credit for the motive. Will you permit me to inquire how much you know of that which passed this evening?"

"Simply that Mr. Powis is desperately in love, a declaration that I take it is always dangerous to the peace of mind of a young woman, when it comes from a very engaging young man."

"And my part of the dialogue--" Eve blushed to the eyes as she asked this question, though she made a great effort to appear calm--"my answer?"

"There was too much of woman in me--of true, genuine, loyal, native woman, Miss Effingham, to listen to that had there been an opportunity. We were but a moment near enough to hear any thing, though that moment sufficed to let us know the state of feelings of the gentleman. I ask no confidences, my dear Eve, and now that I have made my explanations, lame though they be, I will kiss you and repair to the drawing-room, where we shall both be soon missed. Forgive me, if I have seemed impertinent in my interference, and continue to ascribe it to its true motive."

"Stop, Mrs. Bloomfield, I entreat, for a single moment; I wish to say a word before we part. As you have been accidentally made acquainted with Mr. Powis's sentiments towards me, it is no more than just that you should know the nature of mine towards him----"

Eve paused involuntarily, for, though she had commenced her explanation, with a firm intention to do justice to Paul, the bashfulness of her sex held her tongue tied, at the very moment her desire to speak was the strongest. An effort conquered the weakness, and the warm-hearted, generous-minded girl succeeded in commanding her voice.

"I cannot allow you to go away with the impression, that there is a shade of any sort on the conduct of Mr. Powis," she said. "So far from desiring to profit by the accidents that have placed it in his power to render us such essential service, he has never spoken of his love until this evening, and then under circumstances in which feeling, naturally, perhaps I might say uncontrollably, got the ascendency."

"I believe it all, for I feel certain Eve Effingham would not bestow her heart heedlessly."

"Heart!--Mrs. Bloomfield!"

"Heart, my dear; and now I insist on the subject's being dropped, at least, for the present. Your decision is probably not yet made--you are not yet an hour in possession of your suitor's secret, and prudence demands deliberation. I shall hope to see you in the drawing-room, and until then, adieu."

Mrs. Bloomfield signed for silence, and quitted the room with the same light tread as that with which she had entered it.

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