This copy of Uncharted Seas has seen better days. I cannot tell you how many beach towels, canoe bottoms, and swimming floats it has seen, nor how many pillowcases, carry-on bags and jacket pockets it’s been stuffed into. I looked for a cleaner copy to show here, and then I thought, no, this is perfect.
I’ve read all of Emilie’s books many dozens of times, but Uncharted Seas is in that handful of her books that I’ve read even more. One of my favorite sayings comes from this book: “Different times, different brands of courage,” as does my book’s title, Happy Landings.
Sandra Duval is a girl on her own. At the advice of her father’s old friend, she takes a position as social secretary to horsewoman Pat Newsome at her country estate, Seven Chimneys. “Nice job, secretary.” Nicholas Hoyt arranges to pick her up at the station, pretending he is a down-on-his-luck horse trainer instead of a crack-a-jack horseman and the owner of a rival estate.
Along comes Philippe Rousseau, a claimant to Nick’s property and the owner of the racehorse Iron Man which will compete with Nick’s horse, Fortune. Sandy is torn between Philippe, whom she met in Europe, and Nick, who keeps intruding into her thoughts.
There really was a “Seven Chimneys” at one time. Remodeling removed the chimneys, but the John Peters Estate still occupies its spot atop a promontory in Blue Hill’s inner bay, with water views in nearly every direction. In early days, steamboats carrying summer cottagers docked at Peters Point–hence its address on “Steamboat Wharf Road.” There was a main house, a guest house, horse barns, gardens, and a pool, which you can still make out, if you try.
Nostalgia comes easily in an old village, and Emilie was feeling nostalgic when she wrote this book. Her parents, sister and brother had died; she was all that remained of her childhood family to whom she had been so close.
She had thought that during the months since her father’s death she had plumbed the depths of loneliness, but never had she known loneliness of the spirit like this.
It made one curiously shivery to realize that one was the last of one’s family. The dogs and Irish Bridie were her only confidantes, but she could not say to them: “Do you remember when…?”
“Dreams are the source of much of the new thinking, new convictions, new power in the world. They send the adventurous out on uncharted seas, dangerous seas, and it is danger, not security, which develops strength in mind and spirit.” Dedication of Uncharted Seas
Sandy lives at Seven Chimneys, while Nicholas lives at Stone House–the same as Emilie’s summer cottage–where Sandra rides one afternoon on her roan Happy Landings. When I first saw the Stone House kitchen, I half-looked for Nick’s cheery, Irish housekeeper, Sandy scrambling eggs, and the Stone House ghost.
“Certain, certain, my dear. Doesn’t every self-respecting property as old as this have a ghost?” Uncharted Seas
Toast spread with anchovy paste and topped with scrambled eggs was the first recipe of Emilie’s that I tried. I’m afraid I cannot recommend it, but that disappointment has not dimmed my enjoyment of the scene.
There was something in his eyes when they met hers which made her curiously shivery. Anger, of course, but anger never had affected her so before.
Life at Seven Chimneys is so complicated that Sandra has little time to think of her own problems. The maid is sneaky, her employer is bitter, and the others are either trying to “fix” the race, steal someone else’s property, or find out who is.
There is, of course, a fancy dress ball before the race. The men’s pink coats were modeled on those worn at the highly coveted Myopia Hunt Club Ball in Hamilton, Massachusetts. Emilie loved to dress up and to dance, so while you and I might not think to pack our gowns and diamond bracelets when we head to the country, it was a matter of course for Sandra Duval.
It was a marvelous ball. Lovely ladies in gorgeous frocks; a tropical setting of palms and ferns and shrubs in every conceivable shade of green for a background; men in hunt pink, men in somber black; and through it all the beat and throb and croon of music, music that pulled your heart up into your throat and held it there beating in time to the rhythm. It was heavenly!
Chivalry steps in when Sandy falls from Happy Landings, and Nick carries her on his mount, Board Boy, to recuperate at Stone House. Sometimes, I’ve picked up the book just to re-read their scenes together. From their first meeting, they challenge each other but cannot fight their mutual attraction.
If this were love–and it was, she admitted it–it was the most distracting experience of her life.
Sandra, like Emilie, grieves, feels alone, confused, and a little helpless. But that’s not how she stays.
“There are cruel hours, perhaps days, sometimes months, but there are radiant spots in between—otherwise we couldn’t bear it.”
Come what might, she must be on her own. A girl on her own! The phrase she had read so often while abroad, which had seemed to open a new world.”
“Remember, Sandy, that the future holds nothing that your unconquerable soul, your faith, your trust cannot meet.”
Uncharted Seas was published in England as Come On, Fortune! but there was less luck in the book than there was character. Sandy recovers her gumption, her sense of humor, and the confidence to follow her own stars forward, independently. Only after those are restored, Fortune wins the race, and Nick and Sandy win each other’s love.