Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XIX

The Chief and His Mansion

The ingenious licentiate Francisco de Ubeda, when he commenced his history of ‘La Picara Justina Diez,’ — which, by the way, is one of the most rare books of Spanish literature, — complained of his pen having caught up a hair, and forthwith begins, with more eloquence than common sense, an affectionate expostulation with that useful implement, upbraiding it with being the quill of a goose, — a bird inconstant by nature, as frequenting the three elements of water, earth, and air indifferently, and being, of course, ‘to one thing constant never.’ Now I protest to thee, gentle reader, that I entirely dissent from Francisco de Ubeda in this matter, and hold it the most useful quality of my pen, that it can speedily change from grave to gay, and from description and dialogue to narrative and character. So that if my quill display no other properties of its mother-goose than her mutability, truly I shall be well pleased; and I conceive that you, my worthy friend, will have no occasion for discontent. From the jargon, therefore, of the Highland gillies I pass to the character of their Chief. It is an important examination, and therefore, like Dogberry, we must spare no wisdom.

The ancestor of Fergus Mac-Ivor, about three centuries before, had set up a claim to be recognised as chief of the numerous and powerful clan to which he belonged, the name of which it is unnecessary to mention. Being defeated by an opponent who had more justice, or at least more force, on his side, he moved southwards, with those who adhered to him, in quest of new settlements, like a second AEneas. The state of the Perthshire Highlands favoured his purpose. A great baron in that country had lately become traitor to the crown; Ian, which was the name of our adventurer, united himself with those who were commissioned by the king to chastise him, and did such good service that he obtained a grant of the property, upon which he and his posterity afterwards resided. He followed the king also in war to the fertile regions of England, where he employed his leisure hours so actively in raising subsidies among the boors of Northumberland and Durham, that upon his return he was enabled to erect a stone tower, or fortalice, so much admired by his dependants and neighbours that he, who had hitherto been called Ian Mac-Ivor, or John the son of Ivor, was thereafter distinguished, both in song and genealogy, by the high title of Ian nan Chaistel, or John of the Tower. The descendants of this worthy were so proud of him that the reigning chief always bore the patronymic title of Vich Ian Vohr, i.e. the son of John the Great; while the clan at large, to distinguish them from that from which they had seceded, were denominated Sliochd nan Ivor, the race of Ivor.

The father of Fergus, the tenth in direct descent from John of the Tower, engaged heart and hand in the insurrection of 1715, and was forced to fly to France, after the attempt of that year in favour of the Stuarts had proved unsuccessful. More fortunate than other fugitives, he obtained employment in the French service, and married a lady of rank in that kingdom, by whom he had two children, Fergus and his sister Flora. The Scottish estate had been forfeited and exposed to sale, but was repurchased for a small price in the name of the young proprietor, who in consequence came to reside upon his native domains.45 It was soon perceived that he possessed a character of uncommon acuteness, fire, and ambition, which, as he became acquainted with the state of the country, gradually assumed a mixed and peculiar tone, that could only have been acquired Sixty Years Since.

Had Fergus Mac-Ivor lived Sixty Years sooner than he did, he would in all probability have wanted the polished manner and knowledge of the world which he now possessed; and had he lived Sixty Years later, his ambition and love of rule would have lacked the fuel which his situation now afforded. He was indeed, within his little circle, as perfect a politician as Castruccio Castracani himself. He applied himself with great earnestness to appease all the feuds and dissensions which often arose among other clans in his neighbourhood, so that he became a frequent umpire in their quarrels. His own patriarchal power he strengthened at every expense which his fortune would permit, and indeed stretched his means to the uttermost to maintain the rude and plentiful hospitality which was the most valued attribute of a chieftain. For the same reason he crowded his estate with a tenantry, hardy indeed, and fit for the purposes of war, but greatly outnumbering what the soil was calculated to maintain. These consisted chiefly of his own clan, not one of whom he suffered to quit his lands if he could possibly prevent it. But he maintained, besides, many adventurers from the mother sept, who deserted a less warlike, though more wealthy chief to do homage to Fergus Mac-Ivor. Other individuals, too, who had not even that apology, were nevertheless received into his allegiance, which indeed was refused to none who were, like Poins, proper men of their hands, and were willing to assume the name of Mac-Ivor.

He was enabled to discipline these forces, from having obtained command of one of the independent companies raised by government to preserve the peace of the Highlands. While in this capacity he acted with vigour and spirit, and preserved great order in the country under his charge. He caused his vassals to enter by rotation into his company, and serve for a certain space of time, which gave them all in turn a general notion of military discipline. In his campaigns against the banditti, it was observed that he assumed and exercised to the utmost the discretionary power which, while the law had no free course in the Highlands, was conceived to belong to the military parties who were called in to support it. He acted, for example, with great and suspicious lenity to those freebooters who made restitution on his summons and offered personal submission to himself, while he rigorously pursued, apprehended, and sacrificed to justice all such interlopers as dared to despise his admonitions or commands. On the other hand, if any officers of justice, military parties, or others, presumed to pursue thieves or marauders through his territories, and without applying for his consent and concurrence, nothing was more certain than that they would meet with some notable foil or defeat; upon which occasions Fergus Mac-Ivor was the first to condole with them, and after gently blaming their rashness, never failed deeply to lament the lawless state of the country. These lamentations did not exclude suspicion, and matters were so represented to government that our Chieftain was deprived of his military command.46

Whatever Fergus Mac-Ivor felt on this occasion, he had the art of entirely suppressing every appearance of discontent; but in a short time the neighbouring country began to feel bad effects from his disgrace. Donald Bean Lean, and others of his class, whose depredations had hitherto been confined to other districts, appeared from thenceforward to have made a settlement on this devoted border; and their ravages were carried on with little opposition, as the Lowland gentry were chiefly Jacobites, and disarmed. This forced many of the inhabitants into contracts of black-mail with Fergus Mac-Ivor, which not only established him their protector, and gave him great weight in all their consultations, but, moreover, supplied funds for the waste of his feudal hospitality, which the discontinuance of his pay might have otherwise essentially diminished.

In following this course of conduct, Fergus had a further object than merely being the great man of his neighbourhood, and ruling despotically over a small clan. From his infancy upward he had devoted himself to the cause of the exiled family, and had persuaded himself, not only that their restoration to the crown of Britain would be speedy, but that those who assisted them would be raised to honour and rank. It was with this view that he laboured to reconcile the Highlanders among themselves, and augmented his own force to the utmost, to be prepared for the first favourable opportunity of rising. With this purpose also he conciliated the favour of such Lowland gentlemen in the vicinity as were friends to the good cause; and for the same reason, having incautiously quarrelled with Mr. Bradwardine, who, notwithstanding his peculiarities, was much respected in the country, he took advantage of the foray of Donald Bean Lean to solder up the dispute in the manner we have mentioned. Some, indeed, surmised that he caused the enterprise to be suggested to Donald, on purpose to pave the way to a reconciliation, which, supposing that to be the case, cost the Laird of Bradwardine two good milch cows. This zeal in their behalf the House of Stuart repaid with a considerable share of their confidence, an occasional supply of louis-d’or, abundance of fair words, and a parchment, with a huge waxen seal appended, purporting to be an earl’s patent, granted by no less a person than James the Third King of England, and Eighth King of Scotland, to his right feal, trusty, and well-beloved Fergus Mac-Ivor of Glennaquoich, in the county of Perth, and kingdom of Scotland.

With this future coronet glittering before his eyes, Fergus plunged deeply into the correspondence and plots of that unhappy period; and, like all such active agents, easily reconciled his conscience to going certain lengths in the service of his party, from which honour and pride would have deterred him had his sole object been the direct advancement of his own personal interest. With this insight into a bold, ambitious, and ardent, yet artful and politic character, we resume the broken thread of our narrative.

The chief and his guest had by this time reached the house of Glennaquoich, which consisted of Ian nan Chaistel’s mansion, a high rude-looking square tower, with the addition of a lofted house, that is, a building of two stories, constructed by Fergus’s grandfather when he returned from that memorable expedition, well remembered by the western shires under the name of the Highland Host. Upon occasion of this crusade against the Ayrshire Whigs and Covenanters, the Vich Ian Vohr of the time had probably been as successful as his predecessor was in harrying Northumberland, and therefore left to his posterity a rival edifice as a monument of his magnificence.

Around the house, which stood on an eminence in the midst of a narrow Highland valley, there appeared none of that attention to convenience, far less to ornament and decoration, which usually surrounds a gentleman’s habitation. An inclosure or two, divided by dry-stone walls, were the only part of the domain that was fenced; as to the rest, the narrow slips of level ground which lay by the side of the brook exhibited a scanty crop of barley, liable to constant depredations from the herds of wild ponies and black cattle that grazed upon the adjacent hills. These ever and anon made an incursion upon the arable ground, which was repelled by the loud, uncouth, and dissonant shouts of half a dozen Highland swains, all running as if they had been mad, and every one hallooing a half-starved dog to the rescue of the forage. At a little distance up the glen was a small and stunted wood of birch; the hills were high and heathy, but without any variety of surface; so that the whole view was wild and desolate rather than grand and solitary. Yet, such as it was, no genuine descendant of Ian nan Chaistel would have changed the domain for Stow or Blenheim.

There was a sight, however, before the gate, which perhaps would have afforded the first owner of Blenheim more pleasure than the finest view in the domain assigned to him by the gratitude of his country. This consisted of about a hundred Highlanders, in complete dress and arms; at sight of whom the Chieftain apologised to Waverley in a sort of negligent manner. ‘He had forgot,’ he said, ‘that he had ordered a few of his clan out, for the purpose of seeing that they were in a fit condition to protect the country, and prevent such accidents as, he was sorry to learn, had befallen the Baron of Bradwardine. Before they were dismissed, perhaps Captain Waverley might choose to see them go through a part of their exercise.’

Edward assented, and the men executed with agility and precision some of the ordinary military movements. They then practised individually at a mark, and showed extraordinary dexterity in the management of the pistol and firelock. They took aim, standing, sitting, leaning, or lying prostrate, as they were commanded, and always with effect upon the target. Next, they paired off for the broadsword exercise; and, having manifested their individual skill and dexterity, united in two bodies, and exhibited a sort of mock encounter, in which the charge, the rally, the flight, the pursuit, and all the current of a heady fight, were exhibited to the sound of the great war bagpipe.

On a signal made by the Chief, the skirmish was ended. Matches were then made for running, wrestling, leaping, pitching the bar, and other sports, in which this feudal militia displayed incredible swiftness, strength, and agility; and accomplished the purpose which their Chieftain had at heart, by impressing on Waverley no light sense of their merit as soldiers, and of the power of him who commanded them by his nod.47

‘And what number of such gallant fellows have the happiness to call you leader?’ asked Waverley.

‘In a good cause, and under a chieftain whom they loved, the race of Ivor have seldom taken the field under five hundred claymores. But you are aware, Captain Waverley, that the disarming act, passed about twenty years ago, prevents their being in the complete state of preparation as in former times; and I keep no more of my clan under arms than may defend my own or my friends’ property, when the country is troubled with such men as your last night’s landlord; and government, which has removed other means of defence, must connive at our protecting ourselves.’

‘But, with your force, you might soon destroy or put down such gangs as that of Donald Bean Lean.’

‘Yes, doubtless; and my reward would be a summons to deliver up to General Blakeney, at Stirling, the few broadswords they have left us; there were little policy in that, methinks. But come, captain, the sound of the pipes informs me that dinner is prepared. Let me have the honour to show you into my rude mansion.’

45 This happened on many occasions. Indeed, it was not till after the total destruction of the clan influence, after 1745, that purchasers could be found who offered a fair price for the estates forfeited in 1715, which were then brought to sale by the creditors of the York Buildings Company, who had purchased the whole, or greater part, from government at a very small price. Even so late as the period first mentioned, the prejudices of the public in favour of the heirs of the forfeited families threw various impediments in the way of intending purchasers of such property.

46 This sort of political game ascribed to Mac-Ivor was in reality played by several Highland chiefs, the celebrated Lord Lovat in particular, who used that kind of finesse to the uttermost. The Laird of Mac — was also captain of an independent company, but valued the sweets of present pay too well to incur the risk of losing them in the Jacobite cause. His martial consort raised his clan and headed it in 1745. But the chief himself would have nothing to do with king-making, declaring himself for that monarch, and no other, who gave the Laird of Mac —— ‘half-a-guinea the day and half-a-guinea the morn.’

47 In explanation of the military exercise observed at the Castle of Glennaquoich, the author begs to remark that the Highlanders were not only well practised in the use of the broadsword, firelock, and most of the manly sports and trials of strength common throughout Scotland, but also used a peculiar sort of drill, suited to their own dress and mode of warfare. There were, for instance, different modes of disposing the plaid, one when on a peaceful journey, another when danger was apprehended; one way of enveloping themselves in it when expecting undisturbed repose, and another which enabled them to start up with sword and pistol in hand on the slightest alarm.

Previous to 1720 or thereabouts, the belted plaid was universally worn, in which the portion which surrounded the middle of the wearer and that which was flung around his shoulders were all of the same piece of tartan. In a desperate onset all was thrown away, and the clan charged bare beneath the doublet, save for an artificial arrangement of the shirt, which, like that of the Irish, was always ample, and for the sporran-mollach, or goat’s-skin purse.

The manner of handling the pistol and dirk was also part of the Highland manual exercise, which the author has seen gone through by men who had learned it in their youth.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29