Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXI

The Chieftain’s Sister

The drawing-room of Flora Mac-Ivor was furnished in the plainest and most simple manner; for at Glennaquoich every other sort of expenditure was retrenched as much as possible, for the purpose of maintaining, in its full dignity, the hospitality of the Chieftain, and retaining and multiplying the number of his dependants and adherents. But there was no appearance of this parsimony in the dress of the lady herself, which was in texture elegant, and even rich, and arranged in a manner which partook partly of the Parisian fashion and partly of the more simple dress of the Highlands, blended together with great taste. Her hair was not disfigured by the art of the friseur, but fell in jetty ringlets on her neck, confined only by a circlet, richly set with diamonds. This peculiarity she adopted in compliance with the Highland prejudices, which could not endure that a woman’s head should be covered before wedlock.

Flora Mac-Ivor bore a most striking resemblance to her brother Fergus; so much so that they might have played Viola and Sebastian with the same exquisite effect produced by the appearance of Mrs. Henry Siddons and her brother, Mr. William Murray, in these characters. They had the same antique and regular correctness of profile; the same dark eyes, eye-lashes, and eye-brows; the same clearness of complexion, excepting that Fergus’s was embrowned by exercise and Flora’s possessed the utmost feminine delicacy. But the haughty and somewhat stern regularity of Fergus’s features was beautifully softened in those of Flora. Their voices were also similar in tone, though differing in the key. That of Fergus, especially while issuing orders to his followers during their military exercise, reminded Edward of a favourite passage in the description of Emetrius:

— whose voice was heard around,

Loud as a trumpet with a silver sound.

That of Flora, on the contrary, was soft and sweet — ‘an excellent thing in woman’; yet, in urging any favourite topic, which she often pursued with natural eloquence, it possessed as well the tones which impress awe and conviction as those of persuasive insinuation. The eager glance of the keen black eye, which, in the Chieftain, seemed impatient even of the material obstacles it encountered, had in his sister acquired a gentle pensiveness. His looks seemed to seek glory, power, all that could exalt him above others in the race of humanity; while those of his sister, as if she were already conscious of mental superiority, seemed to pity, rather than envy, those who were struggling for any farther distinction. Her sentiments corresponded with the expression of her countenance. Early education had impressed upon her mind, as well as on that of the Chieftain, the most devoted attachment to the exiled family of Stuart. She believed it the duty of her brother, of his clan, of every man in Britain, at whatever personal hazard, to contribute to that restoration which the partisans of the Chevalier St. George had not ceased to hope for. For this she was prepared to do all, to suffer all, to sacrifice all. But her loyalty, as it exceeded her brother’s in fanaticism, excelled it also in purity. Accustomed to petty intrigue, and necessarily involved in a thousand paltry and selfish discussions, ambitious also by nature, his political faith was tinctured, at least, if not tainted, by the views of interest and advancement so easily combined with it; and at the moment he should unsheathe his claymore, it might be difficult to say whether it would be most with the view of making James Stuart a king or Fergus Mac-Ivor an earl. This, indeed, was a mixture of feeling which he did not avow even to himself, but it existed, nevertheless, in a powerful degree.

In Flora’s bosom, on the contrary, the zeal of loyalty burnt pure and unmixed with any selfish feeling; she would have as soon made religion the mask of ambitious and interested views as have shrouded them under the opinions which she had been taught to think patriotism. Such instances of devotion were not uncommon among the followers of the unhappy race of Stuart, of which many memorable proofs will recur to the minds of most of my readers. But peculiar attention on the part of the Chevalier de St. George and his princess to the parents of Fergus and his sister, and to themselves when orphans, had riveted their faith. Fergus, upon the death of his parents, had been for some time a page of honour in the train of the Chevalier’s lady, and, from his beauty and sprightly temper, was uniformly treated by her with the utmost distinction. This was also extended to Flora, who was maintained for some time at a convent of the first order at the princess’s expense, and removed from thence into her own family, where she spent nearly two years. Both brother and sister retained the deepest and most grateful sense of her kindness.

Having thus touched upon the leading principle of Flora’s character, I may dismiss the rest more slightly. She was highly accomplished, and had acquired those elegant manners to be expected from one who, in early youth, had been the companion of a princess; yet she had not learned to substitute the gloss of politeness for the reality of feeling. When settled in the lonely regions of Glennaquoich, she found that her resources in French, English, and Italian literature were likely to be few and interrupted; and, in order to fill up the vacant time, she bestowed a part of it upon the music and poetical traditions of the Highlanders, and began really to feel the pleasure in the pursuit which her brother, whose perceptions of literary merit were more blunt, rather affected for the sake of popularity than actually experienced. Her resolution was strengthened in these researches by the extreme delight which her inquiries seemed to afford those to whom she resorted for information.

Her love of her clan, an attachment which was almost hereditary in her bosom, was, like her loyalty, a more pure passion than that of her brother. He was too thorough a politician, regarded his patriarchal influence too much as the means of accomplishing his own aggrandisement, that we should term him the model of a Highland Chieftain. Flora felt the same anxiety for cherishing and extending their patriarchal sway, but it was with the generous desire of vindicating from poverty, or at least from want and foreign oppression, those whom her brother was by birth, according to the notions of the time and country, entitled to govern. The savings of her income, for she had a small pension from the Princess Sobieski, were dedicated, not to add to the comforts of the peasantry, for that was a word which they neither knew nor apparently wished to know, but to relieve their absolute necessities when in sickness or extreme old age. At every other period they rather toiled to procure something which they might share with the Chief, as a proof of their attachment, than expected other assistance from him save what was afforded by the rude hospitality of his castle, and the general division and subdivision of his estate among them. Flora was so much beloved by them that, when Mac-Murrough composed a song in which he enumerated all the principal beauties of the district, and intimated her superiority by concluding, that ‘the fairest apple hung on the highest bough,’ he received, in donatives from the individuals of the clan, more seed-barley than would have sowed his Highland Parnassus, the bard’s croft, as it was called, ten times over.

From situation as well as choice, Miss Mac-Ivor’s society was extremely limited. Her most intimate friend had been Rose Bradwardine, to whom she was much attached; and when seen together, they would have afforded an artist two admirable subjects for the gay and the melancholy muse. Indeed Rose was so tenderly watched by her father, and her circle of wishes was so limited, that none arose but what he was willing to gratify, and scarce any which did not come within the compass of his power. With Flora it was otherwise. While almost a girl she had undergone the most complete change of scene, from gaiety and splendour to absolute solitude and comparative poverty; and the ideas and wishes which she chiefly fostered respected great national events, and changes not to be brought round without both hazard and bloodshed, and therefore not to be thought of with levity. Her manner, consequently, was grave, though she readily contributed her talents to the amusement of society, and stood very high in the opinion of the old Baron, who used to sing along with her such French duets of Lindor and Cloris, etc., as were in fashion about the end of the reign of old Louis le Grand.

It was generally believed, though no one durst have hinted it to the Baron of Bradwardine, that Flora’s entreaties had no small share in allaying the wrath of Fergus upon occasion of their quarrel. She took her brother on the assailable side, by dwelling first upon the Baron’s age, and then representing the injury which the cause might sustain, and the damage which must arise to his own character in point of prudence — so necessary to a political agent, if he persisted in carrying it to extremity. Otherwise it is probable it would have terminated in a duel, both because the Baron had, on a former occasion, shed blood of the clan, though the matter had been timely accommodated, and on account of his high reputation for address at his weapon, which Fergus almost condescended to envy. For the same reason she had urged their reconciliation, which the Chieftain the more readily agreed to as it favoured some ulterior projects of his own.

To this young lady, now presiding at the female empire of the tea-table, Fergus introduced Captain Waverley, whom she received with the usual forms of politeness.

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