Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXV

News from England

The letters which Waverley had hitherto received from his relations in England were not such as required any particular notice in this narrative. His father usually wrote to him with the pompous affectation of one who was too much oppressed by public affairs to find leisure to attend to those of his own family. Now and then he mentioned persons of rank in Scotland to whom he wished his son should pay some attention; but Waverley, hitherto occupied by the amusements which he had found at Tully-Veolan and Glennaquoich, dispensed with paying any attention to hints so coldly thrown out, especially as distance, shortness of leave of absence, and so forth furnished a ready apology. But latterly the burden of Mr. Richard Waverley’s paternal epistles consisted in certain mysterious hints of greatness and influence which he was speedily to attain, and which would ensure his son’s obtaining the most rapid promotion, should he remain in the military service. Sir Everard’s letters were of a different tenor. They were short; for the good Baronet was none of your illimitable correspondents, whose manuscript overflows the folds of their large post paper, and leaves no room for the seal; but they were kind and affectionate, and seldom concluded without some allusion to our hero’s stud, some question about the state of his purse, and a special inquiry after such of his recruits as had preceded him from Waverley-Honour. Aunt Rachel charged him to remember his principles of religion, to take care of his health, to beware of Scotch mists, which, she had heard, would wet an Englishman through and through, never to go out at night without his great-coat, and, above all, to wear flannel next to his skin.

Mr. Pembroke only wrote to our hero one letter, but it was of the bulk of six epistles of these degenerate days, containing, in the moderate compass of ten folio pages, closely written, a precis of a supplementary quarto manuscript of addenda, delenda, et corrigenda in reference to the two tracts with which he had presented Waverley. This he considered as a mere sop in the pan to stay the appetite of Edward’s curiosity until he should find an opportunity of sending down the volume itself, which was much too heavy for the post, and which he proposed to accompany with certain interesting pamphlets, lately published by his friend in Little Britain, with whom he had kept up a sort of literary correspondence, in virtue of which the library shelves of Waverley-Honour were loaded with much trash, and a good round bill, seldom summed in fewer than three figures, was yearly transmitted, in which Sir Everard Waverley of Waverley-Honour, Bart., was marked Dr. to Jonathan Grubbet, bookseller and stationer, Little Britain. Such had hitherto been the style of the letters which Edward had received from England; but the packet delivered to him at Glennaquoich was of a different and more interesting complexion. It would be impossible for the reader, even were I to insert the letters at full length, to comprehend the real cause of their being written, without a glance into the interior of the British cabinet at the period in question.

The ministers of the day happened (no very singular event) to be divided into two parties; the weakest of which, making up by assiduity of intrigue their inferiority in real consequence, had of late acquired some new proselytes, and with them the hope of superseding their rivals in the favour of their sovereign, and overpowering them in the House of Commons. Amongst others, they had thought it worth while to practise upon Richard Waverley. This honest gentleman, by a grave mysterious demeanour, an attention to the etiquette of business rather more than to its essence, a facility in making long dull speeches, consisting of truisms and commonplaces, hashed up with a technical jargon of office, which prevented the inanity of his orations from being discovered, had acquired a certain name and credit in public life, and even established, with many, the character of a profound politician; none of your shining orators, indeed, whose talents evaporate in tropes of rhetoric and flashes of wit, but one possessed of steady parts for business, which would wear well, as the ladies say in choosing their silks, and ought in all reason to be good for common and every-day use, since they were confessedly formed of no holiday texture.

This faith had become so general that the insurgent party in the cabinet, of which we have made mention, after sounding Mr. Richard Waverley, were so satisfied with his sentiments and abilities as to propose that, in case of a certain revolution in the ministry, he should take an ostensible place in the new order of things, not indeed of the very first rank, but greatly higher, in point both of emolument and influence, than that which he now enjoyed. There was no resisting so tempting a proposal, notwithstanding that the Great Man under whose patronage he had enlisted, and by whose banner he had hitherto stood firm, was the principal object of the proposed attack by the new allies. Unfortunately this fair scheme of ambition was blighted in the very bud by a premature movement. All the official gentlemen concerned in it who hesitated to take the part of a voluntary resignation were informed that the king had no further occasion for their services; and in Richard Waverley’s case, which the minister considered as aggravated by ingratitude, dismissal was accompanied by something like personal contempt and contumely. The public, and even the party of whom he shared the fall, sympathised little in the disappointment of this selfish and interested statesman; and he retired to the country under the comfortable reflection that he had lost, at the same time, character, credit, and, — what he at least equally deplored, — emolument.

Richard Waverley’s letter to his son upon this occasion was a masterpiece of its kind. Aristides himself could not have made out a harder case. An unjust monarch and an ungrateful country were the burden of each rounded paragraph. He spoke of long services and unrequited sacrifices; though the former had been overpaid by his salary, and nobody could guess in what the latter consisted, unless it were in his deserting, not from conviction, but for the lucre of gain, the Tory principles of his family. In the conclusion, his resentment was wrought to such an excess by the force of his own oratory, that he could not repress some threats of vengeance, however vague and impotent, and finally acquainted his son with his pleasure that he should testify his sense of the ill-treatment he had sustained by throwing up his commission as soon as the letter reached him. This, he said, was also his uncle’s desire, as he would himself intimate in due course.

Accordingly, the next letter which Edward opened was from Sir Everard. His brother’s disgrace seemed to have removed from his well-natured bosom all recollection of their differences, and, remote as he was from every means of learning that Richard’s disgrace was in reality only the just as well as natural consequence of his own unsuccessful intrigues, the good but credulous Baronet at once set it down as a new and enormous instance of the injustice of the existing government. It was true, he said, and he must not disguise it even from Edward, that his father could not have sustained such an insult as was now, for the first time, offered to one of his house, unless he had subjected himself to it by accepting of an employment under the present system. Sir Everard had no doubt that he now both saw and felt the magnitude of this error, and it should be his (Sir Everard’s) business to take care that the cause of his regret should not extend itself to pecuniary consequences. It was enough for a Waverley to have sustained the public disgrace; the patrimonial injury could easily be obviated by the head of their family. But it was both the opinion of Mr. Richard Waverley and his own that Edward, the representative of the family of Waverley-Honour, should not remain in a situation which subjected him also to such treatment as that with which his father had been stigmatised. He requested his nephew therefore to take the fittest, and at the same time the most speedy, opportunity of transmitting his resignation to the War Office, and hinted, moreover, that little ceremony was necessary where so little had been used to his father. He sent multitudinous greetings to the Baron of Bradwardine.

A letter from Aunt Rachel spoke out even more plainly. She considered the disgrace of brother Richard as the just reward of his forfeiting his allegiance to a lawful though exiled sovereign, and taking the oaths to an alien; a concession which her grandfather, Sir Nigel Waverley, refused to make, either to the Roundhead Parliament or to Cromwell, when his life and fortune stood in the utmost extremity. She hoped her dear Edward would follow the footsteps of his ancestors, and as speedily as possible get rid of the badge of servitude to the usurping family, and regard the wrongs sustained by his father as an admonition from Heaven that every desertion of the line of loyalty becomes its own punishment. She also concluded with her respects to Mr. Bradwardine, and begged Waverley would inform her whether his daughter, Miss Rose, was old enough to wear a pair of very handsome ear-rings, which she proposed to send as a token of her affection. The good lady also desired to be informed whether Mr. Bradwardine took as much Scotch snuff and danced as unweariedly as he did when he was at Waverley-Honour about thirty years ago.

These letters, as might have been expected, highly excited Waverley’s indignation. From the desultory style of his studies, he had not any fixed political opinion to place in opposition to the movements of indignation which he felt at his father’s supposed wrongs. Of the real cause of his disgrace Edward was totally ignorant; nor had his habits at all led him to investigate the politics of the period in which he lived, or remark the intrigues in which his father had been so actively engaged. Indeed, any impressions which he had accidentally adopted concerning the parties of the times were (owing to the society in which he had lived at Waverley-Honour) of a nature rather unfavourable to the existing government and dynasty. He entered, therefore, without hesitation into the resentful feeling of the relations who had the best title to dictate his conduct, and not perhaps the less willingly when he remembered the tedium of his quarters, and the inferior figure which he had made among the officers of his regiment. If he could have had any doubt upon the subject it would have been decided by the following letter from his commanding officer, which, as it is very short, shall be inserted verbatim:—

SIR, —

Having carried somewhat beyond the line of my duty an indulgence which even the lights of nature, and much more those of Christianity, direct towards errors which may arise from youth and inexperience, and that altogether without effect, I am reluctantly compelled, at the present crisis, to use the only remaining remedy which is in my power. You are, therefore, hereby commanded to repair to — the headquarters of the regiment, within three days after the date of this letter. If you shall fail to do so, I must report you to the War Office as absent without leave, and also take other steps, which will be disagreeable to you as well as to,

Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

J. GARDINER, Lieut.-Col.

Commanding the —— Regt. Dragoons.

Edward’s blood boiled within him as he read this letter. He had been accustomed from his very infancy to possess in a great measure the disposal of his own time, and thus acquired habits which rendered the rules of military discipline as unpleasing to him in this as they were in some other respects. An idea that in his own case they would not be enforced in a very rigid manner had also obtained full possession of his mind, and had hitherto been sanctioned by the indulgent conduct of his lieutenant-colonel. Neither had anything occurred, to his knowledge, that should have induced his commanding officer, without any other warning than the hints we noticed at the end of the fourteenth chapter, so suddenly to assume a harsh and, as Edward deemed it, so insolent a tone of dictatorial authority. Connecting it with the letters he had just received from his family, he could not but suppose that it was designed to make him feel, in his present situation, the same pressure of authority which had been exercised in his father’s case, and that the whole was a concerted scheme to depress and degrade every member of the Waverley family.

Without a pause, therefore, Edward wrote a few cold lines, thanking his lieutenant-colonel for past civilities, and expressing regret that he should have chosen to efface the remembrance of them by assuming a different tone towards him. The strain of his letter, as well as what he (Edward) conceived to be his duty in the present crisis, called upon him to lay down his commission; and he therefore inclosed the formal resignation of a situation which subjected him to so unpleasant a correspondence, and requested Colonel Gardiner would have the goodness to forward it to the proper authorities.

Having finished this magnanimous epistle, he felt somewhat uncertain concerning the terms in which his resignation ought to be expressed, upon which subject he resolved to consult Fergus Mac-Ivor. It may be observed in passing that the bold and prompt habits of thinking, acting, and speaking which distinguished this young Chieftain had given him a considerable ascendency over the mind of Waverley. Endowed with at least equal powers of understanding, and with much finer genius, Edward yet stooped to the bold and decisive activity of an intellect which was sharpened by the habit of acting on a preconceived and regular system, as well as by extensive knowledge of the world.

When Edward found his friend, the latter had still in his hand the newspaper which he had perused, and advanced to meet him with the embarrassment of one who has unpleasing news to communicate. ‘Do your letters, Captain Waverley, confirm the unpleasing information which I find in this paper?’

He put the paper into his hand, where his father’s disgrace was registered in the most bitter terms, transferred probably from some London journal. At the end of the paragraph was this remarkable innuendo:—

‘We understand that “this same RICHARD who hath done all this” is not the only example of the WAVERING HONOUR of W-v-r-ly H-n-r. See the Gazette of this day.’

With hurried and feverish apprehension our hero turned to the place referred to, and found therein recorded, ‘Edward Waverley, captain in —— regiment dragoons, superseded for absence without leave’; and in the list of military promotions, referring to the same regiment, he discovered this farther article, ‘Lieut. Julius Butler, to be captain, VICE Edward Waverley, superseded.’

Our hero’s bosom glowed with the resentment which undeserved and apparently premeditated insult was calculated to excite in the bosom of one who had aspired after honour, and was thus wantonly held up to public scorn and disgrace. Upon comparing the date of his colonel’s letter with that of the article in the Gazette, he perceived that his threat of making a report upon his absence had been literally fulfilled, and without inquiry, as it seemed, whether Edward had either received his summons or was disposed to comply with it. The whole, therefore, appeared a formed plan to degrade him in the eyes of the public; and the idea of its having succeeded filled him with such bitter emotions that, after various attempts to conceal them, he at length threw himself into Mac-Ivor’s arms, and gave vent to tears of shame and indignation.

It was none of this Chieftain’s faults to be indifferent to the wrongs of his friends; and for Edward, independent of certain plans with which he was connected, he felt a deep and sincere interest. The proceeding appeared as extraordinary to him as it had done to Edward. He indeed knew of more motives than Waverley was privy to for the peremptory order that he should join his regiment. But that, without further inquiry into the circumstances of a necessary delay, the commanding officer, in contradiction to his known and established character, should have proceeded in so harsh and unusual a manner was a mystery which he could not penetrate. He soothed our hero, however, to the best of his power, and began to turn his thoughts on revenge for his insulted honour.

Edward eagerly grasped at the idea. ‘Will you carry a message for me to Colonel Gardiner, my dear Fergus, and oblige me for ever?’

Fergus paused. ‘It is an act of friendship which you should command, could it be useful, or lead to the righting your honour; but in the present case I doubt if your commanding officer would give you the meeting on account of his having taken measures which, however harsh and exasperating, were still within the strict bounds of his duty. Besides, Gardiner is a precise Huguenot, and has adopted certain ideas about the sinfulness of such rencontres, from which it would be impossible to make him depart, especially as his courage is beyond all suspicion. And besides, I— I, to say the truth — I dare not at this moment, for some very weighty reasons, go near any of the military quarters or garrisons belonging to this government.’

‘And am I,’ said Waverley, ‘to sit down quiet and contented under the injury I have received?’

‘That will I never advise my friend,’ replied Mac-Ivor. ‘But I would have vengeance to fall on the head, not on the hand, on the tyrannical and oppressive government which designed and directed these premeditated and reiterated insults, not on the tools of office which they employed in the execution of the injuries they aimed at you.’

‘On the government!’ said Waverley.

‘Yes,’ replied the impetuous Highlander, ‘on the usurping House of Hanover, whom your grandfather would no more have served than he would have taken wages of red-hot gold from the great fiend of hell!’

‘But since the time of my grandfather two generations of this dynasty have possessed the throne,’ said Edward coolly.

‘True,’ replied the Chieftain; ‘and because we have passively given them so long the means of showing their native character, — because both you and I myself have lived in quiet submission, have even truckled to the times so far as to accept commissions under them, and thus have given them an opportunity of disgracing us publicly by resuming them, are we not on that account to resent injuries which our fathers only apprehended, but which we have actually sustained? Or is the cause of the unfortunate Stuart family become less just, because their title has devolved upon an heir who is innocent of the charges of misgovernment brought against his father? Do you remember the lines of your favourite poet?

Had Richard unconstrain’d resign’d the throne,

A king can give no more than is his own;

The title stood entail’d had Richard had a son.

You see, my dear Waverley, I can quote poetry as well as Flora and you. But come, clear your moody brow, and trust to me to show you an honourable road to a speedy and glorious revenge. Let us seek Flora, who perhaps has more news to tell us of what has occurred during our absence. She will rejoice to hear that you are relieved of your servitude. But first add a postscript to your letter, marking the time when you received this calvinistical colonel’s first summons, and express your regret that the hastiness of his proceedings prevented your anticipating them by sending your resignation. Then let him blush for his injustice.’

The letter was sealed accordingly, covering a formal resignation of the commission, and Mac-Ivor despatched it with some letters of his own by a special messenger, with charge to put them into the nearest post-office in the Lowlands.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/waverley/chapter25.html

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