Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XIV

The Ball

Ensign MacCombich having gone to the Highland camp upon duty, and Bailie Macwheeble having retired to digest his dinner and Evan Dhu’s intimation of martial law in some blind change-house, Waverley, with the Baron and the Chieftain, proceeded to Holyrood House. The two last were in full tide of spirits, and the Baron rallied in his way our hero upon the handsome figure which his new dress displayed to advantage. ‘If you have any design upon the heart of a bonny Scotch lassie, I would premonish you, when you address her, to remember and quote the words of Virgilius:—

Nunc insanus amor duri me Martis in armis,

Tela inter media atque adversos detinet hostes;

whilk verses Robertson of Struan, Chief of the Clan Donnochy (unless the claims of Lude ought to be preferred primo loco), has thus elegantly rendered:—

For cruel love had gartan’d low my leg,

And clad my hurdies in a philabeg.

Although, indeed, ye wear the trews, a garment whilk I approve maist of the twa, as mair ancient and seemly.’ ‘Or rather,’ said Fergus, ‘hear my song:—

She wadna hae a Lowland laird,

Nor be an English lady;

But she’s away with Duncan Grame,

And he’s row’d her in his plaidy.’

By this time they reached the palace of Holyrood, and were announced respectively as they entered the apartments.

It is but too well known how many gentlemen of rank, education, and fortune took a concern in the ill-fated and desperate undertaking of 1745. The ladies, also, of Scotland very generally espoused the cause of the gallant and handsome young Prince, who threw himself upon the mercy of his countrymen rather like a hero of romance than a calculating politician. It is not, therefore, to be wondered that Edward, who had spent the greater part of his life in the solemn seclusion of Waverley-Honour, should have been dazzled at the liveliness and elegance of the scene now exhibited in the long deserted halls of the Scottish palace. The accompaniments, indeed, fell short of splendour, being such as the confusion and hurry of the time admitted; still, however, the general effect was striking, and, the rank of the company considered, might well be called brilliant.

It was not long before the lover’s eye discovered the object of his attachment. Flora Mac-Ivor was in the act of returning to her seat, near the top of the room, with Rose Bradwardine by her side. Among much elegance and beauty, they had attracted a great degree of the public attention, being certainly two of the handsomest women present. The Prince took much notice of both, particularly of Flora, with whom he danced, a preference which she probably owed to her foreign education and command of the French and Italian languages.

When the bustle attending the conclusion of the dance permitted, Edward almost intuitively followed Fergus to the place where Miss Mac-Ivor was seated. The sensation of hope with which he had nursed his affection in absence of the beloved object seemed to vanish in her presence, and, like one striving to recover the particulars of a forgotten dream, he would have given the world at that moment to have recollected the grounds on which he had founded expectations which now seemed so delusive. He accompanied Fergus with downcast eyes, tingling ears, and the feelings of the criminal who, while the melancholy cart moves slowly through the crowds that have assembled to behold his execution, receives no clear sensation either from the noise which fills his ears or the tumult on which he casts his wandering look. Flora seemed a little — a very little — affected and discomposed at his approach. ‘I bring you an adopted son of Ivor,’ said Fergus.

‘And I receive him as a second brother,’ replied Flora.

There was a slight emphasis on the word, which would have escaped every ear but one that was feverish with apprehension. It was, however, distinctly marked, and, combined with her whole tone and manner, plainly intimated, ‘I will never think of Mr. Waverley as a more intimate connexion.’ Edward stopped, bowed, and looked at Fergus, who bit his lip, a movement of anger which proved that he also had put a sinister interpretation on the reception which his sister had given his friend. ‘This, then, is an end of my day-dream!’ Such was Waverley’s first thought, and it was so exquisitely painful as to banish from his cheek every drop of blood.

‘Good God!’ said Rose Bradwardine, ‘he is not yet recovered!’

These words, which she uttered with great emotion, were overheard by the Chevalier himself, who stepped hastily forward, and, taking Waverley by the hand, inquired kindly after his health, and added that he wished to speak with him. By a strong and sudden effort; which the circumstances rendered indispensable, Waverley recovered himself so far as to follow the Chevalier in silence to a recess in the apartment.

Here the Prince detained him some time, asking various questions about the great Tory and Catholic families of England, their connexions, their influence, and the state of their affections towards the house of Stuart. To these queries Edward could not at any time have given more than general answers, and it may be supposed that, in the present state of his feelings, his responses were indistinct even to confusion. The Chevalier smiled once or twice at the incongruity of his replies, but continued the same style of conversation, although he found himself obliged to occupy the principal share of it, until he perceived that Waverley had recovered his presence of mind. It is probable that this long audience was partly meant to further the idea which the Prince desired should be entertained among his followers, that Waverley was a character of political influence. But it appeared, from his concluding expressions, that he had a different and good-natured motive, personal to our hero, for prolonging the conference. ‘I cannot resist the temptation,’ he said, ‘of boasting of my own discretion as a lady’s confidant. You see, Mr. Waverley, that I know all, and I assure you I am deeply interested in the affair. But, my good young friend, you must put a more severe restraint upon your feelings. There are many here whose eyes can see as clearly as mine, but the prudence of whose tongues may not be equally trusted,’

So saying, he turned easily away and joined a circle of officers at a few paces’ distance, leaving Waverley to meditate upon his parting expression, which, though not intelligible to him in its whole purport, was sufficiently so in the caution which the last word recommended. Making, therefore, an effort to show himself worthy of the interest which his new master had expressed, by instant obedience to his recommendation, he walked up to the spot where Flora and Miss Bradwardine were still seated, and having made his compliments to the latter, he succeeded, even beyond his own expectation, in entering into conversation upon general topics.

If, my dear reader, thou hast ever happened to take post-horses at —— or at —— (one at least of which blanks, or more probably both, you will be able to fill up from an inn near your own residence), you must have observed, and doubtless with sympathetic pain, the reluctant agony with which the poor jades at first apply their galled necks to the collars of the harness. But when the irresistible arguments of the post-boy have prevailed upon them to proceed a mile or two, they will become callous to the first sensation; and being warm in the harness, as the said post-boy may term it, proceed as if their withers were altogether unwrung. This simile so much corresponds with the state of Waverley’s feelings in the course of this memorable evening, that I prefer it (especially as being, I trust, wholly original) to any more splendid illustration with which Byshe’s ‘Art of Poetry’ might supply me.

Exertion, like virtue, is its own reward; and our hero had, moreover, other stimulating motives for persevering in a display of affected composure and indifference to Flora’s obvious unkindness. Pride, which supplies its caustic as an useful, though severe, remedy for the wounds of affection, came rapidly to his aid. Distinguished by the favour of a prince; destined, he had room to hope, to play a conspicuous part in the revolution which awaited a mighty kingdom; excelling, probably, in mental acquirements, and equalling at least in personal accomplishments, most of the noble and distinguished persons with whom he was now ranked; young, wealthy, and high-born, — could he, or ought he, to droop beneath the frown of a capricious beauty?

O nymph, unrelenting and cold as thou art,

My bosom is proud as thine own.

With the feeling expressed in these beautiful lines (which, however, were not then written),80 Waverley determined upon convincing Flora that he was not to be depressed by a rejection in which his vanity whispered that perhaps she did her own prospects as much injustice as his. And, to aid this change of feeling, there lurked the secret and unacknowledged hope that she might learn to prize his affection more highly, when she did not conceive it to be altogether within her own choice to attract or repulse it. There was a mystic tone of encouragement, also, in the Chevalier’s words, though he feared they only referred to the wishes of Fergus in favour of an union between him and his sister. But the whole circumstances of time, place, and incident combined at once to awaken his imagination and to call upon him for a manly and decisive tone of conduct, leaving to fate to dispose of the issue. Should he appear to be the only one sad and disheartened on the eve of battle, how greedily would the tale be commented upon by the slander which had been already but too busy with his fame! Never, never, he internally resolved, shall my unprovoked enemies possess such an advantage over my reputation.

Under the influence of these mixed sensations, and cheered at times by a smile of intelligence and approbation from the Prince as he passed the group, Waverley exerted his powers of fancy, animation, and eloquence, and attracted the general admiration of the company. The conversation gradually assumed the tone best qualified for the display of his talents and acquisitions. The gaiety of the evening was exalted in character, rather than checked, by the approaching dangers of the morrow. All nerves were strung for the future, and prepared to enjoy the present. This mood of mind is highly favourable for the exercise of the powers of imagination, for poetry, and for that eloquence which is allied to poetry. Waverley, as we have elsewhere observed, possessed at times a wonderful flow of rhetoric; and on the present occasion, he touched more than once the higher notes of feeling, and then again ran off in a wild voluntary of fanciful mirth. He was supported and excited by kindred spirits, who felt the same impulse of mood and time; and even those of more cold and calculating habits were hurried along by the torrent. Many ladies declined the dance, which still went forward, and under various pretences joined the party to which the ‘handsome young Englishman’ seemed to have attached himself. He was presented to several of the first rank, and his manners, which for the present were altogether free from the bashful restraint by which, in a moment of less excitation, they were usually clouded, gave universal delight.

Flora Mac-Ivor appeared to be the only female present who regarded him with a degree of coldness and reserve; yet even she could not suppress a sort of wonder at talents which, in the course of their acquaintance, she had never seen displayed with equal brilliancy and impressive effect. I do not know whether she might not feel a momentary regret at having taken so decisive a resolution upon the addresses of a lover who seemed fitted so well to fill a high place in the highest stations of society. Certainly she had hitherto accounted among the incurable deficiencies of Edward’s disposition the mauvaise honte which, as she had been educated in the first foreign circles, and was little acquainted with the shyness of English manners, was in her opinion too nearly related to timidity and imbecility of disposition. But if a passing wish occurred that Waverley could have rendered himself uniformly thus amiable and attractive, its influence was momentary; for circumstances had arisen since they met which rendered in her eyes the resolution she had formed respecting him final and irrevocable.

With opposite feelings Rose Bradwardine bent her whole soul to listen. She felt a secret triumph at the public tribute paid to one whose merit she had learned to prize too early and too fondly. Without a thought of jealousy, without a feeling of fear, pain, or doubt, and undisturbed by a single selfish consideration, she resigned herself to the pleasure of observing the general murmur of applause. When Waverley spoke, her ear was exclusively filled with his voice, when others answered, her eye took its turn of observation, and seemed to watch his reply. Perhaps the delight which she experienced in the course of that evening, though transient, and followed by much sorrow, was in its nature the most pure and disinterested which the human mind is capable of enjoying.

‘Baron,’ said the Chevalier, ‘I would not trust my mistress in the company of your young friend. He is really, though perhaps somewhat romantic, one of the most fascinating young men whom I have ever seen.’

‘And by my honour, sir,’ replied the Baron,‘the lad can sometimes be as dowff as a sexagenary like myself. If your Royal Highness had seen him dreaming and dozing about the banks of Tully-Veolan like an hypochondriac person, or, as Burton’s “Anatomia” hath it, a phrenesiac or lethargic patient, you would wonder where he hath sae suddenly acquired all this fine sprack festivity and jocularity.’

‘Truly,’ said Fergus Mac-Ivor, ‘I think it can only be the inspiration of the tartans; for, though Waverley be always a young fellow of sense and honour, I have hitherto often found him a very absent and inattentive companion.’

‘We are the more obliged to him,’ said the Prince, ‘for having reserved for this evening qualities which even such intimate friends had not discovered. But come, gentlemen, the night advances, and the business of tomorrow must be early thought upon. Each take charge of his fair partner, and honour a small refreshment with your company.’

He led the way to another suite of apartments, and assumed the seat and canopy at the head of a long range of tables with an air of dignity, mingled with courtesy, which well became his high birth and lofty pretensions. An hour had hardly flown away when the musicians played the signal for parting so well known in Scotland. 81

‘Good-night, then,’ said the Chevalier, rising; ‘goodnight, and joy be with you! Good-night, fair ladies, who have so highly honoured a proscribed and banished Prince! Good-night, my brave friends; may the happiness we have this evening experienced be an omen of our return to these our paternal halls, speedily and in triumph, and of many and many future meetings of mirth and pleasure in the palace of Holyrood!’

When the Baron of Bradwardine afterwards mentioned this adieu of the Chevalier, he never failed to repeat, in a melancholy tone,

‘Audiit, et voti Phoebus succedere partem

Mente dedit; partem volucres dispersit in auras;

which,’ as he added, ‘is weel rendered into English metre by my friend Bangour:—

Ae half the prayer wi’ Phoebus grace did find,

The t’other half he whistled down the wind.’

80 They occur in Miss Seward’s fine verses, beginning — ‘To thy rocks, stormy Lannow, adieu.’

81 Which is, or was wont to be, the old air of ‘Good-night and joy be wi’ you a’.

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