Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXIII

Intrigues of Society and Love

Colonel Talbot became more kindly in his demeanour towards Waverley after the confidence he had reposed in him, and, as they were necessarily much together, the character of the Colonel rose in Waverley’s estimation. There seemed at first something harsh in his strong expressions of dislike and censure, although no one was in the general case more open to conviction. The habit of authority had also given his manners some peremptory hardness, notwithstanding the polish which they had received from his intimate acquaintance with the higher circles. As a specimen of the military character, he differed from all whom Waverley had as yet seen. The soldiership of the Baron of Bradwardine was marked by pedantry; that of Major Melville by a sort of martinet attention to the minutiae and technicalities of discipline, rather suitable to one who was to manoeuvre a battalion than to him who was to command an army; the military spirit of Fergus was so much warped and blended with his plans and political views, that it was less that of a soldier than of a petty sovereign. But Colonel Talbot was in every point the English soldier. His whole soul was devoted to the service of his king and country, without feeling any pride in knowing the theory of his art with the Baron, or its practical minutiae with the Major, or in applying his science to his own particular plans of ambition, like the Chieftain of Glennaquoich. Added to this, he was a man of extended knowledge and cultivated taste, although strongly tinged, as we have already observed, with those prejudices which are peculiarly English.

The character of Colonel Talbot dawned upon Edward by degrees; for the delay of the Highlanders in the fruitless siege of Edinburgh Castle occupied several weeks, during which Waverley had little to do excepting to seek such amusement as society afforded. He would willingly have persuaded his new friend to become acquainted with some of his former intimates. But the Colonel, after one or two visits, shook his head, and declined farther experiment. Indeed he went farther, and characterised the Baron as the most intolerable formal pedant he had ever had the misfortune to meet with, and the Chief of Glennaquoich as a Frenchified Scotchman, possessing all the cunning and plausibility of the nation where he was educated, with the proud, vindictive, and turbulent humour of that of his birth. ‘If the devil,’ he said, ‘had sought out an agent expressly for the purpose of embroiling this miserable country, I do not think he could find a better than such a fellow as this, whose temper seems equally active, supple, and mischievous, and who is followed, and implicitly obeyed, by a gang of such cut-throats as those whom you are pleased to admire so much.’

The ladies of the party did not escape his censure. He allowed that Flora Mac-Ivor was a fine woman, and Rose Bradwardine a pretty girl. But he alleged that the former destroyed the effect of her beauty by an affectation of the grand airs which she had probably seen practised in the mock court of St. Germains. As for Rose Bradwardine, he said it was impossible for any mortal to admire such a little uninformed thing, whose small portion of education was as ill adapted to her sex or youth as if she had appeared with one of her father’s old campaign-coats upon her person for her sole garment. Now much of this was mere spleen and prejudice in the excellent Colonel, with whom the white cockade on the breast, the white rose in the hair, and the Mac at the beginning of a name would have made a devil out of an angel; and indeed he himself jocularly allowed that he could not have endured Venus herself if she had been announced in a drawing-room by the name of Miss Mac-Jupiter.

Waverley, it may easily be believed, looked upon these young ladies with very different eyes. During the period of the siege he paid them almost daily visits, although he observed with regret that his suit made as little progress in the affections of the former as the arms of the Chevalier in subduing the fortress. She maintained with rigour the rule she had laid down of treating him with indifference, without either affecting to avoid him or to shun intercourse with him. Every word, every look, was strictly regulated to accord with her system, and neither the dejection of Waverley nor the anger which Fergus scarcely suppressed could extend Flora’s attention to Edward beyond that which the most ordinary politeness demanded. On the other hand, Rose Bradwardine gradually rose in Waverley’s opinion. He had several opportunities of remarking that, as her extreme timidity wore off, her manners assumed a higher character; that the agitating circumstances of the stormy time seemed to call forth a certain dignity of feeling and expression which he had not formerly observed; and that she omitted no opportunity within her reach to extend her knowledge and refine her taste.

Flora Mac-Ivor called Rose her pupil, and was attentive to assist her in her studies, and to fashion both her taste and understanding. It might have been remarked by a very close observer that in the presence of Waverley she was much more desirous to exhibit her friend’s excellences than her own. But I must request of the reader to suppose that this kind and disinterested purpose was concealed by the most cautious delicacy, studiously shunning the most distant approach to affectation. So that it was as unlike the usual exhibition of one pretty woman affecting to proner another as the friendship of David and Jonathan might be to the intimacy of two Bond Street loungers. The fact is that, though the effect was felt, the cause could hardly be observed. Each of the ladies, like two excellent actresses, were perfect in their parts, and performed them to the delight of the audience; and such being the case, it was almost impossible to discover that the elder constantly ceded to her friend that which was most suitable to her talents.

But to Waverley Rose Bradwardine possessed an attraction which few men can resist, from the marked interest which she took in everything that affected him. She was too young and too inexperienced to estimate the full force of the constant attention which she paid to him. Her father was too abstractedly immersed in learned and military discussions to observe her partiality, and Flora Mac-Ivor did not alarm her by remonstrance, because she saw in this line of conduct the most probable chance of her friend securing at length a return of affection.

The truth is, that in her first conversation after their meeting Rose had discovered the state of her mind to that acute and intelligent friend, although she was not herself aware of it. From that time Flora was not only determined upon the final rejection of Waverley’s addresses, but became anxious that they should, if possible, be transferred to her friend. Nor was she less interested in this plan, though her brother had from time to time talked, as between jest and earnest, of paying his suit to Miss Bradwardine. She knew that Fergus had the true continental latitude of opinion respecting the institution of marriage, and would not have given his hand to an angel unless for the purpose of strengthening his alliances and increasing his influence and wealth. The Baron’s whim of transferring his estate to the distant heir-male, instead of his own daughter, was therefore likely to be an insurmountable obstacle to his entertaining any serious thoughts of Rose Bradwardine. Indeed, Fergus’s brain was a perpetual workshop of scheme and intrigue, of every possible kind and description; while, like many a mechanic of more ingenuity than steadiness, he would often unexpectedly, and without any apparent motive, abandon one plan and go earnestly to work upon another, which was either fresh from the forge of his imagination or had at some former period been flung aside half finished. It was therefore often difficult to guess what line of conduct he might finally adopt upon any given occasion.

Although Flora was sincerely attached to her brother, whose high energies might indeed have commanded her admiration even without the ties which bound them together, she was by no means blind to his faults, which she considered as dangerous to the hopes of any woman who should found her ideas of a happy marriage in the peaceful enjoyment of domestic society and the exchange of mutual and engrossing affection. The real disposition of Waverley, on the other hand, notwithstanding his dreams of tented fields and military honour, seemed exclusively domestic. He asked and received no share in the busy scenes which were constantly going on around him, and was rather annoyed than interested by the discussion of contending claims, rights, and interests which often passed in his presence. All this pointed him out as the person formed to make happy a spirit like that of Rose, which corresponded with his own.

She remarked this point in Waverley’s character one day while she sat with Miss Bradwardine. ‘His genius and elegant taste,’ answered Rose, ‘cannot be interested in such trifling discussions. What is it to him, for example, whether the Chief of the Macindallaghers, who has brought out only fifty men, should be a colonel or a captain? and how could Mr. Waverley be supposed to interest himself in the violent altercation between your brother and young Corrinaschian whether the post of honour is due to the eldest cadet of a clan or the youngest?’

‘My dear Rose, if he were the hero you suppose him he would interest himself in these matters, not indeed as important in themselves, but for the purpose of mediating between the ardent spirits who actually do make them the subject of discord. You saw when Corrinaschian raised his voice in great passion, and laid his hand upon his sword, Waverley lifted his head as if he had just awaked from a dream, and asked with great composure what the matter was.’

‘Well, and did not the laughter they fell into at his absence of mind serve better to break off the dispute than anything he could have said to them?’

‘True, my dear,’ answered Flora; ‘but not quite so creditably for Waverley as if he had brought them to their senses by force of reason.’

‘Would you have him peacemaker general between all the gunpowder Highlanders in the army? I beg your pardon, Flora, your brother, you know, is out of the question; he has more sense than half of them. But can you think the fierce, hot, furious spirits of whose brawls we see much and hear more, and who terrify me out of my life every day in the world, are at all to be compared to Waverley?’

‘I do not compare him with those uneducated men, my dear Rose. I only lament that, with his talents and genius, he does not assume that place in society for which they eminently fit him, and that he does not lend their full impulse to the noble cause in which he has enlisted. Are there not Lochiel, and P — and M — and G — all men of the highest education as well as the first talents, — why will he not stoop like them to be alive and useful? I often believe his zeal is frozen by that proud cold-blooded Englishman whom he now lives with so much.’

‘Colonel Talbot? he is a very disagreeable person, to be sure. He looks as if he thought no Scottish woman worth the trouble of handing her a cup of tea. But Waverley is so gentle, so well informed — ’

‘Yes,’ said Flora, smiling, ‘he can admire the moon and quote a stanza from Tasso.’

‘Besides, you know how he fought,’ added Miss Bradwardine.

‘For mere fighting,’ answered Flora,’ I believe all men (that is, who deserve the name) are pretty much alike; there is generally more courage required to run away. They have besides, when confronted with each other, a certain instinct for strife, as we see in other male animals, such as dogs, bulls, and so forth. But high and perilous enterprise is not Waverley’s forte. He would never have been his celebrated ancestor Sir Nigel, but only Sir Nigel’s eulogist and poet. I will tell you where he will be at home, my dear, and in his place — in the quiet circle of domestic happiness, lettered indolence, and elegant enjoyments of Waverley-Honour. And he will refit the old library in the most exquisite Gothic taste, and garnish its shelves with the rarest and most valuable volumes; and he will draw plans and landscapes, and write verses, and rear temples, and dig grottoes; and he will stand in a clear summer night in the colonnade before the hall, and gaze on the deer as they stray in the moonlight, or lie shadowed by the boughs of the huge old fantastic oaks; and he will repeat verses to his beautiful wife, who will hang upon his arm; — and he will be a happy man.’

And she will be a happy woman, thought poor Rose. But she only sighed and dropped the conversation.

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