Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXIV

Fergus a Suitor

Waverley had, indeed, as he looked closer into the state of the Chevalier’s court, less reason to be satisfied with it. It contained, as they say an acorn includes all the ramifications of the future oak, as many seeds of tracasserie and intrigue as might have done honour to the court of a large empire. Every person of consequence had some separate object, which he pursued with a fury that Waverley considered as altogether disproportioned to its importance. Almost all had their reasons for discontent, although the most legitimate was that of the worthy old Baron, who was only distressed on account of the common cause.

‘We shall hardly,’ said he one morning to Waverley when they had been viewing the Castle — ‘we shall hardly gain the obsidional crown, which you wot well was made of the roots or grain which takes root within the place besieged, or it may be of the herb woodbind, parietaria, or pellitory; we shall not, I say, gain it by this same blockade or leaguer of Edinburgh Castle.’ For this opinion he gave most learned and satisfactory reasons, that the reader may not care to hear repeated.

Having escaped from the old gentleman, Waverley went to Fergus’s lodgings by appointment, to await his return from Holyrood House. ‘I am to have a particular audience to-morrow,’ said Fergus to Waverley overnight, ‘and you must meet me to wish me joy of the success which I securely anticipate.’

The morrow came, and in the Chief’s apartment he found Ensign Maccombich waiting to make report of his turn of duty in a sort of ditch which they had dug across the Castle-hill and called a trench. In a short time the Chief’s voice was heard on the stair in a tone of impatient fury: ‘Callum! why, Callum Beg! Diaoul!’ He entered the room with all the marks of a man agitated by a towering passion; and there were few upon whose features rage produced a more violent effect. The veins of his forehead swelled when he was in such agitation; his nostril became dilated; his cheek and eye inflamed; and hislook that of a demoniac. These appearances of half-suppressed rage were the more frightful because they were obviously caused by a strong effort to temper with discretion an almost ungovernable paroxysm of passion, and resulted from an internal conflict of the most dreadful kind, which agitated his whole frame of mortality.

As he entered the apartment he unbuckled his broadsword, and throwing it down with such violence that the weapon rolled to the other end of the room, ‘I know not what,’ he exclaimed, ‘withholds me from taking a solemn oath that I will never more draw it in his cause. Load my pistols, Callum, and bring them hither instantly — instantly!’ Callum, whom nothing ever startled, dismayed, or disconcerted, obeyed very coolly. Evan Dhu, upon whose brow the suspicion that his Chief had been insulted called up a corresponding storm, swelled in sullen silence, awaiting to learn where or upon whom vengeance was to descend.

‘So, Waverley, you are there,’ said the Chief, after a moment’s recollection. ‘Yes, I remember I asked you to share my triumph, and you have come to witness my disappointment we shall call it.’ Evan now presented the written report he had in his hand, which Fergus threw from him with great passion. ‘I wish to God,’ he said, ‘the old den would tumble down upon the heads of the fools who attack and the knaves who defend it! I see, Waverley, you think I am mad. Leave us, Evan, but be within call.’

‘The Colonel’s in an unco kippage,’ said Mrs. Flockhart to Evan as he descended; ‘I wish he may be weel, — the very veins on his brent brow are swelled like whipcord; wad he no tak something?’

‘He usually lets blood for these fits,’ answered the Highland ancient with great composure.

When this officer left the room, the Chieftain gradually reassumed some degree of composure. ‘I know, Waverley,’ he said, ‘that Colonel Talbot has persuaded you to curse ten times a day your engagement with us; nay, never deny it, for I am at this moment tempted to curse my own. Would you believe it, I made this very morning two suits to the Prince, and he has rejected them both; what do you think of it?’

‘What can I think,’ answered Waverley,‘till I know what your requests were?’ ‘Why, what signifies what they were, man? I tell you it was I that made them — I to whom he owes more than to any three who have joined the standard; for I negotiated the whole business, and brought in all the Perthshire men when not one would have stirred. I am not likely, I think, to ask anything very unreasonable, and if I did, they might have stretched a point. Well, but you shall know all, now that I can draw my breath again with some freedom. You remember my earl’s patent; it is dated some years back, for services then rendered; and certainly my merit has not been diminished, to say the least, by my subsequent behaviour. Now, sir, I value this bauble of a coronet as little as you can, or any philosopher on earth; for I hold that the chief of such a clan as the Sliochd nan Ivor is superior in rank to any earl in Scotland. But I had a particular reason for assuming this cursed title at this time. You must know that I learned accidentally that the Prince has been pressing that old foolish Baron of Bradwardine to disinherit his male heir, or nineteenth or twentieth cousin, who has taken a command in the Elector of Hanover’s militia, and to settle his estate upon your pretty little friend Rose; and this, as being the command of his king and overlord, who may alter the destination of a fief at pleasure, the old gentleman seems well reconciled to.’

‘And what becomes of the homage?’

‘Curse the homage! I believe Rose is to pull off the queen’s slipper on her coronation-day, or some such trash. Well, sir, as Rose Bradwardine would always have made a suitable match for me but for this idiotical predilection of her father for the heir-male, it occurred to me there now remained no obstacle unless that the Baron might expect his daughter’s husband to take the name of Bradwardine (which you know would be impossible in my case), and that this might be evaded by my assuming the title to which I had so good a right, and which, of course, would supersede that difficulty. If she was to be also Viscountess Bradwardine in her own right after her father’s demise, so much the better; I could have no objection.’

‘But, Fergus,’ said Waverley, ‘I had no idea that you had any affection for Miss Bradwardine, and you are always sneering at her father.’

‘I have as much affection for Miss Bradwardine, my good friend, as I think it necessary to have for the future mistress of my family and the mother of my children. She is a very pretty, intelligent girl, and is certainly of one of the very first Lowland families; and, with a little of Flora’s instructions and forming, will make a very good figure. As to her father, he is an original, it is true, and an absurd one enough; but he has given such severe lessons to Sir Hew Halbert, that dear defunct the Laird of Balmawhapple, and others, that nobody dare laugh at him, so his absurdity goes for nothing. I tell you there could have been no earthly objection — none. I had settled the thing entirely in my own mind.’

‘But had you asked the Baron’s consent,’ said Waverley, ‘or Rose’s?’

‘To what purpose? To have spoke to the Baron before I had assumed my title would have only provoked a premature and irritating discussion on the subject of the change of name, when, as Earl of Glennaquoich, I had only to propose to him to carry his d — d bear and bootjack party per pale, or in a scutcheon of pretence, or in a separate shield perhaps — any way that would not blemish my own coat of arms. And as to Rose, I don’t see what objection she could have made if her father was satisfied.’

‘Perhaps the same that your sister makes to me, you being satisfied.’

Fergus gave a broad stare at the comparison which this supposition implied, but cautiously suppressed the answer which rose to his tongue. ‘O, we should easily have arranged all that. So, sir, I craved a private interview, and this morning was assigned; and I asked you to meet me here, thinking, like a fool, that I should want your countenance as bride’s-man. Well, I state my pretension — they are not denied; the promises so repeatedly made and the patent granted — they are acknowledged. But I propose, as a natural consequence, to assume the rank which the patent bestowed. I have the old story of the jealousy of C—— and M—— trumped up against me. I resist this pretext, and offer to procure their written acquiescence, in virtue of the date of my patent as prior to their silly claims; I assure you I would have had such a consent from them, if it had been at the point of the sword. And then out comes the real truth; and he dares to tell me to my face that my patent must be suppressed for the present, for fear of disgusting that rascally coward and faineant (naming the rival chief of his own clan), who has no better title to be a chieftain than I to be Emperor of China, and who is pleased to shelter his dastardly reluctance to come out, agreeable to his promise twenty times pledged, under a pretended jealousy of the Prince’s partiality to me. And, to leave this miserable driveller without a pretence for his cowardice, the Prince asks it as a personal favour of me, forsooth, not to press my just and reasonable request at this moment. After this, put your faith in princes!’

‘And did your audience end here?’

‘End? O no! I was determined to leave him no pretence for his ingratitude, and I therefore stated, with all the composure I could muster, — for I promise you I trembled with passion, — the particular reasons I had for wishing that his Royal Highness would impose upon me any other mode of exhibiting my duty and devotion, as my views in life made what at any other time would have been a mere trifle at this crisis a severe sacrifice; and then I explained to him my full plan.’

‘And what did the Prince answer?’

‘Answer? why — it is well it is written, “Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought!” — why, he answered that truly he was glad I had made him my confidant, to prevent more grievous disappointment, for he could assure me, upon the word of a prince, that Miss Bradwardine’s affections were engaged, and he was under a particular promise to favour them. “So, my dear Fergus,” said he, with his most gracious cast of smile, “as the marriage is utterly out of question, there need be no hurry, you know, about the earldom.” And so he glided off and left me plante la.’

‘And what did you do?’

‘I’ll tell you what I COULD have done at that moment — sold myself to the devil or the Elector, whichever offered the dearest revenge. However, I am now cool. I know he intends to marry her to some of his rascally Frenchmen or his Irish officers, but I will watch them close; and let the man that would supplant me look well to himself. Bisogna coprirsi, Signor.’

After some further conversation, unnecessary to be detailed, Waverley took leave of the Chieftain, whose fury had now subsided into a deep and strong desire of vengeance, and returned home, scarce able to analyse the mixture of feelings which the narrative had awakened in his own bosom.

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