Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXXIX

To morrow? O that’s sudden! — Spare him, spare him’ — SHAKSPEARE

Edward, attended by his former servant Alick Polwarth, who had reentered his service at Edinburgh, reached Carlisle while the commission of Oyer and Terminer on his unfortunate associates was yet sitting. He had pushed forward in haste, not, alas! with the most distant hope of saving Fergus, but to see him for the last time. I ought to have mentioned that he had furnished funds for the defence of the prisoners in the most liberal manner, as soon as he heard that the day of trial was fixed. A solicitor and the first counsel accordingly attended; but it was upon the same footing on which the first physicians are usually summoned to the bedside of some dying man of rank — the doctors to take the advantage of some incalculable chance of an exertion of nature, the lawyers to avail themselves of the barely possible occurrence of some legal flaw. Edward pressed into the court, which was extremely crowded; but by his arriving from the north, and his extreme eagerness and agitation, it was supposed he was a relation of the prisoners, and people made way for him. It was the third sitting of the court, and there were two men at the bar. The verdict of GUILTY was already pronounced. Edward just glanced at the bar during the momentous pause which ensued. There was no mistaking the stately form and noble features of Fergus Mac-Ivor, although his dress was squalid and his countenance tinged with the sickly yellow hue of long and close imprisonment. By his side was Evan Maccombich. Edward felt sick and dizzy as he gazed on them; but he was recalled to himself as the Clerk of Arraigns pronounced the solemn words: ‘Fergus Mac-Ivor of Glennaquoich, otherwise called Vich Ian Vohr, and Evan Mac-Ivor, in the Dhu of Tarrascleugh, otherwise called Evan Dhu, otherwise called Evan Maccombich, or Evan Dhu MacCombich — you, and each of you, stand attainted of high treason. What have you to say for yourselves why the Court should not pronounce judgment against you, that you die according to law?’

Fergus, as the presiding Judge was putting on the fatal cap of judgment, placed his own bonnet upon his head, regarded him with a steadfast and stern look, and replied in a firm voice, ‘I cannot let this numerous audience suppose that to such an appeal I have no answer to make. But what I have to say you would not bear to hear, for my defence would be your condemnation. Proceed, then, in the name of God, to do what is permitted to you. Yesterday and the day before you have condemned loyal and honourable blood to be poured forth like water. Spare not mine. Were that of all my ancestors in my veins, I would have perilled it in this quarrel.’ He resumed his seat and refused again to rise.

Evan Maccombich looked at him with great earnestness, and, rising up, seemed anxious to speak; but the confusion of the court, and the perplexity arising from thinking in a language different from that in which he was to express himself, kept him silent. There was a murmur of compassion among the spectators, from the idea that the poor fellow intended to plead the influence of his superior as an excuse for his crime. The Judge commanded silence, and encouraged Evan to proceed. ‘I was only ganging to say, my lord,’ said Evan, in what he meant to be an insinuating manner, ‘that if your excellent honour and the honourable Court would let Vich Ian Vohr go free just this once, and let him gae back to France, and no to trouble King George’s government again, that ony six o’ the very best of his clan will be willing to be justified in his stead; and if you’ll just let me gae down to Glennaquoich, I’ll fetch them up to ye mysell, to head or hang, and you may begin wi’ me the very first man.’

Notwithstanding the solemnity of the occasion, a sort of laugh was heard in the court at the extraordinary nature of the proposal. The Judge checked this indecency, and Evan, looking sternly around, when the murmur abated, ‘If the Saxon gentlemen are laughing,’ he said, ‘because a poor man, such as me, thinks my life, or the life of six of my degree, is worth that of Vich Ian Vohr, it’s like enough they may be very right; but if they laugh because they think I would not keep my word and come back to redeem him, I can tell them they ken neither the heart of a Hielandman nor the honour of a gentleman.’

There was no farther inclination to laugh among the audience, and a dead silence ensued.

The Judge then pronounced upon both prisoners the sentence of the law of high treason, with all its horrible accompaniments. The execution was appointed for the ensuing day. ‘For you, Fergus Mac-Ivor,’ continued the Judge, ‘I can hold out no hope of mercy. You must prepare against to-morrow for your last sufferings here, and your great audit hereafter.’

‘I desire nothing else, my lord,’ answered Fergus, in the same manly and firm tone.

The hard eyes of Evan, which had been perpetually bent on his Chief, were moistened with a tear. ‘For you, poor ignorant man,’ continued the Judge, ‘who, following the ideas in which you have been educated, have this day given us a striking example how the loyalty due to the king and state alone is, from your unhappy ideas of clanship, transferred to some ambitious individual who ends by making you the tool of his crimes — for you, I say, I feel so much compassion that, if you can make up your mind to petition for grace, I will endeavour to procure it for you. Otherwise — ’

‘Grace me no grace,’ said Evan; ‘since you are to shed Vich Ian Vohr’s blood, the only favour I would accept from you is to bid them loose my hands and gie me my claymore, and bide you just a minute sitting where you are!’

‘Remove the prisoners,’ said the Judge; ‘his blood be upon his own head.’

Almost stupefied with his feelings, Edward found that the rush of the crowd had conveyed him out into the street ere he knew what he was doing. His immediate wish was to see and speak with Fergus once more. He applied at the Castle where his unfortunate friend was confined, but was refused admittance. ‘The High Sheriff,’ a non-commissioned officer said, ‘had requested of the governor that none should be admitted to see the prisoner excepting his confessor and his sister.’

‘And where was Miss Mac-Ivor?’ They gave him the direction. It was the house of a respectable Catholic family near Carlisle.

Repulsed from the gate of the Castle, and not venturing to make application to the High Sheriff or Judges in his own unpopular name, he had recourse to the solicitor who came down in Fergus’s behalf. This gentleman told him that it was thought the public mind was in danger of being debauched by the account of the last moments of these persons, as given by the friends of the Pretender; that there had been a resolution, therefore, to exclude all such persons as had not the plea of near kindred for attending upon them. Yet he promised (to oblige the heir of Waverley-Honour) to get him an order for admittance to the prisoner the next morning, before his irons were knocked off for execution.

‘Is it of Fergus Mac-Ivor they speak thus,’ thought Waverley, ‘or do I dream? Of Fergus, the bold, the chivalrous, the free-minded, the lofty chieftain of a tribe devoted to him? Is it he, that I have seen lead the chase and head the attack, the brave, the active, the young, the noble, the love of ladies, and the theme of song, — is it he who is ironed like a malefactor, who is to be dragged on a hurdle to the common gallows, to die a lingering and cruel death, and to be mangled by the hand of the most outcast of wretches? Evil indeed was the spectre that boded such a fate as this to the brave Chief of Glennaquoich!’

With a faltering voice he requested the solicitor to find means to warn Fergus of his intended visit, should he obtain permission to make it. He then turned away from him, and, returning to the inn, wrote a scarcely intelligible note to Flora Mac-Ivor, intimating his purpose to wait upon her that evening. The messenger brought back a letter in Flora’s beautiful Italian hand, which seemed scarce to tremble even under this load of misery. ‘Miss Flora Mac-Ivor,’ the letter bore, ‘could not refuse to see the dearest friend of her dear brother, even in her present circumstances of unparalleled distress.’

When Edward reached Miss Mac-Ivor’s present place of abode he was instantly admitted. In a large and gloomy tapestried apartment Flora was seated by a latticed window, sewing what seemed to be a garment of white flannel. At a little distance sat an elderly woman, apparently a foreigner, and of a religious order. She was reading in a book of Catholic devotion, but when Waverley entered laid it on the table and left the room. Flora rose to receive him, and stretched out her hand, but neither ventured to attempt speech. Her fine complexion was totally gone; her person considerably emaciated; and her face and hands as white as the purest statuary marble, forming a strong contrast with her sable dress and jet-black hair. Yet, amid these marks of distress there was nothing negligent or ill-arranged about her attire; even her hair, though totally without ornament, was disposed with her usual attention to neatness. The first words she uttered were, ‘Have you seen him?’

‘Alas, no,’ answered Waverley, ‘I have been refused admittance.’

‘It accords with the rest,’ she said; ‘but we must submit. Shall you obtain leave, do you suppose?’

‘For — for — tomorrow,’ said Waverley; but muttering the last word so faintly that it was almost unintelligible.

‘Ay, then or never,’ said Flora, ‘until’ — she added, looking upward — ‘the time when, I trust, we shall all meet. But I hope you will see him while earth yet bears him. He always loved you at his heart, though — but it is vain to talk of the past.’

‘Vain indeed!’ echoed Waverley.

‘Or even of the future, my good friend,’ said Flora,‘so far as earthly events are concerned; for how often have I pictured to myself the strong possibility of this horrid issue, and tasked myself to consider how I could support my part; and yet how far has all my anticipation fallen short of the unimaginable bitterness of this hour!’

‘Dear Flora, if your strength of mind — ’

‘Ay, there it is,’ she answered, somewhat wildly; ‘there is, Mr. Waverley, there is a busy devil at my heart that whispers — but it were madness to listen to it — that the strength of mind on which Flora prided herself has murdered her brother!’

‘Good God! how can you give utterance to a thought so shocking?’

‘Ay, is it not so? but yet it haunts me like a phantom; I know it is unsubstantial and vain; but it will be present; will intrude its horrors on my mind; will whisper that my brother, as volatile as ardent, would have divided his energies amid a hundred objects. It was I who taught him to concentrate them and to gage all on this dreadful and desperate cast. Oh that I could recollect that I had but once said to him, “He that striketh with the sword shall die by the sword”; that I had but once said, “Remain at home; reserve yourself, your vassals, your life, for enterprises within the reach of man.” But O, Mr. Waverley, I spurred his fiery temper, and half of his ruin at least lies with his sister!’

The horrid idea which she had intimated, Edward endeavoured to combat by every incoherent argument that occurred to him. He recalled to her the principles on which both thought it their duty to act, and in which they had been educated.

‘Do not think I have forgotten them,’ she said, looking up with eager quickness; ‘I do not regret his attempt because it was wrong! — O no! on that point I am armed — but because it was impossible it could end otherwise than thus.’

‘Yet it did not always seem so desperate and hazardous as it was; and it would have been chosen by the bold spirit of Fergus whether you had approved it or no; your counsels only served to give unity and consistence to his conduct; to dignify, but not to precipitate, his resolution.’ Flora had soon ceased to listen to Edward, and was again intent upon her needlework.

‘Do you remember,’ she said, looking up with a ghastly smile, ‘you once found me making Fergus’s bride-favours, and now I am sewing his bridal garment. Our friends here,’ she continued, with suppressed emotion, ‘are to give hallowed earth in their chapel to the bloody relics of the last Vich Ian Vohr. But they will not all rest together; no — his head! — I shall not have the last miserable consolation of kissing the cold lips of my dear, dear Fergus!’

The unfortunate Flora here, after one or two hysterical sobs, fainted in her chair. The lady, who had been attending in the ante-room, now entered hastily, and begged Edward to leave the room, but not the house.

When he was recalled, after the space of nearly half an hour, he found that, by a strong effort, Miss Mac-Ivor had greatly composed herself. It was then he ventured to urge Miss Bradwardine’s claim to be considered as an adopted sister, and empowered to assist her plans for the future.

‘I have had a letter from my dear Rose,’ she replied, ‘to the same purpose. Sorrow is selfish and engrossing, or I would have written to express that, even in my own despair, I felt a gleam of pleasure at learning her happy prospects, and at hearing that the good old Baron has escaped the general wreck. Give this to my dearest Rose; it is her poor Flora’s only ornament of value, and was the gift of a princess.’ She put into his hands a case containing the chain of diamonds with which she used to decorate her hair. ‘To me it is in future useless. The kindness of my friends has secured me a retreat in the convent of the Scottish Benedictine nuns in Paris. Tomorrow — if indeed I can survive tomorrow — I set forward on my journey with this venerable sister. And now, Mr. Waverley, adieu! May you be as happy with Rose as your amiable dispositions deserve; and think sometimes on the friends you have lost. Do not attempt to see me again; it would be mistaken kindness.’

She gave him her hand, on which Edward shed a torrent of tears, and with a faltering step withdrew from the apartment, and returned to the town of Carlisle. At the inn he found a letter from his law friend intimating that he would be admitted to Fergus next morning as soon as the Castle gates were opened, and permitted to remain with him till the arrival of the Sheriff gave signal for the fatal procession.

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Waverley’s Last Visit to Flora Macivor — Painted by Herdman

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