It is, then, sixty years since Edward Waverley, the hero of the following pages, took leave of his family, to join the regiment of dragoons in which he had lately obtained a commission. It was a melancholy day at Waverley-Honour when the young officer parted with Sir Everard, the affectionate old uncle to whose title and estate he was presumptive heir.
A difference in political opinions had early separated the Baronet from his younger brother Richard Waverley, the father of our hero. Sir Everard had inherited from his sires the whole train of Tory or High-Church predilections and prejudices which had distinguished the house of Waverley since the Great Civil War. Richard, on the contrary, who was ten years younger, beheld himself born to the fortune of a second brother, and anticipated neither dignity nor entertainment in sustaining the character of Will Wimble. He saw early that, to succeed in the race of life, it was necessary he should carry as little weight as possible. Painters talk of the difficulty of expressing the existence of compound passions in the same features at the same moment; it would be no less difficult for the moralist to analyse the mixed motives which unite to form the impulse of our actions. Richard Waverley read and satisfied himself from history and sound argument that, in the words of the old song,
Passive obedience was a jest,
And pshaw! was non-resistance;
yet reason would have probably been unable to combat and remove hereditary prejudice could Richard have anticipated that his elder brother, Sir Everard, taking to heart an early disappointment, would have remained a bachelor at seventy-two. The prospect of succession, however remote, might in that case have led him to endure dragging through the greater part of his life as ‘Master Richard at the Hall, the Baronet’s brother,’ in the hope that ere its conclusion he should be distinguished as Sir Richard Waverley of Waverley-Honour, successor to a princely estate, and to extended political connections as head of the county interest in the shire where it lay.
But this was a consummation of things not to be expected at Richard’s outset, when Sir Everard was in the prime of life, and certain to be an acceptable suitor in almost any family, whether wealth or beauty should be the object of his pursuit, and when, indeed, his speedy marriage was a report which regularly amused the neighbourhood once a year. His younger brother saw no practicable road to independence save that of relying upon his own exertions, and adopting a political creed more consonant both to reason and his own interest than the hereditary faith of Sir Everard in High-Church and in the house of Stuart. He therefore read his recantation at the beginning of his career, and entered life as an avowed Whig and friend of the Hanover succession.
The ministry of George the First’s time were prudently anxious to diminish the phalanx of opposition. The Tory nobility, depending for their reflected lustre upon the sunshine of a court, had for some time been gradually reconciling themselves to the new dynasty. But the wealthy country gentlemen of England, a rank which retained, with much of ancient manners and primitive integrity, a great proportion of obstinate and unyielding prejudice, stood aloof in haughty and sullen opposition, and cast many a look of mingled regret and hope to Bois le Due, Avignon, and Italy.15 The accession of the near relation of one of those steady and inflexible opponents was considered as a means of bringing over more converts, and therefore Richard Waverley met with a share of ministerial favour more than proportioned to his talents or his political importance. It was, however, discovered that he had respectable talents for public business, and the first admittance to the minister’s levee being negotiated, his success became rapid. Sir Everard learned from the public ‘News-Letter,’ first, that Richard Waverley, Esquire, was returned for the ministerial borough of Barterfaith; next, that Richard Waverley, Esquire, had taken a distinguished part in the debate upon the Excise Bill in the support of government; and, lastly, that Richard Waverley, Esquire, had been honoured with a seat at one of those boards where the pleasure of serving the country is combined with other important gratifications, which, to render them the more acceptable, occur regularly once a quarter.
Although these events followed each other so closely that the sagacity of the editor of a modern newspaper would have presaged the two last even while he announced the first, yet they came upon Sir Everard gradually, and drop by drop, as it were, distilled through the cool and procrastinating alembic of Dyer’s ‘Weekly Letter.’16 For it may be observed in passing, that instead of those mail-coaches, by means of which every mechanic at his six-penny club, may nightly learn from twenty contradictory channels the yesterday’s news of the capital, a weekly post brought, in those days, to Waverley-Honour, a Weekly Intelligencer, which, after it had gratified Sir Everard’s curiosity, his sister’s, and that of his aged butler, was regularly transferred from the Hall to the Rectory, from the Rectory to Squire Stubbs’s at the Grange, from the Squire to the Baronet’s steward at his neat white house on the heath, from the steward to the bailiff, and from him through a huge circle of honest dames and gaffers, by whose hard and horny hands it was generally worn to pieces in about a month after its arrival.
This slow succession of intelligence was of some advantage to Richard Waverley in the case before us; for, had the sum total of his enormities reached the ears of Sir Everard at once, there can be no doubt that the new commissioner would have had little reason to pique himself on the success of his politics. The Baronet, although the mildest of human beings, was not without sensitive points in his character; his brother’s conduct had wounded these deeply; the Waverley estate was fettered by no entail (for it had never entered into the head of any of its former possessors that one of their progeny could be guilty of the atrocities laid by Dyer’s ‘Letter’ to the door of Richard), and if it had, the marriage of the proprietor might have been fatal to a collateral heir. These various ideas floated through the brain of Sir Everard without, however, producing any determined conclusion.
He examined the tree of his genealogy, which, emblazoned with many an emblematic mark of honour and heroic achievement, hung upon the well-varnished wainscot of his hall. The nearest descendants of Sir Hildebrand Waverley, failing those of his eldest son Wilfred, of whom Sir Everard and his brother were the only representatives, were, as this honoured register informed him (and, indeed, as he himself well knew), the Waverleys of Highley Park, com. Hants; with whom the main branch, or rather stock, of the house had renounced all connection since the great law-suit in 1670.
This degenerate scion had committed a farther offence against the head and source of their gentility, by the intermarriage of their representative with Judith, heiress of Oliver Bradshawe, of Highley Park, whose arms, the same with those of Bradshawe the regicide, they had quartered with the ancient coat of Waverley. These offences, however, had vanished from Sir Everard’s recollection in the heat of his resentment; and had Lawyer Clippurse, for whom his groom was despatched express, arrived but an hour earlier, he might have had the benefit of drawing a new settlement of the lordship and manor of Waverley-Honour, with all its dependencies. But an hour of cool reflection is a great matter when employed in weighing the comparative evil of two measures to neither of which we are internally partial. Lawyer Clippurse found his patron involved in a deep study, which he was too respectful to disturb, otherwise than by producing his paper and leathern ink-case, as prepared to minute his honour’s commands. Even this slight manoeuvre was embarrassing to Sir Everard, who felt it as a reproach to his indecision. He looked at the attorney with some desire to issue his fiat, when the sun, emerging from behind a cloud, poured at once its chequered light through the stained window of the gloomy cabinet in which they were seated. The Baronet’s eye, as he raised it to the splendour, fell right upon the central scutcheon, inpressed with the same device which his ancestor was said to have borne in the field of Hastings, — three ermines passant, argent, in a field azure, with its appropriate motto, Sans tache. ‘May our name rather perish,’ exclaimed Sir Everard, ‘than that ancient and loyal symbol should be blended with the dishonoured insignia of a traitorous Roundhead!’
All this was the effect of the glimpse of a sunbeam, just sufficient to light Lawyer Clippurse to mend his pen. The pen was mended in vain. The attorney was dismissed, with directions to hold himself in readiness on the first summons.
The apparition of Lawyer Clippurse at the Hall occasioned much speculation in that portion of the world to which Waverley-Honour formed the centre. But the more judicious politicians of this microcosm augured yet worse consequences to Richard Waverley from a movement which shortly followed his apostasy. This was no less than an excursion of the Baronet in his coach-and-six, with four attendants in rich liveries, to make a visit of some duration to a noble peer on the confines of the shire, of untainted descent, steady Tory principles, and the happy father of six unmarried and accomplished daughters.
Sir Everard’s reception in this family was, as it may be easily conceived, sufficiently favourable; but of the six young ladies, his taste unfortunately determined him in favour of Lady Emily, the youngest, who received his attentions with an embarrassment which showed at once that she durst not decline them, and that they afforded her anything but pleasure.
Sir Everard could not but perceive something uncommon in the restrained emotions which the young lady testified at the advances he hazarded; but, assured by the prudent Countess that they were the natural effects of a retired education, the sacrifice might have been completed, as doubtless has happened in many similar instances, had it not been for the courage of an elder sister, who revealed to the wealthy suitor that Lady Emily’s affections were fixed upon a young soldier of fortune, a near relation of her own.
Sir Everard manifested great emotion on receiving this intelligence, which was confirmed to him, in a private interview, by the young lady herself, although under the most dreadful apprehensions of her father’s indignation.
Honour and generosity were hereditary attributes of the house of Waverley. With a grace and delicacy worthy the hero of a romance, Sir Everard withdrew his claim to the hand of Lady Emily. He had even, before leaving Blandeville Castle, the address to extort from her father a consent to her union with the object of her choice. What arguments he used on this point cannot exactly be known, for Sir Everard was never supposed strong in the powers of persuasion; but the young officer, immediately after this transaction, rose in the army with a rapidity far surpassing the usual pace of unpatronised professional merit, although, to outward appearance, that was all he had to depend upon.
The shock which Sir Everard encountered upon this occasion, although diminished by the consciousness of having acted virtuously and generously had its effect upon his future life. His resolution of marriage had been adopted in a fit of indignation; the labour of courtship did not quite suit the dignified indolence of his habits; he had but just escaped the risk of marrying a woman who could never love him, and his pride could not be greatly flattered by the termination of his amour, even if his heart had not suffered. The result of the whole matter was his return to Waverley-Honour without any transfer of his affections, notwithstanding the sighs and languishments of the fair tell-tale, who had revealed, in mere sisterly affection, the secret of Lady Emily’s attachment, and in despite of the nods, winks, and innuendos of the officious lady mother, and the grave eulogiums which the Earl pronounced successively on the prudence, and good sense, and admirable dispositions, of his first, second, third, fourth, and fifth daughters.
The memory of his unsuccessful amour was with Sir Everard, as with many more of his temper, at once shy, proud, sensitive, and indolent, a beacon against exposing himself to similar mortification, pain, and fruitless exertion for the time to come. He continued to live at Waverley-Honour in the style of an old English gentleman, of an ancient descent and opulent fortune. His sister, Miss Rachel Waverley, presided at his table; and they became, by degrees, an old bachelor and an ancient maiden lady, the gentlest and kindest of the votaries of celibacy.
The vehemence of Sir Everard’s resentment against his brother was but short-lived; yet his dislike to the Whig and the placeman, though unable to stimulate him to resume any active measures prejudicial to Richard’s interest, in the succession to the family estate, continued to maintain the coldness between them. Richard knew enough of the world, and of his brother’s temper, to believe that by any ill-considered or precipitate advances on his part, he might turn passive dislike into a more active principle. It was accident, therefore, which at length occasioned a renewal of their intercourse. Richard had married a young woman of rank, by whose family interest and private fortune he hoped to advance his career. In her right he became possessor of a manor of some value, at the distance of a few miles from Waverley-Honour.
Little Edward, the hero of our tale, then in his fifth year, was their only child. It chanced that the infant with his maid had strayed one morning to a mile’s distance from the avenue of Brerewood Lodge, his father’s seat. Their attention was attracted by a carriage drawn by six stately long-tailed black horses, and with as much carving and gilding as would have done honour to my lord mayor’s. It was waiting for the owner, who was at a little distance inspecting the progress of a half-built farm-house. I know not whether the boy’s nurse had been a Welsh — or a Scotch-woman, or in what manner he associated a shield emblazoned with three ermines with the idea of personal property, but he no sooner beheld this family emblem than he stoutly determined on vindicating his right to the splendid vehicle on which it was displayed. The Baronet arrived while the boy’s maid was in vain endeavouring to make him desist from his determination to appropriate the gilded coach-and-six. The rencontre was at a happy moment for Edward, as his uncle had been just eyeing wistfully, with something of a feeling like envy, the chubby boys of the stout yeoman whose mansion was building by his direction. In the round-faced rosy cherub before him, bearing his eye and his name, and vindicating a hereditary title to his family, affection, and patronage, by means of a tie which Sir Everard held as sacred as either Garter or Blue-mantle, Providence seemed to have granted to him the very object best calculated to fill up the void in his hopes and affections. Sir Everard returned to Waverley-Hall upon a led horse, which was kept in readiness for him, while the child and his attendant were sent home in the carriage to Brerewood Lodge, with such a message as opened to Richard Waverley a door of reconciliation with his elder brother.
Their intercourse, however, though thus renewed, continued to be rather formal and civil than partaking of brotherly cordiality; yet it was sufficient to the wishes of both parties. Sir Everard obtained, in the frequent society of his little nephew, something on which his hereditary pride might found the anticipated pleasure of a continuation of his lineage, and where his kind and gentle affections could at the same time fully exercise themselves. For Richard Waverley, he beheld in the growing attachment between the uncle and nephew the means of securing his son’s, if not his own, succession to the hereditary estate, which he felt would be rather endangered than promoted by any attempt on his own part towards a closer intimacy with a man of Sir Everard’s habits and opinions.
Thus, by a sort of tacit compromise, little Edward was permitted to pass the greater part of the year at the Hall, and appeared to stand in the same intimate relation to both families, although their mutual intercourse was otherwise limited to formal messages and more formal visits. The education of the youth was regulated alternately by the taste and opinions of his uncle and of his father. But more of this in a subsequent chapter.
15 Where the Chevalier St. George, or, as he was termed, the Old Pretender, held his exiled court, as his situation compelled him to shift his place of residence.
16 Long the oracle of the country gentlemen of the high Tory party. The ancient News-Letter was written in manuscript and copied by clerks, who addressed the copies to the subscribers. The politician by whom they were compiled picked up his intelligence at coffee-houses, and often pleaded for an additional gratuity in consideration of the extra expense attached to frequenting such places of fashionable resort.
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