Influenced by these feelings, the Chief now led Waverley in quest of Miss Mac-Ivor, not without the hope that the present agitation of his guest’s spirits might give him courage to cut short what Fergus termed the romance of the courtship. They found Flora, with her faithful attendants, Una and Cathleen, busied in preparing what appeared to Waverley to be white bridal favours. Disguising as well as he could the agitation of his mind, Waverley asked for what joyful occasion Miss Mac-Ivor made such ample preparation.
‘It is for Fergus’s bridal,’ she said, smiling.
‘Indeed!’ said Edward; ‘he has kept his secret well. I hope he will allow me to be his bride’s-man.’
‘That is a man’s office, but not yours, as Beatrice says,’ retorted Flora.
‘And who is the fair lady, may I be permitted to ask, Miss Mac-Ivor?’
‘Did not I tell you long since that Fergus wooed no bride but Honour?’ answered Flora.
‘And am I then incapable of being his assistant and counsellor in the pursuit of honour?’ said our hero, colouring deeply. ‘Do I rank so low in your opinion?’
‘Far from it, Captain Waverley. I would to God you were of our determination! and made use of the expression which displeased you, solely
Because you are not of our quality,
But stand against us as an enemy.’
‘That time is past, sister,’ said Fergus; ‘and you may wish Edward Waverley (no longer captain) joy of being freed from the slavery to an usurper, implied in that sable and ill-omened emblem.’
‘Yes,’ said Waverley, undoing the cockade from his hat, ‘it has pleased the king who bestowed this badge upon me to resume it in a manner which leaves me little reason to regret his service.’
‘Thank God for that!’ cried the enthusiast; ‘and O that they may be blind enough to treat every man of honour who serves them with the same indignity, that I may have less to sigh for when the struggle approaches!’
‘And now, sister,’ said the Chieftain, ‘replace his cockade with one of a more lively colour. I think it was the fashion of the ladies of yore to arm and send forth their knights to high achievement.’
‘Not,’ replied the lady, ‘till the knight adventurer had well weighed the justice and the danger of the cause, Fergus. Mr. Waverley is just now too much agitated by feelings of recent emotion for me to press upon him a resolution of consequence.’
Waverley felt half alarmed at the thought of adopting the badge of what was by the majority of the kingdom esteemed rebellion, yet he could not disguise his chagrin at the coldness with which Flora parried her brother’s hint. ‘Miss Mac-Ivor, I perceive, thinks the knight unworthy of her encouragement and favour,’ said he, somewhat bitterly.
‘Not so, Mr. Waverley,’ she replied, with great sweetness. ‘Why should I refuse my brother’s valued friend a boon which I am distributing to his whole clan? Most willingly would I enlist every man of honour in the cause to which my brother has devoted himself. But Fergus has taken his measures with his eyes open. His life has been devoted to this cause from his cradle; with him its call is sacred, were it even a summons to the tomb. But how can I wish you, Mr. Waverley, so new to the world, so far from every friend who might advise and ought to influence you,—in a moment, too, of sudden pique and indignation,—how can I wish you to plunge yourself at once into so desperate an enterprise?’
Fergus, who did not understand these delicacies, strode through the apartment biting his lip, and then, with a constrained smile, said, ‘Well, sister, I leave you to act your new character of mediator between the Elector of Hanover and the subjects of your lawful sovereign and benefactor,’ and left the room.
There was a painful pause, which was at length broken by Miss Mac-Ivor. ‘My brother is unjust,’ she said, ‘because he can bear no interruption that seems to thwart his loyal zeal.’
‘And do you not share his ardour?’ asked Waverley,
‘Do I not?’ answered Flora. ‘God knows mine exceeds his, if that be possible. But I am not, like him, rapt by the bustle of military preparation, and the infinite detail necessary to the present undertaking, beyond consideration of the grand principles of justice and truth, on which our enterprise is grounded; and these, I am certain, can only be furthered by measures in themselves true and just. To operate upon your present feelings, my dear Mr. Waverley, to induce you to an irretrievable step, of which you have not considered either the justice or the danger, is, in my poor judgment, neither the one nor the other.’
‘Incomparable Flora!’ said Edward, taking her hand, ‘how much do I need such a monitor!’
‘A better one by far,’ said Flora, gently withdrawing her hand, ‘Mr. Waverley will always find in his own bosom, when he will give its small still voice leisure to be heard.’
‘No, Miss Mac-Ivor, I dare not hope it; a thousand circumstances of fatal self-indulgence have made me the creature rather of imagination than reason. Durst I but hope—could I but think—that you would deign to be to me that affectionate, that condescending friend, who would strengthen me to redeem my errors, my future life—’
‘Hush, my dear sir! now you carry your joy at escaping the hands of a Jacobite recruiting officer to an unparalleled excess of gratitude.’
‘Nay, dear Flora, trifle with me no longer; you cannot mistake the meaning of those feelings which I have almost involuntarily expressed; and since I have broken the barrier of silence, let me profit by my audacity. Or may I, with your permission, mention to your brother—’
‘Not for the world, Mr. Waverley!’
‘What am I to understand?’ said Edward. ‘Is there any fatal bar—has any prepossession—’
‘None, sir,’ answered Flora. ‘I owe it to myself to say that I never yet saw the person on whom I thought with reference to the present subject.’
‘The shortness of our acquaintance, perhaps—If Miss Mac-Ivor will deign to give me time—’
‘I have not even that excuse. Captain Waverley’s character is so open—is, in short, of that nature that it cannot be misconstrued, either in its strength or its weakness.’
‘And for that weakness you despise me?’ said Edward.
‘Forgive me, Mr. Waverley—and remember it is but within this half hour that there existed between us a barrier of a nature to me insurmountable, since I never could think of an officer in the service of the Elector of Hanover in any other light than as a casual acquaintance. Permit me then to arrange my ideas upon so unexpected a topic, and in less than an hour I will be ready to give you such reasons for the resolution I shall express as may be satisfactory at least, if not pleasing to you.’ So saying Flora withdrew, leaving Waverley to meditate upon the manner in which she had received his addresses.
Ere he could make up his mind whether to believe his suit had been acceptable or no, Fergus re-entered the apartment. ‘What, à la mort, Waverley?’ he cried. ‘Come down with me to the court, and you shall see a sight worth all the tirades of your romances. An hundred firelocks, my friend, and as many broadswords, just arrived from good friends; and two or three hundred stout fellows almost fighting which shall first possess them. But let me look at you closer. Why, a true Highlander would say you had been blighted by an evil eye. Or can it be this silly girl that has thus blanked your spirit. Never mind her, dear Edward; the wisest of her sex are fools in what regards the business of life.’
‘Indeed, my good friend,’ answered Waverley, ‘all that I can charge against your sister is, that she is too sensible, too reasonable.’
‘If that be all, I ensure you for a louis-d’or against the mood lasting four-and-twenty hours. No woman was ever steadily sensible for that period; and I will engage, if that will please you, Flora shall be as unreasonable to-morrow as any of her sex. You must learn, my dear Edward, to consider women en mousquetaire.’ So saying, he seized Waverley’s arm and dragged him off to review his military preparations.