‘Are you to take the field so soon, Fergus,’ he asked, ‘that you are making all these martial preparations?’
‘When we have settled that you go with me, you shall know all; but otherwise, the knowledge might rather be prejudicial to you.’
‘But are you serious in your purpose, with such inferior forces, to rise against an established government? It is mere frenzy.’
‘Laissez faire à Don Antoine; I shall take good care of myself. We shall at least use the compliment of Conan, who never got a stroke but he gave one. I would not, however,’ continued the Chieftain, ‘have you think me mad enough to stir till a favourable opportunity: I will not slip my dog before the game’s afoot. But, once more, will you join with us, and you shall know all?’
‘How can I?’ said Waverley; ‘I, who have so lately held that commission which is now posting back to those that gave it? My accepting it implied a promise of fidelity, and an acknowledgment of the legality of the government.’
‘A rash promise,’ answered Fergus, ‘is not a steel handcuff, it may be shaken off, especially when it was given under deception, and has been repaid by insult. But if you cannot immediately make up your mind to a glorious revenge, go to England, and ere you cross the Tweed you will hear tidings that will make the world ring; and if Sir Everard be the gallant old cavalier I have heard him described by some of our honest gentlemen of the year one thousand seven hundred and fifteen, he will find you a better horse-troop and a better cause than you have lost.’
‘But your sister, Fergus?’
‘Out, hyperbolical fiend!’ replied the Chief, laughing; ‘how vexest thou this man! Speak’st thou of nothing but of ladies?’
‘Nay, be serious, my dear friend,’ said Waverley; ‘I feel that the happiness of my future life must depend upon the answer which Miss Mac-Ivor shall make to what I ventured to tell her this morning.’
‘And is this your very sober earnest,’ said Fergus, more gravely, ‘or are we in the land of romance and fiction?’
‘My earnest, undoubtedly. How could you suppose me jesting on such a subject?’
‘Then, in very sober earnest,’ answered his friend, ‘I am very glad to hear it; and so highly do I think of Flora, that you are the only man in England for whom I would say so much. But before you shake my hand so warmly, there is more to be considered. Your own family—will they approve your connecting yourself with the sister of a high-born Highland beggar?’
‘My uncle’s situation,’ said Waverley, ‘his general opinions, and his uniform indulgence, entitle me to say, that birth and personal qualities are all he would look to in such a connection. And where can I find both united in such excellence as in your sister?’
‘O nowhere!—cela va sans dire,’ replied Fergus, with a smile. ‘But your father will expect a father’s prerogative in being consulted.’
‘Surely; but his late breach with the ruling powers removes all apprehension of objection on his part, especially as I am convinced that my uncle will be warm in my cause.’
‘Religion perhaps,’ said Fergus, ‘may make obstacles, though we are not bigotted Catholics.’
‘My grandmother was of the Church of Rome, and her religion was never objected to by my family. Do not think of my friends, dear Fergus; let me rather have your influence where it may be more necessary to remove obstacles—I mean with your lovely sister.’
‘My lovely sister,’ replied Fergus, ‘like her loving brother, is very apt to have a pretty decisive will of her own, by which, in this case, you must be ruled; but you shall not want my interest, nor my counsel. And, in the first place, I will give you one hint—Loyalty is her ruling passion; and since she could spell an English book she has been in love with the memory of the gallant Captain Wogan, who renounced the service of the usurper Cromwell to join the standard of Charles II, marched a handful of cavalry from London to the Highlands to join Middleton, then in arms for the king, and at length died gloriously in the royal cause. Ask her to show you some verses she made on his history and fate; they have been much admired, I assure you. The next point is—I think I saw Flora go up towards the waterfall a short time since; follow, man, follow! don’t allow the garrison time to strengthen its purposes of resistance. Alerte à la muraille! Seek Flora out, and learn her decision as soon as you can, and Cupid go with you, while I go to look over belts and cartouch-boxes.’
Waverley ascended the glen with an anxious and throbbing heart. Love, with all its romantic train of hopes, fears, and wishes, was mingled with other feelings of a nature less easily defined. He could not but remember how much this morning had changed his fate, and into what a complication of perplexity it was likely to plunge him. Sunrise had seen him possessed of an esteemed rank in the honourable profession of arms, his father to all appearance rapidly rising in the favour of his sovereign. All this had passed away like a dream: he himself was dishonoured, his father disgraced, and he had become involuntarily the confidant at least, if not the accomplice, of plans, dark, deep, and dangerous, which must infer either the subversion of the government he had so lately served or the destruction of all who had participated in them. Should Flora even listen to his suit favourably, what prospect was there of its being brought to a happy termination amid the tumult of an impending insurrection? Or how could he make the selfish request that she should leave Fergus, to whom she was so much attached, and, retiring with him to England, wait, as a distant spectator, the success of her brother’s undertaking, or the ruin of all his hopes and fortunes? Or, on the other hand, to engage himself, with no other aid than his single arm, in the dangerous and precipitate counsels of the Chieftain, to be whirled along by him, the partaker of all his desperate and impetuous motions, renouncing almost the power of judging, or deciding upon the rectitude or prudence of his actions, this was no pleasing prospect for the secret pride of Waverley to stoop to. And yet what other conclusion remained, saving the rejection of his addresses by Flora, an alternative not to be thought of in the present high-wrought state of his feelings with anything short of mental agony. Pondering the doubtful and dangerous prospect before him, he at length arrived near the cascade, where, as Fergus had augured, he found Flora seated.
She was quite alone, and as soon as she observed his approach she rose and came to meet him. Edward attempted to say something within the verge of ordinary compliment and conversation, but found himself unequal to the task. Flora seemed at first equally embarrassed, but recovered herself more speedily, and (an unfavourable augury for Waverley’s suit) was the first to enter upon the subject of their last interview. ‘It is too important, in every point of view, Mr. Waverley, to permit me to leave you in doubt on my sentiments.’
‘Do not speak them speedily,’ said Waverley, much agitated, ‘unless they are such as I fear, from your manner, I must not dare to anticipate. Let time—let my future conduct—let your brother’s influence—’
‘Forgive me, Mr. Waverley,’ said Flora, her complexion a little heightened, but her voice firm and composed. ‘I should incur my own heavy censure did I delay expressing my sincere conviction that I can never regard you otherwise than as a valued friend. I should do you the highest injustice did I conceal my sentiments for a moment. I see I distress you, and I grieve for it, but better now than later; and O, better a thousand times, Mr. Waverley, that you should feel a present momentary disappointment than the long and heart-sickening griefs which attend a rash and ill-assorted marriage!’
‘Good God!’ exclaimed Waverley, ‘why should you anticipate such consequences from a union where birth is equal, where fortune is favourable, where, if I may venture to say so, the tastes are similar, where you allege no preference for another, where you even express a favourable opinion of him whom you reject?’
‘Mr. Waverley, I have that favourable opinion,’ answered Flora; ‘and so strongly that, though I would rather have been silent on the grounds of my resolution, you shall command them, if you exact such a mark of my esteem and confidence.’
She sat down upon a fragment of rock, and Waverley, placing himself near her, anxiously pressed for the explanation she offered.
‘I dare hardly,’ she said, ‘tell you the situation of my feelings, they are so different from those usually ascribed to young women at my period of life; and I dare hardly touch upon what I conjecture to be the nature of yours, lest I should give offence where I would willingly administer consolation. For myself, from my infancy till this day I have had but one wish—the restoration of my royal benefactors to their rightful throne. It is impossible to express to you the devotion of my feelings to this single subject; and I will frankly confess that it has so occupied my mind as to exclude every thought respecting what is called my own settlement in life. Let me but live to see the day of that happy restoration, and a Highland cottage, a French convent, or an English palace will be alike indifferent to me.’
‘But, dearest Flora, how is your enthusiastic zeal for the exiled family inconsistent with my happiness?’
‘Because you seek, or ought to seek, in the object of your attachment a heart whose principal delight should be in augmenting your domestic felicity and returning your affection, even to the height of romance. To a man of less keen sensibility, and less enthusiastic tenderness of disposition, Flora Mac-Ivor might give content, if not happiness; for, were the irrevocable words spoken, never would she be deficient in the duties which she vowed.’
‘And why,—why, Miss Mac-Ivor, should you think yourself a more valuable treasure to one who is less capable of loving, of admiring you, than to me?’
‘Simply because the tone of our affections would be more in unison, and because his more blunted sensibility would not require the return of enthusiasm which I have not to bestow. But you, Mr. Waverley, would for ever refer to the idea of domestic happiness which your imagination is capable of painting, and whatever fell short of that ideal representation would be construed into coolness and indifference, while you might consider the enthusiasm with which I regarded the success of the royal family as defrauding your affection of its due return.’
‘In other words, Miss Mac-Ivor, you cannot love me?’ said her suitor dejectedly.
‘I could esteem you, Mr. Waverley, as much, perhaps more, than any man I have ever seen; but I cannot love you as you ought to be loved. O! do not, for your own sake, desire so hazardous an experiment! The woman whom you marry ought to have affections and opinions moulded upon yours. Her studies ought to be your studies; her wishes, her feelings, her hopes, her fears, should all mingle with yours. She should enhance your pleasures, share your sorrows, and cheer your melancholy.’
‘And why will not you, Miss Mac-Ivor, who can so well describe a happy union, why will not you be yourself the person you describe?’
‘Is it possible you do not yet comprehend me?’ answered Flora. ‘Have I not told you that every keener sensation of my mind is bent exclusively towards an event upon which, indeed, I have no power but those of my earnest prayers?’
‘And might not the granting the suit I solicit,’ said Waverley, too earnest on his purpose to consider what he was about to say, ‘even advance the interest to which you have devoted yourself? My family is wealthy and powerful, inclined in principles to the Stuart race, and should a favourable opportunity—’
‘A favourable opportunity!’ said Flora—somewhat scornfully. ‘Inclined in principles! Can such lukewarm adherence be honourable to yourselves, or gratifying to your lawful sovereign? Think, from my present feelings, what I should suffer when I held the place of member in a family where the rights which I hold most sacred are subjected to cold discussion, and only deemed worthy of support when they shall appear on the point of triumphing without it!’
‘Your doubts,’ quickly replied Waverley, ‘are unjust as far as concerns myself. The cause that I shall assert, I dare support through every danger, as undauntedly as the boldest who draws sword in its behalf.’
‘Of that,’ answered Flora, ‘I cannot doubt for a moment. But consult your own good sense and reason rather than a prepossession hastily adopted, probably only because you have met a young woman possessed of the usual accomplishments in a sequestered and romantic situation. Let your part in this great and perilous drama rest upon conviction, and not on a hurried and probably a temporary feeling.’
Waverley attempted to reply, but his words failed him. Every sentiment that Flora had uttered vindicated the strength of his attachment; for even her loyalty, although wildly enthusiastic, was generous and noble, and disdained to avail itself of any indirect means of supporting the cause to which she was devoted.
After walking a little way in silence down the path, Flora thus resumed the conversation.—‘One word more, Mr. Waverley, ere we bid farewell to this topic for ever; and forgive my boldness if that word have the air of advice. My brother Fergus is anxious that you should join him in his present enterprise. But do not consent to this; you could not, by your single exertions, further his success, and you would inevitably share his fall, if it be God’s pleasure that fall he must. Your character would also suffer irretrievably. Let me beg you will return to your own country; and, having publicly freed yourself from every tie to the usurping government, I trust you will see cause, and find opportunity, to serve your injured sovereign with effect, and stand forth, as your loyal ancestors, at the head of your natural followers and adherents, a worthy representative of the house of Waverley.’
‘And should I be so happy as thus to distinguish myself, might I not hope—’
‘Forgive my interruption,’ said Flora. ‘The present time only is ours, and I can but explain to you with candour the feelings which I now entertain; how they might be altered by a train of events too favourable perhaps to be hoped for, it were in vain even to conjecture. Only be assured, Mr. Waverley, that, after my brother’s honour and happiness, there is none which I shall more sincerely pray for than for yours.’
With these words she parted from him, for they were now arrived where two paths separated. Waverley reached the castle amidst a medley of conflicting passions. He avoided any private interview with Fergus, as he did not find himself able either to encounter his raillery or reply to his solicitations. The wild revelry of the feast, for Mac-Ivor kept open table for his clan, served in some degree to stun reflection. When their festivity was ended, he began to consider how he should again meet Miss Mac-Ivor after the painful and interesting explanation of the morning. But Flora did not appear. Fergus, whose eyes flashed when he was told by Cathleen that her mistress designed to keep her apartment that evening, went himself in quest of her; but apparently his remonstrances were in vain, for he returned with a heightened complexion and manifest symptoms of displeasure. The rest of the evening passed on without any allusion, on the part either of Fergus or Waverley, to the subject which engrossed the reflections of the latter, and perhaps of both.
When retired to his own apartment, Edward endeavoured to sum up the business of the day. That the repulse he had received from Flora would be persisted in for the present, there was no doubt. But could he hope for ultimate success in case circumstances permitted the renewal of his suit? Would the enthusiastic loyalty, which at this animating moment left no room for a softer passion, survive, at least in its engrossing force, the success or the failure of the present political machinations? And if so, could he hope that the interest which she had acknowledged him to possess in her favour might be improved into a warmer attachment? He taxed his memory to recall every word she had used, with the appropriate looks and gestures which had enforced them, and ended by finding himself in the same state of uncertainty. It was very late before sleep brought relief to the tumult of his mind, after the most painful and agitating day which he had ever passed.