And then will canker sorrow eat her bud,
And chase the native beauty from her cheek;
And she will look as hollow as a ghost,
And dim and meagre as an ague fit,
And so she’ll die.
And such a catastrophe of the most gentle creature on earth might have been prevented if Mr. Edward Waverley had had his eyes! Upon my word, I cannot understand how I thought Flora so much, that is, so very much, handsomer than Rose. She is taller indeed, and her manner more formed; but many people think Miss Bradwardine’s more natural; and she is certainly much younger. I should think Flora is two years older than I am. I will look at them particularly this evening.’
And with this resolution Waverley went to drink tea (as the fashion was Sixty Years Since) at the house of a lady of quality attached to the cause of the Chevalier, where he found, as he expected, both the ladies. All rose as he entered, but Flora immediately resumed her place and the conversation in which she was engaged. Rose, on the contrary, almost imperceptibly made a little way in the crowded circle for his advancing the corner of a chair. ‘Her manner, upon the whole, is most engaging,’ said Waverley to himself.
A dispute occurred whether the Gaelic or Italian language was most liquid, and best adapted for poetry; the opinion for the Gaelic, which probably might not have found supporters elsewhere, was here fiercely defended by seven Highland ladies, who talked at the top of their lungs, and screamed the company deaf with examples of Celtic euphonia. Flora, observing the Lowland ladies sneer at the comparison, produced some reasons to show that it was not altogether so absurd; but Rose, when asked for her opinion, gave it with animation in praise of Italian, which she had studied with Waverley’s assistance. “She has a more correct ear than Flora, though a less accomplished musician,” said Waverley to himself. ‘I suppose Miss Mac-Ivor will next compare Mac-Murrough nan Fonn to Ariosto!’
Lastly, it so befell that the company differed whether Fergus should be asked to perform on the flute, at which he was an adept, or Waverley invited to read a play of Shakspeare; and the lady of the house good-humouredly undertook to collect the votes of the company for poetry or music, under the condition that the gentleman whose talents were not laid under contribution that evening should contribute them to enliven the next. It chanced that Rose had the casting vote. Now Flora, who seemed to impose it as a rule upon herself never to countenance any proposal which might seem to encourage Waverley, had voted for music, providing the Baron would take his violin to accompany Fergus. ‘I wish you joy of your taste, Miss Mac-Ivor,’ thought Edward, as they sought for his book. ‘I thought it better when we were at Glennaquoich; but certainly the Baron is no great performer, and Shakspeare is worth listening to.’
‘Romeo and Juliet’ was selected, and Edward read with taste, feeling, and spirit several scenes from that play. All the company applauded with their hands, and many with their tears. Flora, to whom the drama was well known, was among the former; Rose, to whom it was altogether new, belonged to the latter class of admirers. ‘She has more feeling too,’ said Waverley, internally.
The conversation turning upon the incidents of the play and upon the characters, Fergus declared that the only one worth naming, as a man of fashion and spirit, was Mercutio. ‘I could not,’ he said, ‘quite follow all his old-fashioned wit, but he must have been a very pretty fellow, according to the ideas of his time.’
‘And it was a shame,’ said Ensign Maccombich, who usually followed his Colonel everywhere, ‘for that Tibbert, or Taggart, or whatever was his name, to stick him under the other gentleman’s arm while he was redding the fray.’
The ladies, of course, declared loudly in favour of Romeo, but this opinion did not go undisputed. The mistress of the house and several other ladies severely reprobated the levity with which the hero transfers his affections from Rosalind to Juliet. Flora remained silent until her opinion was repeatedly requested, and then answered, she thought the circumstance objected to not only reconcilable to nature, but such as in the highest degree evinced the art of the poet. ‘Romeo is described,’ said she, ‘as a young man peculiarly susceptible of the softer passions; his love is at first fixed upon a woman who could afford it no return; this he repeatedly tells you,—
Now, as it was impossible that Romeo’s love, supposing him a reasonable being, could continue to subsist without hope, the poet has, with great art, seized the moment when he was reduced actually to despair to throw in his way an object more accomplished than her by whom he had been rejected, and who is disposed to repay his attachment. I can scarce conceive a situation more calculated to enhance the ardour of Romeo’s affection for Juliet than his being at once raised by her from the state of drooping melancholy in which he appears first upon the scene to the ecstatic state in which he exclaims—
———‘come what sorrow can,
It cannot countervail the exchange of joy
That one short moment gives me in her sight.’
‘Good now, Miss Mac-Ivor,’ said a young lady of quality, ‘do you mean to cheat us out of our prerogative? will you persuade us love cannot subsist without hope, or that the lover must become fickle if the lady is cruel? O fie! I did not expect such an unsentimental conclusion.’
‘A lover, my dear Lady Betty,’ said Flora, ‘may, I conceive, persevere in his suit under very discouraging circumstances. Affection can (now and then) withstand very severe storms of rigour, but not a long polar frost of downright indifference. Don’t, even with your attractions, try the experiment upon any lover whose faith you value. Love will subsist on wonderfully little hope, but not altogether without it.’
‘It will be just like Duncan Mac-Girdie’s mare,’ said Evan, ‘if your ladyships please, he wanted to use her by degrees to live without meat, and just as he had put her on a straw a day the poor thing died!’
Evan’s illustration set the company a-laughing, and the discourse took a different turn. Shortly afterwards the party broke up, and Edward returned home, musing on what Flora had said. ‘I will love my Rosalind no more,’ said he; ‘she has given me a broad enough hint for that; and I will speak to her brother and resign my suit. But for a Juliet—would it be handsome to interfere with Fergus’s pretensions? though it is impossible they can ever succeed; and should they miscarry, what then? why then alors comme alors.’ And with this resolution of being guided by circumstances did our hero commit himself to repose.