Insult of the week: a crop-eared English Whig

waverley - flung her plaid
18th-century pub landladies of the Scottish Highlands don’t need no bouncers

In chapter 11, we find young Englishman Edward Waverley enjoying – or trying to enjoy – a convivial evening with his host, Baron Bradwardine, and three other Scottish companions: bailiff Duncan MacWheeble, and the pugnacious young lairds of Balmawhapple and Killancureit.  Prodigious quantities of drink are consumed, and Waverley manfully does his best to keep up.  With the help of a little discreet refusing of the glass every now and then, he manages to stay upright throughout the proceedings.

All goes well, and with a little effort at civility from all parties (their two countries are, after all, at war), the mood remains merry for much of the evening.  Disaster looms, however, when Edward, the Baron and the two lairds stop off to pay their respects to a local shebeen,  and the conversation turns to that most reliable of party-ruining topics – politics:

Inspired by [the latest supply of claret], the Laird of Balmawhapple, now superior to the nods and winks with which the Baron of Bradwardine, in delicacy to Edward, had hitherto checked his entering upon political discussion, demanded a bumper, with the lungs of a Stentor, ‘to the little gentleman in black velvet who did such service in 1702, and may the white horse break his neck over a mound of his making!’

Edward isn’t quite sure what this toast is meant to be about – as it happens, “the little gentleman in black velvet” is the mole responsible for the molehill that caused King William’s horse to trip and fall – but he doesn’t like the sound of it.

Before he has time to react, however, Baron Bradwardine has already taken umbrage on his behalf, and has declared Balmawhapple to be “ignorant, sir, alike of ancient history and modern courtesy”.

‘…for you, Mr. Falconer of Balmawhapple, I warn ye, let me see no more aberrations from the paths of good manners.’

‘And I tell you, Mr. Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine of Bradwardine and Tully-Veolan,’ retorted the sportsman in huge disdain, ‘that I’ll make a moor-cock of the man that refuses my toast, whether it be a crop-eared English Whig wi’ a black ribband at his lug, or ane wha deserts his ain friends to claw favour wi’ the rats of Hanover.’

Rapiers are drawn, but both lairds are so drunk as to be hardly able to find each other in the room, let alone fight.  Edward’s attempt to intervene could potentially have ended in bloodshed – for himself at least – but at a crucial moment, he is brought low by tripping over another of the four remaining drinking companions, who is halfway under the table:

How Killancureit happened to be in this recumbent posture at so interesting a moment was never accurately known.

Their landlady Luckie Macleary, an old hand at dealing with drunken swordfighting in her establishment, rushes in and chastises the fighters by draping her tartan over their swords.  The combatants are safely separated (“Balmawhapple, cursing, swearing, and vowing revenge against every Whig, Presbyterian, and fanatic in England and Scotland, from John-o’-Groat’s to the Land’s End”) and despatched to their beds, with no harm done.

Unfortunately for Waverley, though, the bad feeling engendered by this episode will have repercussions for him later on in the novel.

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