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A Border Middy
by [?]

One blustering February evening towards the close of the eighteenth century there sat in a back room in a little inn at Portsmouth three midshipmen, forlorn-looking and depressed to a degree quite at variance with the commonly accepted idea of the normal mental condition of midshipmen. It was a room, not in the famous “Blue Posts”–that hostelry beloved by lads of their rank in the service–but in a smaller, meaner, less frequented house in a very different quarter of the town, a quarter none too savoury, if the truth were told.

Why they had betaken themselves to this particular tavern in preference to that generally used by them, who can say. Perhaps–as Peter Simple’s coachman remarked on that occasion when Peter first made acquaintance with Portsmouth–perhaps it was because they had too often “forgotten to pay for their breakfastesses” at the “Blue Posts,” and had not the wherewithal to pay up arrears. In any case, here they were, and, midshipman-like, during their stay they had recklessly run up a larger bill than they had means to settle. There was no possibility of following the course recommended by the drunken sailor, namely, to “cut and run,” for the landlady of the inn was much too astute a personage to make that a possibility, and she had too little faith in human nature generally, and in that of midshipmen in particular, to let her consent to wait for her money till time and the end of their cruise again brought their frigate back to Portsmouth. Pay they must, by some means or other, for already the Blue Peter was flying at the fore and the Sirius would sail at daylight. If she sailed without them it was very plain that there was an end of their career in the Navy–they would be “broke.” Small wonder that the three middies were in the last stage of gloom. Their entire possessions, money and clothes, could not cover one half of what they owed, and every compromise had been rejected by the obdurate landlady. Appeal to their friends was useless, for time did not admit of an answer being received before the ship sailed. And escape was hopeless, for the one window that the room possessed was heavily barred, the door carefully locked, and the key kept in the capacious pocket of the landlady.

It was the very deuce of a situation–the devil to pay and no pitch hot. Again and again as the evening wore on they discussed possibilities; again and again the same conclusion was arrived at. Hope was dead. No doubt in the end their friends might pay up, but they groaned as the certainty forced itself on them that their career at sea was as good as over. If only they had been entitled to any prize-money! But prize-money there was none, and the few guineas each had had from home had long been idly squandered.

“We’re done, my boys; we’re done! Oh, Lord, what swabs we have been!” cried the senior of the three with a groan, laying his head on the table.

“Oh, never say die!” said another, a cheery-faced, ruddy lad with a noticeable Scottish accent. “I’ve been in as tight a hole before and got out of it all right. We’ve a few hours yet to come and go on. Something’s pretty sure to turn up.”

As he spoke the key was put in the door, and in came the landlady.

“Well! wot’s it goin’ to be? Am I to get that there money you owes me, or am I not? You ain’t got much time for shilly-shallyin’, I can tell you, young gentlemen. An’ paid I’m agoin’ to be, one way or other.”

She was a big-boned, florid, dark-eyed woman, well over thirty, somewhat inclined to be down-at-heel and slatternly, though not yet quite destitute of some small share of good looks; a woman solid of step and unattractive to the eye of youth; moreover, as they knew from recent experience, possessed of a rasping tongue.