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PAGE 2

A Border Middy
by [?]

“None o’ ye got anything to say? Well, then, I’ll tell you what I’m ready to do and let you go. One of you shall marry me! I don’t care two straws which of you it is. But if you three’re to get aboard your ship afore she sails, one of you’s got to come with me to the parson this night an’ be spliced. Take it or leave it; them’s my terms. For the good o’ my business I must ‘ave a ‘usband, now my old dad’s gone aloft. Whether he’s on the spot or not I don’t care not the value of a reefer’s button, so long as I can show my ‘lines.’ I’ll give you ‘alf an hour to make up your minds an’ settle atween you who’s goin’ to be the lucky one.”

And with that she left the room, again carefully locking the door and taking away the key.

Truly were they now between the devil and the deep sea. And no amount of discussion improved the prospect.

“We can’t do it, you know,” piteously cried one. “I’ll see her shot first.”

“Blest if I see any other way out of it,” said another.

“And she’s pretty old. She might perhaps die before we came back, mightn’t she?” hopefully ventured the third.

“Oh, stow that! She’s not more than forty, and she’s likely to live as long as any of us.”

“Well, if you won’t allow that she’s likely to oblige us by leaving this world, at anyrate you’ll admit that there’s always a goodish chance that the husband-elect may run up against a French cannonball and get out of the scrape that way. Anyhow, we’ve come to the end of our tether. The alternative’s ruin. It’s pretty black to windward, whichever way you look at it, but one way spells ruin for the lot of us; the other, at the worst, means disaster for only one. I vote we draw lots, and the man who draws the shortest lot wins–er … at least he marries the lady,” said the cheery-faced boy, with rather a rueful laugh.

“You’ll laugh perhaps on the wrong side of your face before all’s done. But, all right. If we must, we must. You make ready the lots, Watty, and I’ll take first draw. Only, I think if the bad luck’s mine, I’ll slip over the side some middle watch,” said the senior middy miserably.

With haggard young faces two drew, leaving the third lot to the Scottish boy.

“Thank Heaven!” cried the first, wiping his brow as he saw that his, at least, was not a short lot. “It’s yours, Watty, old boy,” he said to the middy from north of the Tweed.

“My God! what will my dear old mother say?” groaned the poor boy, with face grey as his own Border hills in a November drizzle. “Promise me, on your honour, both of you, to keep this miserable business a dead secret for ever…. Well, I’ve got to face it. Bring the woman in, and let’s have it over and get aboard.”

Watty Scott was a scion of a good Scottish Border family, a youth careless and harum-scarum as the most typical of middies, but a gentleman, and popular alike with officers and men. He was about eighteen, had already distinguished himself in more than one brush with the enemy, and was looked on as a most promising officer. But now…!

“Oh, little did my mother ken,
The day she cradled me,”

(might he have wailed), in what dire scrape the recklessness inherent in her boy would land him.

“I thought you’d take my terms,” said the landlady, when she came into the room. “Faith! an’ I’ve got the pick o’ the basket! Well, come along, my joker; we’ll be off to the parson. But you’ll take my arm all the way, d’ye see!–as is right an’ nat’ral for bride and bridegroom. You ain’t agoin’ to give me the slip afore the knot’s tied, I can tell you. Not if I knows it, young man.”