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A Border Middy
by [?]

Broken clergymen, broken by drink or what not, ready to go through anything for a consideration, were never hard to find in those days in a town such as Portsmouth, and all too soon the ceremony, binding enough, so far as Watty could see, was over. Then the new-made wife insisted, before the three lads left her, that she should stand them a good dinner, and as much wine as they cared to drink to the health of bride and bridegroom.

“An’ now,” she said to her husband ere the youngsters departed, “I aint agoin’ to send my man to sea with empty pockets. Put that in your purse!”

But Watty would have none of the five guineas she tried to force on him.

“Well, I think none the worse of you for that,” she cried. “Come, give us a kiss, at anyrate.” And with a shudder Watty Scott saluted his bride.

Never did the grey waters of the English Channel look more cheerless than they appeared to one unhappy midshipman of H.M.S. Sirius next morning, as the frigate beat down channel in the teeth of a strong westerly breeze; never before had life seemed to him a thing purposeless and void of hope. “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” The words rang in his ears still, with a solemnity that even the red-nosed, snuffy, broken-down parson who hiccuped through the service had not been able to kill. But, God! the irony of the thing–the ghastly mockery! To love and to cherish till death us do part! Verily, the iron entered into his soul; day and night the hideous burden crushed him. The castles in the air that, boylike, he had builded were crumbled into dust. Was this the end of all his dreams? Well, at least there was that friendly cannon-ball to be prayed for, or a French cutlass or pike in some boat expedition, if the Fates were kind.

The frigate’s orders were–Halifax with despatches; thereafter, the West India Station for an indefinite time. Six or eight weeks at Halifax, varied by some knocking about off the Nova Scotia coast, did not tend to relax Watty’s depression, but rather the contrary. For just before the frigate took her departure from those latitudes a lately received Portsmouth journal which reached the midshipmen’s berth had recorded the arrest on a serious charge of, amongst others, a woman giving her name as “Mrs. Walter Scott, licensee of the Goat’s Head Tavern, Portsmouth.” Now the Goat’s Head Tavern was that little inn where in an evil moment the three lads had taken up their abode before the sailing of the Sirius, and to Watty it appeared as if his disgrace must now be spread abroad by the four winds of heaven.

It was mental relief to get away out to sea, and to feel that now at least there was again some probability of the excitement of an action. To Bermuda, thence to Jamaica, were the orders; and surely in no part of the world was a ship of war more certain of active employment. Those were days removed by no great number of years from Rodney’s famous victory over de Grasse, and not yet had we completed the reduction of the French West India Islands; the greatest glutton of fighting could scarce fail to have his fill.

One night, after the frigate had left Bermuda, it had come on to blow desperately hard from the north-west, and with every hour the gale increased, till at length–when sail after sail, thundering and threshing, had come in–the ship lay almost under bare poles, straining in every timber and nosing her weather bow into the mountainous seas that swept by at intervals, ere they roared away into the murk to leeward.

It was the middle watch, and Watty had been standing for some time holding on by the lee mizzen rigging, peering eagerly into the darkness.