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A Border Middy
by [?]

“I’ve thought two or three times, sir, that I can see something to leeward of us,” he reported to the officer of the watch.

And presently the “something”–a mere patch of denser black in a darkness emphasized more than relieved by the grey-white crests of breaking seas–resolved itself into a large vessel, which as day broke was seen to be a frigate, like themselves under the shortest of canvas, and with all possible top-hamper down on deck. Pitching and rolling heavily, she lay; sometimes, as a sea struck her, half buried in a grey-green mountain of foam and flying spray that left her spouting cascades of water from her scuppers; one moment, as she rose, heaving her fore-foot clean out of the water, showing the glint of the copper on her bottom; the next, plunging wildly down, till some mighty billow, roaring aloft between the vessels, hid each from the other’s ken as effectually as if the ocean had swallowed them.

The stranger had hoisted French colours, and the Sirius beat to quarters. But as far as possibility of engaging was concerned, the ships might have been a hundred leagues apart: the sea ran far too high. And so there all day they lay, impotent to harm each other.

When grey dawn came on the second morning, bringing with it weather more moderate, the French frigate was seen under easy sail far to leeward, evidently repairing damage aloft, and, in spite of every effort on the part of the Sirius, it was late afternoon ere the first shot was fired.

Darkness had begun to fall as the French ship struck her colours after a bloody action in which her losses mounted to over one hundred men, including her captain and several officers. In less degree the Sirius suffered; and of those who fell, Watty was one. Early in the engagement he was carried below, badly torn by a severe and dangerous splinter wound in the head.

“There goes poor Watty–out of his trouble, anyhow,” cried one of the three friends.

Thereafter, the life in him hovered long ‘twixt this world and the next, and weeks passed ere, in the house of a friend at Kingston, Jamaica, he came once more to his full senses. Even then his progress was but dilatory.

“I can’t make the boy out,” said his doctor. “He ought to get well now. Yet he doesn’t. Doesn’t seem to make an effort, somehow. If he was a bit older you’d think he didn’t want to live. It’s not natural. If he were to get any little complication now, he’d go.”

And so the listless weeks dragged on, and it was but a ghost of the once merry boy that each morning crept wearily and with infinite labour from his room to the wide, pleasant verandah. And there he would pass his days, vacantly listening with dull ears to the cool sea-breeze whispering through the trees, or brooding over his misery. Sometimes, in his weak state, tears of self-pity would roll unheeded down his cheeks; he pined for the heather of his native hills, for the murmur of Tweed and Teviot, and for the faces of his own people. Never again could the happiness be his to live once more in the dearly loved Border land; for how could he face home when that terrible fate awaited his landing at Portsmouth. “Oh! why had he been guilty of folly so great? Why had he thus made a shipwreck of life’s voyage almost at its very outset?”

Yet at last there came a morning when the cloud of depression began to lift from his mind. An English packet had arrived, bearing despatches for the Admiral, and, as Watty languidly turned the pages of a late Steel’s List, ambition once more awoke on finding his name amongst the promotions. Braced in mind, and roused from his apathy by this unlooked-for good fortune, he turned to other papers brought out by the packet, and waded steadily through the news sheets. There was little at first that interested him. But presently, as he picked up a little Portsmouth journal, a paragraph that caught his eye fetched from him a shout that roused the house and brought his host flying to the verandah.

“What the deuce ails you? Confound it, the boy’s off his head again!” he cried.

“Heaven be thanked! My wife’s hanged!” shouted Watty.

“Oh! mad as a March hare!” fussed his host, running into the house. “Mad, sure enough. Must send off a boy for the doctor.”

But Watty’s news was true. The paragraph which had caught his eye as he picked up the Portsmouth paper was, in effect, the continuation and conclusion of that other announcement which he had seen at Halifax, and was indeed an account of the execution for robbery and murder of certain persons, amongst whom, as “accessory before the fact,” was the landlady of the “Goat’s Head” Tavern.

It is uncertain if Lieutenant Walter Scott ever returned to settle in the Border; but he was a cousin of Sir Walter, who gave to Captain Basil Hall, R.N., some outline of such a story as is here told.