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- Mr. Midshipman Easy - 40/78 -
"But where have you been since you came out?" inquired Captain Tartar.
"In the Harpy," replied Jack; "to be sure, I belong to her."
"You belong to her! in what capacity, may I ask?" inquired Captain Tartar in a much less respectful and confidential tone.
"Midshipman," replied Jack; "so is Mr Gascoigne."
"Umph! you are on leave then?"
"No, indeed," replied Jack; "I'll tell you how it is, my dear fellow."
"Excuse me for one moment," replied Captain Tartar, rising up; "I must give some directions to my servant which I forgot."
Captain Tartar hailed his coxswain out of the window, gave orders just outside of the door, and then returned to the table. In the meantime, Gascoigne, who expected a breeze, had been cautioning Jack, in a low tone, at intervals, when Captain Tartar's back was turned: but it was useless; the extra quantity of wine had got into Jack's head, and he cared nothing for Gascoigne's remonstrance. When the captain resumed his seat at the table, Jack gave him the true narrative of all that had passed, to which his guest paid the greatest attention. Jack wound up his confidence by saying, that in a week or so he should go back to Don Rebiera and propose for Donna Agnes.
"Ah!" exclaimed Captain Tartar, drawing his breath with astonishment, and compressing his lip.
"Tartar, the wine stands with you," said Jack, "allow me to help you." Captain Tartar threw himself back in his chair, and let all the air out of his chest with a sort of whistle, as if he could hardly contain himself.
"Have you had wine enough?" said Jack, very politely; "if so, we will go to the Marquesa's."
The coxswain came to the door, touched his hat to the captain, and looked significantly.
"And so, sir," cried Captain Tartar, in a voice of thunder, rising from his chair, "you're a d---d runaway midshipman, who, if you belonged to my ship, instead of marrying Donna Agnes, I would marry you to the gunner's daughter, by G--d; two midshipmen sporting plain clothes in the best society in Palermo, and having the impudence to ask a post-captain to dine with them! To ask me and address me as 'Tartar,' and 'my dear fellow!' you infernal young scamps!" continued Captain Tartar, now boiling with rage, and striking his fist on the table so as to set all the glasses waltzing.
"Allow me to observe, sir," said Jack, who was completely sobered by the address, 'that we do not belong to your ship, and that we are in plain clothes.'
"In plain clothes--midshipmen in mufti--yes, you are so: a couple of young swindlers, without a sixpence in your pocket, passing yourselves off as young men of fortune, and walking off through the window without paying your bill."
"Do you mean to call me a swindler, sir," replied Jack.
"Yes, sir, you--"
"Then you lie!" exclaimed our hero in a rage. "I am a gentleman, sir--I am sorry I cannot pay you the same compliment."
The astonishment and rage of Captain Tartar took away his breath. He tried to speak, but could not--he gasped, and gasped, and then sat or almost fell down in his chair--at last he recovered himself.
"Sir," replied the coxswain, who had remained at the door.
"The sergeant of marines."
"Here he is, sir." The sergeant entered, and raised the back of his hand to his hat.
"Bring your marines in--take charge of these two. Directly you are on board, put them both legs in irons."
The marines with their bayonets walked in and took possession of our hero and Gascoigne.
"Perhaps, sir," replied Jack, who was now cool again, "you will permit us to pay our bill before we go on board. We are no swindlers, and it is rather a heavy one--or, as you have taken possession of our persons, you will, perhaps, do us the favour to discharge it yourself"; and Jack threw on the table a heavy purse of dollars. "I have only to observe, Captain Tartar, that I wish to be very liberal to the waiters."
"Sergeant, let them pay their bill," said Captain Tartar in a more subdued tone, taking his hat and sword, and walking out of the room.
"By heavens, Easy, what have you done?--you will be tried by a court-martial, and turned out of the service."
"I hope so," replied Jack; "I was a fool to come into it. But he called me a swindler, and I would give the same answer to-morrow."
"If you are ready, gentlemen," said the sergeant who had been long enough with Captain Tartar to be aware that to be punished by him was no proof of fault having been committed.
"I will go and pack up our things, Easy, while you pay the bill," said Gascoigne. "Marine, you had better come with me."
In less than half an hour, our hero and his comrade, instead of finding themselves at the Marquesa's ball, found themselves very comfortably in irons under the half-deck of his Majesty's frigate, Aurora.
We shall leave them, and return to Captain Tartar, who had proceeded to the ball, to which he had been invited. On his entering he was accosted by Don Martin and Don Philip, who inquired what had become of our hero and his friend. Captain Tartar who was in no very good humour, replied briskly, "that they were on board his ship in irons."
"In irons! for what?" exclaimed Don Philip. "Because, sir, they are a couple of young scamps who have introduced themselves into the best company, passing themselves off as people of consequence, when they are only a couple of midshipmen who have run away from their ship."
Now the Rebieras knew very well that Jack and his friend were midshipmen; but this did not appear to them any reason why they should not be considered as gentlemen, and treated accordingly.
"Do you mean to say, signor," said Don Philip, "that you have accepted their hospitality, laughed, talked, walked arm-in-arm with them, pledged them in wine, as we have seen you this evening, and after they have confided in you that you have put them in irons?"
"Yes, sir, I do," replied Captain Tartar.
"Then, by Heaven, you have my defiance, and you are no gentleman!" replied Don Philip, the elder.
"And I repeat my brother's words, sir," cried Don Martin. The two brothers felt so much attachment for our hero, who had twice rendered such signal service to their family, that their anger was without bounds.
In every other service but the English navy there is not that power of grossly insulting and then sheltering yourself under your rank; nor is it necessary for the discipline of any service. To these young officers, if the power did exist, the use of such power under such circumstances appeared monstrous, and they were determined, at all events, to show to Captain Tartar that in society, at least, it could be resented. They collected their friends, told them what had passed, and begged them to circulate it through the room. This was soon done, and Captain Tartar found himself avoided. He went up to the Marquesa and spoke to her, she turned her head the other way. He addressed a count he had been conversing with the night before--he turned short round upon his heel, while Don Philip and Don Martin walked up and down talking, so that he might hear what they said, and looking at him with eyes flashing with indignation. Captain Tartar left the ballroom and returned to the inn, more indignant than ever. When he rose the next morning he was informed that a gentleman wished to speak with him; he sent up his card as Don Ignatio Verez, colonel commanding the fourth regiment of infantry. On being admitted, he informed Captain Tartar that Don Philip de Rebiera wished to have the pleasure of crossing swords with him, and requested to know when it would be convenient for Captain Tartar to meet him.
It was not in Captain Tartar's nature to refuse a challenge; his courage was unquestionable, but he felt indignant that a midshipman should be the cause of his getting into such a scrape. He accepted the challenge, but having no knowledge of the small sword, refused to fight unless with pistols. To this the colonel raised no objections, and Captain Tartar despatched his coxswain with a note to his second lieutenant, for he was not on good terms with his first. The meeting took place--at the first fire the ball of Don Philip passed through Captain Tartar's brain, and he instantly fell dead. The second lieutenant hastened on board to report the fatal result of the meeting, and shortly after, Don Philip and his brother, with many of their friends, went off in the Governor's barge to condole with our hero.
The first lieutenant, now captain "pro tempore," received them graciously, and listened to their remonstrances relative to our hero and Gascoigne.
"I have never been informed by the captain of the grounds of complaint against the young gentlemen," replied he, "and have therefore no charge to prefer against them. I shall therefore order them to be liberated. But as I learn that they are officers belonging to one of his Majesty's ships lying at Malta, I feel it my duty, as I sail immediately, to take them there and send them on board of their own ship."
Jack and Gascoigne were then taken out of irons and permitted to see Don Philip, who informed them that he had revenged the insult, but Jack and Gascoigne did not wish to go on shore again after what had passed. After an hour's conversation, and assurances of continued friendship, Don Philip, his brother, and their friends, took leave of
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