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Captain Breaker watched the Tallahatchie with the most earnest attention; and it was not five minutes after he had given out the new course before she changed her direction, though not to the south, but enough to carry her clear of the Passes of the Mississippi. Paul Vapoor was still crowding the engine to the utmost that could be done with safety, and he spent no little of his time in the fire room, personally directing the men in the work of feeding the furnaces.
It was evident to the commander that his ship was gaining on the Tallahatchie, at least a knot an hour, as he estimated it, and the chase could not now be more than four miles distant. This was within the range of her Armstrong gun, if it was of the calibre reported by Bokes, whose information was mere hearsay, and was open to many doubts.
"She is changing her course again, Captain 148 Breaker," said Mr. Ballard, who had been observing the chase with the best glass on board.
"Probably she has discovered a man-of-war in the distance," added the captain.
"I cannot make out anything to the westward of her," said Mr. Ballard, who had directed his glass that way.
"She knows very well that she is liable to encounter a Federal ship on the course she is running. How does she head now?"
"As nearly south as I can make it out."
"Then we have made something on her by going to the south south-west in good season; and I am sorry I did not do it sooner," replied the commander, as he went into a fine calculation, estimating sundry angles, and figuring on the gain he was confident he had already made.
"I think she is headed due south now, Captain," said Mr. Ballard.
"So I should say, and we are headed a little too much to the westward. Make the course south by west half west, Mr. Ballard."
This course was given to the quartermaster conning the wheel. For another hour the two steamers kept on the course taken, at the end of which 149 time the captain believed they were within three miles of each other; and the appearance, as viewed by skilful and experienced officers, verified his estimate of the relative speed of both—that the Bellevite was gaining about a knot an hour on the chase.
They had hardly agreed upon the situation before a cloud of smoke was seen to rise from the waist of the Tallahatchie, followed by the report of a heavy gun. The projectile struck the water at least a quarter of a mile ahead of the Bellevite, at which the watch on deck gave a half-suppressed cheer.
"They must have better gunners than that indicates on board of that steamer, for she has been fitted out as a cruiser," said the commander with a quiet smile.
Twenty minutes later another puff of smoke, followed by a second report, excited the attention of an officer on the deck of the loyal ship. The shot struck the water only a little less ahead of the ship than the former, and the crew gave a more vigorous cheer: but it was observed that it hit the sea a little on the starboard bow, so that if it had been better aimed it would not have reached the ship.
150 "She is wasting her ammunition," said the captain. "She seems to be jesting, or else she is trying to frighten us."
"I think it is some thing worse than that, Captain Breaker," replied Mr. Ballard.
"What could be worse?"
"I am inclined to the opinion that she cannot swing the gun around so as to make it bear on an object so far astern of her as this ship is at the present moment." said the lieutenant.
"He has an all sufficient remedy for that," added the captain. "He can swing his ship's head around so his gun will bear on us."
"But that would cause him to lose a quarter of a mile or more of his advantage; and she seems to be more inclined to run away from the Bellevite than to fight her," suggested the lieutenant.
"Call all hands, Mr. Ballard," said the commander; and in a few minutes all the officers and seamen were at their stations.
The call awoke Christy from his slumber, which the report of the gun and the cheering of the men had failed to do. But he understood the summons, and thought the action was about to begin. He adjusted his dress and hastened to the quarter deck, 151 where he reported in due form to the captain. Mr. Ballard was relieved of his duties as acting executive officer, and went to his proper station to take command of his division. Christy took a careful survey of the situation, and saw that the Bellevite had gained at least two knots on the chase. The Holyoke and the West Wind were no longer in sight, though the fog seemed to be still hanging about the entrance to Mobile Bay.
"The Tallahatchie has fired two shots at us, Mr. Passford; but she wasted her ammunition," said the commander. "I am inclined to agree with Mr. Ballard that she cannot swing her Armstrong gun so as to cover the Bellevite."
"She has stopped her screw, sir!" exclaimed the first lieutenant, who was looking at the chase through the best glass.
"Make the course west, Mr. Passford!" said the captain with energy.
"Quartermaster, make it west!" shouted Christy.
"West, sir!" repeated the quartermaster, as he caused the helmsmen to heave over the wheel.
Directing his glass to the chase again, Christy saw the Tallahatchie swing around so that she was broadside to the Bellevite. Almost at the same 152 moment the smoke rose from her deck, and the sound of the gun reached the ears of the officers and crew. The shot passed with a mighty whiz between the fore and main mast of the ship, cutting away one of the fore topsail braces, but doing no other damage. The seamen cheered as they had before. The Tallahatchie started her............
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