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The tremendous speed of the Bellevite had been telling with prodigious effect upon the distance between the two steamers, which was now reduced to not more than a mile and a half. Captain Rombold could not help realizing by this time that the American-built vessel outsailed the English-built. If the Trafalgar was good for twenty knots an hour, as represented, she had hardly attained that speed, as Captain Breaker judged by comparison with that of his own ship.
The Armstrong gun was still silent and it was pretty well settled that it had been disabled. In this connection Christy recalled something he had read in Simpson about the "inability of the Armstrong gun to resist impact," and he sent Midshipman Walters to bring the volume from his state-room. When it came he found the place, and read that three shots had been fired into one of them from a nine-pounder, either of which would 159 have been fatal to the piece; and the section described the effect of each upon it.
He showed the book open at the place to Captain Breaker; but he had read it, and carried the whole matter in his mind. The gun quoted was weak, though the one on the deck of the Tallahatchie was vastly larger; but a correspondingly heavy force had been brought to bear upon it.
"I am satisfied that the enemy's long gun has been disabled; and while she continues the attempt to run away from us, she is unable to use her broadside guns to advantage, for she cannot bring them to bear upon us without coming to," said the commander. "But we are gaining at least a knot and a half an hour on her, and she must soon change her tactics."
"That is evident enough, sir," added Christy.
"The captain of that ship is a brave fellow, and I am confident he will fight as long as there is anything left of him," continued the captain as he occasionally directed his glass at the chase.
"He certainly will, sir, for I have seen his ship knocked out from under him, when he had abundant excuse for hauling down his flag before he did so; and we had hardly time on board of the Chateaugay 160 to save his people before his vessel went to the bottom," continued Christy. "More than that, he is a gentleman and a scholar."
"You have told me about him, Christy; and I believe you suggested to Captain Chantor his best plan of action."
"I simply indicated what I should do in his place, and he adopted the method I mentioned," added Christy modestly.
"We may find it advisable to resort to the same plan, though I must add that it is by no means original with you. It was adopted in the war of 1812 with England."
"I did not claim the method as original, and knew very well that it was not so," replied the lieutenant.
"The conditions on both sides must be favorable to the method or it cannot be adopted. One of the ships must have heavier metal than the other, so that she can knock her enemy to pieces at her leisure, and at the same time greater speed, so that she can keep out of the reach of guns of shorter range."
"I am sorry I could not obtain more definite information in regard to the broadside guns of the 161 Tallahatchie," added Christy. "Bokes was a stupid fellow, drunk whenever he could obtain liquor, and could remember very little of what he heard on board of the steamer. But you have the long range Parrot, and I have no doubt you can knock her to pieces in your own time, since it has been demonstrated that we can outsail her."
But at this moment the conversation was disturbed by the movement of the chase, which appeared to be again preparing to come about. The commander ordered the helm to be put to starboard to avoid being raked, and directed that the pivot gun should be discharged at the enemy. The enemy fired a broadside of three guns in quick succession, the solid shots from all them striking the Bellevite between wind and water. The carpenter's gang was hurried below to plug the shot holes.
Blumenhoff secured his aim and fired; but this time he was less happy than on the former occasion, and though the shot went between the masts, no great damage appeared to be done. The enemy started her screw immediately, and swung around so as to present her starboard broadside before the Parrot could be made ready for another shot. The 162 Tallahatchie delivered another three shots, two of which went wide of the mark. The third struck the carriage of the pivot gun, but fortunately it was not disabled, for it had been built to resist a heavier ball than the one which had struck it.
The captain of the Bellevite gave the order to Christy to swing to the ship, and give the enemy a broadside. The order was promptly executed as the enemy came about and resumed her course to the southward, which was certainly a very bad movement on her part. The four guns on the port side, two sixties and two thirties, sent their solid shots over the stern of the Tallahatchie.
A moment later, as the fresh breeze carried away the smoke to the north-east, the crew set up a lively cheer, for the mizzen mast of the chase toppled over into the water, and the pilot house seemed to have been knocked into splinters.
"Well done!" exclaimed Captain Breaker, clapping his hands as he faced the guns' crews on the port side, and Christy joined him in the demonstration.
The men of the division gave another lusty cheer in response to the approval of the two chief officers. The captain had already ordered the ship to be put 163 about so as to deliver the starboard broadside, and the other division of guns were impatient to have their chance at the enemy.
Christy had clapped his hands with his spy-glass under his arm; and when he had rendered his tribute of applause, he directed the instrument to the enemy. A squad of men were at work over the ruins of the pilot house, which was still forward, as the vessel had been built for a pleasure yacht, and another gang were getting the ............
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