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Having assured himself that the ship was fully up with Cape Henlopen, Christy retired to his cabin, and still "alone in his glory," he broke the seal of the official envelope. He was to cruise outside of the blockaders, and report to the flag-officer when opportunity presented. Just then it was believed that Richmond, which received all its foreign supplies from Wilmington, could not long hold out if it was captured; and the Secretary of the Navy was giving special attention to the forts which protected it.
It was evident to the young commander that he was not to rust in inactivity, as had been the case of late off Mobile Bay, and a wide field of operations was open to him. His instructions were minute, but they did not confine his ship to the immediate vicinity of the mouth of the Cape Fear River. It was evident that the speed of the St. 313 Regis had been an important factor in framing the secret orders.
If a blockade-runner eluded or outsailed the vessels of the fleet near the coast, the St. Regis was expected to "pick her up." On the other hand, the fastest of the vessels were sent out farther from the shore, and the ship was expected to support them. Christy realized that he should be called upon to exercise his judgment in many difficult situations, and he could only hope that he should be equal to such occasions.
"Good-morning, Captain Passford," said Paul Vapoor, saluting him on the quarter-deck. "I hope you slept well in your brief watch below."
"I did not sleep a wink, I was so anxious to read my orders. But I know them now, and I feel as cool as an arctic iceberg. I shall sleep when I turn in again."
"Well, where are we going, Captain, if it is no longer a secret?" asked the engineer.
"It is not a secret now; and we are to cruise off the mouth of the Cape Fear River," replied the commander, as he proceeded to give the information more in detail.
"We are not likely to have any hot work then 314 if we are only to chase blockade-runners," added Paul.
"Probably we can render greater service to our country in this manner than in any other way, or we should not have been sent to this quarter," said Christy, with a long gape.
Paul saw that his friend was sleepy, and he bade him good-night. The commander went to his stateroom, and was soon fast asleep, from which he did not wake till eight o' clock in the morning. When he went on deck the ship was carrying all sail. The second lieutenant had the deck, and he asked him what speed the steamer was making.
"The last log showed seventeen knots an hour," replied Mr. Makepeace.
"I hope you slept well, Captain Passford," said the chief engineer, saluting him at this minute.
"I slept like a log till eight bells this morning," replied Christy.
"Mr. Makepeace reports the last log at seventeen knots," continued Paul. "But the ship is not making revolutions enough per hour for more than fifteen, for I have got the hang of her running now. The wind is blowing half a gale, and the canvas is giving her two knots."
315 No events transpired on board worthy a special chronicle during the day. The men were drilled in various exercises, and gave excellent satisfaction to their officers. The next morning the St. Regis was off Cape Hatteras, and though it is a greater bugbear than it generally deserves, it gave the ship a taste of its quality. The wind had hauled around to the south-west, and was blowing a lively gale. The sails had been furled in the morning watch, and off the cape the course had been changed to south-west.
Just before eight bells in the afternoon watch, when the ship was making fifteen knots an hour, the lookout man on the top-gallant forecastle called out "Sail, ho!" and all eyes were directed ahead.
"Where away?" demanded the officer of the deck sharply.
"Close on the lee bow, sir!" returned the lookout.
The commander was in his cabin studying the chart of the coast of North Carolina; but the report was promptly sent to him, and he hastened on deck.
"Another sail on the port bow, sir!" shouted a 316 seaman who had been sent to the fore cross trees with a spy-glass.
"What are they?" asked Christy, maintaining his dignity in spite of the excitement which had begun to invade his being.
"Both steamers, sir," replied the officer of the deck.
"The head one is a blockade-runner, I know by the cut of her jib, sir," shouted the man with the glass on the cross trees.
All the glasses on board were immediately directed to the two vessels. Christy could plainly make out the steamer that had the lead. She was a piratical-looking craft, setting very low in the water, with two smoke stacks, both raking at the same angle as her two masts. The wind was not fair, and she could not carry sail; but the "bone in her teeth" indicated that she was going through the water at great speed.
"A gun from the chaser, sir!" shouted the man aloft.
The cloud of smoke was seen, and the report of the gun reached the ears of all on board the St. Regis.
"There is no mistaking what all that means, 317 Mr. Baskirk," said Christy when he had taken in the situation.
At the first announcement of the sail ahead, the commander had ordered the chief engineer to get all the speed he could out of the ship. The smoke was pouring out of the smoke stacks, for the St. Regis had two, and presently she indicated what was going on in the fire room by beginning to shake a little.
"Another sail dead ahead, sir!" called the man on the fore cross trees.
The glasses were directed to the third sail, and she proved to be a steamer, also pursuing the one first seen. It was soon evident to the observers t............
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