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The shot from the Parrot passed between the funnel and the mainmast of the chase, as judged by the splash of the ball in the water just beyond her. It had come near enough to the mark to wake up the captain of the highflyer. He appeared to believe that the pursuer from the northward had simply cut him off by approaching on the shorter side of the triangle, and that all he had to do was to escape to the southward, evidently satisfied that no steamer in the Federal navy could overhaul him in a fair and square race.
"Now comes the tug of war," said Mr. Baskirk, when the St. Regis had been headed for the chase.
"The game will not last all day," added Christy. "If I owned that highflyer, I should not employ her present captain to sail her for me. He is overloaded with a blind confidence, and he has made a very bad use of his opportunities. If I had been in command of that steamer I should have made 324 her course so as to run away from all three of my pursuers as soon as I made them out. It is six o'clock now, and I should have got far enough into the darkness to give them all the slip, and gone into Wilmington on a new track."
"Her captain appears to trust entirely to his heels, and to look with contempt upon anything like manœuvring," replied the first lieutenant.
"But we must finish him up before the darkness enables him to give us the slip. I have no doubt we could knock her all to pieces with the midship gun in the next fifteen minutes; but if she can make eighteen knots an hour, which we seem to be all agreed that she can do, she will not be a useless addition to the United States Navy, and it would be a pity to smash her up, for she is a good-looking craft. We are gaining two knots an hour on her, and Mr. Vapoor is keeping things warm in the engine and fire rooms."
"That is taking an economical view of the subject," added Mr. Baskirk, laughing at the commander's utilitarian views.
"If we continue to fire into her, we must swing to every shot we send, and that would take so much from our speed," argued Christy. "We are 325 as sure of her as though we already had her in our clutches. There are plenty of officers in the navy who would like to command her when she is altered over into a cruiser."
"You are quite right, Captain Passford; and there are some of them on the deck of the St. Regis at this moment," said the first lieutenant, laughing.
"Heave the log, Mr. Baskirk," said the captain.
The report from the master, who attended to this duty, was soon reported to the executive officer, who transmitted it to the commander.
"Rising twenty knots, sir," said he.
"That will do," replied Christy. "That is enough to enable us to overhaul the chase within half an hour."
Within fifteen minutes it could be seen that the St. Regis was rapidly gaining on the Raven, for the latter was near enough now to enable the pursuers to read the name on her stern, and the captain of the highflyer could not help realizing that he had not the slightest chance to escape. The chaser was within the eighth of a mile of her, and the result was only a matter of minutes.
"She has stopped her screw, sir!" reported the 326 third lieutenant in the waist, passing the word from the second lieutenant on the forecastle.
"She has stopped her screw, Captain," repeated Mr. Baskirk.
"That means mischief," replied Christy, as he directed his gaze to the Raven.
"She is getting out two boats on her port side!" shouted Mr. Makepeace from the top-gallant forecastle; and the report was repeated till it reached the commander, though he had heard it before it was officially communicated to him. "That means more mischief."
"Ready to stop and back her!" he cried through the speaking-tube to the chief engineer.
"All ready, sir," replied Paul.
"Some of these blockade-runners are desperate characters, and that captain intends either to burn or sink his ship," continued Christy, with a trifle of excitement in his manner, though he looked as dignified as a college professor in the presence of his class.
The St. Regis was still rushing with unabated speed towards her prey, and a minute or two more would decide whether or not she was to be a prize or a blazing hulk on the broad ocean.
327 "Lay him aboard on the port side, Mr. Baskirk!"
"The two boats are there, Captain, as you can see," replied the executive officer.
"Board on the port side, Mr. Baskirk!" repeated the commander very decidedly, and somewhat sharply; and at the same time he rang one bell on the gong to slow down the engine. "Board on the port side, Mr. Baskirk!" he repeated again. "Mr. Drake, have the steam pump and long hose ready to extinguish fire!"
Whether the captain of the Raven had ordered his men to scuttle the steamer, or to fire her in several places, Christy could not know; and he did not much care, for he was ready to meet either emergency. The St. Regis was bearing down on her victim with a reduced speed. The men forward and in the waist were all ready with the grappling irons to fasten to her, and the boarders were all prepared to leap upon her deck, though no fighting was expected.
The bow of the St. Regis was near the stem of the Raven, and Christy rang one bell to stop her, and then two to back her. Then he sprang upon the starboard rail of the ship where he could observe his men as they boarded the other steamer.
328 "What are you about, sir?" yelled a man on the quarter-deck of the Raven, who appeared to be the captain of the vessel, in a rude voice. "Don't you see that you are crushing my two boats and the men in them?"
"I did not order the boats or the men there," replied Christy ca............
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