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Although the Raven had not yet been disposed of, the ship's company were immediately interested in the vessel which the lookout had tardily announced; and the vigor with which he had given the hail to the deck indicated that he was conscious of the defect.
"Where away?" returned Mr. Baskirk; though it was a superfluous question, for all on the deck who cast their eyes to the westward could see the sail.
"On the starboard, sir."
Commander Passford was already examining the distant sail with his glass, as were all the officers who were not otherwise occupied. There were fog banks in that direction; and the craft might have suddenly loomed up out of them, though this did not appear to have been the case. The sail was too far off to be made out with anything like distinctness. It was a steamer headed 335 to the east, and the quantity of smoke that trailed in the air above indicated that she had been liberal in the use of coal in her furnaces.
As the sail was diminishing her distance from the St. Regis, Christy turned his attention again to the prize alongside his ship. The two chasers that had been pursuing the Raven, neither of which appeared to be capable of making more than fourteen knots an hour, were now almost within hailing distance.
The Raven was a steamer of nearly the size of the St. Regis. She was not armed, and had a ship's company of about thirty men, including officers. Her cargo was miscellaneous in its character, consisting of such merchandise as was most needed in the Confederacy, especially in the army. A watch had been set below on board of her to extinguish fires if any more appeared; but this peril had been effectually removed. The attempt to destroy the steamer and her cargo looked like malice and revenge, and some of the officers of the ship thought it ought to be regarded and treated as an act of war.
To burn, scuttle, blow up, run ashore, or otherwise destroy a blockade-runner after her situation 336 has become absolutely hopeless can result only to the benefit of the enemy, since it deprived the Federals of the property that would otherwise be confiscated under international law. But blockade-runners are regarded as neutrals unless proved to be Americans, in which case they are subject to the penalties of treason, and the forfeiture of the ship and cargo is the only punishment.
Christy had never been able to regard this class of persons with much respect, for they appeared to be in league with the enemy. Captain Bristler had not only attempted to break through the blockade, which he and many of his countrymen regarded as a legitimate business; but he had attempted to burn his vessel. He had got out his boats; and when she was wrapped in flames, he evidently expected the Federal victor to pick up himself and his ship's company, and treat the whole of them as though they had not been, at least constructively if not really, in the service of the enemy.
"The cold water applied to the commander of the Raven has had a good effect upon him," said the first lieutenant, as he touched his cap on the quarter-deck of the St. Regis. "He sends word 337 that he regrets his conduct, and asks to be released from confinement."
"He has behaved himself more like a swine than a gentleman; but I have no ill-will towards him, for I regarded him as beneath my contempt," replied Captain Passford. "I can understand his condition, for of course he is suffering under a tremendous disappointment; but that does not atone for his brutality."
"Certainly not, sir. He was running away from the two blockaders that were pursuing him, and had beaten them both. He was absolutely sure of his escape till he encountered the fleet in shore when the St. Regis came upon the scene," added Mr. Baskirk.
"Her captain had no particular respect for our steamer when he saw her, and kept on his course as if in contempt of her, till we dropped a shot near him. If he had headed to the south when he first made out the St. Regis, he would have improved his chances, but he would only have given us a longer chase. Let Captain Bristler out of the brig, Mr. Baskirk; we will see if he can behave himself any better; but I will not allow any man to swear at me if I can help myself."
338 A little later Captain Bristler came on deck in charge of the ship's corporal. He was dressed in his best clothes, and his personal appearance had been greatly improved.
"Captain Passford," said he, raising his cap to the commander, "under the influence of my awful disappointment at the failure of the Raven to outsail you, I was rude and ungentlemanly, and some of my forecastle habits came back to me. I beg your pardon; and I shall show you that I know how to be a gentleman, if I did forget myself for a time."
"That is sufficient, and I accept your apology, Captain Bristler," replied Christy with abundant dignity.
"I did not believe there was a ship in the Federal navy that could outsail the Raven, for she was built more for speed than for cargo," continued the captain of the prize.
"The St. Regis is not the only one that can outsail the Raven. I have served in a steamer that could beat her four knots an hour in an emergency," added Christy.
"What steamer is that, Captain?" asked Captain Bristler.
339 "That is not important, but it was the one that outsailed and captured the St. Regis when she had another name."
"Then your ship was a blockade-runner?"
"She was, and also a Confederate man-of-war; she was the Trafalgar."
"Ah! Then I know her very well; and the company owning the Raven, of which I am a member, offered nearly double what it cost to build the Raven for her," replied Captain Bristler. "I can understand now how I happened to be so thoroughly beaten in the last chase. She was built for a............
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