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   Chapter 14 THE CHASE.

The First Capture; or, Hauling Down the Flag of England By Harry Castlemon Characters: 12758

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When O'Brien gave up his wheel to Zeke he also took off his hat and moved a step or two nearer to his men. Then followed an outcry from the crew which anybody has heard who has been tempted to attend a political meeting in America, to-wit-

"Speech, speech!" chorused all hands!

"I have not much to say to you beyond this," said the captain. "We have come out here to capture that schooner, and we are not going back with that flag flying at her peak."

"Hear, hear!" shouted Zeb Short.

"We haven't got any guns, so we will run afoul of her and board her the first good chance we get," continued the captain. "If any man tells you that he surrenders-I never expect to hear any such cry from any man now before me-let him go and help him up and treat him as you would like to be treated if you were a prisoner. When we get aboard that boat, if none of her company pull down her flag, Wheaton is the man to attend to it. He proposed this thing, has suggested me for captain and he ought to have the privilege of handling the flag. That ensign has floated the 'mistress of the sea' and I don't believe that any body of men has ever pulled it down before. We will show them before we get through with them that it can't stand up before a 'flock of Yankees.'"

The cheers which greeted this little speech seemed to have raised the sloop fairly out of the water. When she came down again she settled to her work and went ahead faster than ever. By this time she had rounded the point of land behind which the schooner had run for safety the day before, but to the surprise of everybody her berth was empty. The schooner during the night had pulled out and chosen another place of refuge. It looked as though she had abandoned the sloops and left them to watch out for themselves.

"Well, Zeke, what do you think of this?" asked Captain O'Brien, seeking advice of his steersman. That was not exactly the proper thing to do, but this was a household matter, everybody in the village was bent on capturing the schooner, every man in his crew knew as much about handling a vessel as he knew himself, and he did not see why he shouldn't go for help where he was most likely to get it.

"They are afraid of us, Cap," replied Zeke. "There isn't any other place that I know of where she can run for refuge, except it is that little harbor about five miles up the bay. She may have gone in there."

"Why, she could not get in," replied the captain. "She draws too much water."

"She can go in there if the tide is up, and she will have to come out pretty soon or we will catch her, sure," said Zeke. "If I was you I would go up and take a look at that place."

The crew had by this time found out that the schooner's berth was empty, and they all crowded around their captain to see what he thought about it. Contrary to the custom in these days, the captain explained his movements when he brought the sloop about and headed her up the bay, and the men all agreed that that was the place to find her.

Up to this time Enoch had found so much else to occupy his mind that he had not thought to take notice of the crew, but he proceeded to do it now; and the conclusion he came to was that the schooner was never in so dangerous a position as she was at that moment. There were thirty of the company, as we have said, and upon the face of every one Enoch saw an expression of calmness, not unmixed with firmness, which showed that they were fully alive to a sense of the peril they were about to encounter. There were no signs of giving up. They had come out there with a purpose in view, and that purpose must be accomplished before they went back. Everybody expected, to quote from Caleb Young, that there would be mourning in Machias when they got through, but every one hoped that he would get through. Remember that they had no discipline, they knew nothing of that 'shoulder to shoulder' drill which caused men to do their duty wherever they may be, but they simply went into it to let those men, who had been engaged at Lexington, see that they were not the only ones who believed in nipping British tyranny in the bud.

"I believe we are going to capture that schooner," said Enoch, moving aft till he could talk to the man at the wheel.

"Oh, you do, do you?" said Zeke, letting go of the wheel with one hand and pushing his hat on the back of his head. "Course we are. If you see anybody in this crew who dares to say that we ain't a-going to capture her, just take him by the scuff of the neck and drop him overboard. He ain't got any business to travel in this party."

When they had accomplished about two miles and a half of the distance they had to sail, an electric spark seemed to shoot through all the company when somebody descried the schooner coming out of that harbor and drawing a bee-line for sea. Captain Moore had not neglected to take particular pains to insure the safety of his vessel. The tops of her masts were higher than the surrounding headlands, and the first thing he did when he came to an anchor there, was to send a man up to the mast-head to act as lookout. He saw the sloop when she was coming out of the harbor of Machias, and forthwith informed the deck; whereupon an officer ascended to his side, and with a glass distinctly made out the company of hostile men on board of her, and he could even see the guns and pitchforks with which they were armed. Captain Moore instantly saw that he must not be caught in that narrow harbor, for if he was, his capture was certain. He must slip his anchor and get to sea; and the sloop's company saw her when she was two miles and a half away. A cheer long and loud greeted her appearance, and Zeke, who had been crowding the sloop all along so that a man standing in her lee rail could have dipped up a cup of water at any time, strove, if possible, to crowd her still more. The sloop responded nobly, and seemed to have reserved some of her speed for just this occasion, for she went ahead faster than ever.

"I tell you, boy, it is coming now," said Zeke, and for fear that his hat might bother him he took it off and pitched it overboard. "We will soon see how much pluck they have got."

To Enoch, had the contest been a friendly one, it would have been worth going miles to see the race between those two vessels. It seemed strange, too, for an armed boat to run away from

a vessel that had nothing bigger than a flint-lock aboard of her, but the thought of what was in store for them should they succeed in coming up with the schooner brought many an anxious face. But there was no sign of backing out. The men having had their cheer out began stripping themselves, and in a little while Enoch could see nothing but sailors with a pair of overalls on. Everything else had been discarded, and the men lay along the rail and waited for Zeke to lay her alongside.

"I just wish we had another sail," said Captain O'Brien, closely watching the distance between the two vessels. "I am afraid she is going to get away from us, but I will follow her clear to England before I will give her up."

"No need of doing that," said Zeke, crowding the sloop until a wave came in over the starboard bow. "She is gaining a little-a little, to be sure, but you will be aboard of her in less than two hours."

For an hour the schooner and sloop remained about the same, one trying her best to escape, and the other striving by every means in her power to lessen the distance between the two. Captain O'Brien kept a close lookout with his glass, and finally uttered an exclamation indicative of surprise and joy.

"Captain Moore knows that the jig is nearly up," said he, passing his glass to one of his men. "He is going to cut away his boats."

Another cheer broke out from the men who heard this, but they kept watch of the schooner, and very shortly saw, one of her boats fall into the sea. Another and another followed it, until four boats, which were just so much dead weight on the schooner, were following in her wake behind her. Up to this time the sloop had gained half a mile, but before she had gained a mile, Captain O'Brien, who had the glass again, told his men something else.

"They are going to shoot," said he. "All you men forward lie down."

This was what the captain was afraid of. The schooner could bring one gun to bear upon her, and if she kept up the shooting long enough, she might hit the sloop's mast and that would end the chase in a hurry. But the schooner did not shoot right away. She wanted to be sure that her pursuer was in good range before she expended a shot upon her, and so beyond training the gun the crew stood about awaiting the order from the captain to fire.

"He is going to make sure work of us when he does shoot," remarked Zeke, as he looked up at the sails to see that they were kept full. "I wish he would go a little bit faster-Hal-lo! That's in our favor."

While Zeke was talking there came a sudden gust of wind, stronger than any that had preceded it, and the schooner's main-topsail went by the board. Of course that did away with two sails, the main gaff-topsail and the main trysail, and her speed was lessened materially. The sloop began to gain at once, and while a portion of the schooner's crew went aloft to clear away the wreck, the rest gathered about the gun and seemed disposed to risk a shot at the sloop.

"Lie down forward!" said Captain O'Brien, sharply. "You don't obey orders any better than a merchantman's crew. Some of you will have your heads blown off directly."

Some of the company obeyed and some did not; but the moment there was a puff of smoke from the schooner's stern they laid themselves out flat on deck.

"It is no use telling us to lie down for such shooting as that," said one of the crew, raising himself on his knees and looking aft to see where the shell exploded. "I would stand in front of a barn door and let them shoot at me all day."

"They have not got the range yet," said Captain O'Brien. "And besides they want to scare us."

"There is some men in this party who don't scare," replied Zeke, trying to crowd his vessel a little more.

"I know that. I should be sorry to think that any of us would scare; but they will get the range pretty soon, and you will see blood on this deck."

Shot after shot continued to pour upon the sloop from the stern gun of the schooner, and every one exploded nearer her than the preceding one. Finally a shot passed through her mainsail, leaving a big rent behind it, and before the crew had fairly comprehended it, another came, passed through the port rail and exploded just as it got on deck. What a moment that was for Enoch! He lay right where he could see the effect of the shell, and two of the men jumped to their feet, gasped for a moment or two and then fell prostrate back again, and one other man set up a shriek.

"I have got it, boys, and we have not got a doctor aboard," said he, in a voice that sounded as though there were tears behind it. "Now what am I going to do?"

"Hold your jaw for one thing," said another, sitting up and beginning to pull up his overalls. "Do you think there is no body hurt but yourself? Look at that."

This man was much more to be pitied than the other one, for a piece of shell had cut his calf entirely away; while the one that made so much fuss about it had simply a crease on the top of his head. The second one made all haste to get below, while the other accepted some pieces of the shirt which Captain O'Brien speedily took off for him and coolly proceeded to tie up his wound.

"Say, Cap, I can stop that fellow shooting that gun," said one of the crew. "I can take his head off easy enough."

"Take it off then," said the captain.

All became silent expectation as the sailor crept up to a convenient place behind the bulwarks, rested his long flint-lock over it and drew a bead on several men who were working about the gun on the schooner's deck. One man was engaged in swabbing out the gun. He had run the swab in, took it out and was rapping it on the edge of a bucket to get off any particles of fire that might adhere to it, when the flint-lock spoke. The man stood for an instant as if overcome with astonishment, then dropped his swab, threw his arms over his head and sank out of sight.

"I did it, Cap, didn't I?" shouted the sailor, who, like all the rest, was surprised at the accuracy of his discharge.

Enoch was greatly excited at the outcome of this shot, so much so that he got upon his feet. He told himself that if one flint-lock would strike a man at that distance another might do it, too, and when the man fell he ran forward and knelt beside the sailor who had performed such a wonderful exploit.

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