When James Playfair had reached the cross-trees, he saw distinctly, through an opening in the mist, a large Federal corvette in full pursuit of the Dolphin.
After having carefully examined her, the Captain came down on deck again, and called to the first officer.
“Mr. Mathew,” said he, “what do you think of this ship?”
“I think, Captain, that it is a Federal cruiser, which suspects our intentions.”
“There is no possible doubt of her nationality,” said James Playfair. “Look!”
At this moment the starry flag of the North United States appeared on the gaff-yards of the corvette, and the latter asserted her colours with a cannon-shot.
“An invitation to show ours,” said Mr. Mathew. “Well, let us show them; there is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“What’s the good?” replied James Playfair. “Our flag will hardly protect us, and it will not hinder those people from paying us a visit. No; let us go ahead.”
“And go quickly,” replied Mr. Mathew, “for, if my eyes do not deceive me, I have already seen that corvette lying off Liverpool, where she went to watch the ships in building: my name is not Mathew, if that is not the Iroquois on her taffrail.”
“And is she fast?”
“One of the fastest vessels of the Federal marine.”
“What guns does she carry?”
“Oh, don’t shrug your shoulders, Captain,” said Mr. Mathew, in a serious tone; “two out of those eight guns are rifled, one is a sixty-pounder on the forecastle, and the other a hundred-pounder on deck.”
“Upon my soul!” exclaimed James Playfair, “they are Parrott’s, and will carry three miles.”
“Yes, and farther than that, Captain.”
“Ah, well! Mr. Mathew, let their guns be sixty or only four-pounders, and let them carry three miles or five hundred yards, it is all the same if we can go fast enough to avoid their shot. We will show this Iroquois how a ship can go when she is built on purpose to go. Have the fires drawn forward, Mr. Mathew.”
The first officer gave the Captain’s orders to the engineer, and soon volumes of black smoke curled from the steamer’s chimneys.
This proceeding did not seem to please the corvette, for she made the Dolphin the signal to lie to, but James Playfair paid no attention to this warning, and did not change his ship’s course.
“Now,” said he, “we shall see what the Iroquois will do; here is a fine opportunity for her to try her guns. Go ahead full speed!”
“Good!” exclaimed Mr. Mathew; “she will not be long in saluting us.”
Returning to the poop, the Captain saw Miss Halliburtt sitting quietly near the bulwarks.
“Miss Jenny,” said he, “we shall probably be chased by that corvette you see to windward, and as she will speak to us with shot, I beg to offer you my arm to take you to your cabin again.”
“Thank you, very much, Mr. Playfair,” replied the young girl, looking at him, “but I am not afraid of cannon-shots.”
“However, miss, in spite of the distance, there may be some danger.”
“Oh, I was not brought up to be fearful; they accustom us to everything in America, and I assure you that the shot from the Iroquois will not make me lower my head.”
“You are brave, Miss Jenny.”
“Let us admit, then, that I am brave, and allow me to stay by you.”
“I can refuse you nothing, Miss Halliburtt,” replied the Captain, looking at the young girl’s calm face.
These words were hardly uttered when they saw a line of white smoke issue from the bulwarks of the corvette; before the report had reached the Dolphin a projectile whizzed through the air in the direction of the steamer.
At about twenty fathoms from the Dolphin the shot, the speed of which had sensibly lessened, skimmed over the surface of the waves, marking its passage by a series of water-jets; then, with another burst, it rebounded to a certain height, passed over the Dolphin, grazing the mizzen-yards on the starboard side, fell at thirty fathoms beyond, and was buried in the waves.
“By Jove!” exclaimed James Playfair, “we must get along; another slap like that is not to be waited for.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Mr. Mathew, “they will take some time to reload such pieces.”
“Upon my honour, it is an interesting sight,” said Crockston, who, with arms crossed, stood perfectly at his ease looking at the scene.