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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

Too far off for identification purposes


sail two points abaft the weather beam, steerin' to the west'ard under stunsails!"

"How far away is she?" hailed the skipper.

"Her r'yals is just showin' above the horizon, sir," answered the man.

"Ah! that means that she is about twenty miles distant," remarked the skipper to me--I being officer of the watch. "Too far off for identification purposes, eh, Mr Fortescue?"

"Well, sir," answered I, "it is a longish stretch, I admit. Yet, with your permission, I will get my glass, go aloft, and have a look at her."

"Thank you, Mr Fortescue. Pray do so, by all means," returned the skipper.

Hurrying below for my own private telescope, which was an exceptionally fine instrument, I slung it over my shoulder and wended my way aloft to the main-royal yard.

"Whereabout is she, Dixon?" I asked, as I swung myself up on the yard beside him. "Ah, there she is; I see her. Mind yourself a bit and let me have a peep at her."

The man swung off the yard and slid down as far as the cross-trees, while I unslung my glass and brought it to bear upon the stranger. The rarefaction of the air bothered me a good deal, producing something of the effect of a mirage, and causing the royals of the distant vessel to stand up clear

of the horizon as though there were nothing beneath them; yet, as she rose and fell with the 'scend of the sea, shapeless snow- white blotches appeared and vanished again beneath them occasionally. She was coming along very fast, however; and presently, when she took a rather broad sheer, I caught a momentary glimpse of _two_ royals and just the head of a third--the mizzen--proving conclusively that she was full-rigged--as was the _Virginia_. But, as the skipper had surmised, she was still much too far off for identification. I thought rapidly, and an idea occurred to me which caused me to close my glass, re-sling it, and slide down to the cross-trees.

"Up you go again, Dixon, and keep your eye on that vessel, reporting any noticeable thing about her that may happen to catch your eye," said I. And swinging myself on to the topgallant backstay, I slid rapidly down to the deck.

"Well, Mr Fortescue, what do you make of her?" demanded the skipper, as I rejoined him.

"She is a full-rigged ship, sir," said I; "but, as you anticipated, she is still too far off for identification. But she is steering the course that we have decided the _Virginia_ ought to be steering; and it has just occurred to me that, should she indeed be that craft, she may give us a great deal of trouble if she discovers us prematurely, seeing that she is to windward. I would therefore suggest, sir, that we bear up and make sail, so as to keep ahead of her until dark, and then--"

"Yes, I see what you mean, Mr Fortescue," interrupted the skipper; "and doubtless there are many cases where the plan would be very commendable; but in this case I think it would be better to close with her while it is still daylight and we can see exactly what we--and they--are doing. Therefore be good enough to make sail at once, if you please."

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