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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

Poured shot after shot into the brigantine


"If

we had an open sea on this side instead of the land," Turnbull said, "and were to cut away that sail, they would not see us again."

"No; they must have come to the same conclusion. As it is, they no doubt think that our clawing out to windward is of no advantage to us. Now, get another gun over to the larboard side. It is lucky that there is a spare port there. We must make an effort to knock one of his spars out, or he may cripple us." For by this time the brigantine had again opened fire. "Let the three best shots we have got lay the guns on her mainmast. Tell them to train them rather high, so that if they miss the mark they may cut one of the halyards, which will give us all the start we want."

The guns were run into their position on the broadside. "Don't hurry over it," Nat said; "let each fire as his gun comes to bear." There was a crash and a cry as he spoke; a ball had gone through the Arrow from side to side, tearing jagged holes through her bulwarks, one of the sailors being struck to the deck by a splinter. No one spoke, every eye being fixed on the guns. These were fired almost together. There was a pause for a second or two, and then a burst of cheering as the gaff of the great mainsail of the brigantine was seen to collapse.

"It is hit close to the jaws," Turnbull, whose glass was levelled on the pirates, exclaimed.

"Cut away

that sail in the water!" Nat shouted. "Up with your helm, men, and bring her round. That is right," he went on as the schooner came up into the wind and payed off on the other tack. "Now, slack away her sheets!"

Three guns were vengefully fired by the pirate, but the sudden change in the schooner's position disconcerted their aim, and the shot flew wide. Without waiting for orders, the seamen at two of the guns ran them over to the starboard side, and, all working at the highest pressure, poured shot after shot into the brigantine, which answered but slowly, as numbers of the men had run aloft to get the sail down to repair damages. Before she was under way again the schooner had left her a mile behind. She was now on her best point of sailing, while the brigantine was to some extent crippled by the mainsail setting badly, and by the time the headland was again passed the schooner was fully two miles ahead. Her crew had for some time been puzzled at the action being so abruptly concluded, and Turnbull had even ventured to say:

"I should think, sir, we should have a fair chance with her now."

"Not a very good chance. We have been lucky, but with ten guns to our four, and her strong crew of desperate men, she would be a very awkward customer. We can think of her later on. My plan is to retake the prize before she can come up. It is not likely that they have killed the crew yet, and I expect the captain told those left behind to leave things as they were until he returned. We may scarcely be a match for the brigantine, but the prize and we together should be able to give a good account of ourselves."

"Splendid, sir!" Turnbull exclaimed joyously; "that is a grand idea."

"Have the guns loaded with grape," Nat said quietly, "and run two of them over to the other side. We will go outside the prize, bring our craft up into the wind, and shoot her up inside her, and give them one broadside and then board. Tell the men to have their pistols and cutlasses ready, and distribute the boarding-pikes among the Frenchmen."

As soon as they rounded the point they could see by their glasses that there was a sudden commotion on the deck of the merchantman.


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