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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

The surgeon exclaimed to Lippincott


"By

St. Patrick," the surgeon exclaimed to Lippincott, "it is grand! But it looks as if the captain wasn't going to give me a chance, and all me instruments laid out ready for action."

"Never mind, doctor, you will be able to practise on the Frenchmen," Lippincott laughed.

But the French captain knew his business, and putting his helm over again, ran off the wind, so that the two vessels were now on the same tack, with the _Agile_ on her opponent's quarter. Several of the French guns were now brought to bear, but their discharge was too hurried, and owing to the brigantine lying so much lower in the water, the shot flew between her masts or made holes in her mainsail. In a moment she was round again, and crossed her opponent's stern at a distance of some thirty yards, the word being passed along that the gunners were to aim at the rudder-post and to double-shot the guns. A loud cheer rose as two of the shots struck the mark. The Frenchman replied with a volley of musketry from the marines gathered on her poop. Three of the sailors fell, and several others were hit.

The Frenchman was, when the _Agile_ delivered her last broadside, running nearly before the wind, and it was speedily evident that the injury to her rudder had been fatal, for although she attempted by trimming her sails again to bear up, each time she fell off, though not before some of her shot had hulled her active

opponent. Seeing, however, that he must now be easily outmanoeuvred, the Frenchman made no further effort to change his course, but continued doggedly on his way, the topmen swarming aloft and shaking out more canvas. The _Agile_ followed the frigate's example, and placing herself on her stern quarter, kept up a steady fire, yawing when necessary to bring all her guns to bear, the French replying occasionally with one of their stern guns. Owing to the accelerated speed at which both vessels were now going, the Indiamen had been left behind. Half an hour later the frigate's mizzen-mast, which had been severely wounded by the first broadside, went over her side. Cheer after cheer rose from the _Agile_; her opponent was now at her mercy. She had but to repeat the tactics with which she had begun the fight. Just as Nat gave the order to do so, musket shots were heard in the distance. The crew of one of the merchantmen had been allowed to remain on deck, as, being under the guns of the frigate, there was no possibility of their attempting to overpower their captors. As soon, however, as it became evident that the frigate was getting the worst of it, they had been hurried below, and the hatches dropped over them. From the port-holes, however, they could obtain a view of what was going on ahead of them, and as soon as they saw the frigate's mast go by the board, they armed themselves with anything that would serve as weapons, managed to push up the after-hatch, and rushed on deck. The prize crew were all clustered forward watching the fight; a shout from the helmsman apprised them of their danger, and they rushed aft. They were, however, less numerous than the British sailors, and no better armed, for, believing that the frigate would easily crush her tiny assailant, they were unprepared to take any part in the fight.

The contest was a very short one. Knowing that the frigate was crippled, and that the brigantine would soon be free to return to them, the Frenchmen saw that they must eventually be taken, and the officer in command being knocked senseless with a belaying-pin, they threw down their knives and surrendered. The other Indiaman at once put down her helm on seeing that the British flag was being run up on her consort.


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