A desperate chase.
That was a heroic resolution those
five brave men had made. But it was inevitable,
for they did not mean that either they or that valuable
ship should fall into the hands of the enemy.
And apparently the enemy knew they
did not mean to. For they kept battering away
at the big hulk that loomed up in the darkness, running
close alongside and firing viciously.
Every shot made a deafening crash as it struck home.
But the Americans did not mind it
especially. When a man has made up his mind to
die he is not afraid of anything.
And the men on deck paced up and down
serenely, and Clif tugged at the wheel with a positively
It would have been a cold sort of
a person whose spirit did not rise to such an occasion
as that. The wild night and the furious cannonading,
but above all the prospect of taking that huge ship
and driving her forward at full speed until she smashed
upon the rocks, was a rather inspiring one.
The reader may have heard about the
man out West who drew an enormous crowd by advertising
an exhibition railroad wreck, two empty trains crashing
into each other at full speed. This was a similar
case; it does not often happened that a man has occasion
to drive a ship aground on purpose.
The resolution to which the Americans
had come must have been plain to the unfortunate Spaniards
who were tied up on board the Maria. Their fright
was a terrible one, anyhow.
Clif glanced out at them several times;
their presence was the only thing that made him hesitate
to do what he had resolved.
“For they haven’t done
anything, poor devils,” he thought to himself,
“I wish I knew what to do with them.”
But there was only one thing that
could be done; that was to put them off in a small
boat, and that would be practically murdering them.
“They’ll have to stay
and take chances with us,” muttered Clif.
As if there were not noise enough
about that time those men began to raise a terrific
outcry, yelling and shrieking in terror. But nobody
paid any attention to them except that the
sailors took the trouble to examine their bonds once
It would have been dangerous to let
those desperate fellows get loose then. For the
Americans had enemies enough to cope with as it was.
All this while the Spanish gunboat
had been firing away with all her might and main.
She would cut across the vessel’s stern, and
send her shots tearing through the whole length of
the ship; then she would come up close alongside and
pour a dozen broadsides in.
And nearly all the shots hit, too.
It was evident to those on board that
the merchantman would not stand very much battering
of that sort. Already one of the sailors had come
up to announce that two of the firemen had been struck.
But still the Maria tore desperately
onward. Nobody cared very much how much damage
was done, except that they did not want the engines
to be smashed until the ship had reached the shore.
As well as Clif could calculate roughly,
it ought not to have taken them an hour to return
to the coast, for they had the storm to aid them.
That they could hold out that long under the unceasing
fire he did not believe.
“But the Spaniards may use up
all their ammunition,” he thought to himself.
That was a possibility, for he knew
that the supply in the possession of Spain was a small
And the actual course of events made
him think that his surmise was true. The desperate
chase kept up for perhaps half an hour; and then unaccountably
the Spaniard’s fire began to slacken.
Clif could hardly believe his ears when he heard it.
“What can it mean?” he gasped.
But a moment later his surprise was
made still greater. For one of the sailors bounded
into the pilot house.
“She’s giving up, sir!” he cried.
“How in the world do you mean?”
“She’s stopped firing, sir. And what’s
more, she’s dropping behind.”
Clif stared at the man in amazement.
And then suddenly he sprang out to the deck.
“Take the wheel a moment,” he cried to
And he himself bounded down the deck toward the stern.
He stared out over the railing, clinging
to it tightly to prevent himself from being flung
off his feet.
He found that what the sailor had
said was literally true. The Spaniard was now
firing only an occasional shot, and she was at least
a hundred yards behind.
What that could mean Clif had not
the faintest idea. Could it be that her engines
had met with an accident? Or that she fancied
the merchantman was sinking?
The cadet gazed down into the surging
water below him; he could see the white track of the
big steamer and knew that she was fairly flying along.
He took one more glance in the direction
of the now invisible Spaniard. The firing had
And like a flash the thought occurred
to Clif that whatever the reason for the strange act
might be, now was the time to save the merchantman.
“We can turn off to one side!” he gasped,
“and lose her!”
And with a bound he started for the pilot house.
“Hard a-port!” he shouted to the man at
But before the man had a chance to
obey Clif chanced to glance out ahead, into the darkness
toward which the vessel was blindly rushing.
And the cadet staggered back with a gasp.
“A light!” he cried. “A light!”
Yes, there was a dim flickering point
of light directly in front of them. Where it
came from Clif could not tell, but he realized the
significance in an instant.
And at the same time there was another
sound that broke upon his ear and confirmed the guess.
It was a dull, booming roar.
The man at the wheel heard it, too.
“It’s breakers, sir!” he shouted.
They were nearing the land!
And then the significance of the Spaniard’s
act became only too apparent. The men who were
running her had seen the light, and they had no idea
of being led to destruction by their eagerness to follow
that reckless merchantman.
And so they were slowing up and keeping off the shore.
There was a faint hope in that; the
Maria might be able to steal away if she were quick
enough in turning.
Clif’s order had been obeyed
by the sailor the instant he heard it. Clif sprang
in to help him, and they whirled the wheel around with
all their might.
But alas! they were too late!
When a steamer waits until she hears breakers in a
storm like that it is all up with her, for she must
be near the shore indeed.
And plunging as the Maria was, urged
on by wind and waves and her own powerful engines,
it was but an instant before the crisis came.
Clif had half braced himself for the
shock; but when it came it was far greater than he
had expected. There was a crash that was simply
deafening. The huge ship plunged into the rocky
shore with a force that almost doubled her up, and
made her shake from stem to stern. And she stopped
so abruptly that Clif was flung through the window
of the pilot house.
The deed was done!