Chapter XXXIV

The mist was sweeping past in swirls and streaks, and though the wind had abated somewhat, the Tiger still ploughed along into the obscurity at a fair rate of speed. Jeremy stayed forward with the lookout, peering constantly into the gloom ahead, and half expecting to see the ghostlike sails of the Revenge whenever for a moment a gray aisle opened in the mist. But there were only the grim, uneasy seas and the shifting fog.

Before darkness fell Job shortened sail, for he did not wish to get too far ahead of the enemy. And about the end of the second dog watch he gave the order to slack sheets and fall away for the southward run.

The wind turned bitterly cold in the night, and when the watch was changed Tom and Jeremy staggered below, glad to escape from the stinging snow that filled the air.

But with that snow-flurry the weather cleared. The sun rose to a day of bright blue water and sharp wind, and hardly had its first level rays shot across the ocean floor when the watch below was tumbled out by a chorus of shouts from the deck.

Jeremy, as he burst upward through the hatchway, cast an eager eye to either beam, then uttered a whoop of joy, as he caught the gleam of white canvas over the bows. There, straight ahead and barely a league distant, raced the Revenge and her pirate crew.

Captain Job reached the deck only a couple of jumps behind the boys, and an instant later his deep voice boomed the order to shake out all reefs and set the top-sails.

Bob, who had slept the clock around and eaten a hearty breakfast, soon appeared at Jeremy's side, looking fit for any adventure. With Tom they went up into the bows and were shortly joined there by others of the crew, all intent on the chase.

The swells as they surged by from stern to bow seemed to move more and more sluggishly. Beneath a press of sail that would have made most skippers fearful of running her under, Job was driving the Tiger along at a terrific pace. Now once more Jeremy's steering-wheel was proving its worth. Job at the helm could hold the plunging schooner on her course with far less danger of being swung over into the trough than would have been the case with the old hand tiller.

But in spite of the schooner's headlong speed, the distance between her and her quarry seemed to lessen scarcely at all. The old Revenge with her tall sticks and great spread of canvas was flying down before the wind with all the speed that had made her name a byword, and the man with the broken nose was evidently willing to take as many chances as his pursuers.

All morning the chase went on. At noon, when the winter sun flashed on the high white dunes of Cape Cod, to starboard, the Tiger seemed to have gained a little. Job, leaving the wheel for a bit, came forward and measured the distance with his eye. He shook his head. "Two miles," he said. "At this rate we can't get within range before dark." And he went back to his steering.

But for once he was mistaken. For an hour or more the buccaneers had been hauling over little by little toward the coast, possibly with the idea of running in and escaping overland as soon as night should fall. Now the lookout in the foretop of the Tigers gave a cheer.

"They've caught a flaw in the wind!" he shouted. "Watch us come up!"

Sure enough the Revenge had sailed into an area of light air to leeward of the Cape, and the boys could see that their own sloop, which still had the wind, was hauling up hand over hand on her adversary.

"By the Great Bull Whale!" roared Job, leaping forward along the deck, "now's our chance! Hold her as she is, Hawkes, while I load the long gun."

The big gunner-captain worked rapidly as always, but before he had done ramming down the round-shot, the pirate schooner was within range for a long-distance try. She lay off the Tiger's starboard bow, almost broadside on, but still too far away to use her own guns.

Job aimed with his usual care, but when at length he put a match to the powder, the shot flew harmlessly through the pirate's rigging, striking the sea beyond. Almost at the same moment the wind drew strongly in the sails of the Revenge once more, and she began plunging southward at a breakneck pace.

Job ran aft for a word with the mate, who had the wheel, then returned and again loaded the bowchaser, this time with chainshot and an extra heavy charge of powder to carry it. When he had finished he stood by the breach in grim silence, watching the chase.

It soon became apparent that though the Tiger could gain little on her rival in actual headway, she was gradually pulling over closer to the quarter of the Revenge. Hawkes, who was an excellent seaman, humored the craft to starboard, bit by bit, without sacrificing her forward speed.

At the end of twenty minutes Job gave a satisfied grunt, maneuvered the cannon back and forth on its swivel base once or twice, and fired. Above the roar of the discharge the boys heard the screech of the whirling chainshot, and then in the Revenge's mainsail appeared a great gaping rent, through the tattered edges of which the wind passed unhindered. There was a howl of joy from the crew, and without waiting for an order, they tumbled pell-mell down the hatches to man the broadside cannon in the waist.

Job stayed on deck, watching the enemy through his spy-glass. Handicapped by her torn mainsail, the Revenge was already falling abeam. When they had hauled up to within five or six hundred yards of her, Job called the men of the port watch on deck to shorten sail. This done, and the two sloops holding on southward at about an even gait, the Captain took a turn below, where he looked at each of the guns, gave a few sharp orders and ran back to his station on the after deck.

"All ready, Hawkes," he called, "bring us up to within a hundred and fifty fathoms of her!"

The mate spun the wheel to starboard, and the schooner, answering, drew nearer to the enemy.

"Close enough--port your helm," cried Job.

But even as the Tiger swung into position for a broadside, there came the roar of the pirate's guns, and a shot crashed through the forestays, while others, falling short, threw spray along the deck.

"All right below," shouted Captain Job, steady as a church. "Ready a starboard broadside!" And at his sharp "Fire!" the five cannon spoke in quick succession. The deck rocked beneath Jeremy's feet, where he stood by the companion, ready to carry Job's orders below.

As the dense smoke was swept away forward on the wind, they could see the Revenge, her rigging still further damaged by the volley, going about on the starboard tack, and making straight for the shore.

"Put your helm hard down and bring her to the wind!" roared Job, at the same time jumping toward the mainsheet.

The schooner swung to starboard, heeling sharply as she caught the wind abeam, and was in hot pursuit of her enemy before a full minute had passed.