Scraggs, who chanced to be standing by, seemed to be immensely delighted with the alarmed expression on Manton’s face. The worthy second mate hated the first mate so cordially, and attached so little value to his own life, that he would willingly have run the schooner on the rocks altogether, just to have the pleasure of laughing contemptuously at the wreck of Manton’s hopes.
“It’s worth while trying it,” suggested Scraggs, with a malicious grin.
“I mean to try it,” said Gascoyne, calmly.
“But there’s not a spot in the shoal except the Eel’s Gate that we’ve a ghost of a chance of getting through,” cried Manton, becoming excited as the schooner dashed towards the breakers like a furious charger rushing on destruction.
“I know it.”
“And there’s barely water on that to float us over,” he added, striding forward, and laying a hand on the wheel.
“Half a foot too little,” said Gascoyne, with forced calmness.
“You shan’t run us aground if I can prevent it,” cried Manton, fiercely, seizing the wheel with both hands and attempting to move it, in which attempt he utterly failed; and Scraggs grinned broader than ever.
“Remove your hands,” said Gascoyne, in a low, calm voice, which surprised the men who were standing near and witnessed these proceedings.
“I won’t. Ho, lads! do you wish to be sent to the bottom by a—”
The remainder of this speech was cut short by the sudden descent of Gascoyne’s knuckles on the forehead of the mate, who dropped on the deck as if he had been felled with a sledge-hammer. Scraggs laughed outright with satisfaction.
“Remove him,” said Gascoyne.
“Overboard?” inquired Scraggs, with a bland smile.
“Below,” said the captain; and Scraggs was fain to content himself with carrying the insensible form of his superior officer to his berth; taking pains, however, to bump his head carefully against every spar and corner and otherwise convenient projection on the way down.
In a few minutes more the schooner was rushing through the milk-white foam that covered the dangerous coral reef named the Long Shoal; and the Talisman lay to, not daring to venture into such a place, but pouring shot and shell into her bold little adversary with terrible effect, as the tattered sails and flying cordage showed. The fire was steadily replied to by Long Tom, whose heavy shots came crashing repeatedly through the hull of the man-of-war.
The large boat, meanwhile, had been picked up by the Talisman, after having rescued Mr. Mason and Henry, both of whom were placed in the gig. This light boat was now struggling to make the ship; but, owing to the strength of the squall, her diminished crew were unable to effect this; they therefore ran ashore, to await the issue of the fight and the storm.
For some time the Avenger stood on her wild course unharmed, passing close to huge rocks on either side of her, over which the sea burst in clouds of foam. Gascoyne still stood at the wheel, guiding the vessel with consummate skill and daring, while the men looked on in awe and in breathless expectation, quite regardless of the shot which flew around them, and altogether absorbed by the superior danger by which they were menaced.