“He’s mad,” roared Webster, meaning Chubb; “we ain’t going to be sunk to please him,” and he rushed on the bridge to put a stop to our flight.
Chubb interposed to prevent him; they closed, grappled together, and finally fell off the bridge, still struggling.
The cruiser had to stop to pick up her boat, and the delay probably saved us; we must, moreover, have been a very uncertain mark in the unnatural light, which doubtless would be no aid to gunnery practice. On we tore, with the steam-gauge uncomfortably near danger point; the warship in hot pursuit, looking, wreathed as she was in the smoke and flame of her fiercely worked guns, and the electric glare of the vivid shaft which still turned night into day, more like some fabulous sea-monster than a fabric contrived by man. She plied us with both shot and shell; one of the latter burst in the air over our bows; two men were killed and several injured by the fragments. We were struck nine or ten times in all, but they were glancing blows, which never fairly hulled us. Chubb held on resolutely; we increased our distance fast, and at length ran out of range. Never before had I felt so thankful as when those fearful projectiles began to fall short. From that point we were safe. We were five knots better than our pursuer, and the only danger lay in the chance that some other cruiser, attracted by the firing, might be brought across the line of our flight. None, however, appeared, and our great speed dropped the enemy long before daylight.
The damage to the ship was confined to the upper works, and could soon be put to rights, but five of the crew had been killed and twice that number wounded, and unused to such work as I was, I felt strongly inclined to blame Chubb for incurring this sacrifice of life for what appeared to me an inadequate object. He laughed it away.
“They take the risk,” said he, “they know it, and they are well paid for it. We’ve saved ship and cargo; that’s all old H—— will think about, and all we need care for.”
It was far, however, from being all I cared for as I looked upon the mangled corpses lately filled with life and vigour. I had embarked on the enterprise in a spirit of levity and carelessness, reflecting little on what it might entail, and there was something shocking in thus suddenly coming face to face with the dread reality of war. But whatever may have been the source of the feeling, it soon passed away, and when the dead had been sewed up in their hammocks and laid to their last rest in the deep—a ceremony we performed the day after our escape—Richard was himself again, and the old careless buoyancy swelled up once more.