Mr. Rhett met people enough along the coast who told him where he might find the pirate, but he found no one to tell him how to navigate the dangerous waters of the Cape Fear River, and so it was that soon after entering that fine stream he and his consort found themselves aground.
Mr. Rhett was quite sure that he had discovered the lair of the big game he was looking for. Just before dark, three boats, well filled with men, had appeared from up the river, and they had looked so formidable that everything had been made ready to resist an attack from them. They retired, but every now and then during the night, when there was quiet for a few minutes, there would come down the river on the wind the sound of distant hammering and the noise of saws.
It was after midnight before the Henry and the Sea Nymph floated free, but they anchored where they were and waited for the morning. Whether they would sail up the river after the pirate or whether he would come down to them, daylight would show.
Mr. Rhett’s vessels had been at anchor for five hours, and every man on board of them were watching and waiting, when daylight appeared and showed them a tall ship, under full sail, rounding the distant headland up the river. Now up came their anchors and their sails were set. The pirate was coming!
Whatever the Royal James intended to do, Mr. Rhett had but one plan, and that was to meet the enemy as soon as possible and fight him. So up sailed the Henry and up sailed the Sea Nymph, and they pressed ahead so steadily to meet the Royal James that the latter vessel, in carrying out what was now her obvious intention of getting out to sea, was forced shoreward, where she speedily ran upon a bar. Then, from the vessels of Charles Town there came great shouts of triumph, which ceased when first the Henry and then the Sea Nymph ran upon other bars and remained stationary.
Here was an unusual condition—three ships of war all aground and about to begin a battle, a battle which would probably last for five hours if one or more of the stationary vessels were not destroyed before that time. It was soon found, however, that there would only be two parties to the fight, for the Sea Nymph was too far away to use her guns. The Royal James had an advantage over her opponents, since, when she slightly careened, her decks were slanted away from the enemy, while the latter’s were presented to her fire.
At it they went, hot and heavy. Bonnet and his men now knew that they were engaged with commissioned war vessels, and they fought for their lives. Mr. Rhett knew that he was fighting Thomas, the dreaded pirate of the coast, and he felt that he must destroy him before his vessel should float again. The cannon roared, muskets blazed away, and the combatants were near enough even to use pistols upon each other. Men died, blood flowed, and the fight grew fiercer and fiercer.
Bonnet roared like an incarnate devil; he swore at his men, he swore at the enemy, he swore at his bad fortune, for had he not missed the channel the game would have been in his own hands.