A long, low, eloquent whistle from the captain, succeeded this announcement. The man aloft was right. It was the steamer, sure enough; and she had been lying hid behind Blok Island, exactly as her consort had been placed behind Montauk, in waiting for their chase to arrive. The result was, to put the Molly Swash in exceeding jeopardy, and the reason why the cutter kept so well to windward was fully explained. To pass out to sea between these two craft was hopeless. There remained but a single alternative from capture by one or by the other,—and that Spike adopted instantly. He kept his brig dead away, setting studding-sails on both sides. This change of course brought the cutter nearly aft, or somewhat on the other quarter, and laid the brig’s head in a direction to carry her close to the northern coast of the island. But the principal advantage was gained over the steamer, which could not keep off, without first standing a mile or two, or even more, to the westward, in order to clear the land. This was so much clear gain to the Swash, which was running off at racing speed, on a north-east course, while her most dangerous enemy was still heading to the westward. As for the cutter, she kept away; but it was soon apparent that the brig had the heels of her, dead before the wind.
Darkness now began to close around the three vessels; the brig and the schooner soon becoming visible to each other principally by means of their night-glasses; though the steamer’s position could be easily distinguished by means of her flaming chimney. This latter vessel stood to the westward for a quarter of an hour, when her commander appeared to become suddenly conscious of the ground he was losing, and he wore short round, and went off before the wind, under steam and canvas; intending to meet the chase off the northern side of the island. The very person who had hailed the Swash, as she was leaving the wharf, who had passed her in Hell-Gate, with Jack Tier in his boat, and who had joined her off Throgmorton’s, was now on her deck, urging her commander by every consideration not to let the brig escape. It was at his suggestion that the course was changed. Nervous, and eager to seize the brig, he prevailed on the commander of the steamer to alter his course. Had he done no more than this, all might have been well; but so exaggerated were his notions of the Swash’s sailing, that, instead of suffering the steamer to keep close along the eastern side of the island, he persuaded her commander of the necessity of standing off a long distance to the northward and eastward, with a view to get ahead of the chase. This was not bad advice, were there any certainly that Spike would stand on, of which, however, he had no intention.
The night set in dark and cloudy; and, the instant that Spike saw, by means of the flaming chimney, that the steamer had wore, and was going to the eastward of Blok, his plan was laid. Calling to Mulford, he communicated it to him, and was glad to find that his intelligent mate was of his own way of thinking. The necessary orders were given, accordingly, and everything was got ready for its execution.