Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/255

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voy and herded them watchfully while the British nosed about until dark, but found no stray prizes that could be cut out from the flock. In the starlight three ships seemed to be steering a course at some distance from the Spanish fleet, so the frigate gave chase, and came up with a heavy vessel mounting twenty-six guns.

"Archer, every man to his quarters," said the captain. "Light the battle-lanterns and open the gun-ports. Show this fellow our force, and it may prevent his firing into us and killing a man or two."

Across the intervening water rang the challenge from the Phoenix:

"Ho, the ship ahoy! Lower your sails and bring to instantly, or I will sink you."

Amid the clatter of blocks and creaking of spars the other ship laid her mainyard aback and hung plunging in the wind while to the sharp interrogation her skipper bawled through his trumpet:

"This is the British armed merchant ship Polly, from Jamaica to New York. What ship are you?"

"His Majesty's forty-four gun frigate Phoenix," was the reply, at which the honest sailors of the merchantman let go three rousing cheers; but a glum old shell-back of the frigate's crew was heard to mutter: