THE BLUE AND THE GRAY—AFLOAT
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TAKEN BY THE ENEMY WITHIN THE ENEMY'S LINES ON THE BLOCKADE STAND BY THE UNION FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT A VICTORIOUS UNION
THE BLUE AND THE GRAY—ON LAND
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BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER IN THE SADDLE A LIEUTENANT AT EIGHTEEN ON THE STAFF AT THE FRONT AN UNDIVIDED UNION
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Lee and Shepard Publishers BOSTON
BLUE AND THE GRAY
By Oliver Optic
ON THE BLOCKADE
The Blue and the Gray Series
ON THE BLOCKADE
by OLIVER OPTIC
Author of "The Army and Navy Series" "Young America Abroad" "The Great Western Series" "The Woodville Stories" "The Starry Flag Series" "The Boat-Club Stories" "The Onward and Upward Series" "The Yacht-Club Series" "The Lake Shore Series" "The Riverdale Series" "The Boat-Builder Series" "Taken by the Enemy" "Within the Enemy's Lines" etc.
LEE AND SHEPARD Publishers
Copyright, 1890, by Lee and Shepard All rights reserved.
On the Blockade.
To my Son-in-Law,
SOL SMITH RUSSELL,
of the United States of America, though Residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
who is always "On the Blockade" against Melancholy, "The Blues," and all similar maladies,
This Volume is affectionately dedicated.
"ON THE BLOCKADE" is the third of "The Blue and the Gray Series." Like the first and second volumes, its incidents are dated back to the War of the Rebellion, and located in the midst of its most stirring scenes on the Southern coast, where the naval operations of the United States contributed their full share to the final result.
The writer begs to remind his readers again that he has not felt called upon to invest his story with the dignity of history, or in all cases to mingle fiction with actual historic occurrences. He believes that all the scenes of the story are not only possible, but probable, and that just such events as he has narrated really and frequently occurred in the days of the Rebellion.
The historian is forbidden to make his work more palatable or more interesting by the intermixture of fiction with fact, while the story-writer, though required to be reasonably consistent with the spirit and the truth of history, may wander from veritable details, and use his imagination in the creation of incidents upon which the grand result is reached. It would not be allowable to make the Rebellion a success, if the writer so desired, even on the pages of romance; and it would not be fair or just to ignore the bravery, the self-sacrifice, and the heroic endurance of the Southern people in a cause they believed to be holy and patriotic, as almost universally admitted at the present time, any more than it would be to lose sight of the magnificent spirit, the heroism, the courage, and the persistence, of the Northern people in accomplishing what they believed then, and still believe, was a holy and patriotic duty in the preservation of the Union.
Incidents not inconsistent with the final result, or with the spirit of the people on either side in the great conflict are of comparatively little consequence. That General Lee or General Grant turned this or that corner in reaching Appomattox may be important, but the grand historical tableau is the Christian hero, noble in the midst of defeat, disaster, and ruin, formally rendering his sword to the impassible but magnanimous conqueror as the crowning event of a long and bloody war. The details are historically important, though overshadowed by the mighty result of the great conflict.
Many of the personages of the preceding volumes have been introduced in the present one, and the central figure remains the same. The writer is willing to admit that his hero is an ideal character, though his lofty tone and patriotic spirit were fully paralleled by veritable individuals during the war; and he is not prepared to apologize for the abundant success which attended the career of Christy Passford. Those who really struggled as earnestly and faithfully deserved his good fortune, though they did not always obtain it.
Dorchester, Mass., April 24, 1890.
Page CHAPTER I. The United States Steamer Bronx 15
CHAPTER II. A Dinner for the Confederacy 26
CHAPTER III. The Intruder at the Cabin Door 37
CHAPTER IV. A Deaf and Dumb Mystery 48
CHAPTER V. A Confidential Steward 59
CHAPTER VI. A Mission up the Foremast 70
CHAPTER VII. An Interview on the Bridge 81
CHAPTER VIII. Important Information, if True 92
CHAPTER IX. A Volunteer Captain's Clerk 103
CHAPTER X. The Unexpected Orders 114
CHAPTER XI. Another Reading of the Sealed Orders 125
CHAPTER XII. A Sail on the Starboard Bow 136
CHAPTER XIII. The Steamer in the Fog 147
CHAPTER XIV. The Confederate Steamer Scotian 158
CHAPTER XV. The Scotian becomes the Ocklockonee 169
CHAPTER XVI. Captain Passford's Final Orders 180
CHAPTER XVII. A Couple of Astonished Conspirators 191
CHAPTER XVIII. A Triangular Action with Great Guns 202
CHAPTER XIX. On the Deck of the Arran 213
CHAPTER XX. The New Commander of the Bronx 224
CHAPTER XXI. An Expedition in the Gulf 235
CHAPTER XXII. A Night Expedition in the Boats 246
CHAPTER XXIII. The Visit to a Shore Battery 257
CHAPTER XXIV. Captain Lonley of the Steamer Havana 268
CHAPTER XXV. The New Engineer of the Prize Steamer 279
CHAPTER XXVI. The Battle with the Soldiers 290
CHAPTER XXVII. The Innocent Captain of the Garrison 301
CHAPTER XXVIII. The Bearer of Despatches 312
CHAPTER XXIX. The New Commander of the Vixen 323
CHAPTER XXX. The Action with a Privateer Steamer 334
CHAPTER XXXI. A Short Visit to Bonnydale 345
ON THE BLOCKADE
THE UNITED STATES STEAMER BRONX
"She is a fine little steamer, father, without the possibility of a doubt," said Lieutenant Passford, who was seated at the table with his father in the captain's cabin on board of the Bronx. "I don't feel quite at home here, and I don't quite like the idea of being taken out of the Bellevite."
"You are not going to sea for the fun of it, my son," replied Captain Passford. "You are not setting out on a yachting excursion, but on the most serious business in the world."
"I know and feel all that, father, but I have spent so many pleasant days, hours, weeks, and months on board of the Bellevite, that I am very sorry to leave her," added Christy Passford, who had put on his new uniform, which was that of master in the United States Navy; and he was as becoming to the uniform as the uniform was to him.
"You cannot well help having some regrets at leaving the Bellevite; but you must remember that your life on board of her was mostly in the capacity of a pleasure-seeker, though you made a good use of your time and of your opportunities for improvement; and that is the reason why you have made such remarkable progress in your present profession."
"I shall miss my friends on board of the Bellevite. I have sailed with all her officers, and Paul Vapoor and I have been cronies for years," continued Christy, with a shade of gloom on his bright face.
"You will probably see them occasionally, and if your life is spared you may again find yourself an officer of the Bellevite. But I think you have no occasion to indulge in any regrets," said Captain Passford, imparting a cheerful expression to his dignified countenance. "Allow me to call your attention to the fact that you are the commander of this fine little steamer. Here you are in your own cabin, and you are still nothing but a boy, hardly eighteen years old."
"If I have not earned my rank, it is not my fault that I have it," answered Christy, hardly knowing whether to be glad or sorry for his rapid advancement. "I have never asked for anything; I did not ask or expect to be promoted. I was satisfied with my rank as a midshipman."
"I did not ask for your promotion, though I could probably have procured for you the rank of master when you entered the navy. I do not like to ask favors for a member of my own family. I have wished you to feel that you were in the service of your country because it needs you, and not for glory or profit."
"And I have tried to feel so, father."
"I think you have felt so, my son; and I am prouder of the fact that you are a disinterested patriot than of the rank you have nobly and bravely won," said Captain Passford, as he took some letters from his pocket, from which he selected one bearing an English postage stamp. "I have a letter from one of my agents in England, which, I think, contains valuable information. I have called the attention of the government to these employes of mine, and they will soon pass from my service to that of the naval department. The information sent me has sometimes been very important."
"I know that myself, for the information that came from that source enabled the Bellevite to capture the Killbright," added Christy.
"The contents of the letter in my hand have been sent to the Secretary of the Navy; but it will do no harm for you to possess the information given to me," continued Captain Passford, as he opened the letter. "But I see a man at work at the foot of the companion way, and I don't care to post the whole ship's company on this subject."
"That is Pink Mulgrum," said Christy with a smile on his face. "He is deaf and dumb, and he cannot make any use of what you say."
"Don't be sure of anything, Christy, except your religion and your patriotism, in these times," added Captain Passford, as he rose and closed the door of the cabin.
"I don't think there is much danger from a deaf mute, father," said the young commander of the Bronx laughing.
"Perhaps not; but when you have war intelligence to communicate, it is best to believe that every person has ears, and that every door has a keyhole. I learn from this letter that the Scotian sailed from Glasgow, and the Arran from Leith. The agent is of the opinion that both these steamers are fitted out by the same owners, who have formed a company, apparently to furnish the South with gunboats for its navy, as well as with needed supplies. In his letter my correspondent gives me the reason for this belief on his part."
"Does your agent give you any description of the vessels, father?" asked Christy, his eyes sparkling with the interest he felt in the information.
"Not a very full description, my son, for no strangers were allowed on board of either of them, for very obvious reasons; but they are both of less than five hundred tons burthen, are of precisely the same model and build, evidently constructed in the same yard. Both had been pleasure yachts, though owned by different gentlemen. Both sailed on the same day, the Scotian from Greenock and the Arran from Leith, March 3."
Christy opened his pocket diary, and put his finger on the date mentioned, counting up the days that had elapsed from that time to the present. Captain Passford could not help smiling at the interest his son manifested in the intelligence he had brought to him. The acting commander of the Bronx went over his calculation again.
"It is fourteen days since these vessels sailed," said he, looking at his father. "I doubt if your information will be of any value to me, for I suppose the steamers were selected on account of their great speed, as is the case with all blockade runners."
"Undoubtedly they were chosen for their speed, for a slow vessel does not amount to much in this sort of service," replied Captain Passford. "I received my letter day before yesterday, when the two vessels had been out twelve days."
"If they are fast steamers, they ought to be approaching the Southern coast by this time," suggested Christy.
"This is a windy month, and a vessel bound to the westward would encounter strong westerly gales, so that she could hardly make a quick passage. Then these steamers will almost certainly put in at Nassau or the Bermudas, if not for coal and supplies, at least to obtain the latest intelligence from the blockaded coast, and to pick up a pilot for the port to which they are bound. The agent thinks it is possible that the Scotian and Arran will meet some vessel to the southward of the Isle of Wight that will put an armament on board of them. He had written to another of my agents at Southampton to look up this matter. It is a quick mail from the latter city to New York, and I may get another letter on this subject before you sail, Christy."
"My orders may come off to me to-day," added the acting commander. "I am all ready to sail, and I am only waiting for them."
"If these two steamers sail in company, as they are likely to do if they are about equal in speed, and if they take on board an armament, it will hardly be prudent for you to meddle with them," said Captain Passford with a smile, though he had as much confidence in the prudence as in the bravery of his son.
"What shall I do, father, run away from them?" asked Christy, opening his eyes very wide.
"Certainly, my son. There is as much patriotism in running away from a superior force as there is in fighting an equal, for if the government should lose your vessel and lose you and your ship's company, it would be a disaster of more or less consequence to your country."
"I hardly think I shall fall in with the Scotian and the Arran, so I will not consider the question of running away from them," said Christy laughing.
"You have not received your orders yet, but they will probably require you to report at once to the flag-officer in the Gulf, and perhaps they will not permit you to look up blockade runners on the high seas," suggested Captain Passford. "These vessels may be fully armed and manned, in charge of Confederate naval officers; and doubtless they will be as glad to pick up the Bronx as you would be to pick up the Scotian or the Arran. You don't know yet whether they will come as simple blockade runners, or as naval vessels flying the Confederate flag. Whatever your orders, Christy, don't allow yourself to be carried away by any Quixotic enthusiasm."
"I don't think I have any more than half as much audacity as Captain Breaker said I had. As I look upon it, my first duty is to deliver my ship over to the flag-officer in the Gulf; and I suppose I shall be instructed to pick up a Confederate cruiser or a blockade runner, if one should cross my course."
"Obey your orders, Christy, whatever they may be. Now, I should like to look over the Bronx before I go on shore," said Captain Passford. "I think you said she was of about two hundred tons."
"That was what they said down south; but she is about three hundred tons," replied Christy, as he proceeded to show his father the cabin in which the conversation had taken place.
The captain's cabin was in the stern of the vessel, according to the orthodox rule in naval vessels. Of course it was small, though it seemed large to Christy who had spent so much of his leisure time in the cabin of the Florence, his sailboat on the Hudson. It was substantially fitted up, with little superfluous ornamentation; but it was a complete parlor, as a landsman would regard it. From it, on the port side opened the captain's state room, which was quite ample for a vessel no larger than the Bronx. Between it and the pantry on the starboard side, was a gangway leading from the foot of the companion way, by which the captain's cabin and the ward room were accessible from the quarter deck.
Crossing the gangway at the foot of the steps, Christy led the way into the ward room, where the principal officers were accommodated. It contained four berths, with portieres in front of them, which could be drawn out so as to inclose each one in a temporary state room. The forward berth on the starboard side was occupied by the first lieutenant, and the after one by the second lieutenant, according to the custom in the navy. On the port side, the forward berth belonged to the chief engineer, and the after one to the surgeon. Forward of this was the steerage, in which the boatswain, gunner, carpenter, the assistant engineers, and the steward were berthed. Each of these apartments was provided with a table upon which the meals were served to the officers occupying it. The etiquette of a man-of-war is even more exacting than that of a drawing room on shore.
Captain Passford was then conducted to the deck where he found the officers and seamen engaged in their various duties. Besides his son, the former owner of the Bellevite was acquainted with only two persons on board of the Bronx, Sampson, the engineer, and Flint, the acting first lieutenant, both of whom had served on board of the steam yacht. Christy's father gave them a hearty greeting, and both were as glad to see him as he was to greet them. Captain Passford then looked over the rest of the ship's company with a deeper interest than he cared to manifest, for they were to some extent bound up with the immediate future of his son. It was not such a ship's company as that which manned the Bellevite, though composed of much good material. The captain shook hands with his son, and went on board of his boat. Two hours later he came on board again.
A DINNER FOR THE CONFEDERACY
Christy Passford was not a little surprised to see his father so soon after his former visit, and he was confident that he had some good reason for coming. He conducted him at once to his cabin, where Captain Passford immediately seated himself at the table, and drew from his pocket a telegram.
"I found this on my desk when I went to my office," said he, opening a cable message, and placing it before Christy.
"'Mutton, three veal, four sea chickens,'" Christy read from the paper placed before him, laughing all the time as he thought it was a joke of some sort. "Signed 'Warnock.' It looks as though somebody was going to have a dinner, father. Mutton, veal, and four sea chickens seem to form the substantial of the feast, though I never ate any sea chickens."
"Perhaps somebody will have a dinner, but I hope it will prove to be indigestible to those for whom it is provided," added Captain Passford, amused at the comments of his son.
"The message is signed by Warnock. I don't happen to have the pleasure of his acquaintance, and I don't see why he has taken the trouble to send you this bill of fare," chuckled the commander of the Bronx.
"This bill of fare is of more importance to me, and especially to you, than you seem to understand."
"It is all Greek to me; and I wonder why Warnock, whoever he may be, has spent his money in sending you such a message, though I suppose you know who is to eat this dinner."
"The expense of sending the cablegram is charged to me, though the dinner is prepared for the Confederate States of America. Of course I understand it, for if I could not, it would not have been sent to me," replied Captain Passford, assuming a very serious expression. "You know Warnock, for he has often been at Bonnydale, though not under the name he signs to this message. My three agents, one in the north, one in the south, and one in the west of England, have each an assumed name. They are Otis, Barnes, and Wilson, and you know them all. They have been captains or mates in my employ; and they know all about a vessel when they see it."
"I know them all very well, and they are all good friends of mine," added Christy.
"Warnock is Captain Barnes, and this message comes from him. Captain Otis signs himself Bixwell in his letters and cablegrams, and Mr. Wilson, who was formerly mate of the Manhattan, uses the name of Fleetley."
"I begin to see into your system, father; and I suppose the government will carry out your plan."
"Very likely; for it would hardly be proper to send such information as these men have to transmit in plain English, for there may be spies or operators bribed by Confederate agents to suppress such matter."
"I see. I understand the system very well, father," said Christy.
"It is simple enough," added his father, as he took a paper from his pocket-book.
"If you only understand it, it is simple enough."
"I can interpret the language of this message, and there is not another person on the western continent that can do so. Now, look at the cablegram, Christy," continued Captain Passford, as he opened the paper he held in his hand. "What is the first word?"
"Mutton," replied the commander.
"Mutton means armed; that is to say the Scotian and the Arran took an armament on board at some point south of England, as indicated by the fact that the intelligence comes from Warnock. In about a week the mail will bring me a letter from him in which he will explain how he obtained this information."
"He must have chartered a steamer and cruised off the Isle of Wight to pick it up," suggested Christy.
"He is instructed to do that when necessary. What is the next word?"
"'Three,'" replied Christy.
"One means large, two medium, and three small," explained his father. "Three what, does it say?"
"Veal means ship's company, or crew."
"Putting the pieces together, then, 'three veal' means that the Scotian and the Arran have small crews," said Christy, intensely interested in the information.
"Precisely so. Read the rest of the message," added Captain Passford.
"'Four sea chickens,'" the commander read.
"'Four' means some, a few, no great number; in other words, rather indefinite. Very likely Warnock could not obtain exact information. 'C' stands for Confederate, and 'sea' is written instead of the letter. 'Chickens' means officers. 'Four sea chickens,' translated means 'some Confederate officers.'"
Christy had written down on a piece of paper the solution of the enigma, as interpreted by his father, though not the symbol words of the cablegram. He continued to write for a little longer time, amplifying and filling in the wanting parts of the message. Then he read what he had written, as follows: "'The Scotian and the Arran are armed; there are some Confederate officers on board, but their ship's companies are small.' Is that it, father?"
"That is the substance of it," replied Captain Passford, as he restored the key of the cipher to his pocket-book, and rose from his seat. "Now you know all that can be known on this side of the Atlantic in regard to the two steamers. The important information is that they are armed, and even with small crews they may be able to sink the Bronx, if you should happen to fall in with them, or if your orders required you to be on the lookout for them. There is a knock at the door."
Christy opened the door, and found a naval officer waiting to see him. He handed him a formidable looking envelope, with a great seal upon it. The young commander looked at its address, and saw that it came from the Navy Department. With it was a letter, which he opened. It was an order for the immediate sailing of the Bronx, the sealed orders to be opened when she reached latitude 38 deg. N. The messenger spoke some pleasant words, and then took his leave. Christy returned to the cabin, and showed the ponderous envelope to his father.
"Sealed orders, as I supposed you would have," said Captain Passford.
"And this is my order to sail immediately on receipt of it," added Christy.
"Then I must leave you, my son; and may the blessing of God go with you wherever your duty calls you!" exclaimed the father, not a little shaken by his paternal feelings. "Be brave, be watchful; but be prudent under all circumstances. Bravery and Prudence ought to be twin sisters, and I hope you will always have one of them on each side of you. I am not afraid that you will be a poltroon, a coward; but I do fear that your enthusiasm may carry you farther than you ought to go."
"I hope not, father; and your last words to me shall be remembered. When I am about to engage in any important enterprise, I will recall your admonition, and ask myself if I am heeding it."
"That satisfies me. I wish you had such a ship's company as we had on board of the Bellevite; but you have a great deal of good material, and I am confident that you will make the best use of it. Remember that you are fighting for your country and the best government God ever gave to the nations of the earth. Be brave, be prudent; but be a Christian, and let no mean, cruel or unworthy action stain your record."
Captain Passford took the hand of his son, and though neither of them wept, both of them were under the influence of the strongest emotions. Christy accompanied his father to the accommodation ladder, and shook hands with him again as he embarked in his boat. His mother and his sister had been on board that day, and the young commander had parted from them with quite as much emotion as on the present occasion. The members of the family were devotedly attached to each other, and in some respects the event seemed like a funeral to all of them, and not less to Christy than to the others, though he was entering upon a very exalted duty for one of his years.
"Pass the word for Mr. Flint," said Christy, after he had watched the receding boat that bore away his father for a few minutes.
"On duty, Captain Passford," said the first lieutenant, touching his cap to him a few minutes later.
"Heave short the anchor, and make ready to get under way," added the commander.
"Heave short, sir," replied Mr. Flint, as he touched his cap and retired. "Pass the word for Mr. Giblock."
Mr. Giblock was the boatswain of the ship, though he had only the rank of a boatswain's mate. He was an old sailor, as salt as a barrel of pickled pork, and knew his duty from keel to truck. In a few moments his pipe was heard, and the seamen began to walk around the capstan.
"Cable up and down, sir," said the boatswain, reporting to the second lieutenant on the forecastle.
Mr. Lillyworth was the acting second lieutenant, though he was not to be attached to the Bronx after she reached her destination in the Gulf. He repeated the report from the boatswain to the first lieutenant. The steamer was rigged as a topsail schooner; but the wind was contrary, and no sail was set before getting under way. The capstan was manned again, and as soon as the report came from the second lieutenant that the anchor was aweigh, the first lieutenant gave the order to strike one bell, which meant that the steamer was to go "ahead slow."
The Bronx had actually started on her mission, and the heart of Christy swelled in his bosom as he looked over the vessel, and realized that he was in command, though not for more than a week or two. All the courtesies and ceremonies were duly attended to, and the steamer, as soon as the anchor had been catted and fished, at the stroke of four bells, went ahead at full speed, though, as the fires had been banked in the furnaces, the engine was not working up to its capacity. In a couple of hours more she was outside of Sandy Hook, and on the broad ocean. The ship's company had been drilled to their duties, and everything worked to the entire satisfaction of the young commander.
The wind was ahead and light. All hands had been stationed, and at four in the afternoon, the first dog watch was on duty, and there was not much that could be called work for any one to do. Mr. Lillyworth, the second lieutenant, had the deck, and Christy had retired to his cabin to think over the events of the day, especially those relating to the Scotian and the Arran. He had not yet read his orders, and he could not decide what he should do, even if he discovered the two steamers in his track. He sat in his arm chair with the door of the cabin open, and when he saw the first lieutenant on his way to the ward room, he called him in.
"Well, Mr. Flint, what do you think of our crew?" asked the captain, after he had seated his guest.
"I have hardly seen enough of the men to be able to form an opinion," replied Flint. "I am afraid we have some hard material on board, though there are a good many first-class fellows among them."
"Of course we can not expect to get such a crew as we had in the Bellevite. How do you like Mr. Lillyworth?" asked the commander, looking sharply into the eye of his subordinate.
"I don't like him," replied Flint, bluntly. "You and I have been in some tight places together, and it is best to speak our minds squarely."
"That's right, Mr. Flint. We will talk of him another time. I have another matter on my mind just now," added Christy.
He proceeded to tell the first lieutenant something about the two steamers.
THE INTRUDER AT THE CABIN DOOR
Before he said anything about the Scotian and the Arran, Christy, mindful of the injunction of his father, had closed the cabin door, the portiere remaining drawn as it was before. When he had taken this precaution, he related some of the particulars which had been given to him earlier in the day.
"It is hardly worth while to talk about the matter yet awhile," added Christy. "I have my sealed orders, and I can not open the envelope until we are in latitude 38, and that will be sometime to-morrow forenoon."
"I don't think that Captain Folkner, who expected to be in command of the Teaser, as she was called before we put our hands upon her, overestimated her speed," replied Lieutenant Flint, consulting his watch. "We are making fifteen knots an hour just now, and Mr. Sampson is not hurrying her. I have been watching her very closely since we left Sandy Hook, and I really believe she will make eighteen knots with a little crowding."
"What makes you think so, Flint?" asked Christy, much interested in the statement of the first lieutenant.
"I suppose it is natural for a sailor to fall in love with his ship, and that is my condition in regard to the Bronx," replied Flint, with a smile which was intended as a mild apology for his weakness. "I used to be in love with the coasting schooner I owned and commanded, and I almost cried when I had to sell her."
"I don't think you need to be ashamed of this sentiment, or that an inanimate structure should call it into being," said the young commander. "I am sure I have not ceased to love the Bellevite; and in my eyes she is handsomer than any young lady I ever saw. I have not been able to transfer my affections to the Bronx as yet, and she will have to do something very remarkable before I do so. But about the speed of our ship?"
"I have noticed particularly how easily and gracefully she makes her way through the water when she is going fifteen knots. Why that is faster than most of the ocean passenger steamers travel."
"Very true; but like many of these blockade runners and other vessels which the Confederate government and rich men at the South have purchased in the United Kingdom, she was doubtless built on the Clyde. Not a few of them have been constructed for private yachts, and I have no doubt, from what I have seen, that the Bronx is one of the number. The Scotian and the Arran belonged to wealthy Britishers; and of course they were built in the very best manner, and were intended to attain the very highest rate of speed."
"I shall count on eighteen knots at least on the part of the Bronx when the situation shall require her to do her best. By the way, Captain Passford, don't you think that a rather queer name has been given to our steamer? Bronx! I am willing to confess that I don't know what the word means, or whether it is fish, flesh or fowl," continued Flint.
"It is not fish, flesh or fowl," replied Christy, laughing. "My father suggested the name to the Department, and it was adopted. He talked with me about a name, as he thought I had some interest in her, for the reason that I had done something in picking her up."
"Done something? I should say that you had done it all," added Flint.
"I did my share. The vessels of the navy have generally been named after a system, though it has often been varied. Besides the names of states and cities, the names of rivers have been given to vessels. The Bronx is the name of a small stream, hardly more than a brook, in West Chester County, New York. When I was a small boy, my father had a country place on its banks, and I did my first paddling in the water in the Bronx. I liked the name, and my father recommended it."
"I don't object to the name, though somehow it makes me think of a walnut cracked in your teeth when I hear it pronounced," added Flint. "Now that I know what it is and what it means, I shall take more kindly to it, though I am afraid we shall get to calling her the Bronxy before we have done with her, especially if she gets to be a pet, for the name seems to need another syllable."
"Young men fall in love with girls without regard to their names."
"That's so. A friend of mine in our town in Maine fell in love with a young lady by the name of Leatherbee; but she was a very pretty girl and her name was all the objection I had to her," said Flint, chuckling.
"But that was an objection which your friend evidently intended to remove at no very distant day," suggested Christy.
"Very true; and he did remove it some years ago. What was that noise?" asked the first lieutenant, suddenly rising from his seat.
Christy heard the sounds at the same moment. He and his companion in the cabin had been talking about the Scotian and the Arran, and what his father had said to him about prudence in speaking of his movements came to his mind. The noise was continued, and he hastened to the door of his state room, and threw it open. In the room he found Dave hard at work on the furniture; he had taken out the berth sack, and was brushing out the inside of the berth. The noise had been made by the shaking of the slats on which the mattress rested. Davis Talbot, the cabin steward of the Bronx, had been captured in the vessel when she was run out of Pensacola Bay some months before. As he was a very intelligent colored man, or rather mulatto, though they were all the same at the South, the young commander had selected him for his present service; and he never had occasion to regret the choice. Dave had passed his time since the Teaser arrived at New York at Bonnydale, and he had become a great favorite, not only with Christy, but with all the members of the family.
"What are you about, Dave?" demanded Christy, not a little astonished to find the steward in his room.
"I am putting the room in order for the captain, sir," replied Dave with a cheerful smile, such as he always wore in the presence of his superiors. "I found something in this berth I did not like to see about a bed in which a gentleman is to sleep, and I have been through it with poison and a feather; and I will give you the whole southern Confederacy if you find a single redback in the berth after this."
"I am very glad you have attended to this matter at once, Dave."
"Yes, sir; Captain Folkner never let me attend to it properly, for he was afraid I would read some of his papers on the desk. He was willing to sleep six in a bed with redbacks," chuckled Dave.
"Well, I am not, or even two in a bed with such companions. How long have you been in my room, Dave?" added Christy.
"More than two hours, I think; and I have been mighty busy too."
"Did you hear me when I came into the cabin?"
"No, sir, I did not; but I heard you talking with somebody a while ago."
"What did I say to the other person?"
"I don't know, sir; I could not make out a word, and I didn't stop in my work to listen. I have been very busy, Captain Passford," answered Dave, beginning to think he had been doing something that was not altogether regular.
"Don't you know what we were talking about, Dave?"
"No, sir; I did not make out a single word you said," protested the steward, really troubled to find that he had done something wrong, though he had not the least idea what it was. "I did not mean to do anything out of the way, Captain Passford."
"I have no fault to find this time, Dave."
"I should hope not, sir," added Dave, looking as solemn as a sleepy owl. "I would jump overboard before I would offend you, Massa Christy."
"You need not jump overboard just yet," replied the captain, with a pleasant smile, intended to remove the fears of the steward. "But I want to make a new rule for you, Dave."
"Thank you, sir; if you sit up nights to make rules for me, I will obey all of them; and I would give you the whole State of Florida before I would break one of them on purpose, Massa Christy."
"Massa Christy!" exclaimed the captain, laughing.
"Massa Captain Passford!" shouted Dave, hastening to correct his over-familiarity.
"I don't object to your calling me Christy when we are alone, for I look upon you as my friend, and I have tried to treat you as a gentleman, though you are a subordinate. But are you going to be a nigger again, and call white men 'Massa?' I told you not to use that word."
"I done forget it when I got excited because I was afraid I had offended you," pleaded the steward.
"Your education is vastly superior to most people of your class, and you should not belittle yourself. This is my cabin; and I shall sometimes have occasion to talk confidentially with my officers. Do you understand what I mean, Dave?"
"Perfectly, Captain Passford: I know what it is to talk confidently and what it is to talk confidentially, and you do both, sir," replied the steward.
"But I am sometimes more confidential than confident. Now you must do all your work in my state room when I am not in the cabin, and this is the new rule," said Christy, as he went out of the room. "I know that I can trust you, Dave; but when I tell a secret I want to know to how many persons I am telling it. You may finish your work now;" and he closed the door.
Christy could not have explained why he did so if it had been required of him, but he went directly to the door leading out into the companion way, and suddenly threw it wide open, drawing the portiere aside at the same time. Not a little to his surprise, for he had not expected it, he found a man there; and the intruder was down on his knees, as if in position to place his ear at the keyhole. This time the young commander was indignant, and without stopping to consider as long as the precepts of his father required, he seized the man by the collar, and dragged him into the cabin.
"What are you doing there?" demanded Christy in the heat of his indignation.
The intruder, who was a rather stout man, began to shake his head with all his might, and to put the fore finger of his right hand on his mouth and one of his ears. He was big enough to have given the young commander a deal of trouble if he had chosen to resist the force used upon him; but he appeared to be tame and submissive. He did not speak, but he seemed to be exerting himself to the utmost to make himself understood. Flint had resumed his seat at the table, facing the door, and in spite of himself, apparently, he began to laugh.
"That is Pink Mulgrum, Captain Passford," said he, evidently to prevent his superior from misinterpreting the lightness of his conduct. "As you are aware, he is deaf and dumb."
"I see who he is now," replied Christy, who had just identified the man. "He may be deaf and dumb, but he seems to have a great deal of business at the door of my cabin."
"I have no doubt he is as deaf as the keel of the ship, and I have not yet heard him speak a word," added the first lieutenant. "But he is a stout fellow, very patriotic, and willing to work."
"All that may be, but I have found him once before hanging around that door to-day."
At this moment Mulgrum took from his pocket a tablet of paper and a pencil, and wrote upon it, "I am a deaf mute, and I don't know what you are talking about." Christy read it, and then wrote, "What were you doing at the door?" He replied that he had been sent by Mr. Lillyworth to clean the brasses on the door. He was then dismissed.
A DEAF AND DUMB MYSTERY
As he dismissed Mulgrum, Christy tore off the leaf from the tablet on which both of them had written before he handed it back to the owner. For a few moments, he said nothing, and had his attention fixed on the paper in his hand, which he seemed to be studying for some reason of his own.
"That man writes a very good hand for one in his position," said he, looking at the first lieutenant.
"I had noticed that before," replied Flint, as the commander handed him the paper, which he looked over with interest. "I had some talk with him on his tablet the day he came on board. He strikes me as a very intelligent and well-educated man."
"Was he born a deaf mute?" asked Christy.
"I did not think to ask him that question; but I judged from the language he used and his rapid writing that he was well educated. There is character in his handwriting too; and that is hardly to be expected from a deaf mute," replied Flint.
"Being a deaf mute, he can not have been shipped as a seaman, or even as an ordinary steward," suggested the captain.
"Of course not; he was employed as a sort of scullion to be worked wherever he could make himself useful. Mr. Nawood engaged him on the recommendation of Mr. Lillyworth," added Flint, with something like a frown on his brow, as though he had just sounded a new idea.
"Have you asked Mr. Lillyworth anything about him?"
"I have not; for somehow Mr. Lillyworth and I don't seem to be very affectionate towards each other, though we get along very well together. But Mulgrum wrote out for me that he was born in Cherryfield, Maine, and obtained his education as a deaf mute in Hartford. I learned the deaf and dumb alphabet when I was a schoolmaster, as a pastime, and I had some practice with it in the house where I boarded."
"Then you can talk in that way with Mulgrum."
"Not a bit of it; he knows nothing at all about the deaf and dumb alphabet, and could not spell out a single word I gave him."
"That is very odd," added the captain musing.
"So I thought; but he explained it by saying that at the school they were changing this method of communication for that of actually speaking and understanding what was said by observing the vocal organs. He had not remained long enough to master this method; in fact he had done all his talking with his tablets."
"It is a little strange that he should not have learned either method of communication."
"I thought so myself, and said as much to him; but he told me that he had inherited considerable property at the death of his father, and he was not inclined to learn new tricks," said Flint. "He is intensely patriotic, and said that he was willing to give himself and all his property for the salvation of his country. He had endeavored to obtain a position as captain's clerk, or something of that sort, in the navy; but failing of this, he had been willing to go to the war as a scullion. He says he shall fight, whatever his situation, when he has the opportunity; and that is all I know about him."
Christy looked on the floor, and seemed to be considering the facts he had just learned. He had twice discovered Mulgrum at the door of his cabin, though his presence there had been satisfactorily explained; or at least a reason had been given. This man had been brought on board by the influence of Mr. Lillyworth, who had been ordered to the Gulf for duty, and was on board as a substitute for Mr. Flint, who was acting in Christy's place, as the latter was in that of Mr. Blowitt, who outranked them all. Flint had not been favorably impressed with the acting second lieutenant, and he had not hesitated to speak his mind in regard to him to the captain. Though Christy had been more reserved in speech, he had the feeling that Mr. Lillyworth must establish a reputation for patriotism and fidelity to the government before he could trust him as he did the first lieutenant, though he was determined to manifest nothing like suspicion in regard to him.
At this stage of the war, that is to say in the earlier years of it, the government was obliged to accept such men as it could obtain for officers, for the number in demand greatly exceeded the supply of regularly educated naval officers. There were a great many applicants for positions, and candidates were examined in regard to their professional qualifications rather than their motives for entering the service. If a man desired to enter the army or the navy, the simple wish was regarded as a sufficient guaranty of his patriotism, especially in connection with his oath of allegiance. With the deaf mute's leaf in his hand Christy was thinking over this matter of the motives of officers. He was not satisfied in regard to either Lillyworth or Mulgrum, and besides the regular quota of officers and seamen permanently attached to the Bronx, there were eighteen seamen and petty officers berthed forward, who were really passengers, though they were doing duty.
"Where did you say this man Mulgrum was born, Mr. Flint?" asked the captain, after he had mused for quite a time.
"In Cherryfield, Maine," replied the first lieutenant; and he could not help feeling that the commander had not been silent so long for nothing.
"You are a Maine man, Flint: were you ever in this town?"
"I have been; I taught school there for six months; and it was the last place I filled before I went to sea."
"I am glad to hear it, for it will save me from looking any further for the man I want just now. If this deaf mute was born and brought up in Cherryfield, he must know something about the place," added Christy as he touched a bell on his table, to which Dave instantly responded.
"Do you know Mulgrum, Dave?" asked the captain.
"No, sir; never heard of him before," replied the steward.
"You don't know him! The man who has been cleaning the brass work on the doors?" exclaimed Christy.
"Oh! Pink, we all call him," said the steward.
"His name is Pinkney Mulgrum," Flint explained.
"Yes, sir; I know him, though we never had any long talks together," added Dave with a rich smile on his face.
"Go on deck, and tell Mulgrum to come into my cabin," said Christy.
"If I tell him that, he won't hear me," suggested Dave.
"Show him this paper," interposed the first lieutenant, handing him a card on which he had written the order.
Dave left the cabin to deliver the message, and the captain immediately instructed Flint to question the man in regard to the localities and other matters in Cherryfield, suggesting that he should conduct his examination so as not to excite any suspicion. Pink Mulgrum appeared promptly, and was placed at the table where both of the officers could observe his expression. Then Flint began to write on a sheet of paper, and passed his first question to the man. It was: "Don't you remember me?" Mulgrum wrote that he did not. Then the inquisitor asked when he had left Cherryfield to attend the school at Hartford; and the date he gave placed him there at the very time when Flint had been the master of the school for four months. On the question of locality, he could place the church, the schoolhouse and the hotel; and he seemed to have no further knowledge of the town. When asked where his father lived, he described a white house next to the church; but Flint knew that this had been owned and occupied by the minister for many years.
"This man is a humbug," was the next sentence the first lieutenant wrote, but he passed it to the captain. Christy wrote under it: "Tell him that we are perfectly satisfied with his replies, and thank him for his attendance;" which was done at once, and the captain smiled upon him as though he had conducted himself with distinguished ability.
"Mulgrum has been in Cherryfield; but he could not have remained there more than a day or two," said Flint, when the door had closed behind the deaf mute.
The captain made a gesture to impose silence upon his companion.
"Mulgrum is all right in every respect," said he in a loud tone, so that if the subject of the examination had stopped at the keyhole of the door, he would not be made any the wiser for what he heard there.
"He knows Cherryfield as well as he knows the deck of the Bronx, and as you say, Captain Passford, he is all right in every respect," added the first lieutenant in the same loud tone. "Mulgrum is a well educated man, captain, and you will have a great deal of writing to do: I suggest that you bring him into your cabin, and make him your clerk."
"That is a capital idea, Mr. Flint, and I shall consider it," returned the commander, making sure that the man at the door should hear him, if Mulgrum lingered there. "I have a number of letters sent over from England relating to blockade runners that I wish to have copied for the use of any naval officers with whom I may fall in; and I have not the time to do it myself."
"Mulgrum writes a very handsome hand, and no one could do the work any better than he."
Christy thought enough had been said to satisfy the curiosity of Mulgrum if he was still active in seeking information, and both of the officers were silent. The captain had enough to think of to last him a long while. The result of the inquiry into the auditory and vocal powers of the scullion, as Flint called him, had convinced him that the deaf mute was a fraud. He had no doubt that he could both speak and hear as well as the rest of the ship's company. But the puzzling question was in relation to the reason why he pretended to be deaf and dumb. If he was desirous of serving his country in the navy, and especially in the Bronx, it was not necessary to pretend to be deaf and dumb in order to obtain a fighting berth on board of her. It looked like a first class mystery to the young commander, but he was satisfied that the presence of Mulgrum meant mischief. He could not determine at once what it was best to do to solve the mystery; but he decided that the most extreme watchfulness was required of him and his first lieutenant. This was all he could do, and he touched his bell again.
"Dave," said he when the cabin steward presented himself before him, "go on deck and ask Mr. Lillyworth to report to me the log and the weather."
"The log and the weather, sir," replied Dave, as he hastened out of the cabin.
Christy watched him closely as he went out at the door, and he was satisfied that Mulgrum was not in the passage, if he had stopped there at all. His present purpose was to disarm all the suspicions of the subject of the mystery, but he would have been glad to know whether or not the man had lingered at the door to hear what was said in regard to him. He was not anxious in regard to the weather, or even the log, and he sent Dave on his errand in order to make sure that Mulgrum was not still doing duty as a listener.
"Wind south south west, log last time fifteen knots and a half," reported Dave, as he came in after knocking at the door.
"I can not imagine why that man pretended to be deaf and dumb in order to get a position on board of the Bronx. He is plainly a fraud," said the captain when Dave had gone back to his work in the state room.
"I don't believe he pretended to be a deaf mute in order to get a place on board, for that would ordinarily be enough to prevent him from getting it. I should put it that he had obtained his place in spite of being deaf and dumb. But the mystery exists just the same."
The captain went on deck, and the first lieutenant to the ward room.
A CONFIDENTIAL STEWARD
The wind still came from the southward, and it was very light. The sea was comparatively smooth, and the Bronx continued on her course. At the last bi-hourly heaving of the log, she was making sixteen knots an hour. The captain went into the engine room, where he found Mr. Gawl, one of the chief's two assistants, on duty. This officer informed him that no effort had been made to increase the speed of the steamer, and that she was under no strain whatever. The engine had been thoroughly overhauled, as well as every other part of the vessel, and every improvement that talent and experience suggested had been made. It now appeared that the engine had been greatly benefited by whatever changes had been made. These improvements had been explained to the commander by Mr. Sampson the day before; but Christy had not given much attention to the matter, for he preferred to let the speed of the vessel speak for itself; and this was what it appeared to be doing at the present time.
Christy walked the deck for some time, observing everything that presented itself, and taking especial notice of the working of the vessel. Though he made no claims to any superior skill, he was really an expert, and the many days and months he had passed in the companionship of Paul Vapoor in studying the movements of engines and hulls had made him wiser and more skilful than it had even been suspected that he was. He was fully competent for the position he was temporarily filling; but he had made himself so by years of study and practice.
Christy had not yet obtained all the experience he required as a naval officer, and he was fully aware that this was what he needed to enable him to discharge his duty in the best manner. He was in command of a small steamer, a position of responsibility which he had not coveted in this early stage of his career, though it was only for a week or less, as the present speed of the Bronx indicated. He had ambition enough to hope that he should be able to distinguish himself in this brief period, for it might be years before he again obtained such an opportunity. His youth was against him, and he was aware that he had been selected to take the steamer to the Gulf because there was a scarcity of officers of the proper grade, and his rank gave him the position.
The motion of the Bronx exactly suited him, and he judged that in a heavy sea she would behave very well. He had made one voyage in her from the Gulf to New York, and the steamer had done very well, though she had been greatly improved at the navy yard. Certainly her motion was better, and the connection between the engine and the inert material of which the steamer was constructed, seemed to be made without any straining or jerking. There was very little shaking and trembling as the powerful machinery drove her ahead over the quiet sea. There had been no very severe weather during his first cruise in the Bronx, and she had not been tested in a storm under his management, though she had doubtless encountered severe gales in crossing the Atlantic in a breezy season of the year.
While Christy was planking the deck, four bells were struck on the ship's great bell on the top-gallant forecastle. It was the beginning of the second dog watch, or six o'clock in the afternoon, and the watch which had been on duty since four o'clock was relieved. Mr. Flint ascended the bridge, and took the place of Mr. Lillyworth, the second lieutenant. Under this bridge was the pilot-house, and in spite of her small size, the steamer was steered by steam. The ship had been at sea but a few hours, and the crew were not inclined to leave the deck. The number of men on board was nearly doubled by the addition of those sent down to fill vacancies in other vessels on the blockade. Christy went on the bridge soon after, more to take a survey inboard than for any other purpose.
Mr. Lillyworth had gone aft, but when he met Mulgrum coming up from the galley, he stopped and looked around him. With the exception of himself nearly the whole ship's company were forward. The commander watched him with interest when he stopped in the vicinity of the deaf mute, who also halted in the presence of the second lieutenant. Then they walked together towards the companion way, and disappeared behind the mainmast. Christy had not before noticed any intercourse between the lieutenant and the scullion, though he thought it a little odd that the officer should set the man at work cleaning the brasses about the door of the captain's cabin, a matter that belonged to the steward's department. He had learned from Flint that Mulgrum had been recommended to the chief steward by Lillyworth, so that it was evident enough that they had been acquainted before either of them came on board. But he could not see them behind the mast, and he desired very much to know what they were doing.
Flint had taken his supper before he went on duty on the bridge, and the table was waiting for the other ward room officers who had just been relieved. It was time for Lillyworth to go to the meal, but he did not go, and he seemed to be otherwise engaged. After a while, Christy looked at his watch, and found that a quarter of an hour had elapsed since the second lieutenant had left the bridge, and he had spent nearly all this time abaft the mainmast with the scullion. The commander had become absolutely absorbed in his efforts to fathom the deaf and dumb mystery, and fortunately there was nothing else to occupy his attention, for Flint had drilled the crew, including the men for other vessels, and had billeted and stationed them during the several days he had been on board. Everything was working as though the Bronx had been at sea a month instead of less than half a day.
Christy was exceedingly anxious to ascertain what, if anything, was passing between Lillyworth and Mulgrum; but he could see no way to obtain any information on the subject. He had no doubt he was watched as closely as he was watching the second lieutenant. If he went aft, that would at once end the conference, if one was in progress. He could not call upon a seaman to report on such a delicate question without betraying himself, and he had not yet learned whom to trust in such a matter, and it was hardly proper to call upon a foremast hand to watch one of his officers.
The only person on board besides the first lieutenant in whom he felt that he could repose entire confidence was Dave. He knew him thoroughly, and his color was almost enough to guarantee his loyalty to the country and his officers, and especially to himself, for the steward possessed a rather extravagant admiration for the one who had "brought him out of bondage," as he expressed it, and had treated him like a gentleman from first to last. He could trust Dave even on the most delicate mission; but Dave was attending to the table in the ward room, and he did not care to call him from his duty.
At the end of another five minutes, Christy saw Mulgrum come from abaft the mainmast, and descend the ladder to the galley. He saw no more of Lillyworth, and he concluded that, keeping himself in the shadow of the mast, he had gone below. He remained on the bridge a while longer considering what he should do. He said nothing to Flint, for he did not like to take up the attention of any officer on duty. The commander thought that Dave could render him the assistance he required better than any other person on board, for being only a steward and a colored man at that, less notice would be taken of him than of one in a higher position. He was about to descend from the bridge when Flint spoke to him in regard to the weather, though he could have guessed to a point what the captain was thinking about, perhaps because the same subject occupied his own thoughts.
"I think we shall have a change of weather before morning, Captain Passford. The wind is drawing a little more to the southward, and we are likely to have wind and rain," said the first lieutenant.
"Wind and rain will not trouble us, and I am more afraid that we shall be bothered with fog on this cruise," added Christy as he descended the ladder to the main deck.
He walked about the deck for a few minutes, observing the various occupations of the men, who were generally engaged in amusing themselves, or in "reeling off sea yarns." Then he went below. At the foot of the stairs in the companion way, the door of the ward room was open, and he saw that Lillyworth was seated at the table. He sat at the foot of it, the head being the place of the first lieutenant, and the captain could see only his back. He was slightly bald at the apex of his head, for he was an older man than either the captain or the first lieutenant, but inferior to them in rank, though all of them were masters, and seniority depended upon the date of the commissions; and even a single day settled the degree in these days of multiplied appointments. Christy went into his cabin, where the table was set for his own supper.
The commander looked at his barometer, and his reading of it assured him that Flint was correct in regard to his prognostics of the weather. But the young officer had faced the winter gales of the Atlantic, and the approach of any ordinary storm did not disturb him in the least degree. On the contrary he rather liked a lively sea, for it was less monotonous than a calm. He did not brood over a storm, therefore, but continued to consider the subject which had so deeply interested him since he discovered Mulgrum on his knees at the door, with a rag and a saucer of rottenstone in his hands. He had a curiosity to examine the brass knob of his door at that moment, and it did not appear to have been very severely rubbed.
"Quarter of seven, sir," said Dave, presenting himself at the door while Christy was still musing over the incidents already detailed.
"All right, Dave; I will have my supper now," replied Christy, indifferently, for though he was generally blessed with a good appetite the mystery was too absorbing to permit the necessary duty of eating to drive it out of his mind.
Dave retired, and soon brought in a tray from the galley, the dishes from which he arranged on the table. It was an excellent supper, though he had not given any especial orders in regard to its preparation. He seated himself and began to eat in a rather mechanical manner, and no one who saw him would have mistaken him for an epicure. Dave stationed himself in front of the commander, so that he was between the table and the door. He watched Christy, keeping his eyes fixed on him without intermitting his gaze for a single instant. Once in a while he tendered a dish to him at the table, but there was but one object in existence for Christy at that moment.
"Dave," said the captain, after he had disposed of a portion of his supper.
"Here, sir, on duty," replied the steward.
"Open the door behind you, quick!"
Dave obeyed instantly, and threw the door back so that it was wide open, though he seemed to be amazed at the strangeness of the order.
"All right, Dave; close it," added Christy, when he saw there was no one in the passage; and he concluded that Mulgrum was not likely to be practising his vocation when there was no one in the cabin but himself and the steward.
Dave obeyed the order like a machine, and then renewed his gaze at the commander.
"Are you a Freemason, Dave?" asked Christy.
"No, sir," replied the steward with a magnificent smile.
"A Knight of Pythias, of Pythagoras, or anything of that sort?"
"No, sir; nothing of the sort."
"Then you can't keep a secret?"
"Yes, sir, I can. If I have a secret to keep, I will give the whole Alabama River to any one that can get it out of me."
Christy felt sure of his man without this protestation.
A MISSION UP THE FOREMAST
Christy spent some time in delivering a lecture on naval etiquette to his single auditor. Probably he was not the highest authority on the subject of his discourse; but he was sufficiently learned to meet the requirements of the present occasion.
"You say you can keep a secret, Dave?" continued the commander.
"I don't take any secrets to keep from everybody, Captain Passford; and I don't much like to carry them about with me," replied the steward, looking a little more grave than usual, though he still wore a cheerful smile.
"Then you don't wish me to confide a secret to you?"
"I don't say that, Captain Passford. I don't want any man's secrets, and I don't run after them, except for the good of the service. I was a slave once, but I know what I am working for now. If you have a secret I ought to know, Captain Passford, I will take it in and bury it away down at the bottom of my bosom; and I will give the whole state of Louisiana to any one that will dig it out of me."
"That's enough, Dave; and I am willing to trust you without any oath on the Bible, and without even a Quaker's affirmation. I believe you will be prudent, discreet, and silent for my sake."
"Certainly I will be all that, Captain Passford, for I think you are a bigger man than Jeff Davis," protested Dave.
"That is because you do not know the President of the Confederate States, and you do know me; but Mr. Davis is a man of transcendent ability, and I am only sorry that he is engaged in a bad cause, though he believes with all his heart and soul that it is a good cause."
"He never treated me like a gentleman, as you have, sir."
"And he never treated you unkindly, I am very sure."
"He never treated me any way, for I never saw him; and I would not walk a hundred miles barefooted to see him, either. I am no gentleman or anything of that sort, Massa— Captain Passford, but if I ever go back on you by the breadth of a hair, then the Alabama River will run up hill."
"I am satisfied with you, Dave; and here is my hand," added Christy, extending it to the steward, who shook it warmly, displaying a good deal of emotion as he did so. "Now, Dave, you know Mulgrum, or Pink, as you call him?"
"Well, sir, I know him as I do the rest of the people on board; but we are not sworn friends yet," replied Dave, rather puzzled to know what duty was required of him in connection with the scullion.
"You know him; that is enough. What do you think of him?"
"I haven't had any long talks with him, sir, and I don't know what to think of him."
"You know that he is dumb?"
"I expect he is, sir; but he never said anything to me about it," replied Dave. "He never told me he couldn't speak, and I never heard him speak to any one on board."
"Did you ever speak to him?"
"Yes, sir; I spoke to him when he first came on board; but he didn't answer me, or take any notice of me when I spoke to him, and I got tired of it."
"Open that door quickly, Dave," said the captain suddenly.
The steward promptly obeyed the order, and Christy saw that there was no one in the passage. He told his companion to close the door, and Dave was puzzled to know what this movement could mean.
"I beg your pardon, Captain Passford, and I have no right to ask any question; but I should like to know why you make me open that door two or three times for nothing," said Dave, in the humblest of tones.
"I told you to open it so that I could see if there was anybody at the door. This is my secret, Dave. I have twice found Mulgrum at that door while I was talking to the first lieutenant. He pretended to be cleaning the brass work."
"What was he there for? When a man is as deaf as the foremast of the ship what would he be doing at the door?"
"He was down on his knees, and his ear was not a great way from the keyhole of the door."
"But he could not hear anything."
"I don't know: that is what I want to find out. The mission I have for you, Dave, is to watch Mulgrum. In a word, I have my doubts in regard to his deafness and his dumbness."
"You don't believe he is deaf and dumb, Captain Passford!" exclaimed the steward, opening his eyes very wide, and looking as though an earthquake had just shaken him up.
"I don't say that, my man. I am in doubt. He may be a deaf mute, as he represents himself to be. I wish you to ascertain whether or not he can speak and hear. You are a shrewd fellow, Dave, I discovered some time ago; in fact the first time I ever saw you. You may do this job in any manner you please; but remember that your mission is my secret, and you must not betray it to Mulgrum, or to any other person."
"Be sure I won't do that, Captain Passford."
"If you obtain any satisfactory information, convey it to me immediately. You must be very careful not to let any one suspect that you are watching him, and least of all to let Mulgrum know it. Do you understand me perfectly, Dave?"
"Yes, sir; perfectly. Nobody takes any notice of me but you, and it won't be a hard job. I think I can manage it without any trouble. I am nothing but a nigger, and of no account."
"I have chosen you for this mission because you can do it better than any other person, Dave. Don't call yourself a nigger; I don't like the word, and you are ninety degrees in the shade above the lower class of negroes in the South."
"Thank you, sir," replied the steward with an expansive smile.
"There is one thing I wish you to understand particularly, Dave. I have not set you to watch any officer of the ship," said Christy impressively.
"No, sir; I reckon Pink Mulgrum is not an officer any more than I am."
"But you may discover, if you find that Mulgrum can speak and hear, that he is talking to an officer," added the captain in a low tone.
"What officer, Captain Passford?" asked the steward, opening his eyes to their utmost capacity, and looking as bewildered as an owl in the gaslight.
"I repeat that I do not set you to watch an officer; and I leave it to you to ascertain with whom Mulgrum has any talk, if with any one. Now I warn you that, if you accomplish anything in this mission, you will do it at night and not in the daytime. That is all that need be said at the present time, Dave, and you will attend to your duty as usual. If you lose much sleep, you may make it up in the forenoon watch."
"I don't care for the sleep, Captain Passford, and I can keep awake all night."
"One thing more, Dave; between eight bells and eight bells to-night, during the first watch, you may get at something, but you must keep out of sight as much as you can," added Christy, as he rose from his armchair, and went into his state room.
Dave busied himself in clearing the table, but he was in a very thoughtful mood all the time. Loading up his tray with dishes, he carried them through the steerage to the galley, where he found Mulgrum engaged in washing those from the ward room, which he had brought out some time before. The steward looked at the deaf mute with more interest than he had regarded him before. He was a supernumerary on board, and any one who had anything to do called Pink to do it. Another waiter was greatly needed, and Mr. Nawood, the chief steward, had engaged one, but he had failed to come on board before the steamer sailed. Pink had been pressed into service for the steerage; but he was of little use, and the work seemed very distasteful, if not disgusting, to him. He carried in the food, but that was about all he was good for.
Dave watched him for a few minutes as he washed and wiped the dishes, and saw that he was very awkward at it; it was plain to him that he was not an experienced hand at the business. But he was doing the steward's work, and Dave took hold and helped him. Pink was as solemn as an owl, and did his work in a very mechanical manner, and without the slightest interest in it. The cabin steward had a mission, and he was profoundly interested in its execution.
By the side of the galley, or range, was a sink at which they were at work. Dave thought he might as well begin then and there to test the hearing powers of his companion. Picking up one of the large blowers of the range, he placed himself so that Pink could not see what he was about, and then banged the sheet iron against the cast iron of the great stove. He kept his eye fixed all the time on the scullion. The noise was enough for the big midship gun on deck, or even for a small earthquake. Pink was evidently startled by the prodigious sound, and turned towards the steward, who was satisfied that he had heard it; but the fellow was cunning, and realizing that he had committed himself, he picked up one of his feet, and began to rub it as though he had been hit by the falling blower. At the same time, he pretended to be very angry, and demonstrated very earnestly against his companion.
Dave felt that he had made a point, and he did not carry his investigation of the auditory capacity of the scullion any farther that night. He finished his work below, and then went on deck. He lounged about in a very careless manner till eight bells were struck. Mr. Flint on the bridge was relieved by Mr. Lillyworth, and the port watch came on duty for the next four hours, or until midnight. This was the time the captain had indicated to Dave as a favorable one for the discharge of his special duty. Taking advantage of the absence of any person from the vicinity of the foremast, he adroitly curled himself up in the folds of the foresail, which was brailed up to the mast. He had his head in such a position that he could see without being seen by any casual passer-by.
He waited in this position over an hour, and during that time Pink went back and forth several times, and seemed to be looking up at the bridge, which was just forward of the foremast. On the top-gallant forecastle were two men on the lookout; in the waist was a quartermaster, who was doing the duty that belonged to the third lieutenant, if the scarcity of officers had permitted the Bronx to have one. The body of the port watch were spinning yarns on the forecastle, and none of them were very near the foremast. After a while, as Pink was approaching the forecastle, Dave saw the second lieutenant gesticulating to him very earnestly to come on the bridge. The supernumerary ascended the ladder, and the officer set him at work to lace on the sailcloth to the railing of the bridge, to shelter those on duty there from the force of the sea blast.
Dave listened with all his ears for any sound from the bridge; but he soon realized that if there was any, he was too far off to hear it. With the aid of the lashings of the foresail, he succeeded in climbing up on the mast to a point on a level with the bridge, and at the same time to make the mast conceal him from the eyes of Mr. Lillyworth and the scullion. The latter pretended to be at work, and occasionally the second lieutenant "jawed" at him for his clumsiness in lacing the sailcloth. Between these growls, they spoke together in a low tone, but Dave was near enough to hear what they said. Though he had never heard the voice of Pink Mulgrum before, he knew that of the second lieutenant, and he was in no danger of confounding the two. Pink used excellent language, as the steward was capable of judging, and it was plain enough that he was not what he had appeared to be.
AN INTERVIEW ON THE BRIDGE
Although Mr. Lillyworth knew very well that Pink Mulgrum was deaf and dumb, he "jawed" at him as though his hearing was as perfect as his own, doubtless forgetting for the moment his infirmity.
"Draw up the bight, and lace it tighter," exclaimed the second lieutenant, intermixing an expletive at each end of the sentence. "Oh, you can't hear me!" he shouted, as though the fact that the scullion could not hear him had suddenly come to his mind. "Well, it is a nice thing to talk to a deaf man!"
Dave could see that Mulgrum also seemed to forget that his ears were closed to all sounds, for he redoubled his efforts to haul the screen into its place.
"I could not hear anything that was of any consequence," the steward heard the deaf mute say in a lower tone than his companion used.
"Couldn't you hear anything?" asked Mr. Lillyworth, making a spring at the canvas as though he was disgusted with the operations of his companion on the bridge.
"Only what I have just told you," replied Mulgrum.
"But you were at the door when the captain and the first lieutenant were talking together in the cabin," continued the officer in a low tone.
"But they were talking about me, as I told you before," answered the scullion, rather impatiently, as though he too had a mind of his own.
"Wasn't anything said about the operations of the future?" demanded Mr. Lillyworth.
"Not a word; but you know as well as I do that the captain has sealed orders which he will not see before to-morrow. I heard him tell his father that he was to open the envelope in latitude 38," said the supernumerary.
"You must contrive some way to hear the captain when he reads his orders," continued the second lieutenant. "He will be likely to have Mr. Flint with him when he opens the envelope."
"It will be difficult," replied Mulgrum, and Dave could imagine that he saw him shake his head. "The captain has found me cleaning the brasses on his door twice, and it will hardly do to be found at the door again."
"Isn't there any place in his cabin where you can conceal yourself?" inquired Mr. Lillyworth.
"I don't know of any place, unless it is his state room; and the cabin steward has been at work there almost all the time since we got under way. Dave seems to be a sort of confidant of the captain," suggested Mulgrum; and it looked as though the deaf mute had not held his tongue and kept his ears open for nothing; but the steward could not understand how he had got this idea into his head, for he had received his instructions while the commander was at supper, and he was sure, as he had thrown the door open several times, that the scullion was not on the other side of it.
"A nigger for his confidant!" exclaimed the second lieutenant, as he interpolated a little jaw for the benefit of the seamen and petty officers within earshot of him. "What can we expect when a mere boy is put in command of a steamer like this one?"
"I think you need not complain, Pawcett, for you are on board of this vessel, and so am I, because she is under the command of a boy. But he is a tremendous smart boy, and he is older than many men of double his age," added Mulgrum.
Dave realized that the supernumerary was well informed in regard to current history in connection with naval matters, and he was willing to believe that he was quite as shrewd as the officer at his side.
"The boy is well enough, though he is abominably overrated, as you will see before I have done with him," said Mr. Lillyworth contemptuously. "It is galling for one who has seen some service to touch his cap to this boy and call him captain."
"I hope you are not forgetting yourself, Pawcett—"
"Don't mention my name on board of this vessel, Hungerford," interposed the officer.
"And you will not mention mine," added the scullion promptly. "We are both careless in this matter, and we must do better. I think I ought to caution you not to neglect any outside tokens of respect to the captain. You can have your own opinions, but I think you do not treat him with sufficient deference."
"Perhaps I don't, for it is not an easy thing to do," replied the second lieutenant. "But I think the captain has no cause to complain of me. We must find out something about these orders, and you must be on the lookout for your chances at meridian to-morrow. If you can stow yourself away under the captain's berth in his state room, you may be able to hear him read them to the first lieutenant, as he will be sure to do."
"I don't believe in doing that," replied Mulgrum. "If I am discovered, no explanation could be made as to why I was concealed there."
"But we must take some risks," persisted Mr. Lillyworth. "After what you told me in the first of our talk, it may not be necessary to conceal yourself. I shall say something to the captain on the subject at which you hinted as soon as I get a chance. You may be in a situation to hear all that is said without danger."
Dave wondered what could be meant by this remark, for he had not heard the conversation between the captain and the first lieutenant which was intended as a "blind" to the listener, known to be at the door.
"I am willing to take any risk that will not ruin our enterprise," Mulgrum responded to the remark of his companion.
"At noon to-morrow I shall come on deck in charge, and the first lieutenant will be relieved, so that he will be at liberty to visit the captain in his cabin. That will be your time, and you must improve it."
"But I shall meet you again to-morrow, and I will look about me, and see what can be done," said Mulgrum, as he made a new demonstration at the canvas screen.
"I will keep my eyes open, and you must do the same. How is it with our men forward?" asked the officer.
"I have had no chance to speak with any of them, for they are all the time in the midst of the rest of the seamen," replied the deaf mute. "But I have no doubt they are all right."
"But you must have some way to communicate with them, or they might as well be on shore. As there are six of them, I should say you might get a chance to speak to one of them whenever you desire."
"I have had nothing to say to them so far, and I have not considered the matter of communicating with them."
"It is time to know how you can do so."
"I can manage it in some way when the time comes," replied Mulgrum confidently. "I am sure the captain and the first lieutenant have no suspicion that I am not what I seem to be. The executive officer put me through a full examination, especially in regard to Cherryfield, where I told him I used to live. I came off with flying colors, and I am certain that I am all right now."
Dave knew nothing about the examination to which Mr. Flint had subjected the deaf mute. It is evident that Mulgrum took an entirely different view of the result of the test from that taken by the examiner and the captain; but both of the latter had taken extreme pains to conceal their opinion from the subject of the test.
"I think we had better not say anything more to-night, and you have been on the bridge long enough," said Mr. Lillyworth, walking to the windward end of the bridge, and peering out into the gloom of the night.
He had hardly looked in the direction of the deaf mute while he was on the bridge, but had busied himself with the lashing of the screen, and done everything he could to make it appear that he was not talking to his companion. Mulgrum, overhauling the screen as he proceeded, made his way to the steps by the side of the foremast. But he did not go down, as he had evidently intended to do, and waited till the second lieutenant came over to the lee side of the vessel.
"Perhaps the man at the wheel has been listening to our conversation," said the deaf mute, plainly alarmed at the situation. "I did not think of him."
"I did," replied Mr. Lillyworth; "but it is all right, and the man at the wheel is Spoors, one of our number."
"All right," added Mulgrum, and he descended the steps.
Dave kept his place in the folds of the foresail, and hardly breathed as the scullion passed him. With the greatest caution, and after he had satisfied himself that no one was near enough to see him, he descended to the deck. He wandered about for a while, and saw that the supernumerary went to the galley, where, in the scarcity of accommodations for the extra persons on board, he was obliged to sleep on the floor. He was not likely to extend his operations any farther that night, and Dave went to the companion way, descended the steps, and knocked at the door of the captain's cabin.
"Come in," called the occupant, who had been writing at his desk in the state room, though the door was open.
Dave presented himself before the commander, who was very glad to see him. Christy wiped the perspiration from his forehead, for he had evidently been working very hard all the evening. Four bells had just struck, indicating that it was ten o'clock in the evening. Flint's prediction in regard to the weather seemed to be in the way of fulfilment, for the Bronx had been leaping mildly on a head sea for the last hour. But everything was going well, and the motion of the vessel was as satisfactory to the commander in rough water as it had been in a smooth sea.
"I am glad to see you, Dave," said Christy, as the steward presented himself at the door of the state room. "I suppose from your coming to-night that you have something to tell me."
"Yes, sir; I have; and I will give you the whole Gulf of Mexico if it isn't a big thing," replied Dave with his most expansive smile. "You done get into a hornet's nest, Captain Passford."
"Not so bad as that, I hope," replied Christy, laughing.
"Bad enough, sir, at any rate," added Dave. "Pink Mulgrum has been talking and listening to the second lieutenant all the evening."
"Then he is not a deaf mute, I take it."
"Not a bit of it; he can talk faster than I can, and he knows all about his grammar and dictionary. You have just eight traitors on board of the Bronx, Captain Passford," said Dave very impressively.