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 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."
27 "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, 28 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."
29 "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?"
"'Three veal.'"
"Veal means ship's company, or crew."
30 "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 31 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° 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.
32 "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 33 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, 34 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 35 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.
36 "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.

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