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HOME > Short Stories > On The Blockade > CHAPTER IV A DEAF AND DUMB MYSTERY
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 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 49 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."
50 "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."
51 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 52 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 53 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.
54 "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.
55 "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 56 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 57 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 58 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.

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