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 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 60 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 61 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 62 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 63 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 64 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 65 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.
66 "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 67 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.
68 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.
69 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.

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