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 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 71 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 72 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 73 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."
74 "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?"
75 "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 76 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. 77 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 78 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 79 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 80 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.
illustration of quoted scene
Lillyworth and Mulgrum on the bridge.

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