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 "Have I done anything to offend the flag-officer, or has he no confidence in me?" asked Christy, who heard in utter surprise that he was ordered to New York in command of the Vixen.  
"Certainly not, Mr. Passford," replied Captain Blowitt, with a deprecatory smile which was almost enough to satisfy the young officer. "What could have put such an idea as that into your head?"
"It looked to me just as though I was sent away simply as a prize-master because my services were not needed down here where there is fighting, and is likely to be a great deal more of it," added Christy, not yet quite satisfied. "Perhaps I am banished for the crime of audacity."
"That is a little too bad, Christy," said the commander, shaking his head. "I promised not to use that word again, and you ought not to twit 324 me for it, for it was only a pleasantry on my part."
"It was the farthest thing in the world from my mind to twit you for the word; I was only afraid that they considered me an imprudent officer on board of the flagship. I beg your pardon, Captain Blowitt, and I will never again remind you of the conversation we had on the subject of audacity," answered Christy, rising from his chair and taking the commander by the hand.
"It is all right, Christy, my dear fellow," replied the captain, coming down from the dignified manner of the navy. "I think we understand each other perfectly, and I don't wish to part with the shadow of a shadow between us. We have sailed together too long to be anything but the best of friends; and the fate of poor Dashington reminds me that we may never meet again in this world."
"Whatever you say and whatever you do, Captain Blowitt, we can never be anything but the best of friends, and, so far as you are concerned, I never had an instant of doubt or suspicion."
"Now, Christy," interposed Paul Vapoor, "you entirely mistake the motive which has led to your 325 appointment to the Vixen, for I happen to know something about it. You are not sent simply as a prize-master to New York, but you are put in temporary command of the Vixen because an able, vigilant, courageous officer was required."
"Then I wonder all the more that I was selected," added Christy.
"You wonder!" exclaimed Paul, looking intently into the brown face of the young officer, apparently to discover if there was not some affectation in this manifestation of modesty.
There was nothing like affectation in the composition of Christy Passford, and whatever he had done to distinguish himself, he had done strictly in the line of his duty, and from the purest of patriotic motives. It was the most difficult thing in the world to make him believe that he had done "a big thing," though all others on board of his ship believed it with all their might. Paul Vapoor knew what everybody thought of his friend, and he was surprised that he should be so innocent and ignorant of the great reputation he had won.
"I do wonder," replied Christy, earnestly and honestly. "I believe I am about the youngest 326 officer in the fleet, and if this service requires an able officer, it seems very strange to me that I should have been selected."
"Captain Breaker was consulted in regard to you, though he was not asked to name a commander, for the flag-officer had thought of you himself, and no doubt he had just been reading your report of your voyage to the Gulf in the Bronx," said Paul, laughing. "I don't see how he could do otherwise than select you, Christy."
"You are chaffing me, Paul, as you do sometimes," said Christy with a smile.
"Then the expression of my honest opinion, which is also the opinion of every other officer in the ship, is chaffing you," retorted the engineer.
"I am satisfied; and I am sorry I said a word," added the subject of all these remarks.
"It is a very important and responsible situation to which you are ordered, Mr. Passford," said Captain Blowitt, putting on his dignity again. "Not a few steamers fitted up in part for service as Confederate men-of-war, in spite of neutrality treaties, are expected on the coast. You have diminished the number by two, and I hope you will be able to make a still further reduction of 327 that fleet. We have three vessels to send on for condemnation, and your orders will inform you that there are several others, including another steamer, at Key West; and a Confederate armed steamer could easily recapture the whole of them. You will have to protect a fleet of at least seven vessels; and this command ought to satisfy your ambition. You will also have charge of a despatch bag, to be forwarded to Washington at once; and this must not fall into the hands of the enemy. Sink or burn it if you are captured."
"I don't intend to be captured," added Christy with a smile.
"I remember that you were taken by the enemy on one occasion, and misfortunes may come to the best of officers. You must get ready to sail at once; but you must write your report of your expedition before you leave," added Captain Blowitt, as he rose from his chair, and the trio left the cabin.
Christy gaped several times during the latter part of the interview, for he had not slept a wink during the preceding night. He went to the ward room and began to write his report, while the Bronx and the Vixen proceeded towards the 328 three vessels which had been captured. It was well that they did so, for as they approached the Havana and her consorts they discovered quite a fleet of boats coming out from behind the Seahorse Key, evidently intending to recapture the prizes in the absence of the gunboat. They retired at once as she approached.
Christy was a rapid writer, and his report was soon finished, for the subject was still ............
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