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The fog, which had been coming and going during the whole of the night, had now lifted so that everything in the vicinity of the fort could be seen; but across the point, down the ship channel, it was dense, dark, and black. The wind was fresh from the south-west, which rolled up the fog banks, and then rolled them away. Such was the atmospheric condition near Mobile Point, and Christy believed it was the same at the southward. He thought it probable that the commander of the Tallahatchie would wait for a more favorable time than the present appeared to be before he got under way.
"All hands to the forecastle," he called to the men on the cotton bales.
All of them, knowing his voice as well as they knew their own names, hastened to answer to the call.
"We have to heave up the anchor with a windlass, Mr. Graines," said he to the engineer. "We 104 had better get the hang of it while we have time to do so. Ship the handspikes, my men."
Doubtless all of them had worked a windlass before, for every one of them was an able seaman, which had been one of the elements in their selection, and they went to work very handily. A turn or two was given, which started the vessel ahead, showing that the anchor was not hove entirely short. Graines went to the bow, and reported a considerable slant of the cable with the surface of the water. Christy ordered the six seamen to work the windlass, with French to take in the slack. They continued to heave over with the handspikes for some time longer.
"Cable up and down, sir," reported Graines.
"Avast heaving!" added the lieutenant; and he had taken the command, paying no attention to the fact that he was the second mate under the new order of things, and the engineer did not remind him that he was the chief officer. "Let off the cable a couple of notches, so that the anchor will not break out. Make fast to the bitts, French, but don't foul it with the towline."
"We are all right now," said Graines, as he moved aft from the heel of the bowsprit.
105 "What time is it now?" asked the lieutenant. "Bring that lantern forward, Lines."
"Ten minutes of three," replied the engineer, holding his watch up to the light.
"The fog is settling down again, and I have no doubt the captain of the steamer will get under way at about the hour named," said Christy, putting his hand on the wire towline, and giving it a shake, to assure himself that it was all clear. "Now, Mr. Graines, or rather, Mr. Balker, as you are the mate and I am only the second mate, I think you had better go aft and see that all goes well there."
"Very well, Mr. Sandman; I will leave you in charge of the forecastle," replied the engineer, with a light laugh; but they had been boys together, and understood each other perfectly.
"Captain Sullendine is the only dangerous man on board, and I think you had better look after him," added Christy. "If there is any lock on the door of his stateroom, it would be well to turn the key."
"I will look after him at once, sir," answered Graines, as he leaped upon the cotton bales and made his way to the quarter-deck.
106 On the way he examined the condition of Sopsy, and found him snoring like a roaring lion, in an uneasy position. He turned him over on his side, and then went to the lair of Bokes, who was in the same condition; and he concluded that neither of them would come to his senses for a couple of hours at least.
Captain Sullendine had been assisted to a comfortable position when he turned in, and he was sleeping with nothing to disturb him. There was no lock on the door, and Graines could not turn the key. The interior of the cabin was finished in the most primitive manner, for the vessel had not been built to accommodate passengers. The door of the captain's stateroom was made of inch and a half boards, with three battens, and the handle was an old-fashioned bow-latch. There was a heavy bolt on the inside, as though the apartment had been built to enable the master to fortify himself in case of a mutiny.
The engineer could not fasten the door with any of the fixtures on it; but it opened inward, as is generally the case on shipboard, and this fact suggested to the ingenious officer the means of securing it even more effectually than it could have 107 been done with a lock and key. In the pantry he found a rolling-pin, which the cook must have left there for some other purpose.
This implement he applied to the bow-handle of the fixture on the door. It would not fit the iron loop, but he whittled it down on one side with his pocket-knife till he made it fit exactly in its place with some hard pressure. But shaking the door might cause it to drop out, and he completed the job by lashing it to the handle of the door with a lanyard he had in his pocket. When he had finished his work he was confident the captain could not get out of his room unless he broke down the door, which he lacked the means to accomplish.
"West Wind, ahoy!" shouted some one from the stern of the steamer before the engineer had completed his work in the cabin.
Christy thought that French's voice was a better imitation of Captain Sullendine's than his own, and he directed him to reply to the hail, telling him what to say.
"On board the Tallahatchie!" returned the seaman at the lieutenant's dictation.
"Are you all ready?" shouted the same officer.
"All ready, sir!" replied French.
108 "Captain Rombold will get under way in five minutes!" called the speaker on the stern of the steamer. "Wait for three short whistles, and then heave up your anchor!"
"Understood, and all right," added the spokesman of the West Wind.
"Captain Rombold!" exclaimed C............
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