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Although he anticipated a disagreeable scene with the captain of the West Wind, who, he supposed, had slept off the fumes of the inordinate quantity of liquor he had drunk, he did not consider that there was any peril in the situation, for he had plenty of force to handle him easily. His curiosity was excited, and he walked over to the companion, where Graines appeared to be gazing into the darkness of the cabin; but he did not interfere with the proceedings of his fellow-officer.
"We don't need the men you have called from the waist," said the engineer in a low tone.
Christy sent the two men back to their former station. As he was returning to his chosen position abaft the companion, he saw a glimmer of light in the gloom of the cabin. Graines invited him to take a place at his side, chuckling perceptibly as he made room for him. The lieutenant stooped down so that he could see into the cabin, and discovered 126 a man with a lighted match in his hand, fumbling at the door of the closet where Captain Sullendine kept his whiskey.
"Is that the captain?" whispered Christy, who could not make out the man, though he was not as tall as the master of the West Wind.
"No; it is Bokes," replied Graines. "He must have got out of the deck-house through one of the windows. He found the bottle French gave him was empty, and I have no doubt his nerves are in a very shaky condition."
Both of the officers had leaned back, so that their whispers did not disturb the operator in the cabin. His first match had gone out, and he lighted another. Captain Sullendine had been too much overcome by his potations to take his usual precautions for the safety of his spirit-room, and the observers saw that the key was in the door. Bokes took one of the bottles, and carried it to the table. His match went out, and he poked about for some time in the cabin.
Presently he was seen again, coming out of the pantry with a lighted lantern in his hand, which he placed on the table. He had a corkscrew in the other hand, with which he proceeded, as hurriedly 127 as his trembling hands would permit, to open the bottle, for the master had drained the last one. Then he poured out a tumblerful of whiskey, as the observers judged it was from its color, and drank it off. At this point Graines descended to the cabin and confronted the fellow.
Christy, after taking a long look to the south-east, followed the engineer into the cabin, for it was possible that his companion intended to look into the condition of Captain Sullendine, and he desired to be present at the interview.
"Good-morning, Bokes," said Graines, as he placed himself in front of the seaman.
"Mornin', Mr. Balker," replied Bokes; and the heavy drink he had just taken appeared to have done nothing more than steady his nerves, for he seemed to have the full use of his faculties.
"How do you feel this morning, my friend?" continued the engineer; and Christy thought he was making himself very familiar with the boozing seaman, who was at least fifty years old.
"Fine's a fiddle-string," replied Bokes. "We done got out all right, I reckon;" and it was plain that he had not taken notice that the schooner was no longer in tow of the steamer.
128 "All right," replied Graines, as he placed himself on a stool, and pushed another towards the sailor, who seated himself. "By the way, friend Bokes, I suppose you have been on board of the Tallahatchie?"
"More'n a dozen times, here 'n' up in Mobile. My fust cousin's an 'iler aboard on her," replied Bokes.
"How many guns does she carry?" asked the engineer in a very quiet tone, though the man did not seem to be at all suspicious that he was in the act of being used for a purpose.
"I don't jest know how many guns she kerries; but she's got a big A'mstrong barker 'midships that'll knock any Yankee ship inter the middle o' next year 'n less time 'n it'll take you to swaller a tot o' Kaintuck whiskey. It's good for five-mile shots."
"This is her midship gun, you say?"
"Midship gun, sir; 'n I heard 'em say it flung a shot nigh on to a hundred pounds," added Bokes.
Both Christy and Graines asked the man other questions; but he had not made good use of his opportunities, and knew very little about the armament of the Tallahatchie; yet he remembered 129 what he had heard others say about her principal gun. The lieutenant knew all about the Armstrong piece, for he had in his stateroom the volume on "Ordinance and Gunnery," by Simpson, and he had diligently studied it.
"Mr. Passford," said one of the hands at the head of the companion ladder.
"On deck," replied Christy.
"Steamer on the port bow," added the seaman.
"That must be the Bellevite," said the lieutenant.
"Now you may go on deck, Bokes," added Graines, as he drove the boozer ahead of him, and followed his superior.
He instructed the men in the waist to keep an eye on Bokes, and sent him forward. Then he took the precaution to lock the doors at the companion-way, and joined Christy on the quarterdeck.
"That's the Bellevite without a doubt," said Christy, as he directed the spy-glass he had taken from the brackets, and was still looking through it. "But she is farther to the eastward than I expected to find her."
"I suppose her commander knows what he is about," replied Graines.
130 "Certainly he does; and I do not criticise his action."
All the steamers on the blockade except the Bellevite and the one in the west had been sent away on other duty, for it was believed that the former would be enough to overhaul anything that was likely to come out of Mobi............
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