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Captain Breaker had been in the main rigging with his night-glass, watching the movements of the chase; but he recognized the voice of Christy when he shouted to French to pick up the quarter-boat of the schooner, as he could no longer make out the Tallahatchie in the fog.
"Good-morning, Mr. Passford," said he, as he met Christy when he descended from the rail. "I am glad to see you again."
"Good-morning, Captain Breaker," replied the lieutenant, as he took the offered hand of the commander. "I hope all is well on board, sir."
"Entirely well, and your messenger came on board in good time, so that we were in position to get the first sight of the Trafalgar when she showed herself off Sand Island Lighthouse," replied the captain, as he led the way to his cabin. "Mr. Ballard, keep a sharp lookout for the chase," he added to the acting executive officer.
137 "Will you allow me to put on my uniform, Captain?" asked Christy. "I don't feel quite at home on board the ship in the rigout I have worn all night."
"Certainly; for I do not wish you to show yourself to the ship's company while you look so little like a naval officer," replied the captain, as he went to take another look at the darkness ahead.
The lieutenant hastened to his stateroom, and in a very short time he had washed off the smut from his face and hands, and dressed himself in his uniform, so that he looked like quite another person, Graines had gone to his room in the steerage for the same purpose, for neither of them desired to show himself as he had appeared before Captain Sullendine.
Christy hurried to the deck as soon as he had made the change, and met the commander on the quarter-deck. Lookouts were stationed aloft and on the top-gallant forecastle, and all hands were in a state of healthy excitement in view of the stirring event which was likely to transpire before the lapse of many hours; and doubtless some of the men were moved by the prospect of prize-money, not only from the proceeds of the sale of the steamer 138 they were chasing, but from the full freight of cotton on board of the schooner, the deck load of which had been noted by some of the crew.
The schooner which had come so close aboard of the Bellevite was a mystery to all, from the captain down to the humblest seaman; but the American ensign over the Confederate flag had been observed by a few, and this settled her status. Not more than half of the seamen were aware that an expedition had left the ship at ten o'clock the evening before, and they had had no opportunity to notice the absence of the executive officer during the night; and even yet all hands had not been called, for the regular watch was enough to get the ship under way.
The commander conducted the executive officer to his own cabin, again reminding Mr. Ballard to keep a sharp lookout for the chase. Christy felt like himself again in his neat uniform, and his vigorous and well knit, as well as graceful form, did more to show off the dress than the dress did to adorn his person.
"I am very glad to see you again, Christy," said Captain Breaker, seating himself and pointing to an arm-chair for the lieutenant, while he came down 139 from the stately dignity of the commander of a man-of-war to the familiarity with which he treated his chief officer when they were alone. "I had no doubt that you would give a good account of yourself, as you always do. You were going on the enemy's territory, and you were in peril all the time. Now you come off in a schooner, which appears to be loaded with cotton, and how or where you picked her up is a mystery to me;" and the commander indulged in a laugh at the oddity of the young officer's reappearance. "Your messenger reported that the Trafalgar would sail at three o'clock in the morning, and I judge that she left at about that hour."
"Within ten minutes of it, and probably made an arrangement with the commandant of the fort to that effect," added Christy. "But they do not call her the Trafalgar now; though Weeks was not aware of the fact when I sent him on board. She is now the Tallahatchie, though I noticed that some in the vicinity of the fort still called her by her old name."
"Never mind the name; she will answer our purpose as well under one appellation as another. When I asked your messenger about you and the 140 other six men of your party, he was unable to give me any information in regard to your movements; and he could not tell me how you had ascertained the hour at which the steamer was to sail," continued the captain.
"Graines and myself separated from the party as soon as we landed on the point; and we had obtained our information before we joined them again on the shore of Mobile Bay, sir. At the same time we had learned all about the West Wind"—
"The what?" interposed the commander.
"I mean the schooner West Wind, the one from which we came on board of the Bellevite, which was to be towed out by the Tallahatchie, and which was towed out by her till we on board of her cast off the towline."
"Perhaps you had better narrate the events of your expedition seriatim, for all you say in this disconnected manner only thickens the mystery," said the commander: and he knew that his officer had an excellent command of the English language, and could make a verbal report in a very attractive and telling style, though perhaps his fatherly interest in the young man had something to do with the matter.
141 Christy began his narrative with the departure from the ship, passing lightly over the minor details till he came to the meeting with the deserters from the West Wind, bivouacking in the hollow. He described the drinking bout which followed, in which he and Graines had pretended to join, stating the information he had obtained from them. He rehearsed a portion of Captain Sullendine's speech, adding that most of his auditors were the seamen from the Bellevite, though he had sent fo............
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