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Christy Passford was stirring at an early hour the next morning, and so was Bertha Pembroke; for the St. Regis was to sail that day, though the tide did not serve till four in the afternoon. After breakfast his father called him into the library, and closed the door. Captain Passford had remained in the city the evening before till the last train, and it was evident that he had something to say to his son.
"I have no information to give you this time, Christy, in regard to the coming of blockade-runners or steamers for the Confederate navy," said he. "But I have been instructed to use my own judgment in regard to what I may say to you about your orders. Of course you have observed that the blockading squadrons in the Gulf have been greatly reduced."
"Only the Bellevite and Holyoke remained off the entrance to Mobile Bay," added Christy. 302 "We have had a very quiet time of it since I joined the Bellevite, and the action with the Tallahatchie was really the only event of any great importance in which I have been engaged."
"The enemy and their British allies have been so unfortunate in the Gulf that they have chosen a safer approach to the shores of the South. Nearly all the blockade-runners at the present time go in at the Cape Fear River, where the shoal water favors them. A class of steamers of light draft and great speed are constructed expressly to go into Wilmington. Over $65,000,000 have been invested in blockade-running; and in spite of the capture of at least one a week by our ships, the business appears to pay immense profits. The port of Charleston is closed to them now, as well as many others."
"I have studied this locality of the coast at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and the blockade-runners certainly have their best chance there," said Christy.
"The whole attention of the government, so far as blockade-running is concerned, has been directed to the approaches of Wilmington. Forts Fisher, Caswell, and Smith afford abundant protection 303 to the light draft steamers as soon as they get into the shoal water where our gunboats as a rule cannot follow them. The one thing we need down there is fast steamers. It is a stormy coast, and our smaller gunboats cannot safely lie off the coast."
"I have read that a single successful venture in this business sometimes pays for the steamer many times over."
"That is quite true, and the business prospers, though there are fifty or more Federal cruisers and gunboats patrolling the shore. Now, Christy, you are to be sent to this locality with the St. Regis; but you are to be in the outer circle of blockaders, so to speak, as your sealed orders will inform you."
"Of course I shall obey my orders, whatever they are," added the commander.
"I have nothing more to say, and you will regard what has passed between you and me as entirely confidential," said Captain Passford, as he rose to leave the library.
"By the way, father, what has become of Monsieur Gilfleur?" asked Christy. "I have not seen him since my return."
"Just now he is working up a case of treason in 304 Baltimore, though I expected him home before this time," replied the captain.
"I am sorry I have not seen him, for he and I had become great friends before we parted. I think he is in some respects a remarkable man."
"In his profession he is unexcelled; and what is more in that line, he is honest and reliable."
"I learned all that of him while we were operating together. It is said, and I suppose it is true, that about every one of the blockaders makes a port at Halifax, the Bermudas, or Nassau, as much to learn the news and obtain a pilot, as to replenish their coal and stores."
"That is unfortunately true; and the neutrality of these places is strained to its utmost tension, to say nothing of its manifest violations."
"I think if Monsieur Gilfleur and myself could make another visit to the Bermudas and Nassau, we might pick up information enough to insure the capture of many blockade-runners, and perhaps of an occasional Confederate cruiser," said Christy, laughing as he spoke.
"That is not the sort of business for a lieutenant-commander in the navy, my son; but I have thought of sending the detective on such a mission 305 since the remarkable success you and he had in your former venture. But you escaped hanging or a Confederate prison only by the skin of your teeth. The difficulty in another enterprise of that sort would be for Mr. Gilfleur to put the information he obtained where it would do the most good. If he wrote letters, they would betray him; and if he went off in a Bahama boat, as he did before, we should have to keep a steamer cruising in the vicinity of his field of operations to meet him when he came off. I came to the conclusion that the scheme was impracticable, for it was only a combination of favorable circumstances that rendered your operations successful. I prefer to trust to the speed of the St. Regis to enable you to accomplish the same results off the coast," said Captain Passford, as they left the library.
"I should really like to see Monsieur, for he is a very agreeable companion," replied Christy.
"He would be exceedingly pleased to meet you again, for he had become very much attached to you."
After lunch the same party that had visited the St. Regis the day before left on the train for New York, and proceeded to the navy yard from the 306 foot of Grand Street, for all of them wished to see Christy off. Captain Passford, Junior, was received on board of his ship with all due form and ceremony. Paul Vapoor had been to his home for a brief visit to his mother and sisters; but he had gone to Bonnydale as early in the morning as it was decent to do so, and was all devotion to Florry.
Mr. Baskirk, the executive officer, had the ship in first-rate order............
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