Ah! those Americans, slave-holders or Abolitionists, I have no faith in them!”
If Vincent Playfair was wrong in thus speaking with respect to the great principles of humanity, always and everywhere superior to personal interests, he was, nevertheless, right from a commercial point of view. The most important material was failing at Glasgow, the cotton famine became every day more threatening, thousands of workmen were reduced to living upon public charity. Glasgow possessed 25,000 looms, by which 625,000 yards of cotton were spun daily; that is to say, fifty millions of pounds yearly. From these numbers it may be guessed what disturbances were caused in the commercial part of the town when the raw material failed altogether. Failures were hourly taking place, the manufactories were closed, and the workmen were dying of starvation.
It was the sight of this great misery which had put the idea of his bold enterprise into James Playfair’s head.
“I will go for cotton, and will get it, cost what it may.”
But, as he also was a merchant as well as his uncle Vincent, he resolved to carry out his plan by way of exchange, and to make his proposition under the guise of a commercial enterprise.
“Uncle Vincent,” said he, “this is my idea.”
“It is simply this: we will have a ship built of superior sailing qualities and great bulk.”
“That is quite possible.”
“We will load her with ammunition of war, provisions, and clothes.”
“I will take the command of this steamer, I will defy all the ships of the Federal marine for speed, and I will run the blockade of one of the southern ports.”
“You must make a good bargain for your cargo with the Confederates, who will be in need of it,” said his uncle.
“And I shall return laden with cotton.”
“Which they will give you for nothing.”
“As you say, Uncle. Will it answer?”
“It will; but shall you be able to get there?”
“I shall, if I have a good ship.”
“One can be made on purpose. But the crew?”
“Oh, I will find them. I do not want many men; enough to work with, that is all. It is not a question of fighting with the Federals, but distancing them.”
“They shall be distanced,” said Uncle Vincent, in a peremptory tone; “but now, tell me, James, to what port of the American coast do you think of going?”
“Up to now, Uncle, ships have run the blockade of New Orleans, Wilmington, and Savannah, but I think of going straight to Charleston; no English boat has yet been able to penetrate into the harbour, except the Bermuda. I will do like her, and, if my ship draws but very little water, I shall be able to go where the Federalists will not be able to follow.”
“The fact is,” said Uncle Vincent, “Charleston is overwhelmed with cotton; they are even burning it to get rid of it.”
“Yes,” replied James; “besides, the town is almost invested; Beauregard is running short of provisions, and he will pay me a golden price for my cargo!”
“Well, nephew, and when will you start?”
“In six months; I must have the long winter nights to aid me.”
“It shall be as you wish, nephew.”
“It is settled, then, Uncle?”
“Shall it be kept quiet?”
“Yes; better so.”
And this is how it was that five months later the steamer Dolphin was launched from the Kelvin Dock timber-yards, and no one knew her real destination.
GETTING UNDER SAIL
The Dolphin was rapidly equipped, her rigging was ready, and there was nothing to do but fit her up. She carried three schooner-masts, an almost useless luxury; in fact, the Dolphin did not rely on the wind to escape the Federalists, but rather on her powerful engines.
Towards the end of December a trial of the steamer was made in the gulf of the Clyde. Which was the more satisfied, builder or captain, it is impossible to say. The new steamer shot along wonderfully, and the patent log showed a speed of seventeen miles an hour, a speed which as yet no English, French, or American boat had ever obtained. The Dolphin would certainly have gained by several lengths in a sailing match with the fastest opponent.