By the Captain’s orders he was released from the capstan, and the cat-o’-nine-tails returned to its Place.
“A pretty animal,” said Crockston, “especially when it shows its velvety paws.”
As soon as he was free, he went down to the sailors’ berths, found a small portmanteau, and carried it to Miss Jenny; the young girl was now able to resume her feminine attire, but she remained in her cabin, and did not again appear on deck.
As for Crockston, it was well and duly agreed that, as he was no more a sailor than a horse-guard, he should be exempt from all duty on board.
In the meanwhile the Dolphin, with her twin screws cutting the waves, sped rapidly across the Atlantic, and there was nothing now to do but keep a strict look-out. The day following the discovery of Miss Jenny’s identity, James Playfair paced the deck at the poop with a rapid step; he had made no attempt to see the young girl and resume the conversation of the day before.
Whilst he was walking to and fro, Crockston passed him several times, looking at him askant with a satisfied grin. He evidently wanted to speak to the Captain, and at last his persistent manner attracted the attention of the latter, who said to him, somewhat impatiently:
“How now, what do you want? You are turning round me like a swimmer round a buoy: when are you going to leave off?”
“Excuse me, Captain,” answered Crockston, winking, “I wanted to speak to you.”
“Oh, it is nothing very much. I only wanted to tell you frankly that you are a good fellow at bottom.”
“Why at bottom?”
“At bottom and surface also.”
“I don’t want your compliments.”
“I am not complimenting you. I shall wait to do that when you have gone to the end.”
“To what end?”
“To the end of your task.”
“Ah! I have a task to fulfil?”
“Decidedly, you have taken the young girl and myself on board; good! You have given up your cabin to Miss Halliburtt; good! You released me from the cat-o’-nine-tails; nothing could be better. You are going to take us straight to Charleston; that’s delightful, but it is not all.”
“How not all?” cried James Playfair, amazed at Crockston’s boldness.
“No, certainly not,” replied the latter, with a knowing look, “the father is prisoner there.”
“Well, what about that?”
“Well, the father must be rescued.”
“Rescue Miss Halliburtt’s father?”
“Most certainly, and it is worth risking something for such a noble man and courageous citizen as he.”
“Master Crockston,” said James Playfair, frowning, “I am not in the humour for your jokes, so have a care what you say.”
“You misunderstand me, Captain,” said the American. “I am not joking in the least, but speaking quite seriously. What I have proposed may at first seem very absurd to you; when you have thought it over, you will see that you cannot do otherwise.”
“What, do you mean that I must deliver Mr. Halliburtt?”
“Just so. You can demand his release of General Beauregard, who will not refuse you.”
“But if he does refuse me?”
“In that case,” replied Crockston, in a deliberate tone, “we must use stronger measures, and carry off the prisoner by force.”
“So,” cried James Playfair, who was beginning to get angry, “so, not content with passing through the Federal fleets and forcing the blockade of Charleston, I must run out to sea again from under the cannon of the forts, and this to deliver a gentleman I know nothing of, one of those Abolitionists whom I detest, one of those journalists who shed ink instead of their blood!”
“Oh, it is but a cannon-shot more or less!” added Crockston.
“Master Crockston,” said James Playfair, “mind what I say: if ever you mention this affair again to me, I will send you to the hold for the rest of the passage, to teach you manners.”
Thus saying, the Captain dismissed the American, who went off murmuring, “Ah, well, I am not altogether displeased with this conversation: at any rate, the affair is broached; it will do, it will do!”
James Playfair had hardly meant it when he said an Abolitionist whom I detest; he did not in the least side with the Federals, but he did not wish to admit that the question of slavery was the predominant reason for the civil war of the United States, in spite of President Lincoln’s formal declaration.