“Getting on by degrees,” muttered the American.
James Playfair was pacing to and fro on the poop, and, as may be thought, he was very much surprised, not to say amazed, to see the young girl come up to him, her eyes moist with grateful tears, and, holding out her hand to him, saying:
“Thank you, sir, thank you for your kindness, which I should never have dared to expect from a stranger.”
“Miss,” replied the Captain, as if he understood nothing of what she was talking, and could not understand, “I do not know — ”
“Nevertheless, sir, you are going to brave many dangers, perhaps compromise your interests for me, and you have done so much already in offering me on board an hospitality to which I have no right whatever — ”
“Pardon me, Miss Jenny,” interrupted James Playfair, “but I protest again I do not understand your words. I have acted towards you as any well-bred man would towards a lady, and my conduct deserves neither so many thanks nor so much gratitude.”
“Mr. Playfair,” said Jenny, “it is useless to pretend any longer; Crockston has told me all!”
“Ah!” said the Captain, “Crockston has told you all; then I understand less than ever the reason for your leaving your cabin, and saying these words which — ”
Whilst speaking the Captain felt very much embarrassed; he remembered the rough way in which he had received the American’s overtures, but Jenny, fortunately for him, did not give him time for further explanation; she interrupted him, holding out her hand and saying:
“Mr. James, I had no other object in coming on board your ship except to go to Charleston, and there, however cruel the slave-holders may be, they will not refuse to let a poor girl share her father’s prison; that was all. I had never thought of a return as possible; but, since you are so generous as to wish for my father’s deliverance, since you will attempt everything to save him, be assured you have my deepest gratitude.”
James did not know what to do or what part to assume; he bit his lip; he dared not take the hand offered him; he saw perfectly that Crockston had compromised him, so that escape was impossible. At the same time he had no thoughts of delivering Mr. Halliburtt, and getting complicated in a disagreeable business: but how dash to the ground the hope which had arisen in this poor girl’s heart? How refuse the hand which she held out to him with a feeling of such profound friendship? How change to tears of grief the tears of gratitude which filled her eyes?
So the young man tried to reply evasively, in a manner which would ensure his liberty of action for the future.
“Miss Jenny,” said he, “rest assured I will do everything in my power for — ”
And he took the little hand in both of his, but with the gentle pressure he felt his heart melt and his head grow confused: words to express his thoughts failed him. He stammered out some incoherent words:
“Miss — Miss Jenny — for you — ”
Crockston, who was watching him, rubbed his hands, grinning and repeating to himself:
“It will come! it will come! it has come!”
How James Playfair would have managed to extricate himself from his embarrassing position no one knows, but fortunately for him, if not for the Dolphin, the man on watch was heard crying:
“Ahoy, officer of the watch!”
“What now?” asked Mr. Mathew.
“A sail to windward!”
James Playfair, leaving the young girl, immediately sprang to the shrouds of the mainmast.
THE SHOT FROM THE IROQUOIS, AND MISS JENNY’S ARGUMENTS
Until now the navigation of the Dolphin had been very fortunate. Not one ship had been signalled before the sail hailed by the man on watch.
The Dolphin was then in 32° 51’ lat., and 57° 43’ W. longitude. For forty-eight hours a fog, which now began to rise, had covered the ocean. If this mist favoured the Dolphin by hiding her course, it also prevented any observations at a distance being made, and, without being aware of it, she might be sailing side by side, so to speak, with the ships she wished most to avoid.
Now this is just what had happened, and when the ship was signalled she was only three miles to windward.