Oh that I could fly into his arms!”
“A little patience, Miss Jenny; you will soon embrace your father. Rely upon my acting with the most entire devotion, but also with prudence and consideration.”
This is why James Playfair, after having delivered the cargo of the Dolphin up to the General, and bargained for an immense stock of cotton, faithful to his promise, turned the conversation to the events of the day.
“So,” said he, “you believe in the triumph of the slave-holders?”
“I do not for a moment doubt of our final success, and, as regards Charleston, Lee’s army will soon relieve it: besides, what do you expect from the Abolitionists? Admitting that which will never be, that the commercial towns of Virginia, the two Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, fall under their power, what then? Will they be masters of a country they can never occupy? No, certainly not; and for my part, if they are ever victorious, they shall pay dearly for it.”
“And you are quite sure of your soldiers?” asked the Captain. “You are not afraid that Charleston will grow weary of a siege which is ruining her?”
“No, I do not fear treason; besides, the traitors would be punished remorselessly, and I would destroy the town itself by sword or fire if I discovered the least Unionist movement. Jefferson Davis confided Charleston to me, and you may be sure that Charleston is in safe hands.”
“Have you any Federal prisoners?” asked James Playfair, coming to the interesting object of the conversation.
“Yes, Captain,” replied the General, “it was at Charleston that the first shot of separation was fired. The Abolitionists who were here attempted to resist, and, after being defeated, they have been kept as prisoners of war.”
“And have you many?”
“About a hundred.”
“Free in the town?”
“They were until I discovered a plot formed by them: their chief succeeded in establishing a communication with the besiegers, who were thus informed of the situation of affairs in the town. I was then obliged to lock up these dangerous guests, and several of them will only leave their prison to ascend the slope of the citadel, where ten confederate balls will reward them for their federalism.”
“What! to be shot!” cried the young man, shuddering involuntarily.
“Yes, and their chief first of all. He is a very dangerous man to have in a besieged town. I have sent his letters to the President at Richmond, and before a week is passed his sentence will be irrevocably passed.”
“Who is this man you speak of?” asked James Playfair, with an assumed carelessness.
“A journalist from Boston, a violent Abolitionist with the confounded spirit of Lincoln.”
“And his name?”
“Poor wretch!” exclaimed James, suppressing his emotion. “Whatever he may have done, one cannot help pitying him. And you think that he will be shot?”
“I am sure of it,” replied Beauregard. “What can you expect? War is war; one must defend oneself as best one can.”
“Well, it is nothing to me,” said the Captain. “I shall be far enough away when this execution takes place.”
“What! you are thinking of going away already.”
“Yes, General, business must be attended to; as soon as my cargo of cotton is on board I shall be out to sea again. I was fortunate enough to enter the bay, but the difficulty is in getting out again. The Dolphin is a good ship; she can beat any of the Federal vessels for speed, but she does not pretend to distance cannon-balls, and a shell in her hull or engine would seriously affect my enterprise.”
“As you please, Captain,” replied Beauregard; “I have no advice to give you under such circumstances. You are doing your business, and you are right. I should act in the same manner were I in your place; besides, a stay at Charleston is not very pleasant, and a harbour where shells are falling three days out of four is not a safe shelter for your ship; so you will set sail when you please; but can you tell me what is the number and the force of the Federal vessels cruising before Charleston?”
James Playfair did his best to answer the General, and took leave of him on the best of terms; then he returned to the Dolphin very thoughtful and very depressed from what he had just heard.