Mathew, have a shore-boat manned with six of our best men. I am going to set out directly for White Point. I leave Miss Jenny in your charge, and may God protect us!”
“May God protect us!” repeated the first officer.
Then he immediately gave the necessary orders for the fires to be lighted, and the shore-boat provided with men. In a few minutes the boat was ready, and James Playfair, after bidding Jenny good-bye, stepped into it, whilst at the same time he saw volumes of black smoke issuing from the chimneys of the ship, and losing itself in the fog.
The darkness was profound; the wind had fallen, and in the perfect silence the waters seemed to slumber in the immense harbour, whilst a few uncertain lights glimmered through the mist. James Playfair had taken his place at the rudder, and with a steady hand he guided his boat towards White Point. It was a distance of about two miles; during the day James had taken his bearings perfectly, so that he was able to make direct for Charleston Point.
Eight o’clock struck from the church of St. Philip when the shore-boat ran aground at White Point.
There was an hour to wait before the exact time fixed by Crockston; the quay was deserted, with the exception of the sentinel pacing to and fro on the south and east batteries. James Playfair grew impatient, and the minutes seemed hours to him.
At half-past eight he heard the sound of approaching steps; he left his men with their oars clear and ready to start, and went himself to see who it was; but he had not gone ten feet when he met a band of coastguards, in all about twenty men. James drew his revolver from his waist, deciding to make use of it, if needs be; but what could he do against these soldiers, who were coming on to the quay?
The leader came up to him, and, seeing the boat, asked:
“Whose craft is that?”
“It is a gig belonging to the Dolphin,” replied the young man.
“And who are you?”
“Captain James Playfair.”
“I thought you had already started, and were now in the Charleston channels.”
“I am ready to start. I ought even now to be on my way but — ”
“But — ” persisted the coastguard.
A bright idea shot through James’s mind, and he answered:
“One of my sailors is locked up in the citadel, and, to tell the truth, I had almost forgotten him; fortunately I thought of him in time, and I have sent my men to bring him.”
“Ah! that troublesome fellow; you wish to take him back to England?”
“He might as well be hung here as there,” said the coast-guard, laughing at his joke.
“So I think,” said James Playfair, “but it is better to have the thing done in the regular way.”
“Not much chance of that, Captain, when you have to face the Morris Island batteries.”
“Don’t alarm yourself. I got in and I’ll get out again.”
“Prosperous voyage to you!”
With this the men went off, and the shore was left silent.
At this moment nine o’clock struck; it was the appointed moment. James felt his heart beat violently; a whistle was heard; he replied to it, then he waited, listening, with his hand up to enjoin perfect silence on the sailors. A man appeared enveloped in a large cloak, and looking from one side to another. James ran up to him.
“I am he,” replied the man with the cloak.
“God be praised!” cried James Playfair. “Embark without losing a minute. Where is Crockston?”
“Crockston!” exclaimed Mr. Halliburtt, amazed. “What do you mean?”
“The man who has saved you and brought you here was your servant Crockston.”
“The man who came with me was the gaoler from the citadel,” replied Mr. Halliburtt.
“The gaoler!” cried James Playfair.
Evidently he knew nothing about it, and a thousand fears crowded in his mind.
“Quite right, the gaoler,” cried a well-known voice. “The gaoler is sleeping like a top in my cell.”
“Crockston! you! Can it be you?” exclaimed Mr. Halliburtt.
“No time to talk now, master; we will explain everything to you afterwards. It is a question of life or death. Get in quick!”
The three men took their places in the boat.