“Push off!” cried the captain.
Immediately the six oars dipped into the water; the boat darted like a fish through the waters of Charleston Harbour.
BETWEEN TWO FIRES
The boat, pulled by six robust oarsmen, flew over the water. The fog was growing dense, and it was with difficulty that James Playfair succeeded in keeping to the line of his bearings. Crockston sat at the bows, and Mr. Halliburtt at the stern, next the Captain. The prisoner, only now informed of the presence of his servant, wished to speak to him, but the latter enjoined silence.
However, a few minutes later, when they were in the middle of the harbour, Crockston determined to speak, knowing what thoughts were uppermost in Mr. Halliburtt’s mind.
“Yes, my dear master,” said he, “the gaoler is in my place in the cell, where I gave him two smart blows, one on the head and the other on the stomach, to act as a sleeping draught, and this when he was bringing me my supper; there is gratitude for you. I took his clothes and his keys, found you, and let you out of the citadel, under the soldiers’ noses. That is all I have done.”
“But my daughter — ?” asked Mr. Halliburtt.
“Is on board the ship which is going to take you to England.”
“My daughter there! there!” cried the American, springing from his seat.
“Silence!” replied Crockston, “a few minutes, and we shall be saved.”
The boat flew through the darkness, but James Playfair was obliged to steer rather by guess, as the lanterns of the Dolphin were no longer visible through the fog. He was undecided what direction to follow, and the darkness was so great that the rowers could not even see to the end of their oars.
“Well, Mr. James?” said Crockston.
“We must have made more than a mile and a half,” replied the Captain. “You don’t see anything, Crockston?”
“Nothing; nevertheless, I have good eyes; but we shall get there all right. They don’t suspect anything out there.”
These words were hardly finished when the flash of a gun gleamed for an instant through the darkness, and vanished in the mist.
“A signal!” cried James Playfair.
“Whew!” exclaimed Crockston. “It must have come from the citadel. Let us wait.”
A second, then a third shot was fired in the direction of the first, and almost the same signal was repeated a mile in front of the gig.
“That is from Fort Sumter,” cried Crockston, “and it is the signal of escape. Urge on the men; everything is discovered.”
“Pull for your lives, my men!” cried James Playfair, urging on the sailors, “those gun-shots cleared my route. The Dolphin is eight hundred yards ahead of us. Stop! I hear the bell on board. Hurrah, there it is again! Twenty pounds for you if we are back in five minutes!”
The boat skimmed over the waves under the sailors’ powerful oars. A cannon boomed in the direction of the town. Crockston heard a ball whiz past them.
The bell on the Dolphin was ringing loudly. A few more strokes and the boat was alongside. A few more seconds and Jenny fell into her father’s arms.
The gig was immediately raised, and James Playfair sprang on to the poop.
“Is the steam up, Mr. Mathew?”
“Have the moorings cut at once.”
A few minutes later the two screws carried the steamer towards the principal channel, away from Fort Sumter.
“Mr. Mathew,” said James, “we must not think of taking the Sullivan Island channel; we should run directly under the Confederate guns. Let us go as near as possible to the right side of the harbour out of range of the Federal batteries. Have you a safe man at the helm?”
“Have the lanterns and the fires on deck extinguished; there is a great deal too much light, but we cannot help the reflection from the engine-rooms.”
During this conversation the Dolphin was going at a great speed; but in altering her course to keep to the right side of the Charleston Harbour she was obliged to enter a channel which took her for a moment near Fort Sumter; and when scarcely half a mile off all the guns bearing on her were discharged at the same time, and a shower of shot and shell passed in front of the Dolphin with a thundering report.