Her stern struck the muddy bed of the river, then she raised herself on the top of a gigantic wave, and, carried forward by her start, would have been dashed against the quay of the Govan timber-yards, if her anchors had not restrained her.
The launch had been perfectly successful, the Dolphin swayed quietly on the waters of the Clyde, all the spectators clapped their hands when she took possession of her natural element, and loud hurrahs arose from either bank.
But wherefore these cries and this applause? Undoubtedly the most eager of the spectators would have been at a loss to explain the reason of his enthusiasm. What was the cause, then, of the lively interest excited by this ship? Simply the mystery which shrouded her destination; it was not known to what kind of commerce she was to be appropriated, and in questioning different groups the diversity of opinion on this important subject was indeed astonishing.
However, the best informed, at least those who pretended to be so, agreed in saying that the steamer was going to take part in the terrible war which was then ravaging the United States of America, but more than this they did not know, and whether the Dolphin was a privateer, a transport ship, or an addition to the Federal marine was what no one could tell.
"Hurrah!" cried one, affirming that the Dolphin had been built for the Southern States.
"Hip! hip! hip!" cried another, swearing that never had a faster boat crossed to the American coasts.
Thus its destination was unknown, and in order to obtain any reliable information one must be an intimate friend, or, at any rate, an acquaintance of Vincent Playfair & Co., of Glasgow.
A rich, powerful, intelligent house of business was that of Vincent Playfair & Co., in a social sense, an old and honourable family, descended from those tobacco lords who built the finest quarters of the town. These clever merchants, by an act of the Union, had founded the first Glasgow warehouse for dealing in tobacco from Virginia and Maryland. Immense fortunes were realised; mills and foundries sprang up in all parts, and in a few years the prosperity of the city attained its height.
The house of Playfair remained faithful to the enterprising spirit of its ancestors, it entered into the most daring schemes, and maintained the honour of English commerce. The principal, Vincent Playfair, a man of fifty, with a temperament essentially practical and decided, although somewhat daring, was a genuine shipowner. Nothing affected him beyond commercial questions, not even the political side of the transactions, otherwise he was a perfectly loyal and honest man.
However, he could not lay claim to the idea of building and fitting up the Dolphin; she belonged to his nephew, James Playfair, a fine young man of thirty, the boldest skipper of the British merchant marine.
It was one day at the Tontine coffee-room under the arcades of the town hall, that James Playfair, after having impatiently scanned the American journal, disclosed to his uncle an adventurous scheme.
"Uncle Vincent," said he, coming to the point at once, "there are two millions of pounds to be gained in less than a month."
"And what to risk?" asked Uncle Vincent.
"A ship and a cargo."
"Nothing, except the crew and the captain, and that does not reckon for much."
"Let us see," said Uncle Vincent.
"It is all seen," replied James Playfair. "You have read the Tribune, the New York Herald, The Times, the Richmond Inquirer, the American Review?"
"Scores of times, nephew."
"You believe, like me, that the war of the United States will last a long time still?"
"A very long time."
"You know how much this struggle will affect the interests of England, and especially those of Glasgow?"
"And more especially still the house of Playfair & Co.," replied Uncle Vincent.
"Theirs especially," added the young Captain.
"I worry myself about it every day, James, and I cannot think without terror of the commercial disasters which this war may produce; not but that the house of Playfair is firmly established, nephew; at the same time it has correspondents which may fail.