The loading was begun on the 25th of December, the steamer having ranged along the steamboat-quay a little below Glasgow Bridge, the last which stretches across the Clyde before its mouth. Here the wharfs were heaped with a heavy cargo of clothes, ammunition, and provisions which were rapidly carried to the hold of the Dolphin. The nature of this cargo betrayed the mysterious destination of the ship, and the house of Playfair could no longer keep it secret; besides, the Dolphin must not be long before she started. No American cruiser had been signalled in English waters; and, then, when the question of getting the crew came, how was it possible to keep silent any longer? They could not embark them, even, without informing the men whither they were bound, for, after all, it was a matter of life and death, and when one risks one's life, at least it is satisfactory to know how and wherefore.
However, this prospect hindered no one; the pay was good, and everyone had a share in the speculation, so that a great number of the finest sailors soon presented themselves. James Playfair was only embarrassed which to choose, but he chose well, and in twenty-four hours his muster-roll bore the names of thirty sailors who would have done honour to her Majesty"s yacht.
The departure was settled for the 3rd of January; on the 31st of December the Dolphin was ready, her hold full of ammunition and provisions, and nothing was keeping her now.
The skipper went on board on the 2nd of January, and was giving a last look round his ship with a captain's eye, when a man presented himself at the fore part of the Dolphin, and asked to speak with the Captain. One of the sailors led him on to the poop.
He was a strong, hearty-looking fellow, with broad shoulders and ruddy face, the simple expression of which ill-concealed a depth of wit and mirth. He did not seem to be accustomed to a seafaring life, and looked about him with the air of a man little used to being on board a ship; however, he assumed the manner of a Jack-tar, looking up at the rigging of the Dolphin, and waddling in true sailor fashion.
When he had reached the Captain, he looked fixedly at him, and said, "Captain James Playfair?"
"The same," replied the skipper. "What do you want with me?"
"To join your ship."
"There is no room; the crew is already complete."
"Oh, one man, more or less, will not be in the way; quite the contrary."
"You think so?" said James Playfair, giving a sidelong glance at his questioner.
"I am sure of it," replied the sailor.
"But who are you?" asked the Captain.
"A rough sailor, with two strong arms, which, I can tell you, are not to be despised on board a ship, and which I now have the honour of putting at your service."
"But there are other ships besides the Dolphin, and other captains besides James Playfair. Why do you come here?"
"Because it is on board the Dolphin that I wish to serve, and under the orders of Captain James Playfair."
"I do not want you."
"There is always need of a strong man, and if to prove my strength you will try me with three or four of the strongest fellows of your crew, I am ready."
"That will do," replied James Playfair. "And what is your name?"
"Crockston, at your service."
The Captain made a few steps backwards in order to get a better view of the giant who presented himself in this odd fashion. The height, the build, and the look of the sailor did not deny his pretensions to strength.
"Where have you sailed?" asked Playfair of him.
"A little everywhere."
"And do you know where the Dolphin is bound for?"
"Yes; and that is what tempts me."
"Ah, well! I have no mind to let a fellow of your stamp escape me. Go and find the first mate, and get him to enrol you."
Having said this, the Captain expected to see the man turn on his heels and run to the bows, but he was mistaken. Crockston did not stir.
"Well! did you hear me?" asked the Captain.
"Yes, but it is not all," replied the sailor. "I have something else to ask you."
"Ah! You are wasting my time," replied James, sharply; "I have not a moment to lose in talking."
"I shall not keep you long," replied Crockston; "two words more and that is all; I was going to tell you that I have a nephew."
"He has a fine uncle, then," interrupted James Playfair.