The Blockade Runners

Jules Verne

Chapter 3 - Things Are Not What They Seem


The Dolphin had a good crew, not fighting men, or boarding sailors, but good working men, and that was all she wanted. These brave, determined fellows were all, more or less, merchants; they sought a fortune rather than glory; they had no flag to display, no colours to defend with cannon; in fact, all the artillery on board consisted of two small swivel signal-guns.

The Dolphin shot bravely across the water, and fulfilled the utmost expectations of both builder and captain. Soon she passed the limit of British seas; there was not a ship in sight; the great ocean route was free; besides, no ship of the Federal marine would have a right to attack her beneath the English flag. Followed she might be, and prevented from forcing the blockade, and precisely for this reason had James Playfair sacrificed everything to the speed of his ship, in order not to be pursued.

Howbeit a careful watch was kept on board, and, in spite of the extreme cold, a man was always in the rigging ready to signal the smallest sail that appeared on the horizon. When evening came, Captain James gave the most precise orders to Mr. Mathew.

“Don’t leave the man on watch too long in the rigging; the cold may seize him, and in that case it is impossible to keep a good look-out; change your men often.”

“I understand, Captain,” replied Mr. Mathew.

“Try Crockston for that work; the fellow pretends to have excellent sight; it must be put to trial; put him on the morning watch, he will have the morning mists to see through. If anything particular happens call me.”

This said, James Playfair went to his cabin. Mr. Mathew called Crockston, and told him the Captain’s orders.

“To-morrow, at six o’clock,” said he, “you are to relieve watch of the main masthead.”

For reply, Crockston gave a decided grunt, but Mr. Mathew had hardly turned his back when the sailor muttered some incomprehensible words, and then cried:

“What on earth did he say about the mainmast?”

At this moment his nephew, John Stiggs, joined him on the forecastle.

“Well, my good Crockston,” said he.

“It’s all right, all right,” said the seaman, with a forced smile; “there is only one thing, this wretched boat shakes herself like a dog coming out of the water, and it makes my head confused.”

“Dear Crockston, and it is for my sake.”

“For you and him,” replied Crockston, “but not a word about that, John. Trust in God, and He will not forsake you.”

So saying, John Stiggs and Crockston went to the sailor’s berth, but the sailor did not lie down before he had seen the young novice comfortably settled in the narrow cabin which he had got for him.

The next day, at six o’clock in the morning, Crockston got up to go to his place; he went on deck, where the first officer ordered him to go up into the rigging, and keep good watch.

At these words the sailor seemed undecided what to do; then, making up his mind, he went towards the bows of the Dolphin.

“Well, where are you off to now?” cried Mr. Mathew.

“Where you sent me,” answered Crockston.

“I told you to go to the mainmast.”

“And I am going there,” replied the sailor, in an ununconcerned tone, continuing his way to the poop.

“Are you a fool?” cried Mr. Mathew, impatiently; “you are looking for the bars of the main on the foremast. You are like a cockney, who doesn’t know how to twist a cat-o’-nine-tails, or make a splice. On board what ship can you have been, man? The mainmast, stupid, the mainmast!”

The sailors who had run up to hear what was going on burst out laughing when they saw Crockston’s disconcerted look, as he went back to the forecastle.

“So,” said he, looking up the mast, the top of which was quite invisible through the morning mists; “so, am I to climb up here?”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Mathew, “and hurry yourself! By St. Patrick, a Federal ship would have time to get her bowsprit fast in our rigging before that lazy fellow could get to his post. Will you go up?”

Without a word, Crockston got on the bulwarks with some difficulty; then he began to climb the rigging with most visible awkwardness, like a man who did not know how to make use of his hands or feet. When he had reached the topgallant, instead of springing lightly on to it, he remained motionless, clinging to the ropes, as if he had been seized with giddiness. Mr. Mathew, irritated by his stupidity, ordered him to come down immediately.

“That fellow there,” said he to the boatswain, “has never been a sailor in his life. Johnston, just go and see what he has in his bundle.”

The boatswain made haste to the sailor’s berth.

In the meantime Crockston was with difficulty coming down again, but, his foot having slipped, he slid down the rope he had hold of, and fell heavily on the deck.

“Clumsy blockhead! land-lubber!” cried Mr. Mathew, by way of consolation. “What did you come to do on board the Dolphin! Ah! you entered as an able seaman, and you cannot even distinguish the main from the foremast! I shall have a little talk with you.”

Crockston made no attempt to speak; he bent his back like a man resigned to anything he might have to bear; just then the boatswain returned.

“This,” said he to the first officer, “is all that I have found; a suspicious portfolio with letters.”

“Give them here,” said Mr. Mathew. “Letters with Federal stamps! Mr. Halliburtt, of Boston! An Abolitionist! a Federalist! Wretch! you are nothing but a traitor, and have sneaked on board to betray us! Never mind, you will be paid for your trouble with the cat-o’-nine-tails! Boatswain, call the Captain, and you others just keep an eye on that rogue there.”

Crockston received these compliments with a hideous grimace, but he did not open his lips. They had fastened him to the capstan, and he could move neither hand nor foot.

A few minutes later James Playfair came out of his cabin and went to the forecastle, where Mr. Mathew immediately acquainted him with the details of the case.

“What have you to say?” asked James Playfair, scarcely able to restrain his anger.

“Nothing,” replied Crockston.

“And what did you come on board my ship for?”

“Nothing.”

“And what do you expect from me now?”

“Nothing.”

“Who are you? An American, as letters seem to prove?” Crockston did not answer.

“Boatswain,” said James Playfair, “fifty lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails to loosen his tongue. Will that be enough, Crockston?”

“It will remain to be seen,” replied John Stiggs’ uncle without moving a muscle.

“Now then, come along, men,” said the boatswain.

At this order, two strong sailors stripped Crockston of his woollen jersey; they had already seized the formidable weapon, and laid it across the prisoner’s shoulders, when the novice, John Stiggs, pale and agitated, hurried on deck.

“Captain!” exclaimed he.

“Ah! the nephew!” remarked James Playfair.

“Captain,” repeated the novice, with a violent effort to steady his voice, “I will tell you what Crockston does not want to say. I will hide it no longer; yes, he is American, and so am I; we are both enemies of the slave-holders, but not traitors come on board to betray the Dolphin into the hands of the Federalists.”

“What did you come to do, then?” asked the Captain, in a severe tone, examining the novice attentively. The latter hesitated a few seconds before replying, then he said, “Captain, I should like to speak to you in private.”

Whilst John Stiggs made this request, James Playfair did not cease to look carefully at him; the sweet young face of the novice, his peculiarly gentle voice, the delicacy and whiteness of his hands, hardly disguised by paint, the large eyes, the animation of which could not bide their tenderness — all this together gave rise to a certain suspicion in the Captain’s mind. When John Stiggs had made his request, Playfair glanced fixedly at Crockston, who shrugged his shoulders; then he fastened a questioning look on the novice, which the latter could not withstand, and said simply to him, “Come.”

John Stiggs followed the Captain on to the poop, and then James Playfair, opening the door of his cabin, said to the novice, whose cheeks were pale with emotion, “Be so kind as to walk in, miss.”

John, thus addressed, blushed violently, and two tears rolled involuntarily down his cheeks.

“Don’t be alarmed, miss,” said James Playfair, in a gentle voice, “but be so good as to tell me how I come to have the honour of having you on board?”

The young girl hesitated a moment, then, reassured by the Captain’s look, she made up her mind to speak.

“Sir,” said she, “I wanted to join my father at Charleston; the town is besieged by land and blockaded by sea. I knew not how to get there, when I heard that the Dolphin meant to force the blockade. I came on board your ship, and I beg you to forgive me if I acted without your consent, which you would have refused me.”

“Certainly,” said James Playfair.

“I did well, then, not to ask you,” resumed the young girl, with a firmer voice.

The Captain crossed his arms, walked round his cabin, and then came back.

“What is your name?” said he.

“Jenny Halliburtt.”

“Your father, if I remember rightly the address on the letters, is he not from Boston?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And a Northerner is thus in a southern town in the thickest of the war?”

“My father is a prisoner; he was at Charleston when the first shot of the Civil War was fired, and the troops of the Union driven from Fort Sumter by the Confederates. My father’s opinions exposed him to the hatred of the slavist part, and by the order of General Beauregard he was imprisoned. I was then in England, living with a relation who has just died, and left alone, with no help but that of Crockston, our faithful servant, I wished to go to my father and share his prison with him.”

“What was Mr. Halliburtt, then?” asked James Playfair.

“A loyal and brave journalist,” replied Jenny proudly, one of the noblest editors of the Tribune, and the one who was the boldest in defending the cause of the negroes.”

“An Abolitionist,” cried the Captain angrily; “one of those men who, under the vain pretence of abolishing slavery, have deluged their country with blood and ruin.”

“Sir!” replied Jenny Halliburtt, growing pale, “you are insulting my father; you must not forget that I stand alone to defend him.”

The young Captain blushed scarlet; anger mingled with shame struggled in his breast; perhaps he would have answered the young girl, but he succeeded in restraining himself, and, opening the door of the cabin, he called “Boatswain!”

The boatswain came to him directly.

“This cabin will henceforward belong to Miss Jenny Halliburtt. Have a cot made ready for me at the end of the poop; that’s all I want.”

The boatswain looked with a stupefied stare at the young novice addressed in a feminine name, but on a sign from James Playfair he went out.

“And now, miss, you are at home,” said the young Captain of the Dolphin. Then he retired.