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Les forceurs de blocus. English, Page 2

Jules Verne

  Chapter II


  The _Dolphin_ was rapidly equipped, her rigging was ready, and therewas nothing to do but fit her up. She carried three schooner-masts, analmost useless luxury; in fact, the _Dolphin_ did not rely on the windto escape the Federalists, but rather on her powerful engines.

  Towards the end of December a trial of the steamer was made in the gulfof the Clyde. Which was the more satisfied, builder or captain, it isimpossible to say. The new steamer shot along wonderfully, and thepatent log showed a speed of seventeen miles an hour, a speed which asyet no English, French, or American boat had ever obtained. The_Dolphin_ would certainly have gained by several lengths in a sailingmatch with the fastest opponent.

  The loading was begun on the 25th of December, the steamer havingranged along the steamboat-quay a little below Glasgow Bridge, the lastwhich stretches across the Clyde before its mouth. Here the wharfs wereheaped with a heavy cargo of clothes, ammunition, and provisions whichwere rapidly carried to the hold of the _Dolphin_. The nature of thiscargo betrayed the mysterious destination of the ship, and the house ofPlayfair could no longer keep it secret; besides, the _Dolphin_ mustnot be long before she started. No American cruiser had been signalledin English waters; and, then, when the question of getting the crewcame, how was it possible to keep silent any longer? They could notembark them, even, without informing the men whither they were bound,for, after all, it was a matter of life and death, and when one risksone's life, at least it is satisfactory to know how and wherefore.

  However, this prospect hindered no one; the pay was good, and everyonehad a share in the speculation, so that a great number of the finestsailors soon presented themselves. James Playfair was only embarrassedwhich to choose, but he chose well, and in twenty-four hours hismuster-roll bore the names of thirty sailors who would have done honourto her Majesty's yacht.

  The departure was settled for the 3rd of January; on the 31st ofDecember the _Dolphin_ was ready, her hold full of ammunition andprovisions, and nothing was keeping her now.

  The skipper went on board on the 2nd of January, and was giving a lastlook round his ship with a captain's eye, when a man presented himselfat 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 ruddyface, the simple expression of which ill-concealed a depth of wit andmirth. He did not seem to be accustomed to a seafaring life, and lookedabout 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 riggingof 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 hisquestioner.

  "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 notto be despised on board a ship, and which I now have the honour ofputting at your service."

  "But there are other ships besides the _Dolphin_, and other captainsbesides James Playfair. Why do you come here?"

  "Because it is on board the _Dolphin_ that I wish to serve, and underthe orders of Captain James Playfair."

  "I do not want you."

  "There is always need of a strong man, and if to prove my strength youwill try me with three or four of the strongest fellows of your crew, Iam 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 ofthe giant who presented himself in this odd fashion. The height, thebuild, and the look of the sailor did not deny his pretensions tostrength.

  "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. Goand find the first mate, and get him to enrol you."

  Having said this, the Captain expected to see the man turn on his heelsand 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 toask you."

  "Ah! You are wasting my time," replied James, sharply; "I have not amoment to lose in talking."

  "I shall not keep you long," replied Crockston; "two words more andthat is all; I was going to tell you that I have a nephew."

  "He has a fine uncle, then," interrupted James Playfair.

  "Hah! Hah!" laughed Crockston.

  "Have you finished?" asked the Captain, very impatiently.

  "Well, this is what I have to say, when one takes the uncle, the nephewcomes into the bargain."

  "Ah! indeed!"

  "Yes, that is the custom, the one does not go without the other."

  "And what is this nephew of yours?"

  "A lad of fifteen whom I am going to train to the sea; he is willing tolearn, and will make a fine sailor some day."

  "How now, Master Crockston," cried James Playfair; "do you think the_Dolphin_ is a training-school for cabin-boys?"

  "Don't let us speak ill of cabin-boys: there was one of them who becameAdmiral Nelson, and another Admiral Franklin."

  "Upon my honour, friend," replied James Playfair, "you have a way ofspeaking which I like; bring your nephew, but if I don't find the unclethe hearty fellow he pretends to be, he will have some business withme. Go, and be back in an hour."

  Crockston did not want to be told twice; he bowed awkwardly to theCaptain of the _Dolphin_, and went on to the quay. An hour afterwardshe came on board with his nephew, a boy of fourteen or fifteen, ratherdelicate and weakly looking, with a timid and astonished air, whichshowed that he did not possess his uncle's self-possession and vigorouscorporeal qualities. Crockston was even obliged to encourage him bysuch words as these:

  "Come," said he, "don't be frightened, they are not going to eat us,besides, there is yet time to return."

  "No, no," replied the young man, "and may God protect us!"

  The same day the sailor Crockston and his nephew were inscribed in themuster-roll of the _Dolphin_.

  The next morning, at five o'clock, the fires of the steamer were wellfed, the deck trembled under the vibrations of the boiler, and thesteam rushed hissing through the escape-pipes. The hour of departurehad arrived.

  A considerable crowd, in spite of the early hour, flocked on the quaysand on Glasgow Bridge; they had come to salute the bold steamer for thelast time. Vincent Playfair was there to say good-bye to Captain James,but he conducted himself on this occasion like a Roman of the good oldtimes. His was a heroic countenance, and the two loud kisses with whichhe gratified his nephew were the indication of a strong mind.

  "Go, James," said he to the young Captain, "go quickly, and come backquicker still; above all, don't abuse your position. Sell at a goodprice, make a good bargain, and you will have your uncle's esteem."

  On this recommendation, borrowed from the manual of the perfectmerchant, the uncle and nephew separated, and all the visitors left theboat.

  At this moment Crockston and John Stiggs stood together on theforecastle, while the former remarked to his nephew, "This is well,this is well; before two o'clock we shall be at sea, and I have a goodopinion of a voyage which begins like this."

  For reply the novice pressed Crockston's hand.

  James Playfair then gave the orders for departure.

  "Have we pre
ssure on?" he asked of his mate.

  "Yes, Captain," replied Mr. Mathew.

  "Well, then, weigh anchor."

  This was immediately done, and the screws began to move. The _Dolphin_trembled, passed between the ships in the port, and soon disappearedfrom the sight of the people, who shouted their last hurrahs.

  The descent of the Clyde was easily accomplished, one might almost saythat this river had been made by the hand of man, and even by the handof a master. For sixty years, thanks to the dredges and constantdragging, it has gained fifteen feet in depth, and its breadth has beentripled between the quays and the town. Soon the forests of masts andchimneys were lost in the smoke and fog; the noise of the foundryhammers and the hatchets of the timber-yards grew fainter in thedistance. After the village of Partick had been passed the factoriesgave way to country houses and villas. The _Dolphin_, slackening herspeed, sailed between the dykes which carry the river above the shores,and often through a very narrow channel, which, however, is only asmall inconvenience for a navigable river, for, after all, depth is ofmore importance than width. The steamer, guided by one of thoseexcellent pilots from the Irish sea, passed without hesitation betweenfloating buoys, stone columns, and _biggings_, surmounted withlighthouses, which mark the entrance to the channel. Beyond the town ofRenfrew, at the foot of Kilpatrick hills, the Clyde grew wider. Thencame Bouling Bay, at the end of which opens the mouth of the canalwhich joints Edinburgh to Glasgow. Lastly, at the height of fourhundred feet from the ground, was seen the outline of Dumbarton Castle,almost indiscernible through the mists, and soon the harbour-boats ofGlasgow were rocked on the waves which the _Dolphin_ caused. Some milesfarther on Greenock, the birthplace of James Watt, was passed: the_Dolphin_ now found herself at the mouth of the Clyde, and at theentrance of the gulf by which it empties its waters into the NorthernOcean. Here the first undulations of the sea were felt, and the steamerranged along the picturesque coast of the Isle of Arran. At last thepromontory of Cantyre, which runs out into the channel, was doubled;the Isle of Rattelin was hailed, the pilot returned by a shore-boat tohis cutter, which was cruising in the open sea; the _Dolphin_,returning to her Captain's authority, took a less frequented routeround the north of Ireland, and soon, having lost sight of the lastEuropean land, found herself in the open ocean.