Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1927
Page 12 of 12
Originally from the novel Quatre-Vingt Treize
Dismay succeeded the cheering.
Then in the midst of the death-like stillness, the old man raised his voice and said:
“Carelessness has compromised this vessel. At this very hour it is perhaps lost. To be at sea is to be in front of the enemy. A ship making a voyage is an army waging war. The tempest is concealed, but it is at hand. The whole sea is an ambuscade. Death is the penalty of any misdemeanor committed in the face of the enemy. No fault is reparable. Courage should be rewarded, and negligence punished.“
These words fell one after another, slowly, solemnly, in a sort of inexorable meter, like the blows of an ax upon an oak.
And the man, looking at the soldiers, added:
“Let it be done.“
The man on whose jacket hung the shining cross of Saint-Louis bowed his head.
At a signal from Count de Boisberthelot, two sailors went below and came back bringing the hammock-shroud; the chaplain, who since they sailed had been at prayer in the officers' quarters, accompanied the two sailors; a sergeant detached twelve marines from the line and arranged them in two files, six by six; the gunner, without uttering a word, placed himself between the two files. The chaplain, crucifix in hand, advanced and stood beside him, “March,“ said the sergeant. The platoon marched with slow steps to the bow of the vessel. The two sailors, carrying the shroud, followed. A gloomy silence fell over the vessel. A hurricane howled in the distance.
A few moments later, a light flashed, a report sounded through the darkness, then all was still, and the sound of a body falling into the sea was heard.
The old passenger, still leaning against the mainmast, had crossed his arms, and was buried in thought.
Boisberthelot pointed to him with the forefinger of his left hand, and said to La Vieuville in a low voice:
“La Vendée has a head.“