Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1927
Page 3 of 12
Originally from the novel Quatre-Vingt Treize
At the moment when the fastenings gave way, the gunners
were in the battery, some in groups, others scattered about, busied
with the customary work among sailors getting ready for a signal for
action. The carronade, hurled forward by the pitching of the vessel,
made a gap in this crowd of men and crushed four at the first blow;
then sliding back and shot out again as the ship rolled, it cut in two
a fifth unfortunate, and knocked a piece of the battery against the
larboard side with such force as to unship it. This caused the cry of
distress just heard. All the men rushed to the companion-way. The gun-deck
was vacated in a twinkling.
The enormous gun was left alone. It was given up to itself. It was its own master and master of the ship. It could do what it pleased. This whole crew, accustomed to laugh in time of battle, now trembled. To describe the terror is impossible.
Captain Boisberthelot and Lieutenant la Vieuville, altho both dauntless men, stopped at the head of the companion-way and, dumb, pale, and hesitating, looked down on the deck below. Some one elbowed past and went down.
It was their passenger, the peasant, the man of whom they had just been speaking a moment before.
Reaching the foot of the companion-way, he stopped.
The cannon was rushing back and forth on the deck. One might have supposed it to be the living chariot of the Apocalypse. The marine lantern swinging overhead added a dizzy shifting of light and shade to the picture. The form of the cannon disappeared in the violence of its course, and it looked now black in the light, now mysteriously white in the darkness.