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were tried men. Not one of them but was a good sailor, a good soldier and a good royalist. They had a three-fold fanaticism—for ship, for sword and for king. The captain of the vessel was a chevalier of St. Louis, one of the best officers of the old Royal Navy of France.
5. A man who had just come on board had the air of one entering upon an adventure. He was a tall old man, upright and robust, with a severe countenance, forty in point of energy and eighty in power and authority. But this great man had boarded the vessel under the guise of a peasant and as such was regarded by the crew.
6. The vessel headed north, then veered to the west. The sun had set clear, but the night was darker than summer nights ordinarily are. Vast clouds veiled the sky so that the moon would not be visible till, she touched the horizon at the moment of setting. A few clouds hung low upon the water and covered it with mist.
7. All went well. About nine o'clock the weather looked sulky and there was wind and sea, but the wind was good and the sea strong without being violent. The sea grew rougher, the officers discussed the state of affairs in France, as partisans usually do, when the last
speaker's words were cut short by a desperate cry and a noise as unaccountable as it was awful. The officers rushed for the gun deck but could not get down, for the gunners were hurrying frantically up. A frightful thing had just happened.
8. One of the carronades of the battery had got loose, which is perhaps the most formidable of ocean accidents; for nothing more terrible can happen to a vessel in open sea and under full sail.
9. A gun that breaks its moorings becomes suddenly some indescribable supernatural beast. It is a machine which transforms itself into a monster. This mass turns upon its wheels and has the rapid movements of a billiard ball. It rolls with the rolling and pitches with the pitching of the vessel. It goes, comes, pauses and seems to meditate. It resumes its course, rushes along the ship from end to end like an arrow, circles about, springs aside, evades, rears, breaks, kills and exterminates.
10. Such gun is a battering ram which assaults a wall at its own caprice. Moreover, the battering ram is metal, the wall is wood. It is the entrance of the matter into liberty. One
might say that this eternal slave avenges itself. It seems as if the power of evil hidden in what we call inanimate objects, finds a vent and bursts suddenly out. It has the air of having lost patience and of seeking some fierce,obscure retribution.
11. There is nothing more inexorable than this rage of the inanimate. The mad mass has the bounds of the panther, the weight of the elephant, the agility of the mouse, the obstinacy of the ox, the unexpectedness of the surge, the rapidity of the lightning and the deafness of the tomb. It weighs ten thousand pounds, and rebounds like a child's ball. Its flight is a wild whirl abruptly cut at right angles.
12. What is to be done? How is this to be ended? A tempest ceases, a cyclone passes, a wind falls, a broken mast is replaced, a leak is stopped, a fire dies out. But how is this enormous brute of bronze to be controlled? In what way can one attack it?
13. You can make a mastiff hear reason, astound a bull, fascinate a boa, frighten a tiger, soften a lion; but there is no resource with that monster, a cannon let loose on a rolling ship. You can not kill it; it is dead and yet it lives. It lives with a sinister life.
14. The planks beneath it give it play. It is moved by the ship which is moved by the sea, which is moved by the wind. This destroyer is a plaything. The ship, the waves, the blasts, all aid it; hence its frightful vitality. How can this fury of complication be assailed? How can this monstrous mechanism for wrecking a ship be fettered? How can its comings, its goings, its returns, its stops, its shocks be foreseen?
15. Any one of these blows upon the sides may stave out the vessel. How divine its awful gyrations? One has to deal with a projectile which thinks, seems to possess ideas, and which changes its direction at each instant. How is the course of something which must be avoided to be stopped? The horrible cannon flings itself about, advances, recoils, strikes to the right, strikes to the left, flees, passes, disconcerts, ambushes, breaks down obstacles and crushes men like flies.
16. The great danger of the situation is the mobility of its base. How is an inclined plane which has caprices to be combatted? The ship has imprisoned lightning which seeks to escape. It is like thunder rolling above an earthquake.
In an instant the whole crew were on foot. The fault was the chief gunner's; he had forgotten to fix home the screw-nut of the mooring-chain, and had so badly shackled the four wheels of the carronade that the play given to the sole and frame had separated the platform, and ended by breaking the breeching. As a heavy wave struck the port, the carronade recoiled, burst its chain, and began to rush wildly about.
18. At the moment when the lashings gave way, the gunners were in the battery, occupied with such duties as sailors perform in expectation of the command to clear for action. The carronade dashed into the knot of men and crushed four at the first blow; then, flung back and shot out anew by the rolling, it cut a fifth poor fellow in two, glanced off to the larboard side, and struck a piece of the battery with such force as to unship it.
19. Then arose the cry of distress which had been heard. The men rushed toward the ladder — the gun deck emptied in the twinkling
The enormous cannon was left alone. She was given up to herself. She was her own mistress and mistress of the vessel. She could do what she willed with both. This whole crew,
of an eye.