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impossible to describe their terror.

Captain Boisberthelot and Lieutenant la Vieuville, brave men though
they were, paused at the top of the ladder, silent, pale, and
undecided, looking down on the deck. Some one pushed them aside with
his elbow, and descended. It was their passenger, the peasant, the man
about whom they were talking a moment ago.

Having reached the bottom of the ladder he halted.

* * * * * *

The cannon was rolling to and fro on the deck. It might have been
called the living chariot of the Apocalypse. A dim wavering of lights
and shadows was added to this spectacle by the marine lantern, swinging
under the deck. The outlines of the cannon were indistinguishable, by
reason of the rapidity of its motion; sometimes it looked black when
the light shone upon it, then again it would cast pale, glimmering
reflections in the darkness.

It was still pursuing its work of destruction. It had already
shattered four other pieces, and made two breaches in the ship's side,
fortunately above the waterline, but which would leak in case of rough
weather. It rushed frantically against the timbers; the stout riders
resisted, - curved timbers have great strength; but one could hear them
crack under this tremendous assault brought to bear simultaneously on
every side, with a certain omnipresence truly appalling.

A bullet shaken in a bottle could not produce sharper or more rapid
sounds. The four wheels were passing and repassing over the dead
bodies, cutting and tearing them to pieces, and the five corpses had
become five trunks rolling hither and thither; the heads seemed to cry
out; streams of blood flowed over the deck, following the motion of the
ship. The ceiling, damaged in several places, had begun to give way.
The whole ship was filled with a dreadful tumult.

The captain, who had rapidly recovered his self-possession, had given
orders to throw down the hatchway all that could abate the rage and
check the mad onslaught of this infuriated gun; mattresses, hammocks,
spare sails, coils of rope, the bags of the crew, and bales of false
assignats, with which the corvette was laden, - that infamous stratagem
of English origin being considered a fair trick in war.

But what availed these rags? No one dared to go down to arrange them,
and in a few moments they were reduced to lint.

There was just sea enough to render this accident as complete as
possible. A tempest would have been welcome. It might have upset the
cannon, and which its four wheels once in the air, it could easily have
been mastered. Meanwhile the havoc increased. There were even
incisions and fractures in the masts, that stood like pillars grounded
firmly in the keel, and piercing the several decks of the vessel. The
mizzen-mast was split, and even the main-mast was damaged by the
convulsive blows of the cannon. The destruction of the battery still
went on. Ten out of the thirty pieces were useless. The fractures in
the side increased, and the corvette began to leak.

The old passenger, who had descended to the gun-deck, looked like one
carved in stone as he stood motionless at the foot of the stairs and
glanced sternly over the devastation. It would have been impossible to
move a step upon the deck.

Each bound of the liberated carronade seemed to threaten the
destruction of the ship. But a few moments longer, and shipwreck would
be inevitable.

They must either overcome this calamity or perish; some decisive action
must be taken. But what?

What a combatant was this carronade!

Here was this mad creature to be arrested, this flash of lightning to
be seized, this thunderbolt to be crushed. Boisberthelot said to
Vieuville: -

"Do you believe in God, chevalier?"

"Yes and no, sometimes I do!" replied La Vieuville.

"In a tempest?"

"Yes, and in moments like these."

"Truly God alone can save us," said Boisberthelot.

All were silent, leaving the carronade to its horrible uproar.

The waves beating the ship from without answered the blows of the
cannon within, very much like a couple of hammers striking In turn.

Suddenly in the midst of this inaccessible circus, where the escaped
cannon was tossing from side to side, a man appeared, grasping an iron
bar. It was the author of the catastrophe, the chief gunner, whose
criminal negligence had caused the accident, - the captain of the gun.
Having brought about the evil, his intention was to repair it. Holding
a handspike in one hand, and in the other a tiller rope with the
slip-noose in it, he had jumped through the hatchway to the deck below.

Then began a terrible struggle; a titanic spectacle; a combat between
cannon and cannoneer; a contest between mind and matter; a duel between
man and the inanimate. The man stood in one corner in an attitude of
expectancy, leaning on the rider and holding in his hands the bar and
the rope; calm, livid, and tragic, he stood firmly on his legs, that
were like two pillars of steel.

He was waiting for the cannon to approach him.

The gunner knew his piece, and he felt as though it must know him.
They had lived together a long time. How often had he put his hand in
its mouth. It was his domestic monster. He began to talk to it as he
would to a dog. "Come," said he. Possibly he loved it.

He seemed to wish for its coming, and yet its approach meant sure
destruction for him. How to avoid being crushed was the question. All
looked on in terror.

Not a breath was drawn freely, except perhaps by the old man, who
remained on the gun-deck gazing sternly on the two combatants.

He himself was in danger of being crushed by the piece; still he did
not move.

Beneath them the blind sea had command of the battle. When, in the act
of accepting this awful hand-to-hand struggle, the gunner approached to
challenge the cannon, it happened that the surging sea held the gun
motionless for an instant, as though stupefied. "Come on!" said the
man. It seemed to listen.

Suddenly it leaped towards him. The man dodged. Then the struggle
began, - a contest unheard of; the fragile wrestling with the
invulnerable; the human warrior attacking the brazen beast; blind force
on the one side, soul on the other.

All this was in the shadow. It was like an indistinct vision of a
miracle.

A soul! - strangely enough it seemed as if a soul existed within the
cannon, but one consumed with hate and rage. The blind thing seemed to
have eyes. It appeared as though the monster were watching the man.
There was, or at least one might have supposed it, cunning in this
mass. It also chose its opportunity. It was as though a gigantic
insect of iron was endowed with the will of a demon. Now and then this
colossal grass-hopper would strike the low ceiling of the gun-deck,
then falling back on its four wheels, like a tiger on all fours, rush
upon the man. He - supple, agile, adroit - writhed like a serpent before
these lightning movements. He avoided encounters; but the blows from
which he escaped fell with destructive force upon the vessel. A piece
of broken chain remained attached to the carronade. This bit of chain
had twisted in some incomprehensible way around the breech button.

One end of the chain was fastened to the gun-carriage; the other end
thrashed wildly around, aggravating the danger with every bound of the
cannon. The screw held it as in a clenched hand, and this chain,
multiplying the strokes of the battering-ram by those of the thong,
made a terrible whirlwind around the gun, - a lash of iron in a fist of
brass. This chain complicated the combat.

Despite all this, the man fought. He even attacked the cannon at
times, crawling along by the side of the ship and clutching his
handspike and the rope; the cannon seemed to understand his movements,
and fled as though suspecting a trap. The man, nothing daunted,
pursued his chase.

Such a struggle must necessarily be brief. Suddenly the cannon seemed
to say to itself: Now, then, there must be an end to this. And it
stopped. A crisis was felt to be at hand. The cannon, as if in
suspense, seemed to meditate, or - for to all intents and purposes it
was a living creature - it really did meditate, some furious design.
All at once it rushed on the gunner, who sprang aside with a laugh,
crying out, "Try it again!" as the cannon passed him. The gun in its
fury smashed one of the larboard carronades; then, by the invisible
sling in which it seemed to be held, it was thrown to the starboard,
towards the man, who escaped. Three carronades were crushed by its
onslaught; then, as though blind and besides itself it turned from the
man, and rolled from stern to stem, splintering the latter, and causing
a breach in the walls of the prow. The gunner took refuge at the foot
of the ladder, a short distance from the old man, who stood watching.
He held his handspike in readiness. The cannon seemed aware of it, and
without taking the trouble to turn, it rushed backward on the man, as
swift as the blow of an axe. The gunner, if driven up against the side
of the ship, would be lost.

One cry arose from the crew.

The old passenger - who until this moment had stood motionless - sprang
forward more swiftly than all those mad swirls. He had seized a bale
of the false assignats, and at the risk of being crushed succeeded in
throwing it between the wheels of the carronade. This decisive and
perilous manoeuvre could not have been executed with more precision and
adroitness by an adept in all the exercises given in the work of
Durosel's "Manual of Naval Gunnery."

The bale had the effect of a plug. A pebble may block a log; a branch
sometimes changes the course of an avalanche. The carronade stumbled,
and the gunner, availing himself of the perilous opportunity, thrust
his iron bar between the spokes of the back wheels. Pitching forward,
the cannon stopped; and the man, using his bar for a lever, rocked it
backward and forward. The heavy mass upset, with the resonant sound of
a bell that crashes in its fall. The man, reeking with perspiration,
threw himself upon it, and passed the slip-noose of the tiller-rope
around the neck of the defeated monster.

The combat was ended. The man had conquered. The ant had overcome the
mastodon; the pygmy had imprisoned the thunderbolt.

The soldiers and sailors applauded.

The crew rushed forward with chains and cables, and in an instant the
cannon was secured.

Saluting the passenger, the gunner exclaimed, -

"Sir, you have saved my life!"

The old man had resumed his impassible attitude, and made no reply.

* * * * * *

The man had conquered; but it might be affirmed that the cannon also
had gained a victory. Immediate shipwreck was averted; but the
corvette was still in danger. The injuries the ship had sustained
seemed irreparable. There were five breaches in the sides, one of
them - a very large one - in the bow, and twenty carronades out of thirty
lay shattered in their frames. The recaptured gun, which had been
secured by a chain, was itself disabled. The screw of the
breech-button being wrenched, it would consequently be impossible to
level the cannon. The battery was reduced to nine guns; there was a
leakage in the hold. All these damages must be repaired without loss
of time, and the pumps set in operation. Now that the gun-deck had
become visible, it was frightful to look upon. The interior of a mad
elephant's cage could not have been more thoroughly devastated.
However important it might be for the corvette to avoid observation,
the care for its immediate safety was still more imperative. They were
obliged to light the deck with lanterns placed at intervals along the
sides.

In the meantime, while this tragic entertainment had lasted, the crew,
entirely absorbed by a question of life and death, had not noticed what
was going on outside of the ship. The fog had thickened, the weather
had changed, the wind had driven the vessel at will; they were out of
their course, in full sight of Jersey and Guernsey, much farther to the
south than they ought to have been, and confronting a tumultuous sea.
The big waves kissed the wounded sides of the corvette with kisses that
savored of danger. The heaving of the sea grew threatening; the wind
had risen to a gale; a squall, perhaps a tempest, was brewing. One
could not see four oars' length before one.

While the crew made haste with their temporary repairs on the gun-deck,
stopping the leaks and setting up the cannons that had escaped
uninjured, the old passenger returned to the deck.

He stood leaning against the main-mast.

He had taken no notice of what was going on in the ship. The Chevalier
de la Vieuville had drawn up the marines on either side of the
main-mast, and at a signal-whistle of the boatswain the sailors, who
had been busy in the rigging, stood up on the yards. Count
Boisberthelot approached the passenger. The captain was followed by a
man, who, haggard and panting, with his dress in disorder, still wore
on his countenance an expression of content.

It was the gunner who had so opportunely displayed his power as a tamer
of monsters, and gained the victory over the cannon.

The count made a military salute to the old man in the peasant garb,
and said to him: -

"Here is the man, general."

The gunner, with downcast eyes, stood erect in a military attitude.

"General," resumed Count Boisberthelot, "considering what this man has
done, do you not think that his superiors have a duty to perform?"

"I think so," replied the old man.

"Be so good as to give your orders," resumed Boisberthelot.

"It is for you to give them; you are the captain."

"But you are the general," answered Boisberthelot.

The old man looked at the gunner.

"Step forward," he said.

The gunner advanced a step.

Turning to Count Boisberthelot, the old man removed the cross of Saint
Louis from the captain's breast, and fastened it on the jacket of the
gunner. The sailors cheered, and the marines presented arms.

Then pointing to the bewildered gunner he added:

"Now let the man be shot!"

Stupor took the place of applause.

Then, amid a tomb-like silence, the old man, raising his voice, said: -

"The ship has been endangered by an act of carelessness, and may even
yet be lost. It is all the same whether one be at sea or face to face
with the enemy. A ship at sea is like an army in battle. The tempest,
though unseen, is ever present; the sea is an ambush. Death is the fit
penalty for every fault committed when facing the enemy. There is no
fault that can be retrieved. Courage must be rewarded and negligence
be punished."

These words fell one after the other slowly and gravely, with a certain
implacable rhythm, like the strokes of the axe upon an oak-tree.
Looking at the soldiers, the old man added, -

"Do your duty!"

The man on whose breast shone the cross of Saint Louis bowed his head,
and at a sign of Count Boisberthelot two sailors went down to the
gun-deck, and presently returned bringing the hammock-shroud, the two
sailors were accompanied by the ship's chaplain, who since the
departure had been engaged in saying prayers in the officers' quarters.
A sergeant detached from the ranks twelve soldiers, whom he arranged in
two rows, six men in a row. The gunner placed himself between the two
lines. The chaplain, holding a crucifix, advanced and took his place
beside the man. "March!" came from the lips of the sergeant; and the
platoon slowly moved towards the bow, followed by two sailors carrying
the shroud.

A gloomy silence fell on the corvette. In the distance a hurricane was
blowing. A few moments later, a report echoed through the gloom; one
flash, and all was still. Then came the splash of a body falling into
the water. The old passenger, still leaning against the mainmast, his
hands crossed on his breast, seemed lost in thought. Boisberthelot,
pointing towards him with the forefinger of his left hand, remarked in
an undertone to La Vieuville, -

"The Vendée has found a leader."




THE MERCHANTS' CUP

From "Broken Stowage," BY DAVID W. BONE


I

"Fatty" Reid burst into the half-deck with a whoop of exultation.
"Come out, boys," he yelled. "Come out and see what luck! The _James
Flint_ comin' down the river, loaded and ready for sea! Who-oop! What
price the _Hilda_ now for the Merchants' Cup?"

"Oh, come off," said big Jones. "Come off with your Merchants' Cup.
Th' _James Flint's_ a sure thing, and she wasn't more than half-loaded
when we were up at Crockett on Sunday!"

"Well, there she comes anyway! _James Flint_, sure enough! Grade's
house-flag up, and the Stars and Stripes!"

We hustled on deck and looked over by the Sacramento's mouth. "Fatty"
was right. A big barque was towing down beyond San Pedro. The _James
Flint_! Nothing else in 'Frisco harbour had spars like hers; no ship
was as trim and clean as the big Yankee clipper that Bully Nathan
commanded. The sails were all aloft, the boats aboard. She was ready
to put to sea.

Our cries brought the captain and mate on deck, and the sight of the
outward-bounder made old man Burke's face beam like a nor'west moon.

"A chance for ye now, byes," he shouted. "An open race, bedad! Ye've
nothin' t' be afraid of if th' _James Flint_ goes t' sea by Saturday!"

Great was our joy at the prospect of the Yankee's sailing. The 'Frisco
Merchants' Cup was to be rowed for on Saturday. It was a mile-and-half
race for ships' boats, and three wins held the Cup for good. Twice, on
previous years, the _Hilda's_ trim gig had shot over the line - a
handsome winner. If we won again, the Cup was ours for keeps! But
there were strong opponents to be met this time. The _James Flint_ was
the most formidable. It was open word that Bully Nathan was keen on
winning the trophy. Every one knew that he had deliberately sought out
boatmen when the whalers came in from the north. Those who had seen
the Yankee's crew at work in their snaky carvel-built boat said that no
one else was in it. What chance had we boys in our clinker-built
against the thews and sinews of trained whalemen? It was no wonder
that we slapped our thighs at the prospect of a more open race.

Still, even with the Yankee gone, there were others in the running.
There was the _Rhondda_ that held the Cup for the year, having won when
we were somewhere off the Horn; then the _Hedwig Rickmers_ - a Bremen
four-master - which had not before competed, but whose green-painted gig
was out for practice morning and night. We felt easy about the
_Rhondda_ (for had we not, time and again, shown them our stern on the
long pull from Green St. to the outer anchorage?), but the Germans were
different. Try as we might, we could never pull off a spurt with them.
No one knew for certain what they could do, only old Schenke, their
skipper, and he held his tongue wisely.

The _James Flint_ came around the bend, and our eager eyes followed her
as she steered after the tug. She was making for the outer anchorage,
where the laden ships lie in readiness for a good start off.

"Th' wind's 'bout west outside," said Jones. "A 'dead muzzler'!
She'll not put t' sea tonight, even if she has all her 'crowd' aboard."

"No, worse luck! mebbe she'll lie over till Saturday after all. They
say Bully's dead set on getting th' Cup. He might hang back. . . .
Some excuse - short-handed or something!" Gregson was the one for
"croaking."

"No hands?" said Fatty. "Huh! How could he be short-handed when
everybody knows that Daly's boardin'-house is chock-full of fightin'
Dutchmen? No, no! It'll be the sack for Mister Bully B. Nathan if he
lets a capful o' fair wind go by and his anchor down. Gracie's agents
'll watch that!"

"Well! He's here for th' night, anyway. . . . There goes her mudhook!"

We watched her great anchor go hurtling from the bows and heard the
roar of chain cable as she paid out and swung round to the tide.

"Come roun', yo' boys dere! Yo' doan' want no tea, eh?" The nigger
cook, beating tattoo on a saucepan lid, called us back to affairs of
the moment, and we sat down to our scanty meal in high spirits,
talking - all at one time - of our chances of the Cup.

The _Hilda_ had been three months at San Francisco, waiting for the
wheat crop and a profitable charter. We had come up from Australia,
and most of our crew, having little wages due to them, had deserted
soon after our arrival. Only we apprentices and the sail-maker
remained, and we had work enough to set our muscles up in the heavy
harbour jobs. Trimming coal and shovelling ballast may not be
scientific training, but it is grand work for the back and shoulders.

We were in good trim for rowing. The old man had given us every
opportunity, and nothing he could do was wanting to make us fit. Day
and daily we had set our stroke up by the long pull from the anchorage
to the wharves, old Burke coaching and encouraging, checking and
speeding us, till we worked well together. Only last Sunday he had
taken us out of our way, up the creek, to where we could see the flag
at the _Rhondda's_ masthead. The old man said nothing, but well we
knew he was thinking of how the square of blue silk, with Californian
emblem worked in white, would look at his trim little _Hilda's_
fore-truck! This flag accompanied the Cup, and now (if only the Yankee
and his hired whalemen were safely at sea) we had hopes of seeing it at
our masthead again.

Tea over - still excited talk went on. Some one recalled the last time
we had overhauled and passed the _Rhondda's_ gig.

"It's all very well your bucking about beating the _Rhondda_," said
Gregson; "but don't think we're going to have it all our own way!
Mebbe they were 'playing 'possum' when we came by that time!"

"Maybe," said Jones. "There's Peters and H. Dobson in her crew. Good
men! Both rowed in the Worcester boat that left the Conways' at the
start, three years ago. . . . And what about the _Rickmers_? . . . .
No, no! It won't do to be too cocksure! . . . . Eh, Takia?"

Takia was our cox-n, a small wiry Jap. Nothing great in inches, but a
demon for good steering and timing a stroke. He was serving his
apprenticeship with us and had been a year in the _Hilda_. Brute
strength was not one of his points, but none was keener or more active
in the rigging than our little Jap.

He smiled, - he always smiled, - he found it the easiest way of speaking
English. "Oh, yes," he said. "Little cocksu' - good! Too much
cocksu' - no good!"

We laughed at the wisdom of the East.

"Talk about being cocky," said Gregson; "you should hear Captain
Schenke bragging about the way he brought the _Hedwig Rickmers_ out. I
heard 'em and the old man at it in the ship-chandler's yesterday.
Hot . . . . Look here, you chaps! I don't think the old man cares so
much to win the Cup as to beat Schenke! The big 'squarehead' is always
ramming it down Burke's throat how he brought his barque out from
Liverpool in a hundred and five days, while the _Hilda_ took ten days
more on her last run out!"

"That's so, I guess," said Jones. (Jones had the Yankee "touch.")
"Old Burke would dearly love to put a spoke in his wheel, but it'll
take some doing. They say that Schenke has got a friend down from
Sacramento - gym.-instructor or something to a college up there. He'll
be training the 'Dutchy' crew like blazes. They'll give us a hot time,
I'll bet!"

Gregson rose to go on deck. "Oh, well," he said, "it won't be so bad
if the _James Flint_ only lifts his hook by Saturday. Here's one
bloomin' _hombre_ that funks racin' a fancy whaler! . . . An' doesn't
care who knows it, either!"


II

Thursday passed - and now Friday - still there was no sign of the wind
changing, and the big Yankee barque lay quietly at anchor over by the
Presidio.

When the butcher came off from the shore with the day's stores, we
eagerly questioned him about the prospects of the _James Flint's_
sailing. "_Huh_! I guess yew're nat the only 'citizens' that air
concarned 'bout that!" he said. "They're talkin' 'bout nuthin' else on
every 'lime-juicer' in the Bay! . . . . An' th' _Rickmers_! Gee!
Schenkie's had his eye glued ter th' long telescope ever since
daybreak, watchin' fer th' _Flint_ heavin' up anchor!"

The butcher had varied information to give us. Now it was that Bully
Nathan had telegraphed to his New York owners for permission to remain
in port over Sunday. Then again, Bully was on the point of being
dismissed his ship for not taking full advantage of a puff of nor'-west


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