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avalanche. The carronade stumbled. The gunner, in his turn, seizing this terrible chance, plunged his iron bar between the spokes of one of the hind wheels. The cannon was stopped.
It staggered. The man, using the bar as a lever, rocked it to and fro. The heavy mass turned over with a clang like a falling bell, and the gunner, dripping with sweat, rushed forward headlong and passed the slippingnoose of the tiller-rope about the bronze neck of the overthrown monster. The struggle was ended; the man had conquered, the ant had subdued the mastodon, the pygmy had taken the thunderbolt prisoner.
The man had conquered, but one might say that the cannon had conquered also. Immediate shipwreck had been avoided, but the corvette was by no means saved. The dilapidation of the vessel seemed irremediable. The sides had five breaches, one of which, very large, was in the bow. Of the thirty carronades, twenty lay useless in their frames. The carronade which had been captured and rechained was itself disabled; the screw of the breech-button was forced, and the leveling of the piece impossible in consequence. The battery was reduced to nine pieces. The hold had sprung a leak. It was necessary at once to repair the damages and set the pumps to work. While the crew were repairing summarily and in haste the ravages of the gun-deck, stopping the leaks and putting back into position the guns which had escaped the disaster, the old passenger had gone on deck. As he stood with his back against the main-mast, Count du Boisberthelot advanced toward him. The Chevalier La Vieuville had drawn up the marines in line on each side of the main-mast, and at the whistle of the boatswain the sailors busy in the rigging stood upright on the yards. Behind the captain marched a man, haggard, breathless, his dress in disorder, yet wearing a satisfied look under it all. It was the gunner who had just now so opportunely shown himself a tamer of monsters, and who had got the better of the cannon. The count made a military salute,
... and said, “General, here is the man.”'
The gunner held himself erect, his eyes downcast, standing in a soldierly attitude.
Count du Boisberthelot continued, “General, taking into consideration what this man has done, do you not think there is something for his commanders to do?”
“I think there is,” said the old man.
“Be good enough to give the orders," returned Boisberthelot. ...
The old man looked at the gunner. “Approach,” said he.
The gunner moved forward a step. The old man turned toward Count du Boisberthelot, detached the cross of St. Louis from the captain's uniform, and fastened it on the jacket of the gunner.
“Hurrah!” cried the sailors. The marines presented arms. The old passenger, pointing with his finger toward the bewildered gunner, added, “Now let that man be shot.” Stupor succeeded the applause. Then, in the midst of a silence like that of the tomb, the old man raised his voice. He said, "A negligence has endangered this ship. At this moment she is perhaps lost. To be at sea is to face the enemy. A vessel at open sea is an army which gives battle. The tempest conceals, but does not absent itself. The whole sea is an ambuscade. Death is the penalty of any fault committed in the face of the enemy. No fault is reparable. Courage ought to be rewarded and negligence punished.”
These words fell one after the other, slowly, solemnly, with a sort of inexorable measure, like the blows of an axe upon an oak. And the old man, turning to the soldiers, added, “Do your duty.” The man upon whose breast shone the cross of Saint Louis bowed his head. At a sign from Count du Boisberthelot, two sailors descended between decks, then returned, bringing the hammock winding-sheet. The ship's chaplain, who since the time of sailing had been at prayer in the officers' quarters, accompanied the two sailors; a sergeant detached from the line twelve marines, whom he arranged in two ranks, six by six; the gunner, without uttering a word, placed himself between the two files. The chaplain, crucifix in hand, advanced and stood near him.
“March !” said the sergeant. The platoon moved with slow steps toward the bow. The two sailors who carried the shroud followed. A gloomy silence fell upon the corvette. The hurricane moaned in the distance. A few instants later there was a flash; a report followed, echoing among the shadows; then all was silent; then came the thud of a body falling into the sea.
It is not important that you learn the French pronunciation of the proper names.
Cross of St. Louis: a French decoration of honor.
Questions for Study
1. In the first paragraphs there are many comparisons. What does each one add to the bare fact?
2. What does the dictionary tell you a carronade was? What does Victor Hugo, by means of his descriptions, add to this definition ?
3. What do you think the feelings of the captain of the gun were when he saw what his carelessness had caused?
4. Why did he not rush in at once? Was his act a brave one ?
5. Why do you sympathize with him in his efforts to capture the carronade?
6. Why do you disapprove of the "satisfied look” on the gunner's face as he approached the general ?
7. Were the reward and the punishment both just?
INCIDENT OF THE FRENCH CAMP
You know, we French stormed Ratisbon:
A mile or so away,
Stood on our storming-day;
Legs wide, arms locked behind,
Oppressive with its mind.
Just as perhaps he mused, “My plans
That soar, to earth may fall,
Waver at yonder wall,”—
A rider, bound on bound
Until he reached the mound.
Then off there flung in smiling joy,
And held himself erect