Ninety-three/1.2.9

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Ninety-three by Victor Hugo
Some one Escapes.

CHAPTER IX.

SOME ONE ESCAPES.

The passenger had not left the deck, he was watching everything, unmoved.

Boisberthelot approached him. "Sir," he said, "the preparations are completed. Here we are cramped into our tomb, but we shall not yield. We are prisoners of the squadron or of the reef. To surrender to the enemy or founder on the rocks, we have no other alternative. Only one resource remains, death. To fight is better than shipwreck. I would rather be shot than drowned; if I must die, I prefer fire to water. But to die is our fate, not yours. You are the man chosen by the princes, you have a great mission, to direct the war in La Vendée. Without you, the monarchy may be lost; you must live then. It is our duty to remain here, yours to get away. Go, general,—leave the ship. I will give you a man and a boat. It is not impossible to reach the shore by a roundabout way. It is not yet day, the waves are high, the sea is dark, you will escape. There are times when to flee is to conquer."

With his stern head, the old man made a solemn sign of acquiescence.

The Count de Boisberthelot raised his voice,

"Soldiers and sailors," he cried.

All movement ceased, and from every part of the vessel faces were turned toward the captain.

He continued,—

"The man who is among us represents the king. He has been entrusted to our care, we must preserve him. He is necessary to the throne of France; for want of a prince he will be, at least so we hope, the chief of la Vendée. He is a great general. He was to reach France with us, he must reach it without us. To save his life is to save all."

"Aye, aye, aye!" cried all the voices of the crew.

The captain continued,—

"He too, will incur serious dangers. To reach the shore is no easy matter. It ought to be a large boat to brave the high sea, but it must be a small one to escape the cruisers. It is important to land at some point which will be safe, and rather in the vicinity of Fougères than of Coutances. It needs a plucky sailor, a good swimmer, and a good oarsman; one who belongs to this country and knows the channel. It is still dark enough for the boat to get away from the vessel without being discovered. And then we shall have smoke which will help to conceal her. Her small size will take her through shallow water. Where the panther is caught, the weasel escapes. There is no help for us; there is for him. The oars will carry the boat away: the hostile ships will not see it; and besides, we will divert their attention meanwhile. Is it agreed?"

"Aye, aye, sir!" cried the crew.

"There is not a minute to lose," continued the captain, "Is there a man willing to go?"

A sailor stepped out of the ranks in the darkness and said: "I am."