Page:Ninety-three.djvu/52

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48
NINETY-THREE

So it was necessary to let the squadron come within range of the carronades.

The captain gave his orders in an undertone. Silence reigned on the vessel. No signal to make ready for battle was given, but the order was executed all the same. The corvette was as unfit to fight against men as it was to battle with the waves. Every possible expedient was employed with this remnant of a war vessel. All the hawsers and spare cables were collected together at the gangway, near the tiller ropes, to use for strengthening the masts in case of necessity. The cockpit was prepared for the wounded. According to the naval custom of that day, the deck was barricaded, which was a safeguard against bullets but not against cannon balls. The ball-gauges were brought, although it was a little late to test their calibres; but so many accidents had not been foreseen. Each sailor received a cartridge-box, and placed a pair of pistols and a dirk in his belt. The hammocks were stowed away, the artillery pointed, the musketry prepared, the axes and grappling-irons put in their places, the stores of cartridges and bullets made ready, and the powder-magazine opened. Each man took his post. All this without a word spoken, and as if in a death chamber. It was swift and melancholy.

Then the corvette showed her broadside. She had six anchors, like a frigate. They cast all six of them; the cock-bill at the bow, the hedge anchor at the stern, the flood anchor toward the open sea, the ebb anchor toward the rocks, the bower anchor to starboard, and the sheet anchor to port.

The nine carronades remaining in good condition were ]iut into form, all nine of them on one side,—the side toward the enemy.

The squadron had no less silently completed their preparations. The eight vessels now formed a semicircle, of which the "Minquiers" made the chord. The "Claymore," enclosed in this semicircle, and pinioned by its own anchor besides, was backed by the reef; that is to say, by shipwreck.

It was like a pack of hounds around a wild boar, making no sound, but showing their teeth.

It seemed as if one side were waiting for the other.