Gacquoil was bending all his efforts to keep the vessel out of the trough of the sea; for, if it were struck on the side by the wind and the waves, it would inevitably capsize.
"Pilot," said the captain, "where are we?"
"Off the Minquiers."
"On which side?"
"Can we bring the broadside to bear on them?"
"One can always die," said the pilot.
The captain directed his glance toward the west and examined the Minquiers; then he turned it toward the east and scrutinized the sails in sight.
The pilot continued, as if talking to himself,—
"It is the Minquiers. It serves as a resting-place for the laughing sea-mew and the great black-mantled gull, on their way from Holland."
In the meantime, the captain had counted the ships.
There really were eight vessels correctly disposed and raising their warlike profiles above the water. In the centre stood the lofty hull of a three-decker.
The captain questioned the pilot,—
"Do you know these ships?"
"Certainly!" replied Gacquoil.
"What are they?"
"It is the squadron."
"Of the devil."
There was silence. The captain continued,—
"Are all the cruisers there?"
In fact, the second of April, Valazé had announced to the Convention that ten frigates and six ships of the line were cruising in the channel. The captain recollected this.
"In all," he said, "the squadron has sixteen vessels. "There are only eight here."
"The rest," said Gacquoil, "are spying along the coast farther down."
The captain, still looking through the glass, murmured: "A three-decker, two first-class frigates, and five of the second class."