A Game of Trictrac
A Game of Trictrac
Translated by Corry Cropper, 2005.
Motionless sails drooped against their masts; the sea was as smooth as glass; the heat was suffocating, the calm depressing.
When at sea, the ability of travelers to amuse one another is quickly exhausted. After spending four months together in a wooden home that is only one hundred and twenty feet long, they know each other too well, alas! When you see the first lieutenant coming toward you, you know that he will first tell to you about Rio-Janeiro, his hometown; then about the famous Essling Bridge that he saw built by the sailors of his own company. After two weeks, you can predict his facial expressions, the punctuation of his sentences, the intonation of his voice. When has he ever not paused sadly–after pronouncing for the first time in his narrative the word Emperor–and added (with three exclamation points), “If only you had seen him then!!!” And the episode of the bugler’s horse and the cannonball that ricocheted and tore off his pouch holding seven thousand five hundred francs worth of gold and jewels, etc., etc.! —The second lieutenant follows politics closely; and each day he offers commentary on the latest edition of the Constitutionnel that he picked up in Brest; or, if he ventures out of the sublime region of politics and descends to literature, he will marvel you with an analysis of the last vaudeville act that he saw. Heaven save us!… A naval commissioner onboard had a very interesting story. How he enchanted us the first time he told of his escape from the prison ships of Cadiz! But at the twentieth retelling, my god, we couldn’t take it any more… And the ensigns and the cadets!… The memory of conversations with them makes my hair stand on end. As for the captain, he is usually the least annoying onboard. In his position of despotic commander, he is always secretly hostile to the entire staff; he vexes, he oppresses at times, but they take a certain pleasure in complaining about him. If he has an obsessive tic, they enjoy seeing their superior appear ridiculous, and that consoles them a bit.
Aboard the vessel on which I had embarked, the officers were the best possible men, all good devils, looking out for each other like brothers, but boring each other the best they could. The captain was the gentlest of men, not bothersome (a rare quality). When forced to, he used his dictatorial authority with some regret. Even so, the trip seemed long to me! Most of all this calm that struck us just a few days before we were to reach land!…
One day, after dinner, which boredom had made us prolong as much as humanly possible, we were all together on the bridge, waiting to see the monotonous, but, when at sea, always majestic setting of the sun. Some smoked, others reread for the twentieth time one of the thirty volumes of our sad library; everyone yawned until tears streaked their faces. An ensign in uniform, sitting next to me, repeatedly threw his knife into the floorboards of the deck as though he were engaged in a most serious task. This is an amusement as good as any other and it requires a certain amount of skill to ensure that the blade sticks straight up and down in the wood. Wanting to imitate the ensign and having no knife, I asked the captain for his, but he refused. He was strangely attached to it and would have been angry to see it used for such a trivial exercise. His knife had once belonged to a brave officer who sadly died in the last war… I guessed that a story would soon follow and I wasn’t wrong. The captain began without my insistence; as for the officers around us, since each of them knew lieutenant Roger’s misfortunes by heart, they made an immediate and prudent retreat. Here is, approximately, the captain’s tale:
“When I met him, Roger was three years my senior; he was a lieutenant and I was a simple ensign. I assure you that he was one of the best officers of the navy; moreover, he had an excellent heart, was clever, educated, talented; in a word, a charming young man. Unfortunately, he was a bit proud and gullible. I think this was because he was an illegitimate child and he feared that knowledge of his birth would make him lose the esteem of his colleagues. But, to tell you the truth, his biggest flaw was his constant desire to be generous in every circumstance. His father, whom he had never met, gave him a pension that would have been more than sufficient for his needs were Roger not generosity personified. Everything he owned belonged to his friends. When he received his quarterly allowance, the first sad, worried face he saw would win his affection: ‘Well, friend! What’s the problem?’ he would ask. ‘You don’t seem able to make much noise when you touch your pockets; come on, here’s my wallet, take what you need and then come and have dinner with me.’
A young, pretty actress named Gabrielle came to Brest and soon began to have some success among the sailors and officers stationed there. She was not a perfect beauty, but she was well formed, had beautiful eyes, small feet, and an impudent demeanor: all of which is very attractive when one is between twenty and twenty five years old. They said she was by far the most capricious creature of her sex, and the way she performed did nothing to detract from this reputation. At times she performed fabulously, like a top tier actress; the next day, in the same play, she was cold and emotionless; she read her lines like a child recites prayers. What really piqued the young men’s interest was a story that circulated about her. It seems she was lavishly cared for in Paris by a senator who spared no expense to please her. One day, when this man came to see her, he put on his hat in her presence; she asked him to remove it and complained that he was being disrespectful toward her. The senator laughed, shrugged and, as he fell into an armchair, said: ‘I think I have the right to dress as I like around a girl that I pay.’ A strong slap, delivered by Gabrielle’s white hand, responded to the senator’s insult and sent his hat flying across the room. From there, complete break up. Bankers and generals made considerable offers to her but she refused them all and decided to become an actress in order to live, as she said, independently.
When Roger saw her and heard this story, he decided that she was meant for him and, with the brutal honesty for which we sailors are criticized, here is how he went about showing her how much he was touched by her charms. He bought the most beautiful and rare flowers that he could find in Brest, tied them together with a beautiful pink ribbon, and in the bouquet neatly arranged a roll of twenty-five napoléons; it was all the money he had at the time. I remember accompanying him backstage during intermission. He briefly complimented Gabrielle on how gracefully she wore her costume, gave her the bouquet and asked if he could visit her at her home. All this was said as succinctly as possible.
As long as Gabrielle only saw the flowers and the handsome young man who was giving them to her, she smiled and graciously curtsied; but when she had the bouquet in her hands and felt the weight of the gold, her countenance changed more quickly that the surface of the sea when hit by a tropical hurricane; and I’m certain she was as mean as a hurricane since she threw the bouquet and the napoléons at my friend’s head with all her strength. His face showed the imprints of the bouquet for the next week. The director sounded the curtain call. Gabrielle went on stage and performed poorly.
Roger, confused, picked up his bouquet and his roll of gold coins and went to a café where he gave the bouquet (without the money) to the young woman at the bar, then he tried to forget his cruel beloved by drinking alcoholic punch. He did not succeed; and, despite feeling anger for being unable to show himself in public due to his black eye, he fell madly in love with the temperamental Gabrielle. He wrote her twenty letters a day and what letters! Submissive, tender, respectful: the sort only written to a princess. The first were returned to him unopened; the others were not answered. Roger, however, held out hope, until the day we found that the woman selling oranges near the theater wrapped her oranges in Roger’s love letters, given to her by Gabrielle, the epitome of refined cruelty. It was a cruel blow to the pride of our friend. But his passion did not diminish. He spoke of asking for the actress’ hand in marriage; and since we told him that the Minister of the Navy would never consent to such a marriage, he said he would blow his brains out.
In the meantime, the officers of an infantry regiment who were temporarily stationed in Brest wanted Gabrielle to perform an encore of a scene from a Vaudeville act. Out of stubborn pride, she refused. The officers and the actress were both so intransigent that in the end the officers’ boos caused the curtain to be lowered and the actress fainted. You know what a theater pit is like in a military town. The officers agreed that during all subsequent performances the guilty actress would be booed incessantly and she would not be allowed to perform a single role until she had made honorable amends for her crime. Roger had not attended this show; but that night he learned of the scandal that had thrown the theater into turmoil and of the plans for the following day. He immediately decided what needed to be done.
The next day, when Gabrielle appeared on stage, the officers’ boos and shouts shook the rafters. Roger, who had placed himself near the troublemakers on purpose, rose and addressed the loudest officers in terms so offensive that their anger was immediately redirected towards him. Then, very calmly, he removed a notebook from his pocket and wrote down the names of those who were insulting him; he would have dueled with the entire regiment were it not for several naval officers who, out of a sense of esprit de corps, came to his side and began provoking most of his adversaries. A frightening brawl ensued.
All the soldiers were confined to their barracks for several days; but when we were finally let out, there was hell to pay. About sixty of us gathered on the training field. Roger fought against three officers in succession; he killed one and seriously injured two others without receiving so much as a scratch. I was not so fortunate: a lieutenant who had been a weapon’s instructor struck my chest with his sword and very nearly killed me. This duel, or this battle was a beautiful spectacle. The navy came out on top and the infantry regiment was forced to leave Brest.
You can imagine that our superiors did not forget who had started the fight. For two weeks he pulled guard duty.
When his extra duty ended, I left the hospital to go see him. When I arrived I was surprised to see him eating lunch alone with Gabrielle! It appeared as if they had been a couple for a long time. They called each other by their first names and even drank out of the same glass. Roger introduced me as his best friend to his mistress and informed her that I had been wounded in the skirmish fought in her defense. That earned me a kiss from this beautiful person. Her affections were based entirely on martial considerations.
They spent three months together in a state of perpetual happiness, always by each other’s side. Gabrielle seemed to love him passionately and Roger admitted that before knowing Gabrielle he had not known love.
A Dutch frigate entered the port. The ship’s officers invited us to dinner. We copiously drank all sorts of wine; and once the meal was finished, not knowing what else to do, since the gentlemen spoke French so poorly, we began to gamble. The Dutch seemed to have a lot of money; and their first lieutenant wanted to wager so much that none of us dared play with him. Roger, who normally did not gamble, felt that in such an occasion he needed to defend his country’s honor. So he played and agreed to whatever the Dutch lieutenant proposed. He won at first, then lost. After alternating gains and losses, they parted on equal footing. We invited the Dutch officers to dinner in turn. We gambled again. Roger and the lieutenant played for a second time. Over the next several days, they met, either in the café or aboard the ship, trying all sorts of games, mainly trictrac, and always increasing their wagers, so much so that in the end they were playing for twenty-five napoléons a game. It was an enormous sum for poor officers like us. It represented over two months worth of wages. After a week, Roger had lost all the money he had, plus three or four thousand francs that he had borrowed from various people.
You can imagine that Roger and Gabrielle had ended up living together and sharing all their expenses. This meant, of course, that Roger contributed ten or twenty times more to the household than the actress. However, he always considered that this money belonged primarily to his mistress. He had only kept some fifty napoléons for his own expenses. But he was forced to dip into the household money in order to continue gambling. Gabrielle said nothing about it whatsoever.
The household money went the way of Roger’s spending money. Soon he was down to his last twenty-five napoléons. He played horribly. And the game was long and tightly contested. At one point, it was Roger’s turn and he had one chance left to win: I think he needed to roll a six and a four. It was late. An officer who had been watching them play for some time had fallen asleep in an armchair. The Dutchman was worn out and drowsy; what’s more, he had had a lot to drink. Only Roger was wide awake and weighed down with violent despair. He trembled as he rolled the dice. He threw them so forcefully that a candle fell to the floor. The Dutchman first looked at the candle that had just covered his new pants with wax, then he looked at the dice: a six and a four. Roger, as pale as death, took the twenty-five napoléons. They kept playing. Luck turned in favor of my friend despite the fact that he played poorly and forgot to count points he had earned–as if he were trying to lose. The Dutch lieutenant insisted they keep playing. He doubled, quadrupled the wager, but still lost. I can still see him. He was tall and blond, cool with a face that seemed to be made of wax. He finally left the table, having lost forty thousand francs. He paid his losses without the slightest show of emotion.
Roger told him: ‘What we did tonight means nothing. You were half asleep. I don’t want your money.’
‘You’re joking,’ the cool Dutchman replied. ‘I played very well but the dice were against me. I’m sure I could always beat you even giving you a four hole lead. Goodnight!’ and he left.
The next day we learned the Dutch lieutenant, depressed because of his loss, had blown his brains out in his room after drinking a bowl of punch.
The forty thousand francs that Roger had won were spread out on a table and Gabrielle contemplated them with a smile of satisfaction. ‘We’re rich,’ she said; ‘What will we do with all this money?’
Roger didn’t answer; he was in a daze since hearing of the Dutchman’s death. ‘We ought to spend it all and have some fun,’ Gabrielle continued: ‘Easy come, easy go. Let’s buy a big carriage so we can snub the Prefect and his wife. I want diamonds and cashmeres. Ask for a leave and let’s go to Paris. We could never spend so much money here.’ She stopped to looked at Roger who, with his eyes trained on the floor and his head in his hands, hand not heard her and seemed to be mulling over sinister thoughts.
‘What the hell is wrong, Roger?’ she cried, touching his shoulder. ‘You’re pouting, I think. I can’t get a word out of you.’
‘I am very unfortunate,’ he finally said with a stifled sigh.
‘Unfortunate! Pardon me, but you can’t possibly regret having taken that stuffed mynheer?’
He lifted his head and looked at her with tired eyes.
‘So what,’ she continued. ‘So what if he took it hard and blew out his brains! I don’t feel sorry for gamblers who lose; besides, the money is better with us than with him: he would have wasted it on drinks and smokes, whereas we plan on wasting it away on our extravagant, opulent lifestyle.’
Roger walked around the room, his chin on his chest, his eyes half closed and filled with tears. You would have felt sorry for him had you seen him.
‘You know,’ Gabrielle told him, ‘people who didn’t know your romantic idealism would think that you had cheated?’
‘And if it were true?’ he cried in a muffled voice as he stopped in front of her.
‘Right!’ she replied with a smile, ‘you’re not smart enough to cheat.’
‘Yes, I cheated, Gabrielle; I cheated like the wretch that I am.’
Seeing his mood, she understood too well that he spoke the truth. She sat on a sofa and remained some time without speaking. ‘I would rather,’ she finally said, her voice filled with emotion, ‘I would rather see you kill ten men than cheat when gambling.’
A deathly silence followed that lasted for a half an hour. They were both sitting on the same sofa and did not look at each other once. Roger got up first and calmly told her goodnight.
‘Goodnight!’ she replied tersely.
Roger told me later that he would have killed himself that night had he not feared that our friends would have guessed the reason for his suicide. He did not want to be remembered infamously.
The next day, Gabrielle was her usual happy self; it seemed she had already forgotten the confession of the previous night. As for Roger, he had become somber, distant, sullen; he almost never left his room, he avoided his friends, and would go days on end without so much as speaking to his mistress. I attributed his sadness to a sort of honorable, if not excessive, sensibility, and I tried to console him several times; but each time he sent me away, while maintaining that he was indifferent to the fate of his unfortunate gaming partner. One day he even went so far as to violently insult the Dutch nation and he argued that in all of Holland there was not a single honorable gentleman. At the same time, however, he secretly tried to find out about the Dutch lieutenant’s family, but no one knew about them.
Six weeks after this unfortunate game of trictrac, in Gabrielle’s apartment, Roger found a note from a cadet that appeared to thank her for certain acts of kindness she had shown toward him. Gabrielle was disorder personified and she had left the note in question on her mantle. I don’t know if she had been unfaithful, but Roger believed she had and his anger was frightening. His love and a remaining shred of pride were the only feelings that kept him attached to life, and the strongest of these emotions was suddenly going to be destroyed. He piled insult upon insult on the proud actress; and, as violent as he tended to be, I don’t know how he managed not to beat her.
‘This young greenie gave you a lot of money, I suppose?’ he told her. ‘It’s the only thing you love and you would grant your favors to the dirtiest common sailor if he could pay you enough.’
‘Why not?’ the actress answered coldly. ‘Yes, I would get paid by a sailor, but… I wouldn’t steal from him.
Roger let out a cry of rage. He tremblingly pulled out his knife and, for an instant, looked at Gabrielle with wild eyes; then, summoning all his strength, he threw the knife at her feet and fled from the apartment to avoid giving into the temptation that obsessed him.
That very evening, I passed in front of his lodgings very late and seeing light I went in to borrow a book from him. I found him very absorbed in writing. He hardly noticed my presence in the room. I sat down next to his desk and looked at his face; he looked so different that anyone but me would have had difficulty recognizing him. I then noticed a letter on the desk, already sealed, and addressed to me. I opened it immediately. Roger made it known that he was going to end his life and he asked me to take care of several errands for him. While I read, he continued writing, paying no attention to me; he was writing his goodbyes to Gabrielle… You can imagine my surprise and what I must have said to him, as shocked as I was by his decision. ‘What? You want to kill yourself? But you’re so happy.’
‘My friend,’ he said as he sealed his letter, ‘you don’t know a thing; you don’t know me, I’m a scoundrel; I am so contemptible that a prostitute insults me and I feel so vile that I don’t have the strength to beat her.’ He then told me about his trictrac game and the rest of the story I have just related. Listening to him, I was at least as emotional as he; I didn’t know what to tell him; I shook his hand, I had tears in my eyes, but I couldn’t speak. Finally the idea came to me to tell him that he shouldn’t blame himself for the Dutchman’s death since he hadn’t caused it voluntarily; and besides, his cheating had cost the Dutchman… a mere twenty-five napoléons.
‘So!’ he cried with bitter irony, ‘I’m a little thief and not a big one. Me, of all people. I had so much ambition! And now I’m just a petty criminal.!’ And he laughed out loud. I broke down in tears.
Suddenly, the door burst open; a woman entered and ran into his arms: it was Gabrielle. ‘Forgive me,’ she cried holding him tightly. ‘Forgive me. I feel it. I can only love you. I love you more now than if you had never done what you blame yourself for. If you want, I’ll steal… I already stole… Yes, I have stolen… I stole a gold watch… What can be lower than that?’
Roger shook his head incredulously, but his face seemed to light up. ‘No, my poor child,’ he said as he gently pushed her away, ‘I absolutely have to kill myself. I’m suffering too much, and I can’t take the pain that I feel here.’
‘If you want to die, Roger, I’ll die with you! Without you, I don’t care about life! I’m brave, I’ve shot guns; I’ll kill myself as well as anyone. And since I’ve performed tragedies, I’m used to it.’ She had tears in her eyes when she started, but this last idea made her laugh, and Roger himself even let a smile escape. ‘You’re laughing, my officer,’ she said as she clapped her hands and kissed him; ‘You won’t kill yourself!’ And she kept kissing him, crying, then laughing, then swearing like a sailor; she was not the type of girl to be afraid of a bad word.
I nevertheless took Roger’s pistols and his knife and I told him, ‘My dear Roger, you have a mistress and a friend who love you. Believe me, you can still find happiness in this world.’ I embraced him and then left him alone with Gabrielle.
I think we would have only succeeded in delaying his morbid plans had he not received orders to leave, as a first lieutenant, aboard a frigate that was assigned to patrol the Indian ocean after breaking through the flotilla of British ships blocking the port. The mission was dangerous. I convinced him that it was better to nobly die due to an English cannonball than to kill himself: a death that would bring no glory and be of no use to his country. He promised to live. Of the 40,000 francs, he gave half of it to disabled sailors and to widows and children of navy men. He gave the rest to Gabrielle who, initially, promised to give it to charity. She intended on keeping her word, the poor girl; but her enthusiasm was short lived. I have since learned that she gave several thousand francs to the poor. She bought new clothes with the rest.
Roger and I boarded a beautiful frigate named The Galatea: our men were courageous, well trained, disciplined; but our commander was an ignoramus who thought he was some sort of Billy Budd because he could swear better than a captain at arms, because he butchered the French language and because he had never studied the theory of his profession and he poorly understood its practice. Despite this, luck was on our side in the beginning. We managed to get through the blockade thanks to a strong wind that forced the English ships out to sea and we began our tour of duty by burning an English corvette and a vessel that belonged to the Indian Trading Company off the coast of Portugal.
We slowly sailed toward the Indian Ocean, slowed by contrary winds and by the poor maneuvering of our captain, whose incompetence greatly increased the danger of our journey. At times chased by bigger ships, at times chasing merchant vessels, not a single day went by without some new adventure. But neither the hazardous life that we led nor the headaches caused by the upkeep of the frigate that he was in charge of could keep Roger’s mind of the sad thoughts that constantly plagued him. At one time he passed for the brightest, most active officer of our port; but now he could not envision anything beyond his daily tasks. As soon as he was off duty, he locked himself in his room, without books, without paper; he spent hours on end lying on his bunk, unable to sleep.
One day, seeing his depression, I decided to talk to him. ‘Dang it! my friend, you’re beating yourself up for nothing. You swindled twenty-five napoléons from a fat Dutchman… fine!–and you act as if you had stolen a million. Tell me, when you were the lover of the prefect of …’s wife, did you feel remorse? No. But she was worth a lot more than twenty-five napoléons.’
He turned over on his mattress without responding.
I continued: ‘After all, your crime, since you say it’s a crime, had an honorable motive and came from an elevated soul.’
He turned his head toward me and stared at me furiously.
‘Think about it. If you had lost, what would have happened to Gabrielle? The poor girl, she would have sold her last shirt for you… If you had lost, she would have been reduced to poverty… You cheated for her, you cheated because you love her. People kill for love… kill themselves for love… Roger, my friend, you did more. For men like us it is more courageous to… steal, to put it bluntly, than to kill ourselves.’
Maybe I seem ridiculous to you now,” the captain said, interrupting his narrative. “But I can assure you that my friendship for Roger, in that moment, gave me a dose of eloquence that I can’t recapture today; and, I swear, when I was talking to him that day, I was sincere and I believed every word I said. Ah! I was young then!
Roger lay still for some time; finally he extended his hand: ‘My friend,’ he said, mastering his emotions, ‘you give me more credit than I deserve. I am a weak coward. When I cheated that Dutchman, I was only thinking of winning twenty-five napoléons, that’s all. I wasn’t thinking of Gabrielle and that’s why I can’t stand myself… my honor was worth less to me than twenty-five napoléons!… How pathetic! I wish I could tell myself: I stole to save Gabrielle from poverty… No!… no! I wasn’t thinking of her… At that moment I wasn’t in love… I was a gambler… I was a thief… I stole money to have it for myself… and that act has lowered me so much, has tarnished me so badly that I now have no courage left… no love left… I’m alive and I don’t think about Gabrielle anymore… I am finished as a man.’
He seemed so unhappy that had he asked me for pistols to kill himself, I think I would have given them to him.
A certain Friday, day of bad luck, we came upon a large English frigate named The Alcestethat began to chase us. She had fifty-eight cannons, we only had thirty-eight. We ran up all our sails in an attempt to outrun her; but she was too fast and gained on us with each passing second. It became obvious that before nightfall we would be forced into an unequal fight. Our captain called Roger into his room where they deliberated together for fifteen minutes. Roger came back onto the deck and pulled me aside.
‘Within two hours,’ he told me, ‘we’ll be exchanging fire with the enemy; our brave captain, who’s back there yelling at that sailor, has lost his mind. There were two options: the first and most honorable was to let the enemy catch us and then vigorously board their ship with a hundred or so of our most determined sailors; the other option, which is not bad but would be rather cowardly, would have been to lighten our payload by throwing half our cannons into the ocean. Then we could have sailed close to the African coast that we can see over there on the starboard side. The English captain would risk running aground and would have to let us escape; but our… captain is neither a coward, nor a hero: he’s going to let himself be demolished from long range by cannon fire, and after several hours of combat he’ll honorably surrender his flag. Too bad for you: you’re headed for the prison ships of Portsmouth. As for me, I don’t want to see them.’
‘Maybe,’ I said, ‘just maybe our first volley of cannon fire will damage their ship enough that they’ll have to give up the chase.’
‘Listen, I don’t want to be taken prisoner, I want to be killed; it’s time I ended it. If I am unlucky and only injured, give me your word that you’ll throw me into the ocean. That’s the bed a good sailor like me should die in.’
‘You’re crazy!’ I cried. ‘You can’t ask me to do that!’
‘You’ll be accomplishing the duty of a good friend. You know I have to die. I agreed to not kill myself only in the hope of being killed, remember. Come on. Promise you’ll do this; if you refuse, I’ll ask that boatswain to do it and I know he’d be more than happy to oblige.’
After thinking for a moment I said: ‘I give you my word: I’ll do what you ask if you are mortally wounded with no hope of getting better. In this case, I agree to spare you from suffering.’
‘I’ll be mortally wounded or I’ll be killed.’ He offered me his hand and I shook it firmly. After that he was calmer and a certain martial happiness even shone in his eyes.
At about three o’clock in the afternoon, the light cannon fire of the enemy began to rip through our riggings. We took in some of our sails; we turned our flank to The Alceste and began a rolling fire to which the English responded vigorously. After about an hour of combat, our captain, who had done nothing right, wanted to try to board their ship. But we already had many dead and wounded, and the rest of our crew had lost their enthusiasm; moreover, our riggings and masts were nearly destroyed. When we made sail toward the English ship, our mainmast, barely standing a moment before, fell loudly. The Alceste took advantage of the ensuing confusion. She came astern and from fifty feet away fired all her guns; the cannonballs ripped from the back to the front of our sad frigate and, from this position, we could fire only two small cannons at the enemy. At this moment, I found myself next to Roger who was busy cutting the mast stays that were still holding the fallen mast to the ship. I can still feel him forcefully grabbing my arm. I look back at him and see him on the deck, completely covered in blood. He had just taken a blast of grapeshot in the stomach.
The captain ran up to him: ‘What should we do, lieutenant?’ he cried.
‘You’ve got to nail our flag to what’s left of this mast and then sink our ship.’ The captain left him immediately, ungrateful for this advice.
‘Come on,’ Roger said to me, ‘remember what you promised.’
‘It’s nothing,’ I told him, ‘you’re going to get better.’
‘Throw me overboard,’ he screamed, swearing horribly and grabbing the coattails of my uniform; ‘You can see I’m not going to recover; throw me in the ocean, I don’t want to see our flag captured.’
Two sailors approached to carry him below deck. ‘Man you cannons, swabs,’ he yelled; ‘Load grapeshot and aim at their deck. And you, if you don’t keep your word, then you can go to hell, you coward!’
His wound was certainly fatal. I saw the captain call a cadet and order him to surrender our flag. ‘Give me your hand,’ I told Roger.
As we were surrendering…”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Captain, a whale off the starboard bow!” An ensign, running toward the captain, interrupted our conversation.
“A whale!” the captain exclaimed, carried away with joy and abandoning his narrative; “Quick, lower the launch! lower the yawl! lower all the launches! –Harpoons, ropes! etc., etc.”
I never did learn how poor lieutenant Roger died.