In the meantime the decks had been cleared, the guns loaded, and the crew fully armed with cutlass, pike, and pistol. The port-lids however, were kept carefully closed, so that the presence of the guns on board might not be revealed until an action should have become inevitable.
They'll be in range in two minutes or less. Look at them." Tearing after us, in chase, under all sail, came the frigates. Their bows were burrowing into white heaps of foam; we could see the red port-lids and the shining gun-muzzles; we could see the scarlet coats of the marines, and the glint of brass on the poops. A flame spurted from the bows of the leader.
"On board the Serapis our ports were not open on the starboard side, because we had been firing on the other. And as we ran across and loosened those guns, the men amidships actually found they could not open their ports, the Richard was so close. They therefore fired their first shots right through our own port-lids, and blew them off. I was so far aft that my port-lids swung free.
She was the Laocoon, and her figurehead was twined with serpents. The line of her ports was of a dull yellow colour, and as all her ports were open, the port-lids made scarlet marks all along it. Her great lower studdingsail swept out from her side for all the world like a butterfly-net, raking the top of the sea for us. An officer stood on the forecastle with a speaking-trumpet in his hand.
The vice-admiral ordered the doors thrown open, and as the port-lids were up, from the place where he sat he could command glimpses, both to leeward and to windward, that included a view of the enemy, as well as one of his own expected reinforcements. The Bowlderos were in full livery, and more active and attentive than usual even.
And a very handsome, rakish, and formidable craft she looked, as she lay alongside the quay, her enormously long and delicately-tapering masts towering high above the warehouse roof; her wide-spreading yards, extending far over the quay, accurately squared; her standing and running rigging as taut and straight as iron bars; her ten long nine-pounders grinning beneath her triced-up port-lids; her brightly-polished brass long eighteen-pounder mounted upon her forecastle; her spacious deck scraped and scoured until it was as white as snow; and her new copper and her black topsides gleaming and shimmering in the gently-rippling tide.
"Throw open your ports, lads!" commanded Bowen; and at the word the port-lids flew apart, six twelve-pounders were run out on each side, and, as the barque was in the very act of sheering alongside, the Virginie's starboard broadside was poured into her with murderous effect, as was evidenced by the frightful outburst of yells, groans, and imprecations which at once arose on board her.
Since leaving Ha-Long more than one patient died, and was consigned to the deep water on the high road to France; many of the narrow beds no longer bore their suffering burdens. Upon this particular day it was very gloomy in the travelling hospital; on account of the high seas it had been necessary to close the iron port-lids, which made the stifling sick-room more unbearable.