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CHAPTER XIII.


FACE TO FACE WITH NIGHT.


AGAIN was the hooker running with the shadow into immeasurable darkness. The "Matutina," escaped from the Caskets, sank and rose from billow to billow, a respite, but in chaos. Spun around by the wind, tossed by all the thousand motions of the wave, she reflected every mad oscillation of the sea. She scarcely pitched at all,—a terrible symptom in a ship in distress. Wrecks merely roll; pitching is a sign of strife. The helm alone can turn a vessel to the wind.

Mists, whirlwinds, gales, motion in all directions, no shelter, gulf succeeding gulf, no horizon visible, intense blackness for background,—through all these the hooker drifted. To have got free of the Caskets, to have escaped the rock, was a victory for the shipwrecked men; but it was a victory which left them in a sort of stupor. They had raised no cheer; at sea such an impudence is not repeated twice. To throw down a challenge where they could not cast the lead, would have been too serious a jest. The shipwreck averted was an impossibility achieved; they were petrified by it. By degrees, however, they began to hope again. Such are the mirages of the soul! There is no distress so complete but that even in the most critical moments the inexplicable sunrise of hope is seen in its depths. These poor wretches were ready to declare to themselves that they were saved. The words were almost on their lips.

But suddenly something terrible appeared before them in the darkness. On the port bow arose a tall, perpendicular, opaque mass, a square tower as it were. They gazed at it, open-mouthed. The storm was driving them straight towards it. They knew not what it was. It was the Ortach rock emerging from the depths of ocean.