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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/155

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seemed to drive the snow-flakes before them. The ledge, blurred at first in outline, now stood out in bold relief,—a medley of rocks with peaks, crests, and vertebræ. As they neared it, the appearance of the reef became more and more forbidding. One of the women, the Irishwoman, told her beads wildly.

The chief was now acting as captain; for the Basques are equally at home on the mountain and the sea; they are bold on the precipice, and inventive in catastrophes. They were nearing the cliff. They were about to strike. Suddenly they came so close to the great rock north of the Caskets that it shut out the lighthouse from their view. They saw nothing but the rock and a red glare behind it. The huge rock looming in the mist was like a gigantic black woman with a hood of fire. This ill-famed rock is called the Biblet. It faces the north side of the reef, which on the south is faced by another ridge, L'Etacq-aux-giulmets. The chief looked at the Biblet and shouted,—

"A man with a will to take a rope to the rock! Who can swim?"

No answer. No one on board knew how to swim, not even the sailors,—an ignorance not uncommon among seafaring people. A beam nearly freed from its lashings was swinging loose. The chief seized it with both hands, crying,—

"Help me!"

They unlashed the beam. They had now at their disposal the very thing they wanted. Abandoning the defensive they assumed the offensive. It was a long beam of solid oak, sound and strong, useful either as a support or as a weapon, as a lever for a burden or a battering ram against a tower.

"Ready!" shouted the chief.

All six getting foothold on the stump of the mast,