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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/156

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

threw their weight on the spar projecting over the side, and aimed straight as a lance towards a projection of the cliff. It was a dangerous manœuvre. To strike at a mountain is audacious indeed; the six men might have been thrown into the water by the shock. There is variety in struggles with storms. After the hurricane, the shoal; after the wind, the rock: first the intangible, then the immovable, to be encountered. Several minutes passed, such minutes as whiten men's hair. The rock and the vessel were about to come in collision; the rock awaited the blow like a culprit. A relentless wave rushed in; it ended the respite. It caught the vessel underneath, raised it, and swayed it for an instant as the sling swings its projectile.

"Steady!" cried the chief, "it is only a rock, and we are men!"

The beam was couched; the six men were one with it; its sharp bolts tore their arm-pits, but they did not feel them. The wave dashed the hooker against the rock. Then came the shock. It came under the cloud of foam which always hides such catastrophes. When the spray fell back into the sea, when the waves rolled back from the rock, the six men were rolling about the deck, but the "Matutina" was floating alongside the rock, clear of it. The beam had stood fast and turned the vessel aside. The sea was running so fast that in a few seconds the hooker had left the Caskets behind.

Such things sometimes occur. It was a straight stroke of the bowsprit that saved Wood of Largo at the mouth of the Tay. In the wild neighbourhood of Cape Winterton, and under the command of Captain Hamilton, it was the appliance of such a lever against the dangerous rock Branodu-um that saved the "Royal Mary" from shipwreck, although she was but a Scotch-built frigate. The force of the waves can be so abruptly