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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/161

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133
ORTACH.

left behind them confronted them again. The reef reappeared from the bottom of the sea. Nothing had been gained.

The Caskets are a goffering iron with a thousand subdivisions; the Ortach is a solid wall. To be wrecked on the Caskets is to be cut into ribbons; to strike on the Ortach is to be crushed into powder. Nevertheless there was one chance. On a straight frontage like that of the Ortach, neither the wave nor the cannon-ball can ricochet. The operation is simple,—first the flux, then the reflux; a wave advances, a billow returns. In such cases the question of life and death is balanced thus: if the wave carries the vessel on the rock, she breaks on it and is lost; if the billow retires before the ship has touched, she is carried back,—she is saved.

It was a moment of intense anxiety. Those on board saw through the gloom the great decisive wave bearing down on them. How far was it going to drag them? If the wave broke upon the ship, they would be carried on the rock and dashed to pieces. If it passed under the ship—The wave did pass under. They breathed again.

But what of the recoil? What would the surf do with them? The surf carried them back. A few minutes later the "Matutina" was out of the breakers. The Ortach faded from their view, as the Caskets had done. It was their second victory. For the second time the hooker had verged on destruction, and had drawn back in time.