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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/163

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PORTENTOSUM MARE.

foam; in calm weather a chopping sea, in storms a chaos reigns. The shipwrecked men observed this new complication without endeavouring to explain it to themselves. Suddenly they understood it. A pale vista broadened in the zenith; a wan tinge overspread the sea; the livid light revealed on the port side a long shoal stretching eastward, towards which the power of the rushing wind was driving the vessel. What was that shoal? They shuddered. They would have shuddered even more had a voice answered them, "Alderney!"

No other isle is so well defended against man's approach as Alderney. Below and above water it is protected by a savage guard, of which Ortach is the outpost. To the west are Burhou, Sauteriaux, Anfroque, Niangle, Fond du Croc, Les Jumelles, La Grosse, La Clanque, Les Eguillons, Le Vrac, La Fosse-Malière; to the east, Sauquet, Hommeau Floreau, La Brinebetais, La Queslingue, Croquelihou, La Fourche, Le Saut, Noire Pute, Coupie, Orbue. These are hydra-headed monsters of the protecting reef. One of these reefs is called Le But,—the Goal,—as if to imply that every voyage ends there. This obstruction, simplified by night and sea, looked to the shipwrecked men like a single dark belt of rocks, a sort of blot on the horizon.

Shipwreck is the height of helplessness. To be near land, and unable to reach it; to float, yet not to be able to do so in any desired direction; to rest the foot on what seems firm and is fragile; to be full of life, and yet o'ershadowed by death; to be a prisoner in space; to be walled in between sky and ocean; to have the infinite overhead like a dungeon; to be encompassed by the treacherous winds and waves; to be seized, bound, paralyzed,—such a load of misfortune stupefies and crushes us. We imagine that in it we catch a glimpse of the sneer of the opponent who is beyond our reach.