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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/166

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

The current is the wind in the waters; the wind is the current in the air. These two forces had just counteracted each other, and it had been the wind's will to snatch its prey from the current.

The whims of ocean are incomprehensible; they are, perhaps, an embodiment of the perpetual. When one is at their mercy one can neither hope nor despair. They do and then undo. The ocean amuses itself. Every shade of wild, untamed ferocity is phased in the vast and cunning sea, which Jean Bart used to call "that big brute." To its claws and their gashings succeed soft intervals of velvet paws. Sometimes the storm hurries on a wreck, at others it works out the problem with care; it might almost be said that it lingers over it. The sea can afford to take its time, as its victims learn to their cost.

We must own that occasionally these lulls in the torture announce deliverance. Such cases are rare. However this may be, men in extreme peril are quick to believe in rescue; the slightest cessation in the storm's threats is sufficient,—they tell themselves that they are out of danger. After believing themselves as good as buried, they announce their resurrection. It appears that their luck has turned; they declare themselves satisfied; they are saved; they cry quits with God.

The sou'-wester set in with a whirlwind. Shipwrecked men have never any but rough helpers. The "Matutina" was dragged rapidly out to sea by the remains of her rigging, like a dead woman trailed by the hair. It was like the freedom granted by Tiberius, at the price of violation. The wind treated with brutality those whom it saved; it rendered service with fury; it gave help without pity. The wreck was breaking up under the severity of its deliverers. Hailstones, big and hard enough to charge a blunderbuss, smote the vessel;