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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XXII. Out Of The Depths

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AS the night closed in, the wind rose steadily, still blowing from the southwest. In Brenton's kitchen they found a group round a great fire of driftwood; some of these were fishermen who had with difficulty made a landing on the beach, and who confirmed the accounts already given. The boat had been seen sailing for the Narragansett shore, and when the squall came, the boatman had lowered and reefed the sail, and stood for the light-ship. They must be on board of her, if anywhere.

"There are safe there?" asked Philip, eagerly.

"Only place where they would be safe, then," said the spokesman.

"Unless the light-ship parts," said an old fellow.

"Parts!" said the other. "Sixty fathom of two-inch chain, and old Joe talks about parting."

"Foolish, of course," said Philip; "but it's a dangerous shore."

"That's so," was the answer. "Never saw so many lines of reef show outside, neither."

"There's an old saying on this shore," said Joe:--

    "When Price's Neck goes to Brenton's Reef,
    Body and soul will come to grief.
    But when Brenton's Reef comes to Price's Neck,
    Soul and body are both a wreck."

"What does it mean?" asked Harry.

"It only means," said somebody, "that when you see it white all the way out from the Neck to the Reef, you can't take the inside passage."

"But what does the last half mean?" persisted Harry.

"Don't know as I know," said the veteran, and relapsed into silence, in which all joined him, while the wind howled and whistled outside, and the barred windows shook.

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Weary and restless with vain waiting, they looked from the doorway at the weather. The door went back with a slam, and the gust swooped down on them with that special blast that always seems to linger just outside on such nights, ready for the first head that shows itself. They closed the door upon the flickering fire and the uncouth shadows within, and went forth into the night. At first the solid blackness seemed to lay a weight on their foreheads. There was absolutely nothing to be seen but the two lights of the light-ship, glaring from the dark sea like a wolf's eyes from a cavern. They looked nearer and brighter than in ordinary nights, and appeared to the excited senses of the young men to dance strangely on the waves, and to be always opposite to them, as they moved along the shore with the wind almost at their backs.

"What did that old fellow mean?" said Malbone in Harry's ear, as they came to a protected place and could hear each other, "by talking of Brenton's Reef coming to Price's Neck."

"Some sailor's doggerel," said Harry, indifferently. "Here is Price's Neck before us, and yonder is Brenton's Reef."

"Where?" said Philip, looking round bewildered.

The lights had gone, as if the wolf, weary of watching, had suddenly closed his eyes, and slumbered in his cave.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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