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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XXII. Out Of The Depths

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Harry trembled and shivered. In Heaven's name, what could this disappearance mean?

Suddenly a sheet of lightning came, so white and intense, it sent its light all the way out to the horizon and exhibited far-off vessels, that reeled and tossed and looked as if wandering without a guide. But this was not so startling as what it showed in the foreground.

There drifted heavily upon the waves, within full view from the shore, moving parallel to it, yet gradually approaching, an uncouth shape that seemed a vessel and yet not a vessel; two stunted masts projected above, and below there could be read, in dark letters that apparently swayed and trembled in the wan lightning, as the thing moved on,


Philip, leaning against a rock, gazed into the darkness where the apparition had been; even Harry felt a thrill of half-superstitious wonder, and listened half mechanically to a rough sailor's voice at his ear:--

"God! old Joe was right. There's one wreck that is bound to make many. The light-ship has parted."

"Drifting ashore," said Harry, his accustomed clearness of head coming back at a flash. "Where will she strike?"

"Price's Neck," said the sailor.

Harry turned to Philip and spoke to him, shouting in his ear the explanation. Malbone's lips moved mechanically, but he said nothing. Passively, he let Harry take him by the arm, and lead him on.

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Following the sailor, they rounded a projecting point, and found themselves a little sheltered from the wind. Not knowing the region, they stumbled about among the rocks, and scarcely knew when they neared the surf, except when a wave came swashing round their very feet. Pausing at the end of a cove, they stood beside their conductor, and their eyes, now grown accustomed, could make out vaguely the outlines of the waves.

The throat of the cove was so shoal and narrow, and the mass of the waves so great, that they reared their heads enormously, just outside, and spending their strength there, left a lower level within the cove. Yet sometimes a series of great billows would come straight on, heading directly for the entrance, and then the surface of the water within was seen to swell suddenly upward as if by a terrible inward magic of its own; it rose and rose, as if it would ingulf everything; then as rapidly sank, and again presented a mere quiet vestibule before the excluded waves.

They saw in glimpses, as the lightning flashed, the shingly beach, covered with a mass of creamy foam, all tremulous and fluctuating in the wind; and this foam was constantly torn away by the gale in great shreds, that whirled by them as if the very fragments of the ocean were fleeing from it in terror, to take refuge in the less frightful element of air.

Still the wild waves reared their heads, like savage, crested animals, now white, now black, looking in from the entrance of the cove. And now there silently drifted upon them something higher, vaster, darker than themselves,--the doomed vessel. It was strange how slowly and steadily she swept in,--for her broken chain-cable dragged, as it afterwards proved, and kept her stern-on to the shore,--and they could sometimes hear amid the tumult a groan that seemed to come from the very heart of the earth, as she painfully drew her keel over hidden reefs. Over five of these (as was afterwards found) she had already drifted, and she rose and fell more than once on the high waves at the very mouth of the cove, like a wild bird hovering ere it pounces.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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