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  Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XXI. A Storm

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THE members of the household were all at the window about noon, next day, watching the rise of a storm. A murky wing of cloud, shaped like a hawk's, hung over the low western hills across the bay. Then the hawk became an eagle, and the eagle a gigantic phantom, that hovered over half the visible sky. Beneath it, a little scud of vapor, moved by some cross-current of air, raced rapidly against the wind, just above the horizon, like smoke from a battle-field.

As the cloud ascended, the water grew rapidly blacker, and in half an hour broke into jets of white foam, all over its surface, with an angry look. Meantime a white film of fog spread down the bay from the northward. The wind hauled from southwest to northwest, so suddenly and strongly that all the anchored boats seemed to have swung round instantaneously, without visible process. The instant the wind shifted, the rain broke forth, filling the air in a moment with its volume, and cutting so sharply that it seemed like hail, though no hailstones reached the ground. At the same time there rose upon the water a dense white film, which seemed to grow together from a hundred different directions, and was made partly of rain, and partly of the blown edges of the spray. There was but a glimpse of this; for in a few moments it was impossible to see two rods; but when the first gust was over, the water showed itself again, the jets of spray all beaten down, and regular waves, of dull lead-color, breaking higher on the shore. All the depth of blackness had left the sky, and there remained only an obscure and ominous gray, through which the lightning flashed white, not red. Boats came driving in from the mouth of the bay with a rag of sail up; the men got them moored with difficulty, and when they sculled ashore in the skiffs, a dozen comrades stood ready to grasp and haul them in. Others launched skiffs in sheltered places, and pulled out bareheaded to bail out their fishing-boats and keep them from swamping at their moorings.

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The shore was thronged with men in oilskin clothes and by women with shawls over their heads. Aunt Jane, who always felt responsible for whatever went on in the elements, sat in-doors with one lid closed, wincing at every flash, and watching the universe with the air of a coachman guiding six wild horses.

Just after the storm had passed its height, two veritable wild horses were reined up at the door, and Philip burst in, his usual self-composure gone.

"Emilia is out sailing!" he exclaimed,--"alone with Lambert's boatman, in this gale. They say she was bound for Narragansett."

"Impossible!" cried Hope, turning pale. "I left her not three hours ago." Then she remembered that Emilia had spoken of going on board the yacht, to superintend some arrangements, but had said no more about it, when she opposed it.

"Harry!" said Aunt Jane, quickly, from her chair by the window, "see that fisherman. He has just come ashore and is telling something. Ask him."

The fisherman had indeed seen Lambert's boat, which was well known. Something seemed to be the matter with the sail, but before the storm struck her, it had been hauled down. They must have taken in water enough, as it was. He had himself been obliged to bail out three times, running in from the reef.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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