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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/104

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

foot-prints he left in the snow. He recognized no landmarks; for he was crossing the plain from south to north, and it is probable that the band with which he had come, to avoid meeting any one, had crossed it from east to west. They had probably sailed in some fisherman's or smuggler's boat from a point on the coast of Uggescombe (such as St. Catherine's Cape), or Swancry, to Portland, to find the hooker which awaited them; and they must have landed in one of the creeks of Weston, and re-embarked in one of the creeks of Easton. That route intersected the one the child was now following; but it was impossible for him to recognize the road.

On the plain of Portland there are here and there occasional strips of elevated land, ending abruptly at the shore, where they plunge straight down into the sea. The wandering child had now reached one of these culminating points and stopped on it, hoping that a broader view might furnish some helpful indications. He tried to see around him. Before him, in place of an horizon, was a vast livid opacity. He looked at this attentively, and under the intentness of his gaze objects became less indistinct. At the base of a distant eminence to the eastward (a moving and wan sort of precipice, which resembled a cliff of the night) crept and floated some dim black specks, some mere shreds of vapour. The pale opacity was fog, the black shreds were smoke. Where there is smoke there must be men. The child turned his steps in that direction. He saw some distance off a descent, and at the foot of the descent, among shapeless conformations of rock, blurred by the mist, what seemed to be either a sandbank or a tongue of land, probably connecting the plains in the horizon with the table-land he had just crossed. It was evident he must pass that way. He had, in fact, arrived at the Isthmus of Portland, a diluvian alluvium which is called Cheshil.