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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/120

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

Now came the great rolling of the open sea. The ocean in the spaces between the foam was slimy in appearance. The waves seen through the twilight in indistinct outline somewhat resembled splashes of gall. Here and there a level space between the waves showed cracks and stars, like a pane of glass broken by stones; and in the centre of these stars, as in a revolving orifice, trembled a phosphorescent gleam, like that feline reflection of vanished light which shines in the eyeballs of owls.

Proudly, like a strong, bold swimmer, the "Matutina" crossed the dangerous Shambles shoal. This bank, a hidden obstruction at the entrance of Portland roads, is not a barrier but an amphitheatre, its benches cut out by the circling of the waves. An arena, round and symmetrical, as high as a Jungfrau, only submerged; an oceanic coliseum, seen by the diver in the vision-like transparency which ingulfs him,—such is the Shambles shoal. There hydras fight, leviathans meet. There, says the legend, at the bottom of the gigantic shaft, are the wrecks of ships, seized and sunk by the huge Kraken, also known as the devil-fish. These spectral realities, unknown to man, are indicated at the surface only by a slight ripple.

In this nineteenth century the Shambles bank is in ruins; the breakwater recently constructed has overthrown and mutilated, by the force of its surf, that high submarine structure, just as the jetty built at the Croisic in 1760 changed, by a quarter of an hour, the courses of the tides. And yet the tide is eternal. But eternity is more subservient to man than man imagines.