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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/162

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CHAPTER XV.


PORTENTOSUM MARE.


MEANWHILE a thickening mist had descended on the drifting wretches. They were ignorant of their whereabouts, they could scarcely see a cable's length around. Despite a furious storm of hail which forced them to bow their heads, the women had obstinately refused to go below again. No one, however hopeless, but wishes, if shipwreck be inevitable, to meet it in the open air. When so near death, a ceiling above one's head seems like the first outline of a coffin.

They were now in a short and chopping sea. A turgid sea indicates its constraint. Even in a fog the entrance to a strait may be known by the boiling appearance of the waves. And it was so in this case, for they were unconsciously skirting the coast of Alderney. Between the Caskets and Ortach on the west and Alderney on the east, the sea is cramped and hemmed in. In this uncomfortable position the sea suffers like anything else; and when it suffers, it is irritable. Consequently, that channel is a thing to fear. The "Matutina" was in that channel now.

Imagine under the sea a tortoise shell as big as Hyde Park or the Champs Elysées, of which every striature is a shoal, and every embossment a reef. Such is the western approach of Alderney. The sea covers and conceals this shipwrecking apparatus. On this conglomeration of submarine breakers the cloven waves leap and