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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/61

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41
PORTLAND BILL.

An ox was roasted whole on the ice. This thick ice lasted two months. The year 1690 exceeded in severity even the famous winters at the beginning of the seventeenth century so minutely observed by Dr. Gideon Delane,—the same who was, in his quality of apothecary to King James, honoured by the city of London with a bust and a pedestal.

One evening, towards the close of one of the most bitter days of the month of January, 1690, something unusual was going on in one of the numerous inhospitable coves of the Bay of Portland, which caused the sea-gulls and wild geese to scream and circle round its mouth, not daring to re-enter. In this cove, the most dangerous of all which line the bay during the continuance of certain winds, and consequently the most lonely (well suited, by reason of its very danger, for ships in hiding), a little vessel, almost touching the cliff, so deep was the water, was moored to a point of rock. We are wrong in saying, "The night falls;" we should say "The night rises," for it is from the earth that darkness comes. It was already night at the bottom of the cliff; it was still day at the top. Any one approaching the vessel's moorings would have recognized a Biscayan hooker. The sun, concealed all day by the mist, had just set. That deep and sombre melancholy which might be called longing for the absent sun already pervaded the scene. As there was no breeze from the sea, the water of the creek was calm. This was, especially, in winter, a lucky exception. Almost all the Portland creeks have sand-bars; and in heavy weather the sea becomes very rough, and, to pass in safety, much skill and practice are necessary. These little ports (ports more in appearance than fact) are of small advantage. They are hazardous to enter, dangerous to leave. This evening, for a wonder, there was no danger.