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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/66

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46
PORTLAND BILL.

No step, no noise, no breath was heard except the stir of embarkation which was being made in the creek. At the other side of the roads, at the entrance of Ringstead Bay, you could just distinguish a fleet of shark-fishing boats, which were evidently out of their reckoning. These polar boats had been driven from Danish into English waters by the whims of the sea. Northerly winds play these tricks on fishermen. They had just taken refuge in the anchorage of Portland,—a sign of bad weather expected and danger out at sea. They were now engaged in casting anchor. The principal boat was placed in front after the old custom in Norwegian flotillas, all her rigging standing out black, above the sea; while in front might be seen the iron rack, loaded with all kinds of hooks and harpoons destined for the Greenland shark, the dog-fish, and the spinous shark, as well as the nets to pick up the sun-fish. Except a few other craft, all driven into the same corner, the eye beheld nothing on the vast horizon. Not a house, not a ship. The coast in those days was not inhabited, and the roads, at that season, were not safe.

In spite of the ominous indications of the weather, the persons who were going to sail away in the Biscayan urca, hastened on the hour of departure. They formed a busy and confused group. To distinguish one from another was difficult; to tell whether they were old or young was impossible. The dim evening light intermixed and blurred them; the mask of shadow was over their faces. There were eight of them, and there were apparently one or two women among them whom it was hard to distinguish under the rags and tatters in which the group was attired,—clothes which were no longer either man's or woman's. Rags have no sex. A smaller shadow, flitting to and fro among the large ones, indicated either a dwarf or a child. It was a child.