The Grey Cloak (Chapter 5)

 
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Chapter 5 : Page 1 of 18

Night, with fold on fold of ragged purple, with wide obliterating hand,
came roughly down upon the ancient city of Rochelle, which seemed
slowly to draw itself together and assume the proportions of a huge,
menacing rock. Of the roof lines, but lately of many hues and reaches,
there now remained only a long series of grotesque black profiles which
zigzagged from north to south, from ruined wall to ruined wall. The
last dull silver gleam of day trembled a moment on the far careening
horizon, then vanished; and presently the storm which had threatened
all through the day broke forth, doubly furious. A silent stinging
snow whipped in from the sea, and the lordly voices of the surges rose
to inharmonious thunders in the straits of Antioch, or burst in rugged
chorus against the rock-bound coasts of the gloomy promontory and the
isles of Ré and Oléron. As the vigor of the storm increased, the
harbor towers Saint Nicholas and the Chain, looming in the blur like
suppliant arms, and the sea walls began gradually to waver and recede
in the accumulating haze, while across the dim yellow flame in the
tower of the Lantern the snow flurried in grey, shapeless, interminable
shadows. Hither and thither the wind rushed, bold and blusterous,
sometimes carrying landward the intermittent crashing of the surf as it
fell, wrathful yet impotent, on the great dike by which, twenty-odd
years before, the immortal Richelieu had snuffed the last heroic spark
of the Reformists.

The little ships, the great ships, the fisherman's sloop, the king's
corvette, and the merchantman, all lay anchored in the basin and
harbor, their prows boring into the gale, their crude hulls rising and
falling, tossing and plunging, tugging like living things at their
hempen cables. The snow fell upon them, changing them into phantoms,
all seemingly eager to join in the mad revel of the storm. And the
lights at the mastheads, swooping now downward, now upward, now from
side to side, dappled the troubled waters with sickly gold. A desert
of marshes behind it, a limitless sea before it, gave to this brave old
city an isolation at once splendid and melancholy; and thrice
melancholy it stood this wild March night, witnessing as it did the
final travail of winter, pregnant with spring.

 
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