During the night Stephen heard a number of bumps and cries through his sleep, and he was aware of a change of course, for his cot no longer swung in the same direction. But he was not prepared for what he saw when he came on deck. Under the low grey tearing sky, half driving rain, half driving spray, the whole sea was white — a vast creaming spread as far as the eye could see. He had seen the Bay of Biscay at its worst, and the great south-west gales on the Irish coast: they were nothing to this. for a moment the whole might have been a wild landscape, mountainous yet strangely regular; but then he saw that the whole was in motion, a vast majestic motion whose size concealed its terrifying dreamlike speed. Now the crests and troughs were enormously greater; now they were very much farther apart; and now the crests were curling over and breaking as they came, an avalanche of white pouring straight down before the steep face. The Surprise was running almost straight before them, east by south; she had managed to strike her mizentopmast at first light — anything to diminish the wind-pressure aft and thus the risk of broaching-to — and man-ropes were rigged along her streaming deck. As his eyes reached the level of the quarterdeck he saw a wave, a green-grey wall towering above the taffrail, racking towards them — swift inevitability. He strained his head back to see its top, curving beyond the vertical as it came yet still balancing with the speed of its approach, a beard of wind-torn spray flying out before it. He heard Jack call an order to the man at the wheel: the frigate moved a trifle from her course, rose, tilting her stern skywards so that Stephen clung backwards to the ladder, rose and rose; and the mortal wave swept under her counter, dividing and passing on to smother her waist in foam and solid water, on to bar the horizon just ahead, while the ship sank in the trough and the shriek of the rigging sank an octave as the strain slackened.
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