About two in the morning they saw a line of lights, which the fisherman informed them was from the town of Worthing. Again before daybreak they scudded past another and far brighter and larger area of twinkling points, which marked the position of Brighton. They were nearly half-way upon their journey already. As the dawn approached the dark storm-clouds gathered away to the northern horizon and lay in a great shadow over the coast. On all other points the sky was clear, save that here and there a single puff of white vapour sailed along like the feather of some gigantic bird floating in the ocean of air. These isolated clouds, which had been pearly grey in the dim light of early day, gradually took a lilac tint, which deepened into pink, and then blushed suddenly to a fiery scarlet as the red rim of the sun rose majestically over the horizon. All the heaven was filled with colour from the palest, lightest blue at the zenith to the most brilliant crimson in the east, as though it were nature’s palette on which she had dashed every tint that she possessed. The sea reflected the rich glow, and the tossing waves were gashed with scarlet streaks. “It looks like a sea of blood,” the merchant remarked with a shudder, as he gazed at the wonderful spectacle.
By the returning light the two fugitives were able to notice each other’s appearance. Both were pale, haggard, dishevelled, with bloodshot, dark-rimmed eyes and anxious, weary faces.
“This won’t do!” remarked Ezra. “If Miggs sees us like this he’ll smell a rat.”
He dipped a bucket overboard, and after some search a small piece of soap and a broken comb were extracted from one of the lockers. With these materials they managed to perform their toilets. They re-arranged and cleaned each other’s clothing too, and Ezra purchased a yachting-cap from Sampson for his father, the jaunty nature of which contrasted strangely with the old man’s grim angular visage.
“There’s a fine view!” Sampson observed, pointing towards the land, just as his two passengers had finished their toilet.
They were passing a high range of cliffs which ran along for a great distance. Some were of chalk and others were brownish, as though consisting of some sort of earth. There was one which terminated the line towering up above the rest, and as remarkable for the boldness of its outline as for its height. A lighthouse stood upon the summit, and the whole showed up so clearly in the bright morning air that the fugitives could see the green grass round the house and the coastguardsman at the signal station, who was strolling leisurely about and looking down from his elevation at their little craft. To the eastward of this chalk promontory was a large fine-looking town, which stretched in a wide semicircle round the shores of a curving bay.
“That’s Beachy Head,” said Sampson, pointing at the cliff. “It’s the hoiest p’int down Channel, and they have a look-out place up there to report ships as pass. It was a Muster Lloyd as put it up. I doan’t know who he be, that same Muster Lloyd, but he do seem to take a powerful deal of interest in everythink which has to do wi’ shipping. He’s an admiral belike, or something o’ the sort.”
Neither of the Girdlestones appeared inclined to enlighten him upon the point.
“What’s the town?” asked Ezra.
“Eastbourne,” the fisherman answered shortly, and lounged away into the bows, while his son remained at the tiller.
The two fugitives had their breakfast; but as it consisted of nothing more appetising than tinned corned-beef and ships’ biscuits, and as neither of them had much inclination for food, it was not a very lengthy meal. Then they sat in the sheets once more, watching the grand panorama of green woodland and swelling down and towering cliff, which passed before them on the one side while on the other the great ocean highway was dotted with every variety of vessel, from the Portland ketch or the Sunderland brig, with its cargo of coals, to the majestic four-masted liner which swept past, with the green waves swirling round her forefoot and breaking away into a fork of eddying waters in her wake.
Ezra cautioned his father to sit down, for he observed a row of curious faces gazing at them over the quarter of one great vessel.