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It was out on the broad Atlantic. The sun had just set, red and colossal, behind a bank of clouds, leaving the whole firmament around him in a blaze of glory. Far along the western horizon, where the hollow dome of the sky cut the level plain of waters, a streak of vivid gold was seen, which grew less and less luminous, however, as it curved around to north and south, until finally it faded off, at either extremity, into the misty shadows of approaching night. Above this were piled, in gorgeous confusion, purple and crimson clouds, the warmer colors becoming fainter as they ascended, until a gold apple green prevailed. This itself subsided, towards the zenith, into a pure, transparent blue, in whose fathomless depths appeared a solitary silver star, that shone there like the altar light, which twinkles alone in the profound obscurity of some vast and silent cathedral.
Two persons, on the quarter-deck of an armed merchant man, were gazing at this scene. One was an elderly lady, precise in dress and look, the very type of a conventional and somewhat pompous old dowager. Her companion was a young girl just budding into womanhood, and of a beauty as peculiar as it was dazzling. The attitude in which she stood, though assumed without a thought, was just that which an artist would have chosen for her. The tiny left foot, with its high instep and slender ankle, peeped from beneath her petticoat as she leaned on her right arm to watch the sunset; the round shoulder, white as milk, yet with a warm tint like rich Carrara marble, was slightly elevated; while the shapely set of the swan-like neck, the trim waist, and the undulating outline of her whole person were more than ordinarily conspicuous. As she stood, her head was partially turned, so that one could see that her complexion was brilliantly clear; that she had a small, red and pouting mouth; that her eyes were so darkly blue as to seem almost purple; and that her hair, which swept in rippling masses from her forehead, as in a Greek statue, was of that rare color, which, though brown in shadow, flashes into fleeting gold whenever a sunbeam strikes it.