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A Long Chase
by [?]

The “Halicore” ran into harbour one October morning and took up her berth at the quay. The brig had come from a nine months’ voyage and the men were regarded as heroes when they came ashore, for most of our vessels were merely coasters. When all was made snug on board, the sailors went to their homes and received the admiring homage of the neighbours. One young man whose parents lived in a cottage away to the north was very keen to get home. He had a weary stretch of moorland to pass, and the evening was wild, with only fitful gleams of moonlight to brighten the dark, but the young sailor would not stay. He knew the old people would be sitting by the fireside till half-past ten or eleven, and it delighted him to think how they would start with joy when he rattled the latch on the door. An innkeeper warned him about the state of the roads, but the sailor was a light-hearted fellow, and paid no heed to the talk about “muggers,” or gipsies. He had been very careful during the voyage, so that his leather belt under his waistcoat was well filled with sovereigns and silver. Of course he knew that the “muggers,” (or travelling potters), were sometimes nasty customers to meet on a dark night, but he reckoned that he could hold his own anywhere. Jack was well-built, and very swift of foot, and he strode fast over the dark and misty moor. The furze bushes roared as the wind went through, and the heather made a mysterious whispering, but Jack did not mind the noises that affect the nerves of cultured persons. A poacher bade him a kindly good-night, and added, “Mind there’ll be some queer fellows along by the Dead Man’s Trail,” but Jack did not turn back, although he felt the poacher’s warning a little. Rabbits scampered past him, and an owl beat steadily over the heather like a well-trained setter. When the dark grew thicker the wail of the curlews as they called from overhead was strange. The howl of a fox, that weirdest of all sounds, came sharply from among the brown brackens, but Jack was not impressed: he was home again, and the piercing cry of the fox was only a pleasant reminder of good fortune.

Presently three men stopped the traveller, and asked the road to the port from which he had just come. One of them struck a match and managed to throw a gleam on Jack’s face before the wind put the flame out. By the same light, the sailor saw that the three men were muggers, and that they were not pleasant-looking people. He disengaged himself and walked swiftly north for about thirty yards. A thud of feet made him turn, and from one brief glance he knew that the men were making a rush for him. He gathered his energies instantly, and struck off at his best speed. He was an excellent runner and a good jumper, so that he gradually drew away from his pursuers until he lost the sound of their feet; but he knew that they were doggedly following, and that his only chance was to reach the ferry, and get the ferryman to help him. Now this same ferry plied across a swift stream that ran into the sea about two and a half miles north of the place where he met the men. The current was so very strong that no boatman could possibly row from bank to bank: the boat would have been swept out to sea. So a strong chain had been run across the river, and the boat was fastened to a ring which ran along this chain. The ferryman simply stood in the bow of the wherry and hauled her across by main force, passing the ring along as he went. Every night the chain was lowered into the water, and the man left his little boat, and went westward to his proper home. It should be said that the chain could be wound from either bank, for a winch was placed at each side.