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The Rabbit-Catcher
by [?]

I had the fancy to walk out one winter’s morning in a very lonely place. The wind was laden with sleet, and as I walked on the top of the cliffs it struck my right cheek viciously, and then screamed away past through the furze-bushes. The light was coming up slowly over the leaden sea, and the waves seemed cowed by the steady flogging of the sleet. I heard the woods complaining from afar off, and the whistling curlew as he called overhead made me think of messengers of evil. Presently I came to a great range of rounded hills, which were covered by withered bracken. Certain gaps led through these hills to the beach, and along the beach I determined to walk. My terrier concluded that rabbits were vanity. He drooped his ears and tail, and trotted along as if he were reproaching me for my rashness. I was glancing out over the grey trouble of the sea, and watching the forlorn ships cowering along like belated ghosts, when I heard a click to the right of me. Looking up the bluff, I saw a tall powerful lad who had just straightened himself up. He had two rabbits slung over his shoulder, and his big bag seemed to contain many more. I walked towards him to have a look at what he was doing, and I found him manoeuvring with a great steel trap. When he had finished, we dropped into conversation in that easy way proper to wild places where few men ever come. I noticed his build and his face. His rough bonnet covered his forehead, but I could see he had plenty of thick brown hair. His eye was blue like tempered steel, and shone with a steady gleam from under projecting brows. His mouth was beautifully shaped, and his lips were full and resolute. For the rest, he was built like an ordinary dalesman–broad and flat in the shoulders, lean in the flank, and strong of limb. His clothing was coarse and poor, and his hands were rough and very red.

I said, “What takes you out at this time of the morning?”

“Oh! I was just lookin’ round the traps. My father rents the hills from here to the Clough, and I work with him.”

“You find it chilly work this weather?”

“It’s grey and cold; but we haven’t to mind those things.”

“Are you busy all day?”

“No. I only go to the traps twice, and then drive the rabbits into the town, and the rest o’ the time I’m clear.”

“Then where do you live?”

“I stop by myself mostly in the wooden house at the Poachers’ Hollow, and old Betty Winthrop comes and does what’s wanted to keep the place right.”

We walked on exchanging small talk until we came to the hollow, and I saw the tiny hut where my new friend lived. The hollow was a gruesome place. It acted as a kind of funnel whereby the wind from the great woods was poured over the beach, and sent moaning away across the sea. In summer it was gay with bracken, and golden ragwort, and wild geranium, but in winter it looked only fit for adventurous witches to gambol in.

I said, “The wind must yell awfully here when it is a gusty night.”

A curious look came into the young fellow’s eye, and gave me a new interest in him. He answered:

“I like it. The wind here’s like nowhere else. It plays tunes on the trees there as it comes through, and I get the echoes of them. Sometimes I hear the men’s voices, and then I know what it is. It’s the old Norsemen going out over the sea to look at their tracks again. Bless you, I’ve heard them talk about the Swan’s bath. Sometimes the dead ladies come and whisper, and I know they’re walking in the woods all the time the dusk lasts.”