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PAGE 3

The Rabbit-Catcher
by [?]

February came in, bringing worse weather than ever. One night the wind rose so that by nine o’clock it was hardly possible to stand in the open. The sky was like iron, and the dull red which had appeared in the West at sundown changed to a cold, neutral dimness. The birds were in great trouble, the gulls especially wailing with a peevish sharpness that made the skin creep. I looked out twice into the roaring darkness, and could see nothing except the flash of the “white horses” as they trampled and reared far out at sea. The fire was better than that wild company, so I sat a little, and then slept. A loud knocking awaked me, and, going to the door, I found that the dawn had come, and that my young friend was there.

“What is the matter?”

“Get dressed, sir. There’s bad work coming, the gale’s worse, and there’s a brig trying to work north. He’ll never get round the point. You go nor’ard and rouse the Hundalee men, and I’ll go south and rouse the chaps at the Bay. Good-bye.”

When I got out the wind hit me so that I had to turn and gasp a second for breath. It seemed as though the sea were going to invade the land. There was not a vestige of black or green water for half a mile from the beach. Nothing but wild masses of angry whiteness coiling and winding and shivering themselves against each other. Twice the wind stopped me as I fought my way north, and once I had fairly to lie down in a hollow until a shrieking blast gave me leave to step on. But I got to the village and told the men, and a dozen strong fellows went back with me. There was no lifeboat within eight miles, so we harnessed two horses to a pair of the ordinary wheels used to launch herring-boats after the winter is over, and we took one of the smaller sort of trouting-boats with us.

When we reached the Point the men from the south were there, and my young friend was among them. All were excited, for the brig was fighting her way still through the awful sea. She would not bear enough sail to steady her in the least, and she could only claw her way inch by inch to the north-east.

The Point was a long sandy spit, which sloped gradually away into deep water. If the vessel could weather it, she might get away to the north, but she had gone too far into the bay, and the fishermen saw that she must choose between going ashore on the rocks of the bay and hitting the Point. In the latter event the vessel might hold for a while before the seas finally smashed her.

The brig rose sometimes on the cross seas until we could see her copper. Then she would seem to strike savagely at the driving mist as her masts lashed forward; then she would lurch to leeward, and lie for a few horrible seconds as though she never would rise again. It could not last. My young friend said:

“Let’s get the coble down to the water’s edge.”

The volleys of wind and the thunder of water had frightened the horses, and they stood trembling and cowed. The men had to let the boat slide down the grassy channel, which was, as it were, bevelled in the low bulge of the Point.

They had not long to wait. The brig suddenly came round, as though her helm had been put hard up.

“Rudder’s gone,” said one of the fishermen.

Sea after sea struck the vessel astern, and threatened to swamp her, but she managed always to shake herself. She came on like a cork that is rushed down a gutter by a shower, only giving a roll and going yard-arm under as cross-seas hit her.

At last she stopped.