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The Rabbit-Catcher
by [?]

“Touched,” said one of the men.

But she rose again and lumbered yet a few yards forward. Then she beat herself heavily, and the next sea doubled clean over her.

“We can’t do nothin’, chaps. The coble winnot get two yards till she’s over.”

This came from the oldest fisherman.

“Oh! for Christ’s sake, let’s shove off,” said my young student, clasping his hands. He was pale, and his eyes shone, as they always did when he was excited.

“It’s very well to say shove off, my bonny man, but look at it! We brought the boat for fear there might be a chance, but there’s no chance at all.”

“I think we might just have a try,” said a large, grave man. “Will three o’ you come, and I’ll steer her myself?”

“I’ll be one,” said a stiff little man, known as “Catfish.”

“Let me go,” said the young rabbit-catcher.

“I can pull as well as ever a one of you,” he pleaded, when the large man looked doubtful. I wanted to go, but it was decided that a fisherman would pull better than I. So we got the boat hurled through the smother of foam, and presently we heard the “Crack, crack,” as the vanguard of the real water began to strike at her.

My youngster was pulling with his hat off, and I saw him now and then, as the boat swooped upward, and hung almost perpendicularly on the striped side of a travelling wave. I believe I prayed. An old man, whose son was rowing the stern oar (cobles only need three oars, two on one side, and a long one astern) said, “Lord, have mercy on you, my bonny Harry.” Then he sobbed once, and his face became fixed, like a mask of carven stone.

I do not know how long the wild buffeting lasted, but I know that presently the bows of the boat appeared returning over a doubling sea, and as she made her downward flight I saw a black, huddled mass in her.

Then there was a rush, and the coble came up on the sand. Only one trip was needed. Five men were brought ashore; the other two hands had been taken overboard by one sea just before the ship lost her rudder.

Years went by, and I returned to dwell in cities. One evening I went to dine at a club. I was lounging in the reading-room, when a splendid-looking man attracted my attention. He was a magnificently-built young fellow, with a fine beard, and bright, steel-blue eyes. When he rose, I saw that he was perfectly dressed, and when he spoke to a waiter, his voice seemed deep, and his accent fine.

I looked down at my paper, and I then felt that he was looking at me. When I looked up, he had risen, and was looking steadily in my face. He made a step forward.

“Pardon me. How very, very strange!” I said; “I’m at a loss to remember you. You’ll forgive me.”

“Don’t you remember the Poachers’ Hollow, and the brig, and Burke, and the Differential?”

Then I knew, and we shook hands heartily. We dined together, and he told me how his change of fortune had come about.

“It all came through that shipwreck,” he explained.

“How was that?”

“Well, directly I got home and changed, I sat down and wrote an account of the whole concern in some very gaudy prose, and I drove the pony into the town and handed the letter in at the ‘Sentinel’ office. My account was printed. Old Mr. Willits–you remember him–sent to the editor to know who had done it, and then sent for me. He was very grumpy and crusty at first, but I explained my position to him simply, and he got very good humoured. He sent me to a tutor for two years and a half; then I won a Trinity scholarship, and scored two or three other things; then I went to the University, and slogged like a slave. Mr. Willits helped me. I did very well in the Tripos–not so well as men who started younger–but still I landed ninth. Now I’m principal of the new college that —- endowed, and I have a very good thing indeed.”

So my friend, the rabbit-catcher, became a successful man, and, I am sure, I wished him joy.