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´╗┐Title: Studies in the Art of Rat-catching
Author: Barkley, H. C.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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 STUDIES IN THE ART OF RAT-CATCHING.

 BY H. C. BARKLEY,

 AUTHOR OF
 "MY BOYHOOD," "BETWEEN THE DANUBE AND THE BLACK SEA," ETC.

 POPULAR EDITION.

 LONDON:
 JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.
 1896.


 LONDON:
 PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
 STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.



PREFACE.


My publisher writes to say that he, and he thinks others too, would like
to know how I ever came to write such a book as this! It came about in
this way. Some two years ago, I was about to leave England for a
considerable time, and a few days before starting, I went to stay in a
country house, full of lads and lassies, to say good-bye. One evening,
while sitting over the study fire, the subject of rat-catching came up
and, as the aged are somewhat wont to do, I babbled on about past days
and various rat-catching experiences, till one of the boys exclaimed,
"I say, what sport it would be if they would only teach rat-catching at
school! Wouldn't I just work hard then, that's all!"

The stories came to an end at bed-time, and I was then pressed by my
hearers to write from foreign lands some more of my old reminiscences,
and I readily gave a promise to do so. In this way most of the following
stories were written; and in writing them, I endeavoured to carry out
the idea that they were exercises to be used in schools.

I don't anticipate that head-masters will very generally adopt the book
in their schools; but I hope it may, in some few instances, give boys a
taste for a wholesome country pastime.

The characters and incidents are rough, very rough, pen and ink sketches
of real people and scenes, and the dogs are all dear friends of past
days.



CONTENTS.


 CHAPTER I.                                                      _Page_

 The Ferret Family--Crossed with the Polecat--Choosing
 Ferrets--Hutches--Feeding Ferrets--"Bar the
 Tail"--Handling Ferrets                                             8


 CHAPTER II.

 Bag _versus_ Box--Ferrets Fighting--The Ratting Spade--
 Ratting Tools--Hints to Schoolmasters--Learning
 Dog-Language--With a Scold in the Voice--Dogs'
 Kennel--Treating Dogs Kindly--Dogs in their Proper Place           23


 CHAPTER III.

 Aristocratic _versus_ Plutocratic--Come-by-Chance--Chance's
 Friend--Nondescript Tinker--Grindum--How I got Grindum--
 Grindum's Friends--Jack and his Sister--"Jack Took Me"--
 End of an Ugly Story--Grindum's First Rat--Pepper and Wasp         42


 CHAPTER IV.

 A Day's Ratting--An Autumn Walk--"Steady, Dogs, Steady"--A
 Ferret Disabled--Rats up a Pollard--A Rat-catcher's
 Picnic--Rats in a Drain--A Weary Walk Home--"Kennel, Dogs,
 Kennel"                                                            67


 CHAPTER V.

 A Poor Day's Ratting--A Rat in a Queer Place--Rats in
 my Lady's Chamber--Rats in a House--Slaughter in a
 Cellar--Dead Rats in a House                                       85


 CHAPTER VI.

 A November Day--A Laid-up Ferret--A Tramp Home in the
 Wet--A Snug Evening--Things Students should Know--Muzzling
 Ferrets--Sucking Blood--A Strange Use for a Dog's Tail             96


 CHAPTER VII.

 Rabbit Catching--Tools for Rabbit Catching--An Easy Day's
 Rabbiting--Ferreting a Bank--A Deep Dig in the Sand--A
 Day with the Purse Nets--Necessity of Silence--Ferrets
 without Muzzles--How to Kill Rabbits                              113


 CHAPTER VIII.

 Trip to the Seaside--Surveying the Hunting Ground--A View
 from the Cliffs--A Sea View--The Rector's Daughter--Doctoring
 the Burrows--Running out Nets--"Hie in, Good Dogs"                130


 CHAPTER IX.

 The Beginning of a Storm--A Ship in Distress--The Village
 Harbour--A Fisherman's Home--Little Jack, the Cripple--
 Waiting for the Boats--A Rough Old Fish-Wife--The Return
 of the Fishermen                                                  147


 CHAPTER X.

 The Rector's Story--A Ship in Danger Running Straight on the
 Rocks--To the Rescue--Watching the Boat--Breaking up of the
 Ship--Beyond the Storms of Life--Life in the Little One--
 Nature's Gifts--What a Hodge-Podge                                165



INTRODUCTION.

ADDRESSED TO ALL SCHOOLBOYS.


Ever since I was a boy, and ah! long, long before that, I fancy, the one
great anxiety of parents of the upper and middle classes blessed with
large families has been, "What are we to do with our boys?" and the cry
goes on increasing, being intensified by the depreciation in the value
of land, and by our distant colonies getting a little overstocked with
young gentlemen, who have been banished to them by thousands, to
struggle and strive, sink or swim, as fate wills it. At home, all
professions are full and everything has been tried; and, go where you
will, even the children of the noble may be found wrestling with those
of the middle and working classes for every piece of bread that falls in
the gutter. Nothing is _infra dig._ that brings in a shilling, and all
has been and is being tried. The sons of the great are to be found
shoulder to shoulder with "Tommy Atkins," up behind a hansom cab,
keeping shops, selling wines, horses, cigars, coals, and generally
endeavouring feebly to shoulder the son of the working man out of the
race over the ropes. Fortunately Heaven tempers the wind to the shorn
lamb, and I believe it has done so now. I believe kind Dame Nature
during the last summer has stepped in and opened out an honourable path
for many gentlemen's sons, that I think will be their salvation, and at
all events, if it does not make them all rich, will, if they only follow
it, make them most useful members of society and keep them out of
mischief and out of their mammas' snug drawing-rooms. I have followed
the path myself, and, after fifty years' tramp down it, have been forced
to abandon it owing to gout and rheumatism. I have not picked up a big
fortune at it, or become celebrated, except quite locally; but I have
had a good time and helped the world in general, and am content with my
past life.

I was the son of a worthy country parson, who in my youth proposed to me
in turn to become a judge, a bishop, a general, a Gladstone, a Nelson, a
Sir James Paget, and a ritualistic curate; but when talking to me on the
subject the good old man always said, "Mind, my boy, though I propose
these various positions for you, yet, if you have any decided preference
yourself, I will not thwart you, I will not fly in the face of nature."

For some time I thought I should rather like to be a bishop, and to this
day I think I should have made a good one; but _the_ voice spoke at
last, and my destiny was settled.

With the modest capital of five shillings given me by my father, and a
mongrel terrier, given me by a poacher who had to go into retirement for
killing a pheasant and half killing a keeper, I began my career as
a--but I had better give you one of my professional cards. Here it is--

       BOB JOY,

           RAT-CATCHER

 _To H.R.H. The Prince of Wales,
     The Nobility and Gentry._

I had a struggle at first. Rats, full-grown ones, only fetched twopence
each, and the system adopted by farmers of letting their rat-killing,
for, say, three pounds a year for a farm of 400 acres, almost broke me;
but I stuck to my profession, and do not regret having done so.

In those days, and during all my active life, I have had to work to
live, owing to the constant scarcity of rats; but if I managed to make a
living then, what might not be done now, when Nature has sent the rat to
our homesteads by thousands, and farmers and others are being eaten off
the face of the earth by them?

Why, my dear young friends, your fortune stares you in the face, and you
have only to stretch out your hand and grasp it--no! I have made a
mistake: you have a little more to do--you have, first, to learn your
profession, which is no easy matter; and to enable you to do this, I
intend writing the following book for the use of schools (which I
herewith dedicate to the Head Masters of Eton, Harrow, Westminster,
Rugby, and all other schools); but in placing this book on your
school-desk, allow me to say that it is no good having it there through
the long school hours unless you open it, read it, and deeply ponder
over it; and more, my dear boys, let me pray that you will take it home
with you, and, casting aside your usual holiday task, study it well,
and, as far as possible, actively put in practice what I am going to try
and teach you. Some fathers may wish their sons to enter on a more
humble course of life, but this I rather doubt. However, should they do
so, it will be only so much the better for those who take it up: there
will be more room for them. Most mothers, I fear, will object to it on
the ground that rats and ferrets don't smell nice; but this objection is
not reasonable. They might as well say that the whiff of a fox on a soft
December morning as you ride to covert is not delicious!

Respect your parents, respect even their prejudices; gently point out to
your father that you are ambitious and wish for a career in which you
can distinguish yourself. Above all, respect your mother, and show your
respect by not taking ferrets or dead rats in your pockets into her
drawing-room, and by washing your hands a little between fondling them
and cuddling her. But to finish this sermon, let me point out that
though in this great profession you will be everlastingly mixed up with
dogs of all sorts, always make _them_ come to _you_, and _never go to
them_.

One last word. If in the following pages you come across a bit of
grammar or spelling calculated to make a Head Master sit up, excuse it,
and remember that I have been a rat-catcher all my life, and as a class
we are not quite A1 at book learning.

[Illustration]



STUDIES IN RAT CATCHING FOR THE USE OF SCHOOLS.



CHAPTER I.


In the following elementary treatise for the use of public schools, I
propose following exactly the same plan as my parson (a good fellow not
afraid of a ferret or a rat) does with his sermons--that is, divide it
into different heads, and then jumble up all the heads with the body,
till it becomes as difficult to follow as a rat's hole in a soft bank;
and, to begin with, I am going to talk about ferrets, for without them
rat-catching won't pay.

Where ferrets first came from I am not sure, but somewhere I have read
that they were imported from Morocco, and that they are not natives of
Great Britain any more than the ordinary rat is. If they were imported,
then that importer ranks in my mind with, but before, Christopher
Columbus and all such travellers. Anyhow it is quite clear that nowhere
in Great Britain are there wild ferrets, for they are as distinct from
the stoat, the mouse-hunter, the pole-cat, etc., as I am from a Red
Indian; and yet all belong to the same family, so much so that I have
known of a marriage taking place between the ferret and pole-cat, the
offspring of which have again married ferrets and in their turn have
multiplied and increased, which is a proof that they are not mules, for
the children of mules, either in birds or beasts, do not have young
ones.

There are two distinct colours in ferrets--one is a rich dark brown and
tan, and the other white with pink eyes; and in my opinion one is just
as good as the other for work, though by preference I always keep the
white ferret, as it is sooner seen if it comes out of a hole and works
away down a fence or ditch bottom. I have never known a dark-coloured
ferret coming among a litter of white ones or a white among the dark;
but there is a cross between the two which produces a grizzly beast,
generally bigger than its mother, which I have for many years avoided,
though it is much thought of in some parts of the Midlands. I fancy
(though I may be wrong) that the cross is a dull slow ferret, wanting in
dash and courage, and not so friendly and affectionate as the others,
and therefore apt to stick with just its nose out of a hole so that you
can't pick it up, or else it will "lay up" and give a lot of trouble
digging it out.

For rat-catching the female ferret should always be used, as it is not
half the size of the male, and can therefore follow a rat faster and
better in narrow holes; in fact, an ordinary female ferret should be
able to follow a full-grown rat anywhere. The male ferret should be kept
entirely for rabbiting, as he has not to follow down small holes, and
being stronger than the female can stand the rough knocking about he
often gets from a rabbit better than his wife can.

In buying a ferret for work, get one from nine to fifteen months old, as
young ferrets I find usually have more courage and dash than an old one.
They have not been so often punished and therefore do not think
discretion the better part of valour. However this will not be found to
be an invariable rule. I have known old ferrets that would have faced a
lion and seemed to care nothing about being badly bitten; whereas I have
known a young ferret turn out good-for-nothing from having one sharp nip
from a rat. Such beasts had better be parted with, for a bad, slow, or
cowardly ferret is vexation of spirit and not profitable.

If I am buying brown ferrets I always pick the darkest, as I fancy they
have most dash. This may be only fancy, or it may be the original ferret
was white and that the brown is the cross between it and the polecat,
and that therefore the darker the ferret, the more like it is in temper
as well as colour to its big, strong, wild ancestor. Anyhow I buy the
dark ones.

If I am buying female ferrets, I like big _long_ ones, as a small ferret
has not weight enough to tackle a big rat, and therefore often gets
desperately punished. I like to see the ferrets in a tub, end up,
looking well nourished and strong; and directly I touch the tub I like
to see them dash out of their hidden beds in the straw and rush to
spring up the sides like a lot of furies. When I put my hand in to take
one, I prefer not to be bitten; but yet I have often known a ferret turn
out very well that has begun by making its teeth meet through my finger.
When I have the ferret in hand, I first look at its tail and then at its
feet, and if these are clean it will do. If, on the other hand, I find a
thin appearance about the hairs of its tail and a black-looking dust at
the roots, the ferret goes back into the tub; or if the underside of the
feet are black and the claws encrusted with dirt, I will have nothing to
say to it, as it has the mange and will be troublesome to cure. All this
done, I put the ferret on the ground and keep picking it up and letting
it go; if when I do this it sets up the hairs of its tail, arches its
back and hisses at me, I may buy it; but I know, if I do, I shall have
to handle it much to get it tame. If, on the other hand, when I play
with it the ferret begins to dance sideways and play, I pay down my
money and take it at once, for I have never known a playful ferret to
prove a bad one.

If when you get the ferret it is wild and savage, it should be
constantly handled till it is quite tamed before it is used. Little
brothers and sisters will be found useful at this. Give them the ferret
to play with in an empty or nearly empty barn or shed where it cannot
escape. Put into the shed with them some long drain pipes, and tell them
to ferret rats out of them. The chances are they will put the ferret
through them and pick it up so often, that it will learn there is
nothing to fear when it comes out of a real rat's hole, and will ever
after "come to hand" readily. You had better not be in the way when the
children return to their mother or nurse. I have had disagreeable
moments on such occasions.

Having got all your ferrets, the next question is how to keep them. I
have tried scores of different houses for them. I have kept them in a
big roomy shed, in tubs, in boxes, and in pits in the ground; but now I
always use a box with three compartments. The left-hand compartment
should be the smallest and filled with wheat-straw well packed in, with
a small round hole a little way up the division, for the ferrets to use
as a door. The middle compartment should be empty and have the floor and
front made of wire netting, to allow light, ventilation and drainage.
The third compartment should be entered from the middle one by a hole in
the division, but should have a strong tin tray fitting over the floor
of it covered with sand, which can be drawn out and cleaned; the front
of this compartment, too, should be wire netting. The sand tray should
be removed and cleaned every day, even Sundays. The house should stand
on legs about a foot high. Each compartment should have a separate lid,
and the little entrance holes through the divisions should have a slide
to shut them, so that any one division can be opened without all the
ferrets rushing out. The bed should be changed once a week. Such a box
as I have shown is large enough for ten ferrets. For a mother with a
family a much smaller box will suffice, but it should be made on the
same plan. For bedding use only wheat-straw. Either barley-straw or hay
will give ferrets mange in a few days.

After housing the ferrets, they will require feeding. I have always
given my ferrets bread and milk once or twice a week, which was placed
in flat tins in the middle compartment; but care should be taken to
clean out the tins each time, as any old sour milk in them will turn the
fresh milk and make the ferrets ill. The natural food of ferrets is
flesh--the flesh of small animals--and therefore it should be the chief
food given. Small birds, rats and mice are to them dainty morsels, but
the ferrets will be sure to drag these into their beds to eat and will
leave the skins untouched; these should be removed each day. When my
ferrets are not in regular work they are fed just before sunset; if they
are fed in the morning they are no good for work all day, and one can
never tell (except on Sundays) that one of the dogs may not find a rat
that _wants_ killing. The day before real work, I give the ferrets bread
and milk in the morning, and nothing on the day they go out until their
work is over. This makes them keen. Remember ferrets work hard in a big
day's ratting, and therefore should be well nourished and strong; a
ferret that is not will not have the courage to face a rat.

I have listened to all sorts of theories from old hands about feeding
ferrets, but have followed the advice of few. For instance, I have been
told that if you give flesh, such as rats and birds, to a ferret that
has young ones, it will drag it into the straw among the little ones,
who will get the blood on them, and then the mother will eat them by
mistake. All I can say is, I have reared hundreds of young ferrets and
have always given the mothers flesh. It is true that ferrets will eat
their young, and the way to bring this about is to disturb the babies in
the nest. If you leave them quite alone till they begin to creep about I
believe there is no danger.

Then many old rat-catchers never give a ferret a rat with its tail on,
as they believe there is poison in it. I remember one old fellow saying
to me as he cut off the tail before putting the rat into the ferrets'
box, "Bar the tail--I allus bars the tail--there's wenom in the tail."
There may be "wenom" in it; but, if there is, it won't hurt the ferrets,
for they never eat it or the skin.

If ferrets are properly cared for they are rarely ill, and the only
trouble I have ever had is with mange, which, as I have said before,
attacks the tail and feet. Most rat-catchers keep a bottle of spirits of
tar, with which they dress the affected parts. It cures the mange, but,
by the way the poor little beasts hop about after being dressed, I fear
it stings dreadfully. I have always used sulphur and lard, and after
rubbing it well in a few times I have always found it worked a cure. The
_objection_ to sulphur and lard is that it does not hurt, for I have
noticed that sort of man generally prefers using a remedy that hurts a
lot--that is, where the patient is not himself, but an animal.

No big day's ratting ever takes place without a ferret getting badly
bitten. When this is so, the ferret should never be used again until it
is quite well. It should be sent home and put in a quiet box, apart from
the others, and the bites gently touched with a little sweet oil from
time to time; or, if it festers much, it should be sponged with warm
water.

I have often had ferrets die of their wounds, and these have usually
been the best I had. Again, with wounds the old rat-catcher uses the
tar-bottle, chiefly, I think, because it hurts the ferret, and therefore
must have "a power of wirtue."

Before going further I should point out to all students of this
ennobling profession that the very first thing they have to learn is to
pick up a ferret. Don't grab it by its tail, or hold it by its head as
you would a mad bull-dog; but take hold of it lightly round the
shoulders, with its front legs falling gracefully out below from between
your fingers. Then when you go to the box for your ferrets, and they
come clambering up the side like a pack of hungry wolves, put your hand
straight in among them without a glove, and pick up which one you
require. Don't hesitate a moment. Don't dangle your hand over their
heads till you can make a dash and catch one. The ferrets will only
think your hand is their supper coming and will grab it, with no ill
intent; but if you put it down steadily and slowly, they will soon learn
you only do so to take them out, and your hand will become as welcome to
them as flowers in spring.

True, at first, with strange ferrets you may be bitten; but it is not a
very serious thing if you are, as ferrets' bites are never venomous, as
the bites of rats often are. I have in my time been bitten by ferrets
many dozens of times and have never suffered any ill effects. There, I
think that is enough for your first lesson, so I will send it off at
once and get it printed for you.



CHAPTER II.


The first chapter of this lesson-book has gone to the printer, so I
don't quite know what I said in it, but I think we had finished the
home-life of the ferret and were just taking it out of its box.
Different professors have different opinions as to what is next to be
done with it. Many (and they are good men too) think you should put it
into a box about eighteen inches long, ten inches high, and ten wide;
the box to be divided into two compartments, with a lid to each, and
with leather loops to these lids through which to thrust a pointed spade
so as to carry it on your shoulder. I have tried this plan, but I have
never quite liked it. I have found that after a heavy day's work the box
was apt to get heavy and feel as if it were a grandfather's clock
hanging on your back. Then the ratting spade was engaged instead of
being free to mump a rat on the head in a hurry, or point out a likely
hole to the dogs. When a ferret was wanted, all the others would dash
out and have to be hunted about to be re-caught. Now and then the lids
came open and let all out; and now and then I let the box slip off the
spade and fall to the ground, and then I felt sorry for the ferrets
inside it! No, I have always carried my ferrets in a good strong canvas
bag, with a little clean straw at the bottom, and a leather strap and
buckle stitched on to it with which to close it. Don't tie the bag with
a piece of string--it is sure to get lost; and don't have a stiff buckle
on your strap that takes ten minutes to undo. Remember the life of a rat
may depend upon your getting your ferret out quickly. Never throw the
bag of ferrets down; lay them down gently. Don't leave the bag on the
ground in a broiling sun with some of the ferrets in it while you are
using the others, or in a cold draughty place on a cold day; find a snug
corner for them, if you can, and cover them up with a little straw or
grass to keep them warm.

If, when carrying your ferrets, they chatter in the bag, let them; it is
only singing, not fighting. I have never known a ferret hurt another in
a bag. Always bag your ferret as soon as you have done with it; don't
drag it about in your hand for half an hour, and don't put it in your
pocket, as it will make your coat smell.

When I have done work and turned towards home, I have made it a rule
always to put a dead rat into the bag, as I think it amuses the ferrets
and breaks the monotony of a long journey; just as when I run down home
I like taking a snack at Swindon Station, just to divert my mind from
the racketing of the train and the thought of the hard seat. When you
get home, give the ferrets a rat for every two of them, if you can
afford it, for then they need only eat the best joints. If you have not
many dead rats and want to save some for the morrow, one rat for three
ferrets is enough for twenty-four hours; but don't forget to give them
water or milk.

I think I have said enough as to the management of ferrets, and will go
on to speak of the necessary tools. The chief thing is a good ratting
spade. What the musket is to the soldier, the spade is to the
rat-catcher. You may get on without it, but you won't do much killing. I
have tried many shapes, but the one I like best is on the pattern of the
above drawing. It should not be too heavy, but yet strong; and,
therefore, the handle should be made of a good piece of ash, and the
other parts of the best tempered steel, and the edge should be sharp
enough to cut quickly through a thick root. The spike should be sharp,
so as easily to enter the ground and feel for a lost hole. This will
constantly save a long dig and much time; besides, one can often bolt a
rat by a few well-directed prods in a soft bank--not that I approve of
this, as there may be more than one rat in the hole, and by prodding out
one you are contented to leave others behind. No, I think the ferret
should go down every hole challenged by the dogs, as then you are pretty
sure of making a clean job of it.

Besides the spade, I have always kept a few trap boxes. These are to
catch a ferret should one lay up and have to be left behind. I bait them
with a piece of rat and place them at the mouth of the hole, and it is
rare I don't find the ferret in it in the morning. I also take one of
these traps with me if I am going where rats are very numerous; then, if
a ferret stops too long in a hole, I stick the mouth of the trap over
the hole and pack it round with earth and stop up all the bolt holes,
and then go on working with the other ferrets. When the sluggard is at
last tired of the hole, it walks into the trap, shoving up the wire
swing door, which falls down behind it, and there it has to stop till
you fetch it.

If I am going to ferret wheat stacks where rats have worked strong, I
take with me half a dozen pieces of thin board about a foot long. I do
so for this reason. The first thing rats do when they take possession of
a stack is to make a good path, or run, all round it just under the
eaves; and when disturbed by ferrets, they get into this run and keep
running away round and round the stack without coming to the ground.
Therefore, before putting in the ferrets, I take a ladder, and going
round the eaves of the stack I stick the boards in so as to cut off
these runs, and when a rat goes off for a gallop he comes to "no
thoroughfare," and feeling sure the ferret is after him, he in
desperation comes to the ground, and then the dogs can have a chance. I
once killed twenty-eight rats out of a big stack in twenty minutes after
the ferrets were put in, all thanks to these stop-boards; and though I
ran the ferrets through and through the stack afterwards, I did not
start another, and so I believe I had got the lot.

I think I have enumerated all the tools required for rat-catching. I
need not mention a knife and a piece of string, as all honest men have
them in their pocket always, even on Sundays. Some rat-catchers take
with them thick leather gloves to save their getting bitten by a rat or
a ferret; but I despise such effeminate ways, and I consider he does not
know his profession if he cannot catch either ferret or rat with his
naked hands.

I must now turn to the subject of dogs--one far more important than
either ferrets or tools, and one so large that if I went on writing and
writing to the end of my days I should not get to the end of it, and so
shall only make a few notes upon it as a slight guide to the student,
leaving him to follow it up and work it out for himself; but in so doing
I beg to say that his future success as a rat-catcher will depend on his
mastering the subject.

But, before proceeding further, I am anxious to say a few words in
parenthesis for the benefit of the Head Masters of our schools.
Admirable as their academies are for turning out Greek and Latin
scholars, I cannot help thinking a proper provision is seldom made in
their establishments for acquiring a real working knowledge of the
profession of a rat-catcher; and I wish to suggest that it would be as
well to insist on all those students who wish to take up this subject
keeping at school at least one good dog and a ferret, and that two
afternoons a week should be set apart entirely for field practice, and
that the cost of this should be jotted down at the end of each term in
the little school account that is sent home to the students' parents. I
know most high-spirited boys will object to this and call it a fresh
tyranny, and ever after hate me for proposing it; but I do it under a
deep sense of duty, being convinced that it is far better they should
perfectly master the rudimentary knowledge of such an honest profession
as that of rat-catcher, than that they should drift on through their
school life with no definite future marked out, finally to become
perhaps such scourges of society as M.P.s who make speeches when
Parliament is not sitting. Judging from the columns of the newspapers,
there must be many thousands who come to this most deplorable end; and
if I can only turn one from such a vicious course, I shall feel I have
benefitted mankind even more than by killing rats and other vermin.

Now I must return to the subject of dogs, and in doing so I will first
begin on their masters, for to make a good dog, a good master is also
absolutely necessary. Anybody that has thought about it knows that as is
the master, so is the dog. A quiet man has a quiet dog, a quarrelsome
man a quarrelsome dog, a bright quick man a bright quick dog, and a
loafing idle ruffian a slinking slothful cur.

First of all, then, the dog's master must understand dog talk; for they
do talk, and eloquently too, with their tongues, their ears, their
eyes, their legs, their tail, and even with the hairs on their backs;
and therefore don't be astonished if you find me saying in the following
pages, "Pepper told me this," or "Wasp said so-and-so." Why, I was once
told by a bull terrier that a country policeman was a thief, and,
"acting on information received," I got the man locked up in prison for
three months, and it just served him right. Having learnt dog language,
use it to your dog in a reasonable way: talk to him as a friend, tell
him the news of the day, of your hopes and fears, your likes and
dislikes, but above all use talk always in the place of a whip. For
instance, when breaking in a young dog not to kill a ferret, take hold
of the dog with a short line, put the ferret on the ground in front of
him, and when he makes a dash at it say, "What _are_ you up to? War
ferret! Why, I gave four and sixpence for that, you fool, and now you
want to kill it! Look here (picking the ferret up and fondling it), this
is one of my friends. Smell it (putting it near his nose). Different
from a rat, eh? Rather sweet, ain't it? War ferret, war ferret! Would
you, you rascal? Ain't you ashamed of yourself? War ferret, war ferret!"
Repeat this a few times for two or three days, and when you first begin
working the dog and he is excitedly watching for a rat to bolt, just say
"War ferret" to him, and he will be sure to understand. Should he,
however, in his excitement make a dash at a ferret, shout at him to
stop, and then, picking up the ferret, rub it over his face, all the
time scolding him well for what he has done; but don't hit him, and
probably he will never look at a ferret again.

In my opinion there is nothing like a thrashing to spoil a dog or a boy;
reason with them and talk to them, and if they are worth keeping they
will understand and obey. Mind, a dog must always obey, and obey at the
first order. Always give an order in a decided voice as if you meant it,
and never overlook the slightest disobedience. One short whistle should
always be enough. If the dog does not obey, call him up and, repeating
the whistle, scold him _with a scold in your voice_. Don't shout or bawl
at him for all the country to hear and the rats too, but just make your
_words sting_. If he repeats his offence, put a line and collar on him
and lead him for half an hour, telling him all the time why you do so,
and he will be so ashamed of himself that the chances are he will obey
you ever after.

Put yourself in the dog's place. Fancy if, when you have "kicked a bit
over the traces" at school, the head-master, instead of thrashing you,
made you walk up and down the playground or cricket-field with him for
half an hour; but no, that would be too awful; it would border on
brutality! But you would not forget it in a hurry.

We humans often behave well and do good, not because it is our duty so
to do, but for what the world will say and for the praise we may get.
Dogs are not in all things superior to humans, and in this matter of
praise I fear they are even inferior to us. They most dearly love
praise, and a good dog should always get it for any and every little
service he renders to man. Remember, he is the only living thing that
takes a _pleasure_ in working for man, and his sole reward is man's
approbation. Give it him, then, and give it him hot and warm when he
deserves it, and he will be willing to do anything for you and will
spend his life worshipping you and working for you; for better, for
worse, for richer, for poorer, he is yours, with no sneaking thoughts
of a divorce court in the background.

There is another thing a master should always do for his dog himself and
do it with reason. See to his comfort; see that he has good food and
water and is comfortably lodged. Don't let him be tied up to a hateful
kennel in a back yard, baked by the sun in summer and nearly frozen in
winter; often without water, and with food thrown into a dish that is
already half full of sour and dirty remains of yesterday's dinner. This
is not reasonable and is cruel. When he is not with you, shut him up in
a kennel, big or little, made as nearly as you can have it on the model
of a kennel for hounds. Let it be cool and airy in summer and snug and
warm in winter; keep all clean--kennel, food, dishes, water and beds.
Don't forget that different dogs have different requirements; for
instance, that a long thick coated dog will sleep with comfort out in
the snow, while a short-coated one will shiver in a thick bed of straw.
Picture to yourself, as you tuck the warm blankets round you on a cold
winters night, what your thin-coated pointer is undergoing in a draughty
kennel on a bare plank bed, chained up to a "misery trap" in the back
yard, which is half full of drifted snow. Think of it, and get up and
put the dog in a spare loose box in the stable for the night, and have a
proper kennel made for him in the morning.

I once had a favourite dog named "Rough" that died of distemper. A small
child asked me a few days afterwards if dogs when they died went to
heaven, and I, not knowing better, answered, "Yes"; and the child said,
"Won't Rough wag his old tail when he sees me come in?" When you "come
in" I hope there will be all your departed dogs wagging their tails to
meet you. It will depend upon how you have treated them here; but take
my word for it, my friend, you will never be allowed to pass that door
if the dogs bark and growl at you.

Don't suppose I am a sentimental "fat pug on a string" sort of man. Next
to humans I like dogs best of all creatures. Why, I have made my living
by their killing rats for me at twopence per rat and three pound a farm,
and I am grateful: but I like dogs in their proper place. For instance,
as a rule, I dislike a dog in the house. The house was meant for man and
should be kept for him. I think when a man goes indoors his dog should
be shut up in the kennel and not be allowed to wander about doing
mischief, eating trash, learning to loaf, and under no discipline. Now
and then I do allow an old dog that has done a life's hard work to roam
about as he likes, and even walk into my study (I mean kitchen) and sit
before the fire and chat with me; but, then, such dogs have established
characters, and nothing can spoil them; besides, they are wise beasts
with a vast experience, and I can learn a lot from them. It was from one
of these I learnt all about the prigging policeman.

A young dog is never good for much who is allowed to run wild; every one
is his master and he obeys no one, and when he is taken out he is dull
and stupid, thinking more of the kitchen scraps than of business. No,
when I go to work, I like to let the dogs out myself, to see them dash
about, dance around, jump up at me and bark with joy. I like to see the
young ones topple each other over in sport, and the old ones gallop on
ahead to the four crossways, and stand there watching to see which way I
am going, and then, when I give them the direction with a wave of the
hand, bolt off down the road with a wriggle of content. You might trust
your life to dogs in such a joyful temper, for they would be sure to
stand by you.

Thank you, young gentlemen; that is enough for this morning's lesson.
You may now amuse yourselves with your Ovid or Euclid.



CHAPTER III.


I am a working man, or rather have been till I got the rheumatics, and
as such I naturally stick to my own class and prefer associating with
those of my own sort, and therefore I always keep working dogs.

I have often bred aristocratic dogs, dogs descended from great
prize-winners and with long pedigrees, and among them I have had some
good ones, honest and true; but as a rule I must say my experience
proves that the shorter the pedigree the better the dog, and now if I
could get them I should like to keep dogs that never had a father. Some
people I know call me a cad, a clod, a chaw-bacon, etc., and they call
my dogs curs and mongrels. Such men talk nonsense and should be kept
specially to make speeches during the recess. I don't care to defend
_myself_ but I must stand up for my dogs against all comers; and I
assert boldly that, nine times out of ten, a dog with no pedigree is
worth two with a long one. When I get a new dog I never ask who he is,
or who his father was, but I go by his looks and his performances. There
are dogs like men in all classes, who have either a mean, spiteful,
vicious look, or a dull, heavy, dead one; such I avoid both in dog and
man, for I find they are not worth knowing. Any other dog will do for
me, and even now, though I don't often go ratting, I have as good a lot
as ever stood at a hole, and I don't think I can do better than describe
them as a guide to students when they come to getting a kennel together.

First of all, I never give a lot of money for a dog--how can I with rats
at twopence each?--but, if I can, I drop on a likely-looking young one
about a year old who was going to be "put away" on account of the tax. I
got the oldest I have now in the kennel in this way. It followed George
Adams, the carrier, home one night, and to this day has never been
claimed; and when the tax-collector spoke to him about it, he offered it
to me, and I took it and gave it the name of "Come-by-chance," but in
the family and among friends she is now called "Chance."

If Chance is of any family I should think her mother was a setter and
her father a bob-tail sheep-dog; but, then, I can't make out where she
got her legs! She is red and white, with a perfect setter's head. She
has the hind parts of a sheep-dog and evidently never had a tail; and
her legs, which are very thick, would be short for a big terrier. Such
are her looks, which certainly are not much to speak of; but if I had
the pen of a Sir Walter Scott I could not do credit to the perfection
of her character. For seven years she has been the support of my
business, and I can safely say she has caused the death of more rats
than all my other dogs put together. I say _caused_, for she is slow at
killing and leaves this matter of detail to younger hands. If another
dog is not near she will _catch_ a rat and even kill it; but she has a
soft mouth, and all the other dogs, except quite the youngest, know
this, and, against the rule, will always dash in when she has a rat in
her mouth and take it from her, and she gives it up without a struggle.

No, her forte is to _find_ a rat. She is always in and out, up the bank,
through the hedge, down the bank; not a tuft of grass escapes her, and
she would hunt down each side of Regent Street and in and out of the
carriages if she found herself there. She lives hunting. Nothing ever
escapes her; one sniff at the deepest and most turn-about hole is
enough. If the rat is not in, on she goes in a minute; but should it be
ensconced deep down in the furthest corner, she stops at once and just
turns her head round and says quietly to me, "Here's one." Then, whilst
I am getting out a ferret, over the bank she goes, in and out the hedge
in all directions, and never fails to find and mark every bolt-hole for
the other dogs to stand at that belongs to the one where the rat is. As
soon as I begin to put in the ferret, she will come over the hedge, give
herself a shake, and sit down and watch the proceedings, not offering to
take a part herself, as she feels there are more able dogs ready, and
that this is not her strong point. Suppose a rat bolts and is killed and
the ferret comes out, Chance will never leave the hole till she has
taken a sniff at it to make sure all the rats have been cleared out. I
have never known her make a mistake. If _she_ says there is a rat in,
there is one without any doubt; if she says there is not, it is no good
running a ferret through the hole. Should I be alone, with no one to
look out for the ferret when it comes out on the other side of a bank,
Chance without a word being said to her will get over and look out, and
directly the ferret appears will come back to me and give a wriggle,
looking in the direction of the ferret, and then I know I must get over
and pick it up.

She has one peculiarity. When she followed George Adams home, seven
years ago, she was shy and scared; but, as it was a cold night, George,
being a kind-hearted fellow, invited her to step indoors, an invitation
she accepted in a frightened sort of way. On the hearth sat a little
girl of three years old, eating her supper, and Chance, doubtless
feeling very hungry, came and sat down in front of her and watched her
with a wistful look. The child was not afraid and soon began feeding
the dog, who took the pieces of food most gently from her fingers. When
the child was taken up to bed, Chance secretly followed, and getting
under the crib slept there all night. Only once since then has Chance
failed to sleep in that same place, and that was the first night I had
her. She was shut up in the kennel and never stopped barking all night.
Since then she has always followed me home, eaten her supper at the
kitchen door, and then gone off to her bed under the crib. Early in the
morning she is again at my door and never goes near George's house till
bed-time.

If Chance has no tail, the next dog on the list, "Tinker," makes up the
average. He is a little black, hard-coated dog, with the head of a
greyhound and tail of a foxhound. His head is nearly as long as his
body, and his tail is just a little longer. In all ways he is a
proficient at rat-catching, except that he has been known to mark a hole
where there was no rat; but his strong point is killing. He will stand
well back from a hole, and it does not matter how many rats bolt, or how
fast, each gets one snap and is dead and dropped without Tinker having
moved a foot. I named him Tinker, for a tinker gave him to me "cos he
warn't no sort of waller."

Then on my list next comes "Grindum," a mongrel bull-terrier, just the
tenderest hearted, mildest dispositioned dog that ever killed a rat. He
has but a poor nose and is not clever, but he has one strong point,
which he developed for himself without being taught. It is this: when I
am ferreting a thick hairy bank with a big ditch, Grindum always goes
some ten yards off and places himself in the ditch, and, let the
excitement be what it will, he never moves; and should a rat in the
thick grass escape the other dogs and bolt down the ditch, it is a
miracle if it does not die when it reaches him. I have better and
cleverer dogs, I know; but I think Grindum brings in as many twopences
as any of them, and we are not going to part! The way I got Grindum is
quite a little history, and I will tell it, though if you boys like, you
can skip it and go on with a more serious part of your lesson.

Not far from where I lived there was, in a most out-of-the-way corner on
a common, an old sand-pit, and in this a miserable dilapidated cottage,
consisting of two rooms. This for some years had been empty, but one
fine morning was discovered to be inhabited by a man, his wife and two
children--a boy of twelve and a girl of seven--and a bull-terrier. No
one knew anything about them or where they had come from, and when the
landlord of the hut went to eject them, he found them in such a
miserable half-starved condition that he left them alone.

Our parson called on them three times--the first time the wife told him
they did not like strangers and parsons in particular; the second time
the husband told him to clear out sharp, or he would do him a mischief;
and the third time the man took up a knife and began sharpening it,
preparatory, he said, to cutting the parson's throat!

Two months after this the man, after sitting drinking in the village
pot-house all the morning, stepped round to an old mid-wife and asked
her "to come and lay his wife out." The woman went and did her work and
said nothing at the time, but later on it was whispered about that she
had told some of her pals that "the poor crittur was black and blue, and
that it was on her mind that the husband had murdered her!" After this,
as I passed the cottage, I often saw the two children sitting on a log
of wood outside, with the bull-dog sitting between them. None of the
three ever moved out; all blinked their eyes at me as I passed, as if
they were unaccustomed to the sight of a fellow-creature.

Two or three months passed, during which the man was constantly drinking
at the village public-house; but he always left at sundown--"to look
after the kids," he said. Then there was a poaching fray on a nobleman's
estate near. Six keepers came on five poachers one moonlight night.
There was a hard fight, and at last the keepers took two of the men and
the other three bolted, but one was recognized as the man from the
sand-pit and was "wanted" by the police.

A few nights after this I was walking down a lane in the dark near my
house, when the sand-pit man stepped out of the hedge, leading his dog
by a cord, and turning to me said, "Here, master, if you want a good
dog, here is one for you; I am off to give myself up to the police, and
I am going to turn queen's evidence against my pals." I replied that I
did not want such a dog, so he said, "All right, then I'll cut his
throat," and then and there prepared to do so. This was more than I
could stand, so I took the cord and led the dog away, but before doing
so, I asked, "How about your children?" He gave a short laugh, and said,
"They would be properly provided for." It afterwards turned out that
soon after leaving me he walked straight into the arms of two policemen,
who saved him the trouble of giving himself up by taking him into
custody.

I led my new dog home and tied him up in the corner of an open
wood-shed, giving him a bundle of straw and a dish of bones, and by the
starved look of him I should say this was the biggest meal he had ever
had in his life.

I sat up late that night reading, and all the time in a remote corner of
my mind the sand-pit man, the two children and the dog kept turning
about, till at last, about midnight or later, I thought I would go to
bed; but before doing so I made up my mind that I would see if my new
dog was all right. I lit a lantern and stepped out of the door and found
it was blowing and snowing and biting cold. Mercifully I persevered and
reached the wood-shed, and what I saw there by the light of my lantern
did startle me. There was the bull-dog sure enough lying curled up in
the straw blinking hard at me, but--could I believe my eyes?--there
lying with him, with their arms entwined round each other and round the
dog, were the two children from the sand-pit fast asleep, but looking
so pale and pinched I thought they must be dead.

I will give place to no man living at rat-catching and minding dogs, but
here was a pretty mess, for I am no good with little children; so
putting down my lantern, I hurried back to the house and got two rugs
and with them wrapped the children and dog up snugly. Then I went in and
woke up my wife, who had already gone to bed, and called some other
women who were in the house, and after telling them what I had found, I
made up a big fire in the kitchen and put on some water to boil. In a
very few minutes my wife was downstairs and battling her way with me off
to the wood-shed. I untied the dog and moved him away from the children.
This woke them both, and they sat up and rubbed their eyes, and the poor
boy appeared almost scared to death, but the little girl was quite
quiet, and only watched his face with a sad careworn old look which I
pray I may never see on a child's face again.

My wife is really smart with little children, and in half no time she
was on her knees crooning over them, and soon she had the girl in her
arms; but when I attempted to pick up the boy he only screamed and
struggled, and kept calling out, "Grindum, Grindum! I won't leave
Grindum. I shall be killed if I leave Grindum. Let me stay with
Grindum." I assured him he should not be separated from Grindum "never
no more," and at last I partially quieted him, and he allowed me to
carry him into the kitchen and place him on a stool in front of the fire
with his sister, while his beloved Grindum sat by his side blinking as
if nothing unusual had taken place, and as if he had done the same each
night for the last three months and felt a little bored by it.

The first thing to be done, my wife said, was to feed the children, and
while she and the other women busied about getting it ready, I sat and
watched them. Both were remarkably pretty; both dark, with finely cut
features, big eyes and thick soft black hair; but yet in different ways
both had something sad about them. The boy never sat still for a moment,
but kept glancing fearfully at me, then at the women, and then at the
door, as if he expected something dreadful to happen, and all the time
kept grasping the arm of his little sister with one hand as if for
protection, and clinging to the soft skin of Grindum's neck with the
other. If he caught my eye, or if I spoke to him, he flinched as if I
had struck him, and turned livid and tugged so hard at Grindum's skin
that the poor dog's eyes were pulled into mere slits, through which I
could see he yet went on blinking at the fire. The girl sat half turned
round to the boy and never took her eyes off his face, looking the very
essence of womanly pity and love. Now and then when he suffered from a
paroxysm of fear, she would softly stroke his face, which appeared to
soothe him instantly; but nothing she could do could ever stop the wild
restless look in his eyes or prevent his glancing about as if watching
for some dreadful apparition. It was a sad, sad picture, made doubly
striking by the utter stolidity and indifference of that awful dog,
Grindum.

Soon hot basins of bread and milk were prepared, which both children eat
ravenously, and then they were put into steaming hot baths, washed,
dried, combed, and wrapped in blankets; but when we attempted to take
them up to the nice warm beds that had been prepared for them, there was
the same wild terrified cry from the boy for Grindum; and to pacify him
the dog had to be taken upstairs with them, and half an hour later,
when my wife and I peeped into the room, we saw the two children locked
in each other's arms fast asleep, with Grindum curled up on the bed next
to the boy, yet blinking horribly, but perfectly composed and making
himself at home.

How those two children found their way that night through a blinding
snow-storm to their only living friend, the dear blinking Grindum, I
never could find out. All I could ever get from the boy was, "Oh, I
always go where Grindum goes!" and the little girl could only say, "Jack
took me." My wife says angels guided them. Maybe she's right, but I
hardly think angels would be likely to go about on such a night; still
my wife went out in the snow and wind to the shed and got out of her
snug bed to do it, but then she put on a pea jacket and clogs, and that
makes a difference.

This is a tiring long story to write, and I have not quite done it yet,
for I must finish with the sand-pit man. He was tried, convicted and got
three years. A year after he had been in prison he tried to escape by
getting over a high wall, but in doing so he fell from the top and broke
his back. He lingered some days and seemed to find a pleasure in telling
the prison parson of all his misdeeds and in boasting of them. There was
a long list, but only the last part of his story will serve for "the use
of schools." It appears from what he said that, after he had given me
the dog, he had intended to steal back to his house and take the two
children to a deep pond and there drown them. Then, free from family
ties, he hoped to get away and ship himself off to America. He also said
that in a fit of rage he had thrashed his wife to death with his fists,
and that his boy from having seen him do it had gone mad with fear, and
was so bad, especially at night, that if he had not got a bull-dog
sleeping with him as a sort of friend, he would go into a fit with fear
and was often unconscious for hours.

It was an ugly story, and I am glad to say with the death of the
sand-pit man the miserable part of the children's life ended. The girl
is now twelve years old and has never left us. She is as sharp as a
needle and as honest as old Chance and as good. She is having a good
education, thanks to our Rector's wife, and could if need be earn her
own livelihood, but we are not going ever to part with her.

The boy Jack was a great trouble to us at first. For months he would not
be parted for a moment, day or night, from Grindum, and the dog actually
had to go to school with him; but the master utterly failed to teach the
boy even as far as A B C in his alphabet, and the dog not to blink; and
so, one fine day, I had both returned on my hands as hopeless
ignoramuses. I could not keep a blinking dog at home in idleness, so I
took him with me ratting, and as Jack would not be parted from the dog,
he had to come too. Everyone says the boy is "cracked." He is queer, I
will allow, but if you will find me a better hand at rat-catching in all
its branches, I should like to look at him; and besides, if Jack is
cracked, then I like cracked boys, for I never came across one more
obedient, more truthful, or more steady, and I find him a perfect
treasure on the other side of the bank at the bolt holes.

Jack never mentions the past, and I should be inclined to think he had
forgotten it, only if he is parted from Grindum for a short time he
becomes wild looking about the eyes again and restless. At such times
his sister, who mothers him much, will sit by him and stroke his face
softly, when he will quickly recover himself. I don't know what will
happen when Grindum "blinks his last," but the boy begins to follow me
about and seems to cling to me, and by that time I hope I shall be so
well liked by him that I may take Grindum's place.

Just two words more about Grindum and I have done. One is that the first
time Grindum caught a rat, he picked it up by its hind leg, and the rat
made its teeth meet through his nose. He softly put the rat down and it
escaped, and I made my sides ache and greatly astonished all the other
dogs by laughing at this great soft beast as he sat on his haunches
licking the blood as it trickled from his nose, and staring up into the
sky with a far-off vacant look, blinking worse than ever.

The other word is this. Though Grindum is a bull-dog with an
awful "Crush your bones, tear your flesh" look, he is just the
gentlest-hearted beast out, and there is not a puppy in the kennel, nor
a child in the village, who does not know this and impose on him
shamefully. Only last Sunday I had to stop a small child of five from
driving off in a four-wheeled cart, using Grindum as a horse. Once, and
once only, Grindum showed his temper. A big lout in the village threw a
stone at him. Grindum only blinked, but Jack saw it and hit the lout,
who being twice Jack's size turned upon him and knocked him down. In
half a minute Grindum's teeth had met three times in the lout's calves
and his trousers required reseating, and in three-quarters of a minute
Grindum was sitting down with a bland expression of countenance,
blinking with both eyes at the sky.

Now to continue my lesson on ratting dogs. I have two others, Pepper and
Wasp--one a badly bred spaniel, and the other a terrier of doubtful
parentage. They are both nice cheerful young dogs that it is a pleasure
to see either at play or work, but they are yet young and too apt to get
excited and wild. They _will_, when a rat is out of his hole, in a
hedge, dash up and down the entire length of the field, making enormous
jumps in the air, during which time they listen keenly for the rustle of
the rat in the grass; and once, but only once, Pepper gave a yap when so
rushing about, but I spoke to him so severely about this disgustingly
low habit that he has never done it again.

Wasp is specially good at water, and I have taught him to come to me
directly a rat is bolted with a plunge into a pond, and I carry her high
up in my arms round the pond, and when the rat approaches the side, Wasp
from her high vantage ground will dive down upon it and have it in an
instant. Both dogs are quick killers and will, I am sure, in time be
perfect; but as yet I do not think myself justified in putting them into
a higher class with such dogs as Chance and Tinker.

There! that is all for to-day, young gentlemen. Resume your Cicero, and,
while you are preparing it, I will go to my room and look over the
impositions I set you yesterday. It is understood that for "look over
impositions" we may read, "Smoke cavendish in a short black pipe."



CHAPTER IV.


What do you say, boys? Shall we drop this and have a day's outdoor
practice? To tell the truth, I don't think much of book-learning,
especially if the book is written by myself; but I do believe in
practice. Come along! It is the middle of October--just the nicest time
of the year and the very best for ratting, for the vermin are yet out in
the hedges, fine and strong from feeding in the corn, and with few young
ones about. Come, Jack, we'll get the ferrets first; and off I go with
the boy to the hutch, while the dogs in the kennel, having heard our
steps and perfectly understanding what is up, bark and yap at the door,
jump over each other, tumble and topple about like mad fiends. Before I
get to the box I hear the ferrets jumping up at the sides, and when I
open the lid half a dozen are out in a moment, and these I bag as a
reward for their activity. I throw the others a rat to console them for
being left at home, and, giving the ferrets to Jack, I strap on a big
game bag, take up my spade, return and let the dogs out, and off we
start.

Step out quick, Jack; there are three miles to go before we get to work,
and it is 8 a.m. and I expect a big day. Yes, Chance, old lady, a fine
day--a perfect day--a day to make both the feet and the heart light and
every human sense rejoice. There has been just a little frost in the
night: you can see that by the way the elms have spread a golden carpet
under their branches in the lane and by their leaves that yet keep
falling slowly one by one in the fresh, but dead still, air, and by the
smell of the turnips, the fresh stubble and the newly turned earth
behind yonder plough. The sun shines, cobwebs are floating through the
air and get twisted round one's head, and far and near sounds such as a
cart on the high road, a sheep dog barking, a boy singing, birds
chirping, insects humming, the patter of our own feet, and the
whispering of the brook under the bridge, all form part of a chorus
heaven-sent to gladden the heart of man. I have heard tell, Chance, or I
have seen it in a book, or I have felt it myself, I don't quite know
which, that those who in youth have had such a walk as this, and have
heard the music, smelt the perfumes and seen the sights (that is if they
were blessed with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to take in),
have never forgotten it. The memory appears for a time to pass away
amidst the struggles of life, but it is never dead; to the soldier in
battle, to the statesman in council, or the priest in prayers, to those
in sorrow or in joy or in sickness, there may come, no one knows from
where, no one knows why, a golden memory of such days, of such a walk.
Perhaps it is only a gleam resting but a second upon the mind, and
perhaps leaving it saddened with a longing for days that are past, but
yet I think making one feel a better man, giving one courage and hope,
reminding one that, hard as the battle of life may be to fight, dark and
gloomy as the days may be just now, another morning may arise for us,
far, far more bright and glorious and joyful, one that will not be
shadowed over by a returning night; but then that is only for the brave,
the honest, the truthful--for those who are up early and strive late,
never beaten, never doubting, always pressing forward.

But, come out of that, Wasp! Don't you know that cows kick if you sniff
at their heels? Tinker, old man, keep your spirits up; Pepper, come back
from that wood, for it is preserved. Yes, Jack, I think I'll fill my
pipe again. Baccy does taste good on a day like this; but what doesn't?
I feel like a ten-year-old and as fit as a fiddler. Grindum, give over
blinking and don't look so benevolent. No, Chance, no, old lady, I can't
pull your tail, for you haven't got one. What, Jack, you say I haven't
spoken for the past mile? Well, I suppose I have been thinking, and my
thoughts have not been wholly sad ones. Open the gate; here we are; and
you get over on the other side of the hedge and don't talk or make a
noise, for I can see by the work the rats s-w-a-r-m. Steady, dogs,
steady! And so we start.

The hedge is just what it should be, and if it had been made for ratting
it could not be better. A round bank of soft earth, a shallow ditch with
grass, little bush or bramble, and a gap every few yards. There is a
gateway in the middle, which will make a hot corner later on when
Grindum has taken his stand there; and there is a pipe under the
gateway, the far end of which I shall close. The rats have never been
disturbed, for the runs are as fresh as Oxford Street, and I have
already seen one or two rats run into the hedge lower down from out the
wheat stubble, and, there! that whistle has sent a lot more in. Steady,
Wasp! Well done, Chance; you have marked one in that hole near you, or
more than one, is there? Well, the more the merrier! Stand, dogs, stand!
Are you ready, Jack? And in goes a ferret as lively as quicksilver and
as fierce as a tiger.

For a minute all is quiet; then a slight stir on the other side and two
snaps of Tinker's lantern-jaws, and two rats dead; three others out of a
side hole are killed by Wasp, and three others accounted for by Grindum,
and that fool Pepper is racing and jumping down the hedge a mile off.
Whistle! whistle! and back he comes, and at that moment Jack picks up a
ferret on the other side, it having gone through the hole. Chance sniffs
at it and says it is swept clear, and I block it up with my heel, and
Jack does the same to the bolt-hole, so that if a rat does come back
later on the dogs will have a chance; and then on we go a few yards to
the next hole which Chance marks. This time the ferret went in like a
lion and came out like a lamb, with the blood running out of the side of
its face; and whilst I am examining the bite, a real patriarch rat
bolted at a side hole near Pepper, who strikes at it, misses taking a
proper hold and gets it too far back, and the next moment the blood is
pouring from a bite above his eye; but the rat is dead, and Pepper but
little the worse.

I thought it was too late in the year for young ones, but it was not,
for at the next hole we came to the ferret got into a nest, killed a
lot of young ones and "laid up," and, as I had not a box-trap with me, I
had to dig it out. This took some time, as I lost the hole, and Jack,
whilst down grubbing with his hands, broke into a wrong one in which the
old rat was ready for him, and at once bit him through the end of his
finger. Jack sucked it well and did not mind, but I did not much like
the appearance of things, for in half-an-hour I had had a ferret laid
up, and a dog and a boy bitten badly by rats, and these bites are often
very poisonous. Fortunately this time Jack took no harm and was soon
well. As soon as Jack pulled his hand out of the rat's hole, Pincher put
his long nose in, and all was over in a minute. Soon after I came on the
ferret curled up in a nest of young rats, all minus their heads; and so
that ferret, from being gorged with food, was no more good for work, and
had to be put away with the bitten one.

After this we got on much faster; the holes were close together, and
even with the greatest care lots of rats bolted and went forward, but I
would not allow the dogs to disturb fresh ground by following them. Some
went back, and Pepper and Wasp had a good time, for I let them follow
and work them alone, having stopped all back holes after ferreting them.
Now and then, Jack and I had to go back, as there was an old pollard
tree covered with ivy, and many of the rats got up that, and Pincher had
to be lifted up into the crown to displace them, and then when they
jumped down, three or four at a time, there was a grand scrimmage.

When we had got twenty yards or so from the gateway, Grindum went
forward and stood there and killed a dozen rats that tried to pass, and
a lot more went into the pipe under the roadway. These we left alone,
only after we had passed we stopped up the open end and opened the shut
one, so that in future rats going back might wait quietly in the arch
till we were ready for them. By the time we had got as far as the gate
it was just noon, so we called the dogs back to a tree we had passed,
and then Jack and I sat down and paid attention to the game bag, which
was well provided with cold meat and bread and cheese and a bottle of
beer.

I am not a good hand at picnics and never was. I mean those big
gatherings with ladies, lobster salad, hot dishes, plates, knives,
spoons, champagne, etc. I find the round world was created a little too
low down to sit upon with comfort; my knees don't make a good table;
flies get into my beer and hopping things into my plate. I have to get
up and hand eatables about; things bite me, and more creep about me, and
it does not look well to scratch. The hostess looks anxious about her
glass and plate; someone has forgotten the salt, and some one else the
corkscrew. The host, be he ever so sad, _makes_ fun, and made fun is
magnified misery to me. No, I don't like picnics; I would rather be at
home and feed upon a table; and yet a snack at noon-day, after hard
work, sitting under a tree, with your hands as plates, with a good
"shut-knife," a silent companion and the dogs all round you, _is_
pleasant. Double Gloucester then equals Stilton, and bottled beer
nectar; and then the pipe in quiet, while Jack takes the dogs, after
they have finished the scraps, to the pond to drink. Talk of Havanas!
Well, talk of them, but give me that pipe as I loll, half asleep,
resting against the tree, my legs spread out, and my hat tipped over my
nose. I half close my eyes and go nearly to sleep, but keep pulling at
the pipe, and half unconsciously hear the leaves whispering above, the
insects humming, the stubble rustling, the trembling of a thrashing
machine, and the rush of a train in the far distance. Jack returns from
the pond, throws himself on the ground on his face, kicks his legs in
the air and whistles softly, with the gentle Grindum blinking beside
him. Chance and Tinker lie out full length on their sides and go to
sleep. Wasp stretches on the ground, with her legs out behind her, and
drags herself about with her front feet. Pepper sits down, scratches his
ear, and then dashes at a passing bumble bee, and all becomes a pleasant
jumble of sights and sounds; but, with a start, I recover myself, drop
my pipe, topple my hat off and lose my temper, for that everlastingly
restless, volatile, good-for-nothing, ramshackly beast, Pepper, has been
and licked me all up the side of the face! The dream, the quiet, the
rest is all broken, so, jumping up, I tip my pipe out on the heel of my
boot, give a stretch, grasp the spade, and off we go to finish our job.

For three hours we work our way on, and a line of dead rats on the
headland marks our progress, till at last we reach the bottom of the
field and our bank is done. Pepper has got three more bites, another
ferret is done for by a nip on the nose, and Jack has torn his trousers
and is very dirty; but there is yet the drain pipe under the gate to
attend to, and it is getting on in the day. I cut three or four long
sticks and tie them tightly together, and then to the end of this fasten
a good hard bunch of grass, and back we go to the drain. I go to one end
with Grindum and Pincher, whilst Jack takes the sticks, Pepper and Wasp
to the other end, and gently and slowly shoves the sticks through. Two
venturesome rats bolt at my end and are killed. When the sticks appear I
grasp them and gradually draw the whisp of grass into the drain. It
fits tight and takes some pulling, but it comes steadily along, wiping
all before it. Faster and faster the rats bolt and are killed, and even
old Chance, who began by watching us, gets excited and joins the sport.
Pepper and Wasp dash in for a last worry, which is over in a few
minutes, when twenty-four rats are cast by Jack up on to the bank. Well
done, dogs! well done, good dogs! Woo-hoop, woo-hoop! Good dogs! That's
the way, my boys! Woo-hoop! woo-hoop! And the dogs roll on the ground,
stretch, wipe the dirt out of their eyes with their paws, and rub their
faces in the grass.

Jack goes backwards and forwards and collects the spoil, and we count up
seventy-three real beauties, a few of which I really think should be
fourpenny beasts, they are so big. Never mind, seventy-three rats at
twopence each comes to twelve and twopence--not such a bad day's work;
and, Jack, you shall have a hot supper to-night; and oh, you dogs, you
dogs, think of the supper I will give you! Bones with lots of meat on,
oatmeal and such soup! Think of it, dogs! think of it! And so the work
ends, and all are happy and contented.

Three miles down turning twisting lanes to reach home, Grindum and I
first, then Jack, and the rear brought up by the long and now a little
drooping tail of Tinker. All have had enough; even the volatile
young Pepper trots slowly, and therefore looks ever so much more
business-like.

Before we start the shades are falling, and as we trudge along nature's
evening vespers speak of the closing day. Workmen sitting sideways on
quiet harnessed cart-horses stump past with a friendly "Good night,
neighbour, good night!" Women with children in "go-carts" bustle past
in a hurry to get home and fetch up the supper. Farm horses are drinking
in the pond or browsing on the rank grass at the side; sparrows are
chattering in the old alder bush before going to bed in the ivy on the
church; pigs in the homestead are calling for their supper; the cows
pass us coming home to be milked; rooks fly steadily to the old elm
trees near the Manor; and a robin pipes clear and shrill on the roof of
the shed in the cottage garden. There are partridges calling out "cheap
wheat" in the stubble, and pewits crying on the meadows. Cock pheasants
noisily flutter up to roost in the firs, and the old doctor standing at
his door makes soft music with his violin.

The parson joins us and has a cheery word for all, especially the dogs,
who are all his personal friends; and so we jog on and reach the
village, where the wood smoke rises straight in a blue cloud from the
cottage chimneys, and the fire light sends a ruddy gleam across the
roads. Groups of men and boys stand about resting, little children race
and play, and oh, such a delicious whiff of something stewing, with a
little bit of onion in it, comes from the open door of the village
ale-house! And this reminds us all that our suppers are near, and we
finish the evening's walk quite briskly.

No need to say, "Kennel, dogs, kennel!" All go in of their own accord,
and in five minutes are busy at their savoury-smelling _hot_ supper. The
ferrets are fed and locked up, and then, unlacing our boots at the back
door and kicking them off, the day is done. Supper, rest and quiet, a
pipe, a book, bed and happy dreams are all before us.

"Now, Croker, minor, you will go to the Doctor's study before school
to-morrow. You have been most inattentive, and it is not the first time
I have had occasion to speak to you. You can go now, but don't forget
that this is tub night, as you all have done on the last four occasions.
If I have further complaints on this head from the matron, I shall take
you all out for a long day's rat-catching, so I advise you all to be
very careful." Five minutes later this master is smoking in his room and
says to another master who is doing the same, "I say, Potts, do you know
I think these new lessons on rat-catching are all very well, but I think
they are beyond the capacity of schoolboys. Why, they strain _my_ mind,
and I think they should only be taken up at the universities and during
the last term; and then the boys do so hate them," etc.



CHAPTER V.


"Croker, minor, have you been up to the head-master? Yes? Then sit still
and don't fidget. Boys, pick up your books on rat-catching, and we will
resume yesterday's task."

The last chapter treats of a prime day's rat-catching, where rats were
numerous and known to be numerous; but don't suppose all days are like
this, for if you do you will be sadly disappointed, and you will have a
lot to learn, for there are days, and very pleasant days too, when you
will have to walk mile after mile to find a rat, and even then not be
successful; but you will be out of doors in the fresh air, with devoted
companions and something fresh to see at every step, if you keep your
eyes open. Don't get disheartened, and above all things never say, "Oh,
it is no good looking here or looking there for a rat; there is sure not
to be one. Come on and don't waste time." You often find them in the
most unexpected places.

I once went three times to the house of an old lady, being sent for
because there was a rat that came each night and took her hen's eggs and
carried off young ducks and chickens. I spent hours looking for it in
hedges, ditches, sheds, out-houses and stable, and even put Tinker up on
the roof of all the buildings, thinking the assassin might be under the
tiles; but it was no go.

Night after night the plunderer came, and I began to see that the old
lady did not think much of me. At last, one afternoon, I called again
and began operations by asking to have a dog that was tied up to a
kennel in a back yard led away, as his barking disturbed my dogs. This
was done, and a minute afterwards Chance was sidling round the kennel,
staking her reputation upon the rat being under it. I got out a ferret
and looked round the kennel, and was utterly disgusted to find it was
placed firmly on hard ground without a vestige of a hole. I am sorry to
say I went so far as to sneer at Chance and tell her she did not know
the difference between a dog and a rat. She herself for a moment seemed
in doubt, but the next she went _inside_ the kennel and stood at a hole
in the plank floor. I put the ferret back in the bag and, taking hold
of the kennel, tilted it up, and in an instant the dogs had a
vicious-looking old monster dead.

Now the only possible way that rat could have got in and out of his
house was by passing the dog as he slept, and yet the old lady and her
gardener assured me that the dog was as keen as mustard after rats.

I once killed a rat inside a church. I found it during a long sermon,
but for the life of me I can't remember what that sermon was about. I
was sitting in a seat opposite about a score of village school children,
and suddenly I was struck by their appearance, and the thought passed
through my mind, "How like humans are to dogs! Why, those children look
just like my dogs when they find a rat, especially that flaxen-haired
girl with a front tooth out." Then I noticed that they were all looking
in one direction, and so I looked there too and saw a rat sitting with
just its nose out of a hole which ran under the brick floor, apparently
listening to the sermon. The next morning the parson and I went to the
church. I took one ferret and only Tinker. I chose Tinker because he was
black and rather clerical looking. The rat was at home, and we had it in
five minutes. This was one of the few times I ever did rat-catching
with my hat off, and it felt very queer.

Again, I once killed a mother rat and a lot of young ones which I found
in the stuffing of a spring sofa in a spare bedroom at an old
manor-house. There were rats in the walls, and "Mary Ann" had often seen
a rat in the room when she went in to dust, and it had given her "such a
turn." This time I took all the dogs with me, and we were followed by
the lady of the house, four dreadfully pretty daughters and "Mary Ann."
Madam and Mary Ann got on the sofa, standing, and the four daughters
stood on four chairs round the room. All six clasped their clothes tight
round their ankles--why, I never could think. This was the only time in
her life that I ever found Chance a fool. Directly she got into the
room, she wriggled and twisted, turned her head this way and that, threw
herself on her back and fairly grovelled. Wasp, Pepper, and the
long-tailed Tinker were nearly as bad, and it was plain to see they were
shy and bashful in such a gorgeous room and surrounded by such a galaxy
of beauty. It was the soft-hearted Grindum who saved us; he blinked much,
but directly I said, "Hie round, dogs! Hunt him up! Search him out!" he
went to work--up on the bed, round the room, behind the furniture, and at
last began sniffing round the sofa. I got hot all over, for I thought he
was mistaking an aristocratic lady and her hand-maid for rats; but no,
at last he went under the sofa, and turning over on his back began to
scratch at the underside of it up above him. Madam and Mary Ann jumped
off, and the latter felt another "turn"; then both took refuge on chairs
and again clasped their clothes tight round them. I turned the sofa up
on its back, and there through the sacking near a leg I found a nice
round hole into the interior among the springs. I put a ferret in, and
in a minute there was a rush and scuffle, the sofa seemed alive, and
then three or four small rats bolted out and were accounted for; another
squeak and rush, and out came the mother and was quickly dispatched;
then, as the ferret did not come out, I ripped the sacking and found it
eating a deliciously tender young rat. I bagged the ferret, and while I
did so, Grindum killed three or four small ones. I afterwards found that
the rats had eaten through the wainscot and so got into the room. The
rest of the afternoon was spent in turning over all sorts of furniture,
including beds, and hunting through each room with the dogs; but we
found no more rats as inside lodgers.

Three or four months after this episode, rats swarmed in the walls of
this same house and behind the wainscoting, and my professional
services were called in to get rid of them. How they got into the house
I never discovered, for there were no holes from the outside, and no
creepers on the walls for them to mount by and get on to the roof; the
drains did not appear to communicate with the inside of the house, and
all the doors fitted tight. Equally puzzling was it, now that they were
inside, to get them out, for I dare not put ferrets in, for fear they
should kill a rat and leave it to decay and smell for months.

I tried various plans. I got a live rat, tied a ferret's bell on it, and
turned it loose, and for days after it was constantly heard tinkling
inside the walls; but it did not drive the rats away. I singed the coat
of a rat, put tar on the feet of another and turned them loose; but it
was no good. At last I took possession of a wood-house in a cellar down
in the basement, from which a short passage led to other cellars, and
in the walls of these there were many open holes. First of all I went
carefully over the wood cellar and made sure there were no holes in it;
and then, putting in a few faggots to give shelter to any nervous young
rat, I started each night to feed them with delicious balls of
barley-meal, which were made up with scraps. In this way I gave a rats'
supper-party each night for three weeks, and each morning I found
clean-swept dishes. At last the fatal day arrived. A string was tied to
the handle of the door leading up into the kitchen, the food was placed
in the dishes as usual about ten p.m., and all the household, except
myself, went to bed. I sat over the kitchen fire reading my paper till a
distant clock struck midnight, and then I gave a sharp pull to the
string and heard the door bang to and the fastening fall, and I knew I
had them. I lit a big glass lantern, went round to the stables and let
out all the dogs, took them to the cellar window and slipt them through
quickly, squeezing myself through after them and shutting the window
again. In half no time fifty rats were killed, and all the dogs, except
Tinker, pretty badly bitten; but they were used to that and did not
care. Then I locked the back door behind me, taking the key home to
bring back in the morning when I called to be paid eight and fourpence
for my night's work. Three times in the next three months I went through
a similar performance, and the first time I killed twenty-eight rats,
the second seven, and the third time only two, and these were old
bachelors. Then every hole in the walls was filled up with a cement made
up with broken glass, and I have never heard of a rat in that house
since.

Before I forget it, let me tell you that if a rat dies in the wall, or
under the floor of a house where it can't be got at, its whereabouts can
be discovered in this way, provided the weather is warm. Take a
butterfly net over to the butchers shop, and there catch a dozen
bluebottle flies, and, taking care not to hurt them, slip them into a
glass jar and tie a rag over it. Return to the room where the smell is,
and, shutting the door after you, let your pack of flies loose and sit
down to watch them, and in half-an-hour you will find they are all
buzzing round one spot. Have this spot opened out, be it wall or floor,
and there the dead rat will be found. Has the bell rung? Yes, half a
minute! Put your books away, form two and two outside, and I will take
you for our usual walk. We will resume this task in the morning. Croker,
minor, the top part of Jones' leg was not made to stick pins into. If I
see you do it again, I shall give you a rat to catch, so be careful!



CHAPTER VI.


I trust that, in the five chapters I have written, I have said enough to
give some of my scholars a slight taste and liking for the profession I
am advocating, and in some small degree have weaned their young
affections from such pernicious pastimes as studying classical authors,
doing sums, and cutting their names on their desks. If I have not done
this I have written to little purpose, and I fear the next chapter will
damp off a few who have only followed me and my dogs on fine days in
pleasant paths; but I may as well tell you at once that life is no more
all beer and skittles in rat-catching than it is in such minor
professions as the Army, the Church, the Bar, school-keeping, etc.; and
just to see if you are "real grit," boys, I will show you another
picture.

Jack, get the ferrets while I let the dogs out. We _must_ go and see if
we can find a few rats, for it is a week since the ferrets had flesh,
and we shall have them getting ill; and, Jack, bring four in the little
bag, and put that inside your game-bag, for it looks like rain, and I
don't like to see them half-drowned. Yes, it does look like rain, though
as yet it is only a dull, misty, chilly day in mid-November down here in
the country, but in London it is a thick black fog, and all work is
being done by gaslight. It is bad and depressing here, but ever so much
worse there; so cheer up, dogs, and step out, Jack. We will go down by
the beck and home by the clay-pits, for I know of no other place near
where we are so likely to find a few rats, and I don't want to make a
long day of it.

Go over the bridge, Jack. You take that side with Chance and a young
one, and I will do this side with the other dogs. Hie in, dogs! Search
him out, lads! And on we go, but in two miles we only kill a water-hen
that Pepper catches as it rises out of some sedges, and which goes into
my bag to replenish the ferrets' larder. The mist hangs low, the bushes
are wet, the ground soft, and there is a dreary sigh in the wind. The
cattle are eating fast, as they always do before rain; and the sheep,
startled by the sight of the dogs, caper and jump as they gallop all
down the meadow; and again their playfulness warns me of a wet tramp
home. Some young colts stand at the door of an open shed, dull and
depressed looking, and the horses ploughing on the sides of the hill
send up a thick steam. No birds twitter or sing, no insects hum, distant
sounds are muffled and indistinct. The teams in the waggons on the road
hard by creep along and take little notice beyond a toss of the head at
the carter's whip as he walks beside them with a heavy step cracking it.
The only brisk thing to be seen is the doctor's gig as it whisks past.

"Hie up, dogs! shake yourselves and don't go to sleep! Come over, Jack;
I have had enough of this brook; and if we don't find at the clay-pits,
home we go." And we trudge off to some ponds half a mile further away.
They are well-known to both men and dogs, and the latter bolt on ahead
and arrive first; and when we come up we find them all clustered round a
hole in a high bank 'midst thick dripping bushes. In goes a ferret, but
not in the way I like to see. There is no hurry, no ecstatic wriggle of
the tail as it slowly draws itself into the hole. Then all stand round
expecting to see a rat take a header into the pond; but no, five minutes
pass, and Pepper begins to move, and is told to "stand." Ten minutes
pass, and Jack gets restless. Fifteen minutes, and I begin to shift my
feet, which are planted deep in sticky mud by the side of the pond, and
just then the first drops of rain appear. Ah, there is the ferret! Jump
up and get it, Jack. But before he can do so, it has drawn itself into
the hole backwards, which means that it has killed a rat inside and that
it only came out to tell us so, and that it was going back to have a
good long sound sleep curled up by the rat's warm body. There is nothing
for it but to dig it out; and oh, what a dig, all among roots and thorns
on the sloping sides of the pond, in thick sticky clay, with the rain
coming down in a steady pour! Jack hunches his back and leans against a
tree, Pepper and Wasp wander away down a ditch and scratch for an hour
at a drain that has a rabbit in it, and the old dogs sit and watch me
and drip and shiver. I dig here, I dig there; I slip and fall on the
bank; the water mixed with yellow clay runs up my arm from the spade,
and yet that beastly ferret sleeps peacefully in its warm bed. I lose
the hole, come down on roots as thick as my leg and stones that strike
fire as the spade strikes them; and so two hours of discomfort to all
drift by, and I am just feeling about for the last time with the spike
end of the spade, when I again hit off the hole and, opening it out,
come upon a nice warm rat's nest made of leaves, with the ferret curled
up snugly with a dead rat.

"Home, dogs, home! Cheer up, Jack! Cold are you, and wet? Well, never
mind; only two miles, and we will walk fast. Pepper, Pepper, Wasp, Wasp,
where on earth have you got to? Ah, there you are, and a nice mess you
have made of yourselves trying to scratch out a hole five hundred yards
long. Come along all!" And off we tramp, Jack and I in the middle of
the road, splish splash at every step, the water squirting high up our
gaitered legs, and the dogs, with drooping tails, dripping coats and
woe-begone looks, coming along behind us in Indian file close under the
shelter, such as it is, of the hedge.

We pass the postman, who only nods, and meet a flock of sheep all
draggled and dirty. An empty cart with a sack over the seat stands at
the pot-house, and pigs wander listlessly about the yard with their
backs arched up. Under the waggon-shed some cocks and hens stand each on
one leg, with their tails drooping, apparently too disgusted to prune
their feathers and fly up to roost in the rafters. The smoke beats down
from the chimneys and gets lost in the wind and rain which buffets and
pelts at our back. Cold spots begin to be felt at the bend of our arms
and knees; then a shiver runs down the back, which developes into a
trickle of water that at last gets into our boots and goes squish,
squish, at every step, and at last oozes over the tops; and our teeth
chatter with cold, for now here and there among the rain-drops appear a
few flakes of snow, which rest on the mud of the road for a second, and
then melting, add to the deep slush that trickles down the hill by our
side. At every open shed the dogs shelter a minute, shake themselves
like dripping mops, and with arched backs stand on three legs and
shiver; but we whistle them on and at last reach home. After throwing a
good bundle of dry straw on the kennel benches and feeding dogs and
ferrets, Jack and I get under shelter and soon find ourselves in dry
clothes before a good fire, feeling a little swollen and stiff about our
faces and hands, and much inclined for forty winks.

The wind howls in the chimney, lashes the bare branches of the trees,
rattles the window frames, and appears angry that it cannot get at us,
and the rain drives in fitful gusts against the windows, and hisses in
the big wood fire on the hearth; and as I sit in my snug arm-chair, I
dimly feel that the external storm adds greatly to the internal comfort,
and then I fancy I nod off to sleep, for I think no more till supper is
announced, and hunger and my wife stir me up to consciousness again.

Having finished a good supper and got my pipe drawing beautifully, I
remember one or two things that I think the student should be told. The
first is, never put a line on a ferret when _ratting_. It hampers a
ferret in a narrow, twisting, turning rat's hole, and cutting into the
soft earth at the turns soon brings the ferret to a dead stop. Then
rats' holes are chiefly in hedge-banks, which are full of roots, and the
line is pretty sure to get twisted round some of these, and then it
will be a long dig to free it. Remember, too, a ferret has to go down
the hole and face a beast nearly as big as itself, with teeth like
lancets and with courage to use them, and so should be as free as
possible; and lining a ferret is about equal to setting a student with
the gloves on to fight against another without them. Then some way back
I mentioned ferrets' bells. They are little hollow brass balls with an
iron shot in them that make a pretty tinkling sound, and are supposed to
be tied round the ferret's neck. In my opinion, if you put a bell on it,
you may as well put the ferret in the bag and keep it there. The theory
about bells is, that a ferret running down a hole jingling its bell will
fill a rat with fear and make it bolt, but this is all nonsense; rats
are not so easily frightened. Again, it is said that if a ferret comes
out of a hole in a thick hedge unseen, the bell will let you know where
it is; but I must say I never lost a ferret in a hedge or felt the want
of a belled one. I consider a bell a useless dead weight on a ferret,
and the cord that goes round its neck to fasten it is apt to get hitched
on to a root and hold the ferret a prisoner. A bell is only good for a
sharp shopman to sell to a flat.

I need hardly say, never muzzle a ferret when rat-catching. It would be
brutal not to let the ferret have the use of its teeth to protect itself
with. Muzzling ferrets appertains solely to rabbiting, but it is useful
to know how to do it. Take a piece of twine a foot long, double it, and
tie a loop at the double. Tie the string round the ferret's neck, with
the loop on the top; bring the two ends down under the chin and tie them
together there; pass them over the nose and tie them there, shutting the
mouth tight; pass _one_ string along the nose, between the eyes,
through the loop on the top of the neck, and bending it back, tie it to
the other loose string from the knot on the top of the nose. Cut the
ends off, and, provided you have not made a lot of "granny" knots, your
muzzle will keep on all day. There are other ways of doing the trick,
such as passing the string behind the ferret's dogteeth, bring it under
the jaw, then over the nose, on the top of the neck; tie it there and
again under the neck. I hate this plan, and have seen a ferret's mouth
badly cut by the string. I have heard of another plan which is too
brutal to mention. Cut the muzzle off directly you have done with it,
for I don't suppose a ferret likes having its mouth tied up any more
than you or I should.

Never wantonly hurt any animal, especially those that work for you and
suffer in your service. Just think of the amount of pluck a ferret shows
each time you put it into a rat's hole. Fancy yourself in its place,
going down a lot of dark crooked passages that you don't know, only just
wide enough to allow you to pass, and have to face a beast somewhat like
yourself and as big, that you know will attack you. Why, if ferrets got
V.C.'s, they would, on high days and holidays when they wished to
display them all, have to employ a string of sandwich-men walking behind
them with the boards covered with V.C. Three or four times in my life I
have had ferrets die of the wounds they have received from rats. I have
had them in hospital for weeks, and I have had them blinded. Speaking of
blind ferrets, I am not much of an oculist, but I don't believe a ferret
can see in the dark. I never could find any difference between the way
my blind ferret worked in a hole and that of one with good eyes; in
fact, my blind ferret was as good a little beast as ever killed a rat,
and she did kill many a score after she lost both eyes. I believe a
ferret when in a hole uses a sense we don't possess--I mean the sense of
touch with the long nose whiskers.

Some years ago the _Field_ opened its pages to a long discussion on the
subject of ferrets sucking the blood of their victims after they have
killed them. Writers pretending to know all about it said they did do
so. These men are to be pitied, not laughed at, for you see in the days
of their youth "Rat-catching for the Use of Schools" was not written,
and therefore they had not learnt better. A ferret no more sucks the
blood of the things it kills than a dog does. If you doubt this, give a
fresh-killed rat to a ferret, let it fasten on it, and then peep at the
corners of its mouth, and you will find an opening there into the mouth,
out of which blood would flow if the ferret had it in its mouth; and
look down its throat, you will not find blood in it, nor will there be
blood on the portion of the rat that has been held in its mouth. No,
people are misled by a ferret sending its teeth deep home in the flesh
and making a sucking sound as it with difficulty breathes through its
nose and the corners of its mouth. If you watch a ferret after it has
killed a rat, it will, as soon as it is sure the rat is dead, begin
chewing at the skin of the head or throat till it has made an entrance,
and will then eat the flesh.

To finish this chapter, I will tell you a story which you are never to
put into practice. Some long time ago I found myself far from home in a
country village, and having nothing to do, I went for a walk, and soon
came upon a brother professional rat-catcher; and thinking I might learn
a wrinkle from him that would come in useful, I joined him and carefully
watched him and his dogs. I saw at once that three of the latter were
very good and up to their work; but there was a fourth, a nondescript
sort of beast with a long tail, that appeared quite useless; and I
observed with amusement that directly the man put a ferret into a hole,
the dog tucked its tail tight between its legs and went and stood well
out in the field. I asked the man why he kept such a useless beast, and
with a chuckle he answered, "Well, mate, I'll own up he ain't much to
boast on for rat-killing, nor yet for looks, but he has his use like
some other of we h-ugly ones. You see, sir, I've got one or two ferrets
as won't come out of a 'ole, but stand a peeping at the h-entrance and
waste a lot of time. Then that 'ere dawg comes in useful. I catches him,
lifts him up, and sticks his bushy tail down to the ferret, who catches
tight hold, and I draws it out. Nothing ain't made for nothing, and I
expect that dawg was made for drawing ferrets." The man may have been
right, but I was quite sure the unfortunate dog did not take an active
pleasure in his vocation.

There, young gentlemen, if you have well digested that chapter and
forgotten the story at the end, you can put up your books and form up
for your usual walk to the second milestone and back again; but before
leaving, let me point out to you, Croker, minor, that if that caricature
I have observed you drawing behind your book is meant for _me_, it is,
like most things you do, incorrect; my nose is not so long, and I part
my hair on the left side, not the right.



CHAPTER VII.


Rat-catching and rabbit-catching are two distinct professions, but the
greater part of the stock-in-trade that serves for one will answer for
the other, and it is as well for the professional to be master of what I
think I may call both branches of his business. A rat-catcher who did
nothing but kill rats and refused a day's work with the rabbits would be
like a medical man who would cut off limbs but would not give a pill, or
a captain of a sailing-vessel who would not go to sea in a steamer;
besides in these days it is the fashion to jumble up half a dozen
businesses under one head and name. Just look at what the engineer does.
Why, he is nowhere if he is not (besides being ready, as the engineer
of the old school, to make railways, etc.) a chemist, an electrician, a
diplomat, a lawyer, a financier and a contractor, and even sometimes an
honest man. If you are not in the fashion you are left behind as
an old fogey, and so in this chapter we will discuss the art of
rabbit-catching; and I trust all schoolmasters will furnish you, their
students, with the opportunity of putting in practice in the field what
you learn from this book at your desks.

Well, now for the requirements. We have got the dogs, we have got the
ferrets, spade, bag, etc.; but for rabbiting we must have a much more
costly stock-in-trade if we are to do a big business. We shall require
an ordinary gardener's spade for digging in soft sandy ground, where the
rabbit burrows sometimes go in for yards, and as much as ten feet deep
down; also another spade, longer in the blade than our ratting one, the
sides more turned in, and with a handle ten feet long, with a steel hook
at the end instead of a spike. With this spade we can sink down many
feet after the hole is too deep for the ordinary spade, and the turned
in sides will hold the soft earth and allow you to bring it to the
surface. If you dig down on the top of a rabbit--as you will do when you
know your work--the hook at the end will enable you to draw first it and
then the ferret up by the string. We must have a piece of strong light
supple cord, marked by a piece of red cloth drawn through the strands at
every yard, so that one can tell exactly how far in the ferret is; and
it is as well to have a second shorter cord for work in stiff heavy
ground, where the holes are never deep. Next, we must have two or three
dozen purse-nets, which are circular, about two feet in diameter, with a
string rove round the outside mesh fastened to a peg. These are for
covering over bolt holes to bag a rabbit when driven out by the ferrets.
The nets should be made of the very best string, so as to be as light
and fine as possible. The mesh should be just large enough to allow a
rabbit's head to pass through.

Like the postscript to a lady's letter, the chief item I have saved till
the last, and I fear it will be some time before the ordinary
rabbit-catcher will be able to afford it. I refer to long nets, which
are used for running round or across a piece of covert to catch the
rabbits as they are bustled about by the dogs. A rabbit-catcher in full
swing should have from eight hundred to a thousand yards of this, for
with a good long net he will often kill as many rabbits in a few hours
as he could do with the ferrets in a week.

I myself keep no special dog for rabbit-catching, chiefly because I have
a neighbour who will always let me have a cunning old lurcher that he
keeps, which is as good as gold, and as clever as a lawyer, and
desperately fond of a day with me and my dogs.

I have three male ferrets, real monsters, strong enough to trot down a
burrow and drag five or six yards of line after them with ease.

Having described all the tools, etc., necessary for work, I will now jot
down, as an exercise for you students, a nice easy day's rabbiting that
actually took place a few weeks ago--a sort of day that quite a young
beginner might work with success. There had been a sharp rime frost in
the night, which still hung about in shady spots at eight o'clock in the
morning, as Jack and I marched off with my dogs and ferrets, accompanied
by old Fly, the lurcher. By nine a.m. we began working field hedge-rows
and banks, where rabbits were pretty plentiful and had been established
for years in every description of burrow. There had been a lot of
partridge and other shooting going on over this farm for the last month,
and most of the rabbits had got a dislike to sitting out in the open,
and were under ground, so we began at the burrows at once, the dogs
driving every rabbit that was sitting out in the hedge back to their
burrows as we walked along. We began work in a stiff clay bank far too
hard for the rabbits to make deep holes in, and here we got on fast. I
took the ditch side--in fact, I took the ditch itself--with a big ferret
with a short line on, and I ran it into each hole I came to. Jack on the
other side looked out for the bolt holes, and always laid down a little
to one side, as much as possible out of sight, but with a hand just on
the bank over the hole ready to catch a bolting rabbit. Fly and the
other dogs took charge of the other holes, and all kept as quiet as
possible. In went the ferret, slowly dragging the line after him till I
count two yards gone by the red marks on the line; then there is a halt
for half a minute, then a loud rumbling and the line is pulled fast
through my fingers. Jack moves quickly, and the next instant a rabbit is
thrown a little way out into the field with its neck broken. Jack says,
"Ferret out," then picks it up, draws the line through the hole, passes
the ferret over to me, and we go on to the next, having filled up the
entrance of the hole we have just worked. Hole after hole was ferreted
much in the same way. Sometimes Jack bagged the bolting rabbit,
sometimes the dogs, and now and then one bolted and got into the hedge
before it could be caught and went back, but it was little use, for the
dogs with Fly at their head were soon after it, and in a few minutes Fly
was sure to have it, and would retrieve it back to Jack.

As we worked round a big field, we got into softer ground, a red sand
and soil mixed; and here the holes were much deeper and often ran
through the bank and out for yards under ground into the next field.
Here Jack and I changed places, Jack doing the ferreting, and I going to
his side with the garden spade. One, two, three, four, five yards the
ferret went and stopped, and all was quiet. I listen, but not a sound.
Jack pulls gently on the line and finds it tight, and for a minute we
wait, hoping a rabbit may bolt from the hole the ferret went in at. But
no such luck. I take the small ratting-spade, and with the spike end
feel into the ground at the foot of the bank, and at once come upon the
hole; this I open out and clear of earth, and Jack, who has crept
through the hedge, kneels down and finds the line passing this hole in
the direction of the field and going downwards. At that moment there is
a sound like very distant thunder, and the line is pulled quickly four
yards further into the hole, and the marks show six yards are in. I go
about this distance out into the field, lie down and place my ear close
to the ground. I shift about in all directions listening intently, and
at last hear a faint thudding sound. I shift again a few inches in this
direction, and lose it; in that, and recover it; again a few inches, and
the sound is directly under my head, but pretty deep down. I take the
big spade and open out a hole a yard square, and dig down as far as I
can reach. I get into the hole and sink deeper. I have to enlarge it a
foot all round to get room, and then I dig down again till only my head
appears above ground when I stand up. Then I take the long spade, and
with that sink two more feet, and plump I come on the top of the hole,
and the ferret shoves a sand-covered head up and looks at me. I reverse
the long spade and catch the line with the hook and pull the ferret up,
and then calling Jack, I send him head first into the well-like pit,
holding on to one of his feet myself as I lie flat on the ground to
allow him to go deep enough. In a minute a dead rabbit is taken out and
two live ones, whose necks Jack breaks as he hangs suspended, and then I
pull him up with his plunder, and he rights himself on the surface, very
red in the face, very sandy, spluttering and rubbing his eyes. Then the
ferret is swung down again by the line, it goes a little way into the
hole and returns, and so we know we have made a clean sweep. The big
hole is filled up and stamped down, and after filling a pipe and resting
a few minutes, on we go with our work.

On the high sandy part of the field we have several deep digs like the
above, with varying success, and we rejoice when we reach the last side
of the field and get into clay again, where holes are short and most of
the rabbits bolt at once. During all the day we only stopped once for
half-an-hour to get a snack of bread and cheese, and by the time the
cock partridges began to call their families together for roost, and the
teams in the next field to knock off ploughing, we are all, man, boy,
dogs and ferrets, fairly tired, and are glad to tumble seventeen couple
of rabbits into the keeper's cart that has been sent out for them, and
trudge off home ourselves.

Now for another day's sport that was quite different. No dogs with us,
only a bag of ready-muzzled ferrets, a bundle of purse nets and a spade.
Success will depend on perfect quiet, and even the patter of the dogs'
feet would spoil our sport, so they are at home for once, and Jack and I
are alone. It is one of those soft mild dull days that now and then
appear in mid-winter, a sort of day to gladden the heart of foxhunters
and doctors, and to make wiseacres shake their heads and say "most
unseasonable." It is a good day for Jack and me, and we feel confident
as we steal into a plantation of tall spruce firs, placed so thick on
the ground that beneath them is perpetual twilight, and not a blade of
grass or bramble to hide the thick carpet of needle points. Softly we
creep forward to a lot of burrows we know of in the corner of the wood,
and then I go forward alone and spread a net loosely over every hole,
firmly pegging it down by the cord. This done I stand quietly down-wind
of the holes, and Jack comes and slips the six ferrets all into
different holes, and then crouches down on his knees. All is quiet; only
the whisperings of the tree-tops, the occasional chirp of a bird, or the
rustle of a mouse in the dead leaves. Five minutes pass, and then out
dashes a rabbit into a net, which draws up round it. Jack moves forward
on tip-toe, kills the rabbit and takes it out of the net, and covers the
hole again. While he is doing this, three more rabbits have bolted and
got netted, one has escaped, and a ferret has come out. The captured
ones are killed, the ferret sent into another hole, and for an hour this
work goes on, and during all the time neither of us have spoken, for we
know there is nothing that scares wild animals more than the human
voice, unless it is the jingle of metals, such as a bunch of keys
rattling. They dread the human voice because they have had too much
experience of it, and the rattle of metal because they have not had
experience enough of it, for it is a sound they have never heard, and
nothing like, in the quiet woods and fields. On the other hand, animals
pay but little attention to a whistle, for in one shape or another they
are constantly hearing it from their feathered companions.

But to go back to our netting. An hour over, we pick up the ferrets as
they come out and bag them, and then I go off to some fresh holes and
spread the nets again, and we repeat the same performance; and during
the day we kill, without any digging or hard work, about twenty-two
couple of rabbits. In the above account I have written of a day's sport
that took place in a fir plantation in a little village in Norfolk,
where it would have been madness to work the ferrets without muzzling
them, for they would have been sure to kill some rabbits in the holes
and then have laid up; but I should mention that I have killed many
rabbits in the same way on the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire, and I
was much astonished when I first got there to find men who thoroughly
understood their business working their ferrets under nets without
muzzling them. I adopted the plan myself, and have rarely had a ferret
kill a rabbit underground. For some reason that I could never find out,
a Cotswold rabbit will always bolt from a hole with a ferret in if it
can. It is well known in Norfolk that if a rabbit is run into a hole by
dogs, you may ferret it if you like, but it will never bolt, and it must
be dug out. But in Gloucestershire I have seen the same rabbit bolt out
of a hole, get shot at, be run by dogs, go to ground, and again bolt at
once from a ferret. Few professionals ever use a line on a ferret on the
Cotswold, one reason being that the burrows are nearly all in rocky
ground, and there would be danger of the line being caught in the
numerous cracks; besides it is not required, for a rabbit there is sure
to bolt, and for this reason it is twice as easy to kill rabbits in
Gloucestershire as it is in Norfolk, especially in the sandy or soft
soil of the latter county.

Let me here beg of all my readers, especially students, never to keep a
poor rabbit alive in their hands a second. I don't suppose any who read
this book could be so unsportsmanlike and brutal as to keep a rabbit
alive to course and torture over again with dogs, or for the fun of
shooting at the poor little beast. Such ruffians should never be allowed
a day's sport on a _gentleman's_ property. They are only fit to go out
mole-catching. No, directly you have a live rabbit in your hand, take it
by its hind legs with your right hand, and the head with your left, with
two fingers under its face; with these fingers turn the head back, and
give the rabbit a smart quick stretch, and in an instant all its
sufferings are over. Never hit it with your hand or a stick behind the
ears: first, because you are not quite sure to kill it with the first
blow; and secondly, if you do, half the blood in the rabbit will settle
in a great bruise at the spot where it was struck, and make that portion
unfit for table.

That is sufficient for this morning, and you may now turn to a little
lighter work with some algebra.



CHAPTER VIII.


Fortunately I don't live by the sea. I say fortunately, because I look
upon the sea as a swindler, for it robs one of just half one's little
world and upsets all calculations by forcing one to live in a mean
semicircle. I actually know a rat-catcher who is stupid enough to live
in a village on the east coast, and half his time he and his dogs are at
home in idleness and are half starved, because the ever-restless
tiresome sea rolls about and disports itself over all that is east of
the village, so the poor man can only go rat-catching in one direction.
Now and then I go to the sea-side, but when I go there it is on
business--not in my Sunday clothes and with a "tripper's" return
ticket, but with my dogs, ferrets, nets (the long ones) and the boy
Jack; he and I dressed in our well-worn corduroys, gaiters, and navvy
boots; and instead of choosing a town to visit with Marine Parade,
Esplanades, Lodgings to let, Brass Bands, Nigger Minstrels and spouting
M.P.'s, we go to a little village unknown to "trippers," and put up at a
small inn for a week or ten days. We sleep in a room not unlike a
hay-loft, and take our meals and rest in the common kitchen, with its
rattling latticed windows and sanded floor.

We go there twice each winter to kill rabbits on what are called the
"Denes," which are great, wide, down-like lands on the top of the steep
earth cliff, partially covered with the ever-flowering gorse, a cover
dear to rabbits and all sorts of game. We reach the inn in time for an
early dinner; and after we have housed the ferrets in a big tub and the
dogs in a warm dry shed with heaps of straw to sleep on, Jack and I
despatch our food and then start off to inspect the field of our future
operations. We have not far to go. First down the street, past two or
three dozen flint-pebble cottages; past the church, with its square
tower so high that it makes the really big church look small in
proportion; past the rectory; past the schools, where some forty or
fifty future fishermen and sailors have just finished their tasks for
the day and come rolling out, dressed all alike in dark, sea-stained,
canvas trousers and thick sailor jerseys; past the low one-storied
cottage where the old retired naval captain has lived for many years,
and then up a sandy lane between high crumbling banks and out on to the
open Denes. We take a path that runs close along on the top of the
cliff, mounting a steep hill as we go till we reach a spot half a mile
further on, where the sea cliff is four hundred feet high and nearly
perpendicular; and here among the ruins of an old church, part of which
has fallen with the slipping cliff into the sea many years ago, Jack and
I halt and take a look round. We are on the highest spot within miles,
and spread out in front of us, as we face inland, are, first, the
down-like hills, dotted over with patches of gorse and with turf between
as fine and soft as a Persian carpet; then cultivated fields intersected
by thick hedges; and in the distance we could distinguish a clustering
village here, a homestead there, an old manor-house in its well-kept
garden and park-like grounds, and in all directions the square, solid,
picturesque towers of village churches peeping from among the trees,
that became thicker and thicker the further the eye travelled from the
sea. Close to our left, just under the shoulder of a hill which protects
it from the keen east wind off the sea, is a tiny village of some ten
cottages, all different, all neat and snug-looking, each in its own
garden. There is a stand of bee-hives in one, a honeysuckle-covered porch
to another, and, though it is mid-winter, there is a warm home-like look
about all. Then there is the one farm-house, well kept and well cared
for, but old and belonging to other days, as its gables and low windows
denote; and from our high hill we look over the house into a garden and
orchard beyond, both enclosed by grey lichen-covered walls. On either
side in front of the house are the farm buildings, all, from the big
barn to the row of pigsties, thatched with long reeds, which give the
whole a pleasant English home appearance.

There are big yards filled with red and white cattle up to their middle
in straw, others full of horses or young calves; cocks and hens are
everywhere, ducks and geese swim in the big pond by the side of the
road, and turkeys, so big and plump they make one long for Christmas,
mob together in the yard, and the turkey-cocks "gobble-gobble" at a boy
who is infuriating them by whistling. A man crosses the yard with two
pails on a yoke, evidently going a-milking; and another passes with a
perfect hay-stack on his back, and a dozen great heavy horses come out
of the stable in Indian file and stump off to the pond to drink. Beyond
the farmstead, in a field on the right of the road, is a double row of
heaped up mangels and swedes; and a little further on are a number of
stacks, so neatly built and thatched that it seems quite a pity they
should soon be pulled down and thrashed, but all showing signs of
prosperity and plenty.

Beyond this stands a tiny church, with reed-thatch roof. It is all,
church and tower, built of round flint stones as big as oranges,
cleverly split in two and the flat side facing outwards; and from the
dog-tooth Saxon arch over the door one knows it has seen many
generations pass away and find rest from the buffets and storms of the
world in the peaceful, carefully-tended "God's acre" that surrounds it.
If one passed down the red gravel churchyard path, and on in front of
the south door to the far corner, under the big cedar, a small door
would be found, which would lead through a well-kept, old-fashioned
garden to the Rectory: a good old Elizabethan house, covered with thick
creepers up to the very eaves, the model of one of England's snug
homes--homes that have turned out the very best men the dear old land
has produced, to fight, struggle, conquer or die in all professions, in
all parts of the world; men who in such shelters learned to be honest
and true, brave and persevering, lions in courage, women in gentleness;
who could face hardships and poverty without a moan, and prosperity and
riches without swagger; and through all the difficulties of life thought
of the old home, and when success arrived, be they ever so far away,
packed up and came back to finish their days in just such another home
and such surroundings.

Turn round now, Jack; turn round and take a look at the restless sea
rolling its big waters on the smooth strip of sand there below _on this
side_; and on the other, Jack, far, far away over there in the south, on
the other side of the world, laving the roots of the palm and the
mangrove, beneath the burning rays of tropical suns; and away round
here, Jack, far in the north, dashing its storm-driven waves against the
face of frost-bound rocks and treacherous icebergs. There on the dancing
waters, with all sails set, chasing the lights and shadows as they flit
before it, sails a boat bound south to sunny climes. There on the
horizon, against wind and wave, steams a collier, taking fuel to lands
where the snow lies deep on the ground for four months in the year; and
right and left, outward bound or coming home, are various white sails
dotting the waters. But, Jack, how about supper? I ordered eggs and
bacon for supper, and those chimney corners at the inn looked as if they
might be snug and warm to smoke a pipe in afterwards before turning in.
Step on, Jack, and have supper ready in half an hour, while I go round
by the Rectory and see if the two young gentlemen are at home. They are
the right sort, and as keen as Pepper after the rabbits, and they always
have half a dozen good terriers as fond of the sport as they are.

At the Rectory I received a kindly welcome from Miss Madge Ashfield, the
rector's only daughter and the sister of the two lads I came to enquire
for; and I was told that they were not yet back from school, but were
expected in three days, and that only that morning a letter came from
them asking when I was likely to come and work the Denes. I comforted
Miss Madge, who at first feared the pick of the sport might be over
before her brothers arrived, by telling her that for the next four days
Jack and I should be busy "doctoring" holes, and that during that time
we could not "away with" boys or dogs, as both were too noisy for the
work.

Miss Madge took me round to the kennels to see some rough wire-haired
terriers, old friends; also three new ones, all supposed to be wonders;
and she told me she would arrange for her brothers to bring one day five
small beagles belonging to a friend.

Jack and I did our duty by the ham and eggs that night at the inn, and
the pipe in the old-fashioned chimney corner was very sweet; and if the
beds were a bit hard and knubbly, we did not keep awake to think of
them, for we had both been up since day-break. By eight o'clock the next
morning we had finished breakfast, given the dogs a few minutes' run to
stretch their legs, fed the ferrets that were not wanted, and were on
our way to the Denes, each with two strong male ferrets, a spade, and
game-bag with cold meat and bread in it. We were on our way to "doctor"
the burrows, and this is done by running a muzzled ferret that has first
been smeared with a little spirits of tar down every hole, with a line
on it. It is necessary to keep very quiet, so as to get the rabbits to
bolt. We don't want to kill a single rabbit, but only to disturb hole
after hole, bolt what rabbits we can, and leave a nice sweet smell of
tarred ferret behind us. No time is lost. Jack goes one way and I
another, and every hole is visited till evening shades stop us; then
back home to supper and bed, and at it again in the morning; but on the
second day we begin by visiting each hole we ferreted the day before,
stopping them tight down with sods, and sticking a piece of white paper
on the top of such stopped holes. No fear of shutting in a rabbit, as
the smell of the tarred ferret will keep them out for days; and no fear
of their opening the stopping, as the paper will drive them away. For
four days this work goes on, and we are ready to wager there is not a
hole in the cliffs or Denes that is not doctored, and not a rabbit that
is not above ground.

It was Wednesday night when we had finished, and that evening the two
boys from the Rectory came down to the inn to see us and get
instructions for the morrow; but I was glad they did not stay long, for
we wanted to go to bed early, so as to get a good night and yet be up
betimes. By eight o'clock next morning, Jack and I were already back
from the Denes, after having run out one thousand yards of long nets.
The nets are in lengths of about one hundred yards, and two feet six
inches high, made of fine string, and each of the top and bottom meshes
knotted on to a cord that runs the entire length. To set these nets,
they are threaded on to a smooth stick, four feet long, and the stick
with the nets on is thrown over a man's shoulder. The man walks off with
the nets along the border of the piece of ground to be enclosed, while
another, after fixing the end of the first net fast to a starting stick,
follows behind. As the man with the net proceeds, he lets the net slip
slowly off the stick on his shoulder, piece by piece; and, as it comes
down, the man behind picks up the top line, gives the net a shake, and
twists the line round the top of stakes previously placed in the ground
about fifty yards apart, taking care as he goes that the bottom of the
net lies for a few inches on the ground. In this way squares of gorse of
about two hundred yards can be entirely enclosed, and every rabbit
inside them surrounded like sheep inside a fold.

Our breakfast over, we were soon out again with all our dogs (except old
Chance, who had been left at home on account of her age, and also on
account of her trick of always liking to go up to the carrier's each
night to sleep), and we had also two real good lurchers. At the foot of
the Denes we met the boys from the Rectory, with a friend about their
own age, and the curate of the next parish with a business-like ash
stick under his arm; and among them they had mustered a pack of ten
terriers, some of which wanted to begin work by a fight with my dogs;
but it takes two to make a quarrel, and my dogs knew better than to
waste their strength in fighting when there was a day's work in front of
them.

In a few minutes we were at the first piece of netted gorse--a real
tearer, close, compact and a mass of thorns; but what dogs or boys care
for gorse thorns when rabbits are on foot? So it is, "Over you go,
boys!" "Hie in, dogs! Roust them out there!" and the old dogs spring the
nets and are at work in a minute, while the young ones blunder and
struggle in the nets, and have to be lifted over. The curate, Jack and
I, and the man who drove the cart with the nets, and who will carry off
the dead rabbits, stand at the nets and take out and kill the rabbits
that get caught; and for the first hour we have as much as we can do,
and work our hardest. Many rabbits do get through the nets, and others
go back, and these latter it is difficult to get into the nets a second
time, and they are killed by the dogs in the thick gorse. Yap! yap! yap!
"Hie in, good dogs! hie in, young ones! Ah! back there! back! no going
over the nets! Would you? Look here! hie there! in you go!" Yap! yap!
yap! all scurry, rush and bustle; and the Rectory boys and their friend
are all over the square at once, and in ten minutes so tingle from
innumerable pricks from the gorse that they are benumbed and feel them
no more. "Go, Fly, go!" and a big hare dashes out, with Fly after it,
and both jump the net and make for another clump of gorse; but Fly has
never been beaten since she was a puppy, and soon returns with the hare
in her mouth. "Hie in, dogs! hie in!" There are more yet, and we are
bound to make a clean sweep; and so the work goes on.

First one patch, and then another, till lunch-time, which said lunch,
according to a long-standing custom, comes up in a cart from the
Rectory; but after snatching a hurried bit, the man and I have to bustle
away to shift the nets, a work that keeps us hard at it for an hour and
more; but long before we have done, the boys, parson and dogs are at it
again in one of the first patches we have surrounded, and it is night
and the moon is up before we have finished and picked up the nets. We
find on counting the bag that we have two hundred and seventy rabbits,
and feel content with our day's work. On Friday and Saturday the same
work, and when we turned homewards on this last night, it was as much as
man, boys or dogs could do to drag themselves along; but we had killed
six hundred and fifty rabbits in the three days and were well content.



CHAPTER IX.


Sunday was to us all a real day of rest, and we enjoyed every minute of
it, and for once listened to a very long sermon without the fidgets. The
Rectory boys came up for a chat in the afternoon, so we let the dogs out
and went down to the beach and strolled quietly about, neither dogs nor
humans indulging in anything like play--all were too stiff and sore to
think of it.

We were all out again early on Monday morning, but without nets and
taking only sticks; and we spent a short day, with a long lunch, looking
up outlying rabbits in the hedges of the farm at the foot of the Denes;
and here the two lurchers, who during the days at the nets had taken it
easy and refused to face the gorse, had the chief of the work, for
directly a rabbit was started by the other dogs, it made straight off
across the open for the gorse on the Denes, and the lurchers were the
only dogs fast enough to catch them. We finally had to give up work
because the dogs of all sorts were too tired to move, and also because
the weather, that had been fine and calm all the previous week, began to
break, and before we reached shelter there was half a gale sending big
green waves thundering on to the beach and carrying the salt spray far
inland.

That night, after Jack was in bed and asleep, I put on my hat and
went out, called by the noise of the waters. I joined a group of
weather-beaten hard-featured men dressed in thick blue jerseys and
"sou-wester" hats, who stood with their hands tucked deep into their
trouser pockets, watching the sea from behind the shelter of a boat
stranded high up on the beach. I got a civil word of greeting as I came
up, and then we all watched in silence, for by this time the "half gale"
had become a storm, and it was only by shouting we could have made each
other hear. It was a wild weird scene, awe-inspiring, but intensely
attractive--at least _I_ found it so; but then such scenes did not often
come before me, and I daresay my companions, who were well used to being
out on such a night, only felt thankful they were safe on shore, and
thought with anxiety of those of their friends and neighbours who were
out battling with the storm. The moon when I reached the beach was
nearly at the full and high up in the heavens, but it shed a fitful
light, as each few seconds dark clouds and veils of mist flew across its
face. One moment the sea lay before us a dark black mass, only marked
along the beach by a broad strip of breaking, foam-crested waves; and
the next it was a dancing, tossing, roaring sheet of ever-changing
liquid silver; or far away we would see the spray like pearls rising
high in the air before the storm, and at our feet the waves curled up
like huge furious monsters, dashing at the sands and shingle as if bent
on destruction, and then with a swirl sliding back, a mass of foam, to
meet and join the next wave, and with its help again come on to the
attack.

Over and over again I fancied I could hear the shrieks and groans of
people in distress, and I turned for confirmation of my fancies to the
faces of my companions; but all remained unmoved, but bore the quiet
determined look that assured me that, had any unfortunate beings called
for help from the midst of those wild waters, at the risk of those men's
lives it would unhesitatingly have been given. Once for a moment, when a
thin mist swept before the moon and made the light on the waters appear
more like day than night, I clearly saw on the horizon the upper part of
a ship's masts, with some sails bent to their yards, and all heeled over
as if the ship were then about to founder, and I gave a loud
exclamation; but an old sailor put his hand on my shoulder and called in
my ear, "All right, master, all right! We have watched her for a quarter
of an hour trying to make the point of the sands yonder, and she is now
past them and has an open sea. She is as safe as you are now, thank God;
but it was a near shave, and we thought she and all in her were gone."
Often since then in my dreams I have seen that wind-tossed sea, and
heard the roar of the waters and the screams of the storm, and seen
those masts and sails heeling over, and have awoke with a start and
dread fear in my heart.

I had been tired when I came in from work, and I had a snug warm bed
waiting for me, and moreover I reasoned that watching a storm in the
dead of night was no part of a rat-catcher's duty; but I was so
fascinated I could not tear myself away, and I stood with my companions
behind the boat till long after midnight. Then two other figures dressed
like my companions joined us, and it was only when they spoke that I
recognised one as the parson of the parish, and the other as the young
curate who had helped us with the rabbits. Both asked a few questions of
the sailors, who seemed eager to give them information; and then the
rector, turning to me, said: "You will be perished by the cold if you
stand here longer. Come with me, and I will show you a picture of a
different sort, but yet one that I think will interest you." I readily
accepted and followed my friend, who, though far from a young man, bore
the buffeting of the storm manfully; and he led me up through the
village street, and then turning down a short steep lane brought me to a
little cove that was partly sheltered by a spit of rock that jutted out
into the sea. There, such as it was, was the harbour of the village, and
by the fitful light I could see some dozen fishing boats drawn up high
on the beach above the force of the waves; and beyond, a cluster of low,
one-storied cottages and sheds, with small boats, spars, timbers,
windlasses, etc., all denoting the home of fishermen. From this cove,
early that morning, two boats had sailed with their nets for the fishing
grounds out beyond the sands, and it was for these my friends behind the
boat were patiently watching, and it was to say a few words to cheer and
comfort the wives and families of these men that the old rector had now
come.

From a latticed window just in front of us a bright lamp shed its rays
over the cove, and the rector took me straight to the door of this
house, and having knocked and been told to come in, he lifted the latch
and ushered me inside. The room was like hundreds of others along that
coast, the homes of the toilers of the deep, and bore evident signs of
being made by men more used to ships than stone or brick buildings. It
was a good large room, very low, with heavy rafters overhead, which,
with the planks of which the walls were constructed, had doubtless been
taken from boats and ships that had served their time on the sea. The
open fireplace at the end, with its wide chimney, was the only part of
the building not made of old ship timbers and planks, and there was a
strong smell of tar from these and from sundry coils of dark rope that
were stowed away in a far corner. The long table down the middle of the
room was of mahogany and had seen better days in a captain's cabin. The
benches round the walls had served as seats on some big ship's deck; and
there were swinging lamps and racks hung overhead from the rafters, with
rudders, boat-hook, snatch-block, belaying pins, and various things I
did not know the use of; but all were neatly arranged. There was a large
arm-chair made out of a barrel set ready by the side of the hearth, on
which were spread clean flannel clothes to warm and air, in readiness
for the home-coming of the wet and tired husband.

In front of the fire, attending to it and to three or four pots and
kettles that simmered on the hearth, stood a woman about thirty years of
age--just an ordinary fisherman's wife, strong and well shaped, without
beauty of feature, but bright and intelligent looking; and when a smile
lit up her face, it shed such a kindly ray that one felt that the
husband in the little fishing boat on the storm-tossed deep might have
his eyes fixed on the lantern burning in the window, but it would be the
light of the wife's smile that kept his hand steady on the helm and
guided the boat, and made him long to round the point and come to
anchor.

On the other side of the hearth was another arm-chair, also made out of
a barrel, but much smaller; and in this, packed tightly and snugly round
with cushions, half-sat, half-reclined a boy about ten years of age;
but, alas! a pair of crutches leaning in the corner beside him at once
told a sad tale. I know the points and beauties of all sorts of dogs,
and always admire them, but I am not much of a hand at the good points
and beauties of men and women, and as for boys, it is rare I see
anything but mischief written in their faces; but somehow I could not
take my eyes off the boy in the chair. I suppose because it was so
different to an other young face I had ever seen, and so different to
what one might expect to find amid the surroundings of a fisherman's
cottage.

It was a dark, delicate, oval face, like a girl's, with finely cut
features, and a complexion as fair as the petals of an apple blossom;
but it was his great brown eyes and long eyelashes, black as night, that
held the attention, together with a look of deep patient suffering,
mingled with gentleness and love that lit all up, and filled even the
heart of a rough old rat-catcher like me with a feeling of deep pity and
an intense desire to protect and befriend a small creature who looked
too fragile, too beautiful, and too good for this old work-a-day world
of ours, and as if he were only tarrying for a short while before going
to his eternal home, where his features will be beautified by perfect
love, and will lose the look of suffering and pain.

The rector, taking off his "sou'-wester" as he entered, turned to the
woman with a cheery voice, and said, "Well, Mary, how are you and the
boy?--how are you, my man? I happened to be passing" (just as if it were
quite a common thing for a parson to be out on the loose at one a.m. on
a winter's night), "and I thought I would just call in to say that the
men at the boats tell me that the bark of this gale is far worse than
its bite, and that it is a fair, honest, rattling gale that such good
sailors as your husband care nothing for, and that we may expect the
boats in with the daylight, so you may keep the pots boiling. But why
isn't that youngster snug in bed and asleep? Oh! he can't sleep when the
wind howls, and Jack is away! Why, my boy, Jack will laugh at you when
he comes home, and say he don't want such big, tired-looking eyes
watching for him! Well, it will be morning soon, and, please God, Jack
will be here, and will have popped you into bed himself before most of
the world are up and about." At this Mary smiled; and the little boy,
with a low laugh, said: "Jack knows Mary and I are waiting for him. Jack
says he can often see us, and all we are doing, when he is out at sea in
a raging storm, and the night is ever so dark; and he'd feel bad, Jack
would, if I was not up to see him eat his supper; and besides, Mary
could not sit here alone and listen to the wind and sea, and I am never
tired and sleepy when waiting for Jack. Besides, Jack says he must tell
someone all he has done and seen while he gets his supper, and Mary is
too busy after the nets and things, so I sit here, and Jack tells me of
such wonderful things: it is just lovely to hear him."

The rector would not sit down, and soon hurried me off to another
cottage, much such another as the first; but instead of Mary and the
boy, we found a great, tall, gaunt old woman, sitting up before the
fire, waiting for her two grandsons, who were away in the same boat with
Jack; but to the rector's cheery, hopeful words, the woman answered with
a bitter, sharp, complaining tongue: "I don't want no stop-at-home idle
chaps to tell me what a storm is. Danger! who says there's danger?
Danger with a little puff of wind like this? Not but what both of those
boys will be washed ashore one day as their grandfather and father were.
It's in the blood, and trying for a lone woman. Drat the boys! I told
them not to go off with Jack. I could see plain for days that it was
coming on to blow; but oh, no! they know better than me, who have lived
to lose their father in such a storm as this, and to see his boat with
my own eyes go to pieces on the Point as she came in, and not a man
saved, and me left with them boys to keep. God only knows how I did it,
and now they are that masterful they won't pay no attention to me." And
then, as a hurricane of wind dashed at the door and windows and sent the
smoke from the wood fire far out into the room, the poor old thing
started and turned to the night outside with a look of terror; and, as
the storm rushed on, and then there was a lull, she threw her apron over
her head and sobbed for fear and deep anxiety for her grandsons.

The rector comforted her with gentle words and praise of her pluck and
nerves; and as he and I returned to the beach, he told me that the old
woman had once been the prettiest girl for many miles round, that when
her boys were far too young to help her the father had been drowned by
the upsetting of his boat on the Point, and from that day she had
worked and toiled, mending nets and selling fish in fair weather and
foul, often weary and half-starved, but succeeding in the end to keep
her old cottage over her head, and to bring her boys up respectably and
turn them out two of the smartest fishermen along the coast.

As we left the cottage the first tender light of the morning was paling
the eastern sky far out to sea, and hastening on to the Point, we could
just make out a distant sail appearing now and then out of the departing
darkness of the night, and before half an hour was over the rector
declared it to be Jack's boat coming in fast before the wind. All the
village was astir in a minute, old men and young women and children
hurrying to the cove and making ready for the home-coming; and in a few
minutes the boat, with Jack holding the helm and the old woman's boys
sitting crouched low down, dashed past the Point, turned sharp into the
cove, and down in a moment fell the sail and the anchor-chain rattled
out of the bows. There was no cheering or noisy welcome or rejoicing,
for such scenes were the daily incidents in the life of the village; but
everyone lent a helping hand, and in a few minutes Jack and his men were
on shore. The old grandmother was there, but took no notice of her
grandsons, who marched off to the cottage laden with oars, etc., where
the old woman had just preceded them to put out the breakfast.

The rector and I turned to go home, and as I passed the cottage where
Jack lived I glanced in and saw him standing on the hearth, tall,
massive, weather-beaten and rugged, with the lame boy high up in his
arms looking hard in his face, and both man and child had such a happy
contented smile on their faces that it did me good to see, and I think
may have rejoiced even the angels above.

When parting from me at the inn door, the rector said that if I liked to
step up to the rectory that evening after my supper he would find me a
pipe of tobacco, and tell me all that was known of the history of the
little boy who had awakened such an interest in me, for, he added, "it
is a very curious story."



CHAPTER X.


At eight o'clock, having fed my dogs and ferrets and left my boy Jack
chatting in the harness-room with the rector's old coachman, I found
myself in a snug arm-chair, pipe in mouth, my feet on the fender, and
the rector sitting opposite me in his study, he also enjoying an
after-dinner pipe; and after a chat over the events of the day and of
the storm of the previous night, the rector began the history of the
poor lame boy at the cottage thus--

"I dare say you remember that about eight years ago the Irish question
was giving the authorities much trouble and anxiety owing to the active
turn it had then taken. Hideous murders were of daily occurrence in
that unfortunate country. Dynamite was being used in London to destroy
our public buildings, and many of our statesmen were being tracked by
paid assassins. Strict orders had been issued by the authorities to
watch all our ports to prevent the landing from America of arms and
infernal machines, and both the police and Customs officers were on the
alert; and yet, in spite of all, bloodthirsty, cowardly dynamiters and
assassins succeeded in sneaking into the country, and every now and then
perpetrated some hateful outrage. Well, it was during this time that one
November morning a queer-looking yacht-like vessel appeared in the
offing, and for two days kept standing about. During the day-time it was
well out in the offing, but once or twice at night it was noticed by the
coastguard and sailors to have come close in to land, and altogether its
movements were so mysterious that our suspicions were fully aroused,
and the officer of the coastguard telegraphed to the captain of the
gunboat stationed at Brockmouth to put him on the alert.

"For some days after this nothing was seen of the yacht, and our
suspicions were lulled, and life in our quiet little village had settled
down to its usual routine, when early one stormy morning the strange
vessel was again seen close off the land, and a boat manned by six men
put off for the little harbour; and just as it rounded the Point and got
into smooth water, a dog-cart, that we all recognised as one let out for
hire in a town ten miles inland, drove down to the beach. Beside the
driver sat a tall, thin, dark man, but the few people on the beach had
only time to observe this and that he had the dress and appearance of a
gentleman, when he sprang from the cart and hurried to where the boat
lay, and without hesitating a moment or speaking to anyone he waded out
through the low surf to the boat, which at once left the harbour and
made the best of its way to the yacht, which as soon as all were on
board hoisted all sail and was soon out of sight, driven along by a
storm that became in the course of the day as fierce a one as that of
last night. There was much talk on the beach among the fishermen and in
the village among us all as to what the yacht could be and who the
stranger was; and we gathered from the driver of the dog-cart, who had
put up his horse at the inn to rest, that he had been called by the
porter at the railway station to drive the gentleman over; but that he
had not heard his name, or what business brought him here. The driver,
who was a sharp old fellow, said the gentleman had chatted with him as
he came along, but kept pressing him to drive faster and faster, and
gave him five shillings above his fare to use his best speed, and he
added: 'I don't know who he is, or what his business may be, but I know
one thing--he is an Irishman. I can tell it by his tongue, and by his
queer-looking blue eyes and dark hair.'

"Four and twenty hours passed, and during that time many people, I among
the number, did not go to bed, for the storm which had sprung up with
the departing yacht had blown itself into half a hurricane, and there
were fishing boats out, which made us all anxious. As we did last night,
or rather this morning, I went round to a few of the fishermen's houses
where there were anxious wives and mothers waiting for the absent, and
chatted with and cheered them, and I was leaving the two cottages that I
daresay you noticed close under the rock towards the Point when the
first streaks of morning began to appear in the east. I love to see the
day break at any time, but I especially like to watch it over a stormy
angry sea; and therefore sheltering myself a little behind a boulder, I
stood gazing for a while, when presently, like a thing of life, came
plunging and driving from the very gates of the morning the same yacht
that had so puzzled us. On and on it came, close-hauled to the wind,
straight for the narrow rock-bound jaws of the cove; and I saw at a
glance that, if it kept its course, it must strike on a group of rocks
some half-mile out at sea; and, parson as I am, I knew, should she
strike them, no human aid could save the lives of those on board.

"I hardly know what I did, except that I took off my coat and waved it
frantically, and mounted the highest pinnacle on the rocky point to make
myself seen by the fated crew; but though at last I could actually
distinguish two men at the wheel holding the vessel close to the wind,
yet they took no notice, and came on and on, leaping waves mountains
high one minute, and lost to sight the next in the trough of the seas.
Scores of fishermen soon joined me, and even their wives followed and
crouched near, behind the rocks; and so fully was the ship's danger
realized, that from time to time a deep groan, half of despair, half
prayer, went up from all. There was but one hope--could the yacht be
kept close enough to the wind to lead those steering her to believe they
could make the entrance of the harbour? or would she be carried far
enough to windward to make this impossible, and so force those in charge
to alter her course to avoid the stiff cliffs beyond? Ah, no! We saw as
we watched that she was too good a vessel to fall off to leeward, and
those handling her too good sailors to allow her to do so, for she flew
over the waves like a beautiful bird for the entrance of the harbour,
and the sunken rocks were in her direct line!

"Suddenly as we watched, with every sense strained to the utmost, and
our eyes rivetted on the doomed ship, we heard away out to sea the boom
of a big gun, and then another, and presently we saw emerging from the
fast diminishing darkness a low, long steamer. At first we thought it
was a ship also in deep distress, making signals; but the old sailors
soon saw this was not so, and declared it was a gunboat firing at the
yacht in the hope of driving her on to the rock-bound coast, and also to
attract the attention of the coastguard, so that, should she reach the
harbour, those on board might be prevented from escaping the hands of
justice. It was a cruel service for British sailors to be employed on,
however necessary, and hard to witness. Man hunting man to his death,
when the wind and waves already held open the portals of eternity before
him, and little short of a miracle could avert his doom!

"A few minutes, a few hundred yards, and the yacht is on the rocks!
Gallantly she glides along the side of that green wave and dashes the
foam from her crest ere she plunges deep into the sea. A monster wave
rolls fast upon her as if to swallow her quivering form. High, high she
rises, till half her length is in the air over the crest of the wave,
and then down she sinks; then the crash comes. Waves dash over her, her
masts fall, her boats are wrenched from her sides, and the next minute
we see her, a tangled mass of wreck and cordage, firmly embedded on the
pitiless rocks. Don't suppose our fishermen had been quietly watching
this and doing nothing to help. From the first, preparations had been
made. Our friend Jack, and a score of other active young men, had
shoved off the only boat on the beach that had the faintest hope of
living in a storm like this, and had been waiting in it close to the
harbour mouth some minutes before the yacht struck. But so small was the
chance of that frail boat living in such a sea, that many of the most
experienced of the sailors made signals to prevent the men starting off
to meet what they thought was certain death. Others thought it might be
done, and waved contrary signals; and it was then that one saw what sort
of women our sailors' wives are, for though many standing there with us
had near and dear ones in that boat, and were suffering tortures of
anxiety, not a word was spoken, but all was left for the men to do as
they thought right.

"As the yacht struck, a deep, wailing shout went up from all on land,
and those in the boat knew what had happened, and the next moment we saw
the boat plunge into the green waves at the harbour mouth. For a moment
it seemed to stagger and quail, and then, impelled by those hands and
muscles of iron, it was driven forward through the blinding spray into
the angry sea beyond. Shall I ever forget how we watched that boat, now
mounted high on the top of a wave, now for moments lost to sight, the
men all straining at their oars to the utmost, and always creeping
forward yard by yard? All this time, we on the Point could see, with
increasing fears, that the hope of the yacht holding together till
reached by the rescuers was but a faint one. Each monster wave that
rolled in lifted it from the rocks and left it to fall back with an
irresistible force midst spray and foam, that constantly wholly hid it
from our sight; and even before the boat started, portions of the wreck
were being tossed about on the sea, making its passage even more
precarious. At one time a group of human beings was seen on the deck
clinging to some cordage; but when the next wave passed, most of them
had disappeared, and we knew they had perished before our eyes. It was
difficult to distinguish objects midst the turmoil, but it soon was
whispered among us that some one or more persons were crouching behind
the bulwarks, probably lashed there for safety, and from an occasional
flutter of a red scarf or garment, we feared there was an unfortunate
woman among them; and once, as the waves receded from the deck, we
distinctly saw a man rise up from the group and look for a moment
towards the approaching boat, and then sink again beside his companions,
just as the incoming wave swept high over the poor shelter the stout
bulwark afforded.

"If the yacht could only hold together a few minutes longer! But no!
once more it rises from its bed like some agonised, dying monster, and
then as it falls back it parts in two, and half of it is a drifting mass
of planks and timber, washing forward as if to meet the boat and destroy
it. A portion yet remained fixed on the rock, and now and then we could
still see the group crouching behind the bulwark. On and on fought the
boat, now a little out of the direct line to avoid the wreckage, till it
was close behind the wreck and partially sheltered by the rampart it
formed against the sea; but at that moment all that remained of it was
again lifted high in the air and dashed forward; and when the wave had
passed by, there was only the frail boat with its brave crew to be seen
on the surface. We see it pause for a moment, and then the oars all dip
together, and the boat dashes forward. Someone leans over the bows, and
there is a moment's struggle; but the mist and foam prevent our
distinguishing clearly what is going on. After a while they evidently
find there is nothing further that can be done; the boat is put before
the waves and comes dashing back towards land.

"All on the Point hurried down to the entrance of the harbour; and many
of the men, with coils of rope in their hands, stood ready to give
assistance. As each wave rolled under the boat, it flew through the
water, and then sank back again hidden from our sight; but nearer and
nearer it came on, till at last on the crest of a wave it darted sharp
round the Point, and lay tossing in comparatively calm water. Steadily
its crew rowed it up the little harbour, and as it approached the beach
scores of ready hands seized it and ran it high up on to dry land, and a
cheer rang out above the roar of the wind to welcome those snatched from
the jaws of death. But this was not responded to by the men in the boat.
They all looked stern and anxious; and then we saw that Jack, who was
crouched in the bows, was supporting in his arms the slight form of a
fair young girl, with long, soft, tangled hair falling around her and
forming a frame to the most beautiful saint-like face my eyes had ever
seen. Her lips were parted in a smile, and her eyes looked down on a
small boy about two years old, who was bound in her arms by a red scarf.
At first I thought she was fainting or falling asleep, but the next
moment--merciful Heavens!--I saw that the back of her sweet young head
was battered in and bleeding, and that she was already beyond the storms
of life and the cruel raging of the destroying elements.

"Hard horny hands of rough women tenderly and deftly unwound the scarf
from off the child; and Jack's wife, Mary, pressing him to her bosom,
hastened with him to her cottage, while the fair dead form was carried
to a fisherman's house close by, and a few days later was laid in its
quiet grave in the old churchyard, within sound of the ruthless sea that
had so cruelly beaten the young life out of it.

"You may easily find the grave, for the fishermen out of their deep pity
had a plain cross put over it, with just the words 'Jack's mother' and
the date of her death carved upon it. To this day, and I fancy for ever,
the only name she will be known by is 'Jack's mother,' for all connected
with that ill-fated yacht remains a mystery. Not a living creature
escaped, except that frail little child. Many bodies were recovered
during the next few days, and among them the remains of the man who had
arrived the previous day in the dog-cart; but neither on any of the
bodies, nor among the wreckage that came ashore, was anything found to
lead to the identification of the yacht or its owners; and though the
account of the disaster appeared in all the papers and was the talk of
the county, yet no living soul has ever come forward to claim connection
with the child or with any of those drowned.

"It was thought at the time that the owner of the yacht was one of those
desperate ruffians of Irish extraction that have from time to time
arrived here from America, and that when he so hastily joined the vessel
he was in fear of detection and was about to sail for America. Anyhow
the yacht was sighted by the gunboat sent to look after it, and chased
and driven through the storm back to our little harbour, it being
doubtless the intention of the fugitive to attempt his escape by land if
he could once reach the shore. How miserably it ended you now know; but
you don't know quite all, for I have not told you that, on reaching
their cottage, Jack's wife found that the little one breathed. I have
told you of the storm, and I have told you of the wreck; but words
would fail to tell of all the love and care and attention that was
bestowed for weeks--aye! for years, up to this day--on the little one.
Only the recording angel can note such things, and only the God of love
can reward them. Not that either Jack or his wife think of rewards
either from earth or in heaven, for their love is wholly unselfish and
all-satisfying; and were only the boy well and strong, I am sure that in
all these realms there could not be found a more perfectly happy trio
than Jack the fisherman, little Jack, and his adopted mother.
Unfortunately it was discovered that in some way the child's back had
been injured in the storm. For months he lay between life and death, at
last to recover partially only in health, and without the use of his
poor legs.

"Many friends have come forward with help, and great London doctors have
seen and attended the boy. Till lately they gave little hope, but,
thank God, there has been during the past year a slow but steady
improvement, and they now think in time the boy may grow strong in
health, but there is no hope of his ever walking without his crutches.

"Fortunately nature has bestowed many gifts on the poor child that
compensate him somewhat for his loss--first, an intensely loving,
unselfish nature; and secondly, a perfect voice and passionate love of
music. Already he is carried each Sunday to church by his father, and
his voice in the choir is celebrated for many miles round, and has so
impressed the organist at the cathedral at Marshford that he either
comes himself, or sends one of his pupils, to give the boy a lesson once
a week, and there is not a better violinist within the bounds of the
county than our little Jack is. His father is so proud of the boy's
gifts that I have known him, when wind-bound in a harbour down the coast
twenty miles away, walk over the whole distance on a Sunday morning and
back at night rather than miss carrying the little fellow to church and
hearing him sing there. But it is eleven o'clock, and we were up all
last night. What, no grog? Well, good night! Come and see me when you
can, and come and watch the sea with me in another storm, and we will
see if I can't rake up another story of the doings of the rough heroes
of our neighbourhood who go down to the sea in ships. Good night, good
night!"

And so one of the pleasantest evenings I had spent for a long while was
over.

Oh, dear! oh, dear! What a muddle, what a hodge-podge I have made of
this pen work! I sat down thinking it would be quite easy to write a
book on "Rat-catching for the Use of Schools," and I have drifted off
the line here, toppled into a story there, and been as wild and erratic
in my goings on as even Pepper would be with a dozen rats loose together
in a thick hedge. Well, I can't help it. I am not much good at books,
and it ain't of much consequence, for during the last few days I have
heard from half a dozen head-masters of schools that they find the art
of rat-catching is so distasteful to their scholars, and so much above
their intellect, and so fatiguing an exercise to the youthful mind, that
they feel obliged to abandon the study of it and replace it once more by
those easier and pleasanter subjects, _Latin_ and _Greek_. Well, I am
sorry for it, very sorry. I had hoped to have opened up a great career
to many young gentlemen, but have failed; and I can only console myself
with thinking that one can't make silk purses out of--you know what.
Mind, in this quotation I am not thinking of myself and my failure.


 LONDON:

 PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
 STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.





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