Chapter 13 | How To Escape? | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Thirteen.

Rumble! Bump!

Don started and stared, for something had shaken him as if a sudden blow had been given against the floor.

What did it all mean? Where was he? What window was that through which the sun shone brightly, and why was he in that rough loft, in company with a man lying asleep on some sacks?

Memory filled up the vacuum directly, and he knew that his head was aching, and that he had been fast asleep.


That was a bolt shot back, and the noise which awakened him must have been the big step ladder placed against the beam beneath the trap-door.

As Don watched he saw the trap, like a square piece of the floor, rise up slowly, and a rough, red face appear, framed in hair.

“Ship ahoy!” shouted the owner of the face. “What cheer, messmates? Want your hot water?”

Just then the man, whose hands were out of sight, and who had kept on pushing up the trap-door with his head, gave it a final thrust, and the door fell over with a loud flap, which made Jem Wimble sit up, with his face so swollen and bruised that his eyes were half-closed; and this and his dirty face gave him an aspect that was more ludicrous than strange.

“What’s the matter?” he said sharply. “Who are you? I—where—was—to me. Have I been a-dreaming? No: we’re pressed!”

“Pressed you are, my lads; and Bosun Jones has sent you up some hot slops and soft tack. There you are. Find your own tablecloth and silliver spoons.”

He placed a large blue jug before them, in which was some steaming compound, covered by a large breakfast cup, stuck in the mouth of the jug, while on a plate was a fair-sized pile of bread and butter.

“There you are, messmates; say your grace and fall to.”

“Look here,” said Don quickly. “You know we were taken by the press-gang last night?”

“Do I know? Why, didn’t I help?”

“Oh!” ejaculated Don, with a look of revulsion, which he tried to conceal. “Look here,” he said; “if you will take a message for me to my mother, in Jamaica Street, you shall have a guinea.”

“Well, that’s handsome, anyhow,” said the man, laughing. “What am I to say to the old lady?”

“That we have been seized by the press-gang, and my uncle is to try and get us away.”

“That all?”

“Yes, that’s all. Will you go?”

“Hadn’t you better have your breakfuss?”

“Breakfast? No,” said Don. “I can’t eat.”

“Better. Keep you going, my lad.”

“Will you take my message?”

“No, I won’t.”

“You shall have two guineas.”

“Where are they?”

“My mother will gladly give them to you.”

“Dessay she will.”

“And you will go?”

“Do you know what a bosun’s mate is, my lad?”

“I? No. I know nothing about the sea.”

“You will afore long. Well, I’ll tell you; bosun’s mate’s a gentleman kep’ aboard ship to scratch the crew’s backs.”

“You are laughing at me,” cried Don angrily.

“Not a bit of it, my lad. If I was to do what you want, I should be tied up to-morrow, and have my back scratched.”


“That’s it.”

“For doing a kind act? For saving my poor mother from trouble and anxiety?”

“For not doing my dooty, my lad. There, a voyage or two won’t hurt you. Why, I was a pressed man, and look at me.”

“Main-top ahoy! Are you coming down?” came from below.

“Ay, ay, sir!” shouted the sailor.

“Wasn’t that the man who had us shut up here?” cried Don.

“To be sure: Bosun Jones,” said the man, running to the trap and beginning to descend.

“You’ll take my message?”

“Nay, not I,” said the man, shaking his head. “There, eat your breakfuss, and keep your head to the wind, my lads.”


The door was shut heavily and the rusty bolt shot. Then the two prisoners listened to the descending footsteps and to the murmur of voices from below, after which Don looked across the steaming jug at Jem, and Jem returned the stare.

“Mornin’, Mas’ Don,” he said. “Rum game, arn’t it?”

“Do you think he’ll take my message, Jem?”

“Not a bit on it, sir. You may take your oath o’ that.”

“Will they take us aboard ship?”

“Yes, sir, and make sailors on us, and your uncle’s yard ’ll go to rack and ruin; and there was two screws out o’ one o’ the shutter hinges as I were going to put in to-day.”

“Jem, we must escape them.”

“All right, Mas’ Don, sir. ’Arter breakfast.”

“Breakfast? Who is to eat breakfast?”

“I am, sir. Feels as if it would do me good.”

“But we must escape, Jem—escape.”

“Yes, sir; that’s right,” said Jem, taking off the cup, and sniffing at the jug. “Coffee, sir. Got pretty well knocked about last night, and I’m as sore this morning as if they’d been rolling casks all over me. But a man must eat.”

“Eat then, and drink then, for goodness’ sake,” cried Don impatiently.

“Thankye, sir,” said Jem; and he poured out a cup of steaming coffee, sipped it, sipped again, took three or four mouthfuls of bread and butter, and then drained the cup.

“Mas’ Don!” he cried, “it’s lovely. Do have a cup. Make you see clear.”

As he spoke he refilled the mug and handed it to Don, who took it mechanically, and placed it to his lips, one drop suggesting another till he had finished the cup.

“Now a bit o’ bread and butter, Mas’ Don?”

Don shook his head, but took the top piece, and began mechanically to eat, while Jem partook of another cup, there being a liberal allowance of some three pints.

“That’s the way, sir. Wonderful what a difference breakfuss makes in a man. Eat away, sir; and if they don’t look out we’ll give them press-gang.”

“Yes, but how, Jem? How?”

“Lots o’ ways, sir. We’ll get away, for one thing, or fasten that there trap-door down; and then they’ll be the prisoners, not us. ’Nother cup, sir? Go on with the bread and butter. I say, sir, do I look lively?”


“I mean much knocked about? My face feels as if the skin was too tight, and as if I couldn’t get on my hat.”

“It does not matter, Jem,” said Don, quietly. “You have no hat.”

“More I haven’t. I remember feeling it come off, and it wasn’t half wore out. Have some more coffee, Mas’ Don. ’Tarnt so good as my Sally makes. I’d forgot all about her just then. Wonder whether she’s eating her breakfast?”

Don sighed and went on eating. He was horribly low-spirited, but his youthful appetite once started, he felt the need of food, and kept on in silence, passing and receiving the cup till all was gone.

“That job’s done,” said Jem, placing the jug on the plate, and the cup in the mouth of the jug. “Now then, I’m ready, Mas’ Don. You said escape, didn’t you, sir?”

“Yes. What shall we do?”

“Well, we can’t go down that way, sir, because the trap-door’s bolted.”

“There is the window, Jem.”

“Skylights, you mean, sir,” said Jem, looking up at the sloping panes in the roof. “Well, let’s have a look. Will you get a-top o’ my shoulders, or shall I get a-top o’ yourn?”

“I couldn’t bear you, Jem.”

“Then up you gets, my lad, like the tumblers do at the fair.”

It seemed easy enough to get up and stand on the sturdy fellow’s shoulders, but upon putting it to the test, Don found it very hard, and after a couple of failures he gave up, and they stood together looking up at the sloping window, which was far beyond their reach.

“Dessay it’s fastened, so that we couldn’t open it,” said Jem.

“The fox said the grapes were sour when he could not get at them, Jem.”

“That’s true, Mas’ Don. Well, how are we to get up?”

They looked round the loft, but, with the exception of the old sacking lying at one end, the place was bare.

“Here, come to the end, Jem, and let me have another try,” said Don.

“Right, sir; come on,” cried Jem; and going right to the end of the loft, he bent his body a little and leaned his hands against the wall.

This simplified matters.

“Stand fast, Jem,” cried Don, and taking a spring, he landed upon his companion’s broad back, leap-frog fashion, but only to jump off again.

“What’s the matter, Mas’ Don?”

“Only going to take off my shoes.”

“Ah, ’twill be better. I didn’t grumble before, but you did hurt, sir.”

Don slipped off his shoes, uttered a word or two of warning, and once more mounted on Jem’s back. It was easy then to get into a kneeling, and then to a standing, position, the wall being at hand to steady him.

“That’s your sort, Mas’ Don. Now hold fast, and step up on to my shoulders as I rise myself up; that’s the way,” he continued, slowly straightening himself, and placing his hands behind Don’s legs, as he stood up, steadily, facing the wall.

“What next, Jem?”

“Next, sir? Why, I’m going to walk slowly back under the window, for you to try and open it, and look out and see where we are. Ready?”


“Hold tight, sir.”

“But there’s nothing to hold by, Jem, when you move away.”

“Then you must stand fast, sir, and I’ll balance you like. I can do it.”

Don drew a long breath, and felt no faith, for as soon as Jem moved steadily from the wall, his ability in balancing was not great.

“Stand firm, sir. I’ve got you,” he said.

“Am I too heavy, Jem?”

“Heavy? No, sir; I could carry two on you. Stand fast; ’tarn’t far. Stand fast. That’s your sort. Stand—oh!”

Everything depended upon him, and poor Jem did his best; but after three or four steps Don felt that he was going, and to save himself from a fall he tried to jump lightly down.

This would have been easy enough had not Jem been so earnest. He, too, felt that it was all wrong, and to save his companion, he tightened his hold of the calves of Don’s legs as the lad stood erect on his shoulders.

The consequence was that he gave Don sufficient check as he leaped to throw him off his balance; and in his effort to save him, Jem lost his own, and both came down with a crash and sat up and rubbed and looked at each other.

“Arn’t hurt, are you, Mas’ Don?”

“Not hurt?” grumbled Don. “I am hurt horribly.”

“I’m very sorry, sir; so am I. But I arn’t broke nowhere! Are you?”

“Broken? No!” said Don rising. “There, let’s try again.”

“To be sure, sir. Come, I like that.”

“Look here, Jem. When you straighten up, let me steady myself with my hands on the sloping ceiling there; now try.”

The former process was gone through, after listening to find all silent below; and Don stood erect once more, supporting himself by the wall.

“Now edge round gently, Jem. That’s right.”

Jem obeyed, and by progressing very slowly, they got to within about ten feet of the window, which Don saw that he could reach easily, when the balance was lost once more.

“Don’t hold, Jem!” cried Don; and he leaped backwards, to come down all right this time.

By no means discouraged, they went back to the end; and this time, by progressing more slowly, the window was reached, and, to their great delight, Don found that it was fastened inside, opening outwards by means of a couple of hinges at the highest end, and provided with a ratchet, to keep it open to any distance required.

“Can you bear me if I try to open it, Jem?”

“Can I? Ah!”

Jem was a true bearer, standing as fast as a small elephant as Don opened the window, and then supporting himself by a beam which ran across the opening, thrust out his head and surveyed the exterior.

He was not long in making out their position—in the top floor of a warehouse, the roof sloping, so that escape along it was impossible, while facing him was the blank wall of a higher building, evidently on the other side of a narrow alley. Don looked to right, but there was no means of making their position known so as to ask for help. To the left he was no better off, and seeing that the place had been well chosen as a temporary lock-up for the impressed men, Don prepared to descend.

“Better shut the window fust, Mas’ Don.”

The suggestion was taken, and then Don leaped down and faced his fellow-prisoner, repeating the information he had roughly communicated before.

“Faces a alley, eh?” said Jem. “Can’t we go along the roof.”

“I don’t believe a cat could go in safety, Jem.”

“Well, we aren’t cats, Mas’ Don, are we? Faces a alley, eh? Wasn’t there no windows opposit’?”

“Nothing but a blank wall.”

“Well, it’s all right, Mas’ Don. We’d better set to work. Only wants a rope with one end fastened in here, and then we could slide down.”

“Yes,” said Don gloomily; “the window is unfastened, and the way clear, but where’s the rope?”

“There,” said Jem, and he pointed to the end of the loft.