Chapter 14 | Working Under Difficulties | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Fourteen.

“There. Those sacks?”

“That’s it, Mas’ Don. I’ve got my knife. You got yourn?”


“Then here goes, then, to unravel them sacks till we’ve got enough to make a rope. This loft’s a capital place to twist him. It’s all right, sir, only help me work away, and to-night we’ll be safe home.”

“To-night, Jem? Not before?”

“Why, we sha’n’t have the rope ready; and if we had, it would be no use to try by daylight. No, sir; we must wait till it’s dark, and work away. If we hear any one coming we can hide the rope under the other sacks; so come on.”

They seated themselves at the end of the loft, and worked away rapidly unravelling the sacking and rolling the yarn up into balls, each of which was hidden as soon as it became of any size.

As the hours went on, and they were not interrupted, the dread increased that they might be summoned to descend as prisoners before they had completed their work; but Jem’s rough common sense soon suggested that this was not likely to be the case.

“Not afore night, Mas’ Don,” he said. “They won’t take us aboard in the day. We’re smuggled goods, we are; and if they don’t mind, we shall be too many for them. ’Nother hour, and I shall begin to twist up our rope.”

About midday the same sailor came up and brought them some bread and meat.

“That’s right, my lads,” he said. “You’re taking it sensible, and that’s the best way. If we’ve any luck to-night, you’ll go aboard afore morning. There, I mustn’t stop.”

He hurried down, closing and fastening the trap, and Jem pointed to the food.

“Eat away, Mas’ Don, and work same time. Strikes me we sha’n’t go aboard afore close upon daylight, for they’ve got us all shut up here snug, so as no one shall know, and they don’t dare take us away while people can see. Strikes me they won’t get all the men aboard this time, eh, Mas’ Don?”

“Not if we can prevent it,” said Don, with his hand upon the rough piece of sacking which covered his share of the work. “Think it’s safe to begin again?”

“Ay! Go on. Little at a time, my lad, and be ready to hide it as soon as you hears a step.”

In spite of their trouble, they ate with a fair appetite, sharpened perhaps by the hope of escape, and the knowledge that they must not be faint and weak at the last moment.

The meal was finished, and all remaining silent, they worked on unravelling the sacking, and rolling up the yarn, Don thinking of home, and Jem whistling softly a doleful air.

“If we don’t get away, Mas’ Don,” he said, after a pause, “and they take us aboard ship and make sailors of us—”

“Don’t talk like that, Jem! We must—we will get away.”

“Oh, yes, it’s all very well to talk, Mas’ Don, but it’s as well to be prepared for the worst. Like as not we sha’n’t get away, and then we shall go aboard, be made sailors, and have to fight the French.”

“I shall not believe that, Jem, till it takes place.”

“I shall, my lad, and I hope when I’m far away as your mother, as is a reg’lar angel, will do what’s right by my Sally, as is a married woman, but only a silly girl after all, as says and does things without thinking what they mean. I was horrid stupid to take so much notice of all she said, and all through that I’m here.”

“Haven’t we got enough ready, Jem?” said Don, impatiently, for his companion’s words troubled him. They seemed to fit his own case.

“Yes, I should think that will do now, sir, so let’s begin and twist up a rope. We sha’n’t want it very thick.”

“But we shall want it very strong, Jem.”

“Here goes, then, to make it,” said Jem, taking the balls of yarn, knotting the ends together, and then taking a large piece of sack and placing it beside him.

“To cover up the stuff if we hear any one coming, my lad. Now then, you pay out, and I’ll twist. Mustn’t get the yarn tangled.”

Don set to work earnestly, and watched his companion, who cleverly twisted away at the gathered-up yarn, and then rolled his work up into a ball.

The work was clumsy, but effective, and in a short time he had laid up a few yards of a very respectable line, which seemed quite capable of bearing them singly.

Foot by foot the line lengthened, and the balls of yarn grew less, when just in the middle of their task Don made a dash at Jem, and threw down the yarn.

“Here, what yer doing? You’ll get everything in a tangle, sir.”

“Hush! Some one coming.”

“I can’t hear him.”

“There is, I tell you. Listen!”

Jem held his head on one side like a magpie, and then shook it.

“Nobody,” he said; but hardly had he said the words than he dabbed the rope under him, and seized upon the yarn, threw some of the old sacks upon it, and then laid his hand on Don’s shoulder, just as the trap-door was raised softly a few inches, and a pair of eyes appeared at the broad crack.

Then the trap made a creaking noise, and a strange sailor came up, to find Jem seated on the floor tailor-fashion, and Don lying upon his face, with his arms crossed beneath his forehead, and some of the old sacking beneath him.

The man came up slowly, and laid the trap back in a careful way, as if to avoid making a noise, and then, after a furtive look at Jem, who gave him a sturdy stare in return, he stood leaning over the opening and listening.

Footsteps were heard directly after, and a familiar voice gave some order. Directly after the bluff-looking man with whom they had had so much dealing stepped up into the loft.

“Well, my lads,” he said, “how are the sore places?”

Jem did not answer.

“Sulky, eh? Ah, you’ll soon get over that. Now, my boy, let’s have a look at you.”

He gave Don a clap on the shoulder, and the lad started up as if from sleep, and stared at the fresh comer.

“Won’t do,” said the bluff man, laughing. “Men don’t wake up from sleep like that. Ah! Of course: now you are turning red in the face. Didn’t want to speak to me, eh? Well, you are all right, I see.”

Don did not attempt to rise from where he half sat, half lay, and the man gave a sharp look round, letting his eyes rest; for a few moments upon the window, and then turning them curiously upon the old sacking.

To Don’s horror he approached and picked up a piece close to that which served for a couch.

“How came all this here?” he said sharply.

“Old stuff, sir. Been used for the bales o’ ’bacco, I s’pose,” said the furtive-looking man.

“Humph. And so you have made a bed of it, eh? Let’s have a look.”

The perspiration stood on Don’s forehead.

“Well,” said the bluff man, “why don’t you get up? Quick!”

He took a step nearer Don, and was in the act of stooping to take him by the arm, when there was a hail from below.

“Ahoy!” shouted the sailor, bending over the trap-door.

“Wants Mr Jones,” came up.

“Luff wants you, sir,” said the man.

“Right. There, cheer up, my lads; you might be worse off than you are,” said the bluff visitor pleasantly. Then, clapping Don on the shoulder, “Don’t sulk, my lad. Make the best of things. You’re in the king’s service now, so take your fate like a man.”

He nodded and crossed to the trap.

“Ahoy, there! Below there! I’m coming.—Can’t expect a bosun to break his neck.”

He said these last words as his head and shoulders were above the floor, and gave the prisoners a friendly nod just as his eyes were disappearing.

“Come along, my lad,” he said, when he was out of sight.

“Ay! Ay!” growled the furtive-looking man, slowly following, and giving those he left behind a very peculiar smile, which he lengthened out in time and form, till he was right down the ladder, with the trap-door drawn over and resting upon his head. This he slowly lowered, till only his eyes and brow were seen, and he stayed like that watching for a minute, then let the lid close with a flap, and shut him, as it were, in a box.

“Gone!” said Jem. “Lor’, how I should ha’ liked to go and jump on that there trap just while he was holding it up with his head. I’d ha’ made it ache for him worse than they made mine.”

“Hist! Don’t talk so loud,” whispered Don. “He listens.”

“I hope he’s a-listening now,” said Jem, loudly; “a lively smiling sort of a man. That’s what he is, Mas’ Don. Sort o’ man always on the blue sneak.” Don held up his hand.

“Think they suspect anything, Jem?” he whispered.

“Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, Mas’ Don. That stoutish chap seemed to smell a rat, and that smiling door-knocker fellow was all on the spy; but I don’t think he heared anything, and I’m sure he didn’t see. Now, then, can you tell me whether they’re coming back?”

Don shook his head, and they remained thinking and watching for nearly an hour before Jem declared that they must risk it.

“One minute,” said Don; and he went on tip-toe as far as the trap-door, and lying down, listened and applied his eyes to various cracks, before feeling convinced that no one was listening.

“Why, you didn’t try if it was fastened,” cried Jem; and taking out his knife, he inserted it opposite to the hinges, and tried to lever up the door.

It was labour in vain, for the bolt had been shot.

“They don’t mean to let us go, Mas’ Don,” said Jem. “Come on, and let’s get the rope done.”

They returned to the sacking, lifted it up, and taking out the unfinished rope, worked away rapidly, but with the action of sparrows feeding in a road—one peck and two looks out for danger.

Half-a-dozen times at least the work was hidden, some sound below suggesting danger, while over and over again, in spite of their efforts, the rope advanced so slowly, and the result was so poor, that Don felt in despair of its being done by the time they wanted it, and doubtful whether if done it would bear their weight.

He envied Jem’s stolid patience and the brave way in which he worked, twisting, and knotting about every three feet, while every time their eyes met Jem gave him an encouraging nod.

Whether to be successful or not, the making of the rope did one thing—it relieved them of a great deal of mental strain.

In fact, Don stared wonderingly at the skylight, as it seemed to him to have suddenly turned dark.

“Going to be a storm, Jem,” he said. “Will the rain hurt the rope?”

“Storm, Mas’ Don? Why, it’s as clear as clear. Getting late, and us not done.”

“But the rope must be long enough now.”

“Think so, sir?”

“Yes; and if it is not, we can easily drop the rest of the way.”

“What! And break our legs, or sprain our ankles, and be caught? No let’s make it another yard or two.”

“Hist! Quick!”

They were only just in time, for almost before they had thrown the old sacking over the rope, the bolt of the trap-door was thrust back, and the sinister-looking sailor entered with four more, to give a sharp look round the place, and then roughly seize the prisoners.

“Now, then!” cried Jem sharply, “what yer about? Arn’t going to tie us up, are you?”

“Yes, if you cut up rough again,” said the leader of the little party. “Come on.”

“Here, what yer going to do?” cried Jem.

“Do? You’ll see. Not going to spoil your beauty, mate.”

Don’s heart sank low. All that hopeful labour over the rope thrown away! And he cast a despairing look at Jem.

“Never mind, my lad,” whispered the latter. “More chances than one.”

“Now then! No whispering. Come along!” shouted the sinister-looking man, fiercely. “Come on down. Bring ’em along.”

Don cast another despairing look at Jem, and then marched slowly toward the opening in the floor.