Chapter 19 | A Conversation | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Nineteen.

The gale was left behind, and the weather proved glorious as they sped on towards the tropics, both going through all the drudgery to be learned by Government men, in company with the naval drill.

There was so much to see and learn that Don found it impossible to be moody; and, for the most part, his homesickness and regrets were felt merely when he went to his hammock at nights; while the time spent unhappily there was very short, for fatigue soon sent him to sleep.

The boatswain was always bluff, manly, and kind, and following out his advice, both Jem and Don picked up the routine of their life so rapidly as to gain many an encouraging word from their officers—words which, in spite of the hidden determination to escape at the first opportunity, set them striving harder and harder to master that which they had to do.

“Yes,” Jem used to say, “they may be civil, but soft words butters no parsnips, Mas’ Don; and being told you’ll some day be rated AB don’t bring a man back to his wife, nor a boy—I mean another man—back to his mother.”

“You might have said boy, Jem; I’m only a boy.”

“So’m I, Mas’ Don—sailor boy. You seem getting your head pretty well now, Mas’ Don, when we’re up aloft.”

“That’s what I was thinking of you, Jem.”

“Well, yes, sir, tidy—tidy like, and I s’pose it arn’t much worse than coming down that there rope when we tried to get away; but I often feel when I’m lying out on the yard, with my feet in the stirrup, that there’s a precious little bit between being up there and lying down on the deck, never to get up again.”

“You shouldn’t think of it, Jem. I try not to.”

“So do I, but you can’t help it sometimes. How long have we been at sea now?”

“Six months, Jem.”

“Is it now? Don’t seem so long. I used to think I should get away before we’d been aboard a week, and it’s six months, and we arn’t gone. You do mean to go if you get a chance?”

“Yes, Jem,” said Don, frowning. “I said I would, and I will.”

“Arn’t it being a bit obstinate like, Mas’ Don?”

“Obstinate? What, to do what I said I’d do?”

“Well, p’r’aps not, sir; but it do sound obstinate all the same.”

“You like being a sailor then, Jem?”

“Like it? Being ordered about, and drilled, and sent aloft in rough weather, and all the time my Sally thousands o’ miles away? Well, I do wonder at you, Mas’ Don, talking like that.”

“It was your own fault, Jem. I can’t help feeling as I did. It was such a cruel, cowardly way of kidnapping us, and dragging us away, and never a letter yet to tell us what they think at home, after those I sent. No, Jem, as I’ve said before, I’d have served the king as a volunteer, but I will not serve a day longer than I can help after being pressed.”

“T’others seem to have settled down.”

“So do we seem to, Jem; but perhaps they’re like us, and only waiting for a chance to go.”

“Don’t talk out loud, Mas’ Don. I want to go home: but somehow I sha’n’t quite like going when the time does come.”

“Why not?”

“Well, some of the lads make very good messmates, and the officers arn’t bad when they’re in a good temper; and I’ve took to that there hammock, Mas’ Don. You can’t think of how I shall miss that there hammock.”

“You’ll soon get over that, Jem.”

“Yes, sir, dessay I shall; and it will be a treat to sit down at a decent table with a white cloth on, and eat bread and butter like a Christian.”

“Instead of tough salt junk, Jem, and bad, hard biscuits.”

“And what a waste o’ time it do seem learning all this sailoring work, to be no use after all. Holy-stoning might come in. I could holy-stone our floor at home, and save my Sally the trouble, and—” Jem gave a gulp, then sniffed very loudly. “Wish you wouldn’t talk about home.”

Don smiled sadly, and they were separated directly after.

The time went swiftly on in their busy life, and though his absence from home could only be counted in months, Don had shot up and altered wonderfully. They had touched at the Cape, at Ceylon, and then made a short stay at Singapore before going on to their station farther east, and cruising to and fro.

During that period Don’s experience had been varied, but the opportunity he was always looking for did not seem to come.

Then a year had passed away, and they were back at Singapore, where letters reached both, and made them go about the deck looking depressed for the rest of the week.

Then came one morning when there was no little excitement on board, the news having oozed out that the sloop was bound for New Zealand, a place in those days little known, save as a wonderful country of tree-fern, pine, and volcano, where the natives were a fierce fighting race, and did not scruple to eat those whom they took captive in war.

“Noo Zealand, eh?” said Jem.

“Port Jackson and Botany Bay, I hear, Jem, and then on to New Zealand. We shall see something of the world.”

“Ay, so we shall, Mas’ Don. Bot’ny Bay! That’s where they sends the chaps they transports, arn’t it?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Then we shall be like transported ones when we get there. You’re right, after all, Mas’ Don. First chance there is, let me and you give up sailoring, and go ashore.”

“I mean to, Jem; and somehow, come what may, we will.”