Chapter 20 | A Naturalised New Zealander | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Twenty.

Three months had passed since the conversation in the last chapter, when after an adverse voyage from Port Jackson, His Majesty’s sloop-of-war under shortened sail made her way slowly towards what was in those days a land of mystery.

A stiff breeze was blowing, and the watch were on deck, ready for reducing sail or any emergency. More were ready in the tops, and all on board watching the glorious scene unfolding before them.

“I say, Mas’ Don, look ye there,” whispered Jem, as they sat together in the foretop. “If this don’t beat Bristol, I’m a Dutchman.”

“Beat Bristol!” said Don contemptuously; “why, it’s as different as can be.”

“Well, I dunno so much about that,” said Jem. “There’s that mountain yonder smoking puts one in mind of a factory chimney. And look yonder too!—there’s another one smoking ever so far off. I say, are those burning mountains?”

“I suppose so, unless it’s steam. But what a lovely place!”

There were orders for shortening sail given just then, and they had no more opportunity for talking during the next quarter of an hour, when, much closer in, they lay in the top once more, gazing eagerly at the glorious prospect of sea and sky, and verdant land and mountain. The vessel slowly rounded what appeared to be a headland, and in a short time the wind seemed to have dropped, and the sea to have grown calm. It was like entering a lovely lake; and as they went slowly on and on, it was to find that they were forging ahead in a perfect archipelago, with fresh beauties opening up each minute.

The land was deliciously green, and cut up into valley, hill, and mountain. One island they were passing sent forth into the clear sunny air a cloud of silvery steam, which floated slowly away, like a white ensign spread to welcome the newcomers from a civilised land. At their distance from the shore it was impossible to make out the individual trees, but there seemed to be clumps of noble pines some distance in, and the valleys were made ornamental with some kind of feathery growth.

“Well, all I’ve got to say, Mas’ Don, is this here—Singpore arn’t to be grumbled at, and China’s all very well, only hot; but if you and me’s going to say good-bye to sailoring, let’s do it here.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking, Jem,” replied Don.

“Say, Mas’ Don, p’r’aps it arn’t for me, being a servant and you a young master, to make remarks.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Jem; we are both common sailors.”

“Well then, sir, as one sailor to another sailor, I says I wish you wouldn’t get into bad habits.”

“I wish so too, Jem.”

“There you are again!” said Jem testily.

“What do you mean?”

“Why, so sure as I thinks something sensible and good, you always ketches me up and says you had thought it before.”

“Nonsense, Jem! Well, have it your way. I quite agree with you.”

“No, I won’t, sir; you’re master. Have it your way. I quite agree with you. Let’s go ashore here.”

“If you can get the chance, Jem.—How lovely it looks!”

“Lovely’s nothing to it, sir. Mike used to brag about what he’d seen in foreign countries, but he never see anything to come up to this.”

“I don’t think any one could see a more beautiful place, Jem.”

“But I don’t like the look o’ that, sir.”

“Of what?”

“That there yonder. That smoke.”

“What, on that little island? No, Jem; it’s steam.”

“Well, don’t you know what that means?”


“Then I’ve got something at last as you arn’t got first!” cried Jem excitedly, as he sheltered his eyes from the glare of the sun. “Yes; that’s it’s, sure. Cooking!”

“Cooking? What’s cooking?”

“That place where the steam is, Mas’ Don. I say, you know what they do here? That’s the place where they do it.”

“Do what?”

“Cook people. That’s the spot, safe.”

“Nonsense!” said Don laughing.

“Ah! You may call it nonsense, Mas’ Don; but if them sort o’ things is done here, I think we’d better stop on board.”

Just at that moment the captain, who was busy with his spyglass examining the place and looking for a snug anchorage, suddenly gave an order, which was passed on, and with the rapidity customary on board a man-of-war, the stout boarding nettings, ready for use on an emergency, were triced up to the lower rigging, so that before long the vessel, from its bulwarks high up toward the lower yards, presented the appearance of a cage.

While this was going on, others of the men stood to their arms, guns were cast loose and loaded, and every precaution taken against a surprise.

The reason for all this was that quite a fleet of long canoes, propelled by paddles, suddenly began to glide out from behind one of the islands, each canoe seeming to contain from eighty to a hundred men.

The effect was beautiful, for the long, dark vessels, with their grotesque, quaintly carved prows and sterns, seemed to be like some strange living creatures working along paths of silver, so regularly went the paddles, turning the sea into lines of dazzling light.

The men were armed with spears and tomahawks, and as they came nearer, some could be seen wearing black feathers tipped with white stuck in their hair, while their dark, nearly naked bodies glistened in the sun like bronze.

“Are they coming to attack us, Jem?” said Don, who began to feel a strange thrill of excitement.

“Dessay they’d like to, Mas’ Don; but it strikes me they’d think twice about it. Why, we could sail right over those long thin boats of theirs, and send ’em all to the bottom.”

Just then there was an order from the deck, and more sail was taken in, till the ship hardly moved, as the canoes came dashing up, the men of the foremost singing a mournful kind of chorus as they paddled on.

“Ship ahoy!” suddenly came from the first canoe. “What ship’s that?”

“His Majesty’s sloop-of-war Golden Danae,” shouted back the first lieutenant from the chains. “Tell your other boats to keep back, or we shall fire.”

“No, no, no: don’t do that, sir! They don’t mean fighting,” came back from the boat; and a big savage, whose face was blue with tattooing, stood up in the canoe, and then turned and spoke to one of his companions, who rose and shouted to the occupants of the other canoes to cease paddling.

“Speaks good English, sir,” said the lieutenant to the captain.

“Yes. Ask them what they want, and if it’s peace.”

The lieutenant shouted this communication to the savage in the canoe.

“Want, sir?” came back; “to trade with you for guns and powder, and to come aboard.”

“How is it you speak good English?”

“Why, what should an Englishman speak?”

“Then you are not a savage?”

“Now do I look like one?” cried the man indignantly.

“Of course; I forgot—I’m an Englishman on a visit to the country, and I’ve adopted their customs, sir—that’s all.”

“Oh, I see,” said the lieutenant, laughing; “ornaments and all.”

“May they come aboard, sir?”

“Oh, yes; if they leave their arms.”

The man communicated this to the occupants of the boat, and there was a good deal of excited conversation for a time.

“That fellow’s a runaway convict for certain, sir,” said the lieutenant. “Shall we get him aboard, and keep him?”

“No. Let him be. Perhaps he will prove very useful.”

“The chiefs say it isn’t fair to ask them to come without their arms,” said the tattooed Englishman. “How are they to know that you will not be treacherous?”

“Tell them this is a king’s ship, and if they behave themselves they have nothing to fear,” said the captain. “Stop! Six of them can come aboard armed if they like. You can lead them and interpret.”

“I’ll tell them, sir; but I won’t come aboard, thank you. I’m a bit of a savage now, and the crew might make remarks, and we should quarrel.”

He turned to the savages, and the captain and lieutenant exchanged glances, while directly after the canoe was run alongside, and half-a-dozen of the people sprang up the side, and were admitted through the boarding netting to begin striding about the deck in the most fearless way.

They were fine, herculean-looking fellows, broad-shouldered and handsome, and every man had his face tattooed in a curious scroll-like pattern, which ended on the sides of his nose.

Their arms were spears and tomahawks, and two carried by a stout thong to the wrist a curiously carved object, which looked like a model of a paddle in pale green stone, carefully polished, but which on closer inspection seemed to be a weapon for using at close quarters.

As they paraded the deck, with their quick eyes grasping everything, they made no scruple about placing their faces close to those of the sailors, and then drawing themselves up with a conscious look of satisfaction and self-esteem, as they compared their physique with that of their visitors.

One of them, a great fellow of about six feet three, and stout and muscular in proportion, stopped suddenly in front of Jem, at whom he seemed to frown, and turned to Don, upon whose chest he laid the back of his hand.

“Pakeha,” he said in a deep voice; “Ngati pakeha.”

“Tell him he’s another, Mas’ Don,” said Jem.

The savage turned fiercely upon Jem, gripping Don’s arm the while.

“Pakeha,” he said; “Ngati pakeha. Maori pakeha. My pakeha!”

Then to Don—“You my pakeha. Give me powder—gun.”

“Don’t you wish you may get it, old chap?” said Jem. “Wants you to give him powder and gun.”

The savage nodded approval.

“Yes,” he said; “powder-gun—you give.”

A call from one of his companions summoned the savage away, and he joined them to partake of some rum and water, which the captain had had prepared on their behalf.

“Won’t you come up and have some rum?” said the lieutenant to the tattooed Englishman in the boat.

“No, thank you; but you may send me down the bottle if you like, sir. Look here! Shall I show you where you can anchor?”

The lieutenant glanced at his superior officer, and in answer to his nod turned to the man again.

“Can you show us a safe anchorage?”

“I can show you half-a-dozen, all safe,” said the man. “When you like, I’ll lead the way.”

“A boat shall follow you, and take soundings.”

The first cutter was manned with a well-armed crew, and the lieutenant stepped in—Don and Jem being two of the number.

The tattooed Englishman shouted something to the men busy on the ship, and they unwillingly left the deck, slipped down into their canoe, and this led off, followed by the first cutter.

“Give way, my lads!” said the lieutenant; “and mind this: there must be no straying off in any shape whatever—that is, if we land. These fellows seem friendly, but we are only a few among hundreds, and I suppose you know what your fate would be if they got the upper hand.”

“Make tattooed chiefs of us seemingly, sir,” said Jem.

“Or hot joints,” said the officer laconically. “Ready there with that lead.”

The men rowed steadily on after the first canoe, and the man with the lead kept on making casts, but getting no bottom except at an excessive depth, as they went on, the scene growing more beautiful as each point was passed. The other canoes followed, and a curious thrill ran through Don, as he felt how helpless they would be if the savages proved treacherous, for the boat and her crew could have been overpowered at once; and the lieutenant was evidently uneasy, as he saw that they were taken right round to the back of a small island, gradually losing sight of the ship.

But he had his duty to do, and keeping a strict watch, after passing the word to his men to have their arms ready, he made them row on, with the lead going all the time.

It was a curious experience, and Don’s heart beat as he thought of the possibility of escaping from the boat, and taking to the shore, wondering the while what would be the consequences. The man in the leading canoe was evidently well treated, and quite one in authority; and if they landed and joined these people, why should not he and Jem become so too?

These were a few of the passing thoughts suggested by the novelty and beauty of the place, which seemed ten times more attractive to those who had been for months cooped up on shipboard; but the toil in which he was engaged kept Don from taking more than a casual glance ashore.

Bosun Jones sat at the tiller side by side with the lieutenant, and scraps of their conversation reached Don’s ears.

“Well, sir,” said the former, “as you say, we’re out of the reach of the sloop’s guns; but if anything happens to us, we may be sure that the captain will take pretty good revenge.”

“And a deal of good that will do us, Jones,” said the lieutenant. “I believe that scoundrel is leading us into a trap.”

“If he is, sir, I hope for one chance at him,” said the boatswain; “I don’t think I should miss my man.”

The leading canoe went on for quite a quarter of a mile after they had passed out of sight of the ship, the cutter following and taking soundings all the way, till they seemed to be quite shut in by high land, and the water was as smooth as a lake.

There, about five hundred yards from the shore, the canoe stopped, and almost at the same moment the water shallowed, so that the man in the bows got soundings in ten fathoms; directly after, nine; then eight; and eight again, at which depth the water seemed to remain.

“Come, that’s honest leading!” said the lieutenant, brightening; “as snug a berth as a ship could be in. Why, Jones, what a position for a port!”

“This do, sir?” shouted the tattooed Englishman. “You’ll be quite in shelter here, and the water keeps the same right up to the shore.”

A few more soundings were taken, and then the boat returned to the ship, which made her way in and anchored before night, with the canoes hanging about, and some of the chiefs eagerly besieging the gangway to be allowed on deck. But special precautions were taken; sentries were doubled; and, as if feeling that the fate of all on board depended upon his stringent regulations, the captain only allowed about half-a-dozen of the savage-looking people to come on board at a time.

By a little management Don had contrived that Jem should have the hammock next to his; and that night, with the soft air playing in through the open port-hole, they listened to the faint sounds on shore, where the savages were evidently feasting, and discussed in a whisper the possibility of getting away.