Chapter 22 | Don’s Decision | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Twenty Two.

“It’s tempting, Jem,” said Don.

“Yes, Mas’ Don; and it’s untempting, too. I had a book once about manners and customs of foreign parts, but it didn’t say things so plain as you’ve found ’em here.”

“Yes, I’m afraid it won’t do, Jem. Even if we got away from the ship, it might be to a life that would be worse.”

“That’s it, sir, as I said afore, ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire.’ Wonder how long they’ll be ’fore they come back.”

“Not till sundown. I say, shall we try it or sha’n’t we?”

Jem scratched his head, and seemed to be hesitating.

“I don’t know what to say, Jem. If they treated us well on board, I should be disposed to say let’s put up with our life till we get back home.”

“But then they don’t treat us well, Mas’ Don. I don’t grumble to you, but it’s a reg’lar dog’s life I lead; bully and cuss and swear at you, and then not even well fed.”

“But we are to be paid for it, Jem,” said Don, bitterly.

“Paid, Mas’ Don!” replied Jem, contemptuously. “What paying will make up for what we go through?”

“And I suppose we should have prize-money if we fought and took a French ship.”

“But then we’re sent right out here, Mas’ Don, where there’s no French ships to fight; and if there were, the prize-money is shared among them as aren’t killed.”

“Of course.”

“Well, how do we know as we shouldn’t be killed? No, Mas’ Don, they don’t behave well to us, and I want to get home again, and so do you.”

“Yes, Jem.”

“P’r’aps it’s cowardly, and they’ll call it desertion.”

“Yes, Jem.”

“But we sha’n’t be there to hear ’em call it so.”

“No, Jem.”

“Therefore it don’t matter, Mas’ Don; I’ve thought this all over hundreds o’ times when you’ve been asleep.”

“And I’ve thought it over, Jem, hundreds of times when you’ve been asleep.”

“There you go again, sir, taking the ideas out of a man’s brain. You shouldn’t, Mas’ Don. I always play fair with you.”

“Yes, of course you do.”

“Well, then, you ought to play fair with me. Now look here, Mas’ Don,” continued Jem, seating himself on the gunwale of the boat, so as to let his bare feet hang in the water.

“’Ware sharks, Jem,” said Don quickly.

Jem was balanced on the edge, and at those words he threw himself backward with his heels in the air, and after he had struggled up with some difficulty, he stood rubbing his head.

“Where ’bouts—where ’bouts, sir?”

“I did not see a shark, Jem, but the place swarms with them, and I thought it was a risk.”

“Well, I do call that a trick,” grumbled Jem. “Hit my nut such a whack, I did, and just in the worst place.”

“Better than having a leg torn off, Jem. Well, what were you going to say?”

“Bottom of the boat’s nearly knocked it all out of my head,” said Jem, rubbing the tender spot. “What I meant to say was that I was stolen.”

“Well, I suppose we may call it so.”

“Stolen from my wife, as I belongs to.”

“Yes, Jem.”

“And you belongs to your mother and your Uncle Josiah, so you was stolen, too.”

“Yes, Jem, if you put it in that way, I suppose we were.”

“Well, then,” said Jem triumphantly, “they may call it cowardly, or desertion, or what they like; but what I say is this, a man can’t be doing wrong in taking stolen goods back to them as they belong to.”

“No, Jem, I s’pose not.”

“Very well then, Mas’ Don; the question is this—Will you or won’t you?”

“I will, Jem.”

“First chance?”

“Yes, I am decided.”

“That’s a bargain then, my lad. So shake hands on it. Why! How rough and hard and tarry your hands have grown!”

“Look out, Jem!”

Don caught hold of the grapnel rope ready to haul up and get away from the shore, but Jem seized his hand.

“It’s all right, Mas’ Don. Only them two running back with a basket, and I’m in that sort o’ way of thinking that they’ve only got to coax me a bit, and swear as there shall be no tattooing and meat-pie nonsense, and I’d go ashore with them now.”

“No, Jem, that would not do till we know a little more of them, and I can’t help hesitating now it comes to the point.”

“That’s just what I felt, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, with a perplexed look on his face.

“Come, Jem, who’s stealing some one else’s ideas now?”

“Like fruit?” said the tattooed Englishman, coming down to the water’s edge.

“That depends,” said Jem, dubiously. “What is it?”

“Karaka,” said their new friend, offering a basket of an olive-like fruit.

“Good to eat?”

“Yes; try it.”

“S’pose you eat some first,” said Jem suspiciously.

The Englishman laughed, and took some of the fruit, and began to chew it.

“Afraid these would drug you so that I could steal the boat?”

“I didn’t know,” said Jem sulkily. “Wouldn’t be the first who has stolen a boat, I suppose.”

Don took some of the berries, and began to eat, and this emboldened Jem, who tasted one in a very suspicious and doubting way.

“Hullo!” he said, with his countenance brightening; “know what these here taste like, Mas’ Don?”

“Very mellow apple?”

“No; like the medlars that grew in my grandmother’s garden.”

“That’s right!” said the Englishman; and his New Zealand companion began to select the best and ripest of the fruit from the basket and handed them to Don, watching him eat with what was meant for a pleasant smile; but as his face resembled one that had been carved in a piece of mahogany, and afterwards ornamented with streaks and scrolls, the effect was more repellent than attractive.

“My pakeha,” said the great fellow with a childlike show of satisfaction; and he looked from one to the other and laughed.

“Here, he’s took to you regular, youngster; only look out, for he’ll want utu for it some time. Eh, Ngati? Utu?”

Utu, utu” said the chief, smiling.

“What’s utu?” said Jem, in a surly tone.


“Oh, then we’ll give him a bit of ’bacco.”

He offered the New Zealander his tobacco-bag, which was quietly annexed with a smile.

“There, we’ll leave you the fruit. They’re good eating, my lads, and if at any time before you go, you feel disposed to settle down with us, there’s plenty of room, and it won’t be very long before you’ll grow into chiefs.”

He nodded, and then said a few words to his companion, who smiled at the two strangers in turn, after which they went off together into the forest, and were gone.

“Ugh!” ejaculated Jem. “Don’t know whether it arn’t safer aboard ship after all.”

“Why do you say that?” cried Don.

“Because whenever that black chap looks at me, he gives me the shivers.”


“Seems to me that he’s too fond of you, Mas’ Don, and as if he was thinking how good you’d be.”

“Nonsense!” cried Don, who was enjoying the fruit. “Have some more of these. I wonder whether there are any more good kinds of fruit grow ashore.”

“Sure to be.”

“Do you think if we left the ship, Jem, and found our way right along the coast to some place where we could live till the ship had gone, and then wait till another ship came, we could get enough to eat?”

“Dessay we could.”

“Because if we did, we should be quite independent, and could do as we liked.”

“To be sure, that’s the way it seems to me; but just now, Mas’ Don, I can only think of one thing.”

“What’s that, Jem?”

“How to get a bit of sleep, for the sun has made me as drowsy as a beedle.”

“Well, then, sit down and sleep.”

Jem wanted no persuasion, and in five minutes he was breathing very heavily, while Don sat watching the beauties of nature, the clouds of steam floating above the volcanic island, the wondrous sheen of the sea in the sun, the great lace-like tree-ferns which drooped over the mossy growth at the forest edge, and the beautiful butterflies which floated about like gaily-painted flowers in the golden light.

Every now and then there was the sweet note of some bird ringing clearly in the air; then a loud and piercing screech heralded the coming of a parrot or cockatoo, which seemed tame enough to care little for the stranger who was watching its actions.

Then all would be still again—a dreamy, sleepy stillness that was wonderfully attractive to Don as he sat with his eyes half-closed. In the distance he could see some of the Maoris coming and going in a listless, careless way, as if their life was a very pleasant indolence without a care.

It was very beautiful and wonderfully attractive. On board the ship there were hard work, hard living, peremptory orders, and what seemed to the proud boy a state of slavery, while on shore offered itself a life of ease where there would be no battling with storm, and risk of war or shipwreck.

Why should he not take advantage of this or some other opportunity, and steal ashore?

It would be desertion, and setting aside the punishment held out to the one who forsook his ship after being forced into His Majesty’s navy, there was a feeling troubling Don that it would be dishonourable to go.

On the other side there was home, the strong desire to be free, and a love of adventure prompting him to escape.

“No,” he said decidedly at last; “it would be cowardly and base to desert. They treat me badly, but not hardly enough to make me run away. I’ll stop and bear it like a man.”

Somehow Don felt lighter in heart after coming to this determination; and after looking round and wondering how long the explorers would be before they returned, and also wishing he could have been of the party, he leaned his elbows on the side of the boat and gazed down into the clear water, and through it at the beautiful lace-like pattern made by the sun, casting the netted shadow of the ripples on the soft pebbly sand.

Now and then a shoal of fish glided in and dashed away. Then one brilliantly decked in gold and silver and blue came floating by, and Don watched it eagerly, wishing the while that he had a line.

He was leaning over the side in this way, gazing down at the water, now about four feet deep where the boat had swung, when he became aware of something pale and shadowy some little distance off. Looking at it in a sloping direction made the ocean water seem so dense that he could not make out what it was for some little time. At first it seemed to be a dimly-seen patch of seaweed; then it appeared to be too regular and rounded, and it struck him that it must be a large transparent jelly-fish floating in with the tide, till he made out that it was continued backward from him, and that it was larger than he had imagined; and as he looked the object gradually grew plainer and more distinct. It was still shadowy and grey, and had a peculiar, strange attraction, which made him lean more over the side till a curious nightmare-like sensation came over him, and as he realised that the object was alive, and that he was looking down at two strange dull eyes, he felt that he could not shrink back, although the creeping chilly feeling which came over him seemed like a warning of danger.

Then it all appeared more like a dream, in which he was striving hard to get away, and all the time obliged to crouch there gazing at that creature whose eyes were fixed upon him, and which imperceptibly grew plainer to his sight.

The intensity of the position grew more and more painful during what appeared to be a long time. He tried to call to Jem, who was asleep not six feet away, but his mouth felt dry. He endeavoured to reach out and kick him, but he could not stir, and still the creature advanced till, all at once, there was a tremendous disturbance in the water; something seemed to rise and strike him a violent blow in the chest, and the next moment he was seated in the bottom of the boat, which was rocking violently, and staring stupidly at Jem, who sat up staring back.

“What yer do that for?” cried Jem angrily. “I’d only just closed my eyes.”

“I did not do anything,” faltered Don, shivering.

“Yes, you did!” cried Jem. “Asked me to sit up and watch, and I’d ha’ done it. Needn’t ha’ played tricks.”


“There, don’t say you didn’t, Mas’ Don. Boat’s rocking now, and you’d better swab up that water. Nice row there’d be if the skipper come back and found the boat all wet.”

Jem picked up the swab and began to remove the water himself, and in doing so he noticed Don’s face.

“Why, hullo, Mas’ Don! What’s the matter? You look as white as— Why, what now?”

Jem was about to lean over the side and wring the swab, when Don sprang astern and dragged him back.

“Look! Look!” he cried, pointing.

Jem followed the direction of the pointing finger, and shrank away with a shudder.

“What? A shark!” he exclaimed.

“Yes; it rose at me out of the water, and struck me in the chest, and I fell back, and so did he.”

“Ugh!” ejaculated Jem, as he seized the boathook, and rested it on the gunwale.

“Don’t touch, it,” whispered Don; “it may spring out of the water at you.”

“It had better not,” said Jem. “Hah!”

He drove the boathook down with all his might, striking the great fish just as it was slowly rising toward the surface, close to the boat; and so well aimed was the stroke, that there was a tremendous swirl in the water, the side near Jem resounded with a heavy blow from the fish’s tail, and the boathook seemed to be snatched out of the striker’s hand to go slowly sailing away oceanward.

“Look at that!” cried Jem. “Why, I must have driven it right into him. How are we to get it back?”

“Watch it,” said Don, excitedly. “It will come out and float directly.”

Don’s prophecy did not come to pass, for as they watched, they saw about a foot of the boathook shaft stand sloping out of the water, and go here and there in a curious manner.

“Let’s row after it,” suggested Don.

“Wouldn’t be no good, Mas’ Don; and we’ve got nothing to fight him with but pistols. Let him be, and the thing will soon wriggle out.”

Jem proved as far wrong as his companion, for, after a time, as they watched and saw the end of the shaft bob here and there; it suddenly disappeared about fifty yards away.

“Why, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, laughing, “it’s like fishing; and after biting ever so long, the float’s gone right under water. Now’s your time. Strike!”

“And we’ve no line,” said Don, who was beginning to get rid of his nervous sensation.

“No, we haven’t a line,” said Jem. “Keep your eye on the place where he went down; we mustn’t lose that hitcher. Say, it won’t do to try and swim ashore. That’s a shark, that is, and a big one, too. Did he hurt you?”

“Not much. It was like a tremendous blow with somebody’s fist. Look!”

“Told you so!” cried Jem. “Here he comes with a rush to give us back the boathook.”

“Or to attack the boat,” said Don, as the end of the shaft suddenly appeared away to their right; and then came rapidly nearer in a direct line for where they were.

“Not he,” said Jem sturdily. “Too stupid.”

All the same, there was soon a peculiar rising in the water coming direct for them, as the boathook seemed to plough through the sea, which rapidly grew shallower. Onward it came, nearer and nearer, till Jem gave a warning shout, and placed one foot on the side ready to plunge overboard.

“Don’t do that, Jem; it’s certain death!” cried Don.

“Don’t you stop, Mas’ Don; that’s certain death, too. Let’s swim ashore. Now, my lad, now, now. Don’t stop a fellow; don’t!”

Jem shouted these words excitedly, as Don clung to him and held him back, gazing wildly all the time at the disturbed water, as the great fish swiftly approached, till, just as it was within a few yards, the shallowness of the water seemed to startle it, making it give quite a bound showing half its length, and then diving down with a kind of wallow, after which the occupants of the boat saw the wooden pole go trailing along the surface, till once more it was snatched, as it were, out of sight.

“Don’t seem as if he’s going to shake it out,” said Jem.

“You must have driven the spike in right over the hook, and it acts like a barb. What a blow you must have given!”

“Well, I hit as hard as I could,” said Jem. “He was coming at me. Can you see it now?”


“Keep a sharp look-out; it’s sure to come up sometime.”

The sharp look-out was kept; but they did not see the boathook again, though they watched patiently till nearly sundown, when a hail came from the woods; and as the boat-keepers got up the grapnel and ran the light vessel in shore, the captain and his men appeared slowly to their left, and came down as if utterly wearied out.

“Look at ’em, Mas’ Don; they’ve been having a fight.”

Jaded, their clothes torn in all directions, coated with mud, and with their faces smeared and scored, the blood stains on their cheeks and hands gave the returning party all the appearance of those who had been engaged in a fight for life.

But it had only been an encounter with the terrible thorns and spines of the wild land they had explored, and the wounds, much as they had bled, were but skin deep.

The boat-keepers leaped out, and ran the stern in as close as they could, and the captain was in the act of stepping in, placing a hand on Don’s shoulder to steady himself, worn out as he was with his long tramp, when it seemed to Don that he felt the cold, slimy touch of a shark gliding up against his bare legs, and with a start of horror he sprang sidewise, with the result that the captain, who was bearing down upon the lad’s shoulder, fell sidewise into the sea.

“You clumsy idiot!” cried the captain; and forgetting himself in his annoyance, worn out as he was, and irritable from his great exertions, he caught at Don’s extended hand, and then as he rose struck the boy a heavy blow with his doubled fist right in the chest.

Don staggered heavily, fell into the water, and then struggled up drenched as the captain was before him. Then, forgetting in his hot rage everything about their relative positions and the difference in age, the boy made for the tall, frowning officer before him, and would have struck him in his blind wrath but for Bosun Jones, who had seen everything, and now hastily interposed.

“No, no, my boy,” he said. “Keep back, you are too wet to do any good. Allow me, sir.”

Don shrank back, realising the heinousness of the social sin he was about to commit, and a dead silence fell on the group, the men staring wonderingly as the captain accepted Bosun Jones’ help, stepped into the boat, and stood wringing himself.

“Why, the young dog was going to strike me!” cried the captain.

“Surely not, sir,” said the boatswain hastily. “Only going to help you, sir.”

“Help me! I believe he was going to hit out. Here, sir, what made you start away like that?”

“He thought it was a shark, sir,” cried Jem. “One’s been about the boat all the aft’noon.”

“Hold your tongue, sir!” cried the captain sternly. “Here, you boy, what made you flinch!”

“Thought I felt the shark touch me, sir,” said Don, sullenly.

“Oh, then I am to be thrown into the water because you are a cowardly young idiot,” cried the captain. “I’ll talk to you to-morrow. In with you, my lads, and give way.”

“There’s no boathook!” cried the coxswain; and on the keepers being called to account, their story was received with such manifest doubt, that Don writhed and sat sullenly in his place in the boat, as it was rowed back to the sloop.

“Rather an absurd story that, Jones—about the boathook,” said the captain as he stepped on board. “Mind it is reported to-morrow morning. I believe the young scoundrel was going to strike me.”

“But you struck him first,” said the boatswain to himself, as he saw the captain descend. “Hot-headed young rascal. Ah! Here, Lavington, what about that boathook? Let’s have the simple truth. One of the Maoris stole it, and you were afraid to speak?”

“I was not afraid to speak the truth, sir,” said Don; “and I told it.”

“But that’s such a wild story. Your messmate could not have driven it into a shark over the hook.”

“I don’t know whether it was driven in over the hook, sir,” replied Don; “but it stuck in the fish’s back and would not come out.”

The boatswain looked at him thoughtfully, while Don waited to hear his words.

“Look here, Lavington,” he said, “I liked you, my lad, from the first, and I should be sorry for you to be in serious trouble. I have been your friend, have I not?”

“I can’t see much friendship in dragging one away from home,” said Don, coldly.

“I had my duty to do, young man, and a sailor is not allowed to ask questions as to what’s right or wrong.”

“But I was treated like a criminal,” said Don.

“You were treated far better than pressed men are as a rule especially those who try to break away. But I can’t argue that with you. You and your companion are king’s men now, or king’s boys, and have to do your duty. Let’s come back to to-day’s work. The captain’s offended, and I want to save you from trouble if I can.”

“It’s very kind of you, sir,” said Don.

“Now tell me this. Do you know what you were going to do when the captain knocked you backwards?”

Don was silent.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” said the boatswain. “You were going to strike him again. That’s the truth, is it not?”

Don remained silent.

“It is the truth. Well, have you any idea of what a bit of madness that would have been here?”

Don shook his head.

“Why, my good lad, you could not commit a greater crime. It means death.”

“Does it, sir?”

“Does it, sir! Why, goodness me, my lad, you must be half mad.”

“People are sometimes, sir, when they are hit.”

“Yes, that’s true enough; but you must master your temper. Save all that sort of thing up till you fight the French, and then you will be allowed to grow quite mad if you like. Now once more, about that boathook. You did not lose it?”

“Yes, sir; we did lose it.”

“Ah, I thought so.”

“Because the great fish carried it off.”

“Humph! Well, go and get yourself dry. If you are lucky, you will hear no more about this, only have the cost of the boathook deducted out of your pay, and perhaps the captain will have forgotten all about your conduct by to-morrow.”

“What did he say to you?” said Jem, as Don went below.

Don told him.

“Pay for the boathook?” said Jem. “Well, I’ll do that, my lad. But what did he say—the skipper would forget it by to-morrow?”

“Yes, Jem.”

“I hope he will.”

“But I can’t forget that he hit me,” said Don sternly.

“Now, now, Mas’ Don, you mustn’t speak like that.”

“And you must not speak like that, Jem,—Master Don. You’ll have some of the men hear you.”

“Well, I’ll mind; but you mustn’t think any more about that, my lad. He’s captain, and can do as he likes. You were going to hit him, weren’t you?”

“Yes, Jem, I’m afraid I was. I always feel like that if I’m hurt.”

“But you mustn’t now you’re a sailor. Say, my lad, things looks rather ugly, somehow. Think the captain will punish you?”

“We shall see, Jem.”

“But hadn’t we better— I say, my lad,” he whispered, “we could swim ashore.”

“And the shark?”

“Ugh! I forgot him. Well, take a boat, and get right away, for I’ve been thinking, Mas’ Don, it’s a very horrid thing to have hit your officer.”

“But I didn’t hit him. He hit me.”

“But you were going to, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem. “Strikes me the time’s come for running away.”

Don shook his head.

“Why, you was red hot on it the other day, my lad.”

“Yes, but I’ve been thinking a great deal about it since, Jem; and it seems to me that it would be too cowardly to run now we are king’s sailors.”

“But not if you were going to be punished for doing nothing.”

“N–o, Jem,” said Don hesitatingly.

“And for being hit as the captain hit you.”

“N–no, Jem; but—but somehow— There, don’t say any more about it now.”