Chapter 24 | Tomatl’s Promise | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Twenty Four.

“Wonder whether Mike ever had a taste of this sort o’ thing, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, after they had sat in silence some time, Don’s face not inviting any attempt at conversation. “He never said anything about being in irons when he spun yarns about adventures.”

“Jem!” said Don indignantly; and as if it only wanted his companion’s words to start him in a furious outburst of passion; “it is shameful! It is a cruel indignity and disgrace.”

“Hush, hush, my lad! Don’t take it that way. They arn’t so werry heavy, and they don’t hurt much.”

“Hurt? Not hurt much? Why, they are treating us as if we were thieves.”

“What, being ironed, sir? Well, it do seem a bit hard.”

“It’s cruel! It’s horrible! And he had no right to do it for such an offence.”

“Steady, my lad, steady. The sentry ’ll hear you, and have his turn, p’r’aps, at telling tales.”

“But he had no right to do this, I say.”

“P’r’aps not, Mas’ Don; but skippers does just what they please when they’re out at sea in war time. I thought he was going to hang us once.”

“He would not dare,” said Don.

“Well, if he did, I should have liked to have a few words first with Mr Ramsden; for of all the mean, dirty, sneaking chaps I ever set eyes on, he’s about the worst.”

“A mean, cowardly spy!” cried Don.

“Ah, that’s it; so he is, Mas’ Don; a mean, cowardly spy. I couldn’t think o’ them words, but they’re just what he is.—Say, Mas’ Don.”

“Don’t, don’t, don’t, Jem.”

“Don’t what, Mas’ Don?”

“Don’t do that. Master Don. It sounds so foolish, and it’s ridiculous, seeing what we are.”

“All right, my lad, I’ll be careful; but what I wanted to say was, would there be any harm in taking Master Ramsden by his waistband, and dropping him some night over into the sea?”

“Do you want to commit murder, Jem?”

“Do I want to commit murder? Nay, Mas’ Don, gently, gently; don’t talk to a man like that. I only meant to give him a ducking.”

“Amongst the sharks?”

“Ugh! I forgot all about the sharks, Mas’ Don. I say, think there are many of ’em about?”

“They say there are plenty, and we saw a monster, Jem.”

“So we did, my lad; so we did, and a nice lot o’ worry he’s got us in through stealing that boathook. But, look here, how do you feel now?”

“Heart-sick and tired of it all, Jem. I wish we had run off when we had the chance.”

“You do?”

“I do. See how we have been served: dragged from our homes, roughly used; bullied and ill-treated; and with that man’s word taken before ours. It’s too bad—too bad.”

“Well, it is, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem. “But you see it was awkward. You couldn’t swear as you hadn’t thoughts of deserting.”

“Deserting?” said Don hotly. “I will not have it called deserting. I say it is only claiming our liberty, when we have been seized upon and treated like slaves.”

“What a weather-cocky way you have got, Mas’ Don. Only t’other day you was all on the other tack, and says, says you, ‘It’s deserting, and cowardly,’ and a lot more to that tune, and the way you went on at me, sir, made my hair curl.”

“I had not had this last blow, Jem. I had not been put in irons then like a common thief.”

“Silence, below there!” cried an angry voice. “Sentry, stop that talking by the prisoners.”

The marine marched slowly toward them, and growled out his orders. Then, settling his head in his stiff stock, he faced round and marched away.

“All right, Jolly,” said Jem, good-humouredly; and then drawing closer to his companion in misfortune, he went on talking in a whisper.

“Say, Mas’ Don, do you mean it now?”

“Mean what?”

“Going? It’s now or never. If we waits till we goes off to sea again our chance is gone.”

“I mean it, Jem.”

“That’s a good bargain, my lad,” said Jem, slapping him on the knee. “Then the sooner we’re off the better.”

“How can we go?”

“How? Easy enough. Get on deck, slide down a rope over the side when it’s dark.”

“In irons?”

“They don’t weigh much. We could get hold of an oar or two, or lower down a grating, and hold on by that till we’d swam ashore.”

“And the sharks, Jem?”

“Oh, those sharks!” cried Jem, pettishly. “I always forget them. I wish there wasn’t such a thing as a shark on the face of the earth. Well, we must try some other way.”

“That’s easy enough to say, Jem; but what way is there?”

“Oh, I don’t know yet, Mas’ Don; but they say, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way.’ P’r’aps I can think it out. ’Member that big case as was too wide to come into the lower warehouse?”


“Well, your uncle said he’d be obliged to have the doorposts cut, but I thought that out after I’d measured it, and I found that it would just go in at the top warehouse doors if we hauled it up with the crane.”

“You used to call it winding anything up, Jem.”

“Ay, but I hadn’t been to sea then, Mas’ Don. Well, didn’t I have that there case up to the top floor, and then lower it down through all the traps, and get it into the ground floor without the door being cut; and when your uncle come in, he stared, and asked me how I’d managed it?”

“Yes, I remember it all,” said Don sadly.

“Look here, you two. I don’t want to be hard,” said the marine; “but you’ll get me into a row. Now, are you going to clap on the hatchways, or am I to report you?”

“All right, Jolly; we won’t talk any more,” said Jem; and he kept his word that night.

There was no release next day, and very drearily it passed till towards evening, when Jem waited till the sentry’s back was turned, and put his lips to Don’s ear.

“I’ve got it, Mas’ Don,” he said.

“What, can you see your way to escape?”

“I’ve hit it out, my lad. Look here. Do you know them’s men’s irons you’ve got on?”

“Yes. They don’t make irons for boys.”

“Then look here, my lad; it may mean a bit of skin off; but all you’ve got to do is to squeeze your feet through those rings, and then I’ll be bound to say a thin slip of a fellow like you can creep out of the iron round your waist.”

“I don’t think so, Jem. I’m stouter than you fancy.”

“Oh no, you’re not, and I dessay it’ll be a tight fit; but you do it.”

“And suppose I do get out of them, what about you?”

“About me, Mas’ Don? Ah, I don’t know about me; but you could get right away, slide down the rope, get the gig up alongside—”

“When it’s swinging from the davits, Jem?”

“There you go again,” grumbled Jem. “I never did see such a fellow for chucking stumbling-blocks all over the place for a man to hit his shins against.”

“Then propose something possible. And besides, you don’t suppose I’m going away without you.”

“But I can’t get my irons off, and you can get yours.”

“I don’t know that,” said Don, trying; and, to his great surprise, finding that he could drag the ring over his ankle without much difficulty.

“There, I told you so. Slip it on again ’fore the sentry sees.”

The marine was not likely to see, for the place was very dark where they sat, and for a long time they discussed the matter in a whisper, but only to be obliged to come to the conclusion that it was impossible to escape, unless Don would go alone.

“Well, if you won’t go alone, you won’t, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, in an ill-used tone; “but I do say as it’s shabby of you, after I’ve thought about it so much.”

The second night of their imprisonment passed slowly, and they were cudgelling their brains next day, when they were summoned on deck, received a severe reprimand, and, after their irons had been taken off, were told to go to their duty.

Then a week passed of land surveying and chart making, during which time the intercourse with the natives had been kept on a very friendly footing; and then a rumour ran round the ship that they were to sail after a certain channel had been sounded and the chart made.

“It’s all over, Mas’ Don,” said Jem gloomily. “We shall go sailing away all over the world, and be took by the French, and never see home again!”

Don made no reply, but went about his duty gloomily enough till toward afternoon, when a canoe came off from the shore, manned by about fifty of the New Zealanders, and with Tomati and Ngati in the stern.

These two were soon on board, and were entertained by the captain, who made them several useful presents.

How he managed it Don hardly knew himself, but he contrived to get close behind the tattooed Englishman, and said softly, just as the officers were laughing and watching Ngati, who was going through his war-dance for their delectation, and distorting his features to the greatest extent,—

“Could you come after dark to-night in your canoe, and take us ashore?”

“Hist! Mind what you’re saying,” replied the man, clapping his legs loudly, as if to encourage his companion to fresh exertions and distortions of his countenance.

“I want to come,” said Don softly, in the midst of the applause.

“I daren’t do it, my lad. They’d come down after me if I did; but I’ll send Ngati. He’ll come in his little canoe.”

Don’s heart beat wildly at these words, and he had no chance to say more, for Tomati went toward the officers, talked with them for a while; and then, as Don watched, he saw him go to the big chief, clap him on the shoulder, and say something which made the great fellow smile.

The New Zealanders seemed to show more interest in the appointments of the ship than they had displayed before, and the officers were civil enough to them, exchanging presents, and getting from the dusky warriors greenstone ornaments and weapons in exchange for powder and tobacco.

Don’s heart had ceased to beat, and he was thinking despondently that he might as well give up all idea of evasion, when a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and looking up, it was to encounter the hideous face of the big chief, who said, with a peculiar laugh,—

“My pakeha. Bring gunpowder plenty. Wait by big ship. Dark.”

It was not a very clear promise, but Don realised that it meant a chance of escape, and his eyes flashed with excitement, as the chief went on.

“Plenty gunpowder. Bring, bring. My pakeha.”

He went off directly to where some of his fellows were standing about the deck, and hardly realising whether the chief was to be depended on, Don was about to go in search of Jem, when he felt a chill of despair, for, as he turned, he encountered the sinister countenance of Ramsden, his eye fixed upon him in a watchful way, and a satisfied smile playing about his lips.

Did he hear? Did he know? If he did, Don felt certain that the scoundrel would go and report all to one of the officers, and so get it to the captain’s ears.

Still there was hope. He might not have heard, and as to the New Zealand men speaking to him, they were doing that to nearly every sailor they encountered on the deck.

Still he felt that it would be better not to be seen speaking to Jem, and he crossed to another part of the ship, and stood watching the leave-taking of the visitors, who descended into their canoe laden with presents and the objects they had obtained by barter.

Tomati was the last to descend, and he was standing in the gangway with a bottle of rum and a canister of powder in his hands, when Don heard the first lieutenant say to him jocularly,—

“I say, my fine fellow: I believe if the truth was known, you slipped off from Norfolk Island, and took up your residence here.”

The man made no answer for a few moments, but stood looking the officer full in the face.

“What island did you say, sir?” he said at last.

“Norfolk Island. Am I right?”

“I’m a chief of this tribe, sir,” said the man sturdily, “and these are my people. I’m not an Englishman now.”

He went down into his canoe, and it darted away, propelled by fifty paddles, while the lieutenant turned away laughing, and went to the captain.

“That man’s an escaped convict, or I’m a Dutchman, sir,” he said; and they went forward talking.

Don cast an eye round for Jem, but he was not in sight. Ramsden was though; and, go where he would for the rest of that day, Don always woke to the fact that this man was at hand, apparently taking no notice, but watching him.

It seemed as if he would never have a chance to speak to Jem about what had passed; but at last Ramsden went below, and after a little inquiry Don learned that Jem was aloft in the foretop, helping a couple more men at repairing some of the toggles and reef points of a sail.

Don ran up as fast as his skill would allow, and had hardly reached the top when Ramsden came back on deck, and began seeking him out.

Don paused, out of sight now, to watch the man in turn, and saw him go from place to place, looking about searchingly, and undoubtedly for him.

“Hullo, my lad!” said Jem cheerily; “come to help?”

Don shook his head, and remained watching the progress of the men, but giving Jem a meaning look from time to time, sufficient to stimulate his curiosity, and make him on the qui vive. Then to avoid suspicion, he hurried down, and had hardly reached the deck again before Ramsden, who had again been below, came once more on deck, and remained watching him till dark.

“Let’s get under the lee of this bulwark,” said Don, when at last he found an opportunity for speaking to Jem alone.

“We shall get in a row if we are seen,” said Jem.

“But it’s too dark for us to be seen,” whispered Don; and this seeming to be the case, they went into the shadow cast by one of the quarter boats, and lay down.

“What is it, Mas’ Don?” said Jem in a whisper, as soon as they had satisfied themselves that they were alone.

Don related what had passed; but Jem did not seem to take to it.

“No,” he said; “he is not likely to come, and if he did, they’d hear his canoe, and nail him. What time did he say?”

“Time? There was no time named.”

“Then how shall we know, my lad? We can’t watch for him all night.”

“Why not?” said Don excitedly. “It seems to be our last chance.”

“Well, I dunno,” said Jem, gloomily; “it don’t seem to me like a chance at all. But I’ll do what you do, my lad. I’ll stand by you.”

“Then let’s begin our watch at once, after we’ve put a rope overboard from the forechains, so as to slip down when the canoe comes.”

“And what then?”

“Then, Jem, we must swim to it, and they’ll take us aboard.”

“And the sharks, my lad?”

“Sharks!” said Don despairingly. “I’d forgotten them.”

“That’s what I used to do, but you always remembered.”

“Jem,” said Don, after a pause, “we must chance the sharks. They will not see us in the dark.”

“But if— No; I won’t show the white feather, Mas’ Don,” said Jem. “Come on, and we’ll get a rope over to starboard and larboard too.”

“No need, Jem,” said Don. “The canoe is sure to come from the land side.”

“All right, sir. Come on, and don’t say another word.”

Jem crept away, keeping in the shadow, and moving very slowly, so as not to attract the attention of the watch, and Don followed, while, as soon as he had gone a few yards, what looked like a dog slowly crept by on all fours close beneath the bulwark, after getting up from a crouching position just by where the pair had been discussing their chances of escape.