Chapter 25 | The Alarm | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Twenty Five.

There were so many opportunities for lying perdu on the deck of a man-of-war on a dark night that the shadowy figure had no difficulty in keeping pretty close to Don Lavington and his companion as, decided now upon their course of action, they laid hold upon a stout line where it was coiled up, and after running a sufficiency over the side to touch water, made it fast close to the main chains.

This done, they went cautiously forward so as to avoid the watch, and after being nearly seen, more than once, succeeded in getting a second line over the side close to the fore chains, in happy unconsciousness of the fact that the shadowy-looking figure was watching every movement.

As is the fashion aboard a man-of-war, the actors in this scene were barefooted, and thus able to pass quietly along the well-scrubbed deck; but unfortunately for them, the sailor playing the spy had the same advantage, and kept them in view unnoticed and unheard.

Now he was lying under the bulwarks, and so close that Jem’s foot almost touched his shoulder. Another time he was lying in one of the boats slung from the davits—then behind a coil of rope—behind the cook’s galley—in the lee of a cask—once in a water barrel which was to be filled with the icy fluid of the river which came down from one of the mountains; always, with the activity of a monkey, contriving to be somewhere close at hand, till they stood at last, silent and watchful, about mid-way between the fore and main chains, peering out into the darkness shoreward and listening for the faintest sound from off the sea.

It was a wonderfully still night, and though out to the east the restless waves beat heavily on reef and shore, their action here was a slow heaving and curling over on the black metallic sand with a sound that to those on shipboard was like a whisper, but whose movement could be seen by a faint line of lambent light just in the blackest part to leeward of the ship, where sea touched shore. Sometimes this was so faint as to be hardly visible to the best-trained sight; at others it was as if some phosphorescent serpent was gliding swiftly along the sands, and it was in this direction that Don strained his eyes in the hope of catching sight of Ngati’s canoe, whose paddles would churn up the water and shed on either side a faint golden light.

On board there were the customary anchor lanterns, and the faint glow thrown up from the skylights; but these seemed to have scarcely any effect upon the darkness, which hung down like a pall over the vessel, and Don’s spirits rose as he felt how well they were concealed. Then they sank once more, for Jem placed his lips close to his ear and whispered,—

“It’s too dark, my lad; we shall never be able to see the canoe if she comes.”

Just then Don pressed his arm, and they listened together to what sounded like a faint sawing noise, which stopped and was renewed several times, and was followed by a slight splash.

The sounds came from forward, apparently somewhere in the direction of the foreshrouds; but though they listened intently it was heard no more.

“Fish,” said Jem in a whisper, “trying to climb up into the ship, and then tumbled back into the sea.”

“Nonsense!” said Don, shortly. “Now you look to the left, and I’ll look to the right.”

“Right, my lad. I’ll look, but she won’t come.”

The searching scrutiny went on, and to Don, as he strained his eyes, it seemed as if all kinds of uncouth-looking monsters kept looming up out of the sea and disappearing; and though from time to time he told himself that it was all fancy, the various objects that his excited vision formed were so real that it was hard to believe that they were only the coinage of his fancy.

He turned and looked on board at the various lights, faintly-seen, with the result that his eyes were rested, while he listened to the monotonous talking of the watch and an occasional burst of laughter from the gunroom, or the regular murmur from the forecastle.

Then he watched shoreward again for the faint golden flash made by the paddles of Ngati’s canoe.

No lambent glow, no sound of paddling, not even a murmur from the shore, where the native huts were gathered together, and the great whare stood with its singularly carved posts representing human form over human form in strange combinations, with grotesque heads, pearly shell eyes, and tongues protruding from distorted mouths.

Then Jem caught Don’s arm in turn, for there was a splash far away to the left, below where, faintly-seen, a great sugar-loaf mountain rose high into the heavens.

The splash was not repeated, but, just as they had given up listening for it, once more the dull sawing sound came out of the darkness, but this time, instead of being forward it was away aft—how far they could not tell, for in the darkness sounds, like lights, may be close at hand or a couple of hundred yards away—it is hard to tell which.

The faint sawing went on for some time, ceased, and was renewed, to finish as before with a curious rustling and a splash.

“What can that be, Jem?” whispered Don.

“Not going to wenture an observation again,” replied Jem, sourly.

Then all was still save the murmurs of voices inboard, and Don stood pressed against the bulwark listening intently, and thinking that before they went below to their hammocks they must haul up the lines again and coil them down, or their appearance would betray that something had been going on.

How long they had been waiting since the last sound was heard, Don could not tell; but all was so wonderfully still that the silence was oppressive; and after arriving at the conclusion that the canoe would not come, as from the utter absence of light or movement ashore it was evident that none of the natives were stirring, he turned to Jem.

“Asleep?” he whispered.

“I arn’t a horse, am I?” was the surly reply. “Nice place to go to sleep standing up, Mas’ Don.—Think he’ll come?”

“I in afraid not, now.”

“What shall us do?”

Don was silent.

“Say, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem, after a thoughtful pause, “seems a pity to waste them ropes after—”


Don’s hand was on his lips, for voices were heard from aft, and directly after they heard the captain say,—

“Yes; extremely dark. Think we shall have a storm?”

“No,” said the first lieutenant, “the glass is too high. Very dark indeed.”

Then two faint sparks of light could be seen, indicating that the speakers were smoking, and the low murmuring of their voices suggested that they were chatting carelessly together.

“Keep your hand down, Mas’ Don,” said Jem in a whisper, after removing it. “They can’t hear us, and if they did they’d think it was the watch. Say, look here, seems a pity to waste them ropes after we’ve got ’em down ready.”

“Yes, Jem, it does.”

“Such a short way to slide down, and no fear o’ their breaking, same as there was in that cock-loft. What d’yer say?”

“What to?”

“Let’s slide down and swim for it. ’Tarn’t quarter of a mile. You could do that easy.”

“Yes, Jem; I think so.”

“And I’d help you if you got tired. Let’s go.”

“But the sharks.”

“There I goes again. I always forgets them sharks; but look here, my lad, it’s dark as pitch.”

“Quite, Jem.”

“We can’t see twenty yards afore us, not clear.”

“Not ten, Jem.”

“Well, that’s through the air. We couldn’t see an inch through water.”

“What of that?”

“More couldn’t the sharks.”

“Think not, Jem?”

“I feel ’bout sure on it. Look here, Mas’ Don, I arn’t got any money, but if I had, I’d wager half-a-guinea that all the sharks are at home and fast asleep; and if there’s any of ’em shut out and roaming about in the streets—I mean in the sea—it’s so dark that they couldn’t see more than an inch before their noses; so let’s open our knives ready, in case one should come, so that we could dive down and stab him, same as the natives do, and then swim on ashore. I’ll risk it: will you?”

Don was silent for a few moments.

“Don’t say yes, my lad, if you’d rayther not,” said Jem, kindly. “I don’t want to persuade you.”

“I’m ready, Jem. I was thinking whether it was right to let you go.”

“Oh, never you mind about me, my lad. Now, look here, shall us one go down each rope, or both down one?”

“Both down this one close here, and whoever goes down first can wait for the other. Yes, Jem; I’ll go first.”


“Now, at once.”

“Hoo—ray!” whispered Jem in Don’s ear, so sharply that it produced a strange tickling sensation.

“Open your knife, Jem.”

“Right, my lad; I’m ready.”

“This way, then. Hist!”

Don caught Jem’s arm in a firm grip as he was moving along the deck, each feeling somewhat agitated at the daring venture of exchanging firm planks for the treacherous sea, infested as they knew it was by horrible creatures which could tear them limb from limb.

Jem had heard a sound at the same moment, and he needed no telling that he should listen.

For from some distance off along the shore there was a faint splash, and, as they strained their eyes in the direction from whence it had come, they could see flashes of pale light, which they knew were caused by paddles.

“It’s them, Jem,” whispered Don, excitedly. “We must not start yet till the canoe is close up. I wish I had told him that I would make some signal.”

“It’ll be all right, my lad,” said Jem huskily. “Give ’em time. Think the watch ’ll see ’em?”

“I hope not,” panted Don, as he strained his eyes in the direction of the faintly flashing paddles, which seemed to be moved very cautiously.

“Think it is them, Jem?”

“Who could it be?”

“Might it be a war canoe coming to try and capture the ship?”

“Not it,” said Jem sturdily; “it’s Ugly, as put out his tongue, coming to help us away. My, Mas’ Don, how I should like to chop him under the chin next time he does that pretty trick of his.”

“Silence, man! Listen, and look out. Let’s get close to the rope first.”

They crept softly toward the rope hanging down from the main chains, ready to their hand, and, as they crept, the dark figure that had seemed to be spying over their movements crept too, but on toward the quarter-deck, where the captain and the first lieutenant were lolling over the rail, and talking gently as they smoked—rather a rare custom in those days.

“It’s the canoe, Jem,” whispered Don; “and it’s coming closer.”

They strained their eyes to try and make out the men in the long, low vessel, but it was too dark. They could not even hear the plash of a paddle, but they knew that some boat— that of friend or foe—was slowly coming toward the ship, for the flashing of the paddles in the phosphorescent water grew more plain.

“Ready, Jem?”

“Yes, I’m ready, lad. Rope’s just where you stand.”

“What!” cried the captain’s voice loudly, and then there was a quick murmur of talking.

“What’s that mean, Mas’ Don?”

“Don’t know. Some order.”

“Boat ahoy!” cried one of the watch forward, and there was a buzz of excitement which told that the paddling of the canoe had been seen.

“Watch there forward!” roared the captain.

“Ay, ay, sir,” came back.

“Follow me, Jem; we must swim to her now.”

“I’m after you, my lad.”

“Jem!” in a tone of despair.

“What is it!”

“The rope’s cut!”

“What? So it is. Never mind. After me! There’s the one in the forechains.”

In the midst of a loud buzz of voices, and the pad, pad—pad, pad of bare feet on the deck, Jem and Don reached the forechains; and Jem ran his hand along in the darkness till he felt the knot by which he had secured the rope.

“Here she is, Mas’ Don. Now, then, over with you quick, or I shall be a-top of your head.”

“I’ve got it,” whispered Don.

Then in a voice full of despair,—

“This is cut, too!”

At the same moment the captain’s voice rang out,—

“Look out there, you in the watch forward; two men are trying to leave the ship!”