Chapter 27 | The Fugitives | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Twenty Seven.

Don and Jem plunged almost simultaneously into the black, cold water, and felt the sea thundering in their ears.

Then Jem, being broader and stouter than his companion, rose to the surface and looked round for Don; but a few seconds of agony ensued before the water parted and the lad’s head shot up into the faint light shed by the lanthorns.

“Now for it, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem; “think as it’s a race, and we’re going to win a cup at a ’gatta. Slow and sure, sir; slow and sure, long, steady strokes, and keep together.”

“They’re calling to us to stop, Jem,” whispered Don.

“Let ’em call, Mas’ Don. Somebody else seems a-calling of me, and that’s my Sally. Oh, don’t I wish I hadn’t got any clothes.”

“Can they see us?” whispered Don, as they swam steadily on.

“I don’t believe they can, sir; and if they can, they won’t see us long. Shouldn’t be surprised if they lowered a boat.”

“Ah! Look out!” whispered Don. “Shall we dive?”

For he heard the clicking of the muskets as they missed fire.

“Well, I do call that cowardly,” said Jem, as he heard the order to load; “shooting at a couple of poor fellows just as if they was wild duck.”

“Swim faster, Jem,” said Don, as he gazed back over his shoulders at the lights as the shots rang out.

“No, no; swim slower, my lad. They can’t see us; and if they could, I don’t believe as the men would try and hit us. Ah! Not hit, are you?”

“No, Jem; are you?”

“Not a bit of it, my lad. There they go again. Steady. We’re all right now, unless a boat comes after us. We shall soon get ashore at this rate, and the tide’s helping up, and carrying us along.”

“Toward shore, Jem, or out to sea?”

“Shore, of course,” said Jem, as he swam on his side, and kept an eye on the faint lights of the ship. “Say, Mas’ Don, they won’t hang us, will they, if they ketches us?”

“What made you say that?”

“Because here comes a boat after us.—Hear the skipper?”

“Yes; but the canoe—where is the canoe?”

Don raised himself, and began to tread water, as he looked in the direction where they had seen the water flash beneath the paddles.

“I dunno, my lad. Can’t see nothing but the lights of the ship. Better swim straight ashore. We sha’n’t be able to see no canoe to-night.”

They swam steadily on, hearing only too plainly the plans made for their recapture. The orders, the creaking of the falls, even the plash made by the boats, as they kissed the water, and the dull rattle of the oars in the rowlocks was carried in the silence of the night distinctly to their ears, while the regular plash, plash, plash, as the oars dipped, sent a thrill through Don, and at times seemed to chill his energy.

But these checks were almost momentary. There was a sense of freedom in being away from the ship, and, in spite of the darkness, a feeling of joyous power in being able to breast the long heaving swell, and pass on through the water.

“Better not talk, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem, as they swam; “sound goes so easily over the water.”

“No, I’m not going to talk,” said Don; “I want all my breath for swimming.”

“Don’t feel tired, do you?”

“Not a bit.”

“That’s right, lad. Stick to it steady like. Their lanthorns aren’t much good. Don’t you be skeart; we can see them plain enough, but they can’t see us.”

“But it seems as if they could,” whispered Don, as they saw a man standing up in the bows of one of the boats, holding a lanthorn on high.

“Yes, seems,” whispered Jem; “but there’s only our heads out of water, and only the tops o’ them sometimes. Say, that must ha’ been fancy about the canoe.”

“No, Jem; she’s somewhere about.”

“Glad on it: but I wish she’d come and pick us up.”

They swam on silently toward the shore, listening to the shouts of the men, and watching alternately the lights of the boats and those of the ship.

All at once a curious noise assailed Don’s ear.

“What’s the matter, Jem?” he whispered, in alarm.

“Matter?” said Jem, greatly to his relief. “Nothing, as I knows on.”

“But that noise you made?”

“I didn’t make no noise.”

“You did, just now.”

“Why, I was a-larfin’ quiet-like, so as to make no row.”


“Thinking about them firing a volley at us in the dark. Wonder where the bullets went?”

“Don’t talk, Jem; they may hear us.”

“What! A whisper like that, my lad? Not they. Boats is a long way off, too, now.”

The excitement had kept off all sense of fear, and so far Don had not seemed to realise the peril of their position in swimming through the darkness to land; for even if there had been a canoe coming to their help, the lowering of the boats seemed to have scared its occupants away, and though the sea was perfectly calm, save its soft, swelling pulsation, there were swift currents among the islands and points, which, though easily mastered by canoe or boat with stout rowers, would carry in an imperceptible manner a swimmer far from where he wished to go.

But they swam steadily on for some time longer, Jem being the first to break the silence.

“Say, Mas’ Don,” he whispered, “did you hear oars?”

“No, Jem.”

“I thought I did. I fancy one of the boats put off without a lanthorn. Weren’t there three?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Well, you can see two of ’em easy like.”

“Yes, Jem; I can see.”

“Then there’s another cruising about in the dark, so we must be careful.”

There was another interval of steady swimming, during which they seemed to get no nearer to the shore, and at last Jem spoke again.

“Say, Mas’ Don, don’t you feel as if you’d like a cup o’ tea?”


“I do. I’m as dry as sawdus’. S’pose we’re nearly there, but I can’t touch bottom. I tried just now.”

They swam on, with the lights of the boat farther off than ever, and the ship more distant still.

“Getting tired, Jem?”

“N–no. Could go on for about another week. Are you?”

“My clothes seem so heavy. Can you see the shore?”

“I can see the beach right afore us, but can’t tell how nigh it is. Never mind about your clothes, my lad; but they’re a great noosance at a time like this. Take your strokes long, and slow as you can.”

“That’s what I’m doing, Jem, but—do you think it’s much further?”

“Now, lookye here, Mas’ Don; if ever there was a good-tempered chap it was—I mean is—Jem Wimble; but if you gets talking like that, you aggravates me to such a degree that I must speak.”

Jem spoke angrily, and with unwonted excitement in his manner.

“Is it much furder, indeed? Why, of course it arn’t. Swim steady, and wait.”

Jem closed in as much as was possible after raising himself in the water, and scanning the distant shore; and as he did so a cold chill of dread—not on his own account—ran through him, for he felt that they were certainly no nearer shore than they were before.

“Throw your left shoulder a little more forward, Mas’ Don,” he said calmly; “there’s a p’int runs out here, I think, as’ll make the journey shorter.”

Don obeyed in silence, and they swam on, with Jem watchfully keeping his eyes upon his companion, who was now deeper in the water.

“Jem,” said Don, suddenly.

“Yes, Mas’ Don. Take it coolly, my lad. We’re getting close there. Oh, what a lie!” he added to himself, with a chill of misery unnerving him.


“Ay, ay, Mas’ Don.”

“If you escape—”

“If I escape!” whispered Jem, angrily. “Now, what’s the use o’ your talking like that? Escape, indeed! Why, I feel as if I could live in the water, if I had plenty to eat and drink.”

“Listen to me,” said Don, hoarsely. “If you escape, tell my mother I always loved her, even when I was obstinate. Tell her we didn’t run away, and that—that I didn’t take that money, Jem. You’ll tell her that?”

“I won’t tell her nor nobody else nothing of the sort,” said Jem. “I’m too busy swimming to think o’ no messages, and so are you. Steady—steady. Bit tired, lad?”

“Tired, Jem? My arms feel like lead.”

“Turn over and float a bit, dear lad, and rest yourself.”

“No,” said Don. “If I turn over I shall be too helpless to keep up, and I can’t turn back.—Jem, I’m beat out.”

“You’re not!” cried Jem, in so loud and angry a voice, that the occupants of the pursuing boats must have heard them if they had been near. “You’ve got to keep on swimming steady, as I tells you, and if you says another word to me ’bout being beat, I’ll give you such a shove aside o’ the head as’ll duck you under.”

Don made no answer, but swam on feebly, with the water rising over his lips at every stroke; and as Jem swam by him he could hear the lad’s breath come quickly, and with a hoarse, panting sound.

“And I can’t leave him, even to; save myself,” groaned Jem. “Oh, Sally, Sally, my gal, I did love you very true; and if I never see you again, good-bye—good-bye!”

It seemed to poor Jem Wimble that his thoughts were so heavy that they sank him lower in the water; but he had a buoyant heart, which is the surest and best of life preservers; and taking a long breath, and setting his teeth, he swam on.

“Not so very far now, Mas’ Don,” he said. “You feel better now, don’t you?”


“Yes, lad.”

“It’s getting darker. I want to keep on, but I can’t. Can you shake hands?”

“No!” cried Jem, fiercely. “You turn over and float.”

Don uttered a sigh, and obeyed in a feeble way, while Jem ceased his striking out for shore, and placed one arm under Don’s neck.

“It’s all right, my lad. Don’t lose heart,” he said. “It’s wonderful easy to float; but you’re tired. It’s your clothes does it. You’re a wonderful good swimmer, Mas’ Don; but the wonderflest swimmers can’t swim for ever in clothes. That’s resting you, arn’t it? I’m fresh as a lark, I am. So ’ll you be dreckly, lad. Keep cool. Just paddle your hands a bit. We’re close in shore, only it’s so dark. We’ve done ’em. Boats is right away.”

“Are they—are they right away, Jem?”

“Yes, my lad, thank goodness!”

Don groaned.

“Don’t do that, my lad. You do make me savage when you won’t be plucky. Why, you can swim miles yet, and you shall, as soon as you’re rested. I say, how savage the capen will be when he finds he can’t ketch us!”

“Jem, my lad,” said Don, quietly; “don’t talk to me as if I were a child. It’s very good of you, and—kind—but—but I’m done, Jem—I’m done.”

“You’re not!” cried Jem, savagely. “Say that again, and I’ll hit you in the mouth. You arn’t done, and it’s the way with you. You’re the obsnittest chap as ever was. You’ve got to swim ashore as soon as you’re rested, and I say you shall.”

Don made no reply, but he floated with his nostrils clear of the water, and smiled as he gazed straight up in the dark sky.

“There. It was time I spoke,” continued Jem. “Some chaps loses heart about nothing.”

“Nothing, Jem?”

“Well, next to nothing, my lad. Why, mussy me! What a fuss we are making about a few hundred yards o’ smooth water. I’ve swum twice as far as this. Rested?”

Don made no reply.

“Ah, you will be soon. It’s the clothes, my lad. Now look here, Mas’ Don. You take my advice. Never you try a long swim again like this with your clothes on. They makes a wonderful deal of difference.”

“Jem,” said Don, interrupting him.

“Ay, ay, my lad.”

“Are the boats very far away?”

“Well, a tidy bit; say half-mile.”

“Then swim ashore and leave me; save yourself.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?”

“And tell my mother—”

“Now, look here,” cried Jem. “I should look well going and telling your mother as I left you in the lurch; and my Sally would spit at me, and serve me right. No, Mas’ Don, I’ve tried it easy with you, and I’ve tried it hard; and now I says this: if you’ve made up your mind to go down, why, let’s shake hands, and go down together, like mates.”

“No, no; you must swim ashore.”

“Without you?”

“Jem, I can do no more.”

“If I leaves you, Mas’ Don— Ahoy! Boat!—boat!”

Jem meant that for a sturdy hail; but it was half choked, for just at that moment Don made a desperate effort to turn and swim, lost his remaining nerve, and began to beat the water like a dog.

“Mas’ Don, Mas’ Don, one more try, dear lad, one more try!” cried Jem, passionately; but the appeal was vain. He, with all his sturdy manhood, strength hardened by his life of moving heavy weights, was beaten in the almost herculean task, and he knew at heart that Don had struggled bravely to the very last, before he had given in.

But even then Don responded to Jem’s appeal, and ceased paddling, to make three or four steady strokes.

“That’s it! Brave heart! Well done, Mas’ Don. We shall manage it yet. A long, steady stroke—that’s it. Don’t give up. You can do it; and when you’re tired, I’ll help you. Well done—well done. Hah!”

Jem uttered a hoarse cry, and then his voice rose in a wild appeal for help, not for self, but for his brave young companion.

“Boat! Boat!” he cried, as he heard Don, deaf to his entreaties, begin the wild paddling action again; and he passed his arm beneath his neck, to try and support him.

But there was no reply to his wild hail. The boats were out of hearing, and the next minute the strangling water was bubbling about his lips, choking him as he breathed it in; and with the name of his wife on his lips, poor Jem caught Don in a firm grip with one hand, as he struck wildly out with the other.

Four or five steady strokes, and then his arm seemed to lose its power, and his strokes were feeble.

“Mas’ Don,” he groaned; “I did try hard; but it’s all over. I’m dead beat, too.”