Chapter 28 | Friendly Attentions | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Twenty Eight.

A peculiar pale light played and flashed from the surface of the black water which was being churned up by the desperate struggles of the drowning pair. It was as if myriads of tiny stars started into being where all was dark before, and went hurrying here and there, some to the surface, others deep down into the transparent purity of the sea.

A minute before Jem Wimble had kept command of himself, and swam as a carefully tutored man keeps himself afloat; that minute passed, all teaching was forgotten in a weak, frantic struggle with the strangling water which closed over their heads.

A few moments, during which the phosphorescent tiny creatures played here and there, and then once more the two helpless and nearly exhausted fugitives were beating the surface, which flashed and sent forth lambent rays of light.

But it was not there alone that the phosphorescence of the sea was visible.

About a hundred yards away there was what seemed to be a double line of pale gold liquid fire changing into bluish green, and between the lines of light something whose blackness was greater than the darkness of the sea or night. There was a dull low splashing, and at every splash the liquid fire seemed to fly.

The double line of fire lengthened and sparkled, till it was as so much greenish golden foam reaching more and more toward where the drowning pair were struggling.

Then came a low, growling, grinding sound, as if the long lines of light were made by the beating fins of the dark object, which was some habitant of the deep roused from slumbers by the light of the golden foam formed by those who drowned.

And it rushed on and on to seize its prey, invisible before, but now plainly seen by the struggles and the resulting phosphorescent light.

Long, low, and with its head raised high out of the water, horrent, grotesque and strange, the great sea monster glided along over the smooth sea. Full five-and-twenty fins aside made the water flash as it came on, and there was, as it were, a thin new-moon-like curve of light at its breast, while from its tail the sparkling phosphorescence spread widely as it was left behind.

The low grumbling sound came again, but it was not heard by those drowning, nor was the light seen as it glided on nearer and nearer, till it reached the spot.

One dart from the long raised neck, one snap of the fierce jaws—another dart and another snap, and the sea monster had its prey, and glided rapidly on, probably in search of more in its nightly hunt.

Nothing of the kind! The long creature endued with life darted on, but the long neck and horned head were not darted down, but guided past those who where drowning. Everything was stiff and rigid but the playing fins. But there was another dull, low grunt, the fins seemed to cease by magic; and, instead of being snapped up by the monster’s mouth, the two sufferers were drawn in over its side.

Then the water flashed golden again, the monster made a curve and rushed through the water, and sped away for miles till, in obedience to another grunting sound, it turned and dashed straight for a sandy beach, resolving itself into a long New Zealand war canoe, into which Don and Jem had been drawn, to lie half insensible till the beach was neared when Jem slowly and wonderingly sat up.

“Where’s Mas’ Don?” he said in a sharp ill-used tone.

“Here he is,” said a gruff voice, and Jem looked wonderingly in a savage’s indistinctly seen face, and then down in the bottom of the long canoe, into which they had been dragged.

“Mas’ Don—don’t say you’re drowned, Mas’ Don,” he said pitifully, with a Somersetshire man’s bold attempt at the making of an Irish bull.

“My pakeha! My pakeha!” said a deep voice; and Jem became aware of the fact that the big chief he had so often seen on board the ship, and who had come to them with the present of fruit when they were guarding the boat, was kneeling down and gently rubbing Don.

“Is he dead?” said Jem in a whisper.

“No, not this time,” said the gruff voice out of the darkness. “Pretty nigh touch, though, for both of you. Why didn’t you hail sooner?”

“Hail sooner?” said Jem.

“Yes. We came in the canoe to fetch you, but you didn’t hail, and it was too dark to see.”

“We couldn’t hail,” said Jem, sulkily. “It would have brought the boats down upon us.”

“Ah, so it would,” said the owner of the gruff voice. “There’s three boats out after you.”

“And shall you give us up?”

“Give you up? Not I. I’ve nothing to do with it; you must talk to him.”

“My pakeha!” cried the big chief excitedly.

“That isn’t his name, is it?” said Jem.

“No. Nonsense! Pakeha means white man. I was a pakeha once.”

“Let me help him up,” said Jem eagerly.

“My pakeha! My pakeha!” said the chief, as if putting in a personal claim, and ready to resist Jem’s interference.

The difficulty was ended by Don giving himself a shake, and slowly rising.

“Jem! Where’s Jem?”

“Here! All right, Mas’ Don. We’re in the canoe.”

“Hah!” ejaculated Don; and he shuddered as if chilled. “Where are the boats?”

“Miles away,” said the tattooed Englishman. “But look here, I’m only on board. This is Ngati’s doing. I know nothing about you two.”

“My pakeha! My pakeha!” cried the chief.

“Lookye here,” cried Jem, speaking in the irritable fashion of those just rescued from drowning; “if that there chief keeps on saying, ‘My pakeha’ at me in that there aggravating way, I shall hit him in the mouth.”

“Ah! You’re rusty,” said the tattooed Englishman. “Man always is when he’s been under water.”

“I dunno what you mean by being rusty,” said Jem snappishly. “What I say is, leave a man alone.”

“All right!” said the Englishman. “I’ll let you alone. How’s your young mate?”

“My head aches dreadfully,” said Don; “and there’s a horrible pain at the back of my neck.”

“Oh, that’ll soon go off, my lad. And now what are you going to do?”

“Do?” interrupted Jem. “Why, you don’t mean to give us up, do you?”

“I don’t mean to do anything or know anything,” said the man. “Your skipper’ll come to me to-morrow if he don’t think you’re drowned, or—I say, did you feel anything of ’em?”

“Feel anything—of what?” said Don.

“Sharks, my lad. The shallow waters here swarm with them.”

“Sharks!” cried Don and Jem in a breath.

“Yes. Didn’t you know?”

“I’d forgotten all about the sharks, Jem,” said Don.

“So had I, my lad, or I dursen’t have swum for it as we did. Of course I thought about ’em at first starting, but I forgot all about ’em afterwards.”

“Jem,” said Don, shuddering; “what an escape!”

“Well, don’t get making a fuss about it now it’s all over, Mas’ Don. Here we are safe, but I must say you’re the wussest swimmer I ever met.—Here, what are they going to do?”

“Run ashore,” said the Englishman, as there was a buzz of excitement among the New Zealanders, many of whom stepped over into the shallow water, and seized the sides of the boat, which was rapidly run up the dark shore, where, amidst a low gobbling noise, the two wet passengers were landed to stand shivering with cold.

“There you are,” said the Englishman, “safe and sound.”

“Well, who said we weren’t?” grumbled Jem.

“Not you, squire,” continued the Englishman. “There; I don’t know anything about you, and you’d better lie close till the ship’s gone, for they may come after you.”

“Where shall we hide?” said Don eagerly.

“Oh, you leave it to Ngati; he’ll find you a place where you can lie snug.”

“Ngati,” said the owner of the name quickly, for he had been listening intently, and trying to grasp what was said. “Ngati! My pakeha.”

“Oh, I say: do leave off,” cried Jem testily. “Pakeha again. Say, Mas’ Don, him and I’s going to have a row before we’ve done.”

The chief said something quickly to the Englishman, who nodded and then turned to the fugitives.

“Ngati says he will take you where you can dry yourselves, and put on warm things.”

“He won’t be up to any games, will he?” said Jem.

“No, no; you may trust him. You can’t do better than go with him till the search is over.”

The Englishman turned to a tall young savage, and said some words to him, with the result that the young man placed himself behind Don, and began to carefully obliterate the footprints left by the fugitives upon the sand.

Don noticed this and wondered, for in the darkness the footprints were hardly perceptible; but he appreciated the act, though he felt no one but a native would distinguish between the footprints of the two people.

“My pakeha,” said Ngati just then, making Jem wince and utter an angry gesticulation. “Gunpowder, gun, pow-gun, gun-pow.”

“Eh?” said Jem harshly.

“My pakeha, powder-gun. Pow-gun, gun-pow. No?”

“He says his pakeha was to have brought plenty of guns and powder, and he has not brought any.”

“No,” said Don, shivering as he spoke. “The guns are the king’s. I could not bring any.”

The New Zealand chief seemed to comprehend a good deal of his meaning, and nodded his head several times. Then making a sign to a couple of followers, each took one of Don’s arms, and they hurried him off at a sharp run, Jem being seized in the same way and borne forward, followed by the rest of the men who were in the boat.

“Here, I say. Look here,” Jem kept protesting, “I arn’t a cask o’ sugar or a bar’l o’ ’bacco. Let a man walk, can’t yer? Hi! Mas’ Don, they’re carrying on strange games here. How are you getting on?”

Don heard the question, but he was too breathless to speak, and had hard work to keep his feet, leaving everything to the guidance of his companions, who kept on for above a quarter of a mile before stopping in a shadowy gully, where the spreading ferns made the place seem black as night, and a peculiar steaming sulphurous odour arose.

But a short time before Don’s teeth were chattering with the cold, but the exercise circulated his blood; and now, as his eyes grew more used to the obscurity, he managed to see that they were in a rough hut-like place open at the front. The sulphurous odour was quite strong, the steam felt hot and oppressive, and yet pleasant after the long chilling effect of the water, and he listened to a peculiar gurgling, bubbling noise, which was accompanied now and then by a faint pop.

He had hardly realised this when he felt that his clothes were being stripped from him, and for a moment he felt disposed to resist; but he was breathless and wearied out, and rough as was the attention, it struck him that it was only preparatory to giving him a dry blanket to wear till his drenched garments were dry, and hence he suffered patiently.

But that was not all, for, as the last garment was stripped off, Ngati said some words to his people, and before he could realise what was going to be done, Don felt himself seized by four men, each taking a wrist or ankle, and holding him suspended before Ngati, who went behind him and supported his head.

“Hah!” ejaculated Ngati, with a peculiar grunt. His men all acted with military precision, and, to Don’s astonishment, he found himself plunged into a rocky basin of hot water.

His first idea was to struggle, but there was no need. He had been lowered in rapidly but gently, and he felt Ngati place the back of his head softly against a smooth pleasantly-warm hollowed-out stone, while the sensation, after all he had gone through, was so delicious that he uttered a sigh of satisfaction.

For now he realised the hospitality of the people who had brought him there, and the fact that to recover him from the chill of being half drowned, they had brought him to one of their hot springs, used by them as baths.

Don uttered another sigh of satisfaction, and as he lay back covered to his chin in the hot volcanic water, he began to laugh so heartily that the tears came into his eyes.

For the same process was going on in the darkness with Jem, who was a less tractable patient, especially as he had taken it into his thick head that it was not for his benefit that he was to be plunged into a hot water pool, but to make soup for the New Zealanders around.

“Mas’ Don!” he cried out of the darkness, “where are you? I want to get out of this. Here, be quiet, will yer? What yer doing of? I say. Don’t. Here, what are you going to do?”

Don wanted to say a word to calm Jem’s alarms, but after the agony he had gone through, it seemed to him as if his nerves were relaxed beyond control, and his companion’s perplexity presented itself to him in so comical a light, that he could do nothing but lie back there in his delicious bath, and laugh hysterically; and all the while he could hear the New Zealanders gobbling angrily in reply to Jem’s objections, as a fierce struggle went on.

“That’s your game, is it? I wouldn’t ha’ thought it of a set who calls theirselves men. Shove me into that hot pot, and boil me, would you? Not if I knows it, you don’t. Hi! Mas’ Don! Look out! Run, my lad. They’re trying to cook me alive, the brutes. Oh, if I only had a cutlash, or an iron bar.”

Don tried to speak again, but the words were suffocated by the gurgle of laughter.

“Poor old Jem!” he thought.

“I tell you, you sha’n’t. Six to one, eh? Leave off. Mas’ Don, they’re going to scald me like a pig in a tub. Hi! Help!”

There was the sound of a struggle, a loud splash, and then silence, followed by Jem’s voice.

“Oh!” he ejaculated. “Then why didn’t you say so? How was I to know you meant a hot bath? Well, it arn’t bad.—Mas’ Don!”


“What! Ha’ you been there all the time?”


“What yer been doing of?”


“Larfin’? Are they giving you a hot bath?”


“Arn’t it good?”


“I thought they was going to scald me like a pig, so as to eat me afterwards. Did you hear me holler?”

“Hear you? Yes.—How delicious and restful it feels.”

“Ah, it do, my lad; but don’t you let any on it get into your mouth. I did, and arn’t good. But I say; what’s it mean? Seems so rum to me coming to meet us in a canoe and bringing us ashore, and giving us hot baths. I don’t seem to understand it. Nobody does such things over at home.”

As they lay in the roughly-made stone slab baths, into which the volcanic water effervesced and gurgled, the followers of Ngati came and went busily, and a curious transformation came over the scene—the darkness seemed to undergo a change and become grey. Then as Don watched, he saw that above his head quite a cloud of steam was floating, through which a pale, sad light began to penetrate; and as he watched this, so pleasant and restful was the sensation that he felt as if he could sleep, till he took into consideration the fact that if he did, his body would become relaxed, and he would slip down with his head beneath the surface.

As it grew lighter rapidly now, he could make out that the roughly thatched roof was merely stretched over a rough rocky nook in which the hot spring bubbled out of the mountain slope, and here a few rough slabs had been laid together, box-fashion, to retain the water and form the bath.

Before he had more than realised the fact that Jem was in a shelter very similar to his own, the huge New Zealander was back with about a dozen of his men, and himself bearing a great native flax cloth marked with a broad pattern.

Just as the sun had transformed everything without, and Don was gazing on a glorious prospect of lace-like tree-fern rising out of the steaming gully in which he stood, Jem Wimble came stalking out of the shelter where he had been dressing—a very simple operation, for it had consisted in draping himself in a great unbleached cloth—and looking squat and comical as a man in his circumstances could look.

Ngati was close at hand with his men all standing in a group, and at first sight it seemed as if they were laughing at the little, stoutly-built, pink-faced man, but, on the contrary, they were smiles of admiration.

“I couldn’t ha’ believed it, Mas’ Don,” said Jem; “I feel as fresh as a daisy, and—well, I never did! Mas’ Don, what a guy you do look!”

Don, after a momentary thought that he looked something like one of the old Romans in a toga, just as he had seen them in an engraving, had been so taken up with the beauty of the ferny gully, with the sun gilding here and there the steamy vapour which rose from the hot springs, that he had thought no more of his personal appearance till Jem spoke.

“Guy?” he said, laughing, as he ran his eye over Jem. “I say, did you ever hear the story of the pot and the kettle?”

“Yes, of course; but I say, my lad, I don’t look so rum as you, do I?”

“I suppose you look just about the same, Jem.”

“Then the sooner they gets our clothes dry and we’re into ’em again, the sooner we shall look like human beings. Say, Mas’ Don, it’s werry awkward; you can’t say anything to that big savage without him shouting ‘pakeha.’ How shall we ask for our clothes?”

“Wait,” said Don. “We’ve got to think about getting further away.”

“Think they’ll send to look for us, Mas’ Don?”

“I should say they would.”

“Well, somehow,” said Jem, “I seem to fancy they’ll think we’re drowned, and never send at all. But, look here; what’s all this yaller stuff?”


“What, brimstone? Why, so it is. Think o’ their buying brimstone to lay down about their hot baths. I know!” cried Jem, slapping his thigh, “they uses it instead of coal, Mas’ Don; burns it to make the water hot.”

“No, no, Jem; that’s natural sulphur.”

“So’s all sulphur nat’ral.”

“But I mean this is where it is found, or comes.”

“G’long with you.”

“It is, Jem; and that water is naturally hot.”

“What, like it is at Bath?”

“To be sure.”

“Well, that caps all. Some one said so the other day aboard ship, but I didn’t believe it. Fancy a set o’ savages having hot water all ready for them. I say, though, Mas’ Don, it’s very nice.”

Just then Ngati came up smiling, but as Jem afterwards said, looking like a figure-head that was going to bite, and they were led off to a whare and furnished with a good substantial meal.