Chapter 33 | Another Alarm | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Thirty Three.

“It’s all over,” thought Don, as the man came on, with discovery inevitable if he continued at his present rate. They were about fifty feet from the entrance, and they felt that if they moved they would be heard; and, as if urged by the same impulse, they stood fast, save that Jem doubled his fist and drew back his arm ready to strike.

All at once the man stopped short.

“He sees us,” said Don, mentally.

But he was wrong, for the sailor thrust his fingers into his mouth and gave a shrill whistle, which ran echoing through the place in a curiously hollow way.

“That’s a rum un,” he said, with a laugh. “Blow some o’ the foul air out. Wonder how far he went in?”

He walked on slowly, and then stopped short as if he saw the hiding pair; but there was no gesture made, and of course his face was invisible to the fugitives, to whom he seemed to be nothing but a black figure.

“Plaguey dark!” ejaculated the man aloud.


A tremendously loud sibillation came out of the darkness—such a noise as a mythical dragon might have made when a stranger had invaded his home. The effect was instantaneous. The young sailor spun round and darted back to the mouth of the cave, where he half lowered himself down over the shelf facing toward the entry, and supporting himself with one hand, shook his fist.

“You wait till I come back with a lanthorn!” he cried. “I’ll just show you. Don’t you think I’m scared.”

Whos–s–s–s–s came that hissing again, in a loud deep tone this time, and the sailor’s head disappeared, for he dropped down and hastily descended after his messmates, flushed and excited, but trying hard to look perfectly unconcerned, and thoroughly determined to keep his own counsel as to what he had heard, from a perfect faith in the effect of the disclosure—to wit, that his companions would laugh at him.

Inside the cave Jem was leaning up against the wall, making strange noises and lifting up first one foot and then the other. He seemed to be suffering agonies, for he puffed and gasped.

“Jem, be quiet!” whispered Don, shaking him sharply.

“Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” groaned Jem, lifting up his bare feet alternately, and setting them down again with a loud pat on the rock.

“Be quiet! They may hear you.”

“Hit me then! Give it me. Ho, ho, ho!”

“Jem, we are safe now, and you’ll undo it all if you’re not quiet.”

“Knock me then, Mas’ Don. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Hi: me; a good un, dear lad. Ho, ho, ho, ho!”

“Oh, do be quiet! How can you be such an ass?”

“I dunno! Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Did you see him run, Mas’ Don? I—oh dear, I can’t help it. Do knock me down and sit on me, dear lad—I never—oh dear me!”

Jem laughed till Don grew angry, and then the sturdy little fellow stopped short and stood wiping his eyes with the back of his hands.

“I couldn’t help it, Mas’ Don,” he said. “I don’t think I ever laughed so much before. There, I’m better now. Shan’t have any more laugh in me for a twelvemonth. Hiss! Whoss–s–s!”

He made the two sounds again, and burst into another uncontrollable fit of laughter at the success of his ruse; but this time Don caught him by the throat, and he stopped at once.

“Hah!” he ejaculated, and wiped his eyes again. “Thankye, Mas’ Don; that’s just what you ought to ha’ done before. There, it’s all over now. What are you going to do?”

“Watch them,” said Don, laconically; and he crept to the mouth of the cave, and peered cautiously over the edge of the shelf, but all was quiet; and beyond a distant hail or two, heard after listening for some minutes, there was nothing to indicate that the search party had been there.

“We must be well on the look-out, Jem. Your stupid trick may bring them back.”

“Stoopid? Well, I do like that, Mas’ Don, after saving us both as I did.”

“I’d say let’s go on at once, only we might meet some of them.”

“And old ‘My pakeha’ wouldn’t know where to find us. I say, Mas’ Don, what are we going to do? Stop here with these people, and old Tomati, or go on at once and shift for ourselves?”

“We cannot shift for ourselves in a country like this without some way of getting food.”

“Hush!” exclaimed Jem sharply.

“What’s the matter?” cried Don, making for the inner part of their hiding-place.

“No, no; don’t do that. It’s all right, Mas’ Don, only don’t say anything more about food. I feel just now as if I could eat you. It’s horrid how hungry I am.”

“You see then,” said Don, “how helpless we are.”

“Yes; if it was only a biscuit I wouldn’t mind just now, for there don’t seem to be nothing to eat here, nor nothing to drink.”

They stood leaning against the rocky wall, not caring to risk sitting down on account of the foul air, and not daring to go to the mouth of the cave for fear of being seen, till Don suggested that they should steal there cautiously, and lie down with their faces beyond the cavern floor.

This they did, glad of the restful change; but hours passed and no sounds met their ears, save the hissing and gurgling from the interior of the cave, and the harsh screech of some parrot or cockatoo.

Every time a louder hiss than usual came from the interior, Jem became convulsed, and threatened another explosion of laughter, in spite of Don’s severely reproachful looks; but in every case Jem’s mirthful looks and his comic ways of trying to suppress his hilarity proved to be too much for Don, who was fain to join in, and they both laughed heartily and well.

It is a curious fact, one perhaps which doctors can explain, and it seems paradoxical. For it might be supposed that when any one was hungry he would feel low-spirited, but all the same there is a stage in hunger when everything around the sufferer seems to wear a comic aspect, and the least thing sets him off laughing.

This was the stage now with Jem and Don, for, the danger being past, they lay there at the mouth of the hole, now laughing at the recollection of the sailor’s fright, now at the cries of some parrot or the antics of a cockatoo which kept sailing round a large tree, whose hold on the steep rocky side of the ravine was precarious in the extreme.

The presence of white people seemed to cause the bird the greatest of wonder, and to pique his curiosity, and after a flit here and a flit there, he invariably came near and sat upon a bare branch, from which he could study the aspect of the two intruders.

He was a lovely-looking bird as far as the tints of the plumage went; but his short hooked beak, with a tuft of feathers each side, and forward curved crest, gave him a droll aspect which delighted Jem, as the bird came and sat upon a twig, shrieking and chattering at them in a state of the greatest excitement.

“Look at his starshers, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, as the bird’s side tufts half covered the beak and then left it bare. “Look at his hair, too. Hasn’t he brushed it up in a point? There, he heared what I said, and has laid it down again. Look at him! Look at him! Did you ever see such a rum one in your life?”

For at that minute, after turning its head on one side for a good look, and then on the other, so as to inspect, them again, the bird seemed to have an idea that it might gain a little more knowledge from a fresh point of view, and to effect this turned itself completely upside down, hanging by its soft yoke toes, and playing what Jem called a game of peep-to!

This lasted for some minutes, and then the bird squatted upon the bough in a normal position, set up its feathers all over, and began to chatter.

“Hark at him, Mas’ Don. He’s calling names. There, hit me if he didn’t. Did you hear him?”

“I heard him chatter.”

“Yes; but I mean calling us that ‘My pakeha—my pakeha!’ that he did.”


“Ah, you may say nonsense, but parrots and cockatoos is werry strange birds. Wonderful what they knows and what they says.”

“I don’t believe they know what they say, Jem.”

“Ah! That’s because you’re so young, Mas’ Don. You’ll know better some day. Parrots is as cunning as cunning. Well, now, did you ever see the likes of that? He’s laughing and jeering at us.”

For at that moment the bird began to bob its head up and down rapidly, gradually growing more excited, and chattering all the while, as it ended by dancing first on one leg and then on the other, in the most eccentric fashion.

“I should like to have that bird, Jem,” said Don at last.

“Should you? Then you wouldn’t have me along with you.”

“I don’t like him. I like a bird as can behave itself and whistle and sing and perch; but I don’t like one as goes through all them monkey tricks. Wish I’d got a stone, I’d try and knock him off his perch.”

Chur–r–r–r! Shrieked the bird, and it let itself fall over backwards, dropping down head over heels like a tumbler pigeon, or an unfortunate which had been shot, and disappearing among the leaves far below.

“There!” cried Jem, triumphantly; “now, what do you say to that? Heard what I said, he did, and thought I was going to throw.”

“Nonsense, Jem!”

“Ah! You may call it nonsense, Mas’ Don, because you don’t know better, but you didn’t see him fall.”

“Yes, I saw him fall, and—hist! Creep back; there’s some one coming!”

The secret of the bird’s sudden disappearance was explained for there was a rustling among the ferns far behind, as if some large body was forcing its way along the ravine; and as Jem backed slowly into the cavern, Don cautiously peered from behind a mass of stone into the hollow, to see that some one or something was approaching rapidly, as if with the intention of scaling the rock, and climbing to where they lay.