Chapter 36 | Something To Do | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Thirty Six.

“’Tarn’t so bad, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, about a month later. “Never felt so clean before in my life. Them hot baths is lovely, and if we could get some tea and coffee, and a bit o’ new bread and fresh butter now and then, and I could get my Sally out here, I don’t know as I should much mind stopping.”

“And what about the pot, Jem?”

“Tchah! That was all gammon. I don’t b’lieve they ever did anything o’ the sort. When’s Tomati coming back? Tomati, Jemmaree, Donni-Donni. Pretty sort of a language. Why, any one could talk New Zealandee.”

“I wish I could, Jem.”

“Well, so you could if you tried. All you’ve got to do is to riddle-me-ree the words a bit. I’m getting on first rate; and what I like in these people is that they never laughs at you when you makes a mistake.”

They had been furnished with a snug hut, close to one of the roughly-made hot water baths, and were fairly well supplied with food, which they augmented by going out in Ngati’s canoe, and catching abundance of fish, to the Maori’s great delight; for he gazed with admiration at the skilful methods adopted by Jem, who was no mean angler.

“And the best of the fun is, Mas’ Don, that the fishes out here are so stupid. They take any bait a’most, and taken altogether they’re not such bad eating. Wonder what shark would be like?”

Don shuddered, and they both decided that they would not care to try.

Ngati of the fiercely savage face and huge size proved to be one of the most amiable of men, and was after them every morning, to go out in the forest collecting fruit, or to dam up some stream to catch the fresh-water fish, or to snare birds.

“He do cap me,” Jem would say. “Just look at him, Mas’ Don. That there chap’s six foot four at least, half as broad again across the chest as I am, and he’s got arms like a helephant, while to look at him with his blue face you’d say he was ’bout the fiercest-looking fighting man you ever see; and yet, when you come to know him inside, he’s just like a big boy, and so good-tempered I could do anything with him.”

“And only the other day you looked upon him as quite an enemy.”

“Ay, I did, Mas’ Don, but I don’t now. Them there artful birds is my mortal enemies. They parrots and cockatoos is cunning and wicked enough, but them little birds is imps, that’s what they are.”

Jem shook his head and frowned, and no more was said then, for they were packing up a basket, and going up into the mountains to get fruit, taking provisions enough to last them for the day.

Their hut was right in the middle of the little village, and the Maoris treated them in the most friendly manner, smiling at them in an indolent fashion as they lolled about the place, doing very little except a little gardening; for their wants were few, and nature was kind in the abundance she gave for a little toil. This life soon had its effects upon Jem, who began to display a disposition to idle too.

“Seems so nat’ral, Mas’ Don,” he would say. “I don’t see why a man should be always letting sugar-hogsheads down out of waggons, and rolling ’em about and getting them into warehouses. Why can’t we take it coolly, same as they do?”

“Because we don’t want to stand still, Jem,” said Don quietly. “You and I are not savages.”

“Well, no, Mas’ Don, that’s true; but it’s very pleasant to take it as coolly as they do. Why, these chaps, the whole lot of ’em, live just as if it was always holidays, and a hot water bath thrown in.”

“Uncle Josiah used to say that people soon got tired of having holidays.”

“Your Uncle Josiah soon got tired o’ giving holidays, Mas’ Don. I never, as you know, wanted many, but he always looked rat-traps at me if I asked for a day. Here you can have as many as you like.”

“Well, let’s take one to-day, Jem,” said Don. “Fill another basket with something to eat, take a couple of bags, and we’ll go right away into the forest, and bring back as much fruit as we can.”

“I’ll be all ready in no time,” said Jem, cheerily; and at the end of three minutes he was equipped, and they started off together, to find Ngati half lying on the sands in company with about a dozen more of his tribe, all of whom gave the pair a friendly smile and a wondering look at the trouble they seemed to take to obtain fruit, when some of the women or girls could have done the task just as well.

“They are about the idlest set of chaps I ever did see, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, as they trudged cautiously along through the ferny woodlands, where traces of volcanic action were wonderfully plentiful.

“But they work when there’s any need for it, I daresay,” said Don. “See how vigorously they can row, and how energetic they are when they go through the war-dance.”

“Oh! Any stoopid could jump about and make faces,” replied Jem. “I wonder whether they really could fight if there was a row?”

“They look as if they could, Jem.”

“Looks arn’t much good in fighting, Mas’ Don. Well, anyhow, they’re big and strong enough. Look! What a pity we haven’t got a gun. Might have shot a pig and had some pork.”

He pointed to about half-a-dozen good-sized pigs, which had scurried across the path they followed, and then disappeared among the ferns.

“Rum thing, it always seems to me that there’s nothing here except pigs. There must be, farther in the woods. Mind that hole, my lad.”

Don carefully avoided stepping into a bubbling patch of hot mud right in their path, and, wondering what would be the consequences of a step in, he went on, in and out, among dangerous water holes and mud springs. Cockatoos whistled overhead, and parrots shrieked, while every now and then they came upon a curious-looking bird, whose covering resembled hair more than feathers, as it cocked its curved bill towards them, and then hurriedly disappeared by diving in amongst the dense low growth.

“Look at that!” said Jem. “Ostrich?”

“Ostrich!” cried Don contemptuously. “Why, an ostrich is eight feet high.”

“Not when he’s young,” said Jem. “That’s a little one. Shouldn’t wonder if there’s some more.”

“You may be right, Jem, but I don’t think there are ostriches here.”

“Well, I like that,” said Jem, “when we’ve just seen one. I knew it directly. There used to be a picture of one in my old reading-book when I was at school.”

They trudged on for some distance in silence.

“What yer thinking ’bout, Mas’ Don?”

“Home,” said Don, quietly.

“Oh! I say, don’t think about home, Mas’ Don, because if you do, I shall too; it do make me so unked.”

“I can’t help it, Jem. It doesn’t seem natural to settle down here, and go on week after week. I get asking myself, what we are doing it for.”

“To catch fish, and find fruit and keep ourselves alive. Say, Mas’ Don, it’s under them trees they digs up the big lumps of gum that they burn. Ah, there’s a bit.” Jem stooped and picked out from among the rotten pine needles a piece of pale yellowish-looking gum of the size of his fist.

“That’ll do for a light for us,” Don said. “Take it back.”

“Going to,” said Jem laconically. “We may want it ’fore long.”

“Here’s another bit,” said Don, finding a similar sized piece, and thrusting it into the basket. “Couldn’t we make some matches, Jem?”

“Couldn’t we make some matches? Why, of course we could. There’s plenty of brimstone, I’m going to try and manage a tinder-box after a time.”

They again walked on in silence, climbing higher and higher, till, coming to an opening, they both paused in silent admiration of the view spread out before them, of river, lake, and mountain, whose top glistened like silver, where glacier and snow lay unmelted in spite of the summer heat.

“Wouldn’t you like to go up there, Mas’ Don?” said Jem, after a few moments’ silence.

“Go? I’d give anything to climb up there, Jem. What a view it must be.”

“Ah, it must, Mas’ Don; but we won’t try it to-day; and now, as we’ve been on the tramp a good two hours, I vote we sit down and have a bit of a peck.”

Don agreed, and they sat down at the edge of the wood to partake of the rather scanty fare which they spread on the ground between them.

“Yes, it would be fine,” said Jem, with his mouth and hands full. “We ought to go up that mountain some day. I’ve never been up a mountain. Hi! Wos!”

This was shouted at another of the peculiar-looking little birds which ran swiftly out of the undergrowth, gave each in turn a comical look, and then seized a good-sized piece of their provender and ran off.

“Well, I call that sarce,” said Jem; “that’s what I calls that. Ah, if I’d had a stone I’d soon have made him drop that.”

“Now,” said Don laughing, “do you call that an ostrich?”

“To be sure I do!” cried Jem. “That proves it. I’ve read in a book as ostriches do steal and swallow anything—nails, pocket-knives, and bits o’ stone. Well! I never did!”

Jem snatched off his cap and sent it spinning after another rail which had run up and seized a fruit from their basket, and skimmed off with its legs forming a misty appearance like the spokes of a rapidly turning wheel.

“Sarce is nothing to it, Mas’ Don. Why, that little beggar’s ten times worse than the old magpie we used to have in the yard. They’re so quick, too. Now, just look at that.”

Either the same or another of the little birds came out of the undergrowth, peering about in the most eccentric manner, and without displaying the least alarm.

“Just look at him, Jem.”

“Look at him, Mas’ Don? I am a-looking at him with all my eyes. He’s a beauty, he is. Why, if I was a bird like that with such a shabby, dingy looking, sooty suit o’ clothes, I know what I’d do.”

“What would you do?”

“Why, I’d moult at once. Look at the rum little beggar. Arn’t he comic? Why, he arn’t got no wings and no tail. Hi! Cocky, how did you get your beak bent that way? Look as if you’d had it caught in a gate. Have another?”

Jem took up a large raspberry-like fruit that he had picked some time before, and held it out to the bird, which stopped short, and held its head down comically, looking first at Jem, and then at the berry. With a rapid twist it turned its head on the other side, and performed the same operation with the left eye.

“Well, he is a rum un!” cried Jem, laughing. “Look! Mas’ Don, look!”

Don was watching the eccentric-looking little creature, which ran forward rapidly, and then paused.

“Why, ’tarn’t a wild bird at all!” cried Jem. “It’s one of the ‘my pakeha’ chap’s cocks an’ hens. Well, I ham blessed!”

For rapid almost as thought, and before Jem could recover from his surprise, the bird had darted forward, seized the fruit, and was off a dozen yards before he had darted out his hand after it.

“Too late, Jem.”

“Yes, Mas’ Don, too late that time; but I mean to ketch that chap, just to show him he arn’t so clever as he thinks. You sit still, and go on eating, and don’t take no notice, and look out—look out.”

“Oh!” ejaculated Don. For at that moment one of the birds had come up behind him, and almost before he had heard Jem’s warning cry, he was made aware of the bird’s presence by a sharp dig of its beak in the hand holding a portion of his dinner, which was carried rapidly away.

“Magpies is nothing to ’em,” cried Jem. “But wait a bit, my fine fellows, and you shall see what you shall see. Pass that there basket, Mas’ Don. Ah! That’s a good bait for my gentleman. Look at ’em. I can see three peeping out of the bushes. They’re a-watching to see what I’m going to do.”

“Three! I can see four, Jem.”

“More for me to ketch, Mas’ Don. Wonder whether they’re good to eat? I say, do you think they can understand English?”

Don laughed, and went on with his dinner, as Jem began to play fox, by putting a tempting-looking berry in his hand, stretching it out to the full extent of his arm, and then lying back among the ferns.

“Now then, don’t take no notice, Mas’ Don. Let you an’ me keep on feeding, and that’ll ’tract ’em out.”

Don was already quietly “feeding,” and he rested his back against a piece of stone, watching intently all the while.

Two of the birds began to approach directly, while the others looked on as if deeply interested.

The approach of the advance force was particularly curious, for they came on picking here and picking there, as if they had not the slightest intention of going near the fruit in Jem’s hand; but in spite of several feints of going right away, always getting nearer, while Jem munched away, using his left hand, and keeping his eyes half shut.

They had not long to wait, for one of the birds manoeuvred until it was a few feet away, then made a rush, caught the berry from Jem’s hand, which closed with a snap, the second bird made a dart and caught the berry from the first bird’s beak, and Jem sat up holding a few feathers, staring after the birds, one of which cried out in a shrill piping tone.

“Yes, I’ll give you pepper next time, my fine fellow!” cried Jem. “Nearly had you. My word, Mas’ Don, they are quick. Give’s another berry.”

Jem baited his natural trap again, and went on with his meal; but he had scared away the birds for the time being, and they came no more.

“The worst of eating, Jem, is that it makes you lazy.”

“And not want to move, Mas’ Don. Yes, it do. But it’s my ’pinion as this was meant for a lazy country, else the water wouldn’t be always on the bile, ready for use.”

“Think that’s fire?” said Don, after a dreamy pause, during which he had lain back gazing at the brilliant silver-tipped mountain, above which floated a cloud.

“No,” said Jem. “I should say as there’s a big hot water place up yonder, and that there’s steam. Yes, one do feel lazy here; but it don’t matter, Mas’ Don; there’s no bosun, and no master and lufftenant and captain to order you about. I rather likes it, only I seem to want my Sally here. Wonder what she’d say to it?”

“We must get away from it, Jem.”

“But we arn’t got no boat, and it takes pretty nigh a hunderd men to row one of them canoes.”

“We must make a long journey through the country, Jem, right beyond those mountains, and sooner or later we shall come to a place where there are Englishmen, who will help us to get a passage in a ship.”

Jem shook his head.

“I don’t believe there’s any Englishmen here, Mas’ Don.”

“I do. I think I’ve read that there are; and if we do not find any, we shall have seen the place, and can come back here.”

“He talks just like as if he was going for a ride to Exeter by the Bristol waggon! Ah, well, just as you like, Mas’ Don, only don’t let’s go this afternoon, it’s all too nice and comfortable. I don’t want to move. Say, wonder whether there’s any fish in that lake?”

“Sure to be, Jem, and hundreds of wonders to see if we journey on.”

“Dessay, my lad, dessay; but it’s werry wonderful here. Look along that hollow place where the big fir trees is growing.”

“Lovely, Jem. What a beautiful home it would make.”

“Say, Mas’ Don, let’s make our fortunes.”


“Let’s set up in trade, and deal in wood. Lookye yonder, there’s fir trees there, that if we cut ’em down and trimmed ’em, they’d be worth no end o’ money in Bristol, for ships’ masts.”

“Yes, Jem,” said Don drily; “and how are you going to get them there?”

“Ah!” said Jem, scratching his head. “Never thought of that.”

There was half an hour’s drowsy silence. The sun shone down with glorious power, and the lizards rustled among the large stones. From the forest behind there came the buzz of insects, and the occasional cry of some parrot. Save for these sounds all was wonderfully still.

And they sat there gazing before them at the hundreds of acres of uncultivated land, rich in its wild beauty, unwilling to move, till Don said suddenly,—

“Yes, Jem; this is a lazy land. Let’s be up and doing.”

“Yes, Mas’ Don. What?”

“I don’t know, Jem; something useful.”

“But there arn’t nothing useful to do. I couldn’t make a boat, but I think I could make a hogshead after a fashion; but if I did, there arn’t no sugar to put in it, and—”

“Look, Jem!”

“What at, Mas’ Don? Eh?” he continued as he followed his companion’s pointing hand. “Why, I thought you said there was no beasts here.”

“And there are none.”

“Well, if that arn’t a drove o’ cattle coming down that mountain side, I’m a Dutchman.”

“It does look like it, Jem,” said Don. “It seems strange.”

“Look like it, Mas’ Don? Why, it is. Brown cattle, and you can see if you look at the sun shining on their horns.”

“Horns! Jem!” cried Don, excitedly; “they’re spears!”


“And those are savages.”

“So they are!” cried Jem. “Why, Mas’ Don, that there don’t mean a fight, do it?”

“I don’t know, Jem. But they can’t see us, can they?”

“No. These here bushes shades us. Let’s creep back through the wood, and go and tell ’em down below. They don’t know, p’r’aps, and we may get there first.”

“We must,” said Don quickly. “Jem, I’m sure of it. You can see the spears quite plainly, and perhaps it’s a war-party out from some other tribe. Quick, lad, quick! We can get there first.”

“And if it’s a false alarm, they’ll laugh at us, Mas’ Don.”

“Let them. They won’t laugh if there’s danger in the way.”

Don caught up the basket and backed into the shelter of the trees, keeping in a stooping position, while Jem followed, and now, with all the sensation of indolence gone, they hurried along the rugged and dangerous path, to spread the alarm in the village far below, where they had left the inmates dreaming away their existence in happy ignorance of the danger so close at hand.