Chapter 38 | Don’s Report | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Thirty Eight.

In the case of a leap like that made by Don, there was no suspense for the looker on, for the whole affair seemed to be momentary. Jem saw him pass through the air and disappear in the mass of greenery with a loud rushing sound, which continued for a few moments, and then all was still.

“He’s killed; he’s killed!” groaned Jem to himself; “and my Sally will say it was all my fault.”

He listened eagerly.

“Mas’ Don!” he shouted.

“Hullo, Jem! I say, would you drop if you were me?”

“Drop? Then you arn’t killed?”

“No, not yet. Would you drop?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’m hanging on to the end of that young tree, and it keeps going up and down like a spring, and it won’t go any nearer than about twelve feet from the ground. Would you drop?”

Whish! Rush! Crash! Thud!

The young tree sprang up again, cleaving a way for itself through the thick growth, and standing nearly erect once more, ragged and sadly deprived of its elegant proportions, just as a dull sound announced Don’s arrival on terra firma.

“All right, Jem!” he cried. “Not hurt. Look here; spread your arms out well and catch tight round the tree as you jump at it. You’ll slip down some distance and scratch yourself, but you can’t hurt much.”

“I hear, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, drawing a long breath full of relief. “I’m a-coming. It’s like taking physic,” he added to himself; “but the sooner you takes it, the sooner it’s down. Here goes! Say, Mas’ Don, do you ketch hold o’ the tree with your hands, or your arms and legs?”

“All of them. Aim straight at the stem, and leap out boldly.”

“Oh, yes,” grumbled Jem; “it’s all very well, but I was never ’prenticed to this sort o’ fun.—Below!”

“A good bold jump, Jem. I’m out of the way.”

“Below then,” said Jem again.

“Yes, jump away. Quick!”

But Jem did not jump. He distrusted the ability of the tree to bear his weight.

“Why don’t you jump?”

“’Cause it seems like breaking my neck, which is white, to save those of them people in the village, which is black, Mas’ Don.”

“But you will not break your neck if you are careful.”

“Oh, yes! I’ll be careful, Mas’ Don; don’t you be ’fraid of that.”

“Well, come along. You’re not nervous, are you, Jem?”

“Yes, Mas’ Don, reg’lar scared; but, below, once more. Here goes! Don’t tell my Sally I was afraid if I do get broke.”

Possibly Jem would have hesitated longer, but the stump of the bush upon which he stood gave such plain intimation of coming out by the roots, that he thought it better to leap than fall, and gathering himself up, he plunged right into the second kauri pine, and went headlong down with a tremendous crash.

For he had been right in his doubts. The pine was not so able to bear his weight as its fellow had been to carry Don. He caught it tightly, and the tree bent right down, carrying him nearly to the earth, where he would have done well to have let go; but he clung to it fast, and the tree sprang up again, bent once more, and broke short off, Jem falling at least twenty feet into the bushes below.

“Hurt, Jem?” cried Don, forcing his way to his side.

“Hurt? Now is it likely, Mas’ Don? Hurt? No. I feel just like a babby that’s been lifted gently down and laid on a feather cushion. That’s ’bout how I feel. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Here, give’s a hand. Gently, dear lad; I’m like a skin full o’ broken bones. Help me out o’ this tangle, and let’s see how much of me’s good, and how much ’ll have to be throwed away. Eggs and bacon! What a state I’m in!”

Don helped him as tenderly as he could out into an open space, and softly assisted him to lie down, which Jem did, groaning, and was perfectly still for a few moments flat there on his back.

“Are you in much pain, Jem?” said Don, anxiously.

“Horrid, lad, horrid. I think you’d better go on and warn ’em, and come and fetch me arterwards; only don’t forget where I am, and not find me. Look! There’s two o’ them birds coming to see what’s the matter.”

“I can’t leave you, Jem. You’re of more consequence to me than all the New Zealanders in the place.”

“Am I, Mas’ Don? Come, that’s kindly spoke of you. But bother that tree! Might ha’ behaved as well to me as t’other did to you.”

“Where do you feel in pain, Jem?”

“Where? It’s one big solid slapping pain all over me, but it’s worst where there’s a big thorn stuck in my arm.”

“Let me see.”

“No; wait a bit. I don’t mean to be left alone out here if I can help it. Now, Mas’ Don, you lift that there left leg, and see if it’s broke.”

Don raised it tenderly, and replaced it gently.

“I don’t think it’s broken, Jem.”

“Arn’t it? Well, it feels like it. P’r’aps it’s t’other one. Try.”

Don raised and replaced Jem’s right leg.

“That isn’t broken either, Jem.”

“P’r’aps they’re only crushed. Try my arms, my lad.”

These were tried in turn, and laid down.

“No, Jem.”

“Seems stoopid,” said Jem. “I thought I was broke all over. It must be my back, and when a man’s back’s broke, he feels it all over. Here, lend us a hand, my lad; and I’ll try and walk. Soon see whether a man’s back’s broke.”

Don offered his arm, and Jem, after a good deal of grunting and groaning, rose to his feet, gave himself a wrench, and then stamped with first one leg and then with the other.

“Why, I seems all right, Mas’ Don,” he said, eagerly.

“Yes, Jem.”

“Think it’s my ribs? I’ve heared say that a man don’t always know when his ribs is broke.”

“Do you feel as if they were, Jem?”

“Oh, yes; just exactly. All down one side, and up the other.”

“Could you manage to walk as far as the village? I don’t like to leave you.”

“Oh, yes; I think I can walk. Anyhow I’m going to try. I say, if you hear me squeak or crack anywhere, you’ll stop me, won’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Come on then, and let’s get there. Oh, crumpets! What a pain.”

“Lean on me.”

“No; I’m going to lean on myself,” said Jem, stoutly. “I’m pretty sure I arn’t broke, Mas’ Don; but feel just as if I was cracked all over like an old pot, and that’s werry bad, you know, arn’t it? Now then, which way is it?”

“This way, Jem, to the right of the mountain.”

“Ah, I suppose you’re right, Mas’ Don. I say, I can walk.”

“Does it hurt you very much?”

“Oh, yes; it hurts me horrid. But I say, Mas’ Don, there arn’t many chaps in Bristol as could have failed down like that without breaking theirselves, is there?”

“I think it’s wonderful, Jem.”

“That’s what I think, Mas’ Don, and I’m as proud of it as can be. Here, step out, sir; works is beginning to go better every minute. Tidy stiff; but, I say, Mas’ Don, I don’t believe I’m even cracked.”

“I am glad, Jem,” cried Don. “I felt a little while ago as if I would rather it had been me.”

“Did you, though, Mas’ Don? Well, that’s kind of you, that it is. I do like that. Come along. Don’t you be afraid. I can walk as fast as you can. Never fear! Think we shall be in time?”

“I don’t know, Jem. I was in such trouble about you that I had almost forgotten the people at the village.”

“So had I. Pain always makes me forget everything, ’speshly toothache. Why, that’s the right way,” he cried, as they turned the corner of a steep bluff.

“Yes, and in a quarter of an hour we can be there; that is, if you can walk fast?”

“I can walk fast, my lad: look. But what’s quarter of a hour? I got muddled enough over the bells board ship—three bells, and four bells, and the rest of it; but out here there don’t seem to be no time at all. Wonder how near those fellows are as we see. I am glad I arn’t broke.”

In about the time Don had said, they came to the path leading to the ravine, where the cave pierced the mountain side. A few minutes later they were by the hot bath spring, and directly after, to Don’s great delight, they came upon Tomati.

“I was coming to look for you two,” he said. “You had better not go far from the whare. Two of the tribes have turned savage, and are talking about war.”

Don interrupted him, and told him what they had seen.

“So soon!” he said hurriedly.

“Is it bad news, then?” asked Don, anxiously.

“Bad, my lads! Bad as it can be.”

“Then that was a war-party we saw?”

“Yes; come on.”

He then put his hands to his mouth and uttered a wildly savage yell, whose effect was instantaneous. It was answered in all directions, and followed by a shrieking and wailing chorus from the women and children, who came trooping out of their huts, laden with household treasures, and hurrying up one particular path at the back of the village, one which neither Don nor Jem had intruded upon, from the belief that it led to some temple or place connected with the Maoris’ religion.

A few minutes before the men were idling about, lying on the black sand, sleeping, or eating and drinking in the most careless, indolent way. Now all were in a state of the wildest excitement, and as Don saw the great stalwart fellows come running here and there, armed with spear and stone axe, he felt that he had misjudged them, and thought that they looked like so many grand bronze figures, suddenly come to life. Their faces and nearly naked bodies were made hideous with tattooing marks; but their skins shone and the muscles stood out, and as they all grouped together under the orders of Tomati and Ngati, both Don and Jem thought that if the party they had seen were coming on to the attack, the fighting might be desperate after all.

In less time than it takes to tell, men had been sent out as scouts; and pending their return, Tomati led the way up the path, after the women and children, to where, to Don’s astonishment, there was a strong blockaded enclosure, or pah, made by binding great stakes together at the tops, after they had been driven into the ground.

There was but one entrance to the enclosure, which was on the summit of a rock with exceedingly steep sides, save where the path zigzagged to the top; and here every one was soon busy trying to strengthen the place, the spears of the men being laid against the stockade.

“May as well help,” said Jem, sturdily. “I’m not going to fight, but I don’t mind helping them to take care of themselves.”

They set to and aided in every way they could, Ngati smiling approval, patting Don on the back, and then hurrying away to return with two spears, which he handed to the two young men.

“My pakeha!” he said; and Jem gave an angry stamp, and was about to refuse to take the weapon, when there was a yell of excitement from all in the pah, for one of the scouts came running in, and as he came nearer, it could be seen that he was bleeding from a wound in the shoulder, and that he had lost his spear.

As if nerved by this sight, Don and Jem seized the spears offered for their defence.

“Yes, Mas’ Don,” said Jem; “we shall have to try and fight; seems to me as if the war’s begun!”

A wild shriek followed his words, and Don saw that they were but too true.