Chapter 43 | A Search in the Dark | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Forty Three.

Two days’ more water journey within easy reach of the verdant shore, past inlet, gulf, bay, and island, round jagged points, about which the waves beat and foamed; and then, amidst shouting, singing, and endless barbaric triumphal clamour, the captured canoes with their loads of prisoners and spoil were run up to a black beach, where a crowd of warriors with their women and children and those of the little conquering army eagerly awaited their coming.

Utterly worn out, the two English prisoners hardly had the spirit to scan the beautiful nook, through which a foaming stream of water dashed, at whose mouth lay several large war canoes, and close by which was the large open whare with its carven posts and grotesque heads, quite a village of huts being scattered around.

Similarly placed to that which he had helped to defend, Don could see upon a shoulder of the hill which ran up behind the whare, a great strongly made pah, ready for the tribe to enter should they be besieged by some enemy.

But the whole scene with its natural beauty, seemed accursed to Don, as he was half dragged out of the canoe, to stagger and fall upon the sands—the fate of many of the wounded prisoners, who made no resistance, but resigned themselves to their fate.

A scene of rejoicing ensued, in the midst of which fires which had been lighted as soon as the canoes came in sight, were well used by the women who cooked, and before long a banquet was prepared, in which three pigs and a vast number of potatoes formed the principal dishes.

But there was an abundance of fruit, and bowls of a peculiar gruel-like food, quantities of which were served out to the wretched prisoners, where they squatted together, as dismal a group as could be imagined, and compared their own state with that of the victors, whose reception was almost frantic, and whose spoil was passed from hand to hand, to be marvelled at, or laughed at with contempt.

At another time Don would have turned with disgust from the unattractive mess offered to him, but hunger and thirst made him swallow it eagerly, and the effect was wonderful.

A short time before he had felt ready to lay down and die; but, after partaking of the food, he was ready to accept Jem’s suggestion that they should bathe their hands and faces in the rushing water that foamed by close at hand, the conquerors being too much occupied with their singing and feasting to pay much heed to them. So they crept to the rocky edge of the clear, sparkling water, and to their surprise found that it was quite warm.

But it was none the less refreshing, and as they half lay afterwards on the sun-warmed rock at the side, watching suspiciously every act of their new masters, in dread of that horror which sent a chill through both, they felt the refreshing glow send new life and strength through them, and as if their vigour were returning with every breath they drew.

“Feel better, Mas’ Don?”

“Yes, much.”

“So ’m I. If it wasn’t for the hole in my shoulder, and it being so stiff, I shouldn’t be long before I was all right.”

“Does it pain you very much?”

“Come, that’s better, Mas’ Don,” said Jem.


“Yes; you’re looking up again, and taking a bit o’ interest in things. You quite frightened me, you seemed so down. My shoulder? Well, it do give it me pretty tidy. I thought I should have had to squeal when I was washing just now. But my legs are all right, Mas’ Don. How’s yourn?”

“My legs?”

“Yes. How soon shall we be ready to cut away?”


“Oh! There’s no one here understands English. When shall it be—to-night?”

“First time there is an opportunity, Jem,” said Don, softly.

“That’s so, my lad; so every time you get a chance, you eat; and when you don’t eat you drink, and lie down all you can.”

“Do you think any of the men here would try to escape with us?”

Jem shook his head.

“I don’t understand ’em, Mas’ Don. Seems to me that these chaps are all fight till they’re beaten; but as soon as they’re beaten, they’re like some horses over a job: they won’t try again. No, they’re no good to help us, and I suppose they mean to take it as it comes.”

The two lay in silence now, watching the proceedings of their captors, who were being feasted, till there was a sudden movement, and about a dozen men approached them, spear in hand.

At a shouted order the prisoners, wounded and sound, rose up with the women and children; and as patiently and apathetically as possible, allowed themselves to be driven up the hill-side to the strongly-built pah, through whose gateway they entered, and then threw themselves wearily down in the shadow of the great fence, while their captors secured the entrance, and a couple of them remained on guard.

“Do I look like a sheep, Mas’ Don?” said Jem, as he threw himself on the earth. “Sheep? No, Jem. Why?”

“Because I feels like one, my lad. Driven in here like one of a flock, and this place just like a great pen; and here we are to be kept till we’re wanted for— Oh, don’t look like that, Mas’ Don. It was only my fun. I say, you look as white as a wax image.”

“Then don’t talk that way,” said Don, hoarsely. “It is too horrible.”

“So it is, dear lad; but it seems to me that they only want to keep us now for slaves or servants. They’re not going to, eh?”

“No, Jem,” said Don looking at the great fence.

“Yes, that’s just what I think, my lad. Posts like this may keep in Noo Zealanders, but they won’t keep in two English chaps, will they?”

“Do you think if we got away in the woods, we could manage to live, Jem?”

“I think, my lad, if we stop in this here pah, we can’t manage to at all, so we’ll try that other way as soon as we can.”

“Do you think it will be cowardly to leave these poor creatures in the power of the enemy?”

“If we could do ’em any good by staying it would be cowardly; but we can’t do ’em any good. So as soon as you like, as I said before, I’m ready for a start. Why, there’s fern roots, and fruit, and rivers, and the sea— Oh, yes, Mas’ Don, I think we could pick up a living somehow, till we reached a settlement, or friendly tribe.”

Night began to fall soon afterward, and half-a-dozen women came in, bearing more bowls of the gruel-like food, and a couple of baskets of potatoes, which were set down near the prisoners, along with a couple of great vessels of water.

“Didn’t think I wanted any more yet,” said Jem, after eating heartily, for there was an abundance. “Go on, Mas Don; ’tarn’t so bad when you’re used to it, but a shovel full of our best West Indy plarntation sugar wouldn’t ha’ done it any harm to my thinking.”

“I have eaten all I care for, Jem,” said Don, wearily; and he sat gazing at the great fence which kept them in.

“No,” said Jem, softly; “not there, Mas’ Don. Just cast your eyes a bit more to the left. There’s quite a rough bit, and if we couldn’t climb it, I’m not here.”

“But what about your shoulder?”

“I’ll climb it with one hand, Mas’ Don, or know the reason why.”

“But the men on sentry?”

“Tchah! They think we’re all too done up and cowardly to try to get away. I’ve been thinking it all over, and if you’re the same mind as me, off we go to-night.”

Don’s heart beat fast, and a curious feeling of timidity came over him, consequent upon his weakness, but he mastered it, and, laying his hand on his companion’s arm, responded,—

“I am ready.”

“Then we’ll make our hay while the sun shines, and as soon as it’s dark,” said Jem, earnestly, and unconscious of the peculiarity of his use of the proverb. “Let’s lie still just as the others do, and then, I’m sorry for ’em; but this here’s a case where we must help ourselves.”

Jem lay there on his back as if asleep, when three stalwart Maoris came round soon after dusk, and took out the bowls which had held the food. They were laughing and talking together, as if in high glee, and it was apparently about the success of the festival, for they looked at their prisoners, whom they then seemed to count over, each in turn touching the poor creatures with the butt ends of their long spears.

Don felt the hot blood surge through his veins as one of the three guards gave him a harsh thrust with his spear, but he did not wince, only lay back patiently and waited till the men had gone. They secured the way into the pah, after which they squatted down, and began talking together in a low voice.

Don listened to them for a time, and then turned over to where Jem lay as if asleep.

“Is it dark enough?” he whispered.

“Plenty. I’m ready.”

“Can you manage to get over?”

“I will get over,” said Jem, almost fiercely. “Wait a little while, Mas’ Don.”

“I can’t wait, Jem,” he whispered. “I feel now as if I must act. But one minute: I don’t like leaving these poor creatures in their helplessness.”

“More do I; but what can we do? They won’t stir to help themselves. Only thing seems to me is to get away, and try and find some one who will come and punish the brutes as brought us here.”

Don’s heart sank, but he knew that his companion’s words were those of truth, and after a little hesitation he touched Jem with his hand, and then began to crawl slowly across the open space toward the fence.

He looked back to make sure that Jem was following, but the darkness was so thick now, that even at that short distance he could not see him. Just then a touch on his foot set him at rest, and he crept softly on, listening to the low muttering of the men at the gate, and wondering whether he could find the rough part of the fence to which Jem had directed his attention.

As he crept on he began to wonder next whether the prisoners would miss them, and do or say anything to call the attention of the guard; but all remained still, save that the Maoris laughed aloud at something one of them had said.

This gave him confidence, and ceasing his crawling movement, he rose to his hands and feet, and crept on all fours to the fence, where he rose now to an erect position, and began to feel about for the rough post.

Jem was up and by him directly after. Don placed his lips to his ear.

“Whereabouts was it?”

“Somewhere ’bout here. You try one way, and I’ll try the other,” whispered Jem; and then Don gripped his arm, and they stood listening, for a faint rustling sound seemed to come from outside.

The noise was not repeated; but for quite half an hour they remained listening, till, gaining courage from the silence—the Maori guard only speaking from time to time, and then in a low, drowsy voice—Don began to follow Jem’s suggestion, feeling post after post, and sometimes passing his arm through. But every one of the stout pales he touched was smooth and unclimbable without some help; and thinking that perhaps he had missed the place, he began to move back in the darkness, straining his ears the while to catch any sound made by his companion.

But all was perfectly still, and every pale he touched was smooth and regular, set, too, so close to the next that there was not the slightest chance of even a child creeping through.

All at once there was a rustling sound on his left.

“Jem has found it,” he thought; and he pressed forward toward where he had parted from Jem, passing one hand along the pales, the other extended so as to touch his companion as soon as they were near.

The rustling sound again close at hand; but he dare not speak, only creep on in the dense blackness, straining his eyes to see; and his ears to catch his companion’s breath.


Don uttered a sigh of satisfaction, for it was painful to be alone at such a time, and he had at last touched the strong sturdy arm which was slightly withdrawn, and then the hand gripped him firmly.

Don remained motionless, listening for the danger which must be threatening, or else Jem would have spoken; but at last the silence became so irksome that the prisoner raised his left hand to grasp Jem’s wrist.

But it was not Jem’s wrist. It was bigger and stouter; and quick as thought Don ran his hand along the arm to force back the holder of his arm, when to his horror, he found that the limb had been thrust through one of the openings of the fence, and he was a prisoner to some fierce chief who had suspected the design to escape, held in so strong a grip, that had he dared to struggle to free himself, it would not have been possible to drag the fettered arm away.

“Jem! Help!” was on his lips, but he uttered no cry, only breathlessly listened to a deep panting from the outer side of the pah.