Chapter 44 | After Suspense | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Forty Four.

What would happen? A powerful savage had hold of him firmly, had caught him just as he was about to escape; and the next thing would be that he would feel a spear driven through the opening between the pales, and that spear would run him through and through.

His first idea was to give warning of the danger, but he dared not call, and Jem was apparently beyond hearing of the rustling and panting noise which could still be heard.

Directly after Don determined to wrest his arm away, and dart back into the darkness.

But the hand which held him still gripped with a force which made this impossible; and in despair and dread he was about to fling himself down, when Jem came gliding up out of the darkness, and touched his cold, wet face.

“I’ve found the post, Mas’ Don!” he whispered.

Don caught him with his disengaged hand, and placed Jem’s against the arm which held him.

For a few moments Jem seemed unable to grasp the situation, for nothing was visible. Then he placed his lips once more close to Don’s ear.

“Wait a moment till I’ve opened my knife.”

“No, no,” whispered Don in a horrified tone. “It is too dreadful.”

“Then let’s both try together, and wrench your arm away.”

A peculiar hissing sound came at that moment from the outside of the pah, and Don felt his arm jerked.

“My pakeha! My pakeha!”

“Why, it’s Ngati!” whispered Don joyfully; and he laid his disengaged hand on the massive fist which held him.

The grasp relaxed on the instant, and Don’s hand was seized, and held firmly.

“It’s Ngati, Jem,” whispered Don, “come to help us.”

“Good luck to him!” said Jem eagerly; and he felt for the chiefs great hand, to pat it, and grasp it in a friendly way.

His grasp was returned, and then they listened as Ngati put his face to the opening, and whispered a few words, the only part of which they could understand being,—

“My pakeha. Come.”

“Yes; we want to come,” whispered Don.

“Tomati. Gone,” came back, and then the chief said something rapidly in his own tongue.

Don sighed, for he could not comprehend a word.

“It’s no good trying, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem; “and if we don’t try to get away, we mayn’t have a chance to-morrow. Let’s— Here it is. Quick! I’ve got it. You climb up first, get over the top, and hang by your hands, and wait till I come. We must both drop together, and then be off. Oh, if we could only make him understand. What a fool of a language his is.”

Don could not even then help thinking that Ngati might have said the same, but he did not lose a moment. Loosening his hold of the chiefs hand, he whispered,—

“Pakeha. Come.” Then giving himself up to the guidance of Jem, his hands were placed upon a rough post, and he began to climb, Jem helping him, somewhat after the fashion in which he had once assisted him to reach the window.

Then, almost noiselessly, he reached the top, climbed over with ease by the aid of the lashings, and getting a tight hold of the strong fibrous bands, he lowered himself down to await Jem’s coming.

Ngati was more intelligent than Don had expected, for directly after he felt two great warm hands placed under to support his bare feet. These were raised and lowered a little; and, seizing the opportunity, he let himself sink down, till Ngati placed his feet upon two broad shoulders, and then Don felt himself seized by the hips, and lifted to the ground.

As this went on Don could feel the post he had climbed vibrating, and though he could not see, he could tell that Jem had mounted to the top.

“Where are you?” whispered Jem.

“Look out! Ngati will help you.”

Jem grasped the situation, and the chief caught his feet, lowering him slowly, when all at once something seemed to spring out of the darkness, knocking Don right over, and seizing Ngati.

That it was one of the guards there could be no doubt, for the man raised the alarm, and held on to the prisoner he had made, Jem going down awkwardly in turn.

He and Don could have fled at once, but they could not leave their New Zealand friend in the lurch; and as the struggle went on, Jem had literally to feel his way to Ngati’s help, no easy task in the darkness when two men are struggling.

At last he was successful, and got a grip of one of the combatants’ throat; but a hoarse, “No, pakeha!” told him of his mistake.

He rectified it directly, getting his arm round the neck of the guard, tightening his grasp, and with such good effect, that Ngati wrenched himself free, and directly after Don heard one heavy blow, followed by a groan.

“My pakeha!”

“Here!” whispered Don, as they heard the rapid beating of feet, shouts below, in the pah, and close at hand.

Ngati seized Don’s hand, and after stooping down, thrust a spear into it. Then, uttering a grunt, he placed another spear in Jem’s hand, the spoils of their fallen enemy, and leaving him for a moment, he felt along the fence for his own weapon.

He spoke no more, but by means of action made Don understand that he would go first, holding his spear at the trail, he grasping one end, Don the other. Jem was to do likewise, and thus linked together they would not be separated.

All this took time, and during the brief moments that elapsed it was evident that the whole tribe was alarmed, and coming up to the pah.

“All right, Mas’ Don! I understand. It’s follow my leader, and old ‘my pakeha’ to lead.”

Ngati did not hesitate a moment, but went rapidly down the steep descent, straight for the river, apparently right for where some of the yelling tribe were advancing.

All at once the New Zealand chief stopped short, turned quickly, and pressed his hands firmly on Don’s shoulder; for voices were heard just in front, and so near, that the lad feared that they must be seen.

But he grasped the chief’s idea, and lay flat down, Jem following his example; and almost as they crouched to the ground, a group of the enemy ran up so close, that one of them caught his foot against Jem, and fell headlong.

Fortunately Jem was too much startled to move, and, muttering angrily, the man sprang up, not—as Don expected—to let drive with a spear at his companion, but attributing his fall to some stone, or the trunk of a tree, he ran on after his companions. Then Ngati rose, uttered a few words, whose import they grasped, and once more they hurried on straight for the river.

It was their only chance of escape, unless they made for the sea, and chanced finding a small canoe on the sands.

But that was evidently not Ngati’s intention. Over the river seemed to be the only way not likely to be watched; and, going straight for it, he only paused again close to its brink, listening to the shouting going on but a very short distance from where they stood.

While Don listened, it sounded to him as if the Maoris were literally hunting them down, the men spreading out like a pack of dogs, and covering every inch of ground so closely that, unless they escaped from where they were, capture was absolutely certain.

As they stood panting there, Ngati caught Don’s hand, and tightened it round the spear, following this up by the same action with Jem.

“He means we are to hold tight, Jem.”

“Is he going to take us across this tumbling river, Mas’ Don?”

“It seems so.”

“Then I shall hold tight.”

Before them they could faintly make out the foaming water, and though the distance was not above twenty or thirty yards, the water ran roaring over great stones in so fierce a torrent, that Don felt his heart sink, and shrank from the venture.

But on the other side of the torrent was freedom from a death so horrible that the boy shuddered at the thought, and without hesitation he tightened his hold on the spear, and followed the great Maori as he stepped boldly into the rushing stream.

It was a new sensation to Don as he moved on with the water over his waist, and pressing so hard against him, that but for the support of the spear-shaft, he must have been swept away. Sturdy even as Jem was, he, too, had a terribly hard task to keep his footing; for his short, broad figure offered a great deal of surface to the swift current, while the rugged stony bed of the river varied in depth at every step.

They had a tower of strength, though, in Ngati, who, in spite of the wounds he had received, seemed as vigorous as ever; and though Don twice lost his footing, he clung tightly to the spear, and soon fought his way back to a perpendicular position.

But even towers of strength are sometimes undermined and give way. It was so here. They were about half-way across the river, whose white foam gave them sufficient light to enable them to see their way, when, just as Ngati came opposite to a huge block of lava, over which the water poured in tremendous volume, he stepped down into a hole of great depth, and, in spite of his vast strength and efforts to recover himself, he was whirled here and there for a few moments by the power of the fall.

Both Don and Jem stood firm, though having hard work to keep their footing, and drew upon the spear-shaft, to which Ngati still held. But all at once there was a sharp jerk, quite sufficient to disturb Don’s balance, and the next moment Ngati shot along a swift current of water, that ran through a narrow trough-like channel, and Don and Jem followed.

Rushing water, a sensation of hot lead in the nostrils, a curious strangling and choking, with the thundering of strange noises in the ears. Next a confused feeling of being knocked about, turned over and beaten down, and then Don felt that he was in swift shallow water amongst stones.

He rose to his feet to find, as soon as he could get his breath regularly, that he had still hold of the spear-shaft, and that he had been swept down nearly to the sandy level, over which the river ran before joining the sea.

A minute later and he was walking over the soft, dry sand, following Ngati on the further shore, the great chief plodding on in and out among bushes and trees as if nothing had happened. The shouting of those in search was continued, but between them and the enemy the torrent ran, with its waters roaring, thundering, and plashing as they leaped in and out among the rocks toward the sea; and now that they were safely across, Don felt hopeful that the Maoris would look upon the torrent as impassable, and trust to their being still on the same side as the pah.

As they trudged on, dripping and feeling bruised and sore, Jem found opportunities for a word here and there.

“Thought I was going to be drownded after all, Mas’ Don,” he whispered. “I knocked my head against a rock, and if it wasn’t that my skull’s made o’ the strongest stuff, it would ha’ been broken.”

“You had better not speak much, Jem,” said Don softly.

“No, my lad; I won’t. But what a ducking! All the time we were going across, it ran just as if some one on the left was shoving hard. I didn’t know water could push like that.”

“I expected to be swept away every moment.”

“I expected as we was going to be drownded, and if I’m to be drownded, I don’t want it to be like that. It was such a rough-and-tumble way.”

Don was silent.

“Mas’ Don.”


“But, of course, I don’t want to be drownded at all.”

“No, Jem; of course not. I wonder whether they’ll follow us across the river.”

“They’ll follow us anywhere, Mas’ Don, and catch us if they can. Say, Mas’ Don, though, I’m glad we’ve got old ‘my pakeha.’ He’ll show us the way, and help us to get something to eat.”

“I hope so, Jem.”

“Say, Mas’ Don, think we can trust him?”

“Trust him, Jem! Why, of course.”

“That’s all very well, Mas’ Don. You’re such a trusting chap. See how you used to trust Mike Bannock, and how he turned you over.”

“Yes; but he was a scoundrel. Ngati is a simple-hearted savage.”

“Hope he is, Mas’ Don; but what I’m feared on is, that he may be a simple-stomached savage.”

“Why, what do you mean, Jem?”

“Only as he may turn hungry some day, as ’tis his nature to.”

“Of course.”

“And then, ’spose he has us out in the woods at his mercy like, how then?”

“Jem, you’re always thinking about cannibals. How can you be so absurd?”

“Come, I like that, Mas’ Don; arn’t I had enough to make me think of ’em?”


The warning came from Ngati; for just then the breeze seemed to sweep the faint roar of the torrent aside, and the shouting of the Maoris came loud and clear.

“They’re over the river,” said Jem excitedly. “Well, I’ve got a spear in my hand, and I mean to die fighting for the sake of old Bristol and my little wife.”