Chapter 45 | In the Woods | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Forty Five.

“They’re not over the river, Jem,” said Don, impatiently. “I wish you wouldn’t always look on the worst side of everything.”

“That’s what your Uncle Josiah allus does with the sugar, Mas’ Don. If the foots was werry treacley when he had a hogshead turned up to look at the bottom first, he allus used to say as all the rest was poor quality.”

“We’re not dealing with sugar now.”

“No, Mas’ Don; this here arn’t half so sweet. I wish it was.”

“Hssh!” came from Ngati again. And for the rest of the night they followed him in silence along ravines, over rugged patches of mountain side, with the great fronds of the tree-ferns brushing their faces, and nocturnal birds rushing away from them as their steps invaded the solitudes where they indulged in their hunt for food.

When they encountered a stream, which came foaming and plunging down from the mountain, after carefully trying its depth, Ngati still led the way. Hour after hour they tramped wearily on through the darkness, Ngati rarely speaking, but pausing now and then to help them over some rugged place. Everything in the darkness was wild and strange, and there was an unreality in the journey that appeared dreamlike, the more so that, utterly worn out, Don from time to time tramped on in a state of drowsiness resembling sleep.

But all this passed away as the faint light of day gave place to the brilliant glow of the morning sunshine, and Ngati came to a standstill in a ferny gully, down which a tremendous torrent poured with a heavy thunderous sound.

And now, as Don and Jem were about to throw themselves down upon a bed of thick moss, Ngati held out his hand in English fashion to Don.

“My pakeha,” he said softly, “morning.”

There was something so quaint in his salutation that, in spite of weariness and trouble, Don laughed till he saw the great chiefs countenance cloud.

But it cleared at once as Don caught his hand, pressed it warmly, and looked gratefully in his face.

“Hah!” cried Ngati, grasping the hand he held with painful energy. “My pakeha, morning. Want eat?”

“Yes, yes!” cried Jem, eagerly.

“Yes, yes,” said Ngati; and then he stood, looking puzzled, as he tried to remember. At last, shaking his head sadly, he said, “No, no,” in a helpless, dissatisfied tone. “Want Tomati. Tomati—”

He closed his eyes, and laid his head sidewise, to suggest that Tomati was dead, and his countenance, in spite of his grotesque tattooing, wore an aspect of sadness that touched Don.

“Tomati dead,” he said slowly, and the chiefs eyes brightened.

“Dead,” he said; “Tomati dead—dead—all—dead.”

“Yes, poor fellows, all but the prisoners,” said Don, speaking slowly, in the hope that the chief might grasp some of his words.

But he did not understand a syllable, though he seemed to feel that Don was sympathising with him, and he shook hands again gravely.

“My pakeha,” he said, pressing Don’s hand. Then turning to Jem, he held out his other hand, and said slowly, “Jemmeree. Good boy.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you,” said Jem, quietly. “We don’t understand one another much, but I do think you a good fellow, Ngati; so I shake hands hearty; and I’ll stand by you, mate, as you’ve stood by me.”

“Good, good,” said Ngati, smiling, as if he understood all. Then, looking grave and pained again, he pointed over the mountain. “Maori kill,” he said. “Want eat?”

“Yes; eat, eat,” said Jem, making signs with his mouth. “Pig—meat.”

“No pig; no meat,” said Ngati, grasping the meaning directly; and going to a palm-like tree, he broke out some of its tender growth and handed it to his companions.

“Eat,” he said; and he began to munch some of it himself.

“Look at that now,” said Jem. “I should ha’ gone by that tree a hundred times without thinking it was good to eat. What’s it like, Mas’ Don?”

“Something like stalky celery, or nut, or pear, all mixed up together.”

“Yes; ’tarn’t bad,” said Jem. “What’s he doing now?”

Ngati was busily hunting about for something, peering amongst the trees, but he did not seem to find that of which he was in search. He uttered a cry of satisfaction the next minute, though, as he stooped down and took a couple of eggs from a nest upon the ground.

“Good—good!” he exclaimed, eagerly; and he gave them to Don to carry, while he once more resumed his search, which this time was successful, for he found a young tree, and stripped from its branches a large number of its olive-like berries.

“There now,” said Jem. “Why, it’s all right, Mas’ Don; ’tarn’t tea and coffee, and bread and butter, but it’s salad and eggs and fruit. Why, fighting cocks’ll be nothing to it. We shall live like princes, see if we don’t. What’s them things like?”

“Like very ripe apples, Jem, or medlars,” replied Don, who had been tasting the fruit carefully.

“That’ll do, then. Pity we can’t find some more of them eggs, and don’t light a fire to cook ’em. I say, Ngati.”

The Maori looked at him inquiringly.

“More, more,” said Jem, holding up one of the eggs, and pointing to the ferny thicket.

“No, no,” said Ngati, shaking his head. “Moa, moa.”

He stooped down and held his hands apart in different directions, as if he were describing the shape of a moderate-sized oval pumpkin. Then, rising erect, he raised one hand to the full extent of his arm, bending the fingers so as to imitate the shape of a bird’s head, pressed his head against his arm, placed the left arm close to his body and a little forward, and then began to stalk about slowly.

“Moa, moa,” he said, dropping his arm again, and pointing to the eggs, “Kiwi, kiwi.”

“Kiwi, kiwi,” said Jem. “Can’t make out what he means, Mas’ Don; but it don’t matter. Shall we suck the eggs raw?”

He made a gesture as if to break one, but Ngati snatched it away.

“No, no!” he cried sharply, and snatched the other away.

“Pig!” ejaculated Jem. “Well, I do call that greedy.”

But if the chief was greedy over the eggs, which he secured in a roughly-made bag, of palm strips, ingeniously woven, he was generous enough over the fruit and palm, upon which they made a fair breakfast; after which Ngati examined Jem’s wounds, and then signed to him to come down to the side of the stream, seizing him by the wrist, and half dragging him in his energetic way.

“Is he going to drown me, Mas’ Don?”

“No, no, Jem. I know: he wants to bathe your wound.”

So it proved, for Ngati made him lie down by a pool, and tenderly washed the injuries, ending by applying some cool bruised leaves to the places, and binding them up with wild flax.

This done, he examined Don’s head, smiling with satisfaction because it was no worse.

“Say, Mas’ Don, it do feel comf’table. Why, he’s quite a doctor, eh?”

“What?” continued Jem, staring, as Ngati made signs.

“He wants you to bathe his wounds. Your arm’s painful, Jem; I’ll do it.”

Ngati lay down by the pool, and, pulling up some moss, Don bathed a couple of ugly gashes and a stab, that was roughly plugged with fibre. The wounds were so bad that it was a wonder to both that the great fellow could keep about; but he appeared to bear them patiently enough, smiling with satisfaction as his attendant carefully washed them, and in imitation of what he had seen, applied bruised leaves and moss, and finally bound them up with native flax.

Don shuddered more than once as he performed his task, and was glad when it was over, Jem looking on calmly the while.

“Why, Mas’ Don, a chap at home would want to go into hospital for less than that.”

“Yes, Jem; but these men seem so healthy and well, they heal up quickly, and bear their hurts as if nothing was wrong.”

“Sleep,” said Ngati, suddenly; and he signed to Don to lie down and to Jem to keep watch, while he lay down at once in the mossy nook close to the river, and hidden by overhanging canopies of ferns.

“Oh, all right, Mas’ Don, I don’t mind,” said Jem; “only I was just as tired as him.”

“Let me take the first watch, Jem.”

“No, no; it’s all right, Mas’ Don. I meant you to lie down and rest, only he might ha’ offered to toss for first go.”

“Call me then, at the end of an hour.”

“All right, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, going through the business of taking out an imaginary watch, winding it up, and then looking at its face. “Five and twenty past seven, Mas’ Don, but I’m afraid I’m a little slow. These here baths don’t do one’s watch any good.”

“You’ll keep a good look out, Jem.”

“Just so, Mas’ Don. Moment I hear or see anything I calls you up. What time would you like your shaving water, sir? Boots or shoes this morning?”

“Ah, Jem,” said Don, smiling, “I’m too tired to laugh.”

And he lay back and dropped off to sleep directly, Ngati’s eyes having already closed.

“Too tired to laugh,” said Jem to himself. “Poor dear lad, and him as brave as a young lion. Think of our coming to this. Shall we ever see old England again, and if we do, shall I be a cripple in this arm? Well, if I am, I won’t grumble, but bear it all like a man; and,” he added reverently, “please God save us and bring us back, if it’s only for my poor Sally’s sake, for I said I’d love her and cherish her, and keep her; and here am I one side o’ the world, and she’s t’other; and such is life.”