Chapter 50 | How To Escape? | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Fifty.

It was in quite a little natural fortress that Mike stopped, the way being in and out through a narrow rift that must have been the result of some earthquake, and when this was passed they were in a sheltered nook, at one side of which the face of a precipice hung right over, affording ample protection from the wind and rain. Through quite a cranny a stream of perfectly clear water trickled, and on the other side was a small deep pool, slowly welling over at one side, the steam rising therefrom telling that it was in some way connected with the noisy jet which rose outside.

“There, young Don Lavington, that’s where we lives, my lad, and you’ve got to stay with us. If you behave well, you shall have plenty to eat and drink. If you don’t, mind one o’ my mates don’t bring you down as he would a bird.”

Don glanced round wonderingly, and tried to grasp why it was that Mike Bannock was there, the only surmise upon which he could take hold being the right one—Jem’s: that Mike was a transported man who had taken to the bush.

He had just come to this conclusion when Jem turned to him.

“Shall I ask him that, Mas’ Don?”

“Ask him what?”

“What I think. Depend upon it he was sent out to Botany Bay, and run off to this country.”

“No, no, Jem; don’t ask.”

“He can’t have come out here honest, Mas’ Don. Look at him, there arn’t a honest hair in his head.”

“But we don’t want to offend him, Jem.”

“Don’t we? Tell you what we do want, Mas’ Don; we want to get hold o’ them old rusty muskets and the powder and shot, and then we could make them sing small. Eh? What say?”

This was in answer to something said in a low voice by Ngati, who looked from one to the other inquiringly.

Ngati spoke again, and then struck his fist into his hand with a look of rage and despair.

“Yes, I feel the same,” said Don, laying his hand upon the great fellow’s arm. “I’d give anything to be able to understand what you say, Ngati.”

The chief smiled, as if he quite comprehended; and grasped Don’s hand with a friendly grip, offering the other to Jem.

“It’s all right, old boy,” said the latter. “We can’t understand each other’s lingo, but we know each other’s hearts. We’ve got to wait a bit and see.”

A week passed rapidly away, during which, in his rougher moods, Mike treated his prisoners as if they were slaves, calling upon Ngati to perform the most menial offices for the little camp, all of which were patiently performed after an appealing look at Don, who for the sake of gaining time gave up in every way.

Jem grumbled, but he did what he was told, for the slightest appearance of resistance was met by a threatening movement with the muskets, which never left the men’s hands.

They were fairly supplied with food; fish from the streams and from a good-sized lake, Ngati proving himself to be an adept at capturing the large eels, and at discovering fresh supplies of fruit and roots.

But in a quiet way, as he watched his English companions like a dog, he always seemed to comprehend their wishes, and to be waiting the time when they should call upon him to fly at their tyrants and then help them to escape.

“Didn’t know I was coming out to look after you, did you, young Don?” said Mike one evening. “King sent me out o’ purpose. Told one of the judges to send me out here, and here I am; and I’ve found you, and I ought to take you home, but I won’t. You always liked furrin countries, and I’m going to keep you here.”

“What for?” said Don.

“To make you do for me what I used to do for you. I was your sarvant; now you’re mine. Ups and downs in life we see. Now you’re down and I’m up; and what d’yer think o’ that, Jem Wimble?”

“Think as you was transported, and that you’ve took to the bush.”

“Oh, do you?” said Mike, grinning. “Well, never mind; I’m here, and you’re there, and you’ve got to make the best of it.”

To make the best of it was not easy. The three convicts, after compelling their prisoners to make the resting-place they occupied more weather-proof and warm, set them to make a lean-to for themselves, to which they were relegated, but without arms, Mike Bannock having on the first day they were at work taken possession of their weapons.

“You won’t want them,” he said, with an ugly grin; “we’ll do the hunting and fighting, and you three shall do the work.”

Jem uttered a low growl, at which Mike let the handle of one of the spears fall upon his shoulder, and as Jem fiercely seized it, three muskets were presented at his head.

“Oh, all right,” growled Jem, with a menacing look.

“Yes, it’s all right, Jem Wimble. But look here, don’t you or either of you cut up rough; for if you do, things may go very awkward.”

“I should like to make it awkward for them, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem, as the convicts turned away; “but never mind, I can wait.”

They did wait, day after day, working hard, ill fed, and suffering endless abuse, and often blows, which would have been resented by Ngati, but for a look from Don; and night by night, as they gathered together in their little lean-to hut, with a thick heap of fern leaves for their bed their conversation was on the same subject—how could they get the muskets and spears, and escape.

There was no further alarm on the part of the Maoris, who seemed, after they had been discouraged in their pursuit, and startled by the guns, to have given up all intention of recapturing the escaped prisoners.

“If we could only get the guns and spears, Jem,” said Don one evening for the hundredth time.

“Yes, and I’d precious soon have them,” replied Jem; “only they’re always on the watch.”

“Yes, they’re too cunning to leave them for a moment. Was any one ever before so unlucky as we are?”

“Well, if you come to that,” said Jem, “yes. Poor old Tomati, for one; and it can’t be very nice for Ngati here, who has lost all his tribe.”

Ngati looked up sharply, watching them both intently in the gloomy cabin.

“But he don’t seem to mind it so very much.”

“What do you say to escaping without spears?”

“Oh, I’m willing,” replied Jem; “only I wouldn’t be in too great a hurry. Those chaps wouldn’t mind having a shot at us again, and this time they might hit.”

“What shall we do then?”

“Better wait, Mas’ Don. This sort o’ thing can’t last. We shall soon eat up all the fruit, and then they’ll make a move, and we may have a better chance.”

Don sighed and lay with his eyes half-closed, watching one particular star which shone in through the doorway.

But not for long. The star seemed to grow misty as if veiled by a cloud; then it darkened altogether; so it seemed to Don, for the simple reason that he had fallen fast asleep.

It appeared only a minute since he was gazing at the star before he felt a hand pressed across his mouth, and with a horrible dread of being smothered, he uttered a hoarse, stifled cry, and struggled to get free; but another hand was pressed upon his chest, and it seemed as if the end had come.