Chapter 53 | Don Speaks Out | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Fifty Three.

A healthy young constitution helped Don Lavington through his perilous illness, and in another fortnight he was about the farm, helping in any little way he could.

“I’m very sorry, Mr Gordon,” said Don one evening to the young settler.

“Sorry? What for, my lad?” he said.

“For bringing those convicts after us to your place, and for being ill and giving you so much trouble.”

“Nonsense, my lad! I did begin to grumble once when I thought you were going to be ungrateful to me for taking you in.”


“Yes, ungrateful, and trying to die.”

“Oh!” said Don smiling.

“Nice mess I should have been in if you had. No church, no clergyman, no doctor, no sexton. Why, you young dog, it would have been cruel.”

Don smiled sadly.

“I am really very grateful, sir; I am indeed, and I think by to-morrow or next day I shall be strong enough to go.”

“What, and leave me in the lurch just as I’m so busy! Why, with the thought of having you fellows here, I’ve been fencing in pieces and making no end of improvements. That big Maori can cut down as much wood as two men, and as for Jem Wimble, he’s the handiest fellow I ever saw.”

“I am very glad they have been of use, sir. I wish I could be.”

“You’re right enough, boy. Stop six months—a year altogether—and I shall be very glad of your help.”

This set Don at rest, and he brightened up wonderfully, making great strides during the next fortnight, and feeling almost himself, till, one evening as he was returning from where he had been helping Jem and Ngati cut up wood for fencing, he fancied he saw some animal creeping through the ferns. A minute’s watching convinced him that this was a fact, but he could not make out what it was. Soon after, as they were seated at their evening meal, he mentioned what he had seen.

“One of the sheep got loose,” said Gordon.

“No, it was not a sheep.”

“Well, what could it have been? There are no animals here, hardly, except the pigs which have run wild.”

“It looked as big as a sheep, but it was not a pig,” said Don thoughtfully. “Could it have been a man going on all fours?”

“Hullo! What’s the matter?” cried Gordon looking up sharply, as one of his two neighbours came to the door with his wife.

“Well, I doan’t know,” said the settler. “My wife says she is sure she saw a savage creeping along through the bush behind our place.”

“There!” said Don excitedly.

“Here’s t’others coming,” said Jem.

For at that moment the other settler, whose log-house was a hundred yards below, came up at a trot, gun in hand, in company with his wife and sister.

“Here, look sharp, Gordon,” he said; “there’s a party out on a raid. We came up here, for we had better join hands.”

“Of course,” said Gordon. “Come in; but I think you are frightening yourselves at shadows, and—”

He stopped short, for Jem Wimble dashed at the door and banged it to just as Ngati sprang to the corner of the big log kitchen and caught up a spear.

“Mike and them two beauties, Mas’ Don!” cried Jem.

“Then it’s war, is it?” said Gordon grimly, as he reconnoitred from the window. “Eight—ten—twelve—about thirty Maori savages, and three white ones. Hand round the guns, Don Lavington. You can shoot, can’t you?”

“Yes, a little.”

“That’s right. Can we depend on Ngati? If we can’t, he’d better go.”

“I’ll answer for him,” said Don.

“All right!” said Gordon. “Look here, Ngati,”—he pointed out of the window and then tapped the spear—“bad pakehas, bad—bad, kill.”

Ngati grunted, and his eyes flashed.

“Kill pakehas—bad pakehas,” he said in a deep, fierce voice. “Kill!” Then tapping the Englishmen one by one on the shoulder, “Pakeha good,” he said smiling, and then taking Don by the arm, “My pakeha,” he added.

“That’s all right, sir,” said Jem; “he understands.”

“Now then, quick! Make everything fast. We can keep them out so long as they don’t try fire. And look here, I hate bloodshed, neighbours, but those convict scoundrels have raised these poor savages up against us for the sake of plunder. Recollect, we are fighting for our homes—to defend the women.”

A low, angry murmur arose as the guns were quickly examined, ammunition placed ready, and the rough, strong door barricaded with boxes and tubs, the women being sent up a rough ladder through a trap-door to huddle together in the roof, where they would be in safety.

“So long as they don’t set us afire, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem.

“What’s that?” said Gordon sharply.

“Jem fears fire,” said Don.

“So do I, my lad, so we must keep them at a distance; and if they do fire us run all together to the next house, and defend that.”

Fortunately for the defenders of the place there were but three windows, and they were small, and made good loop-holes from which to fire when the enemy came on. The settlers defended the front of the house, and Don, Jem and Ngati were sent to the back, greatly to Jem’s disappointment.

“We sha’n’t see any of the fun, Mas’ Don,” he whispered, and then remained silent, for a shout arose, and they recognised the voice as that of Mike Bannock.

“Now then you,” he shouted, “open the door, and give in quietly. If you do, you sha’n’t be hurt. If you make a fight of it, no one will be left alive.”

“Look here!” shouted back Gordon; “I warn you all that the first man who comes a step farther may lose his life. Go on about your business before help comes and you are caught.”

“No help for a hundred miles, matey,” said the savage-looking convict; “so give in. We want all you’ve got there, and what’s more, we mean to have it. Will you surrender?”

For answer Gordon thrust out his gun-barrel, and the convicts drew back a few yards, and conversed together before disappearing with their savage followers into the bush.

“Have we scared them off?” said Gordon to one of the settlers, after ten minutes had passed without a sign.

“I don’t know,” said the other. “I can’t help thinking—”

“Look out, Mas’ Don!”

Bang! bang!

Two reports from muskets at the back of the house, where the attacking party had suddenly shown themselves, thinking it the weakest part; and after the two shots about a dozen Maoris dashed at the little window, and tried to get in, forcing their spears through to keep the defenders at a distance; and had not Ngati’s spear played its part, darting swiftly about like the sting of some monster, the lithe, active fellows would, soon have forced their way in.

Directly after, the fight began at the front, the firing growing hot, and not without effect, for one of the settlers went down with a musket bullet in his shoulder, and soon after Gordon stood back, holding his arm for Don to bind it up with a strip off a towel.

“Only a spear prick,” he said coolly, as he took aim with his gun directly after; and for about an hour the fight raged fiercely, with wounds given and taken, but no material advantage on either side.

“Be careful and make every shot tell,” said Gordon, as it was rapidly growing dark; then backing to the inner door as he reloaded, he spoke for a few seconds to Don.

“We shall beat them off, sir,” said Don cheerily.

“Yes, I hope so, my lad,” said the settler calmly. “You see you are of great use.”

“No, sir; it’s all my fault,” replied Don.

“Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem, as Don returned, “look out of the window; mind the spears; then tell me what you see.”

“Fire!” said Don after a momentary examination.

He was quite right. A fire had been lit in the forest at the back, and ten minutes after, as Mike Bannock’s voice could be heard cheering them, the Maoris came on, hurling burning branches on to the roof of the little log-house.

For a few minutes there was no result. Then there arose a yell, for the roof had caught, the resinous pine burned strongly, the smoke began to curl in between the rafters, and the women were helped down.

To extinguish the flames was impossible, and would even have been as vain a task had they been outside ready with water.

“How long will she last before she comes down?” said one of the settlers.

“We can stop in here for a quarter, perhaps half an hour longer,” said Gordon; “and then we must make a dash for your place.”

“Yes,” said the settler, “and they know it. Look!”

By the increasing light from the burning house, the savages could be seen with their white leaders preparing for a rush.

Just then Don and his two companions were forced to leave the little lean-to, whose roof was burning furiously, and it was only by closing the rough door of communication that the besieged were able to remain in the big kitchen.

“It won’t last five minutes, my lads,” said Gordon. “Be ready, women. I’ll throw open the door. We men will rush out and form up. You women run down to the right and make for Smith’s. We shall give them a volley to check them, and run after you.”



“All loaded?”

“Ay,” came in a deep despairing growl.

“Down with these boxes and tubs then. You, Don, you are young and weak; go with the women.”

“No,” said Don; “I shall go with you men.”

“Brayvo, Mas’ Don!” whispered Jem. “What a while they are opening that door! We shall be roasted, my lad, after all, and these wretches ’ll pick our bones.”

The door was flung open, and the enemy uttered a yell of delight as the little party of whites ran out of the burning house.

“Now, women!” cried Gordon.

“No: stop!” roared Don.


A heavy volley from the right, and the besiegers made a rush for the left.


A heavy volley met them on the left, fired diagonally from half behind the blazing house.

Then there was a cheer, echoed by a second, and two parties of blue-jackets were in among the Maoris, who fled, leaving half their number wounded and prisoners on the ground, while Don and his friends helped the women out into the open, away from the signs of bloodshed, which looked horrible in the light from the blazing house.

“A little too late,” said the officer in command of the detachment.

“Too late to save my house, sir, but in time to save our lives,” said Gordon, grasping his hand.

“I wish I had been sooner; but it’s rough work travelling through the bush, and we should not have come, only we heard the shouting, and saw the glow of your burning house.”

No time was lost in trying to extinguish the fire after a guard had been set over the prisoners, the men under the officers’ orders working hard with the few buckets at command; but the place was built of inflammable pine, which flared up fiercely, and after about a quarter of an hour’s effort Gordon protested against further toil.

“It’s of no use, sir,” he said. “All labour in vain. I’ve not lost much, for my furniture was only home made.”

“I’m sorry to give up, but it is useless,” said the officer.

Jem crept close up to his companion.

“I say, Mas’ Don, I thought it was some of our chaps from the sloop at first, but they’re from the Vixen frigate. Think they’ll find us out?”

“I hope not, Jem,” replied Don; “surely they will not press us again.”

“Let’s be off into the bush till they’re gone.”

“No,” said Don; “I’m sorry I left the ship as I did. We will not run away again.”

Meanwhile preparations were made for bivouacking, the officer determining to rest where they were that night; and after seeing his men stored in two of the barns, and sentries placed over the prisoners in another, at one of the settlers’ places, one log-house being given up to the wounded, he joined the little English gathering, where the settlers’ wives, as soon as the danger was past, had prepared a comfortable meal.

After an uneventful night, the morning broke cheerily over the tiny settlement, where the only trace of the attack was at Gordon’s, whose rough log-house was now a heap of smoking ashes.

The sailors had breakfasted well, thanks to the settlers’ wives, and were now drawn up, all but the prisoners’ guard, while the officer stood talking to Gordon and his neighbours with Don and Jem standing close by; for in spite of Jem’s reiterated appeals, his companion refused to take to the bush.

“No, Jem,” Don said stubbornly; “it would be cowardly, and we’re cowards enough.”

“But s’pose they find us out? That there officer’s sure to smell as we’re salts.”

“Smell? Nonsense!”

“He will, Mas’ Don. I’m that soaked with Stockholm tar that I can smell myself like a tub.”


“But if they find out as we deserted, they’ll hang us.”

“I don’t believe it, Jem.”

“Well, you’ll see, Mas’ Don; so if they hang you, don’t you blame me.”

“Well, Mr Gordon, we must be off,” said the officer. “Thank you once more for all your hospitality.”

“God bless you, sir, and all your men, for saving our lives,” said the settler warmly; and there was a chorus of thanks from the other settlers and their wives.

“Nonsense, my dear sir; only our duty!” said the officer heartily. “And now about our prisoners. I don’t know what to do about the Maoris. I don’t want to shoot them, and I certainly don’t want to march them with us down to where the ship lies. What would you do, Mr Gordon?”

“I should give them a knife apiece, shake hands with them, and let them go.”

“What, to come back with the said knives, and kill you all when we’re gone!”

“They will not come back if you take away the scoundrels who led them on,” said Don sharply.

“How do you know?” said the officer good-humouredly.

“Because,” said Don, colouring, “I have been living a good deal with them, both with a friendly tribe and as a prisoner.”

“And they did not eat you?” said the officer laughing.

“There, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem, “hear that?”

“I think you are right, youngster,” continued the officer, “and I shall do so. Mr Dillon, bring up the prisoners.”

This was to a master’s mate, who led off a guard, and returned with the captives bound hands behind, and the Maoris looking sullen and haughty, while the three whites appeared at their very worst—a trio of the most vile, unkempt scoundrels possible to see.

They were led to the front, scowling at every one in turn, and halted in front of the officer, who, after whispering to the master’s mate, gave orders to one of the seamen. This man pulled out his great jack knife, opened it, and being a bit of a joker, advanced toward the Maoris, grinding his teeth and rolling his eyes.

The savages saw his every act, and there was a slight tremor that seemed to run through them all; but the next instant they had drawn themselves up stern and defiant, ready to meet their fate at the seaman’s knife.

“No, no. No, pakeha. No kill,” said a deep angry voice; and as every one turned, Ngati stalked forward as if to defend his enemies.

But at the same moment the man had cut the first Maori’s bands, and then went on behind the rank, cutting the line that bound seven, who stood staring wildly.

The next minute a seaman came along bearing a sheaf of spears, which he handed, one by one, to the astonished savages, while their wonder reached its height, as the master’s mate presented to each a knife, such as were brought for presents to the natives.

“Now,” said the officer, addressing them, “I don’t understand you, and I don’t suppose you understand my words; but you do my deeds. Then, in the king’s name, you are free; and if you ever take any English prisoners, I hope you will behave as well to them as we have behaved to you. There, go.”

He finished by pointing away to the north; but instead of going they stood staring till Ngati came forward, and said a few words in their own tongue.

The effect was electric; they all shouted, brandished their spears, danced wildly, and ended by throwing down their weapons before the officer, seizing him by the arms, and rubbing noses with him.

He submitted laughingly till the Maoris picked up their spears, and stood looking on, apparently quite satisfied that they were safe.

“Here, hi, Jack!” cried a hoarse brutal voice. “Look sharp, we want to get rid of these cords; where’s your knife?”

“Wait a little while, my friends,” said the officer sarcastically; “as soon as we get to the ship, you shall have them changed for irons.”

“Whorrt!” cried Mike.

“We were out in search of three convicts who murdered a couple of the guard, and escaped from Norfolk Island in a boat. I have fallen upon you by accident, and I have you safe.”

“Norfolk Island! Where’s Norfolk Island, mate?” said Mike coolly.

“Never heard o’ no such place,” said his vilest-looking companion, gruffly.

“Memory’s short, perhaps,” said the officer.

“But convicts; we’re not convicts,” growled Mike.

“Gentlemen, p’r’aps, on your travels?”

“Yes, that’s it,” said Mike with effrontery.

“Ah! Well then, I shall have to take you on beard His Majesty’s ship Vixen, where you will probably be hung at the yard-arm for inciting the ignorant Maoris to attack peaceful settlers. Forward, my lads!”

“Here stop!” roared Mike with a savage grin.

“What for?” said the officer sternly.

“Arn’t you going to take them, too?”

“Take whom—the Maoris? No; but for you they would have let these people be in peace. Forward!”

“No, no; I mean them two,” said Mike savagely, as he pointed—“them two: Don Lavington and Jem Wimble.”

“Halt!” cried the officer. “Do you know these men?” he said suspiciously.

“There, I told you so, Mas’ Don,” whispered Jem. “I know that man,” said Don firmly. “I only know the others by their making us prisoners out in the bush.”

“Where did you know him?” said the officer—“Norfolk Island?”

“No, sir; at Bristol. He worked as labourer in my uncle’s yard.”

“That’s right enough,” said Mike; “and him and Jem Wimble was pressed, and went to sea.”

“Ay, ay!” said the officer quickly.

“And they deserted, and took to the bush.”

“Hah!” ejaculated the officer. “From the sloop of war. The captain asked us to keep an eye open for two lads who had deserted.”

“Hor—hor—hor!” laughed Mike maliciously; “and now you’ve got ’em; Mr Gentleman Don and Master Jemmy Wimble.”

“If your hands warn’t tied,” cried Jem fiercely, “I’d punch your ugly head!”

“Is this true, young man?” said the officer sternly. “Did you desert from His Majesty’s sloop?”

Don was silent for a moment, and then stepped forward boldly.

“Yes!” he said.

“Ah, Mas’ Don, you’ve done it now,” whispered Jem.

“I was cruelly seized, beaten, and dragged away from my home, and Jem here from his young wife. On board ship we were ill-used and persecuted; and I’m not ashamed to own it, I did leave the ship.”

“Yes, and so did I!” said Jem stoutly.

“Humph! Then I’m afraid you will have to go with me as prisoners!” said the officer.

“Hor—hor—hor! Here’s a game! Prisoners! Cat-o’-nine tails, or hanging.”

“Silence, you scoundrel!” roared the officer. “Forward with these prisoners.”

Mike and his companions were marched on out of hearing, and then, after a turn or two, the officer spoke.

“It is true then, my lads, you deserted your ship?”

“I was forced to serve, sir, and I left the ship,” said Don firmly.

“Well, sir, I have but one course to pursue.”

“Surely you will not take them as prisoners, sir?” cried Gordon warmly—“as brave, true fellows as ever stepped.”

“I can believe that,” said the officer; “but discipline must be maintained. Look here, my lads: I will serve you if I can. You made a great mistake in deserting. I detest pressing men; but it is done, and it is not my duty to oppose the proceeding. Now, will you take my advice?”

“What is it, sir?”

“Throw yourself on our captain’s mercy. Your ship has sailed for China; we are going home short-handed. Volunteer to serve the king till the ship is paid off, and perhaps you will never hear of having deserted. What do you say?”

“The same as Jem Wimble does, sir. I can volunteer, and fight, if you like; but I can’t bear to be forced.”

“Well said!” cried the officer, smiling at Don’s bit of grandiloquence; and, an hour later, after an affectionate parting from Ngati, who elected to stay with Gordon, Don and Jem were Jacks once more, marching cheerily with the main body, half a mile behind the guard in charge of the convicts.