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Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter I. — Leaving Home

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Chapter I.
Leaving Home .

"Away the good ship sails and leaves
Old England on the lee."


"Hullo! Langton, what are you doing in this part of the world? I didn't expect to meet you here."

"How are you, Arthur? I daresay you will be surprised when I tell you I am here for the purpose of getting away from this part of the world. I am on my way to New Zealand, and sail to-morrow in the Netherby."

"You don't mean it, old man," replied the first speaker; "but I daresay it is true enough, for you always were a lucky dog. How I wish I were you."

The two lads, who had seen nothing of each other since they parted company, some months before, at old Fusby's educational establishment, had, of page 2course, a great deal to talk about, but all minor topics of conversation were forgotten in the excitement occasioned by Gilbert Langton's purposed journey. Langton eagerly detailed all his plans, and told how he intended to return to England in five years with his fortune, and how he would in the meantime lead such a jolly life, with plenty of riding and shooting, and seemingly little or no work. In Arthur Leslie he found an attentive but envious auditor, and as each glowing picture of colonial life was drawn by Langton—mainly, it is to be feared, from his imagination—Leslie avowed his determination to go to New Zealand also, and added that he knew it was no use saying anything about it at home, but that he would run away.

Gilbert Langton tried to dissuade his friend from entertaining any such notion, and, thinking that he had done so, left him with many promises to write by every mail, and obtained a similar promise from Arthur, who agreed to give a full and true history of all the old Fusbyites in return for Langton's accounts of his own personal adventures.

The idea of running away from home having taken possession of Arthur Leslie's mind, was not so easily dismissed as Gilbert Langton seemed to think; for Arthur's uncle and guardian, with whom he resided, had spoken once or twice lately about giving Arthur a seat in his counting-house, and this was by no means a pleasant prospect in the eyes of that young gentleman. When, therefore, he had bid good-bye page 3to his companion he turned his steps towards the shipping, endeavouring as he went to devise the best means of carrying out his plan. He found out the Netherby, and, going on board, he had an interview with the cook, which must have been of a very satisfactory nature, for a short time afterwards he might have been seen proceeding rapidly homewards with a self-satisfied air. Next morning all was bustle and excitement on board the Netherby. The pilot bawling to the men on board the tug, passengers and their friends taking sorrowful leave of one another, or, Mark Tapley-like, trying to look "jolly" in the most disadvantageous circumstances. Soon they were well under way, and the waving figures on the pier became gradually more and more indistinct.

Gilbert Langton was amongst the last to turn from gazing towards the shore, and as he busied himself in arranging his luggage in his cabin he sighed once or twice, for he knew his mother and sisters would still be watching the receding ship, but his excitement and the novelty of his position kept any feeling of sadness pretty well at bay. Afterwards, when he had done everything that suggested itself in the way of putting his cabin in order, and when he began to experience first the qualms of seasickness, then also did feelings of regret and homesickness take possession of his mind. The mental suffering was soon overpowered by the greater virulence of the bodily affliction; and Gilbert, devoutly wishing himself anywhere but where he was, retired to his bunk page 4very miserable, till sleep came to the rescue, and delivered him from his tormentor.

Early next morning he awoke, with the impression that the house was coming down, and was surprised to find himself in bed with the most of his clothes on. He was not long, however, in collecting his faculties, and, remembering the advice which had been given him in case of seasickness, to keep as much on deck as possible, he rolled out of bed, and, after a not very successful attempt at washing, with the floor anything but horizontal, and by no means steady withal, he clambered clumsily up the companion to the poop.

"Well, youngster," said Mr. Spanker the mate, who was pacing the deck, "you're up betimes this morning, but you've not got your sea-legs yet, I notice."

"I don't know about that," said Gilbert; "but I thought I was on my last legs yesterday."

"Ha, ha!" laughed the mate. "You're all right, my boy, when you can make a joke, even though it is a lame one; there can't be much wrong with you. But what the dickens is the matter with you, Pat?"

The last remark was addressed to an excited looking young Irishman who appeared suddenly from the main deck.

"Mather enough, your honour; but it's Michael Dunovan that's my name, sir, and was my father's before me; and sure an' I wish I was back with the ould man in Tipperary, and had never thought about page 5working my passage to New Zealand as cook's mate or any other mate."

"If that's all that's the matter with you, Mike, go back to your work in the galley."

"The galley—the divil!" said Mike incoherently.

"Go to your work," thundered Mr. Spanker; "do you know you're speaking to the chief officer, sir? Don't come fooling round here with your nonsense, if you're wise."

"I axe your pardin, sir, I didn't mane no nonsense; but as I was going into the galley a few minutes ago, I heard the most awful groaning, and I thought it was the ould gintleman himself."

"Was the cook there?" asked the mate.

"No, your riverance, there was nobody there; that's the quare thing."

"Don't you 'rivrance' me. I expect that old blackguard of a cook has got drunk, and if we have to trust to you for our breakfast it's a poor lookout."

At this moment the Captain came up from his cabin, and learning what was wrong he descended to the main deck, and, followed by the fearful Mike, made for the galley.

As Captain Seebon entered the galley he heard a faint groan, but whence the sound came he was unable to discover; for, as Mike had stated, the place was empty. The sound evidently did not come from the other end of the deck-house, which was divided from the galley by a thick wooden partition; for, though faint, it seemed close at hand. The Captain page 6stood in the doorway puzzling over the affair, when the noise was repeated, in his ear almost; so distinctly that he involuntarily started, but he at once struck a barrel standing just outside the galley door, which was apparently full of grease. It emitted a hollow sound, succeeded immediately by a repetition of the noise previously heard.

"Bear a hand here and undo the lashings of these slush barrels," shouted the skipper, adding to himself, in a muttered tone, "I wonder it didn't strike me to ask that lubber of a cook how he had managed to fill one of his barrels before starting."

Two of the hands speedily obeyed the Captain's order, and turned the barrel over, when it proved to have been standing bottom upwards, the bottom hidden by a layer of fat, while, from the inside, there appeared the legs of a man. Catching hold of these the sailors dragged the stowaway from his hiding-place. The poor wretch seemed more dead than alive.

"Turn him over and let's look at him," said the Captain.

"Impossible!" explained Gilbert, who approached as they did so. "No, it can't be! but it is Arthur Leslie."

Arthur Leslie it was sure enough, and he was soon recovered sufficiently to answer Gilbert's eager questions.

He had bribed the cook to hide him, which was done early in the morning of the day of sailing. page 7The bunghole, and a bit of wood placed under the rim of the barrel, served to admit a supply of fresh air; and as the cook had promised to release him as soon as it was dark, he kept up his spirits with the idea that in an hour or two he would be his own master. But when darkness came and brought with it no deliverance, he began to wish he had never made the attempt; and what with his cramped position, the motion of the vessel, and the far from pleasant smell of his prison, he felt so ill that he never expected to come out alive.

"You may be thankful that Mike heard you," said Gilbert, "for I believe a very short time longer in that horrid old tub would have finished you."

"Ah! well I'm free, and my own master at last," replied Arthur in his easy-going style; "and you know 'all's well that ends well.'"

"It's somewhat unfortunate for you, young man, if being your own master is your object," said Captain Seebon, "that the pilot's gone, for you would have more chance of being your own master on shore than you'll have here, as you'll learn before the Netherby reaches England again. If there is anything you have to be thankful for, it is that Mr. Langton's knowing you has saved you a dance to the tune of a rope's-end that would have loosened your stiff joints, I'll warrant."

"By the finger that burns," broke in from Mike, "it would have served him right well too, for frightening a dacent Christian out of his wits."

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"Hold your tongue, you chattering fool, or you may know more about it. Go and fetch the cook, and look sharp too," said the Captain; and turning angrily to Leslie, he ordered him to go forward and take his orders from the "bo'swain."

The cook, it turned out, had invested the money he had received from Leslie in a private stock of rum, his attentions to which had been rather too assiduous, for now he lay helpless in his bunk, and Mike in consequence was for that day promoted from the post of "bottle-washer" to that of "chief cook"—a circumstance which did not tend to increase the amiability of Captain Seebon, nor the comfort of his passengers.

Gilbert found enough to occupy him during the day in beginning his journal, which he had promised to send to his mother, with a full account of the occurrence of the morning, and in making the acquaintance of his fellow-passengers. His cabin was shared with a young man of about his own age, who affected the languid swell, and whose sole object in life seemed to be to pour as much beer down his throat as possible. Percy Brown seemed to think there was something manly in making a beer barrel of himself, and boastfully talked of the number of bottles of that liquor he consumed per diem, till at length the steward began to have some fears as to Mr. Brown's ability to liquidate his rapidly lengthening bill; but Percy talked grandly about his intention of devoting himself to pastoral pursuits, and page 9the large remittances he expected to be awaiting his arrival, so that any anxiety the steward had was effectually allayed.

"We have, however, been progressing rather too fast, and must return to the evening of the eventful day we have just described.

Every one had gone to bed, and Langton and Brown had been asleep for some hours, when they were both awakened by some one, as they thought, in their cabin. The nature of the intruder was soon revealed by a decidedly swinish grunt, and on Gilbert's springing from his bed the intruder bolted into the saloon. Arming themselves with the first weapons that came to hand, Gilbert and Brown gave chase, but, with the usual obstinacy of his race, master pig would go every way but the way he was wanted. Several faces appeared at the doors of the different cabins, peering round their curtains at the two white figures, just visible by the dim light of the lowered lamp, dodging and chasing another white object round the table, administering to it an occasional smart whack, and talking in stage whispers, as if under the impression that they were making no noise at all. At length they succeeded in driving the errant porker out of the saloon, Gilbert dealing him a parting blow to quicken his movements. The blow proved disastrous to more than the pig, for the walking-stick with which it was dealt, snapped over his bristly back.

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"O Brown!" said Langton, "I'm sorry to say I have broken your stick."

"My stick! What business had you taking it? I can't get another like it out of London."

"I could not see in the dark what I was taking, you know," Langton said apologetically.

"Well, old fellow," replied Brown, "don't mention it, for I find I have broken the cleaning rod of your gun; I could not see either, you know."

With a laugh over their mutual misfortune, they retired again to their respective shelves.

Gilbert Langton had not usually to complain of sleeplessness, but on the present occasion, whether it was that he had already got through that mysterious, incomprehensible something, of which he had heard his mother speak as her "first sleep," but which, in Gilbert's case, generally lasted till near breakfast time, or whether the excitement of a nocturnal pig hunt in the middle of the ocean had proved too much for his nervous system, he could not tell; nevertheless the result remained the same—he could not sleep. To make matters worse, Percy Brown, Esquire (according to the inscription on his boxes), having been more successful in his attempts at wooing the "dull god," now broke forth in an exultant pæan, with an instrument not usually the vehicle of the human voice, but which imparted to it a strong resemblance to the grunting of their late visitor. This was too much for Gilbert, so, donning his clothes, he went on deck.

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'Twas a lovely night. The moon was shining brightly from the cloudless yet starless sky. The clean white deck looked cleaner and whiter than by day. The distended sails seemed made of the fairest of snowy linen. The vessel was scudding along. The wind on her quarter caused her to heel over, so that to the charmed youth it appeared but a step from the deck to the glittering silvery pathway of the moonbeams leading from where he stood over the moving expanse of waters. Whither did this dazzling pathway lead? We know, not but it led Gilbert's thoughts to the loved ones left behind. This gallant ship, steadily ploughing her unmarked course, was hourly bearing him further from them. Possibly his mother was then lying awake thinking of him, or asking God to bless her boy. His sisters were probably slumbering peacefully. He did not know before that he loved them so well; even of Maud, with whom he had frequently been at variance, he thought fondly, and, thinking a prayer to Our Father to protect and keep them all, he turned his mind to other subjects. He thought of Arthur Leslie, of whom he had seen nothing since the morning, and pitied him for the unaccustomed discomforts he must endure roughing it with the sailors. Then he bethought him of the anxiety of Arthur's friends at home, and hoped the Netherby might meet a vessel by which he could send some message. Next his meditations, annihilating distance, carried him to his journey's end. But why follow him page 12through all the wanderings of his fancy as he sat there in the moonlight?

Some half an hour afterwards Mr. Spanker found him fast asleep on the hencoop, and with difficulty roused him.

"I've not been asleep, have I?" said Gilbert; "I came on deck because I couldn't sleep."

"Well, if you don't call it sleeping, perhaps I'm not awake," replied Mr. Spanker. "But you'll catch cold, or perhaps something worse, if you go to sleep like that, with the moon so bright too."

"The moon won't hurt me, surely. I don't believe in that sort of nonsense."

"Don't be so sure of that. But come and take a turn to warm you before you go below," said the mate, taking Gilbert by the arm. "I don't know how it may be on land," Mr. Spanker continued, "but I know that at sea the moon has great power. I remember when I was quite a youngster a whole ship's crew of us were nearly killed by the moon."

"Killed by the moon! How could that be?" exclaimed Gilbert.

"I was going to tell you if you had not been in such a hurry," said Spanker exasperatingly. "Well, you see it was this way. We had caught a porpoise, and next morning we had some cooked for breakfast, and as we had not seen fresh meat for some time, we enjoyed it and ate heartily. In about an hour everybody turned ill, our heads swelled, and some of their bodies turned as red as lobsters. If the page 13Captain had not given us a strong emetic all round, I believe it would have finished some of us."

"But what has that got to do with the moon?" said Gilbert in astonishment.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you that the porpoise had been hanging in the rigging all the night before, when it had been very bright moonlight; and as most of us had eaten porpoise previously and never been the worse for it, the moonshine on the meat was the only thing we could think of."

"I'll turn in again now," said Gilbert; "goodnight." Thinking he might henceforth claim to be possessed of his sea-legs, he, for the third time that night, rolled into his bunk, and, in spite of Mr. Brown's snoring, was soon asleep.