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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Eastern Seas - Chapter 27. Our Hill-Fort
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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 27. Our Hill-Fort Post by :maustad Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :809

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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 27. Our Hill-Fort

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN. OUR HILL-FORT

It was amusing to see the two naturalists eagerly examining the nautilus when we brought it in.

"Walter, you have rendered science an important service!" exclaimed Mr Hooker. "So difficult is this creature to be obtained, that I know of one only that has ever been brought to England, now preserved in the Royal College of Surgeons."

Immediately a jar of arrack, which my uncle had brewed for the sake of preserving his specimens--certainly not for drinking--was produced, and the nautilus was carefully embalmed within it.

"If you can obtain another, which we can dissect, you will have rendered Mr Hooker and me the greatest possible service," he exclaimed enthusiastically. "Us, did I say!--the whole scientific world at large. You will deserve to become a member of all the societies of Europe--the most honourable distinction which a man of any age might desire to obtain."

Of course we undertook to manufacture a further number of fish-pots, and to place them out in deep water, where we might have a chance of catching another of these creatures. We measured the hole they would require for entering, and discovered that out of the number we had made, the one which had caught the nautilus was the only one with a hole sufficiently large to allow it to enter.

"But surely, uncle, the nautilus has sails by which it glides over the water," said Emily, as she was examining the creature.

"In the imagination of the poets only, my niece," he answered. "The shells often float from their excessive lightness, in consequence of the air contained in certain chambers within them. It is then often swept away by wind or tide to some neighbouring shore. Thus large numbers of the shells are found thrown up on the beach. The animal, however, when alive, floats occasionally with its shell on the surface; but I doubt much whether it has any power of locomotion beyond that which the wind or current gives it."

"How disappointing!" exclaimed Emily and Grace together. "We always thought that it had tiny sails, which it spread to the breeze; and pictured it to ourselves skimming on the calm surface, and delighting in its freedom and rapidity of movement."

"There is, no doubt, an abundance of wonders in Nature, young ladies," said Mr Hooker, "but a more intimate acquaintance with the habits of animals will often dispel some of the common ideas which have been connected with them, albeit in many instances held for centuries. For instance, till within a very late period people believed that the upas-tree, which grows in Java, possessed such noxious qualities that it destroyed all vegetable life in the neighbourhood. The sap is, undoubtedly, a poison; but I believe people may sleep under its boughs without receiving the slightest injury, though perhaps, were any of the sap to fall from the tree and to enter a wound, it would prove fatal. Once upon a time people believed that the barnacles which are found attached to ships' bottoms, or pieces of timber long floating on the ocean, turned into geese, and the barnacle-goose was so called because it was supposed to have its origin in that common mollusc, the barnacle."

Mr Thudicumb had more than once to suggest to the two enthusiastic naturalists that we should lose no further time in commencing the building of our vessel, for although we had no great reason to complain of our position, yet the mate was anxious to let his friends know that he was safe, as also Captain and Mrs Davenport that their daughter and the rest of us were still alive. The sea was now so calm that we had plenty of occupation in going backwards and forwards to the wreck. Mr Thudicumb, who was at length able to accompany us, suggested that a raft should be made, by which means we might bring a larger quantity of stores on shore at a time. All hands were thus actively employed. Tanda had to attend to affairs on shore, the Frau and the two girls assisting him in household matters. The two naturalists were engaged all day long in collecting and arranging their specimens, while the three other men, under the command of the mate, with Oliver and I, were preparing for the building of the vessel.

It must be understood that all the timber and the heavy things were towed round to the bay I have before described, which we now called Hope Harbour--the _Hope being the name we proposed giving our vessel. Oliver and I, with Roger Trew, generally managed the boat, while the others remained on board tearing up the planks, and collecting such articles as they could fish up from the bottom.

We had just returned on board one forenoon, when, on scrambling up on the deck, we found our friends in a state of great agitation. "See dere!" exclaimed Potto Jumbo, who was the first person we met. "What do you say to dat?" There, standing in towards the island, though still at a considerable distance, were several mat-sailed vessels, which had certainly a great resemblance to the piratical craft we had before seen. Mr Thudicumb had been examining them with his glass, and had great fears that they were pirates.

"We must get on shore as fast as we can," he said, "and prepare our friends. If they come here, we must try and seek for safety in the interior. I know these fellows too well. It would be madness to trust to their mercy; and I am afraid, if they once get sight of the wreck, they are sure to overhaul her. It is fortunate we have got most of the things on shore;--but we must lose no time."

As the boat could not carry the whole party, Mr Thudicumb and Tarbox remained on board, sending Potto Jumbo with Oliver and I on shore, while Roger Trew was to return with the boat for them. We pulled away as fast as we could lay our backs to the oars, and as soon as we landed we hurried up to the house. We were anxious not to alarm the young ladies and the good Frau, and therefore as we came in sight of it we walked rather more steadily. Fortunately our uncle and Mr Hooker were within doors, engaged in their usual work. I hastened up to them and told them what we had seen.

"I must go down and judge with my own eyes," said my uncle. "Their fears probably have made our friends imagine that these vessels in sight have a piratical look. After all, possibly, they are only a fleet of harmless traders, bound for the south part of Borneo, or perhaps up to Sumatra, or the Malay Peninsula."

"However, in case of accidents, brother Sedgwick, we may as well get our valuables into a place of safety," observed Mr Hooker, quietly.

I accompanied my uncle back to the beach, as we agreed we would not tell the Frau or her charges what we had seen. My uncle had a spy-glass with him. After examining the vessels, which were still at a considerable distance, he shut it up with a slam.

"There is no doubt about it," he exclaimed. "Those, if I mistake not, are Sooloo pirates, and bloodthirsty villains they are. I wish our friends were on shore; but we must hurry back to the house, and get our valuables packed up as fast as we can. I do not think they will follow us far inland; but if they do, we must be prepared for them."

"Had we not better at once hasten to the hill we fixed upon, and begin to fortify it," I asked. "They are not likely to make their way there in a hurry, and we shall probably have time to put it into a fair state of defence."

"The best thing we can do, Walter," he answered. "I only hope the good Frau will not go into fits with alarm; and as we will take the way by which we came the other day--along our torrent road--we shall at all events have a good start of our invaders."

By this time we had reached the house. I found that Oliver had gradually broken the news to my sister and Grace, as well as to the Frau, and they were now all prepared for whatever might be arranged. They were already indeed busily employed in making up bundles of such things as were likely to be most required. Mr Hooker was now all life and spirits.

"The first thing we require, remember, is a good supply of provisions and ammunition. Those are the chief necessaries. Water we cannot carry, but I hope we may find it on the hill. At all events, let us take care to have some pitchers to contain it. Then some cooking apparatus, seeing we cannot eat our provisions raw. Then we shall require some bedding for you young ladies. We can rough it well enough on the ground."

We had made some progress in our preparations, when Mr Thudicumb and Dick Tarbox arrived. With their assistance we got on still more rapidly. Roger Trew had remained on the beach to watch the movements of the supposed pirates. The boxes of collections were at once carried to a place of concealment which had been arranged, and a few other articles which were likely to excite the cupidity of the pirates. All things were now ready for commencing our march, but we were unwilling to begin it till we ascertained that we were really likely to be attacked. We were still in hopes that the pirates might pass by, or land on some other part of the coast where they were not likely to find any traces which might lead them to the house.

"Quick, quick! haste away!" cried a voice, and Roger Trew was seen running up as fast as his legs could carry him to the house. "The pirates have seen the wreck, and are pulling in fast towards it," he exclaimed.

We were all now in rapid movement. Mr Sedgwick led the way, as knowing the country best; followed by the Frau and the two girls, with Oliver and I to assist them. Mr Hooker came next, carrying his gun, and as much ammunition and provisions as he could strap on to his back. The two coloured men and Roger Trew came next, well armed; Mr Thudicumb and Dick Tarbox bringing up the rear, with Merlin, who seemed to consider that the post of danger and honour. Several of the tamer animals had been let loose, and now followed us, a buffalo and babirusa following behind, two deer keeping close to Emily and Grace, whose especial favourites they were. Several monkeys flung themselves along the branches over our heads, to the great astonishment of their kindred whom they met on the road. Several tame jungle cocks and hens ran in and out among our feet. Indeed, so attached had all the more tameable animals become to our uncle, that they would follow at his call, wherever he went. We had representatives, therefore, of a large number of the creatures inhabiting those regions. As soon as we reached the highroad I have described along the rocky but dry stream, we halted, to conceal as much as possible the place where we entered it from view, by placing boughs at the entrance and strewing the ground thickly with leaves, retreating backwards as we did so. This done, we again moved forward at a rapid rate. The men could not march more easily, in reality, than the weaker members of our party, as they were all heavily laden. We had gone some way, when Mr Sedgwick thought of despatching Tanda as a scout to bring us information of what the Malays were about. We should thus run less risk of being taken by surprise. Our road was far from even, or such as would have suited delicately-nurtured people, but fortunately even the girls had become accustomed to rough walking, and made no complaint of the difficulties. Now and then we had to descend into a hollow, now to scramble over some huge boulders. More than once, scorpions, centipedes, snakes, and other reptiles, started up from under the rocks. We each of us, I should have said, carried pieces of ratan in our hands, which against such enemies proved useful weapons, as a well-aimed blow with a ratan at even a large snake will turn it aside. Our numbers, also, kept the larger serpents and beasts of prey at a distance.

We had still some way further to go, before we could reach our proposed fort, when we who were in advance heard a loud rustling in the underwood near us. We called to Mr Sedgwick. He turned round and peered in among the trees. Nothing could be seen. "Perhaps Merlin will find the creature, whatever it is." I called Merlin up, and he instantly understood what he was to do. My uncle was unwilling to fire, lest the sound of the shot might be heard by the pirates. He told the men, however, to be ready to use their bamboo spears, which might keep even a tiger at bay. Suddenly Merlin began to bark furiously. Now he darted forward, now he retreated. There was evidently some animal concealed there. "Shout!" cried my uncle; "that may possibly rouse it." We did so, when Merlin having pushed aside some boughs, we saw lurking among them a huge tiger. The creature was apparently alarmed at seeing so many enemies, and unaccustomed to the sound of the dog's voice, could not make out what it was. The underwood, also, was so thick that he was entangled among it, and could not make his usual spring.

"I am sorely tempted to fire," exclaimed Mr Hooker.

"Do not till it is absolutely necessary," said my uncle.

The animal was moving slowly along, apparently trying to hide itself, as a cat does when in search of its prey. Presently it caught sight of several of our party with their formidable looking spears pointed towards it. It seemed for once to consider discretion the better part of valour, and an open space appearing on one side, we had the satisfaction of seeing it creep more rapidly, and then bound away into the distant part of the forest.

We had no other adventure of importance till we reached the foot of the hill, up which we wound our way. At the steeper part, however, Oliver and I, as well as the girls and the Frau, found it impossible to carry our burdens. "Put them down, young people," said Dick Tarbox, "and we will come back for them. You get up yourselves." At length we reached the top, and piled our goods in the centre.

"The first thing to be done is to clear away some of this brushwood," said Mr Thudicumb. "Were it not that we might point out where we are to the enemy, the quickest way would be by burning it."

However, the men with their axes soon cleared off a sufficient space on which we might build our huts; and this done, they set to work cutting down thick stakes to form our proposed palisade. At this Oliver and I, as well as Mr Hooker and our uncle, worked away, the Frau, Emily, and Grace carrying them up as we cut them, and placing them ready to be driven into the ground. For some distance round the hill the rocks were so precipitous, that we had no fear of being attacked on those sides. We therefore first fortified the part where the slope was more gradual; and we hoped that, should our ammunition last, we might be able to keep a large number at bay. We continued working on in spite of fatigue, the Frau and her assistants bringing us a draught of water, or a piece of sago-cake to recruit our strength. Thus in a short time we had a considerable number of stakes ready for use. Mr Thudicumb and the other men now began driving them in, while the two gentlemen, with Oliver and I, continued cutting more stakes.

By this time we were anxiously looking out for the appearance of Tanda. Already some progress had been made with the fortifications, and Mr Thudicumb expressed his opinion that even should the pirates appear at once, they would afford us great assistance in keeping them at bay. The remainder of our stakes were now brought up, and we were still driving them in, when, the sun setting, darkness began to steal over the forest.

"And all this time we have not thought of a shelter for you, young ladies!" said Mr Hooker. "That must be our next consideration."

We accordingly hastened down the hill, and brought up a quantity of the huge palm-leaves which I have before described, as well as a number of bamboos, and with these we soon erected a hut sufficient to accommodate the Frau and the girls. For ourselves, we agreed that, as we should have to work all night, it mattered nothing our having no shelter. We found, indeed, the night air, in that elevated spot, thoroughly dry, cool, and refreshing; so that, in spite of the labour we had already gone through, we were well able to continue it. Having at length driven in the stakes all round, we commenced an embankment. The outer crust of the soil looked hard and dry enough; but we soon found, on digging down, that it was sufficiently soft to enable us to get our spades into it without difficulty.

"What can have become of Tanda?" said Mr Sedgwick.

"I hope the tiger has not carried him off," I could not help saying.

"No fear of that," was the answer. "The tiger is not likely to return to the spot from whence we drove him, and Tanda has so quick an ear that he would easily get out of the creature's way. It is more likely that he has ventured too near the pirates, and been captured."

"I am afraid, then, that he will betray us to them," observed Mr Thudicumb.

"I think not," answered our uncle. "He is a faithful fellow, and I believe that he would rather be torn in pieces than do so."

These remarks were made while we were taking a few mouthfuls of food, and resting for an instant from our toils. Just then the sound of a voice reached our ears. Mr Sedgwick shouted in return.

"All right," he said, "here comes Tanda;" and directly afterwards a human form was seen climbing the side of the hill. He stopped, and again uttered an exclamation as he approached the fortification.

"He thinks it is the work of magic," answered Mr Sedgwick, "and scarcely likes to enter the circle." Mr Sedgwick then spoke a few more words to Tanda, who now came forward with greater confidence. We had left a small opening on one side for going in and out, and by this Tanda entered the fort. An earnest conversation ensued between him and his master, who explained that the pirates, after proceeding some way along the coast, had caught sight of the wreck; that they had pulled close up to it, and then gone on board. They had also visited Flagstaff Rock, and hauled down the flag, of which they had taken possession. They had been till dark engaged in plundering the wreck. Not finding, however, any good landing-place, they had pulled away along the shore, happily in the opposite direction to that where our vessel was building. Tanda had then followed them. Having anchored their prows in the sheltered bay, they had, as is their custom, landed and encamped. He had left them all busily engaged cooking and eating their food, so that there was no fear of their moving that night. It was but too probable, however, that they would return to the wreck on the following morning. We could only hope that there would be too much sea on the rocks to enable them to land near the house.

This information was satisfactory, and we agreed that the probabilities of their attacking us were less than we had supposed. We accordingly lay down to rest for a short time, till the return of daylight should enable us the better to recommence our labours. Two of our party, however, stood assemblies during the remainder of the night, to give timely notice of the approach of the enemy, should the pirates have discovered us.

As soon as it was daylight Tanda again went out to watch their proceedings, taking some sago and a little cocoa, to enable him to remain out as long as necessary without returning. We, having breakfasted, recommenced our labours, and at length had finished the fort to the satisfaction of Mr Thudicumb. We had now, however, to dig some pits, in one of which the ladies might be sheltered should we be attacked, while in the other we might stow our ammunition.

"But we are ready to run every risk you do," said Emily, when she understood what we were about.

We however persuaded her that it would be much more to our satisfaction to know that the Frau and they were in safety, should bullets be flying about. "Besides, Miss Emily, if any of us are wounded, we must look to you to attend to us," said Oliver.

She gave a glance up at Oliver's face. "Oh, I pray that may not be," she observed. "How dreadful to think that, although we have done no one any harm, we run a risk of having to fight those savage men."

The tops of the trees came so short a distance above our hill, that Mr Thudicumb thought, by erecting a post in the centre, we might have a good look-out over the sea. The idea was so excellent, that we accordingly at once went down the hill to obtain a tall and straight tree for the purpose. A little way down the hill were some beautiful cotton-trees. Although the trunk of the largest was not more than twelve inches in diameter, it rose to a height of thirty feet, which we thought would be sufficient for our purpose. The bark was of light olive-green, remarkably smooth and fair. The limbs shot out in whirls, at right angles to the trunk; and as they were separated by a considerable space, they would form, we agreed, steps by which to mount to the top. These trees appeared to great advantage, rising out of the thick jungle amidst which they grew. The fruit, I may as well observe, is a pod, and the fibrous substance within it greatly resembles cotton. I do not know whether it can be used for the same purpose; but Mr Hooker and our uncle employed it for stuffing the birds they killed. We soon had one of these trees down, and fixed in the centre of the fort. We stayed it up by ropes, while another rope hanging from the top enabled us to ascend without difficulty. Our rope, I should say, was formed from the fibre of the gomiti or sagaru palm-tree. The large petioles of this tree spread out at the base into broad fibrous sheets, which enclose the trunk. It is from this material that the natives of these regions manufacture the coir-rope. It is a very coarse, rough style of rope, for the fibres soon break, and projecting in every direction, make it difficult to handle. We had an abundance of this palm growing on the hill-side, as it prefers higher land than the cocoa-nut. Its most valuable property is, being almost indestructible in water. Among the fibres there are some coarser ones, with which the Dyaks of Borneo manufacture arrows for their blow-pipes, and occasionally the Malays use them for pins. Interwoven with them is a mass of small fibre almost as soft as cotton. This, from its combustible nature, is used as tinder. From the tree, also, a refreshing beverage is extracted. The flower part is cut off with a knife, when the sap which issues is gathered in a bamboo cup. It is now of a slightly acid and bitter taste, resembling the thin part of butter-milk. When this is allowed to ferment, it becomes what the natives call tuak--a very intoxicating beverage, of which they are very fond. The seeds grow in such large bunches, that one alone is as much as two men can carry. The envelopes of these seeds contain a poisonous juice, in which the natives dip their arrows.

Well, as I was saying, we manufactured a supply of this rope for our look-out post. As soon as it was erected, Roger Trew climbed to the top.

"Capital!" he exclaimed. "There is the sea away on two sides of us, though as to the pirates, I can see nothing of them. Maybe they are near the wreck, and that's too close in to be seen."

We thought that perhaps by erecting a higher post we might obtain a better view; but when Mr Thudicumb went up, he calculated that the trees were far too high near the shore to enable us to do this. We all in succession went up to have a look at the blue sea; but it was then agreed that the post might possibly be seen by our enemies, and we therefore at once lowered it, but kept it ready to set up again in case of need. We had been so much occupied in preparing our fort, that we had thought little of eating or drinking.

"What we do for water?" exclaimed the Frau, bringing a large shell into our midst. "This is the last we have got!"

"I must blame myself for my forgetfulness," exclaimed Mr Sedgwick. "We ought to have lost no time in searching for water. If one of you will come with a spade, we will go out at once to look for it, while the rest continue at the work in the fort."

I volunteered to accompany my uncle. "But we may require a stronger digger than you are, Walter," he said, and fixed on Roger Trew.

Roger, throwing his spade over his shoulder in navvy fashion, answered, "I am ready, sir."

"Well, you can come too then," said my uncle to me. "You may bring your gun, though, in case of necessity. We must remember not to fire if it can be helped."

As only one iron spade could be spared, my uncle and I armed ourselves with a couple which we had formed out of bamboo, and which might assist Roger should we have to dig deep. We took our way down the hill, and as we looked up we agreed that our fort presented a very satisfactory appearance, and that, probably, should we be discovered, the enemy would be wary before they attacked us; indeed, they would very likely suppose from its appearance that our numbers were far greater than they were in reality. As those people fight for plunder, and never for glory or mere victory, they would, we hoped, take their departure without attempting an assault. This cheered our spirits. We had arranged that should Tanda return with any important news, we were to be instantly summoned, though as the fort should we proceed into the forest, would be completely hid, from our sight, it would be necessary for some one to be sent after us. Oliver agreed to come. My uncle examined the ground as we proceeded, now telling Roger to dig a hole here, now there; but no water was found. He therefore said that it would be of no use digging more, as the hill was evidently of volcanic origin, and no water would be contained within it.

"Let us go on further, however," he observed. "If a stream does not flow there, at all events a spring may be found."

The ground as we advanced grew softer, and the herbage greener and greener.

"Stay," he said; "I think some animal must be there! We will advance cautiously."

As we proceeded my uncle signed us to stop, and looking along the boughs, a huge black creature appeared before us, digging his snout into the ground.

"That's a huge pig," whispered Roger to me.

"A pig, man!" answered my uncle. "That is no less a creature than a rhinoceros!"

We watched it for some time, afraid of moving lest we might draw its attention towards us. Sometimes these creatures are savage, and will attack man. At length, however, it began to move off in an opposite direction to where we were posted.

"A rifle-ball would do little to stop that fellow," said my uncle; "but we may possibly yet capture him, and I should like to obtain his skeleton, though I may not add him to my menagerie."

"But we have come to search for water," I suggested.

"To be sure we have," answered my uncle. "I was forgetting that. Here, at this very spot, I am sure we shall find it without having to dig very deep."

Roger Trew instantly dug his spade into the ground, and began energetically throwing up the earth. It grew softer and softer as he proceeded, I helping him with my bamboo. My uncle had meantime cut down a tall bamboo, the end of which he sharpened, and he now came back and forced it into the ground. Drawing it up, the end was perfectly wet. "This is encouraging!" he exclaimed; and Roger and I now setting to work with greater energy, at length a little whitish-looking liquid came welling up. A larger quantity appeared as we dug deeper and deeper, and at length we had an ample supply to fill the shell we had brought for that purpose. It was somewhat like dirty milk; but my uncle said it was wholesome, and if allowed to settle, that it would become perfectly clear. After resting a little the upper part became purer, and from this we thankfully quenched our thirst. As our well was at a considerable distance from the fort, it would be necessary to carry up a supply, for should we be besieged, it might be difficult to reach it.

"Now," said my uncle, "as our friends are not absolutely suffering from thirst, we may as well try and catch the rhinoceros."

"What! make chase after it?" asked Roger.

"No; the creature is sure to come back here, and we will make a trap."

"A hard job to make one strong enough to catch that brute," answered Roger.

"Very little strength is required," said my uncle. "With your spade and my axe we can quickly make it. Here, let me set to work and dig!"

Roger, however, would not hear of that, and he and I commenced under my uncle's directions, who aided us in digging a pit about the size of the rhinoceros, the earth around being somewhat soft and slimy. In the meantime the water in our well had not only bubbled up, but settled down, and was perfectly sweet and clear. Under Mr Sedgwick's directions, we covered over the pit with boughs and leaves, so that the hollow below was not visible.

"The next time Mr Rhinoceros comes this way, he will find himself prevented from proceeding on his journey," observed my uncle. "I have seen the creature caught in a pit like this, and I have little doubt that ours will succeed."

We now filled the shells we had brought with water, and slinging them on a bamboo, proceeded back to the fort.

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