CHAPTER 8. We Are Attacked By Night.
A Night Attack - A Little Mistake - Horrible Barbarities of the Doboduras - Eating a Man Alive - A Sinister Warning - Saved by Rain - Daylight at Last - "Prudence the Better Part" - The Return - Welcome by the Notus - "Orakaiba."
I was busily engaged in writing my notes of the day, with my rifle by my side, when suddenly a shot rang out, followed by another and another, then a volley from all the sentries on one side of the camp, and the darkness was lit up by the flashes of their rifles. Then came the thrilling war-cry, "Ooh-h-h-h! ah-h-h-h!" that made one's blood run cold, especially under such surroundings. All the camp was now in the utmost confusion, and there was a great panic among our carriers, who flung themselves on the ground yelling with fear. Never was there such a fiendish noise! I sprang to my feet, flinging my note-book away and picking up my rifle, and ran back to where Monckton was yelling out: "Fall in, fall in, for God's sake fall in!"
Two houses were hastily set on fire, and instantly became furnaces which lit up the surroundings and the tops of the tall coconut palms over-head, which even in this moment of danger appeared to me like a glimpse of fairyland. I noticed a line of fire-sticks waving in the darkness outside. They seemed to be slowly advancing, and in the excitement of the moment I mistook them for the enemy - and fired!
Luckily, my shot did not take effect, as I soon found out that these fire-sticks were held by some of our own carriers, who had been told by Monckton to carry them so that we could distinguish them from the enemy in case we were attacked. Monckton turned to where the Notus, were, and seeing them all decked out in their war plumes, dancing about among the prostrate carriers, and waving their clubs and spears, naturally took them for Dobodura warriors, and nearly fired at them. He angrily ordered them to take off their feathers.
Calmness soon settled down again, and we learned that the police had fired at some Doboduras who were creeping up into the camp. How many there were we could not tell, but later on we learnt that some of them had been killed, and seeing the flash of the rifles, which was a new experience to them, the rest had retreated for the time being, but soon rallied together for attack that night or in the small hours of the morning. Knowing that if they once rushed us in the darkness we should all be doomed for their cooking pots, the state of our feelings can be imagined.
The first attempt came rather as a shock to a peaceful novice like myself, and seeing warriors in full war paint and feathers rushing about with uplifted club and spear amid our prostrate squirming carriers, I had a very strong inclination to bury myself in the nearest hut and softly hum the lines, "I care not for wars and quarrels," etc. We sat talking in subdued tones for some time, expecting every minute to hear the thrilling war cry of the Doboduras, but nothing was to be heard but the crackling of the embers of the burning houses, the low murmur of our people around their camp fire, and the most dismal falsetto howls of the native dogs in the distance. These howls were not particularly exhilarating at such a time, and I more than once mistook them for the distant war-cry of the Doboduras.
The Papuans, as a rule, do not torture their prisoners for the mere idea of torture, though they have often been known to roast a man alive, for the reason that the meat is supposed to taste better thus. This they also do to pigs, and I myself, on this very expedition, caught some of our carriers making preparations to roast a pig alive, and just stopped them in time. For this reason Monckton would always shoot the pigs brought in for his carriers, but in this case one pig was overlooked. I have heard of cases of white men having been roasted alive, one case being that of the two miners, Campion and King. But we had learnt that this Dobodura tribe had a system of torture that was brutal beyond words. In the first place they always try to wound slightly and capture a man alive, so that they can have fresh meat for many days. They keep their prisoner tied up alive in the house and cut out pieces of his flesh just when they want it, and we were told, incredible as it seems, that they sometimes manage to keep him alive for a week or more, and have some preparation which prevents him from bleeding to death.
Monckton advised both Acland and myself to shoot ourselves with our revolvers if we saw that we were overwhelmed, so as to escape these terrible tortures, and he assured us that he should keep the last bullet in his own revolver for himself. This was my first taste of warfare. Monckton had had many fights with Papuans, and Acland, besides, had seen many severe engagements in the Boer war, but he said he would rather be fighting the Boers than risking the infernal tortures of these cannibals. It all, somehow, seemed unreal to me, and I could hardly realise that I was in serious danger of being tortured, cooked and eaten. It is impossible to depict faithfully our weird surroundings. We chatted on for some time, and tried to cheer each other up by making jokes about the matter, such as "This time to-morrow we shall be laughing over the whole affair," but the depressed tone of our voices belied our words, and it proved to be but a very feeble attempt at joking. We longed for the moon, though that would have helped us little, as it was cloudy.