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20. The Stockade Among The Pines
It took us a heavy day's work to get the stockade finished. There were only the two axes
in the party, besides Shalah's tomahawk, and no one can know the labour of felling and
trimming trees tin he has tried it. We found the horses useful for dragging trunks, and
but for them should have made a poor job of it. Grey's white hands were all cut and
blistered, and, though I boasted of my hardiness, mine were little better. Ringan was the
surprise, for you would not think that sailing a ship was a good apprenticeship to
forestry. But he was as skilful as Bertrand and as strong as Donaldson, and he had a
better idea of fortification than us all put together.
The palisade which ran round the camp was six feet high, made of logs lashed to
upright stakes. There was a gate which could be barred heavily, and loopholes were
made every yard or so for musket fire. On one side--that facing the uplift of the ridge--
the walls rose to nine feet. Inside we made a division. In one half the horses were
picketed at night, and the other was our dwelling.
For Elspeth we made a bower in one corner, which we thatched with pine branches; but
the rest of us slept in the open round the fire. It was a rough place, but a strong one, for
our water could not be cut off, and, as we had plenty of ball and powder, a few men
could hold it against a host. To each was allotted his proper station, in case of attack,
and we kept watch in succession like soldiers in war. Ringan, who had fought in many
places up and down the world, was our general in these matters, and a rigid martinet we
found him. Shalah was our scout, and we leaned on him for all woodland work; but
inside the palisade Ringan's word was law.
Our plan was to make this stockade the centre for exploring the hills and ascertaining
the strength and purposes of the Indian army. We hoped, and so did Shalah, that our
enemies would have no leisure to follow us to the high ridges; that what risk there was
would be run by the men on their spying journeys; but that the stockade would be
reasonably safe. It was my intention, as soon as I had sufficient news, to send word to
Lawrence, and we thought that presently the Rappahannock forces would have driven
the Cherokees southward, and the way would be open to get Elspeth back to the
The worst trouble, as I soon saw, was to be the matter of food. The supplies we had
carried were all but finished by what we ate after the stockade was completed. After that
there remained only a single bag of flour, another bag of Indian meal, and a pound or
two of boucanned beef, besides three flasks of eau-de-vie, which Ringan had brought in
a leather casket. The forest berries were not yet ripe, and the only food to be procured
was the flesh of the wild game. Happily in Donaldson and Bertrand we had two
practised trappers; but they were doubtful about success, for they had no knowledge of
what beasts lived in the hills. I have said that we had plenty of powder and ball, but I did
not relish the idea of shooting in the woods, for the noise would be a signal to our foes.