I was sitting in the office, struggling through the monthly report. Now that the family had arrived, I usually made an effort to get home in time to have afternoon tea with them. Today however, I was a bit later than usual.
A strong breeze started to come in from the river, causing the papers on my desk to blow around. There was obviously a squall coming up. I did not think much about it. My secretary rushed round closing up the windows. The two bullmastiff puppies, Jonah and Alex, barked excitedly and ran round the office at his heels.
Suddenly, however, the wind intensified with a howl to reach gale force, and the office started to shake violently. Looking down through the grove of jungle trees between the office and my house. I could just see a corner of our roof. A gale like this could blow the attap thatch around, and the children might be frightened. I had better get back.
Just as I was thinking this, one of the huge trees which we had left standing around the house, started to fall. As I watched horrified, it came down with a resounding crash, smashing through the roof of our house and hiding it completely in its branches.
My God, the family! With the two puppies at my heels I sprinted through the copse, with branches falling around me.
The tree had smashed diagonally across the house, from the rear, through the cook’s quarters, the kitchen and the dining room beyond it. I leapt up the front steps. The sitting room was full of branches and debris. I could see none of the family. Tearing at the branches, I fought my way through to the bedroom wing. To my great relief, it was unscathed.
From the bathroom beyond, I heard Olive’s voice. I ran through and wrenched the door open. Olive was bathing the two girls, who were splashing noisily in the sunken bath.
”What in heaven’s name was that noise?” Olive asked. “What has that dammed cook been smashing now?”
The cook? I rushed back, only to meet a very irate Chinese cook, standing among the fallen branches in what was left of the dining room. His bedroom had been smashed to the ground under the huge six-foot diameter trunk
“OK, Tuan Devsen,” he greeted me. “I finish here. Please, I go back Sandakan tomorrow.”
He was a lucky man. Apparently he had been busy at the front of the house when the tree fell. Had he been in his room or in the kitchen, he would certainly not have had to worry about giving notice, or about anything else, ever again.
“Please try to find the cooker under all this, and make us some tea.” I said.
Catriona and Fiona thought it was all marvellous fun. I took a cine picture of the family sitting on branches in what remained of our dining room, with Olive pouring our afternoon tea. It really was a page out of The Swiss Family Robinson!
Olive and the girls had disembarked in Singapore after an enjoyable three-week voyage from Southampton. The two large bullmastiff puppies, which I had suggested they should bring out with them, had apparently been a great hit with the ship’s crew.
In Singapore they transferred to the MV Kimanis for the onward trip to Borneo. They were accompanied from Southampton by our accountant’s wife, Jean Wyngarten, and Johnny junior, her 12-year-old son. Now that our accountant had less to do in Sandakan, I had asked him to move permanently up to the estate, and he now lived in the hut 50 yards downstream from the Rest House.
I was waiting for the family on the pier at Jesselton when the Kimanis arrived. Fiona had been little more than a babe in arms when I left; and now after eight months, here she was, trotting down the gangway in a little print dress, hand-in-hand with Catriona, who was now five and a half.
We had a whirlwind tour of the capital, introducing Olive to Eunice Kennedy, Peggy Guy and other ladies of the Jesselton establishment. I joined them on the Kimanis for the remainder of the trip, round the coast to Sandakan. Even when I was in Africa we had not had too much time together as a family, and it was marvellous to be reunited after so long.
When the ship stopped at Kunak, we met my friend Datu Mustapha, now in his last few months as District Officer before moving on to higher things in Jesselton. He was very impressed when told that Olive and the girls were going to stay in the jungle.
He very kindly gave Catriona a present of a small pony, which was duly loaded on the ship for forward transmission, along with the two dogs. He promised to visit us at Tungud before too long.
On disembarking in Sandakan, we stayed for a few days at our new flat. This gave Olive and the girls a chance to make friends with some of the Sandakan families.
Moray Graham, in the meantime, arranged for the animals to be taken up to the estate ahead of us. Our menagerie now also included a couple of very aggressive geese in the garden. We were assured that geese were the best protection against snakes.