The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Two: The Boy at the Waterfall
Synopsis: Thomas Tathom, Jr., better known as Tee Totum, has been sought and found by his uncle, Thomas Tathom, Sr., who is taking Tee back to his island of Waiki-pali to live with him. Before they reach the island a terrible storm occurs, which the native crew attribute to the fact that there are two people on board who bear one name. To subdue the storm they attempt to throw Tee overboard. Tee is saved by Peter Malua, his uncle’s head man.
It was very early morning, the sky streaked with red, and the palms of the little island a-glisten with dew. Tee Totum stood on the edge of the wide balcony, which the islanders called a “lanai,” and looked out on this silent world to which he was a stranger. He had arrived the night before in the blackest darkness he had ever experienced, and so weary with the long journey that he had tumbled into bed without caring what kind of a world he had landed in.
This morning he cared very much. Everything looked so grand and new and fresh, that he wanted to yell aloud and turn a few somersaults. But glancing at the long veiled windows of his uncle’s house, remembering the weary sleepers inside, he refrained. Instead, he ran in his bare feet along the narrow path that cut through the coconut grove, and was soft and springy with its carpet of coconut fibre.
Joyfully he went through the tall aisles of the coconut palms, between hedges of softly nodding vines, his swiftly moving figure seeming to waken some of the island’s inhabitants, for he soon heard an excited chattering and croaking and a sort of hoarse laughter that came from first one side, then the other, and finally seemed to concentrate at the back of him. Glancing over his shoulder, he found that he was being followed by a large band of black birds that acted as curiously inquisitive about this stranger in their domain as would any human.
“Mynahs,” Tee thought, remembering Uncle Tom’s description of the clown-like birds; and, delightedly watching their antics, he ran on.
A sudden turn in the path brought to his view a cluster of native houses, from which came no sign or sound of habitation. The dawn had but newly broken, and none but Tee Totum – and his attendant mynah birds – was abroad. Tee was glad. He felt as if the whole island belonged to him, and him alone. A world glistening with newness and strangeness.
He passed quietly by the tiny silent houses, curious as to the type of people who slept therein, wondering how long it would be before he became as friendly with them as Uncle Tom seemed to be. On the long voyage to the island Uncle Tom had told him much of the life on his island, of his great love for it and its inhabitants.
“I am hoping,” he had said, “that you will love them as much as I do. And that you will earn their trust and confidence. For from now on Waiki-pali will be your home. That is, if you want it to be.”
Seeing Waiki-pali in all the glory of early morning, Tee Totum whispered, “Yes, yes. I want it to be.”
For some moments past the sound of falling waters had come to the boy’s ears, and now, following the sound, he turned into a dense thicket of ferns, flowering vines, and matted undergrowth. Running became impossible, and it was with great difficulty he worked his way through the green twilight. The mynahs had refused to accompany him into the dense shade, and he was beginning to wonder if it would not be wiser to follow their example and return the way he had come, when he suddenly emerged into a sun-bathed clearing, at the far end of which was a steep wall of cliffs reaching up and up until they seemed to touch the sky.
Down this wall of cliffs tumbled the great body of water that he had heard from a distance.
Tee stood still on the edge of the thicket, entranced at the sight of the glistening cascade which came to rest in the great basin below – a huge bowl worn out of a sheer rock by centuries of pounding water. In this smooth bowl the waters danced and shimmered and bubbled like some living creature.
As he watched, a movement on the rocks at the top of the waterfall caught his eye, and he shaded his eyes with his hand to see more clearly. What had appeared like a small speck against the sky, at last resolved itself into the figure of a boy. He saw the boy throw himself flat to the ground on the top of the waterfall, crawl to the edge of the waterfall, and come whizzing down the falls like an arrow from a bow.
Tee gasped with admiration. “Golly, what a stunt!” And he rushed forward to the side of the basin and peered over. With the impetus of the chute, the dark-skinned boy had dived far below the surface of the pool, and was now floating slowly upwards, grunting and blowing like a grampus.
Unaware of a spectator, he turned on his back and floated, panting and happy, seeming to rest like a dark flower on the sun-specked water. Then he swam toward the bank. And as he drew near Tee shouted: “Boy, that was some stunt!”
The startled swimmer ceased his strokes, and staring at the speaker with wide amazed eyes, seemed for one moment as if he would turn and swim away in afright. Seeming to gain confidence from what he saw in the strange boy, he shouted: “Who you?”
“I’m Tee Totum, and I live over there on the ranch. Can I come in?”
“What does that mean?”
“It means go away. I here. You stay out!”
Tee didn’t like the boy’s tone, and felt as much surprise as displeasure. For Uncle Tom had told him that the natives were, without exception, a most agreeable people. This boy, he noted, was about his own age, slightly taller, but muscular and very brown.
He supposed the swimming pool must belong to the boy. In that case there was no more to be said. But Tee had understood that all the land for miles around belonged to his uncle. In which case, nobody was going to keep him out.
“Does the pool belong to you?”
“As much to me as you,” the other replied sullenly.
“Well, if it doesn’t belong to you I can come in if I want to.” At the same time Tee was reminding himself that he couldn’t swim, and if he attempted to go in, the boy would surely have the laugh on him.
“Better keep out!” the swimmer threatened darkly.
His tone caused Tee’s chin to stiffen and, ripping open the Tathomet of his pajamas, slipping out of his trousers, he walked toward the edge of the pool and stepped gingerly in. How he hated the whiteness of his skin, the tenderness of his flesh as it touched the water, compared with the other’s hard muscular strength, the sunburnt sheen of his skin.
“Not I tell you can’t come?” The brown boy advanced threateningly. “You poor little weak boy. Cannot swim in strong waters like me.”
“I can’t swim at all,” Tee admitted. “But I’m not letting anybody keep me out of any old pool that don’t belong to him. I’ll come in if I like.”
“Go back to kind friends on ranch,” sneered the swimmer. “Kind friends so clever, perhaps can help.”
Tee did not reply, but felt his way carefully through the shallow water. At least he’d show this boy he wasn’t afraid of him.
The water was warm, and the deeper he went, the warmer it grew. He threw his arms out to take a dive, as he had seen others do, when he felt himself clutched round the waist and hauled upside down out of the water. The brown swimmer had him over his shoulder, and was walking triumphantly to land, laughing, and gently laying him down on the sward.
Tee’s face and head grew hot with anger. Who did this boy think he was, anyway? King of the island or something? He’d show him!
In a flash he was on his feet and darting toward the laughing boy with clenched fists. For several moments he beat a quick tattoo on the other’s chest and head, and the brown boy looked considerably surprised at the strength and speed behind the white fists. When he made a savage lunge at Tee, the latter met him halfway with a cut on the chin that sent him spinning.
“Small wild cat!” the other panted, and gave Tee such a blow on the head that everything went dark for a second. Then Tee rushed blindly back, his fists striking blows on the other’s anatomy that, though not so powerful, were swift as the fang-thrusts of an adder.
The brown boy, amazed at the other’s swiftness and spunk, gradually grew weaker and weaker, until at last he sank to the ground, utterly spent.
Gazing at his prostrate form, Tee was more amazed than the other at what he had done. The boy’s head rested in the crotch of his arm, and his breath came in labored gusts. Tee felt a pang of pity for the boy, and shame for himself. He had wilfully hurt this splendid fellow who had done that grand stunt on the falls. He had bashed his fists into his face, and felt a joy in doing it. Now – he felt terribly sorry – and ashamed.
He dipped his pajama jacket into the water of the pool, and bathed the boy’s face with it. The boy pushed him away with a snort of disgust, but he returned.
“Say, fellow, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Honest I didn’t. Only you made me kind o’ mad, carrying me out of the pool like that. Gosh, I’m sorry.”
“Who are you?” The other stared at Tee with open curiosity. “I never see before. You not like others on ranch. You – not bad!”
“Of course I’m not bad. Neither are the others so far’s that goes.”
“Huh! They rotten dogs. You not know about them. No more than you know about that pool.”
Tee looked at the pool. It bubbled and swirled and boiled in a continuous turmoil. He guessed that perhaps there was more to that pool than a fellow would think. If you got into the deep, it would be a pretty hard job to get out.
“Of course, you could have licked me easy if you hadn’t already made yourself tired doing that stunt on the falls, and swimming an’ all.”
The boy looked Tee up and down, then chuckled. “You small, skinny, huh? … But you much good fight. Where you learn?”
“Aw, I had to fight the kids in our alley sometimes.”
“Your alley? What that?”
“Say! Don’t you know what an alley is?”
“Never saw, I think. What is?”
“Why, a narrow street in a town, where there’s hot-dogs, an’ cobblers, an’ ice cream Eyetalians, an’ everything like that.”
“Much nice place, huh? What for you fight those kids?”
“Aw, they used to pester me ‘cause I had to scrub the kitchen for Mrs. Carlo, an’ sweep the steps, and mind the baby. So sometimes I had to lick them to keep them in order.”
The boy’s dark eyes now rested solemnly on Tee’s, and his face no longer wore the angry, sullen look that it had.
“That what ranch boys do me. Much pester … You malihini – stranger on island, huh? When you come?”
“You not know who I am?”
Tee shook his head.
“You want know?”
The boy’s voice took on a low, impressive tone, as he very deliberately stressed the words: “I much bad witch-boy!
“I son of Momo, witch-woman. Because I do much work for Momo, those Kanaka boys much bad for me. Pester. I like boil Kanaka boys in oil.”
“Don’t you fight them sometimes?”
He nodded. “When I get one alone, Or two. Most time run in pack. Twelve, Twenty. Me can’t do much then.”
“What’s your name?”
“Gosh, it must be nice to be the son of a witch-woman. She could do all kinds of things for you. Can she turn a fellow into a frog, or something?”
Namay grunted disdainfully. “Naw. They just call her a witch. She clever. She do lomi-lomi, doctor stuff, better than anybody in world. Make much fine medicine. Do much wonderful things for peoples. They say she witch-woman because she old. She all right. Goodest woman I know.”
The boys remained silent for some time, Tee thinking of the strange circumstances of their meeting.
“Say!” he exclaimed suddenly. “Do you always come out early like this?”
Namay nodded. “It only time I not meet ranch boys. In daytime I keep to bush. Or go on sea. It good out there.” He pointed out to where the sea shone like a jewel on a bed of green velvet.
“Well, let’s be friends, shall we?” exclaimed Tee. “I’ll come out early every morning, too, if – if you don’t mind.”
“I be here,” the other nodded. “Maybe I take you on sea some day.”
“Golly, that would be grand. … Of course,” Tee added doubtfully, “I’ll probably have to be with the other fellows a lot, because, you see, they work for my uncle. But – that needn’t make any difference, need it?”
The other remained thoughtfully silent a while, then: “Maybe not,” he said, and stretched himself upright.
Tee busied himself with his pajamas. “Guess I’d better be gettin’ back. Uncle Tom’ll think I’m lost. So long. See you tomorrow.”
And on the way back to the ranch house he felt an eager excitability. This queer boy, Namay, this splendid boy who could do a stunt such as would attract hundreds of spectators back in the good old U.S., was going to be a friend of his. A real pal. He felt sure of it, and could scarcely wait until the morrow when they should meet again.
Little did he think just what he and Namay, the witch-boy, were to mean to each other. What strange and extraordinary things the future held for them both.