The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Four: The Home in the Cave
Synopsis: Tee Totum has been adopted by his uncle, Thomas Tathom, and now lives on the island of Waiki-pali. He has become acquainted with Namay, a brown-skinned boy who is disliked by the native boys because they believe him to be the son of a witch. Tee and Namay have been set upon by the native boys, and during a fight in which the friends are being defeated by superior numbers, Peter Malua, Tathom’s head man, appears and scatters their assailants. Peter and Tee then accompany Namay to his home in a cave, where they meet his mother, Momo, a sweet-voiced, kind and clever woman.
The cave where Namay lived with his mother, Momo the Witch Woman, consisted of two rooms, the walls of solid rock, and the floor, carpeted thickly with dry leaves and young branches, was soft as a Persian rug to walk on, and just as pretty. Stone and iron implements leaned against the walls, with water gourds and woven baskets. In a small nook apart from both rooms a hole led straight through the roof to the out-of-doors. This was where Namay and Momo made their fires and did their cooking.
“You see,” the boy explained, “in this way we are not bothered with smoke. Also the fire not make our rooms hot.”
“I never saw such a dandy home!” Tee exclaimed. “You’re a lucky fellow, Namay.”
“Lucky?” Namay looked at him in astonishment. “You call me lucky when you come from swell place alley?”
Tee went off into shrieks of laughter. “You should see what you call swell place alley. Say, if the boys in that swell place alley could see this they’d be sick with envy.”
“But –” hands stretched wide, Namay showed his disdain of the place in which he lived. “No hot dogs! No – cobblers!”
Tee tried hard to restrain his laughter. “You’re the funniest boy I ever knew. What do you want with hot dogs, when you pick bananas and coconuts off trees? And apples grow wild? what do you want with cobblers when you never wear shoes?”
“Cobblers? Shoes?” Namay was clearly puzzled.
“Don’t you know that a cobbler is a man who mends shoes? And I don’t believe you know what a hot dog is either.”
“Oh, yes! Yes!” Namay hastened to assure him on this point. “Me know hot dog – oh, very well. Run like this.” He got down on his hands and knees, and gave a fair imitation of a dog running.
“And always hot, like this.” He thrust his tongue out to its fullest length and panted heavily.
“Me have one dog once, and – two dogs twice,” he explained. “But,” he shook his head sadly, “ranch boys killum all time. Have not one dog any more.”
Tee tried to describe hot dogs to his friend, and determined then and there to ask Uncle Tom for a dog for the boy. On the ranch there were dogs to spare.
When the boys returned to the outer room Momo and Peter Malua were talking together in their strange language. Peter must have told Momo that Tee did not understand the language, for she now started to speak haltingly in English. Pointing to Tee’s eye, which was discolored, and entirely closed, she said, “Me make all better,” and reached from a natural shelf in the rock a round stone vessel. In this she stuck a brown finger that was so thin it looked like a claw, and brought forth from it a greenish substance that she spread gently on Tee’s eye. The salve proved very soothing; and in a few moments Tee noticed a cessation of the painful throbbing.
He told Namay about this, adding, “I think your mother’s very clever.”
“She most clever woman I know,” replied Namay, proudly.
“How many women do you know, Namay?” asked Tee, and immediately wanted to kick himself with vexation. He had unconsciously repeated his uncle’s little joke of two days ago. It was not at all what he had intended to say.
Namay looked at him with deep reproach in his dark eyes.
“You make laugh of me!” he said.
Tee would like to have gone off into fits of laughter at that, but he manfully restrained himself, and shook his head.
“I didn’t mean that, really! Only …”
“I know me never speak to other woman except my mother. Me see ranch women, yes – but never speak. All same, I know Momo most clever woman!”
“So do I!” agreed Tee solemnly. “Also, she has the sweetest voice of anybody I ever heard!”
“She make many fine cures! Make people well quick!” boasted Namay.
“Then I don’t see why the ranch boys call her witch. Where I come from, we call such people clever doctors!”
Namay nodded. “Yes. Once long ago they call my mother that too. But then everybody get sick together, cows and people and everything. Much people die. Old King die. Momo work hard. Cannot save all. So peoples get mad. Say my mother make um all sick. Say she witch. Chase her far. Momo make live in cave here ever since!” Namay shook his head sadly, “No good!”
Peter Malua pointed to the sky outside. “Sun show time for go home, Tee!”
So they took their departure, Momo smiling and calling: “Hoi mai! Hoi mai!” Which Peter told him meant “Come again!”
They promised to return, and again penetrated the dark forest on their way home.
“She’s no witch, Peter, is she?” exclaimed Tee, when they were out of ear-shot. “She seems nice!”
“She no witch! She fine doctor woman! Namay too, very fine boy! Where you find him?”
“Don’t tell anybody,” cautioned Tee. “He comes to the swimming pool long before the other boys are out of bed. It’s the only time he gets any peace. The rest of the day he has to skulk out of sight, or they pester the life out of him. You see, he’s only one against all the other boys. So the only thing he can do is to hide.”
“Hm-mmm! Not good!”
As they neared the ranch house and Thomas Tathom caught sight of his nephew’s green-black eye, he slapped his thigh and yelled with laughter.
“Whoops me dear! That’s the finest shiner I’ve seen for a long time! Sa-ay! Where’d you get it?”
“Just fightin’,” replied Tee, with assumed indifference. He didn’t feel inclined to tell his uncle the whole story – it would seem too much like tattling on the other fellows. At the same time he longed to tell him about Namay and his troubles. At length, however, he decided to put it off for a while.
“Well, that’s the way to introduce yourself to some fellows,” his uncle continued. “Nothing like showin’ ‘em you have some spunk. Then they know where they stand!”
Tee started upstairs, but his uncle called after him.
“I’d like to tell you this, though, me boy, before I forget it! There’s one thing I don’t tolerate on this ranch!”
“What’s that, Uncle?”
“That is, fightin’ anybody who’s smaller than yourself, or one who can’t hit back! See?”
“Gee!” thought Tee to himself. “If Tom only knew about Namay, he’d put a stop to it pronto! I bet he doesn’t know a thing about what’s going on among the boys!”
When he had bathed, and got into fresh clothes, he went down for lunch. As usual, when he got to a turn in the landing, he looked through a window that opened on to the trail leading to the grass houses. Here Tee saw a conclave of boys huddled together, whispering and gesticulating excitedly. The six boys he had fought this morning were apparently telling a number of others all about it, and probably planning vengeance.
Without an instant’s hesitation, he ran down the stairs, and shouting to Tom that he’d be right back, plunged into the midst of the crowd of boys before they knew he was there.
“Say, fellows!” he whispered confidentially, yet loud enough for all to hear. “Do you know what?”
“No! What?” they whispered, equally confidential.
“Do you know what the witch-boy’s goin’ to do?” His eyes were very wide and awesome; and the other boys’ eyes followed suit.
They leaned forward, eyes and mouths wide open to hear his reply.
“He’s goin’ to – turn you all – all into – worms!”
“Worms – Wiggly ones! Thin – and long! And …”
“And then he’s goin’ to fish with you!”
He waited just long enough to see the boys roll their eyes in horrified fear, then he dashed back to where Peter and Tom awaited him.
Tee had already persuaded Peter not to say anything about this morning’s fight, for he wanted the boys to know that he was standing on his own feet, and not depending on his uncle’s power to protect him.
After lunch the three, Peter and Tom and Tee, went fishing in a stream some way up the mountain side. It was a stiffish climb; and when they had thrown their lines out, and settled down on a shady bank, a comfortable drowsiness came upon them, and they sat in silence. Tee’s thoughts went back to Namay, and Momo, and from them to the boys on the boat; and from them to another thought that had almost slipped his mind in the excitement of this new world.
He turned eagerly to his uncle, whose eyes rested dreamily on the white clouds.
“What ho, me boy?”
“Say! Do you remember what you promised me on the boat? About the other part of the bottle message?”
His uncle gave a tremendous yawn. Tee felt sure the yawn was only put on – to put off the big question, as it were – but he persisted.
“You know, Tom! The message in the bottle. You promised to tell me the other part of it.”
But Tom was still much engaged with a sudden exaggerated fit of yawning.
“Wait a minute,” he said in a superior tone. “Can’t you see I’m yawning? Never disturb a body in the middle of a yawn, me boy. It’s disastrous. You see, he might stick that way.”
“But, Uncle …”
“Oh, yes, indeed. A man was caught that way once. And for seven years, seven months, seven days he went around with his mouth open. And he couldn’t shut it. And that was the worst tragedy of all.”
“But one day he happened to come to a yawning chasm which had been caught in the same manner. And the man was so tickled to see somebody of his own kind, that he fell in. and that tickled the chasm so much that it shook its sides with laughter, and closed up on the man. And that squeezed the man up a bit, and finished his yawn!”
“Yeah, but …”
“But he wasn’t much good after that. So they used him for a paperweight.”
“Gosh, Tom, you’re funny. But of course, that’s all booshwa.”
“All same hoomalimali,” interjected Peter.
“What’s hoomalimali?” asked Tee.
“All same booshwa,” replied Peter solemnly. And Tee wondered how Peter knew what booshwa meant, considering he had never been off Waiki-pali and her sister islands. Then he remembered the quality that he had first noticed in the man, his apparent ability to read one’s mind. But Tee was determined not to be put off the main subject. On the boat voyage to Waiki-pali Uncle Tom had told him how several years ago someone had picked up a bottle from the wrecked boat Mynah, of which Tom’s brother and Tee’s father, Jack Tathom was Captain. Of how the message in the bottle had been addressed to Tom, begging him to find Jack Tathom’s little son, Thomas Tathom the second, and care for him. Uncle Tom had told Tee of the years of vain search for the child until at last he was found, a fair-sized boy by this time, in a crowded narrow alley in an old city. Tee was that little boy, and the way of their finding each other, Tee and his uncle, still thrilled the boy in remembering.
But there had been a part of the bottle message which Uncle Tom had thought wise to retain until Tee had become used to his island home. Until, as he said, Tee had had some time for fun. “You’ll maybe be having some false notion of duty when you hear the message, and I want that you have a good time first, me boy.”
But the unknown part of the bottle message had piqued Tee’s curiosity more than Uncle Tom could guess, and he was now determined to press the point.
“Peter’s right, Tom. What you’re saying is all hoomalimali and booshwa, just to put me off. But you promised, Uncle Tom – won’t you please tell me the other part of the message.”
Tee gazed eagerly into the round, good-natured face of his small, plump uncle; the rosy cheeks and blue eyes beneath the enormous white hat looking ridiculously juvenile. But Tom seemed wholly absorbed in the end of his line, which jerked and jiggled excitingly.
“Look, Tee! There must be a whopper down there. What you say I get him?”
He was being put off again, but his uncle’s pretended excitement gave him sudden inspiration. “Tell you what, Tom. If you’ve got a regular whopper on, you don’t have to tell me today, but if you don’t get anything much, you tell me. Is it a bargain?”
The little man was cornered, and he nodded morosely. “OK. You’re too much for me, boy.”
He jerked his rod cautiously, again a little bolder, then, with a fine sweep of his line, landed something with a wet plunk on the bank behind. Tee and Peter bounded forward to gaze at the catch, and the former gave a whoop of triumph. Hopping around on the end of the line was a huge green frog.
“Hurray!” You can’t get out of it this time, Unc.”
Tom was mortified. “But you’ve got to admit,” he said, “that he’s a whopper, even if he is only a frog.”
But there was no getting out of it and Tom, puffing and blowing and re-baiting his line, prepared to tell his new-found nephew what he did not know about the mysterious bottle message. Little did Tee guess what this knowledge was to bring to him, of adventure, hardship, horror, but more especially of the sweetest thing that life could hold.