The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Five: Secret Disclosed
Synopsis: Tee Totum lives on Waiki-pali, his uncle’s island, after being lost for several years and found through a bottle-message from his father, Captain Jack Tathom, who perished at sea. Tee chums with an island boy who is persecuted by the other boys because of their belief that his mother, Momo, is a witch. For fun Tee repeats a careless remark let fall by Namay, and tells the native boys that Namay is going to turn them into worms and go fishing with them. Later he teases his uncle to tell him the remainder of the bottle-message, which so far has been kept secret.
The soft lap-lap of Lolomo lake conspired with the warm afternoon silence to imbue the three fishermen on Waiki-pali with a pleasant drowsiness. A lazy content heightened, in Tee’s case, by the knowledge of something exciting to come. Something he instinctively felt to be of the utmost importance to himself and this new vivid life that had so surprisingly become his.
When his uncle started to speak, it was with a gravity most unusual in the tubby little man, and Tee, lying lazily on the lush bank, gave little thought to the rod in his hand or the fish in the lake. This secret knowledge that had been so hard to dig out of his obliging uncle, the latter part of the bottle message from the wrecked Mynah, occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of all else.
“My only reason for keeping this thing from you, me boy, was my fear that you might run off and leave us, instead of staying on the island and having all the fun you can while you can. You see, a boy is only a boy once, and …”
Tee experienced a sinking disappointment, almost a dread. What was his uncle trying to tell him? What was this thing that was goint to take the fun from his life? Make him grown-up before his time? His thoughts flashed to Namay, this splendid new chum of his, to the good times they had planned together, and uneasily he wished he had not pressed Uncle Tome for the remainder of the message.
“You see,” his uncle was rumbling on, if I’m any judge of character, I have a notion that the first thing you’ll do is to be off on the quest, and …”
“And we don’t want to lose you after just finding you, and having such a durned time in the doing of it. Do we Peter?”
Peter Malua shook his head. “We don’t want you to go rushing off on a wild goose chase, missing all the fun you might be having here. We want you to swim, and ride, and climb, and handle a boat, be a regular islander, and some day probably take your old uncle’s place.”
He smiled with quizzical kindness, and the eager-faced boy smiled back, thinking that life could offer no greater joy. To him the picture painted by Tom was the ultimate of desirability.
“Peter knows the story as well as I do, and has been my right-hand man for several years in this search.”
“You mean, in your search for me?”
His uncle nodded. “In my search for you, but also – and this has been more Peter’s job than mine – in my search for your brother.”
A full minute Tee stared at the speaker with dumb amazement, then, springing to his feet, he stood before his uncle with blazing eyes, and cheeks flooded with excited color. “Wh-what was that you said?”
“Your brother, me boy. Your twin brother.”
The words seemed to rob the boy of breath. Gone was the calm drowsiness of the afternoon, and the world seemed suddenly filled with a wonder, an eager excitability that was almost unbearable.
“Now calm down an’ take this thing quietly or I won’t go a step further with the message.”
“Yes, yes, Uncle Tom. I will – Only – go on. A real brother for me? Golly, Uncle Tom, why didn’t you tell me? Where is he?”
“That’s the question. Where is he? if Peter and I could only answer that we’d settle down contentedly for the rest of our lives.”
“But – are you sure there is a brother? Positive?”
“We’re positive you had a brother, me boy. whether he’s alive or not …”
Tee’s spirits sank as suddenly as they had risen. A brother. He who had been alone all his life. Tee Totum, the nobody, not only to acquire an uncle, but a twin brother. The thought had been overwhelming; and now – he might not have a brother, after all. That brother might be dead.
“We’ve given years of our life to the search,” Tom went on quietly. “We are eternally thankful for having found you, me boy, and now we’ve got to start in again on the search for the other. Or at least, for news of him. He seems to have disappeared clean off the face of the earth. We have heard so little about him that it seems impossible to trace him fro the little we know.”
“But what about the bottle message, Tom? Just what did it say?”
“That your twin was a duplicate of yourself, so far as coloring went, dark eyes and hair. But he was a puny little fellow. The doctor had advised a sea voyage for his health, so your father took the boy with him that trip, and hired a native sailor, gifted in medicine and a student of children, to care of him. The child’s health improved almost immediately, and everything went well until this terrible storm that I’ve told you about. When your father found there was no hope of saving the ship, he instructed Kameka, the child’s guardian, to take a boat and try to make land. There was little chance of their escaping, but more than if they stayed with the ship. so Kameka set out with the baby on an ocean that seemed impossible to navigate.”
“But him Kameka much fine sailor. Everybody say that.” Peter’s words were hopeful and eager. “Me think p’raps Kameka make land all right.”
“What was the baby’s name?”
‘He was called Jack, after your father. Your father knew well that the things a Kanaka can do in the water are almost miraculous. So …”
Silence fell upon the three friends. A silence that for Tee held more of real emotion than he had ever known.
Peter pulled gently on his line, disentangled a huge trout from his hook, and Tom spoke again. “We made enquiries at every sea-port. Then, when we had about come to the conclusion that they had met with the same fate as your father, Peter comes back from a trip to Olapa, the southernmost island of this group, and tells of finding a Scotch sailor there. This man, caught in the same storm, had been thrown on a coral reef, and before he fell asleep, utterly worn out with his struggle, he saw a native boy with a baby pull himself out of the water. When he awakened, which he thought might have been a day later, the boy and baby had disappeared.”
“Sea much calm then, sailor say, so p’raps Kameka swim to shore.”
“How did the Scotchman get back to land?”
“That’s another thing that makes us think Kameka reached land. A native canoe appeared shortly after the Scotchman woke. Its occupants hailed him as if they knew he was there, and had come to fetch him.”
“He ask about Kameka and baby, but they no understand English.”
“But where did they land the sailor?” Tee asked excitedly. “Surely Kameka and the baby would have landed on the same place, or the islanders would not have known he was there.”
“That was our thought,” his uncle nodded. “The Scotchman landed on Olapa, where Peter found him, but he never heard another thing about Kameka or the baby. Peter has talked with almost every native in the place, but apparently they can tell him nothing. Either they don’t know, or they won’t tell.”
Tee pulled his line in. There was nothing on it, but he was not interested one way or the other, so he didn’t throw it back again.
“I think that Jack is still living, Uncle,” he said in a low, determined voice. “He’s still living somewhere, and he might be just as lonely as I was before you found me! … Golly, I’d do anything in the world to find him!”
“Well, we mustn’t get all fussed up over it, you know,” cautioned Tom. “We’ve got to keep calm, and go about this thing methodically. It’s the way I found you, and – it’s the only way!”
“yes, but to think he’s in some filthy alley, envying other fellows with folks, not knowing that – that there’s a wonderful uncle out here, and a ranch, and Peter – and – a twin brother! Gee, Tom, I’m so glad to think he’s – somewhere!”
“Well, go ahead and yell all you want. might relieve your feelings!”
But Tee didn’t yell after all. He was afraid that if he did, he might end up by crying, and he mustn’t do that!
Peter Malua looked straight into the boy’s eyes, and Tee immediately felt stronger. He wasn’t going to cry! he was going to think this thing out calmly. and then, perhaps, plan a search expedition. He was just as well able to search as Peter and Tom. His thoughts flew to Namay. Would Namay help Could he? He had his mother to look after, of course, but still, he might be able to do something.
“Tom! Is this a secret, or am I allowed to tell people about it?”
“It’s far from a secret, me boy. The more people who know about it, the more likely we are to find him! I’ve advertised in all the seaport towns; spoken of it wherever I’ve been, and offered rewards – big ones, too! It’s brought no result!”
They collected their fishing tackle, and started back to the ranch.
“Then why haven’t I heard of it before, Tom, from the boys?”
“They were told not to mention it to you until I did. You see, I had an idea how you would feel about it, and wanted you to have a real good time first … And by the look of that black eye of yours, me boy, that’s what you’ve been having! Haw-haw-haw!”
Tom poked him playfully in the ribs, and some of the carefree feeling with which they set out returned to the party.
At dinner that night, they talked the matter over again. Tee was now able to think and talk more coolly about it all. He had an idea that his brother Jack was still on the island of Olapa in Kameka’s care, and that Kameka was unwilling to give him up.
Peter shook his head. “Him not on Olapa. Me look much well. Not there.”
Tee felt sure that Peter Malua would not speak so positively on any mater, if he were not absolutely certain that what he said was right, so he abandoned the half-formulated plan of visiting Olapa.
“There are two possibilities,” suggested Tom, “still open to investigation. one is that Kameka took the baby back to San Francisco in the hope of finding his relatives. That, not finding any, he put him in the care of some woman. He did not hand him over to the authorities – that I know, for I have already enquired into it. He might, however, have put the child in the care of some woman in San Francisco, or even have settled there himself, and kept the baby.”
“Is what you said two possibilities, Tom, or one?”
“That’s only one possibility. The other is that Kameka joined a party of islanders who about that time sailed for Japan, to take part in some new and extensive pearl operations that were being started. Kameka, we have discovered, was one of the best divers on the island – and that’s saying a lot. It seems very natural that Kameka should be one of the chosen ones for the enterprise. And in that case, he may have taken the baby with him.”
Tee’s heart sank. if his brother was on some out-of-the-way island in Japan, it would be a pretty hard matter to find him. He’d give a lot to be able to find him personally, but he didn’t see how that would be possible if the boy was in Japan.
Tee’s mind was teeming with ideas and plans when he strolled out to the plantation, where the men were strumming on their guitars and singing strange crooning songs – songs with a weird kind of yodelling that seemed peculiarly appropriate to the night and the environment.
The moonlight was unusually clear, a soft trade wind rustled the palm leaves, which gave forth a constant whisper. Night-blooming flowers hung like great white cups from tree and hedge, filling the air with a sweet fragrance.
If only Jack were here! His twin brother! Since such a thing was impossible, Tee wished he could see Namay. but that seemed just as unlikely at this time of night, so he decided to be up with the dawn in the morning, meet Namay at the pool, and tell him this wondrous thing that clamored for utterance. He longed to shout loud: “I have a brother!”
Eager to hasten the morning, he determined to get to bed early, and so turned back toward the hale, the house.
He was passing a thick clump of hibiscus trees, black against the clear sky, when the sound came to him; a thin sibilance, as of somebody trying to whistle between their teeth and making a poor job of it. That somebody, ti was evident, was trying to attract Tee’s attention, and with a full-sized whistle, he approached.
“S–sh! S–sh!” the warning whisper returned promptly. “Don’t make noise. Come quick!”
Startled at the unexpected beauty of the voice, Tee became tense. Where had he heard that voice before? Why had it the power of making him apprehensive? A prickle with fear of he knew not what?
Before he could satisfy himself on these points, a talon-like hand shot out from the trees, clutched his arm, and drew him into the deep shadow.
Tee felt the skin on his spine crawl, his hair stand on end with the feeling of revulsion that possessed him when he found himself face to face and in close proximity with the hag-like figure brown and withered like an ancient frog, of Mom, the Witch-woman. Then with an effort he reminded himself that she was Namay’s mother, no witch at all, but a kind and clever woman, and shame of his ungracious feelings moved him to stammer: “How d’ye do, ma’am!”
“Namay in bad trouble. Boys kill him. Come quick. Help.”
“What? The boys? Kill Namay?” In a flash it came to him that he had not seen one boy around during the whole evening. An unheard-of circumstance.
“Them say witch-boy turn into worms. Catch fish with. Them kill him quick. Come.”
Tugging frantically at his sleeve, she emerged from the shade of the trees and darted toward the jungle.
“Wait a minute,” Tee admonished, “you and I can’t do anything against all those boys. I’ve got to get Peter Malua and my uncle.”
“Yes, yes; go get. Me wait here. Me show where Namay hide.”
Without another word he darted toward the hale, on the lanai of which Tom and Peter sat talking.
“Quick! I want your help!” he gasped. “The boys – they’re going to kill my friend.”
Tom stared at him in silent astonishment,. but Peter Malua needed no explanation. Looking into Tee’s face, he knew at once that the boy was in desperate straits.
“Namay?” he asked.
Tee nodded. “All my fault, too. I told them he was going to turn them into worms. Quick! He’s just one against – perhaps fifteen or more. He won’t have a chance.”