The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Six: To the Rescue
Synopsis: After being alone and lost for several years, Tee Totum lives on Waiki-pali with his uncle Thomas Tathom, who found him through a bottle-message sent to him from the sinking “Mynah” of which Tee’s father was captain. Tee has succeeded at last in learning the remainder of the bottle-message which so far has been kept secret. It is that at the time of the wreck of the “Mynah” Tee had a twin brother. This twin brother may still be alive. Tee decides to get his chum, Namay, to help him find his brother. In the meantime Momo, Namay’s mother, comes running to Tee for help. The native boys have ganged up on Namay, intent on harming him because they believe he will turn them into worms and go fishing with them.
Without further explanation Tee, followed by Tom and Peter, ran back to the clump of hibiscus trees where Momo the Witch-Woman waited.
Peter Malua exchanged a few words with the woman, and motioned her on. With a swiftness almost incredible in one so old, she led the way through the forest, a strange lantern contrivance held high to show them the trail. This lantern, Tee afterwards learned, was made of a number of nuts from the candle tree, pierced for the oil inside them, which, when lighted, gave out a strong, bright illumination.
As they went Tee managed to give Tom the story of what had been happening between himself, Namay, and the ranch boys.
“But Great Guns!” exclaimed his uncle, “I never heard of such a thing. I thought we were civilized on this island! You mean to tell me that this boy and his mother have been persecuted all this time, and I have known nothing about it?”
“They sure have been pestered, Tom – always. I told Namay I was sure you didn’t know, or you would have stopped it.”
“You can bet your bottom dollar I would have!” The little man was panting from the effects of the jog-trot he was obliged to sustain in order to keep up with the little woman in front. And from his constant struggle with the low-growing branches and hanging vines.
“Don’t even know the boy! Why is it I haven’t seen him?”
“The only time he could come into the open was the early morning, and night, when the boys were not around. The rest of the time he kept to the jungle.”
“Huh!” grunted his uncle, disgustedly. “The boys knew better than to let me in on such a thing. They know darned well I don’t allow anything like that! I’ll have to teach those young fellows a lesson!”
At long last they reached the clearing where Namay lived. Momo, shielding the light with her shawl, whispered pantingly, “Namay hide in fireplace. I put big stone against, and get out top.”
And it was soon apparent what had happened. The boys had surrounded the cave; and Namay and his mother, realizing they were outnumbered, stepped inside the tiny aperture that served as fireplace and kitchen, drawing a huge stone, which Tee had noticed with curiosity earlier in the day, after them into the opening. Then Momo had crawled painfully through the upper opening which served as chimney, and which was much too small for Namay to get through, and ran for help, while Namay held his stone fort with a catapult, and bow and arrows.
The stone did not entirely close the aperture up, but left enough room for the boys to crawl over and capture their prey. And it was this small opening that Namay had to protect.
The cave was lighted with lanterns of the same type that the old woman carried; and as the rescuing party entered, they heard grunts, yells, and exclamations proceeding from the direction of the fireplace. Creeping silently toward the sound, they found that the boys had in some way managed to get hold of Namay’s head and shoulders, and were dragging him out of his hiding place with yells of triumph.
“Hey!” shouted Tom, “what is all this about?”
At the same moment he and Peter and Tee made a dash at the crowd, and struck out left and right with their fists. The old woman sank into a corner, and cowered there while Namay’s assailants, dismayed at being discovered, scattered into the darkness outside the cave.
Tom rushed out after them.
“Hey, you boys! Come back here! Every one of you! Come back here, I tell you!”
The boys were hesitant at first, but Thomas Tathom’s power on the island was absolute, and slowly they came straggling back, hanging their heads and shuffling their feet.
The band re-assembled in the cave, and Tom spoke.
“Now, Nikol,” he said addressing a huge fellow with bushy hair and tremendous muscles, who appeared to be the leader of the gang, “Tell me what this is all about – from the very beginning!”
Nikol, feeling the importance of being spokesman, stepped forward with an injured expression on his long face.
“Mister Tom,” he commenced, “that boy witch-boy. Very bad. Make worms all us boys, then go fish!” He shook his head lugubriously. “No good be swallowed by fish.”
Tee darted an amused glance at Namay, at the same time feeling deeply ashamed of the fact that he had been the unsuspecting cause of the outbreak.
“But before he said he would turn you into worms, what made you think he was a witch-boy?”
“He son of that witch-woman!” replied the other, pointing toward Momo.
“Momo is not a witch. What makes you say she is?”
“Long ago, before you come, peoples and cattle very sick. All die. She make um!”
“That is absolute nonsense, Nikol! I’ve heard that crazy story before, and I’ve got to put a stop to it, right now!”
He hesitated, and looked impressively at the trembling crowd of boys.
“Now look here, you boys! I want to tell you once for all that there is no such thing in the world as a witch or a witch-boy! And you’ve got to get that into your heads! Understand?”
The boys were not to be easily persuaded, however, out of a story they had heard all their lives.
“Momo is very clever with her herb cures, and with lomi-lomi, but when the plague of sickness broke out here, it was utterly impossible for one human being to attend to everybody. From what I hear, Momo worked hard, and cured many. But more died than it was humanly possible for her to attend to … And it was for that she was given the name of witch. The thing is preposterous!”
The boys cringed beneath his contemptuous look.
“And I tell you right now, boys, I’ll hear no more talk of witches and witch-boys on this island! There is no such thing in the world! Do you hear?”
Tom stopped to see if his words were making any impression; but the boys hung their heads, and said nothing.
“You’ve been acting like a lot of babies in believing in witches, and I’m ashamed of you!”
At this Nikol looked up indignantly.
“Why for Tee Totum say Namay turn us into worms, then?”
Tom turned to Tee. “Tee, I expect it’s up to you to explain that, and to apologize for the trouble you’ve caused.”
Tee stepped to his uncle’s side. “I’m awfully sorry,” he stammered, looking at the boys. “You see, ‘twas just a joke. It seemed funny to me that you should believe in witches, an’ I thought I’d throw a scare into you, just for fun. Besides, I thought p’raps you’d leave Namay alone after that!”
“Listen, boys!” resumed Tee’s uncle, “do you suppose my nephew would go around with Namay as much as he does, if he thought that Namay had the power of turning people into worms and things? Of course he wouldn’t! Have a little sense, and think this thing over! Will you do that?”
The boys nodded sullenly, and sighing with relief at the more tolerant tone of Tom’s voice, turned away.
“But wait a minute! That’s not all!” he assured them. “I’ve got to have your promise that these people will be left in peace after this. They are your friends, my friends and my nephew’s friends, and if they are harmed in any way, you will be held responsible! Understand?”
“Yes, Mister Tom!” they answered in chorus, anxious to get away.
“All right! Go now. And if any one of you is caught near this place again, you may expect to be suitably punished.”
The boys slunk out into the night with sheepish expressions on their dark faces. This was the second time today they had been robbed of their prey! Namay stood beside Momo, a protecting arm over her shoulder; and Peter and Tee sighed with relief as they sank on the leaf-strewn floor.
“Dear!” exclaimed Tee. “I don’t know how you kept them at bay all that time, Namay! There was an awful gang of them!”
“With bow and arrows, and catapult,” Namay explained, “but I shoot all my stones, all my arrows. Then I try fight with bow on knuckles, but no good. Not enough room! they get my hair; much pull! Then – you come!”
“Only just in time! I’m sure glad Momo found me! And I’m sure sorry I said that about the worms, Namay!”
The other boy smiled forgivingly.
“And now,” interrupted Tom, “I suggest that you people come and live on the ranch with us. I have a fine little cottage that you can have; everything you want to eat and drink – and you’ll probably find it a little less lonesome than here … Eh? What do you think of it?”
Momo and Namay glanced at each other questioningly. A silent message seemed to flash between them, for Namay shook his head emphatically.
“No, Mister Tom. We thank you. This our home. Momo and me like very much. Plenty eat. Plenty drink. Boys no pester any more, I think. All well.” He bowed low before Tom. “Thank you very much all same.”
Tom, Peter, and Tee Totum decided to camp near the cave that night, where the ground was soft with fallen leaves and pine needles; and so exhausted was the latter that it seemed as if he had been sleeping but a few minutes when he was awakened by the voice of Namay. “You sleep much good, eh?”
A moment he gazed at his surroundings in wonder, then with full force the exciting events of the preceding night returned to him.
“Did they come back?” he asked anxiously.
Namay shook his head, and dismissing the subject with splendid indifference, suggested a run to the beach and a bath. All four scrambled down the face of the cliff to where the waves lapped lazily on a silver strand. The water was warm, and so buoyant that Tee had no difficulty to keep afloat. And when Namay pointed to the line of smoke ascending from the cave, reminding them that Momo’s breakfast would be waiting, they chased back across the sands, happy and hungry as young animals.
Fried paka-paka, sweet mush with coconut milk, hot bread fruit, and bananas, these were the things that were waiting for them, that they ate in the shelter of the trees, looking down on an ocean blue as the sky above.
After breakfast Tee and Namay returned to the beach to replenish Momo’s supply of fish. Namay’s canoe was proudly drawn from its hiding place in a niche of the cliff, and displayed. Then they were off on a sea gay and buoyant as their own spirits. Gazing into its depths, Tee was suddenly reminded of Tom’s grand disclosure of the previous day, of the sailor Kameka, his own brother Jack, marvels that the exciting events of the last few hours had pushed to the back of his mind.
“Golly, Namay! I almost forgot. Wait till you hear my grand news. Listen! You know, I always thought I had no folks in the world? Nobody? You see, I lived with Carlo, the cobbler, but he wasn’t any relation. And then, all of a sudden Tom came, saying he was my uncle. Gee, that was great for me! And coming here and all was – oh, grand stuff! Well, you know all that – I told you before. But here’s my news! Uncle only told me yesterday, and there hasn’t been time to tell you since, cos …”
“Well! grinned Namay, who was already picking up Tee’s Americanese. “You better hurry and tell me that news! I want know! Quick!”
“All right! Here it is! … Namay! I’ve got someone else better even than an uncle! … I’ve got a brother!”
He waited to see the effect of this piece of information on his friend. Namay’s eyes shone with joy, his lips smiled widely; and Tee, satisfied that Namay was sufficiently impressed, resumed:
“I don’t know where he is, but I have a brother! Somewhere!”
“Say, that’s grand news!” breathed Namay. “How old is he?”
“Exactly my own age. We’re twins! And that’s better, even, than brothers, isn’t it?”
Namay nodded. “Better much!”
“And do you know what I’ve got to do now?”
“No. What?” exclaimed his friend.
“I’ve got to search for him. He’s lost, you see, and nobody knows where he is, so I’m going to start a search right away for my brother. Gee, I can’t afford to lose any more time, can I? think what a lot of lost time I have to make up for!”
His companion nodded, and looked thoughtful.
“What’s your brother’s name?”
“Jack. after my father. And the name of the sailor who saved him from the sea is Kameka. If we could find this man, Kameka, or anyone belonging to him, we’d be all right. Have you ever heard of anyone by that name, Namay?”
Namay shook, his head. “Me not know many peoples. Always hide in cave with Momo. Not good for know peoples.”
“That’s right!” agreed the other, “but after this you’re coming to the ranch with me in the daytime, and we’re going to do all kinds of things together. Shoot the waterfall and everything! If those boys want to join in, they can; only they’d better remember they’ve got to treat you as my friend. That’s all!”
Tee’s chin again took on that determined slant that characterized it when he had reached a point of decided action.
“You very good to me and Momo,” Namay said in a low tone. “Me now do much for you. Me help you much find Jack!”
Tee glowed with anticipation. “Oh, Namay, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find him together? Peter and Tom have been searching for years, and they haven’t been able to discover a thing of his whereabouts. And if you and I could do it – ‘twould be grand, wouldn’t it? Beside, Uncle’s offering quite a big reward. And if we found Jack together, you could have all the reward, cos I’d have my brother. See?”
Namay saw, and nodded. “But me try find for you, not for reward. Reward very nice, yes. But you my friend. Very good friend. Me like much. Try find for you because of that!”
“All right, good friend!” smiled Tee, “Let’s shake on it!”
They leaned forward, solemnly gripped each other’s hands, and the pact was sealed.
A true fisherman would say that the fishing, as Tee and Namay found it that morning, was very poor sport. It was much too easy! The boys merely let down lines, with bait and hook attached, and pulled them up a minute later with fish on the end. But Tee thought ‘twas great fun; and Namay looked on it as a chore – a very necessary daily duty. However, there’s a limit to the amount of fish one can eat, and the boys were anxious to start their search for the lost brother. So pretty soon they turned the boat around, and made for shore.
“How do you suppose we’d better start this search, Namay?” asked Tee, after a long interval of silence.
“I been trying to make plan here,” answered the other, tapping his forehead. “It make much good plan, but cannot do!”
“You mean you have thought of a good plan, but can’t carry it out? Is that what?”
“Yes. Cannot carry out.”
“Me plan go to other islands. Two small islands over there where peoples never go. Ships never call. Peoples say nobody live there. But who know? P’raps Kameka stop there with baby. We go see, huh? Me and you?” Then he shook his head. “But no can do. Cannot leave Momo alone.”
“Oh! Oh!” Tee could think of no other way to express his chagrin.
They beached the canoe in silence, hid her in the small cave, and were ascending the side of the hill with their load of fish, before Tee spoke again.
“Tell you what, if Tom will agree to my going with you, don’t you think Momo would consent to live at the ranch for that length of time?”
Namay shook his head doubtfully.
“My uncle would see that she got treated properly. There’s a room in the hale itself where she could stay if she didn’t care to live in the cottage. Believe me, my uncle would see that she was treated like a queen. He’s like that!”
“I no think she go. But we ask if you like.”
“Sure! Let’s ask her!”
When they reached the plateau, however, they were amazed to find a crowd of natives – men, women, boys and girls – seated in a semi-circle before the door of the cave. Momo crouched in the doorway, and Peter Malua and Tom stood beside her.
The two boys stood in surprised silence, and listened to what was apparently the end of a speech by Uncle Tom.
Then a huge dark man rose from the seated crowd, and in the soft, full tones of his own language, made an oration; addressed partly, Tee guessed, to his Uncle Tom, and partly to Momo.
Then Peter took a turn. After which Tom replied in the same language, seeming to ratify what Peter had said.
At that, the two men assisted Momo to her feet, and the whole crowd of natives stood and bowed low before her. The women then separated themselves from the others, and approached Mom, talking, bowing, and smiling in friendly fashion, while the rest of the crowd milled around, apparently well pleased with the outcome of the meeting, whatever it was.
Tee and Namay, after disposing of their fish in a pool at the side of the cave, drew Tom aside, asking him for an explanation of all this.
“Well,” smiled Tom, “I thought there was no time like the present to put a stop to all this nonsensical talk of witches and so forth. So when I got home this morning, I called the whole crowd together, and gave them a talkie-talkie. With the aid of Peter, I at length convinced them of their error; and they agreed to accompany me to the cave, where they made a public apology to Mom, and a promise to treat her in the future with all the respect due to a kind and clever woman. This they have done in a very sincere and hearty manner, inviting her to join them in the village or on the ranch.”
“Oh!” interrupted Tee, “did she accept?”
Tom shook his head. “No. She has grown to love this place – and I’m not surprised. Says she is happy here, and refuses to leave. Her happiness is all we want, so – I believe that everything is going to be fine after this!”
Tee turned away disappointed. He certainly was glad at the outcome of the unhappy events of yesterday. But – if only Momo had consented to live in the village, he and Namay would have been free to make their expedition to the islands.
Namay threw an arm around his shoulder, and they both looked so glum that Tom exclaimed:
“What’s the matter with you two? One would think you were displeased with what has happened …”
“Oh, it’s not that, Tom!” Tee hastened, “we’re both as tickled as can be about that, but listen!”
He drew Tom aside, and told him in a low tone of the plan that Namay had suggested; and of the impossibility of carrying that plan out on account of Momo.
“But, my dear fellow, that’s easily fixed now!” exclaimed Tom. “Now that everybody’s feeling so friendly toward Momo, there’s not the slightest reason why she can’t live alone for a week or so!”
“Oh, then you’d let me go, Tom?”
“Sure! Those two islands are not far away; and I know you’ll be safe enough with Namay!”
“But what about Momo’s food supply? who’ll get that for her?”
“Leave it all to me! I’ll send things over every day, and ride over myself at least once a day! … Eh, Namay? What do you think of that?”
“Me, I think that very good. If Momo say yes.”
“All right. All you’ve got to do, then, is to get Momo’s consent, and I’ll see to everything else.”
Without another word, the boys raced toward the cave, and Tee waited impatiently while Namay and Momo talked together over the proposition. He could not understand a word of the conversation, but eagerly followed the expressions on their faces; and he felt sure at last that Namay had won the day. The boy was nodding a pleased agreement of some kind, and holding her thin brown hand in his.
His face wreathed in smiles, he turned at last toward his friend:
“She say everything all right. She like stay here alone. Mister Tom send much good food – all well!”
“Say, that’s dandy! I know you can trust Uncle Tom to look after her, and – oh, thank you, Momo! Thank you very much!”