The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Eight: The Mystery Man
Synopsis: Tee Totum lives on Waiki-pali, his uncle Tom’s island, where he chums with Namay, a boy who has always been persecuted by the other boys because they believe him to be the son of a witch. Through a careless remark let fall by Tee, the boys think Namay is going to turn them into worms and go fishing with them. They attack Namay at night. Momo, Namay’s mother, comes flying to the ranch for help. Tee, his uncle Tom, and his friend Peter, follow Momo to the cave and rescue Namay. In the meantime Tee has discovered that he has a twin brother somewhere in the world. Eager to find him, he enlists Namay’s aid. They decide to search the neighboring islands, and set forth in Namay’s canoe. They land on Mahina, which seems to be deserted except for a flock of goats. They are caught in the grip of a Kona – a bad storm.
Suddenly as the storm had started, it abated. One moment the wind whistled past their ears in a very fury, the next – there was none! It was as if a horizontal wall of wind had passed them; and once passed, was gone.
Tee looked around at Namay in utter astonishment.
“Is – it over?” he gasped.
Namay nodded. “Kona gone.”
It was the first words they had spoken since the storm started, and the silence now, compared with the demoniacal noise of an instant before, was startling. They sat still, pondering on the strangeness of what had happened.
“Supposing we had been on the sea?” Tee suggested.
Namay shook, his head. “No suppose such a thing. We are safe.”
The thought gave birth to another one. How had their boat fared? Had it been carried out to sea? Had it been torn to pieces in the gale? Their food gone?
When Tee ventured to put the question to his friend, Namay again shook his head.
“I think of canoe all time. I not know, but I think canoe gone. I put safe this morning, but this kona very bad kona. I not know! We wait and see!”
The thought was not a pleasant one to face, but Tee remembered that at the worst it would only mean remaining on Mahina until Tom found that they were out-staying their time, and send a search party for them. They could surely exist on nuts, and possibly other things the island might produce, until then.
But the expedition? Tee was dismayed when he thought of all the time they might have to put in on Mahina, when they should be searching elsewhere for his brother. For by this time he was pretty well convinced that no human being lived on the island.
Eventually they tramped on – and on – and on. Until nightfall found them on a shingly beach, apparently at the opposite end of the island to the one on which they had landed. No sign of habitation, human or otherwise; no food, no means of making a fire, and no blankets.
Had it been moonlight, or even starlight, Namay might have been able to distinguish a coconut palm against the sky, and at least have been able to obtain a nut; but as it was, the night was inky black, and the only thing left to do was to burrow into the warm sand, cover themselves with it, and wait until morning. Fortunately, they had lunched regally on coconut and coconut milk; also they had discovered a little rill of fresh water, so they went to sleep that night, mentally thanking their Maker that things were not worse.
Morning found them considerably refreshed, in spite of the stiffness of their limbs after their long tramp of the day before. The sand, which had seemed warm and comforting when they snuggled into it, now seemed cold and terribly hard; and they left their beds without regret.
They immediately set about finding something to eat. To their delight, they found not only nuts, but also wild bananas, which, to Tee’s mind, had a more delightful flavor than the cultivated ones. They breakfasted simply, but with appetite and enjoyment. A dip in the warm sea, and they felt once more that the world was theirs. The one drawback to their perfect content being the thought of the canoe, and what the kona might have done to it. However, since no good could come of worrying about a thing that might not have occurred, they pushed the thought to the back of their minds, and prepared for the return journey.
“Better we take other way back,” suggested Namay. “P’raps maybe one, or p’raps two, like Kameka and Jack, living on the other side.”
“That’s true!” agreed Tee, “and if so, they couldn’t possibly know that we are here; or we, that they are there – could they, and could we?”
The fact that dense bush separated the beaches on all sides of the island made this fact very obvious. so they started back with high hope in their hearts, and anxious to know the worst, determined to reach the beach on which they had left their canoe before night.
They now decided that, although they must take to the shelter of the forest, on account of the searingly hot sun, it would be better to keep as near to the beach as possible. This they did, and found the walking pleasanter, the air considerably fresher, and the surroundings more interesting. Namay pointed out many things to his friend that Tee would not have noticed otherwise. One was a praying mantis – a lovely green creature somewhat like a grasshopper, who sat on foliage the exact color of himself, in a posture of prayer. Another time the boy drew Tee’s attention to a yellowish-green leaf.
“Yes,” said Tee, “but what about it? It’s just like a million other leaves, isn’t it?”
“It look like other leaves, yes,” replied Namay, ‘but it not. Look again.”
Tee looked closely, and this time Namay touched the surface of the leaf. It moved, and to Tee’s amazement, it turned out to be a kind of beetle with outstretched wings, forming a perfect imitation of the leaf upon which it sat.
Another time it was a grasshopper in the exact similitude of the delicate green stems of the flowers on which it lived. and tiny butterflies that, when settled, looked like dead twigs.
They lunched upon mountain apples and papaia, the latter being the only tree of its kind they had so far seen on the island. The fruit was delicious, and after a long drink of water, they carried on.
They again came across tracks of wild goat – but none other; and as the boys neared the point from which they had started two days previously, they decided that the goats were the only occupants of the island.
“Well, we have satisfied ourselves that Kameka and Jack are not here, anyway!” sighed Tee.
“Nobody here except goats,” agreed Namay. “Other island not so big like this. P’raps there we find them.”
The thought then occurred to Tee: Supposing they found the other island empty like this one, what would be their next course of action? Somehow, his plans up to the present, had not gone any further mentally than these two islands. Although he had not admitted, even to himself, he really had the idea that this search of the two islands would surely reveal to them the whereabouts of his brother, or at least bring news of him. Now he was assailed with doubt. He had landed on Mahina full of hope, and it had yielded him nothing more than the sight of a herd of goats, and some fighting mynahs, who could tell him nothing. The other, and smaller, island would undoubtedly be the same! And then what? What could they, two boys on an island, do about a lost brother? Where could they go, and how proceed?
Tee’s heart, for the first time since he had heard of the existence of a brother, began to feel heavy. An island was a grand place to live on, but when there was someone to be found, and the island itself with the other adjacent islands had been thoroughly searched, there was nothing much left to do. Peter and Tom had done all that was humanly possible; and all that was left to do, it seemed to Tee, was to go all over the same ground again. And if two men had failed, what hope was there for him?
“All we can do,” said Namay when Tee had voiced his thoughts, “is wait till we grown-up. build big boat for ourselves. Go to Japan where pearl-diving is. Look there, and many other places. All over world.”
“Oh! I can’t wait till then! I want my brother right now!”
“Never mind,” comforted Namay, “p’raps we find him on other island. If not, me think much big headache. Me make other fine plan! You see!”
“Yes,” thought Tee, “that’s all very well, but our canoe’s smashed to pieces!”
The other boy thought the same thing, but neither dared voice the thought.
Weary and discouraged, they tramped the last mile of beach, having by this time almost encircled the island, and also penetrated a good part of the jungle. Their eyes were strained toward the small crevice in the rocks where they had cached their canoe.
From a distance they could see nothing; as they drew nearer they could see nothing; and as they stood there, gazing at the crevice, they still saw nothing! The boat was gone! Cleanly gone! Not a scrap of it anywhere in sight. Without a word they looked far out to sea toward Waiki-pali, and wondered if they would ever see it again. Gazed along the beach, and into the surf, but there was nothing to show what had happened to the canoe.
What they had expected to find was the canoe smashed to pieces, but the pieces still in the shelter of the crevice. and in their hearts they had hoped to be able to patch it together again, strong enough to make the homeward journey.
But there was not even a splinter of Namay’s faithful old canoe in sight.
“My canoe gone!” Namay’s tone was mournful, “Canoe I have long, long time since baby! Gone!”
It almost seemed as if he had lost a very dear friend.
Tee threw an arm around him. “Cheer up, Namay! I’ll get Tom to give you another when we get back.”
“But how get back?” Namay threw his hands out in a hopeless gesture.