The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Nine: A Creepy Island
Synopsis: Tee Totum lives on Waiki-pali, his uncle Tom’s island, where he chums with Namay, who is persecuted by other island boys because he is supposed to be the son of a witch, Momo, who is really a kind and clever herb doctor. Hearing that Namay is going to turn them into worms and go fishing with them, the boys attack Namay at night, and are frustrated in their attempts to harm him by the timely arrival of Tee, Tom, and Peter. Tee and Namay then leave Waiki-pali by canoe to search the neighboring islands for Tee’s lost brother, of whom he has learned through a bottle message from the wrecked ship ‘Mynah.’ they land on Mahina, inhabited, apparently, only by a flock of goats. They get caught in a Kona – a bad storm. Returning to the beach, they find their canoe gone. How would they get back?
Alone on an island and their canoe gone!
“But how to get back?” Namay repeated in a tone of despair.
“Why, we’ll be all right here till Tom finds that we’re staying too long, and sends out a search party for us! We’ve got nuts, fruit, water. What else do we want?”
A moment ago Tee had faced this prospect with misery; now, when he felt the necessity of heartening his companion, he made the affair look as pleasant as he possibly could.
Nevertheless, they glanced at each other with an emptiness in their eyes that they found hard to hide.
Then Namay shrugged his shoulders. “Well – nothing to do but rest now. No matches, no fire. No fire, no fish!”
He threw himself down, and stretched full-length on the sand. Tee was following his example, when something caught his eye – a something on which he focused his attention a full minute before he realized its significance. At the place where the canoe had been hid, was the shell of a large fish. This caught his attention first on account of its size, and the beauty of its mother-of-pearl lining. His eye, leaving this, had come upon another shell of equal size and beauty about a foot from the first one. A foot further was another shell; and at an equal distance from that, another. These shells all appeared to have been stuck in the sane in the same position and – by hand!
Trembling with excitement, Tee rose to examine the row of shells, and found that they led on and on, back into the forest.
“Namay! Namay!” he shouted.
Namay jumped to his feet, startled at the tone of his friend’s call.
“Come here! Quick!” Tee pointed to the row of shells. “Who did that?”
Namay’s eyes opened wide, following the line of shells from the crevice in the rock until they disappeared in the forest. Then the boys gazed at each other in silent astonishment.
A human! None other could have done it!
They looked closely at the sand on all sides.
“No footmarks!” exclaimed Namay. “If man do this, where footmarks?”
Tee shook his head in bewilderment. ‘I don’t know,” he whispered. “But there’s one thing I’m going to do, and that is, see where these shells lead to!”
With that, he cautiously entered the forest, Namay at his heels. Bending low to evade the clinging growth, they followed the line of shells until it stopped not more than a hundred yards from the beach, beside a long lava rock which reached as high on Tee’s shoulder. From where they stood they could see nothing of significance about this rock, but as they approached, and cautiously peeped to the other side, they found that it was hollow. Knowing not what to expect, Tee glanced inside, then gave vent to a loud whoop of joy.
“Namay! Namay! The canoe! Your canoe, Namay! Right and tight, and spick and span! Hurray!”
Namay could scarcely believe her eyes; and for a moment the boys were so overcome with joy that they could do nothing but gaze at the snug little craft, and hug each other with delight!
“Come! Let’s get it out, and back to the beach, and then – we’ll have supper!”
With new hope, they tugged and hauled at their treasure until it rested once more on the beach. Upon investigation, they found their stores intact; and their appetite more than ready for a good supper.
“Let’s not wait to catch fish, Namay!” suggested Tee. “Let’s fry bacon and bread-fruit.”
“That’s a good gosh idea!” exclaimed Namay, getting his Americanese a little mixed in his excitement. “We fry bacon quick and eat!”
All this time Tee had been turning over in his mind the mystery of how the canoe got from one hiding place to another; but his ravenous hunger prevented his speaking of it until his appetite was somewhat sated.
And then it was Namay who broached the subject.
“Tee Totum!” he began, very solemnly, “there is man on this island.”
“Just what I’ve been thinking!” nodded Tee. “But who is he? And where?”
Namay shook his head.
“There’s one thing certain,” remarked Tee. “He’s saved our canoe for us. And the shells were his way of telling us where he had hidden it.”
Namay nodded. “Him kind man. Him see kona come. Quick take our canoe and hide from kona. Put shells to show where hide.”
“That’s what I think,” said the other. “But why are there no tracks around?”
“He cover tracks, so we not know where he is,” whispered Namay. “He hide much well from us.”
Tee looked mystified. “I wonder how many there are, and – where they are …”
“And WHO they are!” added Namay with a knowing look.
Tee stared at the boy, a sudden overwhelming thought flooding his mind.
“Namay! … You don’t think! … Oh, Namay! Do you suppose its them?”
The supposition that the mysterious somebody, or somebodies who had saved their canoe might be the missing Jack and Kameka was almost too much for Tee to bear. He went around shouting at the top of his voice: “Hullo! Hullo! Kameka! Jack! Where are you? Don’t be afraid! It’s your brother! We want to speak to you! … Hullo there! … Where are you? … Come on out!”
This the boys kept up until after dark, all the time walking around, and peering into likely looking hiding places. Running in their excitement. Yelling, and begging somebody to speak. But no sound came except the echo of their own voices.
And when it was no longer possible to see anything, they returned to the canoe, which they drew into the shelter of the trees, got out their blankets, and composed themselves in the canoe for the night.
“Somebody, him good man, but no want to be found!” concluded Namay.
“Well, if anyone attempts to take our canoe tonight,” Tee remarked, “they’ll have to take us too!”
During breakfast the following morning, Tee and Namay talked over the possibility of finding the person, or persons, who had saved their canoe. After much discussion, they decided that, whoever he was, he had no intention of showing himself; and that if, as they had hoped, it was Kameka and Jack, they would surely have answered to their names.
“Beside,” mused Tee, “What reason would they have for hiding? And another thing, if it were Kameka he would surely be able to make himself some kind of a craft in which to leave the island. There would be no necessity for his remaining here all this time.”
They arrived at length at the decision that the occupant of the island was some kind of a hermit, who wished to be left entirely alone.
“Anyway,” suggested Namay, “I think we go to other island, and look well there. If no find, go tell Mister Tom about this man, and then p’raps he come! Huh?”
“Right!” agreed the other, “let’s go!”
As they were preparing to shove off, however, the sound of chattering mynahs reminded them of the bird fight; and their resolve to follow the flock of mynahs in the hope of finding some sign of habitation, knowing that the mynahs are particularly partial to human society.
The flock of birds now settled on the ground at the edge of the forest, chattering excitedly, and amusing the boys with their funny, buoyant way of running, like fashionable ladies trying to cross a street hurriedly, yet with dignity; then they flew a little way into the forest, in the direction that the boys had not yet explored.
Tee looked after them wistfully.
“Something seems to tell me,” he murmured, “that we ought to follow those birds. I have a queer feeling that they are trying to lead us somewhere. It was the same when they came before, only – the kona came and spoilt everything!”
Namay watched until the birds had settled again at some distance, then said: “We follow if you like! Plenty time for another island. Him not far like Waiki-pali!”
Tee remained thoughtful. Impatient to get to the other island, he still did not want to leave a stone unturned that might lead to the finding of Jack. And he had an uncanny feeling that if he did not follow these birds, he would be missing something of vast importance.
“Let’s follow them, Namay!” he said suddenly. “We have lots of time!”
So, leaving everything, they darted into the gloom of the forest once more; now, however, following the direction taken by the mynahs, the noise of their raucous scolding and chattering leading the boys on, even when they could no longer see them. On and on they went, looking sharply to right and left, in the hope of surprising the mysterious being who had rescued their canoe; or of catching sight of something that would help them in the solution of the puzzling question – who and what he was!
Their steps were beginning to weary, their interest to lag, when a sudden cessation of the bird-noises caused them to stop.
Where were the birds now, and why the silence? The boys peered through the thick foliage, but could see nothing. They proceeded cautiously in the direction in which they were already headed, but dared not go too far, for fear of losing the birds altogether.
They stopped, and Namay sent out a whistle that was a fair imitation of the mynah’s call. This he repeated again and again, and at last was rewarded by a faint enquiring chirp that came from a spot to their left. He called again, and again the faint chirp came from the same direction.
The boys went boldly forward in the direction of the sound, only to stop short in profound astonishment when they found themselves on the edge of a huge, open clearing.
The sight that then met their eyes was like something out of a long-forgotten dream. Something not akin to this world; belonging, perhaps, to an existence on some other planet, aeons of time past, flashes of which occur at long intervals and pass again before one can positively say they were there, or what they were – except that they were something ecstatic and delightful beyond words.
The clearing was in the form of a court, the paving of which was great flat, blue stones, washed clean by many rains, and now sparkling in brilliant sunshine. Around this huge space were slender pillars made of stone and mud, supporting a tessellated roof of vari-colored shells and flat stone. Flowering vines of gorgeous hues clung to the pillars; vividly colored chameleons and lizards flashed on the hot stones of the floor, or on the white seats of carved stone.
Beyond the covered patio rose stately chambers with pillared apertures for windows and doors. Narrow steps led to an upstairs lanai, skirting rooms that were wide open to sun and air, and through which the boys glimpsed vistas of passages leading to the outer world on the other side.
Gaily colored birds and butterflies fluttered joyfully through the stately arches; a bird-song echoed and re-echoed; and the heavy perfume of blossoms was almost suffocatingly sweet.
The boys feasted their eyes on the startlingly unreal beauty of the scene before them, the wonder of it rendering them speechless. They expected momentarily to hear voices, and see graceful figures emerge from the shadowy chambers; but none came.
Without a word, they parted the heavy foliage that separated them from the stone court, and entered step by step. Here, they felt, was where the man lived. Dared they intrude on his privacy?
Still no sound came save that of the birds, and the tinkle-tinkle of a fountain, round which a pair of gorgeous dragon-flies played.
They moved toward the shelter of the patio, and called. Their voices sounded about ten times as loud as they were in reality, sounding and re-sounding hollowly from the high ceiling, echoing and re-echoing interminably and with eerie insistence through the great empty chambers.
“The place is deserted!” whispered Tee.
“Nobody live here!” confirmed Namay.
Thrilled with the exquisite charm of the place, they slowly passed from room to room, gazing with awe at the carvings and crude paintings with which the place was decorated. They mounted the outside stone stairs, and found the upper chambers utterly entrancing. They were wide and flat, opening on the opposite side to a lanai which overlooked a great garden that had once, it was easily seen, been exquisite, but was now overgrown through years of neglect. It stretched away off in charming disorder, mingling at last with the jungle.
Looking from the top chambers on the opposite side of the court, they found that beyond the garden on that side were the remains of a grass house village. Rows on rows of snug, strongly-built cottages that had obviously been empty for years. Not a sign of habitation was there of any kind; and the boys decided that the place in which they now stood must at one time have been the Palace of the King of Mahina, the grass houses being those of his followers.
Glancing at the sky, Namay reminded Tee Totum that the day was wearing on, and that if they wanted to reach Lani-Lani that day, they must needs hurry.
Sighing, and loath to leave a place of such unutterable loveliness, they turned away with many backward glances, promising themselves to return some day when time was not so pressing.
“Well,” remarked Tee, “the mynahs did not help us in our quest, but they certainly had something worth-while to show us, hadn’t they?”
“Me glad we followed them,” said Namay. “Some day p’raps come back and stay long time, huh?”
“Sure! We could have a grand time there!”
Shortly afterward they shoved out to sea again. The distance was not far to the smaller island, and Tee amused himself by dreaming of the deserted palace, and catching fish for their next meal.
This meal they ate in mid-afternoon, when they landed on a rough coral shore, above which the land lay dry and, compared with the other islands, barren. The sun was broiling hot, and they sought what shelter they could while they ate. Huge crabs scuttled all around them; ugly monsters with speckled backs that, when inactive, became one with the rocks and sand around them.
The boys decided to take a dip before exploring the island farther; and Namay dived head first from a point of rock jutting out into the sea. Tee followed after, and was soon enjoying the caressing coolness of the water, meeting the surf, riding it, or diving under. Though he expected never to become as clever in the water as Namay, Tee had made great strides in the art of swimming, and thoroughly enjoyed the water.
Becoming tired, he now began to think of returning to the point, when he felt himself grabbed by the back of the neck, turned completely around, and forcibly propelled toward the rock. It was Namay, speechless, panting and fear-stricken.
“Hurry!” the boy gasped at last. “Get on land!”
Tee, needing no further warning, put all his power into his strokes, reached the point, and clambered to safety at the expense of his skin which, when he threw himself to the beach exhausted, was cut and bleeding from the rough coral.
Namay threw himself, panting, beside him, at the same time pointing soundlessly to the water. Tee followed the direction of his finger and, in spite of his fatigue, sprang to his feet in sheer horror.
Pounding and lashing the water below was an enormous, snake-like creature about twenty feet long, as far as they could judge, and as thick around as a pony’s body. The head was shaped like the point of a spear, with tiny baleful eyes set close together. Toward the back of the head were two largish holes, through which it appeared to breathe; opening and shutting them, and bulging out the sides of its head, till it looked for all the world like a giant cobra. Its skin was of a greenish-brown color; and, seemingly furious at losing its prey, it lashed, curved, and darted around in the water for a long time, churning it to a white froth.
Tee felt his flesh creep with horror, and his hair-roots tingle with fear. Namay still lay on his back with closed eyes, utterly fatigued.
“Are you all right, Namay?” asked Tee tremblingly.
The other nodded and silence fell between them again. Bye-and-bye Namay’s breathing became easier, and he opened his eyes. Tee smiled weakly at his friend, himself feeling the strength ooze out at his fingertips with the horror of what they had just escaped.
“Him old bull conger!” grinned Namay, regaining his strength and courage. “Me dive far down. Big devil eel come out of hole and chase. Ugh!”
“Great Scott! If that’s an eel – I’m a bed bug!” ejaculated the other, mentally resolving to reserve his bathing until they got away from Lani-Lani.
Completely unnerved, the boys dragged themselves to the shade, and lay relaxed and still, drifting off at last into a semi-doze.
Then the reaction set in, and they sprang up refreshed and rested, and ready to resume their survey of the island. Their limbs were still bleeding and sore, and Namay looked around for kukui nuts with which to dress them, but there was no sign of a kukui tree anywhere. Nor was there even a coconut, the juice of which is considered almost as good as the kukui for the cure of coral poisoning.
The island, from what they could see, was unpromising. It was flat and narrow, and apart from seagulls and pelicans and the enormous crabs and crawling things, seemed deserted and somewhat desolate. What growth there was, was poor and stunted; and, so far as ee could judge, there was nothing of an edible nature.
Namay pointed to the rough surface. “Him old volcano, I think. Much lava!”
Securing their canoe, they started to walk as briskly as possible, considering the extreme heat and the soreness of their limbs, to the top of the slight rise.
The distance was greater than they had anticipated, and they were forced to stop several times to rest. The place seemed actually crawling with spiders, centipedes and crabs; and Tee began to wish that he had brought a pair of strong shoes with him.
At long last, however, they reached the highest point of Lani-Lani, and gazed around them with curiosity. The island was smaller, even, than they had expected to find it; and with the exception of one corner toward the southeast, they could see every part of it from where they stood.
“I propose that we go right back to Mahina for the night,” suggested Tee, “and start for Waiki-pali early tomorrow. No human could possible live on this island. We can see almost every bit of it, and there is no sign of a living thing – except crawlers and birds.”
“Perhaps there,” suggested Namay, pointing to the corner of land that was hidden from them, “It down hill. Not take long to get there. Half time it took to come up!”
“Well, all right,” agreed Tee, doubtfully, “but let’s hurry! I’d hate to have to sleep in this place!”
With that they started to run. It was a gentle slope, and easy going. As they neared the piece of land they were making for, however, a strange noise assailed their ears, a noise that caused them to stop suddenly in their tracks, eyes and mouths open in frightened wonder. Again it came – something between the sound of a shriek and a roar, and the boys found themselves unconsciously clenching their teeth and their fists.
What kind of a monster was this they were coming to?
The strange feature of the whole thing was, that they could see nothing in the direction from which the sound came, to produce such a noise. There were no outstanding rocks or thick bush, and there was obviously no hiding place for a creature the size one would be led to expect from such a roar.
Of course, there was the place for which they were making, the covered-in corner which they had been unable to see from the hill-top, but the sound did not come from that direction; and there was no place for a cave – unless it were directly underground.
The sound returned again and again, and the boys puzzled and loath to return without accomplishing what they had set out to do, crept gradually closer and closer, then leaped back in sudden terror, as the sound rose from almost beneath their feet. They were only just in time, for a second later something sprang out of what appeared to be solid earth – something silvery white, writhing and rearing its slender body toward the sky.
it happened with such suddenness, and was gone with such suddenness, that when the boys threw themselves to the ground with trembling relief, their faces and lips were white, their teeth chattering.
Namay turned a sickly smile toward his companion.
“Old man sea come up there! That’s all!” he said staunchly.
That was all! Just the sea belching and roaring underground like a hungry monster, and spewing itself through, wherever it found an outlet.
“Gee!” breathed Tee at last. “It’s just as well it warned us before we got any nearer. We might have dropped right down that hole, and …”
“And never come back,” finished Namay, with awe.
“This place seems like a death trap to me,” said Tee.
“Come!” exclaimed the other. “We go back to Mahina quick!”
“But – we’re nearly there now,” protested Tee, pointing to the beach below. “No use going back without a look, now that we’ve come so far!”
Once more the sea came belching out of the face of the rock; and the boys, more accustomed to the noise and the sight, crept cautiously nearer and a little nearer, to see what it looked like below.
Throwing themselves to their stomachs, and clinging fast to the rough lava surface, they peered down. It was like looking down a monster chimney, at the bottom of which lay the ocean, restless and moaning.
“Quick! Get back! She get ready to come again!”
They sprang back just in time. Heralded by an unearthly howl, a pillar of water shot far into the air, receded, and disappeared into the earth with a sucking motion that the boys distinctly felt from where they lay, warning them that it would mean death to venture any nearer.
“We go to the point there,” decided Namay. “Then back quick!”
This they did. The point turned out to be an overhanging piece of land that had apparently been worn away beneath by centuries of beating waves, leaving a huge cavern of sand and coral beneath. The only living creatures in sight were the crabs, which fairly swarmed there, and some heavily gorged pelicans. Hundreds of smaller sea birds yelled and screeched with restless melancholy.
Satisfied that no human being lived on the island; that they had done the best they could, and could do no more, the boys then commenced the return journey. Keeping as much to the open ground as possible, and watching every step they took, they reached the farther beach in safety, and did not allow themselves an instant’s leisure before shoving their trusty canoe out into the waves again.
Only then did they breathe a sigh of relief at having left what was to both of them a place of desolation and horror.
“Too bad, going to be dark before we get to Mahina,” remarked Namay presently. “We won’t find kukui for cuts. No can find in dark.”
“Aw, they’re only scratches,” replied Tee. “They bleed a lot and they burn a bit, but that doesn’t matter!”
Namay said no more, but his eyes held an anxious look, and he lost no time in returning. They rowed now with every bit of strength left in their bodies, having in mind the monster they had escaped from in the afternoon, and soon they found themselves in deeper, clearer waters, with a fair sky and the wind in their favor.