The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Eleven: Found!
Synopsis: Tee Totum and his chum, Namay, leave Waiki-pali to search the neighboring islands for Tee’s lost brother Jack. After discovering the presence of a mysterious human on Mahini, who did them a kind service, but refused to show himself, they landed on another island, barren, cruel, and weird, which they hastened to leave, landing on Mahina tired and covered with poisonous coral cuts. Here they are again rescued from an unknown menace by the mysterious person whom they have never seen, and who again disappears, seeming to vanish into thin air before they can thank him. Returning to the scene of horror in the morning, they find their canoe smashed beyond repair, apparently by the monster from which the mysterious man had saved them. Again they search for their unknown friend, and find him. He gives them news of the missing brother, shows them proof that Jack has lived on the island, but cannot say where he is now.
Silently, and in a fever of anticipation, Namay and Tee followed the huge brown man who crashed powerfully through the undergrowth, his great feet beating a track for their guidance. He traveled swiftly and easefully, like one long familiar with the jungle, and when he at length stopped beside a thick curtain of hanging vines, the boys were panting with their efforts to keep up with him. At a touch of his hand the vine-curtain parted, disclosing a passage formed by thick, high hedges. This passage they traversed silently and with awe, until it stopped abruptly at the entrance of a high-roofed cavern which looked as if it had once been a gigantic lava bubble.
The chamber was airy and well-lighted, the walls decorated with warlike trophies, shell wreaths, and gorgeous robes of bird skins. Kalillo stood to one side and bowed again, as a sign for the boys to enter. This they did with curiosity, and not a little trepidation, seating themselves at a sign from their host, on a stone bench. The tall man then disappeared into an inner chamber, and brought forth a small chest of hibiscus wood. Lifting the lid, he laid the chest gravely and tenderly on the ground at the boys’ feet.
Tee, gazing at the contents, became aware of a feeling of overwhelming disappointment and grief, for there, in the sweet-smelling chest lay a pile of baby clothes. Tiny blue and white garments such as he had seen on babies at home. Kalillo bent over and held them up, one by one; a frock, a woolen jacket, wee bootees yellowed with age, but still dainty.
A feeling of unutterable sadness possessed him. His brother had lived here, then, on Mahina! And this was all that was left! Baby clothes.
It is useless to say that he had never considered the possible death of Jack, for the thought had occurred to him often; but with little conviction. The feeling that his brother was living somewhere, unaware of the existence of Tee, or any other relative, had been strong within him; and the disappointment was now relatively deep.
“But – the baby?” he faltered at last. “What became of him?”
Kalillo shook his head. “I not know! I take him over to big island and leave him there!”
“What?” Both boys rose to their feet and shouted in their excitement. “You took him to the big island? Over there?” They pointed toward Waiki-pali.
The man nodded calmly. “I promise man Kameka to take him, and I do.”
“But what became of him afterwards? The baby, I mean!”
Kalillo threw out his hands, and raised his shoulders.
“I not know. I take him there. Mebbe he there now. Mebbe he die with plague.”
The boys looked at each other in growing wonderment. The plague? Could Jack have been one of those who had died during that terrible time? They shook their heads. No. The plague had come before the baby’s time.
Tee found the doubt and bewilderment of the whole thing hard to bear. If this man would only tell him from the beginning what had happened, he might be able to straighten the matter out. There was, after all, nothing to prove that the baby who owned these clothes was his brother. He was probably jumping at conclusions that had not a grain of foundation int hem!
“Please, sir!” He turned to the tall man, with pleading in his eyes. “Won’t you please tell me where you got this baby? What his name was, and – and everything you know about him?”
“Wait!” The man fumbled beneath the tiny clothes, and brought out a yellowed piece of paper. Tee took it eagerly, and scanned the fine writing on it.
‘John Tathom, Junior,’ he read, ‘To be delivered to Thomas Tathom, Island of Waiki-pali.
Signed, John Tathom, Sr., Master of S.S. Mynah.’
Tee’s fingers trembled, so that the paper fell back into the chest; his head drooped, and Namay threw a protecting arm around Tee’s shoulder. He drew the boy close to him.
“Don’t be sorry, Tee! Maybe he on Waiki-pali yet!”
Tee shook his sorrowfully. “There’s no white boy there. You know that!”
“Never mind! Me, I be brother for you! Always! And maybe some day you find Jack after all!”
Tee brushed his hand over his eyes, and smiled bravely at his friend. “Thanks, Namay! Yes, we’ll be brothers. I couldn’t wish for a better one than you! Only …”
They clung close to each other while Kalillo continued his tale of the lost baby.
“Kameka he come to Mahina with little baby. Kameka dying from much scratch on purple coral. Cannot go farther. Some time come to coral reef. Pull himself up with baby. Much scratch. Very bad. I make cure from Kukui, but too far gone. Kameka die. He tell me first, take baby to Waiki-pali. Baby much sick too. I keep until he get strong. Much goat milk I give. Then baby get very strong. Very nice. Laugh all time. Me like very much. But promise to take to island, so must go. One day I take. Keep these for always, me!”
The man handled the baby clothes with tenderness, and Tee immediately saw what a sacrifice Kalillo must have made in giving up the baby.
“But – but what did you do with the baby?”
“Me take to island in canoe. See woman come running down hill to sea. Much frighten. She say peoples chase her because she not cure them of plague long time ago. They much angry with woman. Me take her in canoe. Go fa-ar out!”
Tee and Namay exchanged puzzled glances as the tale unfolded, Namay now showing an even more lively interest than before.
“Yes, yes! Go ahead! What happened then?” urged Tee.
“I tell woman about baby. She say she take baby to island. White baby mebbe bring good to island. Make angry peoples better. When angry peoples all gone, woman go back to island. Hide in cave on side of hill. I leave baby with her. That is all.”
Gazing into each other’s eyes with mixed wonder and incredulity, the boys found it hard to realize the significance of what the man was saying. His words sounded fantastic – utterly unreal – falling softly, monotonously, on their ears like words in a dream.
Tee shook himself, as if from a trance. He rose to his feet, and placed a trembling hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Tell me, Kalillo!” he pleaded in a tone that tried hard to keep itself steady. “Tell me! What was that woman’s name?”
“Her name Momo.”
“Did she have any children of her own?”
“She have no children. She like much my baby John!” He said this with conscious pride. “She say she look well after him. She clever woman with cures!”
“And have you never seen the baby since?”
Tee turned toward Namay, who stood with drooping head staring at the baby clothes. He gripped the boy’s hands in his own, and looked long and steadily into the dark eyes. Namay gazed back unflinchingly.
“Namay! Do you realize what this man is telling us?”
Namay nodded. “Yes, Tee. Me realize. But – do not think too quick! P’raps me not baby after all! P’raps – baby die! Who can tell? Do not think too quick, or Tee Totum be disappointed!”
He was trying to protect the other from anything that might yet develop.
“We go tell Momo all about. Ask her if I baby. Huh?”
“Yes! Yes! We’;ll do that! But – I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, Namay! You are my brother! I feel it now! I think I must have felt it all along. I have liked you so much … Jack! You are my brother, aren’t you?’
Tears blurred their eyes, and they turned away to hide the deep emotion that swayed them.
“Kalillo!” Tee exclaimed, “How am I ever to thank you for all you have done for us? You have saved our lives, saved our property, and – discovered a brother for each of us!”
Kalillo raised his thick eyebrows in questioning wonder. “You? Brother to him?”
Tee nodded. “I think it must be so. He has been brought up as Momo’s son. He’s about my age. His eyes are brown like mine, like my brother Jack’s. He – you can see for yourself that his skin is very little browner than mine is now. If I’d been on the island all my life, as he has, I guess I’d have been just as brown.”
The man looked from one to the other, nodding his head in wondering agreement. “Yes. You look like. Yes, I think he my baby John. Wait! Let me see! Wait!”
For the first time Kalillo was showing excitement, and now he drooped his head into his hands, and appeared to be lost in deep thought.
“Look!” he said at last. “Look, see if Namay have small cut mark on left shoulder at back.”
Tee eagerly examined the other boy’s shoulder, and exultantly proclaimed the presence of a small scar.
“Wait! Wait!” Kalillo lifted his hand. “The scar, he once this way, once that way? Like cross?”
Tee nodded emphatically. “That’s right! It’s in the shape of a cross!”
“I make that!” the man exclaimed proudly. “Now let me see.”
He examined the shoulder with restrained excitement, then threw a muscular arm around Namay, drawing him close. “You my baby John!”
Namay grinned proudly. “How I get that scar?”
“Bad centipede bite. Me I cut quick for poison, and suck out. You quick all right again.”
Leaning against the cool wall of the cavern, Tee trembled from head to foot. There was no longer any doubt, his brother was found. And what a brother! In his most optimistic moments he could not have wished for anyone more perfect. Namay! Splendid Namay, who did that wonderful stunt on the falls. Who swam and dived like a fish. Who climbed and fought better than any boy he knew … Namay, who needed a brother as much as he, Tee, needed one. Who had been a perfect chum to him ever since they had first become acquainted at the dawn of a new day, and – with a fight!
Their arms interlocked, the boys seemed unable to mentally digest this thing that had happened to them. It was too big for their minds to encompass all at once. In a supreme effort to remain calm, they talked of other things. practical things, like returning to Waiki-pali.
“But how get back?” exclaimed Namay, dismayed. “No canoe!”
“I take you back,” Kalillo offered. “Early tomorrow morning we start.”
“Oh, that’s grand!” exclaimed Tee. “Say! won’t we have a surprise for Tom and Peter?”
Then a sobering thought occurred to him. “Say, Namay. What d’you suppose Momo will say to all this? She won’t be so well pleased, eh?”
Namay looked doubtful. “But me no leave Momo! If me your brother, very nice, very good. But me still take care of Momo. Momo good, kind always.”
“Of course! Oh, Namay, I wouldn’t expect you to leave her. But say …” Another thought seemed to strike him. “Say! Why didn’t Momo tell us before we started – all about you?”
Namay pondered the question a moment, then: “I not tell Momo we go to find Jack. I say only that we go to islands. I not tell her ever about lost brother.”
“Ah, that explains it. She had no idea we were looking for him, then.”
“She never tell me where she get me,” Namay explained further. “I always think I Momo’s son.” He shook his head. “I not know other.”
“Well, it shall make no difference to Momo,” Tee assured him. “It’ll only mean that her son has a new brother.”
“Then you Momo’s son also,” laughed Namay.
Suddenly their pent-up feelings burst forth in a peal of laughter and an excess of horseplay. It seemed as if the tremendous dammed-up joy inside them broke loose at once in one great flood of noise, laughter, somersaults, and friendly boxing bouts. They tossed each other to the ground, and rolled in the exuberance of their relief. The long-faced Kalillo, looking on with a quiet smile, seemed like an old horse watching the crazy cavorting of two very young colts.