Us and the Bottle Man/Chapter 1

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IT began with Jerry's finishing off all the olives that were left, "like a pig would do," as Greg said. His finishing the olives left us the bottle, of course, and there is only one natural thing to do with an empty olive-bottle when you're on a water picnic. That is, to write a message as though you were a shipwrecked mariner, and seal it up in the bottle and chuck it as far out as ever you can.

We'd all gone over to Wecanicut on the ferry,—Mother and Aunt Ailsa and Jerry and Greg and I,—and we were picnicking beside the big fallen-over slab that looks just like the entrance to a pirate cave. We had a fire, of course, and a lot of things to eat, including the olives, which were a fancy addition bought by Aunt Ailsa as we were running for the ferry.

When we asked her if she had any paper, she tore a perfectly nice leaf out of her sketch-book, and gave me her 3 B drawing-pencil to write with. It was very soft, and the paper was the roughish kind that comes in sketch-books, so that the writing was smeary and looked quite as if ship-wrecked mariners had written it with charred twigs out of the fire. We'd done lots of messages when we were on other water picnics, but we'd never heard from any of them, although one reason for that was that we never put our address on them. We decided we would this time, because Jerry had just been reading about a fisherman in Newfoundland picking up a message that somebody had chucked from a yacht in the Gulf of Mexico months and months before.

I wrote the date at the top, near the raggedy place where the leaf was torn out of Aunt Ailsa's sketch-book, and then I put, "We be Three Poore Mariners," like the song in "Pan-Pipes."

Jerry and Greg kept telling me things to write, till the page was quite full and went something like this:

"We be Three Poore Mariners, cast away upon the lone and desolate shore of Wecanicut, an island in the Atlantic Ocean, lat. and long. unknown. Our position is very perilous, as we have exhausted all our supplies, including large stores of olives, and are now forced to exist on beach-peas, barnacles, and—and—"

"Eiligugs' eggs," said Greg, dreamily.

Jerry pounced on him and said they only grew on the Irish coast, but I said:

"All right! Beach-peas, barnacles, and eiligugs' eggs, of which only a small supply is to be had on this bleak and dismal coast. Our ship, the good ferry-boat Wecanicut, left us marooned, and there is no hope of our being picked up for the next two hours. Any person finding this message, please come to our assistance by dropping us a line," (I must honestly say that this was Jerry's, and much better than usual) "as the surf is too heavy for boats to land on this end of the island. Signed:—"

"Don’t sign it 'Christine'," Jerry said. "Put 'Chris,' if we're to be real mariners."

So I put "Chris Holford, æt. 13," which I thought might look more dignified and scholarly than "aged," and Jerry wrote "Gerald M. Holford," and put "æt. 11" after it, but I'm sure he did n't know what it meant until I did it. Then we stuck the paper at Greg, and he stared at it ever so long and finally said:

"Ate eleven! He ate lots more than that; I saw him."

Jerry pounced again,—I was laughing too hard to,—and said:

"It's not olives, silly; it's an abbreviated French way of saying how old we are."

Then I had to pounce on him, and tell him it was Latin, as he might know by the diphthong. By that time Greg had written "Gregory Holford, Ate 8," across the bottom, very large, and Jerry said he might as well have put 8 8 and had done with it. We folded the paper up in the tinfoil that the chocolate came in and jammed it into the bottle and pounded the cork in tight with a stone. Greg was all for chucking it immediately, but Jerry said it would have a better chance if we dropped it right into the current from the ferry going home. So we cocked the bottle up on a rock and went back to the pirate-cave-entrance place to finish a game of smugglers.

Wecanicut is a nice place to smuggle and do other dark deeds in, and I don't believe we'll ever be too old to think it's fun. This time we cut the rest of the tin-foil into roundish pieces with Jerry's jackknife, and stowed them into a cranny in the cave. They shone rather faintly and looked exactly like double moidores, except that those are gold, I think. We also borrowed Aunt Ailsa's hatpin with the Persian coin on the end. By running the pin down into the sand all the way, you can make it look just like a goldpiece lying on the floor of the cave. She is a very obliging aunt and does n't mind our doing this sort of thing,—in fact, she plays lots of the games, too, and she can groan more hollowly than any of us, when groans are needed.

This time we did n't ask her to, because she was reading a book by H. G. Wells to Mother, and anyway all our proceedings were supposed to be going on in the most Stealthy and Silent Secrecy. The moidores and the Persian coin were all that was left of an enormous lot of things which the villainous band had buried,—golden chains, and uncut jewels, and pots of louis d' ors, and church chalices (Jerry says chasubles, but I think not). Greg and Jerry had dragged all these things up from the edge of the water in big empty armfuls, and we stamped the sand down over them. It really looked exactly as if the tinfoil moidores were a handful that was left over. Greg was just giving the final stamp, when Jerry crooked his hand over his ear and said:

"Hist, men! What was that?"

They were having artillery practice down at the Fort, and just then a terrific volley went sputtering off.

"'Tis a broadside from the English vessel!" Jerry said. "We are pursued!"

We crept out from the cave and made off up the shore as fast as possible. Jerry went ahead and jumped up on a rock to reconnoiter. He did look quite piratical, with my black sailor tie bound tight over his head and two buttons of his shirt undone. Greg had his own necktie wrapped around his head, but several locks of hair had escaped from under it. He always manages to have something not quite right about his costumes. He has very nice hair—curly, and quite amberish colored—but it's not at all like a pirate's. I poked him from behind to make him hurry, for Jerry was pointing at a big schooner that was coming down the harbor. We all lay down flat behind the rock until she had gone slowly around the point. We could see the sun winking on something that might have been a cannon in her waist—that's the place where cannon always are—and of course the captain must have been keeping a sharp lookout landward with his spy-glass.

"Eh, mon," said Jerry, when the schooner had passed, "but yon was a verra close thing!"

That's one of the worst things about Jerry,—the way he mixes up language. We'd been reading "Kidnapped," and I suppose he forgot he was n't Alan.

"Silence, dog!" I said, to remind him of who we were. "Very like she's but hove to in the offing, and for aught you know she's maybe sending ashore the jolly-boat by now."

"Then let's go to the end of the point and have a look," Greg suggested.

He does n't often make speeches, because Jerry is apt to pounce on him and tell him he's "too plain American," but I think it is n't fair, because he has n't read as many books as Jerry and I. So I hurried up and said:

"Bravely spoke, my lad; so we will, my hearty!" And we crawled and clambered along till we came to the end of the point where it's all stones and seaweed and big surf sometimes. The surf was not very high this time,—just waves that went whoosh and then pulled the pebbles back with a nice scrawpy sound. The schooner was half-way down to the Headland, not paying any attention to us.

"Ah ha!" Jerry said, "safe once more from an ignominious death. But, Chris, look at the Sea Monster! What's happened to it?"

The Sea Monster is a bare black rock-island off the end of Wecanicut. We called it that because it looks like one, and it has n't any other name that we know of. We'd always wanted awfully to go out there and explore it, but the only time we ever asked old Captain Moss, who has boats for hire, he said, "Thunderin' bad landin'. Nothin' to see there but a clutter o' gulls' nests," and went on painting the Jolly Nancy, which is his nicest boat.

But the thing that Jerry was pointing out now was very queer indeed. It was just a little too far away to see clearly what had happened, but it seemed as if a piece of rock had fallen away on the side toward us, leaving a jaggedy opening as black as a hat and high enough for a person to stand upright in.

"The entrance to a subaground tunnel!" Greg shouted, leaping up and down in the edge of a wave.

He will say "subaground," and it really is quite as sensible as some words.

"The entrance to a real pirate cave, you mean!" said Jerry. "Glory, Chris, I really should n't wonder if it were. Captain Kidd was up and down the coast here. What if they buried stuff in there and then propped a big chunk of rock up against the hole?"

"I wish we had a telescope," I said, "though I don't suppose we could see into the blackness with it. Mercy, I wish we could get out there! It's more worth exploring than ever."

"Let's tell Mother and Aunt!" said Greg, and started running back down the beach, shouting something all the way.

Mother said, "Nonsense!" and, "Of course it's a natural cave in the rock. You probably only noticed it today."

But she and Aunt Ailsa shut up the H. G. Wells book and came to look. They did think, when they saw it, that it was something new. Aunt Ailsa thought it looked very exciting and mysterious, but she agreed with Mother that it was no sort of place to go to in a boat.

"Just look at the white foam flinging around those rocks," she said; "and there's practically no surf on today."

We had to admit that it was n't a nice-looking place to land on from a rowboat, but we did wish that we were hardy adventuring men, bold of heart and undeterred by grown-ups. We knew, too, that Captain Moss would say, "Pshaw!" if we told him there might be treasure on the Sea Monster, and he certainly would n't risk the Jolly Nancy on those rocks in her nice new green paint.

We were so much excited about the Sea Monster suddenly having a big black hole in it that we almost forgot to take the bottle when we went home. We did forget Aunt Ailsa's hatpin, and Greg had to run back for it, because he can run faster than any of the rest of us, and Captain Lewis held the ferry for him. Everybody leaned out from the rail and peered up the landing, because they thought it must be a fire or the President or something. They all looked awfully disappointed when it was only Greg, with the black necktie still around his head and Aunt's hatpin held very far away from him so that it would n't hurt him if he fell down. He tumbled on board just as the nice brown Portuguese man who works the rattley chain thing at the landings was pushing the collapsible gate shut, and Greg gasped:

"I brought—the moidores—too!"

But Jerry collared him and pulled the necktie off his head. Jerry hates to have his relatives look silly in public, but I thought Greg looked very nice.

We chucked the bottle overboard from the upper deck, just when the Wecanicut was halfway over. The nice Portuguese man shouted up, "Hey! You drop something?" but we told him it was just an old bottle we did n't want, and not to mind. We watched it go bob-bobbing along beside an old barrel-head that was floating by, and we wondered how far it would go, and if it would leak and sink. The tide was exactly right to carry it outside, if all went well.

"Perhaps," said Greg, when we were halfway up Luke Street, going home, and had almost forgotten the bottle, "perhaps it will land on the Sea Monster, and the pirates will find it."

"Glory!" said Jerry, "perhaps it will."