Us and the Bottle Man/Chapter 4

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CHAPTER IV

 

WE all went to Wecanicut next day, which was a glorious one, and when the food had disappeared we three walked up the point and wrote to the Bottle Man from there. We'd decided that the paper with "17 Luke Street" on it was much too grand for "poore mariners" anyway, so we'd just brought brownish paper that comes in a block. We told the Bottle Man how wonderful we thought it was that he had found our message, and how his letter had cheered our lonely watching for a sail. Also, how we had been picked up and were returned now to Wecanicut of our own will, seeking rich treasure. We described the "Sea Monster" very carefully, and wrote about the black cave-entrance-looking place that had happened, where no boat would dare to venture. Jerry's description of it was quite wild. He dictated it to me above the shrieking of a lot of gulls which were flying over us all the time. It went like this:

"The Sea Monster was quite terrific enough looking before, like the slimy black head of something huge coming out of the water. Now it looks as if it had opened a cavernous maw" (I'm sure he nabbed that from some book) "as black as ink, ready to swallow any unfortunate mariner which came near. Below the base of this fearsome hole roars the cruel surf, ready to engulf a boat which would never be seen more if it was once caught in this deadly eddy."

I thought "deadly eddy" sounded like Illiteration, or something you should n't do, in the Rhetoric Books, but Jerry was much excited over his description. He sat on top of a rock, pointing out at the Sea Monster like a prophet. He has quite black hair which blows around wildly, and he looked very strange sitting up there raving about the cavern. The letter was very long by the time we'd put in everything, and we hoped the Bottle Man would like it. Just before we signed it, I said:

"Do you think we'd better tell him I'm really Christine and not Christopher?"

"No," Jerry said; "put Chris, the way you did before. He's writing now as man to man. He might be disgusted if he knew it was just a mere female."

"Oh, thank you," I said; but I did put "Chris," on account of our all being fellow castaways.

When we'd finished the letter we walked a long way down the other shore toward the Fort. The wind was blowing right, and we could hear bits of what the band was playing and now and then peppery sounds from the rifle practice. It's not a very big fort, but it squats on the other side of Wecanicut, watching the bay, and real cannon stick out at loopholes in the wall. The ferry really only goes to Wecanicut on account of the Fort, because there's nothing else there but a few farm houses and some ugly summer cottages near the ferry-slip. The point from which you see the Monster is not near the Fort or the houses at all, and is much the wildest part of Wecanicut. When you're standing on the very end you might think you really were on a deserted island, because you can look straight out to sea.

We cut back cross-country through the bay-bushes and the dry, tickly grass to our usual part of Wecanicut, where the grown-ups were just beginning to collect the baskets and things and to look at their watches. We posted the letter on the way home, and Greg jiggled the flap of the letter-box twice to make sure that it was n't stuck.

 

It was that week that Jerry sprained his ankle jumping off the porch-roof and had to sit in the big wicker chair with his foot on a pillow for days. He hated it, but he did n't make any fuss at all, which was decent of him considering that the weather was the best we'd had all summer. We played chess, which he likes because he can always beat me, and also "Pounce," which pulls your eyes out after a little while and burns holes in your brain. It's that frightful card game where you try to get rid of thirteen cards before any one else, and snatch at aces in the middle, on top of everybody. Jerry is horribly clever at it and shouts "Pounce!" first almost every time. Greg always has at least twelve of his thirteen cards left and explains to you very carefully how he had it all planned very far ahead and would have won if Jerry hadn't said "Pounce" so soon.

Also, Father let Jerry play the 'cello, and he made heavenly hideous sounds which he said were exactly like what the Sea Monster's voice would be if it had one. Just when we were all rather despairing, because Dr. Topham said that Jerry must n't walk for two days more, the very thing happened which we'd been hoping for. Greg came up all the porch steps at once with one bounce, brandishing a square envelope and shouting:

"The Bottle Man!"

It was addressed to all of us, but I turned it over to Jerry to do the honors with, on account of his being a poor invalid and Abused by Fate. He had the envelope open in two shakes, with the complicated knife he always carries, and pulled out any amount of paper. He stared at the top page for a minute, and then said:

"Here, Greg, this is for you. You can be pawing over it while we're reading the proper one."

But I said, "Not so fast," and "Let's hear it all, one at a time."

So I took Greg's and read it aloud, because he takes such an everlasting time over handwriting and this writing was rather queer and hard to read. This is his letter:

 
Respected Comrade Gregory Holford:

I am writing to you separately because you wrote to me separately, and very much I liked your letter. I cannot tell you how much relieved I am to hear that toast has been substituted for barnacles in your diet. In the long run, toast is far better for a mariner, however hardy he may be.

It is indeed a long way from Wecanicut to the Equator,—but are you sure you measured to ME.—Mid Equator? It is very different, you know. The bearded one is pleased with me and has not brought his poison bottles of late, but thank you for not wanting me to die just now. I do not know of any treasure in Bluar Boor, but I refer you to the enclosed letter which tells something of treasure elsewhere. I hope your search on Wecanicut, my dear sir, will be richly rewarded.

Please note that I refer to natives, not savages. There is a vasty difference; more than you perhaps might suppose.

May I inscribe myself your most humble servant,

The Bottle Man.

P. S. I'm so glad your Bones are still where they belong.

 

Greg was counting elaborately on his fingers, and said :

"I believe he answered everything in my letter, but please let me have it, because there are some things I need to work out myself."

"Now for the business," Jerry said. "This must be the whole sad story of his life,—there's pages of it. Coil yourself up comfortably, Chris, and I'll fire away."

So I coiled up beside Greg on the Gloucester hammock, and Jerry began to read.