WE found the woods at the feet of the hills thick and tangly and somewhat hard to get through. On Polynesia’s advice, we kept away from all paths and trails, feeling it best to avoid meeting any Indians for the present.
But she and Chee-Chee were good guides and splendid jungle-hunters; and the two of them set to work at once looking for food for us. In a very short space of time they had found quite a number of different fruits and nuts which made excellent eating, though none of us knew the names of any of them. We discovered a nice clean stream of good water which came down from the mountains; so we were supplied with something to drink as well.
We followed the stream up towards the heights. And presently we came to parts where the woods were thinner and the ground rocky and steep. Here we could get glimpses of wonderful views all over the island, with the blue sea beyond.
While we were admiring one of these the Doctor suddenly said, “Sh!—A Jabizri!—Don’t you hear it?”
We listened and heard, somewhere in the air about us, an extraordinarily musical hum—like a bee, but not just one note. This hum rose and fell, up and down—almost like some one singing.
“No other insect but the Jabizri beetle hums like that,” said the Doctor. “I wonder where he is—quite near, by the sound—flying among the trees probably. Oh, if I only had my butterfly-net! Why didn’t I think to strap that around my waist too. Confound the storm: I may miss the chance of a lifetime now of getting the rarest beetle in the world—Oh look! There he goes!”
A huge beetle, easily three inches long I should say, suddenly flew by our noses. The Doctor got frightfully excited. He took off his hat to use as a net, swooped at the beetle and caught it. He nearly fell down a precipice on to the rocks below in his wild hurry, but that didn’t bother him in the least. He knelt down, chortling, upon the ground with the Jabizri safe under his hat. From his pocket he brought out a glass-topped box, and into this he very skilfully made the beetle walk from under the rim of the hat. Then he rose up, happy as a child, to examine his new treasure through the glass lid.
It certainly was a most beautiful insect. It was pale blue underneath; but its back was glossy black with huge red spots on it.
“There isn’t an entymologist in the whole world who wouldn’t give all he has to be in my shoes to-day,” said the Doctor—“Hulloa! This Jabizri’s got something on his leg—Doesn’t look like mud. I wonder what it is.”
He took the beetle carefully out of the box and held it by its back in his fingers, where it waved its six legs slowly in the air. We all crowded about him peering at it. Rolled around the middle section of its right foreleg was something that looked like a thin dried leaf. It was bound on very neatly with strong spider-web.
It was marvelous to see how John Dolittle with his fat heavy fingers undid that cobweb cord and unrolled the leaf, whole, without tearing it or hurting the precious beetle. The Jabizri he put back into the box. Then he spread the leaf out flat and examined it.
You can imagine our surprise when we found that the inside of the leaf was covered with signs and pictures, drawn so tiny that you almost needed a magnifying-glass to tell what they were. Some of the signs we couldn’t make out at all; but nearly all of the pictures were quite plain, figures of men and mountains mostly. The whole was done in a curious sort of brown ink.
For several moments there was a dead silence while we all stared at the leaf, fascinated and mystified.
“I think this is written in blood,” said the Doctor at last. “It turns that color when it’s dry. Somebody pricked his finger to make these pictures. It’s an old dodge when you’re short of ink—but highly unsanitary—What an extraordinary thing to find tied to a beetle’s leg! I wish I could talk beetle language, and find out where the Jabizri got it from.”
“But what is it?” I asked—“Rows of little pictures and signs. What do you make of it, Doctor?”
“It’s a letter,” he said—“a picture letter. All these little things put together mean a message—But why give a message to a beetle to carry—and to a Jabizri, the rarest beetle in the world?—What an extraordinary thing!”
Then he fell to muttering over the pictures.
“I wonder what it means: men walking up a mountain; men walking into a hole in a mountain; a mountain falling down—it’s a good drawing, that; men pointing to their open mouths; bars—prison-bars, perhaps; men praying; men lying down—they look as though they might be sick; and last of all, just a mountain—a peculiar-shaped mountain.”
All of a sudden the Doctor looked up sharply at me, a wonderful smile of delighted understanding spreading over his face.
“Long Arrow!” he cried, “don’t you see, Stubbins?—Why, of course! Only a naturalist would think of doing a thing like this: giving his letter to a beetle—not to a common beetle, but to the rarest of all, one that other naturalists would try to catch—Well, well! Long Arrow!—A picture-letter from Long Arrow. For pictures are the only writing that he knows.”
“Yes, but who is the letter to?” I asked.
“It’s to me very likely. Miranda had told him, I know, years ago, that some day I meant to come here. But if not for me, then it’s for any one who caught the beetle and read it. It’s a letter to the world.”
“Well, but what does it say? It doesn’t seem to me that it’s much good to you now you’ve got it.”
“Yes, it is,” he said, “because, look, I can read it now. First picture: men walking up a mountain—that’s Long Arrow and his party; men going into a hole in a mountain—they enter a cave looking for medicine-plants or mosses; a mountain falling down—some hanging rocks must have slipped and trapped them, imprisoned them in the cave. And this was the only living creature that could carry a message for them to the outside world—a beetle, who could burrow his way into the open air. Of course it was only a slim chance that the beetle would be ever caught and the letter read. But it was a chance; and when men are in great danger they grab at any straw of hope.... All right. Now look at the next picture: men pointing to their open mouths—they are hungry; men praying—begging any one who finds this letter to come to their assistance; men lying down—they are sick, or starving. This letter, Stubbins, is their last cry for help.”
He sprang to his feet as he ended, snatched out a note-book and put the letter between the leaves. His hands were trembling with haste and agitation.
“Come on!” he cried—“up the mountain—all of you. There’s not a moment to lose. Bumpo, bring the water and nuts with you. Heaven only knows how long they’ve been pining underground. Let’s hope and pray we’re not too late!”
“But where are you going to look?” I asked. “Miranda said the island was a hundred miles long and the mountains seem to run all the way down the centre of it.”
“Didn’t you see the last picture?” he said, grabbing up his hat from the ground and cramming it on his head. “It was an oddly shaped mountain—looked like a hawk’s head. Well, there’s where he is—if he’s still alive. First thing for us to do, is to get up on a high peak and look around the island for a mountain shaped like a hawks’ head—Just to think of it! There’s a chance of my meeting Long Arrow, the son of Golden Arrow, after all!—Come on! Hurry! To delay may mean death to the greatest naturalist ever born!”