Read CHAPTER I - THE PECULIAR SIGNALS of The Wonder Island Boys: Treasures of the Island , free online book, by Roger Thompson Finlay, on ReadCentral.com.

“Do you remember, Harry, after discovering the treasure and the skeletons of the pirates in the cave near the Cataract, that we heard the doleful sound of some bird while going down the hill?”

“Yes; that cry was something like it.  Do you recall the name of the bird, George?”

“It was the Alma Perdita.”

“I remember, now; it means the ‘Cry of the Lost Soul.’”

“Yes; but I don’t think that came from a bird.  It is more like an animal of some kind.  Don’t you hear a sound that seems to be answering it?”

“It does seem so; I think John would know what animal it is; but it is too late to speak to him about it to-night, George.”

As Harry ceased speaking, the boys heard a noise, and George arose holding up his hand as a warning.  “I think I see something, so we ought to call John.”

The boys quietly moved forward, and noted two figures moving about a short distance beyond.  The boys crawled over to the place where John was sleeping, and found that the place he occupied, as well as that of Uraso’s vacant.

“That must be John and Uraso over there,” remarked Harry in a whisper.

They were confirmed in this on approaching the moving figures, and saw that both were armed, and also that they were watching another moving figure beyond.

“Is that a bird or an animal?” asked George.

“An animal,” replied John, in an undertone.

“That was my opinion from the first,” remarked George, who turned to Harry with a sort of ‘I told you so,’ expression.

“But it is a two-legged animal,” responded John.

“How long have you been up?” asked Harry.

“More than an hour,” said Uraso.  “Muro is now coming back, and we shall know something more definite.”

“Then that is Muro?” asked George, in surprise.

“Yes; he has been stalking the ones making that noise, and was the one who called our attention to it.”

Muro disappeared, and the peculiar cries were repeated, then, most startlingly, a sound, similar in character, appeared to come from a point very close to where they were now crouching.

John turned to Uraso in astonishment.  The latter did not seem at all perturbed, but after the second cry Uraso imitated the sound, and John smiled.

“Muro has the exact tone now,” said John.

“Yes,” replied Uraso, “and the cry I gave was an answer, which Uraso understands.”

In a few minutes Muro appeared, but he was not smiling.  His face was grave, as he said:  “We have come upon the terrible Konotos.  I feared that when I heard the first cry several hours ago.”

“Have you been near them?” asked John.

“Near enough to know that there are quite a number, and what is more, they are now engaged in their regular feast, and if they have any captives, this is the time that they will be sacrificed,” said Muro.

“Why do you think this is the time for that?” asked Harry.

“Because it was now nearing the dark of the moon, as you call it, and that time is chosen because the Great Spirit, out of anger, is hiding the light.”

The boys now understood that this was a rite practiced by some of the tribes on Wonder Island, during that season of the Moon’s phase.

“Did you talk with them in that strange language?” asked Harry.

“No; but I tried to find out the key to the language they used.”

“Is that their regular language?”

“Oh, no!  That is simply the special language which they use on certain occasions,” answered Muro.

“The savages here, as everywhere, have a sort of code language, or a species of wireless telegraphy, used by them only when in the presence of enemies,” commented John.

“Harry and I thought it might be the Alma Perdita, that we heard at the cave near Cataract.”

“No; but it shows the ingenuity of the savages, when I explain that their most favored method is to assume the cry of some bird or animal, and in so doing make it difficult for the enemy to distinguish the assumed from the real.”

“But on Wonder Island we had several methods of talking to each other,” remarked Uraso.  “For instance, we would perfectly imitate the cries of a number of birds, and also of certain animals, and of the wood insects.  Thus, a nightingale would mean watchfulness; the chirrup of a cricket would be the signal that the enemy was not dangerous, or that there were not many of them; the cry of the Lost Soul bird would indicate that there was great danger, and so on with the birds and animals that make noises.”

“But I have discovered another thing,” remarked Muro.

“And what is that?” said John.

“The natives here are cannibals.”

“That merely confirms my knowledge of the matter,” said John.

The boys looked at John in amazement.  How did John know there were cannibals on the island?

“When did you learn that?” asked Harry.

“Yesterday,” was his reply.

“What did you find that makes you believe that?”

“I discovered a bone which was once part of a human body.”

“But how would that be any indication that the people here are cannibals?”

“When you see a bone that has on it the unmistakable markings of human teeth, it is pretty safe to infer that the animal which scratched the bone was a cannibal.”

From the report of Muro it was evident that there was a large number of people on the island, and, if Muro’s observations were correct, they now had some captives, or, at least, were preparing to celebrate a feast in which human beings were to be the victims.

“That satisfies me of one thing,” said Harry.

“And what is that?” asked John.

“Why, that there must be other tribes on the island,” he answered.

“Why do you infer that?”

“Well, where would they get the victims?”

“From their own people,” answered John.

“What! eat their own people?” asked George.

“That is not at all strange.  Many people are known to sacrifice their own, and among the most degraded, they are known to kill and eat their own.”

“That is the first time I have heard of such a thing.”

“Don’t you remember that the Bible tells about Abraham about to offer up his own son as a sacrifice?”

“Yes; but not to eat him.”

“Of course not; but it is not an uncommon thing for tribes in Africa to sell their own children for this purpose.  One of the greatest sacrificial rites of the ancient Mexicans, was to offer up the most handsome youth each year, as a propitiation to the gods.”

“So they do not always depend on their enemies to furnish the feast?”

“By no means.  Many of the tribes have a superstition that if they eat a brave enemy it will impart to them his spirit of valor, and the fact that they are to have sacrifices here does not mean that there are various tribes on the island; but that is something we shall have to investigate.  It is my opinion that we shall find other tribes, but that, I am inclined to think, depends upon the size of the island.”

The preceding volume, “Adventures Among Strange Islands,” states the conditions under which the two boys, Harry and George, found themselves on a strange island, in the southern Pacific.  Accompanying them were John L. Varney, and about sixty natives from Wonder Island, together with the two Chiefs Uraso and Muro.

Nearly three years previously the boys, George Mayfield and Harry Crandall, who were members of the crew of a school-ship, the Investigator sailed from New York, and while on board, met a professor, who, when the ship was blown up at sea, became their companion in the life boat in which they sought refuge.  Together they finally were stranded upon an unknown island, less than a hundred miles from the island which was the scene of the adventures with which we are now concerned.

On this island they discovered five or six savage tribes, from some of which they rescued seven of their former boy companions.  Here also they met Mr. Varney, who had escaped from the savages.  The Professor succeeded in reconciling all the warring tribes, and the natives were now engaged in agriculture, and in various other pursuits, and the boys had the great pleasure and satisfaction of being able to build their own vessel and return home.  The trip to the Wonderful island, with which this volume deals, was for a double purpose, as will presently be shown.

John, as Mr. Varney was familiarly known to them, was not only a well educated man, but a great adventurer, and had traveled all over the world in pursuit of scientific knowledge.  He was particularly interested in the history of the men who first went to the western world, and scattered civilization to the benighted countries.

Like many men of his character, he did not consider the question of money.  He tried to acquire knowledge and information for the love of the quest, and in order to be of service to his fellow man, so it was purely by accident that he became a member of a crew that sailed for the southern seas at the same time that the boys left New York on their trip.

While his companions undertook the mission solely for the sake of the money which might be acquired, John engaged thinking it might offer the means of laying bare many of the early legends and vague historical accounts with which that region of the South Seas abounds, and he knew that if any records were in existence, they could be preserved only in such secure places as caverns, which the Spanish buccaneers invariably selected as the safest places to conceal their treasures.

While the boys, together with the Professor and John, had found a vast amount of treasure, as stated in the first six volumes containing the history of Wonder Island, they found not a single scrap of historical value, excepting a few traces, which have been referred to, and certain inscriptions which all pointed to the same depositary, somewhere in the South Seas.

The last inscription was found by John, shortly before they left Wonder Island, and which, though its full meaning was wrapt in mystery, pointed, as did the others, to another island than the one on which it was found.  What made the matter still more interesting, was the knowledge that some one, by the name of Walters, either had prepared the inscription, or had some knowledge of what it meant.

This man was not known to any of the party, and what made it the more remarkable was the information, lately obtained, that while Walters, apparently, knew one of the companions who accompanied John on his wrecked vessel, that man did not know Walters, at least not by that name.

These circumstances, together with numerous other incidents, which the boys could not understand, or unravel, made such an impression on them, that they were determined to devote their energies to ferret out the inexplicable things, and the earnestness of John was a great incentive in the undertaking.

Up to this time the boys did not know the real motive in the mind of John.  To them this quest on his part was to find out where the Treasure islands were for the material value that might be obtained.

His long silence about the real design had been purposely concealed by him, as he felt that merely to delve into the hidden recesses of the islands would not be understood by them in its real sense, because as boys they could not appreciate that real knowledge always must be disassociated from the idea of material or commercial gain.

It was with a great deal of anxiety that the boys waited for the morning sun.  They had but a comparatively small force to deal with the situation.  True, they were equipped with fire-arms, and they knew that the Pioneer, their vessel, would return within a week, still, within that time the large number of natives might be able to surround them, and unless they could get some word to the ship, and by that means enable their friends to send reinforcements, they would be starved out.

As soon as the camp was astir there was a consultation.  John had fully matured a plan in his mind, but it was always a pleasure, as it had been with the Professor, to present any complications to the boys, so that they could take a hand in the developments which might follow.

“Harry and I have been considering the matter,” said George.  “We think it would be well to leave this place, and go back to the landing and wait for the Pioneer.  We will then be ready, with reinforcements to meet them with more than an even chance.”

“But,” remarked John; “are you willing to go back, and permit the devils here to destroy the captives they may have, or, to prevent them from sacrificing their own people?”

The boys had not thought of this.  “I know the feast days, during which these events will take place, will occur within the next four days,” added Muro.

“If that is so,” said Harry, “I am willing to do my share in keeping them from it.  What do you suggest?”

“We must try to get into communication with them, and if we fail then I am in favor of taking some stringent measures to divert them from their purpose,” answered John.

“Then you may be assured we are with you to the end,” said George.

“After talking with Uraso and Muro, we have agreed on a plan that may be successful, and it will at any rate, for the time, prevent them from carrying out their festival scheme.”  As John said this Muro appeared, and stated that he had discovered the arrival of at least a hundred natives on the hill beyond the second ravine, and that he saw smoke on the third hill beyond that, and was of the opinion that the village must not be far away.

This intelligence added interest to the situation.  As nearly as could be estimated they were at least fifteen miles from the landing place selected when the Pioneer sailed.

“Unless I am very much mistaken the ridge on which we now are is the backbone of the island, and I also believe that it is narrow and we should be able to find the sea much nearer by going east from this place,” remarked John.

“But if we do that it will be necessary for some one to go to the place selected for the landing of the Pioneer, and tell them of our plans, and what we have learned,” said Harry.

“That is what I have in mind.  But before doing that we must investigate this portion of the island more carefully.  My plan is as follows:  Along this ridge, further to the east, is a sheltered spot, or a place where the rocks form a sort of cove, and which can be easily defended.  If the natives have not reached that quarter it will make an ideal retreat for us, and where we can defend ourselves for an indefinite time.”

“But why should we take up time to find a place like that if you intend to take steps toward meeting the natives?”

“It will be used to fall back upon.”

“Oh, then you intend to take measures against them at once?”

“Not for the first day, at least.  As soon as we are established there we will investigate the region to the east, and if we find the shore line closer on the eastern shore, we can then send a runner with a message to the landing place, giving them the information.”

The boys now understood.  It was evident that it would have been bad policy to retreat in face of the enemy, if such he should prove to be.  Something must be done to divert the natives for the time being.  This would give them time to communicate with their vessel.

“There is one thing that must be remembered.  The savages know of our presence here.  They are now on the alert, and we are being watched with the greatest vigilance.  If they think there is an opportunity for fresh victims it will stimulate them to the greatest exertions.”

“I agree with you in that view,” said Uraso, as John finished speaking.