no previous

  ― 1 ―

Chapter I The Heart of a Savage

IT was night at Tahiti, in the Society Islands. The trade-wind had died away, and a bright flood of shimmering moonlight poured down upon the slumbering waters of a little harbour a few miles distant from Matavai Bay, and the white curve or beach that fringed the darkened line of palms shone and glistened like a belt of ivory under the effulgence of its rays. For nearly half a mile the broad sweep of dazzling sand showed no interruption nor break upon its surface save at one spot; there it ran out into a long narrow point, on which, under a small cluster of graceful cocos, growing almost at the water's edge, a canoe was drawn up.

Seated upon the platform of the outrigger, and conversing in low tones, were a man and woman.

The man was an European, dressed in the uniform of a junior naval officer at the end of the last century. He was of medium height, with a dark, gipsy-like

  ― 2 ―
complexion and wavy brown hair, and as he drew the woman's face to him and kissed her, her skin showed not so dark as his.

The woman, or rather girl, was a pure-blooded native, wearing only the island pareu of tappa cloth about her loins and a snow-white teputa or poncho of the same material over her gracefully-rounded shoulders. The white man's right arm was round her waist, she held his left hand in hers, and with her head against his bosom looked up into his face with all the passionate ardour of a woman who loves.

For a few moments the man ceased speaking and looked anxiously over his shoulder at a number of white tents, pitched in a grove of breadfruit trees some few hundred yards away.

As he looked, the moonlight shone upon the musket barrel of a sentry, whose head could just be discerned above the beach as he paced slowly to and fro before the tents.

Bending her head of wavy, glossy black hair, the girl pressed her lips softly upon the white man's hand, and raising her face again, her eyes followed his, and as she noticed his intent look, a curious, alarmed expression came into her own lustrous orbs.

“What is it?” she murmured. “Does the soldier see us?”

The man smiled reassuringly and shook his head; then still clasping the girl's waist within his arm, he gazed earnestly into her beautiful face and sighed and muttered to himself.

“Mahina,” he said hesitatingly in the Tahitian

  ― 3 ―
tongue and speaking very softly, “you are a beautiful woman.”

The girl's lips parted in a tender smile, her eyes glowed with a soft, happy light, and again she took his hand in hers and kissed it passionately.

“My white lover,” she murmured, “would that I could tell thee in thine own tongue how I love thee. But the language of Peretanenote is hard to the lips of us of Tahiti; yet, in a little time, when thou hast learned mine, thou wilt know all the great love that is in my heart for thee, and then thou shalt tell me all that is in thine for me.”

The man drew her slender figure to his bosom again; although he spoke her tongue but indifferently and she knew little of his, the ardent love which shone in her eyes and illumined her whole face, made her meaning plain enough. For a minute or so he remained silent, then again the girl's eyes sought his and her hand trembled as she noted the troubled, anxious look deepening upon his features.

“Kirisiani,” she said, stroking his sun-bronzed cheek, “what is in thy mind to make this cloud come to thine eyes?”

“Mahina,” he answered in English, “the time is near now for us to part”; then seeing that the girl did not quite comprehend, he repeated his words in the native language.

“And wilt thou leave me who loveth thee, to sail away with the white Arii,note thy enemy?”

“How can I help it? Am I not the King's officer?

  ― 4 ―
Did I yield to my love for thee and let the ship sail without me, then in mine own land I should be held up to scorn as a false man, and those of my name would be shamed.”

The girl slowly bent her head and put her hands over her face; then came a sudden, silent gush of tears. For a while she sobbed softly, as only women sob when some bright dream of love and happiness passes away for ever. Then with a quick movement she freed herself from the man's encircling arms, flung herself upon her knees on the sand, raised her tear-dimmed, starlike eyes to his, and spoke.

“Yet thou knowest we love thee; and if thou wilt remain with us my people will take thee to their hearts, and thou shalt become a chief among us. For see, I, Mahina, am of good blood, and there is no other woman in the land that loves thee as I do. And thou shalt have as many slaves as Tinā, our chief, and like him, be carried upon men's shoulders wherever thou goest, so that thy feet shall not touch the ground.”

The man took her hands from his knees and, passing his arms around her, tenderly lifted her up to her seat again. Then with his forehead resting upon his hand he sat and thought.

“No, Mahina. It cannot be as thou desirest; for I am the King's servant, an Arii, and it would be death to me were I to yield to my love for thee and flee from the ship like one of the common sailors. Some day I may return—when I am no longer serving in a King's ship.”

He was on the point of rising and bidding her return

  ― 5 ―
to her home in the native village which lay some distance back from the cluster of tents, when she sprang to her feet and stood before him with one hand pressed to her panting bosom.

Barely eighteen years of age, her tall, slender figure, as she stood in the flood of moonlight, showed all the grace and beauty of perfect womanhood. Unlike the generality of the Polynesian women (who possess in their youth a faultless symmetry of figure rivalled by no other race in the world, yet too often have somewhat flattened faces), her features were absolutely perfect in their oval regularity and beauty, and through the olive skin of her cheek there now glowed a dusky red, and her lover saw that her frame was shaking with over-mastering passion as she strove to speak. Only once before had Fletcher Christian seen her look like this—when some of her girlish companions had coupled his name with that of Nuia, the sister of Tinā, the chief.

“Mahina,” said her lover, stepping forward and essaying to take her hand.

She drew quickly back, and made an almost threatening gesture.

Christian paused irresolutely, for the look of scorn and fury in the girl's eyes daunted and shamed him. Then he spoke.

“Mahina, this is folly. Why art thou so angered with me?”

“Thou false white man!” she answered, and the strange, hoarse break in her young voice startled him—its melody and sweetness were changed into the jarring accents of rage and wounded pride; “touch

  ― 6 ―
me no more,” and here a quick, sobbing note sounded in her throat. “Am I nothing to thee? Is all my beauty so soon dead to thee, and wilt thou put such shame upon me?”

“Nay, Mahina, but listen——”

“Why should I listen to thee, now that thou art about to cast me off? Dost thou think that I am a Tahitian woman, to be played with till thou hast tired of me; and then be given, with a laugh, to some other white man on the ship—as I have seen done? Did I not tell thee once that though I was born in this land of Tahiti my mother's mother came from the far distant island of Afitā—the island that springs up like a steep rock from the blue depths of the unknown sea? And by her was my mother taught to despise these dog-eaters of Tahiti; and as my mother was taught, so she taught me.”

For the hundredth time since he had fallen under the spell of the girl's beauty and succumbed to the witchery of her ways and to the sound of her melting voice, her white lover again felt that her presence would overcome his resolution to part with her and return to his hateful duty; and for the hundredth time he struggled to resist a fascination he knew was fatal. So, not daring to look into the danger-depths of her now tear-dimmed eyes, he spoke again with seeming calm, but yet his face paled and flushed and paled again at the sound of his own cold words. He loved her, he said, but how could he escape from the ship? The punishment would be death.

“Death,” she said; “nay, not so, my lover, but life

  ― 7 ―
for us both. Listen to me, and I will show thee that we shall never part again. And heed not the hot words of anger that leapt from my heart”; and then with all the eloquence of her passionate nature she unfolded to him a plan of escape, and as she spoke her eyes and hands and lips came to the aid of her soft, low voice.

“Mahina,” and he turned from her abruptly and walked to and fro upon the sand, with working face and clenched hands, “let this end, girl; I cannot do as you wish.”

“Ah,” and again the tender voice became harsh and the red spark came into the dark eyes, “then there is some painted woman in thine own land whom thou lovest—a woman such as is she whom we saw on the ship—and it is for her thou hast cast me off.”

“Why, you pretty fool,” said the man in English, with a laugh, as he took her hand, “are you like your mother—offended at a silly jest? Did not you cry with the other girls, ‘Huaheine no Peretane maitai,’note and when you were told that it was but a figure of wax did you not laugh with them?”

“Ay,” replied the girl, and her voice had a sullen tone, “but how know I that this image, which thou sayest was made by one of the sailors of the ship, is not the image of one thou lovest in Peretane? And my mother hath told me that this image of the woman with the hair like the sun and eyes like the ocean blue is carried on the ship as a spell to keep the white men's hearts hard to us women of Tahiti.”

  ― 8 ―

“Nay,” said the man, in Tahitian, “I tell thee no lies, Mahina; 'twas but a silly jest of the sailors. The thing was the waxen head and shoulders of a woman, and the sailors, to make the people laugh, made unto it a body and wrapped it in garments and made pretence that it was an Englishwoman. Thy countrymen knew it was but a jest—but thy mother, who, lacking keen vision, for she is old, was foolish enough to believe in it; so when she placed presents of mats and food at its feet, all who saw laughed at her; and because she was angered at this hath she told thee this silly tale.”

“Then, if the thing lives not, how is it that the man who showed it to our people carries it with him?”

“Thou silly little one! know that in my country there be men who are workers and dressers of men's and women's hair, and such images as that which thou hast seen are placed outside their dwellings so that men may know their trade. And this man on the ship dresses and curls and whitens the false heads of hair that some of us wear by placing them on the head of the image—for then is his task easy.”

“Ah,” she said in a whisper, “forgive me; but tell me that thou wilt not leave me.”

“No, no, Mahina, tempt me not again; it cannot be. Good-night. Go to thy mother's house—and try to forget me.” Then, not daring to look into her agonised face, he hurriedly embraced her and walked quickly towards the tents.

“Go,” said the girl, as she sank down with her black mantle of hair falling over her shoulders, “go,

  ― 9 ―
then, and see Mahina no more. It is because I am not white that thou leavest me here with hunger in my heart for thee.” And as she heard the sound of his footsteps over the loose pebbles some distance away, followed by the sentry's challenge, she lay prone upon the sand and wet it with a flood of anguished tears.

no previous