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Chapter VII Mutiny

ALTHOUGH it was now daylight the great cabin was still in semi-darkness when Christian, followed by Churchill, by Mills, the gunner's mate, and a seaman named Birkett, burst in upon the sleeping commander.

As a flood of sunlight poured through the widely-opened door Bligh, aroused by the rush of hurrying feet, started up in his bunk to find a musket levelled at his heart, and the livid face of Christian looking savagely into his own.

“What is this?” he said in his quick, imperious way, preparing to spring out of his berth.

“If you utter another word I'll shoot you,” answered Christian, still presenting his piece; then suddenly he grounded it upon the deck with a crash and turned to his followers.

“Drag him out and lash his hands behind his back,” he cried. Again the commander tried to spring from his bed, his cheek white, not with fear but with suppressed rage; and again he threw himself

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back as Christian, whose eyes gleamed with a deadly, awful hatred, thrust the muzzle of the musket almost into his face.

In another moment the men sprang upon Bligh, and with savage fury dragged him out of his bunk, and Mills, the instant his captain's feet touched the deck, seized his white, delicate hands and lashed them behind his back with a piece of native cinnet.

“Drag him up on deck,” and Christian stood aside to let the seamen execute his orders.

The moment the struggling form of Bligh appeared on deck, young Ellison, who had taken the wheel, sprang towards them, tore a bayonet from the hands of a seaman near him, and launched himself upon the captain with an imprecation, but was thrust back by Smith.

“Stand back, boy!” said Christian fiercely; “I alone will deal with him. You, Smith, and you, McCoy, keep guard over him, and if he tries to utter a word show him no mercy—blow his brains out on the spot.”

In grim and ominous silence McCoy and Smith, with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets, stepped out and stationed themselves on either side of the bound man. Christian, hitherto doubtful of the fidelity of his party, noted with a savage satisfaction that McCoy's face was working with passion, and that he at least was prepared to carry out his leader's orders, while Smith's open, ruddy countenance was now set and stern.

Meanwhile Quintal, accompanied by a seaman

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named Williams, who was stripped to the waist and armed with a cutlass, had burst into the cabin of Fryer, the master and senior officer under Bligh, and ordered him on deck.

Fryer sprang up with a loud cry and reached for his pistols, which were on a rack over his head; but Quintal was too quick for him and seized him by the wrist in a vice-like grip.

“Hold your tongue, or, by God! you are a dead man, Mr. Fryer! Keep quiet and no one will hurt you; resist, and I'll run you through,” and Williams leant across him and secured the pistols.

The dangerous look in his eyes as he pointed them at the master's heart told Fryer that resistance meant death, but folding his arms across his chest he stood defiantly facing them both.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Have you taken the ship?”

“Yes, we have. Mr. Christian is our captain now.”

“Where is Captain Bligh? What have you done with him, you villains?”

“Keep a civil tongue in your head, Mr. Fryer; we are desperate men, and yet we don't want to kill you. I'll tell you what we intend doing with the captain,” and he laughed grimly; “we are going to put him in the small cutter and let him try living on three-quarters of a pound of yam a day.”

“The small cutter! Why, her bottom is almost out; she's worm-eaten and full of holes.”

“The boat is a lot too good for him even if she had no bottom at all,” answered Quintal. “Now go on

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deck, Mr. Fryer, and mind this, if you make one attempt at resistance you are a dead man.”

As soon as they reached the deck they saw Christian standing on the poop, giving orders to get out the boat.

“In God's name, Christian, what are you about?” and Fryer, disregarding the menacing gestures of the mutineers, placed his hand on his shipmate's arm. “Are you mad, man? Consider the consequences!”

“Not a word from you, Fryer!” and Christian dashed aside his hand fiercely. “I tell you that I have been in hell for weeks past. This dog, this infernal, malignant scoundrel, has brought all this upon himself. Stand back, I tell you—I am dangerous!”

“Christian, let me implore you.…”

“Silence, I tell you!”

“For God's sake, Christian, let me speak. We have always been friends, and you may trust me. Resist this mad impulse before it is too late. Let the captain go down to his cabin again and leave me to tackle the men.”

With a fearful oath Christian turned upon him and pointed his cutlass at Fryer's heart. “Silence! I tell you for the last time. I don't want to murder you, Fryer, but, by the God above me, I'll run you through if you don't cease!”

Fryer's bronzed cheek paled a moment, but his eye never quailed even when the cutlass point touched his breast. “Will you not at least get out a better boat than the cutter?” he said quietly.

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“No! by heavens, I will not! That boat is good enough for such a ruffian,” then lowering his weapon he turned away and beckoned to Smith and McCoy to leave their prisoner and come to him, and for half a minute he conversed eagerly with them; while Bligh managed to get near enough to the master to speak.

“Mr. Fryer,” he said quickly, yet calmly, “there must be some of the officers and men who will not fail me in the hour of need. For God's sake, Fryer, try to find some of them ere this villain murders us all!”

But low as were his tones Christian heard him, and stepping up to the captain and Fryer, when within a foot or two of Bligh, he seized him by the shoulder and made as if to run him through.

“Advance one step nearer, and by the God above us this cutlass goes through your cowardly, brutal heart! All the officers and men not with me are guarded below; you can do no good now; your authority on this floating hell is gone for ever. Here, two of you men take Mr. Fryer back to his cabin and lock him in.”

By this time the cutter was afloat; but Christian, realising that it would be impossible to crowd all of those who were well-affected to Bligh into her, had also lowered the launch, a six-oared boat measuring twenty-three feet from stem to stern.

Two officers, Hayward and Hallet, and Elphinstone, Heywood, and Stewart (midshipmen), Ledward the surgeon, Cole the boatswain, Purcell the carpenter, and some seamen, meanwhile had been secured either below or on deck. One or two of the youngsters,

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among whom was Peter Heywood, a lad of fifteen, scarcely understanding what they were doing in the confusion and excitement, had been compelled to lend the mutineers a hand in getting out the launch; and Bligh's keen eye happened to fall on this boy as he was helping with the boat-falls.

This was unfortunate for Heywood, who was at once put down by his commander as one of the ring-leaders, and suffered for it later.

Suddenly Christian sprang upon the poop from the main-deck, and again held a consultation with Smith and McCoy. He turned and gazed savagely at Bligh, who met his look with unflinching calmness. For a few moments the two men regarded each other with looks of deadliest hatred, and then Fletcher Christian's voice rang out.

“Pass all but Captain Bligh over the side into the boat.”

Then with oaths, struggles, and entreaties some twenty men were dragged along the deck and passed down into the boat. Bligh, who stood near the gangway, now made an appeal to the leader of the mutineers, who was on the poop watching him.

“If you will stop this even now, Mr. Christian, I will promise nothing more shall come of it,” he called out.

The master's mate, flinging down the cutlass he still held, ran down the poop and faced his enemy; and the crew drew back as he spoke.

“Captain Bligh, listen to me. I could kill you as you stand before me now, but I am no murderer.

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Tyrant and coward, I and those who have suffered with me have done with you for ever.”

A crimson flush dyed the commander's face from brow to chin, and he clenched his hands together tightly at the insulting words.

Then the boat was veered astern, and McCoy, making the painter fast to the stern rail, turned to his leader for further orders.

Going to the stern of the ship, Christian eyed the condition of the boat for a minute in silence, till the boatswain made an attempt to soften his heart.

“Mr. Christian,” he cried, standing up in the boat, “let me plead with you for myself as well as Captain Bligh.”

“No, no, Mr. Cole,” Christian answered. “I have been in hell for the past two weeks and am determined to bear it no longer. You know, Cole, that during the whole voyage I have been treated like a dog.”

“Will you not let the master, who is an old man, remain on board, and take some of the men out of the boat to lighten her?” called Bligh, from where he stood at the gangway.

“No!” was the fierce reply; “Mr. Fryer must go with you—do you think we are fools? But some or the men may come out of the boat.”

A brief discussion among those in the boat ended in two or three seamen asking to be taken on board. The boat was hauled alongside under the counter and they ascended to the deck; and the boatswain, who was a relative of one of them, said to him, “Goodbye

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and God bless you, my boy; but for my wife and children I too would stay with the ship also.”

Again Bligh spoke, and there was now no sharp, imperious ring in his voice.

“Mr. Christian,” he said, “I'll pawn my honour as a King's officer—I'll give you my solemn word, with God as my witness, never to think of this if you will desist from this outrage even now. Consider my wife and family.”

The mutineer laughed mockingly. “No, Captain Bligh. If you had any honour things would not have come to this pass; and if you had any regard for your wife and family you should have thought of them before, and not have behaved like the heartless villain you are.”

Then, by Christian's orders, Bligh's clothes, his commission, private journal, and pocket-book were passed down, his hands were liberated, and he was ordered into the boat, which was hauled amidships to receive him. Christian handed to him over the side a book of nautical tables and his own quadrant, saying as he did so: “That book is sufficient for every purpose, and you know my quadrant to be a good one.”

Again the boat was veered astern. Bligh, standing up, raised his clenched hand and cursed the mutineers bitterly, swearing vengeance against those on the ship who would not help him to retake her. Laughs and jeers from the group on the Bounty's poop was the only notice taken of him. Then for the last time the mutineers heard his voice and they ceased their gibes

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at the dignity of his tones as he spoke to those whom he thought yet faithful to him on board.

“Never mind, my lads; you can't all come with me, but I will do you justice if ever I reach England.”

The boat's painter was then cast off by Quintal, and the crew took to their oars, Bligh giving his commands in a calm and collected manner. The ocean was calm and only a faint breeze rippled the surface of the placid sea.

As the departing commander and his crew dipped their oars into the water they saw Christian leaning on the rail over the stern, regarding them intently. Presently he stood up and gave an order; the yards were swung round, and a cheer came over to them from the ship—“Hurrah for Tahiti!”

And as the crowded boat grows smaller and smaller to the vision of the desperate man who stands gazing at her from the Bounty's stern, so let those in her go out of this story; they have no further part in it. But the memory of that daring boat voyage will live for ever in our country's annals. Who has not read of Bligh's indomitable courage and resolution, his admirable forethought for the eighteen suffering beings who braved the venture with him, from the first day when the over-crowded little craft was cast off from the ship until it sighted Timor, forty-one days after? His successful conduct of that terrible voyage over an all but unknown sea, losing as he did only one of his men, yet encountering the risk of wreck by violent

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storms, of massacre by savage islanders, of the pangs of hunger and the agonies of thirst, well entitled him to the honours that his country paid him. In that act of his life he played his part nobly, and all else that he did ill, when measured against such fortitude in the face of danger and death, may well be forgotten.