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Chapter VIII “Hurrah for Tahiti!”

STANDING with folded arms and gloomy face, in which all passion seemed to be dead, the leader of the mutineers watched the launch gradually increase her distance from the Bounty. The last words of Bligh as the boat was cast off still rang in his ears: “I will do you justice if ever I reach England.”

These were ominous words, and they brought vividly before him the horrors of his situation. “If justice is done,” he muttered, “what will become of me? My God! Why did I not put an end to my life before this madness got the better of me?”

The wild cheer of “Hurrah for Tahiti!” from his followers roused him to a sense of his present position. It was evident that to others besides himself a return to Tahiti was one of the inducements for the desperate deed just accomplished. And he was quick to realise, too, that for the safety of them all he must assert himself and take command of the ship. Even had Bligh not heard that defiant cry as the mutineers swung

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round the yards, Tahiti would be the first place thought of by those who would surely come in search of them. How soon would that search begin? That it would begin sooner or later he never doubted. The possibility of Bligh and those with him not being picked up by some ship, or not reaching some place of safety, never occurred to him. And yet every one but himself realised how small indeed was the chance that those in the frail little launch would escape death in one or other of the lingering and dreadful forms to which he had so mercilessly consigned them.

The murmuring of voices roused him from his gloomy reflections, and presently McCoy, Quintal, Smith, and others of the more active of the mutineers gathered round their leader, while the rest of the men, forming a group on the main deck, were talking in excited tones of what ought to be done for the best.

He turned to those near him and spoke, with every trace of excitement absent from his voice and manner.

“Men, remember that our future safety from death at the yard-arm depends upon the discipline of a well-ordered ship being maintained. Now that the thing is done we have to guard ourselves for the future. Therefore, as you all have to rely upon me for the navigation of the ship, and as I am the only officer left, until we have settled upon some safe island, and got rid of her, you will have to obey my orders. Are you agreed to that?”

“Aye, aye, Mr. Christian; you can depend upon us,” they answered.

“Very well, then. I have decided to take the ship

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to Tubuai.note It will not be safe for us to remain at Tahiti; search will be made for the Bounty, and Tahiti will be the first place a ship will visit. You, Smith, McCoy, and Quintal, who were among the first to stand by me in this undertaking, can arrange with me a plan for our mutual safety.

“But we want to go back to Tahiti,” cried several of the others.

“Yes,” answered Christian quietly, “you want to go back because of the women you have left there. Do not fear, you shall see Tahiti again. Now listen, and I will tell you what my plan is. First, let us go to Tubuai and form a settlement there. Then, when that is finished, I propose to return to Tahiti and bring away as many people as choose to come—that is if these women still run in your minds.”

There was a bitter ring in his last words, and Smith, in a low voice, asked him to humour the men more, “for remember, sir,” said he, “you have given them their liberty and you will have to take care how you cross them.”

The caution was needed; most of the men by no means relished the prospect of delay in returning to the delights of Tahiti, and one of them in no uncertain manner expressed his sentiments, adding—“You know Mr. Christian, we have a couple of navigators left, if you can't hit it with us.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Christian quickly.

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“Why, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Heywood are both below.”

“What!” and Fletcher Christian turned fiercely to Quintal. “Why were these two—one a mere child—not sent away in the boat? Are you such villains as not to have told me, if you knew it?”

“It was just an idea of ours,” answered the seaman who had first spoken—Williams, the Guernsey man; “we thought it just as well to have more than one navigator on board in case anything went wrong with you.”

Christian did not reply. He felt that he had no claim to their obedience other than they chose to admit, and that this was but a reasonable precaution on their parts.

“Where are these two now?” he asked.

“Down below; kept prisoners until all the row was over,” answered Williams. “Shall I pass the word for them to be brought upon deck?”

“Yes,” replied Christian; “bring them up.”

Stewart and Heywood—the first-named an acting mate, and the second a mere, ruddy-faced boy on his first voyage to sea—were accordingly brought up, and to the surprise of every one, as they came up the ladder, they were followed by the swarthy-faced Edward Young.

“What does this mean, Mr. Christian?” said Stewart as soon as he reached the poop-deck. “Why have we been kept prisoners? I know that you have taken the ship and turned Captain Bligh adrift with the other officers. Why have we been detained against our wills?”

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“It is not my fault you are here,” answered Christian gloomily. “I thought that you were gone in the boat.”

“However that may be,” replied Stewart excitedly, “because you have turned pirate that is no reason why we should do so. I would rather die than remain with you and be branded as a mutineer.”

“And I too, Mr. Christian,” broke in young Heywood. “I have a family at home, and no act of mine shall bring disgrace on them.”

Christian smiled bitterly at the lad. “These are hard words—but God knows I cannot blame you for them. Yet I hope, my boy, that you will forgive me for the misfortune I have brought upon you; and I promise that at the first port we reach, if it be a spot where it is likely a ship may touch, you can separate from us.”

“That's fair enough,” said a seamen named Thompson. “'Twas I and Williams who kept you below against your wills; and I for one will help you to leave the ship by and by.”

“And what have you to say, Mr. Young?” asked Christian, turning to him; “how do you come to be among us?”

The young man laughed quietly and leant against the skylight as he answered. “I am here of my own free will. I heard what was going on on deck and quietly got out of the way until you had decided matters—and I'm damned glad you have decided 'em this way. Bligh is a good riddance, and while I didn't want to take an active part in the row I wasn't going

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to help him; and so long as you have the command I am ready to serve under you.”

“Well done, sir,” cried several of the men at this speech, which was delivered with the utmost coolness, and evoked audible expressions of disgust and contempt from Stewart and Heywood; and then one of the seamen made some coarse jest about Alrema and Tahiti.

A look of contempt passed over Christian's features as he glanced at his dark, saturnine-faced ally, and for the instant he forgot he was the leader of mutineers, and felt as Stewart and Heywood did towards the young man. Then he remembered the situation, and taking Young by the hand, said in mingled tones of contempt and friendliness: “Thank you, Young. I am glad that I am not the only ‘infernal scoundrel’ (mocking Bligh's voice) on board the Bounty.” Then turning to the others he said—

“Well, men, are you agreed? Shall we set a course for Tubuai? Fortunately for us the south-east trades have not yet set in for good, and we ought to make a quick run there.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” cried several of the leading spirits among them. “We'll abide by you; let it be Tubuai.”

“Then keep her east-south-east,” said Christian to the man at the wheel, and as the ship's head came to the wind a point or two, the yards were braced up and the little barque began to slip through the water with the now freshening breeze.

An hour later, when Tofoa was but a pale blue cone on the horizon, an agreement was arrived at that

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Young, Churchill, Quintal, Smith, and McCoy should, with the new commander, at once settle a definite plan of action for the future; and the rest of the mutineers, coming aft, shook hands with one another and swore they would faithfully adhere to whatever was decided upon.

Then, under the direction of Young, the breadfruit plants were taken out of their racks and passed to two seamen, who, standing on the cabin transoms, with many a jest at this ending of the scientific expedition, pitched them out of the stern ports into the sea.