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Chapter IX The Council in the Cabin

THE council in the now denuded cabin of the Bounty was conducted in a friendly enough manner. In Smith and Young—both of whom were well-liked by the crew—Fletcher Christian had two powerful allies. Young, disgusted with life at sea under such a tyrannical commander as Bligh, yet without the high spirit that had moved Christian to such a desperate deed as mutiny, was willing and indeed eager to lead the life of luxurious ease that they all anticipated in the future; for he fully recognised that he, in joining his fortunes with those of Christian, had for ever dissevered himself from all hope of returning to England; and while he despised all those around him save Christian, he was yet perfectly agreeable to associate with them now on terms of equality.

Smith, in his strong devotion to Christian, seemed to have thrown over the teachings of his youth, and showed by his earnest manner that he was ready to stand or fall by his new leader.

McCoy and Quintal, rough seamen, from long

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habits of obedience and following the lead of Young and Smith, acquiesced in all that was proposed; the only doubtful supporter was Churchill, who wanted the ship to be headed for Tahiti at once. But obstinate as was the latter, he had no part in the plotting that was already going on among some of the crew to compel Christian to abandon the idea of Tubuai and make for Tahiti instead.

The first matter decided was that Christian should be treated in every respect as would be a King's officer commanding the ship, until such time as the mutineers had found a place of refuge on some island where they would be safe from discovery or capture. No one of those who sat in council in the cabin for a moment thought of ever returning to Europe to face the ignominious death that would certainly await them; and Young, in his mocking manner, took care to show the seamen who sat with him at the cabin table that it was better for them all to die of old age on some island than be hanged at the yard-arm in England.

Following this, it was agreed that Young, being well liked by the crew, should be second in command and take charge of one watch; while Mills, the gunner's mate, who was the next in rank as well as the oldest man on board, should take charge of the other half of the ship's company.

Stewart and Heywood were to be regarded as “prisoners at large,” and this decision was at once made known to them; but they both refused the privilege of the freedom of the ship if it involved any assurance on their part of loyalty to the mutineers.

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“Send for them, Mr. Christian,” suggested Smith, “and see if you can't get them to join us. They'll listen to you, I am sure.”

Presently the two lads were brought into the cabin, and both frankly stated to Christian their intention of endeavouring, by some means or other, to reach England and doing all in their power to bring him and those with him to justice when they got there.

A dangerous look came into Edward Young's eyes. Heywood saw it, but although his fresh, boyish face paled a moment, he returned Young's frown with a look of defiance.

“As you please,” said Christian shortly; “but I tell you, foolish boys, you are treading on dangerous ground. Take my advice and keep your intentions to yourselves, else you will repent your folly. There are men on board the ship who have gone too far to——”

“To hesitate at pitching two damned young fools overboard,” broke in Young savagely; but a look from Christian made him cease. And then the council came to an end.

The new commander, however, took no steps to prevent Stewart and Heywood from going among the crew, though he knew they were endeavouring to form a party for recapturing the ship. He was confident that however some of the men might attempt to frustrate his plan of first making Tubuai, none would be mad enough to risk destruction by listening to any talk about the ship being recaptured.

But Quintal, McCoy, and Smith, fortunately for

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the success of the enterprise, did not share their leader's faith, and a few days after they had returned to their old duties as able seamen they found that the daring midshipmen had so far succeeded in alienating some of the crew from Christian that a plot was ripe to retake the vessel.

One night when the ship was some two or three miles to the southward of Savage Island—an isolated but fertile spot about three hundred miles from Tofoa—Quintal stood at the forward weather rail, gazing at the high cliffs of grey coral rock against whose jagged sides the ocean rollers dashed unceasingly and sent showers of spray high up to the dense foliage which grew on the verge of their summits. Presently he was joined by Smith, who whispered—

“Heywood and Stewart, with five others, will try to retake the ship to-morrow evening. Don't talk to me now, but follow me aft by and by; then we can tell Christian. That scoundrel Coleman was the first to join them, and has promised to serve them out arms to-morrow night. All of them, except Coleman, are in the gunner's watch.”

A quarter of an hour later, Christian, with a grim smile, dismissed Smith and Quintal and watched for his chance. About eleven o'clock a furious rain squall swept down from the south-east, and among those who were sent aloft to take in sail by the gunner's mate, who was in charge of the watch, were the five men who had agreed to support Heywood and Stewart. While these were busy aloft and Coleman was asleep—it being his watch below—Smith, McCoy, and

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Quintal and another seaman made a dash for the arm-chest and conveyed it to the cabin.

Arming all those men of whose loyalty he was absolutely assured, Christian waited till the men came down from aloft and the watch was about to be relieved. Then he called the plotters aft and addressed them. A ship's lantern, held by a seaman who stood beside him, threw a broad ray of light upon the anxious faces of the men gathered on the soaking deck; and then for the first time they saw that the men in Young's watch were grouped aft behind Christian and his fellow officer.

Calling upon the five plotters each by name, Christian addressed them—

“I have discovered that you mean to retake the ship. Now weigh my words well: if bloodshed follows it will be your fault. Some of you who are anxious to get back to Tahiti have listened to two foolish boys, little thinking of the madness of such an attempt. The arm-chest is now in my cabin, and at the first attempt on your part to take the command of the ship from me I will shoot every man concerned in it. God knows I do not want to be your leader longer than I can help, and no one among you is less content than I, but,” and here he turned to those immediately around him, “it is necessary for the general safety of us all that I, and I alone, should have charge of the ship; and, by God! while she remains afloat and I alive I will keep command.”

A deep growl of approval came from those of his party who stood near him as he finished; then in

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gentle tones Christian addressed Heywood and Stewart, who had now come on deck. Although he seemed outwardly cool the lads could see that he was labouring under strong emotion and was striving to speak to them calmly and dispassionately. He besought them to make no further effort to retake the ship, but to support him in his authority—such as it was, he said bitterly—till the ship finally reached Tahiti, and assured them that this course was best for all parties. “And you, Heywood,” he said kindly, placing his hand on the lad's shoulder, “answer me this: have you, or you, Stewart, ever known me to tell you a lie?”

“No, Mr. Christian, never,” replied the boy emphatically, looking him directly in the face.

“Well then, my lads, I beg of you both to believe that it would be a bitter sorrow to me to hurt either of you. I have suffered too much myself to wreck your future lives by any needless act of mine; nor will you be in bodily danger unless you drive us to stern measures. And I swear to you that I bear you no ill-will for what has passed … no, my lads, none.”

Loyal as they were to their duty, both Stewart and Heywood saw the force of his argument and believed in his promise to set them free as soon as possible; and assured him they would cause no further trouble. Then the watch was changed and the matter ended.

But from that time the arm-chest was carefully watched by men on whom reliance could be placed, and every night Churchill, who now kept the key,

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made his bed upon the box, and slept with a brace of loaded pistols by his side.

Day after day the Bounty crept slowly along to the eastward, till early one morning the look-out sighted the two misty blue peaks of Tubuai rising from the sea. As the ship drew nearer to the land, the peaks united at the base and showed an island of verdant hills and bright, shining beaches of golden sand encompassed by a wide belt of surf-beaten coral reef.

The wind was light but steady, and Christian succeeded in working the ship through the passage on the north-west side without much trouble, although she was beset by a great number of canoes filled with natives who made unmistakable signs of defiance to the white men.

As soon as the ship was secured, Christian and his men sought to induce the natives to come on board, but only one or two responded to his invitation; and they, by their suspicious and haughty demeanour, showed their distrust and dislike of the white strangers. Not a woman or child was visible in the canoes, and every man was armed with a club and spear. The only dress they wore was a girdle or rather bandage round their loins, and a turban of tappa cloth round their heads of glossy, jet-black and curling hair. They were a far handsomer and more active race than the Tahitians, much lighter in colour, and of a daring and warlike disposition, and their open hostility to the Bounty party was every minute becoming more apparent.

Not anticipating such a reception as this, Christian

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was in a dilemma. To have to force a landing would be a serious matter, and after a brief consultation with some of the men, this idea was abandoned. The ship had been brought there by him against the wishes of the majority, and to have to fight for a footing was, as Williams said, “more than they had stomach for.”

“I will not ask you to fight,” said Christian, “for that would only mean useless slaughter on both sides. These people are, as you can see, brave and determined, and it is a bitter disappointment to me to find them so hostile. But yet I have to consider this—the island, as you see for yourselves, is of amazing fertility and I do not think that we could find a better place to live in. Further, it is not likely to be visited by ships, and would be a safe retreat for us.”

“That's true enough, Mr. Christian,” answered one of the seamen. “Much as I want to get to Tahiti, I only want to do so to get the woman I left there—and there's a lot more like me. I, for one, think that Tubuai is a better place for us than Tahiti.”

“So do I,” said Martin; “and although I want to go to Tahiti for the same reason as most of us, I'm willing to come back here. To my mind this island is far better; but at the same time we don't want our throats cut.”

Satisfied that the crew would be willing to return, Christian then proposed that they should make for Tahiti, embark as many Tahitians as would come with them, return to Tubuai, and either establish friendly relations with the people or force a landing and build a fort.

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To this the men readily assented, for they could easily see that the island was not only very rich and fertile, but also well out of the way of discovery, and with a little trouble could be made capable of resisting the attack of even an European force.

So, with hundreds of natives still paddling about the ship in their red-ochre-painted canoes and uttering loud cries of defiance, the anchor was hove up, the ship warped out to sea again, and with a light breeze filling her canvas, headed due north for Tahiti.

The following morning Christian collected together in the main cabin all the curiosities given to Bligh and his officers by the people of Tahiti, as well as all the clothes and other property left by those who had been sent away with him. Then he mustered the crew aft and addressed them, pointing to the piles of goods on the cabin deck.

“Here, my fellow pirates, is the first batch of plunder—you see I call things by their right names. Draw lots and divide it among yourselves. Everything that is there will be of value to you for the purposes of barter with the natives.”

The sneering tone in which he spoke caused many an angry look, but without another word he turned from them and went on deck.

Four days later, on the 5th of June—thirty-eight days after the mutiny—the peak of Orohena lay right ahead; at dawn the following day the Bounty sailed into Matavai Bay, and as the cries of welcome were heard, for awhile all else was forgotten.