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Chapter X Pipiri the Areoi

ON the same hill where nearly six weeks before she had watched the lessening sails of her lover's ship sink below the horizon, Mahina again sat looking seaward. Day after day since the Bounty had sailed she had laid her simple offerings of fruit upon the altar of Oro and prayed for Christian's return to her, and night after night when the rest of the people were singing and dancing upon the broad sward in front of Tinā's house she, sometimes accompanied by Alrema, sat on the hill and the two girls thought or talked of Young and Christian. But to-day her friend was not with her; and only an hour before angry words had passed between her old, fierce-tempered mother and herself about her white lover, and the girl, after a passionate burst of tears, had stolen silently away to the hill to be alone with her thoughts.

Old Manuhuru, like the average civilised mother, had certain views for her daughter, and ever since the Bounty had sailed had sought to induce the girl to forget

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her white lover and accept for her husband Pipiri the Areoinote priest. And of all the men of Tahiti who had sought her love Mahina hated most the tall, handsome young Areoi, for he was steeped to the lips in bloodshed. Only a few years before the Bounty came to Tahiti, Pipiri had with his own hands slain his two children, according to the rites of the horrible fraternity, which demanded that a candidate entering upon his novitiate should publicly kill his children and put his wife aside, unless she too should become an Areoi. Mahina had seen the awful deed, had heard the wail of agony from the mother of the children when their ruthless father had plunged his knife into their bosoms; and had fled the scene with terror in her heart, for Pipiri had long sought her love, and she knew he had only become an Areoi that he might force her to marry him.

The girl, by every device she could contrive, avoided meeting the young priest, and to her great joy, since she had shown her open preference for Christian, Pipiri

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had not molested her further, although she had frequently seen him talking earnestly with her mother. Only once since Christian had sailed had she met him. She was returning with Alrema from her look-out on the hill, when the Areoi sprang upon the girls as they passed along the narrow, palm-shaded path. His face was stained scarlet with the juice of the mati berry, his long black hair hung loosely down over his copper-coloured shoulders, and his gleaming savage eyes struck terror into her heart; but Alrema faced him dauntlessly.

“Ho, Mahina, daughter of Manuhuru, and Alrema the saucy-tongued,” he cried mockingly, “whence come ye? Are ye still waiting for the white men who will never return? Dost think that thy eyes can draw back the great outriggerless canoe?”note

“What is that to thee, Pipiri the slaughterer?” asked Alrema, tearing away her hand from his grasp; “and seek not to frighten us. Think not that because thou hast become an Areoi I fear thee!”

“Nay, I know that thou fearest no one,” replied the priest fiercely; “but 'tis not thee for whom I waited here. Thou art but a chattering fool, whose tongue I may yet cut off at the roots; but it is thee, Mahina, who hast eaten into my heart—so now I ask thee once more, Why dost thou wait for this white lover of thine? He will never return, I tell thee. Heed not the talk of this fool Alrema and those like her—who have listened to their white lover's lies. Fifty and two days have gone since the ship sailed,

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and I tell thee thou wilt never see thy white man again.”

Mahina took courage from Alrema, whose rounded bosom panted with rage at the mocking words of the Areoi, and she sought to soften Pipiri's savage nature.

“Why should I alone be the one woman for whom thou carest, Pipiri? There are many others better than I. So pray thee let me be as I am. Yet it Kirisiani comes not back in three moons from now, then I will be thy wife.”

The Areoi laughed. “Nay, in less time than that. Only just now thy mother swore to me that I might take thee in one moon; for in me, too, is the same blood that flows in thy veins—the blood of the race of Afitā, and for that alone thou shouldst come to me.” Then without further words he stood aside and let the girls pass on to their homes.

That was ten days ago, and Mahina, as she sat with her face leaning upon her hands and gazed seaward, felt the tears well up into her eyes. Her mother had indeed promised her in marriage to the blood-stained Areoi, whom the old woman regarded as a superior man even to the highest chief in the land on account of the blood-tie between them, and because of the bitter, undying hatred he showed to the white men. This she was always ready to stimulate, telling him scornfully that he knew not how to dispose of a rival or he would have enticed Christian from the village and killed him.

Away to the westward the blue, sailless ocean

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sparkled and shimmered in the rays of the sun; and nearer in, though far below where she sat, the long rollers of pale emerald swept in serried lines upon the shelving reef of the little bay, and wavering clouds of misty spume drifted slowly before the wind as the rollers curled over and burst upon the rocky barrier on their passage to the shore.

For nearly an hour Mahina sat thus, hearing no sound save the soft crooning note of some resting pigeon in the silent forest around her, or the faint murmur of voices from a party of men in fishing canoes who had landed on the white beach far below; then, with despair in her heart, she rose to return to the village. And there, with his back against the bole of a great tamanu tree, again stood Pipiri the Areoi, looking at her intently.

“Why dost thou watch me?” she asked, trying to pass him, but he stayed her gently with his hand.

“Because, oh foolish one, I love thee, I love thee; and I hate to see thy cheeks, that were once so round and soft, grow thin and drawn with the folly that is consuming thee. See,” and he pointed with his bronzed and brawny arm to the ocean, “see how evenly the sky touches the water, as the half-shell of a coconut would stand upon my hand. No white sail will break through the sky-rim, and no white man shall come between thee and me.”

“If Oro so wills it. But the time that my mother has given me to wait is not yet gone; why dost thou for ever trouble me?”

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“Because Orotetefanote hath spoken to me from his altar and told me to wait no longer, for thy white lover will never return. And to-morrow shall our marriage feast be.”

He ceased suddenly, for there was borne to them through the silence of the surrounding forest a cry that sent the blood dancing through the veins of the girl before him with a maddening joy—“A ship! a ship!”

She sprang away from him to the verge of the hill and there—not a far distant speck on the horizon, but rounding the northern point—was a ship, standing in before the breeze and furling her sails as she approached the anchorage.

A quick mist filled the girl's dark eyes, and she staggered for a moment upon her feet. Then she turned and looked into the rage-distorted face of the Areoi priest.

“Thou hast lied to me, Pipiri the Areoi.”

In another moment, evading the savage grasp with which he sought to stay her, she was flying down the hillside to the beach.