Chapter XV The Search for a Resting-Place

THE Bounty lay becalmed within a few miles of a long, low-lying atoll densely covered with coconut trees. The wind had fallen light during the night, but though the land was then forty miles distant, the strong current set the ship steadily to the eastward, and now at ten o'clock in the morning those on her decks could see between the palm trees the pale green waters of a placid lagoon shimmering in the bright sunlight. Fifty miles north and south it stretched, and Talalu, who with others of his countrymen was gazing at the strange island from the fore-yard, his dark eyes full of expectancy, called out to Mahina and Alrema, who were on the poop deck, that he could see a great village and many people running to and fro on the beach getting ready their canoes to come out to the ship.

Sitting aft upon the skylight, with two charts spread out before him, was the leader of the mutineers.

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Although but two weeks had passed since the ship left Tahiti, the anxieties of his position had already told upon Christian, and his face was drawn and haggard. Mahina stood behind him, with her shapely hand resting upon his shoulder, and looked with interest at the pencilled line of the ship's course marked upon one of the charts by her husband. Opposite were Young, McCoy and his wife, and two or three others of the mutineers, while their wives sat on the deck and listened eagerly to what their husbands were saying.

Turning to his comrades, Christian pointed to the larger of the two charts.

“This island which we are now closing is called Fakarava, and there is a good entrance into the lagoon. If you think it advisable for us to take the ship in, it can easily be done. But I cannot see that any good will come from our wasting the time. As you know, this is the seventh island we have sighted since we left Tahiti, and every one has proved unsuitable for our purpose.”

“What's the matter with this one?” said Williams, who had just come down from aloft. “It's big enough for us all, isn't it?”

“Quite,” answered Christian coldly, “but, as I have pointed out to you before, while the natives of all these islands were friendly enough, the islands themselves were most unsuitable. They were mere sand banks covered with coconuts, and although some of them were of great extent, the narrow strips of land enclosing the lagoons were barely half a mile broad. Supposing

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that we had stayed on one of them, stripped and sank the ship, and lived ashore, what possible chance would there have been of concealing ourselves if a ship entered the lagoon, or what chance of defending our refuge? None. None at all. Then, the productions of such places are poor; there is literally nothing growing on them but coconuts. But, as some of you thought that in this group we should easily find an island as fertile as Tubuai, I acceded to your wishes, and we have spent ten days among them seeking a suitable spot.”

“I'm sorry that I was one to persuade you, sir,” said Quintal. “We ought to have stood to the south again, as you wanted to, and got among the high islands like Tubuai. As you say, it would be folly for us to leave the ship for any place that we can't live comfortably on.”

“On this chart of Captain Bligh's,” resumed the leader, “you will see that all these islands which we are now sailing among are marked as ‘low coral lagoons.’ That there are others which do not appear on the chart, and which are higher and more fertile, I have no doubt; but I believe from what Mahina and Talalu tell me, that these, which have not yet been discovered by any navigator, lie a long way to the south and east. That there is one such place I am certain. But before we listen to what my wife has to say on the matter, and before I give my own idea as to the best course, let me remind you that to-day expires the time we agreed to spend in cruising among the islands to the north and east of Tahiti.”

“Aye, aye, Mr. Christian,” said Smith, who with his wife had now joined the party around the skylight.

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“Up to the present,” resumed Christian, speaking slowly and coldly, “you have proved loyal to me, even though dissenting from my plans. I, like yourselves, am but a felon dodging the gallows, and it is better that you should bear with me a little longer, till I succeed in finding a safe resting-place for us all. Then it will be every one for himself; I shall have no further claim on your obedience, and you none of any nature on me.”

An anxious look crept into Smith's eyes, but he had no time to say anything.

“Remember,” continued the leader, “by leaving Tahiti with me you have cut yourself off from the last chance you might have had of saving your necks if captured by a King's ship; that being the case, we are all in the same plight, and your interests are also mine.”

“Mr. Christian, you have acted towards us like a man. I don't regret what has happened, and I am going to obey you as captain of this ship till the end; and I am very much mistaken if you won't find every man on board of her of my way of thinking.”

It was Smith who spoke, and when he had finished he looked at the others for approval. Every one of them answered heartily, “Aye, aye, go ahead, Mr. Christian; we'll see it through under you.”

A faint smile of satisfaction for a moment lit up Christian's countenance, but the habitual melancholy, which had now settled upon him, returned the next instant, and he continued his remarks in cold, indifferent tones.

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“Before we left Matavai Bay I had practically made up my mind that this island”—and he placed his hand upon the smaller chart—“was the most suitable place for us to reach. This book”—taking it from Mahina, “was written by Captain Carteret, and this chart was made by him when he discovered the island, thirty years ago. This is what he says,” and opening the book, he read:—

“On the morning of July 2, 1767, a young gentleman named Pitcairn, being on the look-out at the mast head, observed a spot on the horizon, which on approaching it next day appeared to rise like a great pyramid out of the sea. It proved to be an island, one and a half miles in length and four and a half in circumference, its summit attaining a height of 1,008 feet, itself surrounded by a coral reef and covered with trees. The coast was formed for the most part of rocky projections, off which lay numerous fragments of stone, while a small stream of fresh water trickled down at one end of the island. The surf, which broke upon the shore with great violence, rendered landing impossible, but there should be no great difficulty in fine weather in doing so. The place seems to be uninhabited, a great number of sea-birds hovered around, and the waters almost swarm with fish.”

“That's the place for us, lads,” said Quintal, with an inquiring look at the others.

“You will see,” continued Christian, “that in the big chart the island is not shown at all, but in this rough sketch of it, drawn by Captain Carteret, the position is given as lat. 20° 2′ south; long. 133° 21′ west.”

“Why, it's more than four hundred leagues from Tahiti,” began Williams, when Christian checked him by a look.

“It is more than that, as you say, and whether Captain Carteret's position is correct or not, I cannot

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tell; I think not; for it is known that the instruments he had on board the Swallow were very indifferent. But in another reference to the island he says that it was visible at fifteen leagues. I think, therefore, we could scarcely miss it, unless we ran by it in the night.”

“That's true, sir,” cried McCoy and Smith.

“Well, as far as I know, no one but Carteret has ever seen this place, and its isolated position will be a safeguard to us. Furthermore, although my wife and I have talked of the island often enough, I was careful in leaving Tahiti to give neither Heywood nor Stewart a hint of our future movements. Now listen to what my wife has told me, and then decide quickly whether you will agree to our standing to the south-east and looking for this Pitcairn.”

Again the rest of the mutineers answered that they trusted him, and would follow his advice.

“Very well, then. My wife, as Talalu and your own wives will tell you, is not of Tahitian blood. Her ancestors were blown away to sea from an island far away from Tahiti, which they only reached after spending many months among these islands through which we have been cruising for the past ten days. Their home lay, according to them, many weeks' fast sailing to the south-east of Tahiti. Mahina, though she knows but little of the origin of her people, yet knows that the place they came from was called Afitā, and Carteret's description of Pitcairn, as far as I have been able to make her understand it, tallies in the main with the description she has heard her mother give of Afitā.

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Remember that we have with us many Tahitians, and Tairoa-Maina and the other Tubuaians, and it would be well to take them into our confidence and tell them where we are going. We cannot afford to deceive them.”

He ceased speaking; then, as no one demurred to his suggestion, he asked Young to muster all the natives aft. As soon as they had grouped behind the white men, Christian said to his white comrades—

“My wife is, I think, a favourite with all these men. Let her talk to them and tell them that we are about to look for the home of her forefathers, and they will be well content.”

The seamen consented, and Christian explained to Mahina what was wanted of her. She, readily understanding, at once complied; and it was easy to see, by the flush of pleasure upon her cheeks and her bright smile, that the task was a pleasing one.

Placing her hand on Carteret's chart, and giving a swift glance of intelligence and affection at Christian, she spoke.

“See, men of Tahiti and Tubuai, my husband desireth me to tell thee of the home of my people, so that ye may know why it is the ship stayeth so long out upon the sea. It is because that of all the lands we have seen since we sailed we have seen none so fair to look upon as Tahiti and Tubuai; and it is in my husband's heart to find a land that shall be both fair to look at and good to live upon. But naught have we yet seen but such places as this,” and she pointed to the low-lying island on the larboard side; “and so,

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because I have told him of the rich land from whence my fathers came, it is in his mind that we go there and live. And I have heard Manuhuru, my mother, speak of this land, for there was her mother born and there she lived, until there came a time when, with many others, she was blown out to sea and returned no more, for their canoe was swept away by a strong south wind for many, many days till they reached strange islands. Some were killed by the people of these places, but my mother's mother, and four others with her, one day stole a sailing canoe from the people of the island called Marutea and set out again to seek their own home.”

“Here's the place she speaks of,” said Christian, pointing to Marutea on the large chart, “a good eight hundred miles to the north-west of Pitcairn Island.”

Whites and natives crowded round the chart and looked at the spot indicated by Christian.

“But again the winds and the gods were against them, and so they sailed towards the setting sun, and on the tenth day saw the shadow of Orohena stand out against the sea-rim, and at night they landed at Tiarapunote and dwelt there in peace among the people, who were kind to them. But yet were their hearts always towards their own land, which, though it be but a small place, yet is green as Tahiti, and is a land good to live in; and sometimes when the sun sank below the sky-rim and they watched the top of Orohena become wrapped in the white mists of the valleys, they would look at one another and sigh and

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say: ‘Ah, that is like our land of Afitā rising from the sea.’ ”

A cry broke from Tairoa-Maina, the Tubuaian chief: “Afitā! Truly, Kirisiani, thy wife and I are of one blood; for I, too, know of this land which riseth from the sea, and is far away, towards the edge of the world. My father came from Afitā, and there are many others in Tubuai whose fathers came from there, long, long ago, in seven canoes. This did they because Afitā, though so rich, was too small for so many to live upon. And because of the strange blood in my veins it was that the men of Tubuai liked me not, and I desired to come away with thee. Let us, oh Kirisiani, go seek the land of Afitā, which is far towards the rising sun from Tubuai. For it is indeed, as thy wife sayeth, a land good to look upon, and rich in woods, and water and fish, and yams and bread-fruit.”

For some minutes there was an excited buzzing of voices among the natives, and the men eagerly besought Christian to lead them to the home of his wife's people; while Edward Young and the rest of the ship's company seemed equally interested and as anxious to learn more. Presently Talalu, who generally acted as spokesman for his countrymen, stepped out from the others and addressed the leader of the white men. This man, who was the tallest and strongest of all the Tahitians on board, had, like Smith, conceived a great admiration for Fletcher Christian, and had evinced it in many ways since the Bounty left Tahiti; and being a man of chiefly

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rank, his influence over the rest of the natives on board was great.

“Kirisiani,” he said simply, “I, Talalu, the son of Poahanehane, will follow thee wherever thou goest, and work and fight for thee. And as I do, so will my countrymen with thee on the ship do. This we swear by our gods, and by the blood in our veins.”

And then one by one the simple brown people crowded round Christian and touched his hands and feet in token of their fealty to him; and the dull, brooding shadow for a little time left his face as he shook hands with them all in the English fashion, his example being followed by Young and the rest of the white men.

Then Tairoa-Maina pressed forward, and the handsome chief, his black eyes gleaming with excitement at the prospect of seeing his father's island home, knelt at Mahina's feet and touched the deck with his forehead.

“And I too,” he said, “will go with thy husband, Mahina, and be a true man to him; for is he not a man of a good heart? And together shall we search for and find the land of Afitā, thy land and mine. For now, Mahina, when I hear thy voice, do I hear the voice of my father that is dead; and it may be that thou and I are of one blood. And for that alone would my heart be for ever towards Kirisiani, thy husband.”

Christian smiled again. Despite his own morbid nature, he had grown to like the handsome Tubuaian, and the chief's devotion to Mahina pleased him greatly.

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A little behind were the rest of Mahina's country-women, who, not comprehending the discussion, had now surrounded her with soft murmurs of excitement, and presently Christian, noting this, turned to his wife with a laugh—the first for many months.

“This is well, Mahina, that thy countrymen are so with thee and me; but what say all these women to this search for the land of Afitā?”

She turned her lustrous eyes, beaming with affection, on the mutineer. “It is not the part of a woman, unless she be a great ruler, to say aye or nay to her master's will; and surely thou didst not think to ask these women their thoughts on this matter. That would be folly.”

“ 'Tis a good doctrine, Mahina,” answered Christian; “there will be no man-and-wife quarrels to break our peace on Afitā.” Then, pressing her hand, he turned away to attend to the ship.

“Here comes a fleet of canoes,” called out Quintal to Young, and almost at the same moment the glassy surface of the water stirred and rippled to the breeze as it came darkening along from the north-east to fill the Bounty's sails.

“Never mind the canoes,” answered Young, flinging down the mainbraces; “get the head-sheets over; and here, away to the main deck, all you women!—out of the way and give us a pull on the braces!”

So with many a bubbling laugh and merry jest the Tahitian women tripped down and seized the ropes in their soft little hands; and as the ship leaned gently

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over and the froth began to bubble under her bluff old bows, Christian put the helm hard up, wore her round, and set her head to the south-east.

Mahina, standing beside him, gazed intently into her husband's eyes as he looked at the compass; then as he steadied the ship she watched him inquiringly; and he nodded and smiled at her in return.

“Aye, Mahina, that is where we must go to seek for Afitā; may we find it soon.” He gave over the wheel to Williams, walked quietly away, picked up the charts and books, and went below.

But on the main-deck, as the long, palm-clad line of Fakarava, with its white gleam of sandy beach, sank slowly below the horizon, the white seamen and their native wives and the rest of the ship's company sang and laughed and chattered; and as the Bounty slipped over the long ocean rollers she spread on either side white sheets of snowy foam, and surged along before the lusty breath of the ever-freshening breeze.

So began the search for the land of Afitā.