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Chapter XVIII Bounty Bay

WITHIN twenty minutes of leaving the ship Christian and his boat's crew were close under the cliffs of the island; and rowing carefully, just outside the curl of the breaking surf, they sought the landing-place described by the Tubuaian chief as being on the south and east side. As the strong arms of the natives urged the boat along, Christian looked at the grim, precipitous cliffs which rose sheer from the thundering surf at their base, and a strange sense of loneliness almost akin to fear came over him. The outlines of the solitary island were savage, and the terror of its forbidding exterior was increased by the tumult of the waves which hurled themselves with astounding fury against its grey coral walls. Sometimes, as a huge, swelling sea swept in like a moving wall towards them, the natives would give a warning cry; and Christian, bringing the boat's head round to meet it, would watch the mighty volume of water fling itself, with a hoarse roar, high upwards against the solid face of stone, to fall back in drenching sheets of

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foam upon the swirling cauldron which leapt and eddied and boiled beneath. Here and there deep and narrow chasms split up the vertical mass of rock, and into these gaps, many of them terminating in caverns black as night, the sea rushed with such irresistible force that misty spray and spume shot upward over the very summits of the cliffs, like the belching smoke from the crater of a volcano in the throes of a violent convulsion. Right to the verge there drooped down in places thick clusters of a light-green coloured creeper, whose pendants, turned yellow by the salty spray, swayed wildly to and fro like banners waved by mysterious, invisible hands, so fierce were the air blasts caused by the terrific inrush of water.

Scarcely speaking above a whisper, the natives rowed quickly along, their dark eyes shining with pleasure when they saw the feathery tufts of coco-palms showing above the dense thicket scrub, where the cliffs were less precipitous and revealed a slight glimpse of the interior of the island. And now, as the boat drew near the south-western point where a high, cathedral-like rock stood, blackly-grim, amid the white seethe of boiling surge, there came a strange wild clamour, a savage symphony of crashing, thundering surf and hoarse guttural croaks and shrill pipings, and from every crag and rock and jagged pinnacle along the shore, there soared aloft a vast swarm of sea-birds, which whirled and circled above the boat with outstretched wing and frightened eye. Then, as if satisfied with their quick scrutiny of the strange intruders, they rose higher in air and vanished behind the towering cliffs.

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Keeping well clear of three or four sharp-peaked rocks which raised their black heads from the water as the receding billows uncovered them to view, the boat at last rounded the point and Christian headed her along the shore to the north-west; and almost at the same moment Tairoa-Maina drew in his oar, and sprang to his feet with an exultant shout.

“See, Kirisiani! the beach! the beach! And see, too, the leaping torrent above. 'Tis indeed the land of Afitā.”

Christian, himself too excited to speak, now gave his attention to effecting a landing; the crew took in their oars and, picking up canoe paddles in their place, waited for the word to run the boat ashore during a lull in the surf, which even on the sheltered beach broke heavily. For some five or ten minutes they lay rising and falling upon the rollers; then, seeing his opportunity, Christian gave the order, the natives plunged their paddles into the water with swift, strong strokes, and sent the boat spinning shoreward on the crest of a curling wave. Twenty feet from the beach they leapt out, in another minute the boat had touched the shingle, and the crew had hauled it out of danger.

Directly in front of them was a winding path, long unused, which led to a plateau beyond; Christian and Tairoa led the way up the ascent, and they quickly gained the edge. And then even Christian could not repress a cry of excited admiration at the marvellous beauty of the scene. Back from the white beach, which like a strip of ivory lay below amid the emerald

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green of a belt of encircling coco-palms, there stood revealed an amphitheatre of the loveliest verdure and most enchanting appearance, surrounded on three sides by wild and densely wooded mountains. Westward, about a mile away across the plateau, a lofty peak raised itself high above its less conspicuous fellows, whose bold and romantic-looking semicircle, diversified by noble, jutting crags and tapering peaks, encompassed the softer beauties of the smiling valley. Scarcely more than a mile in width from east to west, the extraordinary fertility and variety of verdure was such that Christian and his companions gazed upon their surroundings with feelings little short of rapture. Overhead, the lofty plumes of the stately palms swayed and rustled to the flower-scented breath of the trade-wind as it stirred the rich green foliage of the breadfruit trees. Along the seaward-facing edge of the plateau clusters of pandanus palms, with their ripe, red fruit, waved their feathery banners to the breeze. Beyond the crowns of the murmuring palms, and the wide outspreading branches of the tamanu and breadfruit and pandanus trees, lay the blue, heaving bosom of the Pacific.

For some little time they remained spellbound, drinking in the beauty of land and sea and sky around them, and listening to the music of the mountain torrent as it would downward through its rocky bed to the bright valley, to mingle its pure waters with the ocean. Then with a sigh of satisfaction the leader bade his men follow him back to the boat. A mile off he could see the Bounty, which had just gone

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about, and was now standing in again, her white canvas shining in the dazzling sunlight.

Before launching the boat, the crew threw into her a hundred or more of young drinking coconuts, which they had hastily gathered from the nearest trees, for the use of the women. Then, all talking together of the richness and fertility of the island, they picked up their canoe paddles and quickly sent the boat in safety through the breaking surf.

Christian was soon on deck and described the appearance and capabilities of the island to the foremost of his comrades, who were all well pleased at his account, and left their future course entirely in his hands. He was not long, therefore, in coming to a decision.

The wind was now from the south-east and blew gently but steadily into the little bay, so it was agreed that the ship should work round the south-west point and be headed directly for the beach. The deep water which ran close to the foot of the mountains all round the island, except where a narrow strip of beach separated land and sea, would enable them to get everything out of the Bounty likely in the future to be useful; and the destruction of the ship, Christian knew, would prevent his companions from yielding to any sudden impulse and risking his and their safety by an attempt to leave the long-sought place of refuge.

In order that Young and Brown (the gardener) might take a look at their future home, Christian sent the boat away a second time; for the wind being light it would be some time before he could effect the purpose

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he had in view. Two hours later, when she was within a quarter of a mile of the southern point of the little bay, the boat was seen coming out again, and soon gained the ship. Young was greatly pleased with the beauty of the place, and reported that he had searched for a suitable anchorage and had found a spot where the ship would be safe enough during the continuance of such calm weather, for the sea on that side of the island was but moderate.

But at the word “anchorage” Christian shook his head, and Young therefore pursued the subject no further. Brown, who had a considerable knowledge of botany, said that he had found many plants upon the island which were edible and would prove of value; and his and Young's remarks confirmed Christian and the others in their opinion that the island would, when the ship's stores were exhausted, yield them ample provisions in all respects save that of animal food. The varied fruits and vegetables also would be enough to support them till the ship's stock of goats, pigs, and fowls had so increased that they might begin to kill them with safety.

The boat being passed astern, Christian hove the ship to, called all hands together and told them his intentions.

“I have decided to run the ship ashore, and then burn her,” he said.

Without hesitation every one agreed to abide by his decision. Then the sails of the Bounty were filled for the last time, and in a few minutes she was heading straight for the beach.

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Every heart on board beat more quickly as the old ship neared the end of her life.

Christian, his eyes fixed upon a small rock which marked the centre of the little bay, stood at the helm. The act of severing this last link with the past almost unnerved him, and every moment of the ship's progress towards the breakers seemed like an hour. Whole years of time in the life that was now for ever gone raced swiftly in the current of his thoughts. But this, the end for him of all his past, so lingered in its fulfilment, that time after time he was on the point of throwing the ship aback, saving her from destruction before it was too late and giving him, felon as he was, a last chance to end his days, even though a fugitive, in a foreign land; or he could return to England, and then—a disgraceful death. With the means of escape cut off perpetual exile faced him, and disseverance from all which was once dear.

A slight touch upon his arm, and Mahina stood looking into his face and reading his mind as clearly as if he had spoken aloud. With the gentle pressure of her hand, the look of unutterable love from the dark, tender eyes, his indecision was gone.

“Mahina,” he said, “thou art right; I was wavering. To all men this moment comes sometimes in their lives, and they often decide wrongly; but between thee and what lieth beyond I should indeed be a fool to hesitate.

Her lips quivered; bending her head over the wheel she kissed his hand, and her warm tears of silent sympathy nerved him anew.

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A few seconds more, and with a voice as firm as though he were about to anchor the ship, Christian gave the word to let go the halliards and sheets, and, while the hissing of the boiling surf breaking across the entrance of the bay drowned the rattle of blocks and the flapping of canvas, the Bounty ploughed through the seas towards the shore. Wave after wave swept roaring past her on either side, their snowy summits running level with the tops of her bulwarks; with slowness tormenting to her expectant crew, she gradually lost her way, struck the beach gently, ground a few feet of furrow in the glistening pebbles and sand, and then settled into her last resting-place with scarcely a quiver of her timbers.