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Chapter XIX Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water

WITH shouts of joy the Tahitians and Tubuaians, men and women alike, clambered from the bows of the ship to the beach; the white men caught their enthusiasm, and they too, all but Christian, who remained with Mahina, jumped ashore, and for a while everything was forgotten but the one delightful truth that the weary quest for a resting-place was ended at last.

Christian, however, soon recalled them to the need for work. Before abandoning their old home it was necessary to build a new one. So the ship was made as secure as possible where she lay, and while the white men went to work to dismantle her, the brown people, with Christian and Mahina, set about selecting a site for their dwellings.

For the first few days after landing they lived in tents and such rough shelters as could be built with canvas and planks from the ship, and during this time a survey was made of the island. It was then by mutual consent divided into nine parts—one portion

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to each Englishman. As for the islanders, none of the white men, except Christian and Smith, seemed to think of them as having equal shares and rights in the undertaking; even Mahina seemed surprised that her husband should regard them as anything but servants and tillers of the soil. Finding that all the other seamen except Smith were determined against giving their brown associates any land whatever, Christian, after a few words of expostulation, withdrew all further opposition and let matters take their course, and the Tahitians and Tubuaians began to build houses and prepare land for planting.

But just as axes and hoes had been served out to the natives by McCoy and Young, and while the rest of Christian's comrades were present, the Tubuaian chief stepped out from among the natives, and fixing his eyes on the man Williams, who had especially resented the idea that land should be given them, he addressed Christian. He spoke very slowly and clearly, and even those of the mutineers whose knowledge of the Tubuaian language was limited, could grasp the meaning of his words.

“I, Tairoa-Maina, am a chief. In my own land of Tubuai, for me, a warrior and a man of good blood, to labour for others would be shameful and degrading. But I and Talalu, who is my friend, and of as good blood as myself, have no thoughts such as this now; our hearts are eaten up with love for Kirisiani and his wife Mahina, and for they alone do I and Talalu go forth to labour like slaves. Like myself, Kirisiani is a chief in his own land, that I well know.

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And I know, oh men of Peretane, that there are some among you who have evil in your hearts.”

“Cease, cease, my brother,” said Mahina, taking the chief's hand. “Well do my husband and myself know that thou and Talalu are indeed friends to us; but, I pray thee, make no bad blood between him and the other white men.”

“You've always had too much to say,” said Williams, advancing to Tairoa savagely with his hand upon his knife. Christian sprang upon him and gripped him by the wrist.

“Stand back, Williams. Raise your hand to that man and I'll choke you. Do you want to begin our new life by bloodshed? Listen to me, and weigh well my words. I have long seen how you have tried to harass and thwart me in my endeavours for our common good; of that which is passed I will think no more; but, by the living God, do not attempt it again! And do not seek to injure this man Tairoa-Maina, who has been a good friend to us all, and should in common justice have equal rights with ourselves.”

With a look of bitter hatred, Williams sullenly turned away, and calling his wife Faito to follow him, left the others and took no further part in their discussions.

During the following week the Bounty was stripped of everything below and aloft, inside and outside; even her planks were removed from her sides, and the copper, nails, bolts, and such useful articles carefully stored on shore, and nothing of her being left out of

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the water but the frame, she was set on fire. What remained of her charred hull was floated and sunk in the bay, which from that day the white men called Bounty Bay, and the Tubuaians Te Moega te Pahi—the resting-place of the ship.

Although Christian relinquished the command of his fellow adventurers as soon as they had landed, he was still tacitly recognised as their leader, and his advice sought and taken upon many matters. For some days the people lived in tents, and all, brown and white alike, worked at clearing the nine portions of land, and building thereon houses, the roofs of which were skilfully and quickly thatched by the women. For this they used the stiff leaves of the pandanus or screw-palm, which grew on the island in profusion, and yielded, in addition to its strong, useful timber and leaves, quantities of rich yellow fruit.

Mahina, always a favourite with the Tahitians, had now gained very great influence over them all, and Alrema, who was possessed of undaunted courage and iron resolution, was equally well-liked, and was a fitting mate for her husband, who, reckless as he was by nature, felt and yielded to the influence of his young and beautiful wife, whose easy manners and soft ways veiled, as he knew, a capacity for heroic deeds where her love for him was concerned or her jealousy or hatred was aroused. Unknown to Christian she had been, from the very day of their return to Tahiti, a silent force working both in his and her husband's interests to maintain their supremacy over the rest of the white men. Nothing escaped her

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keen observation; danger to Christian, she knew, meant danger to Young, and she was quick to note and take heed of the slightest murmuring of disaffection, and to nullify it by inducing Christian, either through Mahina or Young, to make some concession.

Of Quintal and Williams she was especially distrustful. The former, once an ardent supporter of Christian, had of late begun to associate much with Williams, who was of a dangerous and savage disposition. Faito, his wife, was a tender, delicate girl, scarcely more than fifteen years of age; but at a period when even the roughest and coarsest of men might have been expected to have shown her some tenderness and consideration, she received nothing but curses for her weakness and incapacity to attend fully to his wants.

“Perhaps,” she one day said weepingly to Alrema and Mahina, as the three were plaiting thatch for the roof of a house, “perhaps he will again be the same to me when my child is born and I become strong again. But to-day he cursed me because, being wearied, I lay down for a little while, and he said that he was a fool to take such a weak thing as I to wife.”

Alrema's eye flashed and her white teeth showed through her parted lips. “Aye, I heard the dog—and I heard more; what said he of Malama, the wife of Kawintali (Quintal)?”

Faito covered her face with her hands; in an instant Mahina's arms were round her waist and her head pillowed upon Mahina's bosom.

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“Nay, heed him not, Faito; Malama fears him, and never wilt thou be wronged by her.”

The girl tried to smile through her tears. “It may be so; but to-day he said that 'twas Malama who should have been wife to him, for she is well and strong.”

“Not so strong but that my knife shall eat into her heart if she comes between thy husband and thee,” said Alrema fiercely. “Her husband is but a dull head where women are concerned; but thy husband is as cunning as a rat. And I know that they both are evilly disposed to Kirisiani and to my husband; they say this land of Afitā is too small for so many. By and by they shall have but a very small piece—so small indeed that a child may step across it.”

With these ominous words Alrema went away; and so began to germinate the seeds of discontent and distrust, which later ripened to a deadly feud.

But for some little time matters went on well enough; even those who were secretly resentful of Christian's influence over their brown-skinned associates yet worked willingly enough for the common good, and performed the daily task allotted to them without murmuring.

Within three weeks, nine houses—one for each of the mutineers—were completed, and Christian one day announced that the next joint work would be to provide four similar dwellings, three for the Tahitians and their wives, and one for the three Tubuaians—who, being single men, would live together.

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For some moments no one spoke—then Williams, who was sitting beside Quintal upon the bole of a large toa tree which had been felled for house-building, laid down his pipe, stood up, and confronted Christian.

“You don't expect us to build houses for these natives, do you, Mr. Christian?” he said, and Alrema, who stood near, noted the glance that passed between him and Quintal.

“Why should we not? Are not these people as good as ourselves? Have they not done thrice as much as we have in building our own dwellings?”

He spoke quietly, but there was a dangerous tone in his voice, and Young, Mahina, and Alrema, who knew now his slightest mood, looked with anxiety for what was to follow.

“I, for one, will be damned if I work for savages,” said Quintal, rising and standing beside Williams.

“We didn't come here to work, Mr. Christian,” joined in Mills, the gunner's mate, gloomily; “I think these fellows ought to work for us, and not we for them.”

“You are all pretty much of this opinion?” asked Christian slowly, with an inquiring glance, and in a savagely contemptuous tone of voice.

A quick and angry murmur of assent came from all but Young and Smith, who quietly walked apart from the others and stood beside Christian.

Then Smith, after a whispered word with Alrema and his own wife, Terere, stepped out in front.

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“I, for one, sir, will lend a hand right willingly. Give your orders, Mr. Christian, and I'll obey them.”

This brought no remark from the rest, and Young drawing his comrade aside, said quietly, “My dear Christian, what is the use of sneering at the men in this fashion. It is scarcely likely that British seamen—damned lazy dogs they are, too—could be induced to work side by side with island savages; and your manner of asking them invited their refusal.”

Pushing aside Young's restraining hand, Fletcher Christian turned to the group of seamen, and, with flashing eyes and voice trembling with rage and contempt, said—

“Have your own way; I have done with the lot of you, and am glad to be clear of you. For your own sakes I have, so far, kept control. If I led you into mutiny I stood by you and brought you to a place of safety. I can die or live here—I care nothing which way it is. But understand this: I will be no party to making slaves of men whom I look upon as equal to myself—and superior to such damned soldiers as you. Go to hell, the whole lot of you, in your own way!” Then he walked rapidly away, followed by the trembling Mahina, and the unmoved, undaunted Alrema.

As soon as he had disappeared among the palm-groves, Talalu, who understood enough English to comprehend the nature of the discussion that had taken place, turned to Young, and said in Tahitian—

“Do not quarrel about this matter, Etuati. There are plenty of us to build houses. Our hands are

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strong and our hearts are not made sore because these our friends think we alone should work on Afitā. Come, my countrymen, let us to work. Never must angry words come between us and the white men.”

A cheerful assent was the response; the natives shouldered their axes and, followed by Tairoa and the others, walked off in single file towards a clump of toa trees.

“Why, damn it all,” said Mills, with a coarse laugh, “those fellows have more sense than Christian! They know well enough that we ain't the sort to work for them. Why, it's agin' nature.”

For a few days after this nothing occurred to widen the breach. The Tahitians worked with a will, lightening their labours with many a song and merry jest; for they were by nature an amiable and kindly-hearted people, full to overflowing of the most generous instincts and noble impulses, and their devotion to Christian and his beautiful wife was sufficient reason for them to toil unrepiningly for the rest of the white men; to their simple minds, those who sought to oppress them were of Christian's race and, as such, had a claim upon them. But underneath all their present content there was yet a hidden current of dissatisfaction which only the quick mind of Alrema had fathomed, and she was a woman who meant to make use of it when the time came. So, while the white seamen lay in their houses and ate and drank and were waited upon by their obedient Tahitian wives, the brown men let the white slowly but surely assume

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the rights of masters over them, and uncomplainingly became hewers of wood and drawers of water.

At night when the fires were blazing and the rude lamps brought from the ship were lighted, the islanders would assemble in front of the white men's houses; and with the wives of the mutineers (except Alrema and Mahina) sing old Tahitian songs such as the Bounty's people had heard in the days when their ship floated on the placid waters of Matavai Bay. Sometimes, when the sea was smooth, men and women together would go down to the ledges of the cliffs and fish in the deep waters at their base, returning home laden with many a weighty basket. Tairoa-Maina and his two countrymen had already made a canoe, and the marvellous ingenuity with which it was constructed with such rough tools—for they had but axes and knives and a few chisels—aroused the admiration even of the lazy Englishmen. The houses of the white men, too, were monuments of the untiring patience and skill of the Tahitians. Built of the timber of breadfruit and toa, and thatched beautifully with the russet-coloured leaves of the pandanus palm, oblong in shape, they bore an almost exact resemblance, inside and out, to the dwellings in Tahiti and Tubuai. Their furniture was nearly all of native pattern, and consisted in each house of the owner's share of the spoils from the Bounty, with rough wooden stools and benches made from the wood of the breadfruit, toa or tamanu tree. The floors were first of all laid out with about a foot of smooth, seaworn pebbles, brought by the women in baskets from

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the little beach where the ship was run ashore, and then covered over with coarse mats of coconut leaf. Over this was spread finer matting made from the pandanus leaf, and over this again squares of canvas cut from the Bounty's sails. Upon this a thick layer of still finer mats, brought from Tahiti, was placed, and this formed the beds of the occupants.

The long months spent at sea upon the ship had greatly changed the habits and customs of the Tahitians, until in some things there was but little difference between them and their white associates—or rather masters. But now that they were both once more on land the Englishmen were glad to adopt, in their turn, many of the ways of the natives, and so the two races gradually acquired from each other such new habits and modes of life as were best suited to their altered state.

To their white husbands the Tahitian women were always considerate and dutiful; they ministered to the men's wants so skilfully that the rough sailors found their days slip by in the greatest ease and comfort, and had some sort of selfish affection for their wives. It was contrary to the custom of Tahiti for the women to eat with the men, or even to drink out of the same utensils as their husbands, or partake of food which had been either handled or prepared by the superior sex; and in this respect the laws of custom proved too strong to be broken, even though their husbands good-humouredly urged them to do so, they were quite content to wait upon their lords and masters and eat by themselves afterwards. But

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Christian, Young, and Smith, who regarded their wives as something better than mere chattels or objects of selfish passion, tried hard to combat this custom, and in some degree succeeded; so that Mahina, Alrema, and Terere all abandoned the Tahitian habit of one regular meal on rising, and taking food and drink at infrequent intervals during the remainder of the day, and prepared and ate meals in the English fashion.

Although no longer on more than terms of ordinary civility with the rest of the white men, other than Young and Smith, Christian would come in the evenings sometimes from his house to exchange a few words with them as they sat outside upon the grassy sward before their dwellings listening to the Tahitians as they sang and chanted or played music upon their reed vivos.note When they were tired of singing, the happy monotony of the long nights would be relieved by the brown women, who, like all Polynesians, were born story-tellers, with tales of their early childhood, the old traditions and legends of their island homes, and about the marvellous origin and great deeds of their ancestors. Fabulous and absurd as was much even of their history—for it was so interwoven with their wild mythology that the seamen merely heard it with a good-natured smile of contempt—there was yet enough of truth in it to interest Christian and Young; and their attention pleased the wives of the seamen greatly, and indeed helped to sow the seeds of indifference towards their husbands, who they now

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began to perceive were men in intelligence far below the one-time officers of the Bounty.

But even the rough seamen could not fail to be amused at some of the early Tahitian notions of England. For instance, they had somehow acquired the idea—perhaps from travellers' tales of early voyages—that England was once a large island, the centre of which was made of iron; but continuous wars with other nations had resulted in all the outside soil being shot away with cannon balls till there was nothing left but a solid mass of iron. It was also believed that there were ships in England forty leagues long with masts so high that they pierced beyond the clouds, and that a young man in full health and strength going to the masthead grew grey before he reached the deck again; while on the great round tops of the lower masts were rich gardens of fruit, in which men lived.

Another story told how the captain of an English ship of war, which carried so many cannons that it took one man a year to count them, was incensed at the conduct of the people of a certain island; so that hooking one of the ship's anchors to a mountain, he set sail, tore the island from its foundations, and towed it away to the region of cold, where the people perished. But although these tales were believed by their narrators, they would not accept the white men's stories of stone houses many feet high and of rivers crossed by bridges of stone with no support underneath.

As time wore on, some of the women began to

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adopt the semi-European style of clothing; and this while it did not become them so well as their own native dress, yet pleased their husbands and showed the women's desire to render themselves attractive in the white men's eyes.