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Chapter XX Mahina's First-Born

GLOOMY and melancholy as ever, since the day of the mutiny Christian had gradually allowed his bitter thoughts so utterly to overcome him that even towards Mahina he showed cruel indifference. For days a word would not escape his lips, save when his wife put some direct question to him concerning his movements or intentions; and both Young and Smith, attached to him as they were, now ceased their evening visits entirely. Sometimes, when the fires were lit after sunset, Mahina—her dark eyes filled with tears—would watch her husband go to the door of their little dwelling, stand there for a minute or two lost in thought, and walk silently away along the edge of the cliffs. Often when she would have accompanied him, he quietly, but yet firmly, pushed her hand aside, and with an impatient exclamation quickened his steps so as to be away from her the sooner. Hour after hour would pass while Mahina, weeping softly to herself, sat outside awaiting her husband's return. Sometimes her solitude would be broken by the gigantic Talalu,

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whose dog-like devotion to Christian led him to leave his own house and join her in her saddened watch.

Early one morning Mahina, accompanied by Alrema and Talalu, set out for a day's ramble in the wild, mountainous interior of the island; Christian, scarcely noting her absence, left the house a few hours later for his solitary haunts on the high cliffs. About sunset he returned, and the moment his figure appeared over the ridge behind which the little house was situated, Mahina ran to meet him with outstretched hands, her face radiant with childish joy. Placing her hand on her husband's arm she told him in excited tones that she and Talalu had found traces of her ancestors in many places on the southern portion of the island.

Flinging down his musket, Christian seated himself on the low, rough seat erected by the side of his dwelling, and for some moments seemed quite oblivious of Mahina's presence. At last, however, in answer to her continued exclamations of delight, he replied bitterly—

“Trouble me not with such things, Mahina. What care I who lived here in the past? The misery of living in the present is enough for me,” and so saying he buried his face in his hands.

The savage energy in his voice made her tremble at first, but the indifferent manner in which he treated the news of her discovery touched her to the quick, and she blazed out in hot anger—

“Thou cruel Kirisiani! What have we who love thee done that thou shouldst cease to care for us?

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What have I, thy wife, done that thou shouldst so answer when I speak to thee? Were I a slave thou couldst not insult me more than thou hast done.”

Christian merely shrugged his shoulders, rose and walked back towards the cliffs, although food had been prepared for him by his disheartened wife.

Brushing away the tears that would still come, Mahina entered the silent house, put out the lamp, and seated herself before the dimly-burning fire, wondering what it was that had so changed her husband's manner towards her and, indeed, to every one else. That he was engaged in working alone on one of the highest spots on the island she knew, for he had taken tools with him from time to time; but where the spot was and what was the nature of his toil she could not even guess. He had sternly forbidden her to follow him, and even Talalu dared not attempt to discover his retreat.

So for many days Talalu and Mahina contented themselves with talking over their discoveries with Tairoa-Maina, who himself a descendant of the now extinct people of Afitā, of course took a keen interest in all that related to his ancestors.

Taking some food with them, the three one day set out to make further explorations. On the eastern side of the island some rocks were discovered among a dense, scrubby thicket, through which they had to cut their way with seamen's cutlasses brought for the purpose; on the faces of these rocks were rude drawings of birds, fishes, turtle, and of the sun, moon and stars, besides what Tairoa-Maina said was

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a chart of the islands in the surrounding ocean, showing the track to be taken by a canoe in voyaging among them. At another spot, not far from the high cathedral-shaped rock on the south-east point, they found in a cave numbers of stone spear and arrow-heads. Many of these were unused implements, and the cave in which they were found had evidently been a storehouse for food as well as an armoury; for in its earthen floor were a number of pits which had once been silos for the storage of breadfruit, yams, and other food. Almost in the centre of the island, Tairoa one day came across the very burial-places of his and Mahina's forefathers. Round this cemetery were a number of rude images of human figures, and huge squared blocks of stone lay about in profusion.

At evening they returned home, full of the important discoveries they had made, and would again have spoken to Christian on the subject, but that his distant manner forbade them.

As the days passed this moroseness so grew upon him that there was little doubt his mind had become diseased, and about a week after Mahina's discoveries in the mountains he began to absent himself from her for two or three days together.

Unknown even to his tender and devoted wife, he had furnished a roomy cave situated in a mountain recess on the opposite side of the island. It was his intention, he afterwards told Mahina, to hide in this cavern should a ship of war by any chance arrive. He had stocked it with provisions and water, and arms and ammunition, so that he might defend himself to the

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last in case of discovery, for he swore that he would never be taken alive.

The completion of his hiding-place seemed to please him somewhat, and he now at times was more sociable with the other white men when by chance he passed their dwellings or met any of them in his lonely walks; and sometimes, to their great joy, he would join Talalu and the other natives in a fishing excursion. Then, as she saw him ascending the cliffs towards their home, Mahina's face would brighten, and she and her girl friends would eagerly welcome him, and instantly prepare to cook the fish he brought.

For some little time matters went on without change in Christian's home till towards the close of the year an event occurred which temporarily roused him from his lethargy. This was the birth of his first child—a boy.

To Mahina's great happiness, her husband consented that the customs of her race should be observed, and at her request he went away to his cave to remain there till the child was born.

In the meantime, under the direction of Quintal's wife, the oldest Tahitian woman present, the others prepared in the centre of the great room a sort of bower of leaves and fine matting. Upon its floor was placed a heap of heated stones, which were constantly replaced by others as they cooled. Upon the stones were thrown great bunches of such sweet-smelling herbs and flowers as the island afforded, and these were from time to time sprinkled with water, so that the house was kept filled with the perfume of the herbs.

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In this bower Mahina remained till the birth of her infant; and then Christian was waited upon by the other women and asked what amua (gifts) he had ready for the child.

Having been previously instructed by Quintal's wife, he replied—

“This is all that I, Kirisiani of Peretane, have for mine and Mahina's infant, for it is all that this land of Afitā yields,” and he placed in their hands small quantities of breadfruit, taro, and such other fruits as grew on Pitcairn. This was all that was expected of him, and the women went away pleased that he had allowed them to follow their native customs so far. In Tahiti it was the practice for a woman to live some weeks with her new-born infant in the sacred grounds of the maraes or temples of Oro and Tane, in order that the favour of the gods might be assured for the child's future. But under the influence of their white husbands the women of Pitcairn had abandoned much of their religious ceremonies, and so this one was not observed by Mahina, on the plea that, although they had found a marae on the island, there was nothing to show that it had been built by worshippers of Oro and Tane, but really because she knew that Christian disliked her clinging to Tahitian customs.

After Christian had presented his gifts, he was followed by all the others, each person bringing an amua either of food, live stock, clothing or matting. These were deposited at the mother's feet, and the ceremonies were concluded.

To Mahina's delight Christian remained constantly

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with her for some weeks after this event; his manner to her and the infant was gentle and kind, and she now began to hope that her husband's former affection for her had not entirely died away. Poor girl, she was soon undeceived.

One evening she and her friends were at one end of the room silently toying with the infant; Young, Smith, and Christian were sitting smoking on the bench outside. The evening was wonderfully clear and still and, but for the ceaseless throbbing of the surf upon the cliffs below, no sound disturbed the silence.

Presently she heard Young's voice addressing her husband, and (for she now spoke English fairly well and understood it still better) listened to hear what they were saying.

“What do you intend to call the boy?” asked Young. “Will you name him after yourself?”

“No,” answered Christian, with intense contempt; “do you think that I will let the little savage perpetuate his father's name and shame? She can call the brat by any name she pleases, except mine.”

Both Young and Smith were silent, and the latter looked troubled. Attached as he was to Christian, he felt that Mahina's steady devotion had deserved better of her husband.

“You are a strange man, Christian,” said Young, presently; and calling Alrema he took her by the hand and led her away, giving Christian only a curt “good-night.” He was soon followed by Terere and her husband; Christian remained alone outside, lost

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in thought, and heard nothing of a soft sobbing within.

Midnight was long past when he rose and went inside. He thought Mahina was asleep, but just as he laid his head upon the pillow he felt her hand upon his forehead.

“Kirisiani, I heard thee speak to-night. Not all did I understand; only this—that thou dost despise thy child, and wilt not give him thy name.”

“Call it by some Tahitian name, Mahina; 'tis not an English child.”

“True,” she answered brokenly; “but yet 'tis thy child, and his eyes are thy eyes; and when I look into his face I see thy eyes looking into mine, as they did when thy heart was warm with love for me, its mother. And for this do I desire to call it by a name of thy tongue and by no other.”

“Very well,” he answered, after a moment's thought, “have your own way—stay, I have a name for it. It was born upon a Thursday in October. Call it Thursday October, for”—and his voice grew hard and sneering—“ 'tis the way they name negro children in the West Indies. It is only fitting that this little savage should have some such name.”

And Mahina, not understanding the full meaning of his words, called her first-born by the name given it by her husband.