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Chapter XXII A Loyal Friend

MAHINA went alone to the burial of her friend, and the other women, when they saw her, knew that her sorrow was not so much for the dead girl as for the dead love of Christian.

Returning from her husband's cave, she met Edward Young, who spoke so kindly that her overwrought feelings brought a flood of tears, and Young, with a strange look, had drawn her to him and bidden her be of good courage. He would always be her friend, he said, and it grieved him to see her sad. And Mahina, drying her tears, pressed his hand gratefully, and in her innocent fashion placed her cheek against his for a moment; for was he not her husband's friend and brother, and therefore hers. And Edward Young, as she walked away, watched her with a smile on his lips, and muttered to himself—

“The man is a fool. She is a glorious creature, and I—well I don't suppose he cares.”

On the second morning, long ere the sun had dried

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the glittering diamonds of dew trembling on every leaf and blade of grass, Williams came across the greensward towards his wife's grave and addressed the mourning women.

“Come now,” he said roughly. “Faito's had enough of this foolery, and so have I. Put her in the ground, and make an end of it.”

Then Talalu and his countrymen stepped quietly out from beneath the shade of a great tamanu tree which stood near. They had brought their final offerings to the dead, and as they placed these at the foot of the grave, all the rest of the white men but Christian appeared upon the scene.

At the harsh command of Williams, the women huddled timidly together, looking fearfully at one another; and Talalu, leaving his countrymen, softly besought the man to allow them to continue their funeral customs, so that the spirit of Faito might rest in peace. Mahina, too, joined in his pleadings.

To the brown-skinned people Williams had ever been a cruel taskmaster for whom they worked without murmuring for the sake of his wife, whom they loved; and now that she was dead he seemed to care nothing, and would not even permit them to “comfort her spirit.”

The remaining white men looked on in curious silence, while Talalu and Mahina begged Williams not to interrupt them. Williams had, however, acquired a certain influence over his countrymen, and they were not disposed to interfere.

Again the harsh voice of the man bade the

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mourners cease. “Let this folly end,” he said angrily in Tahitian; “begone, and get back to work.”

The words stung Talalu to the quick, and with flashing eyes and clenched hands he faced the white man.

“Thou dog without a heart!” he cried fiercely, “may thy mother's skin be made into a water-bottle! Not content with our service and thy wife's devotion, thou would'st harrow the soul of the dead with thy harsh and cruel voice. Shame on thee for a pitiless man! Go home and leave us with the body and the spirit of our kinswoman. She is nothing to thee now. Thou canst not harm her body, but her spirit is tormented by thy very presence here.”

With a furious gesture Williams advanced towards him, cursing him for an impudent slave, in the coarse language he always used towards the Tahitians.

But quick as lightning Mahina intercepted him.

“Stop, thou low-born sailor,” she said, “and leave us, as Talalu hath desired thee, or it will go ill with thee! I swear by Oro and Tane and the bones of my father to stab thee to the heart if thou dost but even raise thy hand to Talalu.”

Callous as the white men were, they drew back and muttered to Williams to leave her and her fellow-mourners alone; and Williams himself blanched before the slight figure of Christian's wife, and with a savage threat of vengeance against Talalu, turned away, followed by the rest of the mutineers except Young. He, walking apart from them, seated himself on the

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trunk of a fallen tree near by, called Alrema, and told her to hasten to his house and bring his fowling-piece, as he intended to shoot some sea-birds.

As soon as her graceful figure disappeared among groves of breadfruit between the grassy sward and the houses of the white men, Young walked over to where Mahina sat, apart from the others.

“Dear friend of my heart,” he said, taking her hand, “thou knowest that I am thy friend, dost thou not?”

“Truly,” said Mahina, “always my friend—my friend and my brother, and the friend and brother of my husband.”

A disappointed look swept over Young's face, and he dropped her hand moodily. “Nay, not so now. It is always in my heart that he whom I once loved as a brother hath acted cruelly to thee. Thou art a woman fair and sweet, and to be for ever loved. And because he hath neglected and turned his heart away from thee and thy love hath my friendship for him grown smaller and smaller day by day.”

“By and by, when the evil moods have left him, he will love me again,” said Mahina, looking straight before her, and as she spoke, the falling tears belied her hopeful words.

For many minutes they sat thus, she weeping softly to herself, and Young watching his opportunity to speak again. Presently he saw Alrema returning with his fowling-piece. He rose and touched Mahina lightly on the shoulder.

“Farewell till to-morrow,” he said in a low voice.

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“Remember that I am always, always thy friend—and that I love thee—he no longer does.”

She looked up with a low, startled cry, and hastily rising from her seat, went over to the other women and took her child from Terere. The tone of Young's words had filled her with a strange feeling of misery and fear.