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Chapter XXV The Revolt of Talalu

FOR three days nothing happened. The people of Pitcairn, white and brown, went about their daily occupations as usual, but there was a suppressed excitement and an ominous calmness that augured ill for the future, and the rift between the two parties—those who sided with Christian, and those who supported Williams—widened slowly but surely.

Ever since the day of the quarrel the islanders had been sulky and suspicious in their manner to all the white men except Christian and Smith. Young, although openly declared as Christian's taio or friend, they regarded with distrust, even though Alrema, doubtful as she was beginning to feel of her husband's loyalty to herself, strove to persuade them of his goodwill towards them.

To them Christian had always been a fair and just man, refusing to recognise any distinction between them and his white comrades. They would have fought for and followed him to the death had occasion arisen for the sacrifice.

Tairoa-Maina and the other Tubuaians, being unmarried,

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lived by themselves in a separate house, and thither went Talalu and his gentle wife for refuge for the time being from the savage Williams. Fearing to remain much longer near his former master, Talalu determined to build himself a new house among the mountains in a secluded little valley about half a mile lower down than Christian's cave. Every morning, axe on shoulder, accompanied by Nahi, he set out to work.

“I will live like Kirisiani,” he said, when his countrymen asked him why he desired to leave them; “even as he lives so will I. These white men are bad masters; no longer will I work for them like a slave.”

On the fourth morning after the quarrel, Williams rose from his bunk and began to make preparations for his breakfast. The fertility of the island was such that this gave him little labour. In his house were supplies of breadfruit, yams, and bananas, and overhead on the cross-beams hung strings of dried fish. In addition to these he had his share of the stores from the Bounty, such as wine, biscuit, rice, and salted pork, but his extravagance had left him but little of the meat, and he uttered a savage curse when on lifting the little two-gallon wine keg he found it empty. To procure more meant a walk to the storehouse, some distance away; and before he could get the wine he would have to ask Quintal, who, by common consent, was in charge of all the stores that remained. He had always been accustomed to drink wine with his food, and the loss of it annoyed him.

“If that cursed Talalu had been here,” he thought,

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“this wouldn't have happened. What right had the fellow to clear out, and take his wife with him too? And the breadfruit and yams were cold. If Nahi were here they would have been heated for him. Curse them both, the damned copper-hided savages.”

As he ate he worked himself into a state of savage fury. What right had that fellow to have such a handsome woman as Nahi for his wife? If he were out of the way she wouldn't make such a fuss; would no doubt be proud to become the wife of a white man. Damn that fine-talking fellow, Christian! Only for him the thing would have been done. Brown and Mills would have stood by if Talalu made a noise about his wife being taken. By God! he'd stand it no longer. He'd bring the pair of them back to work at once.

His eye caught his musket, hanging on brackets over his bunk. He took it down, loaded it, and then walked rapidly away in the direction of the house occupied by Talalu and his wife.

With murder in his heart he reached the dwelling of Tairoa-Maina. Neither the chief nor his two countrymen were visible, but Talalu and Nahi were at work in the garden at the back. They were digging yams, and the white man watched them in sullen silence for a few minutes. Every movement of the woman's graceful figure angered him against her husband. What was he? A slave; a cursed savage. A man who had no right to possess a beautiful wife. He would not only have the woman, but make the man work for him as well.

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Creeping along the wall of coral stones that enclosed the garden, he reached a spot not twenty yards from them. Then he stood up and covered the man with his musket.

“Come back with me, you two,” he called fiercely, in Tahitian; “if you don't come outside at once, I'll kill the pair of you.”

Nahi, with heart full of love, threw herself before her husband, but Talalu said something to her in a low voice, and she turned and faced the white man.

“Even as thou wilt, master,” replied Talalu quietly, and taking Nahi's hand he came outside the wall.

With his gun over his shoulder the white man followed them, triumphantly smiling to himself at this proof of his power of command.

Very quietly they walked before him, till they reached his house, then entered it, and Nahi seated herself upon the matted floor.

Williams stood in the doorway for a moment, regarding them with a smile of victory. He intended to let them feel their position at once.

“I've a damned good mind to give you a lacing, Mister Talalu,” he said in English, “but I'll put it off for a bit and give you another chance. But I want something to eat. You, Nahi, go to Kawintali and ask him for some rice and wine and salted meat; and you, Talalu——”

He never spoke again. The Tahitian sprang upon him like a tiger, seized his throat with both hands, and squeezing his windpipe, forced him to the ground.

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For a minute they struggled fiercely, but the white man, though strong and active, was but as a child in the giant's grasp. They swayed to and fro a little, and then Williams lay upon the ground with the brown man's knee upon his chest, making feeble efforts to free himself from the grasp of death.

Presently he ceased to struggle, and was only conscious enough to know that all hope was gone and his time was come. One glance from his bloodshot eyes into the death-dealing face of the man above him told him that.

For a little while the Tahitian relaxed his hold. Beside him, her eyes dilated with triumphant hatred, Nahi bent over the prostrate figure, all the bitterness of the past reflected in her dark face. She had watched the struggle with a sense of victory. Who in the old days at Matavai could vie with Talalu in wrestling? And when she saw the huge form of her husband bear the slighter figure of their joint oppressor to the earth, she laughed.

With the foam of the agony of death flecking his lips, and breathing in awful, fitful gasps, Williams lay before them, one hand of Talalu still gripping his throat. The musket lay upon the floor beside the men. Williams had carried it at full cock, and the priming had been spilt when he dropped it to meet the onslaught of Talalu.

Still keeping his hand upon the sailor's throat Talalu turned to his wife.

“Take thou the powder horn and prime the gun,” he said.

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She took the horn from the peg upon which it hung and did as he told her.

“Now put the end of the gun to this dog's temple.”

She dropped upon one knee and pressed the muzzle of the gun to William's dark forehead.

“Now pull the little piece of iron,” said Talalu, “and let his black soul depart unto the land of evil spirits.”

There was a flash and the heavy musket-ball dashed out the wretched man's brains, ploughed through the matted floor, and scattered the coral pebbles in a white shower against the furthest side of the house. Then Talalu, with bloodied right hand, rose to his feet and stood regarding the body of his enemy.

Picking up the lifeless form of Williams, the Tahitian motioned to his wife to follow, and walked towards the cliffs to the same place where, a few months before, he had seen the wife of the dead man fall.

Standing on the jagged cliff edge, he looked down. Far below him lay the rough, pebbly beach upon which Faito had fallen and dyed the stones with her blood. Then he raised the white man high in his mighty arms and cast him over with a bitter curse.

“Lie there, thou who slew thy wife with cruel words, and would have stolen mine,” he cried, as he dashed the body upon the stones.

He looked down a while longer at his dead enemy, and then, taking Nahi's hand in his own, turned homewards.