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Chapter XXVI Nahi's Message

THE report of the gun which killed Talalu's oppressor was heard by all who happened to be in their houses at the time. Each thought it was but a shot fired at some ocean bird winging its way seaward from one of the many islands rookeries, and no one imagined that it was the beginning of a fatal and bloody epoch in the history of their island home.

But Talalu, as he returned with his wife by his side, knew that his deed would bring forth great things in the near future, and set himself to prepare for whatever might happen.

Half-way between the cliffs and his own dwelling, he stopped and spoke to Nahi.

“Hasten, oh pearl of my heart, to the houses of all our countrymen and to that of Tairoa-Maina the Tubuaian, and bid them come to me. And this shalt thou say to them: ‘Talalu sendeth greeting and saith that “The sun hath risen a bloody red; and the white men will seek for revenge for what hath been done.”

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Talalu saith also “The hand to the club, for death cometh swiftly and suddenly to men unprepared.” ' ”

“Oh husband with the strong hand and brave heart, why should'st thou fear? The white men are just, and will not harm thee for killing the Iron-worker, that man of evil heart and cruel will. If I give this message of thine, will not they think that all the men of our race are plotting to slay them?”

The giant Tahitian placed his bloodstained hand upon his wife's shoulder. “Do as I bid thee. I tell thee the white men will not forgive me the death of the Iron-worker. And it is well that we be prepared for their wrath.”

“Nay,” pleaded Nahi, “surely Kirisiani and Etuati and Simetinote are our friends.”

“It may be so,” answered Talalu bitterly. “Who can tell? Hast thou not seen that they have no faith in each other? Dost thou not know that Etuati, whom I once thought the true taio of Kirisiani, hath spoken words of love to Mahina his wife?”

“That is but the custom of our country.”note

Talalu interrupted—“Thou dost not know, Nahi, that this our custom of taio is held in abhorrence by men of chief's rank and blood in Peretane, such as Etuati and Kirisiani. Often hath Kirisiani told me, when speaking of the customs of white men, that for a man to cast the eye of desire upon the wife of his friend is counted shame.”

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She bent her head in mute obedience to her husband's will. Surely Talalu her husband, who was for ever talking to the white men of the customs of their country, knew what was right.

So she sped quickly away, first to the house of Tairoa-Maina, and there told the Tubuaians of Williams' death and gave her husband's message.

Without waiting to be questioned, she added—“And see, oh men of Tubuai, that ye bring with ye guns and powder and lead; for even as my husband sayeth the sun hath risen a bloody red.”

Then leaving the wondering and excited Tubuaians she went to the hut of the Tahitians and gave the same warning. As she passed from house to house the wives of the white men saw her and sought to question her, but she evaded them and disappeared among the boscage of the mountain forest towards the dwelling of Mahina and her husband.

Through the open doorway of the house she saw the figures of Alrema and Mahina. They were seated together preparing their morning meal, and Christian's two children played beside them.

Panting with excitement, Nahi threw herself upon the couch at the further end of the room and asked for a drink. Alrema opened a young coconut and and brought it to her.

“Why dost thou breathe so hard, my friend?” she said with a laugh. “Drink and then come eat with us.”

Nahi drank, but refused to eat. “'Tis well that I have met thee here, Alrema.”

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Something in her face made them rise quickly and asked what brought her.

She laughed nervously. “Listen thou, Alrema, wife of Etuati, and thou Mahina, wife of Kirisiani the chief. My husband hath slain the Iron-worker.”

Mahina, with a cry of fear, clasped her infant in her arms.

“Aye, he slew him with his own gun, because he sought to take me. And when the fire leapt from the mouth of the gun, and the lead dashed out his brains, Talalu took up his body and carried it upon his shoulders to the cliffs and cast it upon the stones where Faito died. And this message hath my husband sent to the men of Tahiti and Tubuai ‘The sun hath risen a bloody red; be prepared.’ ”

The two others exchanged a quick responsive glance of alarm, but Nahi, excited as she was, did not notice it.

“But thou must not tell Tahinia, nor Malama, nor Lunalio, nor any of the women who have white husbands. Even of thee, friends of my heart, was I frightened, but I remembered that thy husbands have ever been of kind hearts to us of Tahiti. Did not thine, Alrema, and thine, Mahina, and the husband of Terere seek to save me from the dog whom my husband hath slain? And for that shall no harm come to them or to thee.”

Mahina, with a terrified glance at the exultant face of Nahi, turned appealingly to Alrema. What should she do to warn Christian? He was in his cave. Perhaps in his lonely morning walk along the cliffs he

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might meet some of her countrymen who, never thinking of all that he had done for their welfare, might shoot or spear him.

Fearful for their husbands, Mahina and Alrema saw the lithe figure of Nahi glide away into the darkness from Christian's lonely dwelling. Despite the knowledge that Young was wavering in his loyalty to her, his wife still loved him passionately, and never felt anything but friendship for Mahina; so, urging her to go to Christian and warn him of the impending trouble, she set out in search of Young, who had gone fishing for the night. And Mahina, leading one child by the hand and pressing the other to her bosom, walked quickly along the rocky path towards the cave.

A strange silence already seemed to deaden the clear morning air. Soon after the first rosy flush of dawn had changed the grey of the wooded mountain sides to a living green, Matthew Quintal, gun in hand, came along the path from his house towards the cliffs, wondering why he had met none of the brown men on their way to their work in the white men's gardens. He was going towards a great toa tree which grew in a little valley near Martin's house, where at early morning many frigate birds roosted, for he had promised Malama to shoot some for her, and wanted Isaac Martin to join him.

But ere he came in sight of the shipmate's house Martin met him. His thin, sallow face wore an anxious look, and to Quintal's surprise he carried a pistol and cutlass as well as a musket.

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“I was going to look for you, Mat,” he said; “there is something in the wind. One of the Tahiti men was here a little while ago telling my wife that Talalu had killed Jack Williams. Didn't you know it?”

“No!” replied Quintal with a startled exclamation and look of alarm. “What had we better do?”

“Let us go and tell the others. There's going to be fighting, I can see. Every one of those fellows thinks a lot of Talalu, and as far as I can make out only we two know that Williams is dead. We'll find them all working at Young's.”