― 228 ―

Chapter XXVII Alrema's Song

YOUNG was building a new storehouse upon his ground, and thither went the two men. As soon as they emerged from the forest path upon Young's clearing they could see him with Smith and Brown at work.

None of the Tahitians had appeared to assist them, and the three men were discussing the cause of their absence. Young, who had been fishing in the Bounty's boat all night off the south end of the island, was in a bad temper. He had been obliged to land at an inconvenient spot through the sea rising suddenly, and on returning home just after daylight found that Alrema was away. Such an unusual occurrence mystified and irritated him; for how could he know that the loving girl had waited at the usual landing-place in Bounty Bay till past daylight, and then returned home, unhappy and anxious at the absence of her husband?

But as Quintal and Martin came walking quickly along towards Young and his companions, Alrema

  ― 229 ―
appeared on the path, far in advance of them. She was followed closely by the wives of two of the Tahitians, who were plainly watching her movements.

“Beware, Alrema,” said one of them, “we know why thou hast come here. Talalu hath done no wrong, and our husbands will stand by him if it cometh to the shedding of blood.”

“Aye,” fiercely said the other, a short, powerful woman, whose long hair, wetted with the morning dew that had fallen on her head as she came through the narrow forest path, hung black and lustreless upon her brown, naked shoulders, “and I, Toaā, will strike this knife into thy heart if thou goest nearer to the white men,” and she showed Alrema a short broad-bladed dagger.

“Ye fools,” answered Alrema contemptuously, “can I not labour in my husband's garden without listening to thy silly threats? What doth it concern me that Talalu hath killed the Iron-worker? Stay me not, I tell thee. I have but come to dig yams for our morning meal.”

Without further words she entered the walled enclosure, apparently taking no heed of the three white men who were now talking earnestly together. She meant to tell them of their danger, but how to do so with the two women close beside her she knew not.

“Here, you two, come and help Alrema to dig yams,” called out Young angrily in English to the other women. “I'll make some of you work for me to-day.”

  ― 230 ―

Fearing to disobey, they silently followed Alrema, and began to assist her in her labours; and as they worked Alrema sang. Sweet, clear, and loud her voice rang out in the morning air, and the white men looked at one another in surprise, for at the end of the first verse she added in English another line.

“Listen to my singing, white men.”

The two Tahitian women near her looked up suspiciously. Unlike Alrema, who now spoke the white men's language with perfect fluency, they barely understood a dozen words of English. Still they kept close and Toaā watched Young's wife narrowly. With apparent composure she went on with her song—one of the old Tahitian love songs, half recitative but full of melody, and presently noticed that Young and the other men had drawn nearer, and were listening, though with apparent unconcern.

The second verse told how a girl of Raiatea, pursuing a phantom lover, journeyed over sea and land moon after moon, till she sank faint and dying under a grove of coconut trees on the beach of an unknown land, whither her quest had led her.

“So she lay there faint and dying;
Bloodied were her cinnet sandals
With her journey long and weary;
And her eyes were raised above her
At the young nuts, thick in clusters,
Growing close, yet far beyond her;
For her hands, too weak to reach them,
Bruised and bleeding
Lay upon her aching bosom.”

  ― 231 ―

With a swift glance at the white men she changed into English.

“Listen, white men, to my singing;
Dead is Williams, Iron-worker;
He was killed at early morning,
Know you not the man who slew him?”

“By God! Do you hear that?” said Young.

“Sh! wait a bit, she'll tell us more presently,” whispered Smith; “can't you see she's afraid of the other women?”

Again Alrema's bird-like notes went back into Tahitian. Striking her spade into the ground as she sang—

“And the heavens swirled about her,
With her pain, and thirst, and hunger;
But her heart kept calling, calling,
For the lover who had mocked her.”

She raised the end of a yam from the rich black soil, turned round and placed it in a basket behind her; then her voice, quivering yet strong, took up in English the thread of warning to the listening white men.

“Do you hear me? Understand me?
Go away and get your muskets;
All the brown men now are arming,
Arming so that they may kill you;
Go away and warn the others.”

“Thou art a vain fool,” said the woman Toaā to her in a tone of contempt; “dost thou think to charm the ears of our masters with thy croaking voice?”

  ― 232 ―

Alrema tried to laugh good-naturedly, and again went on with the Tahitian love-song. The women, however, she feared suspected her, and she sang the next verse quickly, while Young, Brown, and Smith with bated breath listened for her next words in English.

“See these women working with me,
They suspect me, they will kill me,
If they know I give you warning.
Go away and tell the others,
Leave me here to follow quickly.”

“By heavens, that's enough!” whispered Young to his companions. “Let us get away as quickly as possible. My wife's warning is clear enough. We must go and tell the others.”

“Here's Quintal and Martin coming down the ridge now,” said Brown. “They seem to know what's up, too.”

“Go and meet them,” replied Young hurriedly, “and tell them to wait till Smith and I come. We must not let these women know that we have any suspicion of what is wrong; listen, do you hear that?”

Alrema was singing again in English, and telling them she was sure the two women had been sent to get powder and ball from Williams' house.

“Off you go, Brown, but don't walk too quickly. Tell Quintal and Martin that Smith and I will be with them in a minute or two. Then slip through the breadfruit grove to Williams' house, and get all his ammunition.”

  ― 233 ―

Presently Alrema saw with satisfaction that Brown was sauntering away, and as soon as he was out of sight Young and Smith came over to where the women were working.

“We are going to McCoy's house,” said he, addressing Alrema quietly; “you can stay here and cook us some yams.” Then with sudden severity he turned to Toaā and the other woman. “As for you two, stay here and dig till we return, or 'twill be worse for your backs.”

They gave him sullen glances in reply and muttered acquiescence. Smith and Young left the garden and went to join Quintal and Martin, but the moment they were out of the women's sight they ran, and soon reached the other white men.

For some minutes the three women worked on in silence. Alrema picked up her basket of yams, and was moving towards the house when Toaā called her back.

“Whither goest thou?” she asked.

“Oh fool and dull of hearing,” Alrema replied coolly. “Didst you not hear my husband tell me to cook these yams? I haste to do his bidding.”

“Thou liest,” said Toaā fiercely; “thou hast told him something in thy cunning song,” and she sprang at her, knife in hand.

But Alrema, by an agile movement, escaped the savage thrust, and, seeing that it was now too late for concealment, leapt over the low stone wall of the garden and fled swiftly after her husband.

With Young leading the way, the three white men

  ― 234 ―
ran quickly towards the houses of the other Europeans. In a few minutes they were overtaken by Brown, who reported that Williams' house was in the possession of Talalu and his friends, and consequently he had not dared attempt to enter it. By the time they reached the summit of the rise overlooking the rest of the houses, they were joined by Alrema, who had cleverly returned unobserved to her husband's house, fearing that Young had not secured all the arms there. This, however, he had done.

“Where is Christian?” asked Young, as they gained the top of the hill and stopped to draw breath for a moment.

“In his cave,” answered Martin, “but it's no use waiting for him. Alrema says that Mahina has gone to call him. He'll be with us presently. What are we to do?”

There was a hurried consultation, and it was quickly resolved that Talalu must be taken prisoner and punished.

As they talked they were joined by McCoy, Christian, and Mahina. Christian unconsciously assumed the leadership, and after deciding upon their plan of action they proceeded in a body towards Williams' house, determined at all risks to quell the revolt which was threatening their safety.