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Chapter XXVIII “His Heart's Desire”

IN less than half an hour the white men reached the low stone wall enclosing Williams' house and garden, and saw that the door of his dwelling was closed; but the two unglazed windows were opened, and from them half a dozen brown, excited faces peered out upon the Europeans. Each native held a musket at full cock, along the barrel of which his eye glanced.

Suddenly Christian stopped, and help up his hand to the white men who followed him. Then grounding his musket he spoke.

“I have come with you, because on the spur of the moment I thought it my duty to make common cause with men of my own colour against a common danger. I forgot that this man Williams deserved his fate. He was a thorough-paced scoundrel, and has met, I have no doubt, his just deserts. Therefore, I will take no part in this affair; settle it yourselves. I leave it to you to consider, before you harm Talalu,

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what you may bring upon yourselves by becoming his murderers.”

Walking away from his surprised and angry fellow-countrymen, he sat down quietly upon the wall and waited to see what would happen.

“Very well,” said Edward Young contemptuously, “if you won't stand by us in a matter like this we must do without you. For the sake of my wife and child I will not let this fellow escape punishment. You, it is easy to see, care naught for yours,” and he glanced quickly at Mahina, who stood near.

“Right, Mr. Young,” said Quintal; “you lead us and we'll follow.”

Telling the rest of the white men to stand back, Young advanced close to the house and called to Talalu that he wished to speak to him.

The heavy wooden door swung open, and the gigantic figure of the Tahitian faced the white man. He was stripped to the waist and held a musket in his hand, but, seeing that Young's piece lay on the ground, he put his down also.

“What is it that ye seek, Etuati?” he asked quietly.

“We come to seek thee; thou hast killed the Iron-worker, and we will see justice done. No one, white or brown, must slay his fellow-man and be allowed to escape,” answered Young quickly.

“He sought to rob me of my wife. Am I a slave to suffer such a wrong as that?”

“Let us shoot the beggar!” called out Martin and Brown together, and Mills, too, urged Young to stand aside and let them end the matter at once.

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But Young begged them to have patience. He wished to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

Talalu listened quietly, his eyes fixed upon Christian, who sat with his chin upon his hand, regarding the two parties with an aspect of utter indifference.

“Listen,” said the Tahitian to Young, “so that there may be peace between the white men and the brown, I swear by the god of the white men, and by the god Oro, to do in this matter as Kirisiani wills. I know that he is a just man and will do no wrong either to me or to thee.”

“Be it so,” answered Young, “speak to him and tell him this; for but a little time ago he told me he cared naught for any of us.”

He fell back to the white men, and told them of the Tahitian's proposition. To it they all consented, feeling sure that, however much Christian kept himself aloof from them, he would never actually take sides against them with the islanders.

“Very well,” said Christian coldly, when Young asked him to speak to Talalu. “As I have said, I will take no side, but if Talalu wants my opinion I will give it. Whether he acts upon it or not will not trouble me.” He walked through the little gateway up the path to the door of the house, but half way he stopped; for the big Tahitian with hands outstretched advanced towards him.

“Thou art a just man, Kirisiani,” he said, “as just as Tuti, and I, Talalu, son of Totaro, have no fear of thee. This do I say—mine was the hand that slew the Iron-worker; and thou art a just man, and will

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not let these thy countrymen kill me because I did that which was right.”

For a moment or two Christian hesitated, and then with a bitter laugh replied in a cold voice—“Thou foolish man, dost thou think my countrymen care for thy wrongs? Thou hast killed their comrade—a man who was useful to them because of his skill. Thou art but a savage; thy skin is brown, theirs is white; and in their eyes he of the brown skin hath neither rights or wrongs. Therefore, oh man with the brown skin, who hast no heart to feel, and no soul to suffer, lay down thy weapon and feel the justice of these thy masters.”

The mocking bitterness and contempt which rang through his voice cut the faithful Talalu to the heart.

“Is this thy justice, Kirisiani? Thou, the husband of Mahina! Thou, for whom we of the brown skins and loving hearts would lay down our lives! Thou of whom Nahi my wife said, when I cast the Iron-worker over the cliffs, ‘Kirisiani is thy friend and will stand to thee!’ Hast thou no other answer for me but this?”

“Talk to me no more,” Christian replied passionately; “I care neither for thee, nor for these white men, nor for myself. Do as thou wilt—it matters not to me; so that none of ye trouble me, I care not. Farewell,” and with angry impatience he turned away and was soon lost to view. Mahina, with her infant in her arms, quickly followed, endeavouring to overtake him.

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Then Talalu, with his hands clasped together and downcast head, returned to the house.

“Give me my gun,” he said sadly to Tairoa-Maina.

Holding the weapon up over his head, he turned to Young, who had by this time with the help of Smith succeeded in quieting the most turbulent of his comrades.

Throwing his musket at Young's feet the gigantic Tahitian spoke—

“Do with me as it seems best to thee. I swore by Oro my god that Kirisiani should decide between us. But his heart has turned to stone. Do with me as you will.”

Something in the despairing accents of Talalu's voice touched even the callous heart of Young, and he could not help admiring the loyalty to his word which made the Tahitian, savage as he was, surrender so quietly.

“This is well,” he said, picking up the man's musket from the sward. “Come with me; I promise that no harm shall befall thee till this thing that thou hast done hath been well considered. But say this to thy friends in the house—if before the sun sets they do not lay down their arms and bring them to my house, I will kill thee with my own hands.”

“Tell them that thyself,” said the Tahitian proudly; “how can I, a man, say this to them?”

Advancing to the house Young gave the natives his warning, but ere one of them could reply Talalu sprang to his side with a haughty gesture.

“Heed him not, my friends. The words are his,

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not mine. I, Talalu, give my life because of the oath I swore to Kirisiani, who hath deserted me. Am I a dog to buy my life from these white men because of thy friendship for me, oh men of Tahiti and Tubuai? If I die, do thou, Tairoa-Maina, friend of my heart, take Nahi for thy wife.”

The door was shut again with a cry of defiance, and again the musket barrels protruded through the windows.

“Leave them alone for the present,” commanded Young; and with their prisoner walking calmly before them, the white men marched away.

Clasping her child to her bosom, Mahina followed her husband as quickly as her strength would permit. The events of the past few days had exhausted her in mind and body, and she began to fear her husband's morbid behaviour was turning into actual madness. Thrice as she caught sight of him in the rough ascent of the rocky path had she called his name and asked him to stop, but he seemed to take no heed. At last when she gained the summit of the ridge which overlooked the valley wherein his house stood, she saw him standing, his gaunt figure silhouetted against the sky-line, with folded arms, and head sunk upon his chest. As she came near he seemed to be asleep, for he made no sign to show he knew of her presence.

Setting the sleeping child gently down upon a mossy cleft in the rock, she stepped softly to him and touched his arm.

“Kirisiani,” she said, panting from the long and

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hurried walk, “I pray thee, come home to thy house to-night. I fear to be alone, so far from thee.”

With a savage oath, and the light of madness gleaming in his eyes, he thrust her rudely away.

With a despairing, heart-broken cry she staggered and fell upon the jagged rocks, and Christian, without even looking behind, resumed his journey to his cave.

An hour later, when Mahina awoke to the consciousness of her misery, she was alone in her husband's house with her head pillowed against Edward Young's bosom, whilst he kissed her again and again.

“Thou art my heart's desire,” he said.