― 242 ―

Chapter XXIX The Tongue of a Woman

DARKNESS fell on the lonely island, and the muffled roar of the breakers beating against the cliffs of Afitā was the only sound that disturbed the silence of the night.

In the big living-room of Edward Young's house Talalu sat moodily upon a mat in one corner, wondering what had become of Nahi. His captors, at Young's request, had not bound their prisoner, but had left Alrema on guard over him with a loaded musket and pistol.

“Where was Nahi?” he wondered. “Why was she, the faithful, loving wife, not with him now?” Alrema, by Young's direction, had given him food, but it lay beside him untasted. Young himself was absent; for soon after bringing Talalu to the house he had quietly left again. Alrema sat at the open doorway, her pale, handsome face wearing a disturbed expression. Where was her husband? Why was he so eager to get away at such a time as this, when

  ― 243 ―
men's minds were disturbed and the scent of blood was in the air! But for her proud and haughty nature she would have watched his movements, and would now have gone in search of him. But Mahina's soft, gentle face rose before her, with her pleading eyes, and Alrema lowered her head and wept silently. How could she kill Mahina, who had ever been her friend, and who had eyes and heart for Kirisiani alone? And yet—ah! she could think no longer. Perhaps her husband was gone elsewhere, and Mahina slept alone with her children.

The long, long hours passed slowly away till midnight; then a step crunched upon the pebbly path, and Young entered the house. His face was calm, but Alrema saw that his dark eyes burned with unusual brilliancy.

As he seated himself, Smith came in.

“Mr. Young,” he said, “the others have just held a sort of meeting at Brown's house, and are now coming up to demand that we wait no longer for the Tahitians to surrender. They say their lives are in danger while the natives have arms in their possession. I have tried to persuade them to leave the matter to you, but they won't listen.”

“All right,” answered the other quietly; and Alrema noticed that he spoke somewhat brokenly, as if out of breath. “I can do no more, but if they insist in pursuing this quarrel to the bitter end, I must see it through with the rest of you.”

Alrema handed him a young coconut to drink. He took it from her hand, but his eyes avoided his

  ― 244 ―
wife's face. Then, taking his musket and putting a pistol in his belt, he spoke to Talalu.

“You must come with us,” he said, not unkindly to the Tahitian, “so that your countrymen may see that no harm hath been done thee. I will try and reason with them.” Then, leaving Alrema with her child, the three men stepped out into the darkness to meet the others.

Nahi had not deserted her husband in his extremity. While he sat a prisoner in Young's house, wondering why she had not come near him, Nahi was busy with her tongue. Since nightfall she had been in Williams' house talking to her countrymen, and with passionate eloquence stirring their hearts to the doing of a great deed; and the Tahitians and Tubuaians, as they watched her flashing eyes sparkle and glow like diamonds in the faint light and listened to her fiery appeal, shifted uneasily and muttered to one another in low tones.

“Why dost thou urge us to such a bloody deed, oh Nahi?” said Manale, a short, stout man, who, with his musket upon his knees, sat cross-legged on the floor. “ 'Tis not for blood we seek, but for the right to live and work for ourselves, and no longer remain slaves. Thou art but a woman, and shouldst not urge——”

“A woman!” and she clenched her hand fiercely round the hilt of the knife she held—“a woman, yes. But thou, Manale—bulky as thou art in body, thy

  ― 245 ―
heart is as the heart of a tiny fish. Will ye five be slaves to these cruel white dogs? Shame on ye all! Is there no one among you better than a Mahu?”note

“Nay, insult us not, Nahi, with such bitter words,” said Tairoa-Maina; “we are men. It is in our minds that Kirisiani will help us.”

She laughed bitterly. “Kirisiani! He whom my husband trusted before other men—only to be betrayed! He has turned from our people, and cares not if his countrymen rid themselves of us. Death is before ye all, I tell thee. Will ye let these white men slay ye one by one? Have ye not guns in thy hands? Five pieces of iron, and death lieth within them, ready to leap out with flame and smoke. Live and be slaves! Act and be men!”

She ceased; the lamp of tui tui nuts flickered, wavered and died out, and darkness fell upon them.

“Let us talk,” said Tairoa-Maina in a whisper to the other four.

“Aye, talk,” said Nahi, “talk. And think that even now my husband lies dead because ye have proved cowards!”

Five minutes passed; then Nahi, with fierce joy, saw them rise.

“Come thou and see us act,” said Manale to her, as he touched her arm, and they all filed out in silence.

Young and Smith, with Talalu walking between them, had scarcely gone a hundred yards from the

  ― 246 ―
house when they met Quintal and McCoy coming down the rugged path towards Young's dwelling.

“Mr. Young,” said McCoy, “we have determined to clap a stopper on this mutiny at once. We can't let these fellows take charge of the island any longer, and we want you to come along with us and surprise them before daybreak.”

“Very well, I'm agreeable. But at the same time”—and Young laughed ironically—“it does me good to hear you—or any of us—talk about putting down a mutiny.”

“Call it by any name you like,” said McCoy, roughly. “But it won't do for us to let this thing go on. We came to you because we know you won't leave us in the lurch, like Mr. Christian has.”

“All right; lead on. Where are the others?” said Young.

“They've gone on ahead slowly; we'll overtake them before they reach the house.”

Following Young in Indian file, the three white men and the Tahitian walked as quickly as the night would permit along the narrow path which wound gently up a hill thickly covered with hibiscus shrubs. So sinuous was their course, however, that objects even a few yards ahead could not be perceived.

No sound disturbed the silence of the island night, save for the throbbing of the ever-restless surf and the strange, plaintive cries of the young sea-birds in their rookeries on the cliffs.

Suddenly there rang out, and echoed and re-echoed in quavering reverberations in the hollows of the hills,

  ― 247 ―
three musket shots in quick succession, followed by the hoarse, weird clamour of tens of thousands of birds as they rose and circled in wild alarm.

“By God!” cried Young, “we must run; that's our men firing.”

“This comes of too much palavering. While we've been paying out fathoms of talk the fight has begun,” said Quintal, angrily; and the four white men, leaving Talalu to his own devices, took to their heels and ran excitedly in the direction of the firing, which seemed, however, to be nearer the white men's houses than to that of the Tubuaians.

“Looks as if our fellows had grabbed 'em while they were asleep, and court-martialled 'em on the spot while we've been arguing over the thing,” said McCoy as he ran with the others.

But their surmises were entirely wrong. Before getting more than two hundred yards further Smith, who was in advance, stumbled and fell over something in the darkness; the hands he put out to save himself plunged into a pool of blood which was oozing from the body of Brown, who lay dead in the middle of the track, with a jagged bullet-hole through his chest.

“By God, it's Brown!” cried Smith, feeling the man's face, “and he's dead!”

“There's been a fight. Come on, men, for heaven's sake; we may be in time to save the others”; and Young, followed by McCoy and Quintal, rushed along the track in search of their comrades, and in a few seconds had left Smith many yards behind.

Stooping down again over the body of the murdered

  ― 248 ―
man, Smith felt his heart to satisfy himself that he was dead. He lifted the still bleeding figure, carried it a few yards away from the path, and proceeded to grope for his own musket, which he had dropped.

As he stooped a dark form silently stepped out from the thick undergrowth lining the path. A clubbed musket was raised in the air, and Smith fell and lay unconscious close to the corpse of his fellow-country-man.

Aue!” said Manale the Tubuaian to Nihu the Tahitian, who accompanied him, “ 'tis Simeti whom I have slain. And I would not have harmed him, for he hath ever been good to us. But this dog”—and he spurned the body of the other white man—“was our enemy, and my hand was strong with hate when I slew him.”

Young and the others ran on, but only for a short distance, when again an exclamation of horror burst from them; this time two dead men lay in their path—Mills and Martin.

Then, before they could realise what had happened, five muskets blazed out from a rocky ridge above, and several naked figures sprang from their ambush with savage yells.

None of the white men were struck, but Quintal and McCoy, terrified out of their wits, dropped their muskets and fled. The intense darkness favoured them. They succeeded in evading the rush of their opponents, and were soon clambering down the mountain side in the hope of finding better shelter in the dense scrub of the valley. Young alone stood his

  ― 249 ―
ground, and fired his musket at the first of the natives who sprang upon him; but he missed his mark, and before he could club the weapon Nihu struck him a blow on the head with a musket, and laid him senseless.

The five figures bent over him for a moment, and talked hurriedly among themselves.

“ 'Tis Etuati,” said Tetihiti; “he lieth as one dead. For the sake of Alrema, his wife, who is of my blood, let him live, oh friends”; and he warded off the musket of the savage Manale, who had pressed the muzzle of the weapon to Young's heart. “But the other two, Makoi and Kawintali, must die.”

So they sped away in pursuit of Quintal and McCoy.