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Chapter XXX After the Storm

FOR some minutes Edward Young lay stunned upon the rocky path, a stream of blood oozing from a severe cut in his head. Presently the cool night air brought him back to consciousness, and, as by slow degrees his senses returned he feared that he alone was left alive of all the white men on the island, and it was likely enough that even his hours were numbered. With a struggle he rose slowly and painfully, dragging his footsteps along the road until he reached his house. Fearful of again encountering the enraged islanders he proceeded with the greatest caution, stopping suddenly, when at a turn in the narrow track he saw three figures in a crouching position.

He dropped upon his hands and knees and scanned them carefully. Presently he recognised Nahi, Alrema, and Terere. The three women were supporting Smith, who was too badly hurt to stand upon his feet. As Young watched, doubtful whether to approach or not, he saw a fourth figure join them, and knew Mahina

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by the black mantle of hair falling down her back.

“Is he dead, I wonder?” he muttered to himself. “Better for him if he is. I will never surrender her again.”

He rose to his feet and advanced towards them. The women gave a startled cry, and Smith fell back upon the ground with a groan of agony.

Alrema's arms were round Young's neck in an instant, and her fearful, panting bosom pressed to his lovingly. “My husband, my husband,” she murmured, “thou art wounded; yet Nahi said thou wouldst be safe.” She turned fiercely upon the wife of Talalu, who covered her face with her hands and wept.

“Alas! what have I done?” said Nahi, “the fire of anger in my countrymen's hearts was kindled by me, and in their wrath they knew not friend from foe.”

Mahina drew near, trembling from head to foot; and Alrema, with an agonised heart, saw her husband's hand steal out to her friend's and give it a quick, warm pressure. Then Mahina sank upon her knees in the darkness and wept silently. Did Alrema know that she, her friend, had yielded, and that Edward Young no longer cared for the brave, loyal wife who had fought and bled for him in the days gone by in Tubuai?

Alrema did know. But maddened as she was by the discovery of her husband's faithlessness, she was yet true to Mahina; and all her love for Young welled up fresh and strong in her heart when she felt him swaying to and fro on his feet from weakness.

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“Thou cruel Nahi,” she cried bitterly, “dost thou think that thy husband is more dear to thee than mine is to me”—a sob choked her utterance—“he for whom my life is ever ready to be given? If he comes to further harm I swear I will kill thee, thou false and wicked Nahi.”

Nahi sprang to her feet, and her black eyes gleamed with fire as she threw her arms wide out. “What I have done was for the love of Talalu! But let us not waste time in words; hide thy husband and the husband of Terere until the fury of our people hath spent itself.”

It was now agreed that Young, who was only just able to walk, should go on ahead and conceal himself in a cave in the mountains, known only to the women, who would bring him food and water until he was safe from pursuit or further vengeance from the brown men; and, supported by Alrema and the trembling Mahina, the wounded man set out, and the three toiled slowly along. Then Young began to talk.

“Leave me by myself,” he said weakly in English. “You, Alrema, return home and see to our child. Maybe she has come to harm. You, Mahina, look for your husband, he may be dead.”

“What matters it to me?” burst from Mahina. “Would that I, too, were dead.”

“Take thou my husband to the cave, Mahina.”

It was Alrema who spoke, steadying her voice through unseen tears. “Take him to the cave whilst I seek out thy husband and bring him to thee—to thee and to his friend—his true and good friend.”

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The bitterness of the words, “his true and good friend,” pierced the anguished heart of Christian's wife like a knife-stab.

“Nay, nay, Alrema, leave me not, I pray thee. See, thy husband needs us both. Stay with me; for the love I have always borne thee, stay with me.”

But Alrema only answered her with a sob, and in another instant was gone, to fall upon her face a few yards away and weep out her shame and bitterness of heart. “For the sake of my child,” she moaned, “for the sake of my child, neither his blood nor hers shall redden my hand.”

Then rising to her feet she went to seek Christian.

Smith had fainted. His wife, as soon as he returned to consciousness, assisted him to his feet; they set out towards the cave where Young was gone, and in another hour their journey was successfully accomplished.

The wives of McCoy and Quintal—Puni the Huahine woman, and Malama—meantime sat alone in their houses, weeping at the thought of the fate which they felt sure had overtaken their husbands. Nahi, on her way to seek Talalu had called in and spoken words of encouragement which somewhat allayed their fears. She promised that she would restrain her countrymen from further attacking the white men; then still fearful as to what had become of her own husband, she quickly ran the rest of the distance to her little dwelling in Williams'

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enclosure. When she entered she found the gigantic Tahitian quietly seated cross-legged upon a mat, with his musket beside him, eating his supper. She embraced him tenderly and began to tell him of all that had happened.

He interrupted her in the middle of her recital. “I know all, Nahi. I was hidden in a clump of trees and saw all that took place between thee and the wounded white men. And now that thou hast returned in safety I myself will go to Manale and the others, and stay their hands from further killing. Enough blood has been shed.”

Towards dawn the islanders returned from their fruitless search for McCoy and Quintal, and as they filed one by one into Williams' house they were met by Talalu, who had just missed them in the darkness.

In a few words he so worked upon their feelings that they readily agreed to do no further harm to the remaining white men, and consented to meet and discuss their future relations towards each other.

Christian, slumbering in the loneliness of his mountain cave, had heard the report of the muskets and guessed what was happening; but he was perfectly indifferent as to how the quarrel might end, and so remained where he was. About two or three hours before dawn he felt a touch upon his arm and saw a woman's figure bending over him.

“What now?” he said angrily, thinking it was Mahina who had disturbed him.

“I have come, Kirisiani, to tell thee that three

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of the white men are dead, and Simeti and Etuati wounded. Didst thou not hear the guns?”

“I heard them, Alrema, but it is naught to me.”

“Naught to thee? Hast thou no thought to ask if Mahina and thy children be alive or dead?”

He laughed bitterly. “None. What care I for Mahina? Dost thou think I am blind? Hast thou not seen what I have seen?”

The woman sank on her knees beside him, and, taking his hand in hers, wept passionately. “Aye, I know it now. But yet Mahina is my friend, else had I killed her. And because of that and for my great friendship for thee have I brought thy two children, so that thou mayest take them to their mother.”

“Where is she?” asked Christian as he rose, and with steel and flint lit the rude lamp of coconut oil.

“She is waiting for thee in the cave with Simeti and my husband. And see, this do I swear—only because I bade her stay and help the wounded men did she remain away from thy house and children. Else would she have come, and with them sought thee here.”

Christian regarded her for a moment or two in silence. He admired her intense loyalty and devotion to Mahina, which was put to such a test, and so restrained himself from sneering at her weakness.

“Where are my children?” he asked.

“They wait outside. I feared to bring them to thee till we had spoken together a little.”

“Bring them in,” he said, “and stay with them here till I return.”

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She placed her hand upon his shoulder. “Thou wilt hurt neither my husband nor Mahina?” she said beseechingly.

“No,” he said in a low voice, “neither. For the sake of these, my children, I will not.”

She took his hand and kissed it again. “Forgive her, Kirisiani. When thou didst cast her aside from thee on the cliffs she became in the hands of my husband, who is a cunning man, as a twig that is bent by the fingers of a child. Only for this she had remained true to thee and he true to me.”

Again he laughed with bitter scorn. “All women are alike, and all men are false to their friends and their duty when a woman's face comes between. Stay here till I return.”

Just as dawn broke, Christian, guided by the directions Alrema had given him, found and entered the cave, and was greeted with an exclamation of joy from Smith; Young, who lay upon a couch of leaves, merely nodded to him and said nothing. Mahina was not visible.

“I am glad to find you both alive—both,” he added, with a steady glance at Edward Young, whose eyes dropped before his, “although if every white man on the island had been killed it would have been but justice. How can these people trust men who, even among themselves, are guilty of the blackest treachery to each other?”

For a little while no one spoke; then came a murmur of voices outside, and Talalu stood before the three white men.

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“This is my message to ye, oh white men who were once my friends; these are the words of Temua, Nihu, the men of Tubuai, and I, Talalu. Let there be peace between us. We sought not blood; only when it was forced upon us did we fight and kill. Let there be peace.”

“I blame neither thee nor them,” said Christian quietly, “and now I tell these two men here, who were once my friends, but whom I wish to see no more, that they will do well to make peace with thee and thy countrymen.”

Without a word of farewell he turned and left them with Talalu, who, as both Young and Smith saw, was unfeignedly glad at their escape; and they in their turn were relieved to hear that McCoy and Quintal were safe.

As the sun rose they heard plaintive notes of wailing for the dead rising from the valley below, and soon after, Nahi and some of the Tahitian men came, unarmed, to tell them that their comrades' graves were being dug.

Still weak from loss of blood, Young and Smith managed to leave their retreat and, assisted by the now friendly Tahitians, reach the valley, where they saw standing round the three bodies a little group of brown people. As they drew near, Manale stepped out from the others and offered his hand to Young.

“Is it peace between us?” he asked.

“It is peace,” said Young and Smith, both taking his hands.

Presently they were joined by McCoy and Quintal;

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and the bodies of the slain men, having been wrapped in mats by the women, were placed in their graves in silence, broken only by the sobs of their wives.

Walking slowly away from the cave, Fletcher Christian, with white, despairing face, went first to his house, intending to bring away some further articles for his own use in his retreat. The door was closed, but not fastened on the inside. Pushing it open, he saw the figure of his wife upon her couch. She had been weeping, and as he entered the room trembled in every nerve; then, ere he could restrain her, cast herself at his feet and flung back her head.

“Kill me,” she cried; “kill me, else will I die as did Faito.”

He drew back from her coldly. “Thou art but a woman, and men do not kill women in my country, even though they be false to their husbands. Listen to me. So that I never see thy face again I am content. But still would I see my children sometimes. Therefore with thee they shall remain, and sometimes will I come to them.”

In another moment he was gone, and Mahina looked wildly after his retreating figure. Then she swayed and fell, and an hour after Alrema, with tears of pity filling her star-like eyes, came in with the children and embraced her friend lovingly.

“He will yet love thee again,” said the loyal girl—“'tis but a black cloud that will vanish. And see, I too forgive thee.”