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Chapter XXXI “Mine the Hand!”

A MONTH had elapsed. To Mahina it was a month of misery.

With her children she passed her days and nights in solitude, broken only by visits from Talalu and Alrema, who both knew the secret of her suffering. Once or twice only had she caught sight of Christian as he wandered about his cliffs at dusk, and had been impelled by her love to follow and speak to him; but with a cold gesture of indifference he had waved her back and walked slowly on, oblivious to her heart-wrung sobs.

And not to Mahina alone had come suspense and grief; Alrema suffered too, for her husband now neglected her for the company of McCoy and Quintal. Since the deaths of Brown, Mills, and Martin, a period of incessant watchfulness and suspicion had ensued—the white men dreaded the brown, the brown suspected the white. Edward Young, fearful of more bloodshed, had tried to persuade the islanders to give their arms up to him; but this, though they repeated their

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assurance of good will towards the seamen, they refused to do.

“To Kirisiani alone will we give up our guns,” said one of the Tubuaians, “for in him alone have we faith. And Kirisiani himself saith that there is no faith or honour in any among ye. Thou, Etuati, who wert once his sworn taio, knowest if he speaketh truth.”

Young winced at the native's words, but said nothing. His mad infatuation for Mahina still remained, yet he was sensible of his own degradation and treachery to Christian, and a sense of shame kept him from approaching Mahina since that fatal evening. Mahina herself, though the man had acquired a strange power over her, forcing her to believe his passionate declaration of love, trembled with fear lest she should see him again.

Talalu, ever faithful both to her and her husband, was the one man on the island with whom Christian now held converse, and the big-hearted fellow more than once sought him out in his retreat and tried to induce him at least to meet and speak to his wretched wife.

“She is but a woman, Kirisiani; and see, oh friend, her heart is eaten up for love of thee. Canst thou not take her to thee again? Thou art strong; she is weak. Are women of Peretane never unfaithful?”

But Christian, though he listened to the friendly Tahitian, would answer, “Let it be as it is—she is nought to me, nor I to her.”

One night as the two sat together on the edge of the cliffs, looking over the wide expanse of star-lit

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ocean, the Tahitian began to talk of the condition of affairs between his countrymen and the whites, and urged Christian to destroy, if possible, the growing unrest and suspicion which disturbed both parties.

“Thy countrymen,” he said, “go about in fear of us, with their muskets ever to their hands. Thou, who art a chief among them, canst still make them listen to thee; then will they forget all that is past, for we of Tahiti and Tubuai do not seek more bloodshed.”

“I can do nothing for thee, Talalu. Bitterly do I repent the misery and death that I have wrought to white men and brown; but I can do nothing—no longer will I interfere between thy people and my countrymen.”

One night all that remained of the mutineers assembled in Young's house. The last to enter was Smith, accompanied by Terere, whom he placed outside to watch. The door was carefully closed, and the men sat on the rough wooden benches which, with a table, formed the furniture of the living room. For some minutes they conversed in low tones; then Young rose and spoke.

“We can delay no longer,” he said. “The Tahitians, my wife will tell you, intend to attack us at daybreak. They firmly believe that we shall not rest until we have avenged the murder of our countrymen.”

The other men looked at each other and nodded acquiescence.

“Yesterday, so Alrema says, they came to the horrible resolution of killing us all except Christian. Him they look upon as mad, and, as you know, they

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have a curious feeling of regard for mad people. They consider the insane as inspired and protected by the gods, and their lives are held sacred. Now, God knows, I have no wish to see more bloodshed on this island; but,” and here Young's face paled and his words came slowly, “it seems to me that my wife's advice, however dreadful it may appear, should be followed. Either they or we must die.”

McCoy struck the table with his huge, heavy fist. “Speaking for myself and Mat Quintal, I think we ought to have done it long ago. Mr. Christian's damned fine ideas about the rights o' these bloody-minded savages is all very well when you haven't got to live with them. I am for settling it at once.”

“I don't agree with you,” said Smith, “but I suppose my opinion won't alter the matter one way or another. Since Mr. Christian won't have anything to do with us, I am willing to look to Mr. Young as our leader. If he considers it necessary for our safety to murder these people—why I've gone too far to hold back now.”

“Murder is an ugly name, Smith,” said Young quickly, “and I've no mind to accept your help. McCoy, Quintal, and myself can do what is to be done without you. We must either kill or be killed.”

“Aye, aye, Mr. Young,” said Quintal approvingly. “Smith had better go to his friend, Mr. Christian, and live in his cave. We three can settle this business. We don't want any white-livered man among us at a time like this.”

With a fierce glance Smith sprang to his feet.

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“Damn you, Quintal, you are too ready with your tongue. I'm no more white-livered than you are. You knew that when we took the ship off Tofoa. If Mr. Young says the word I am ready to fight, or murder, or whatever you like to call it, all the Tahitians myself. To my mind he's a King's officer still—leastways so far as my obedience to him goes. Say what is to be done, and I'll have a hand in the doing of it.”

“Words, words, idle words, and nothing is done. In a little time it may be too late. While ye talk, and talk, I, Alrema, will alone do the deed. Mine shall be the hand to strike.”

Alrema was sitting in a corner of the house, her dark eyes watching with intense interest each movement of the white men, and listening to every word spoken; and her husband, as he turned towards her, saw in her eyes the look he had seen long ago on Tubuai, when she held in her hand a blood-stained cutlass.

“I alone will do it,” and seizing an axe from a tool-rack on the wall she waved her hand to the whites, opened the door, and was gone.

Picking up their muskets the four men hastily followed Alrema along the narrow track which led to the dwelling of her countrymen and the house of Williams.

At the doorway of Williams' house sat the huge Talalu, musket in hand, keeping watch while his countrymen slept. For some weeks they had never rested without setting a watch, for their wives warned

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them continually that the white men were dangerous and were plotting mischief. Nahi, who seemed animated by the bitterest feeling of hatred against all the whites save Christian, had continually declared that sooner or later the remaining Englishmen would avenge the deaths of their comrades by a sudden massacre. Her repeated warning had so worked upon the fears of her countrymen as to force them into believing its truth, and they resolved to be beforehand with the white men.

“Kill them, kill them,” she urged. “Only when their blood runs shall we be safe.”

So they sat together in the darkened room and agreed to make an attack next morning at daybreak. in which Nahi and the wives of the Tahitians were to take part. After arranging the details, the plotters lay down to sleep, leaving Talalu on watch. He was to call them at dawn; and as the brown men spread their mats upon the gravelled floor, Nahi whispered in his ear, “To-morrow, my husband, those who sought thy life will be silent for ever.”

But Nahi little knew that Alrema, ever on the alert, had learned from Puni the danger that overhung the white men, and had guarded against it.

Talalu, sitting dreamily on the doorstep of the house, with his musket across his knees, woke with a start. Surely a footstep rustled the dead pandanus leaves that lay along the path? He opened his half-closed eyes and listened. Nothing broke the stillness but the murmuring hum of the surf, and the strange weird rustle of the wind as it soughed through the

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groves of pandanus and coco-palms. He bent his head again and dozed, then in an instant was upon his feet. Some one was approaching, for this time he heard clearly the crackling of dead leaves underfoot.

Leaning on his musket his keen eye eagerly scanned the darkness of the night. A soft footfall behind him—and it was too late. Before he could rise and face the intruder, or call an alarm, Alrema's axe had cleft his skull in halves, and the watcher's cry of warning mingled with his dying groan.

Swinging the weapon over her head, Alrema, followed by the white men, dashed into the house, and then, in the dim light of the flickering lamp, began a horrible slaughter of the sleeping men. Manale, who lay nearest the door, fell as he rose, beneath a blow from Alrema's axe, which sank deep into the broad, naked bosom; and three shots from the white man's muskets did the rest of their bloody work.

One of the Tubuaians alone succeeded in leaping past his assailants and gaining the door; but Young drew a pistol from his belt, sprang before him and pointed the weapon at his head.

“Shoot!” cried Alrema, “shoot! spare none, so that we may have peace afterwards.”

The savage thirst for slaughter in her voice steadied the wavering hand that but for her would have spared. For a moment he hesitated, then aimed the pistol at the Tubuaian's breast, pulled the trigger, and the last of the brown men fell upon his face on the blood-stained mats.