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Chapter XXXII Nahi's Revenge

TOO terrified to aid their husbands, and each moment expecting to share their fate, the wives of the murdered men crouched together in horror at one end of the room, nor could all the endeavours of the Englishmen soothe their fears. At last Young and his companions went away and left them with their dead. Alrema, fearless as she was, went with them, for there was in Nahi's face a look of such deadly hatred that even her iron-souled nature quailed before it.

At sunrise next morning two people alone on the island knew nothing of what had happened—Fletcher Christian and Mahina. That morning she sat beside him in the cave, fanning his flushed face and aching head, for he was ill and suffering in mind and body. Two days before, at sundown, as he wandered along the wild and rugged track leading to his mountain retreat, she had watched him unseen, and saw that he staggered as he walked and had scarce strength enough to drag his weary feet along. She waited till darkness

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set in and then followed, her heart beating fast in an agony of hope and fear. Peering cautiously in she saw her husband fling himself upon his couch and mats and lie there, his face turned away from her, breathing heavily and painfully. For some minutes she stood and watched him with tears of loving pity filling her eyes. Her husband! He whose love was once hers, and might yet be again! And he was ill and weak. Surely he would not curse her now?

Softly she crept in through the darkness and sat near him, longing yet fearing to speak; but soon she knew by his low mutterings and the way in which he flung his arms about that he was ill of fever. She had surmised as much when she saw him going towards the cave, and knew how perfectly helpless even a strong man became in a few hours from the first attack.

Quickly she made her way in the darkness back to her house, filled a small basket with some ripe limes, roused her children, and, leading one and carrying the other, returned as quickly as possible.

Short as was her absence, she knew as soon as she entered the cave by the sound of Christian's breathing that he was much worse. Placing the children—of whose fretful cries her husband seemed quite unconscious—by themselves in a corner, she quickly cut some of the limes in halves and squeezed them into a coconut-shell, with a little water. Then she raised Christian's head upon her knees, and the fever-stricken man, suffering from the agonies of a burning thirst, eagerly drank the life-giving draught. All that night

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she sat beside him, cooling his aching head and giving him at short intervals a mouthful of lime-juice. Towards morning the violence of the fever abated. He slept, and Mahina was happy as she watched.

The dawn came, and Christian's breathing grew soft and regular. Mahina took his hand in hers, and raised it to her lips; then, overcome by weariness, she lay beside him and slept too.

As the first streaks of sunlight, piercing the mountain mists, lit up the dark and jagged rocks which hid the cave within their bosom, Christian awoke, and knew that the fever was gone. Then a cry escaped him, as he saw the sleeping figures of his wife and children; and the basket of limes and the wet bandage just fallen from his temples told him all. She had come to him when he was ill and suffering; come to him when his last words to her had been a curse. A great pity welled up in his heart as he looked at her pale, worn face, so full of pain and suffering. Her thick mantle of black hair seemed like a funeral pall to her body, now so weak and thin.

A blade of yellow sunshine shot in through the mouth of the cave; it touched her face and glorified it with a strange radiance, and Fletcher Christian's better nature came back to him once more.

Sinking quietly back upon his pillow he reached out his hand and placed it gently upon her head.


A broken cry of trembling happiness, then in an instant she was on her knees before him, with her hands clasped tightly together, and a look of unutterable

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yearning in her dark, sad eyes. He drew her to him and kissed her lips.

“Thou art my wife,” he said.

With streaming eyes she flung her arms round his neck and sobbed out her joy to live again upon her husband's bosom.

All that morning she remained in the cave, for Christian was still weak from the fever. In the afternoon, to her great joy he told her that henceforward she and the children should remain with him there, as he had no desire to return and live in the valley. Mahina eagerly set about removing all their possessions to the new home. When she returned, the sight of Christian playing with and caressing her children filled her with a wild sense of happiness, and already her face was glowing with all the old beauty which had once fascinated the man she loved.

In her excitement about removing the contents or their old house, Mahina did not notice the absence of the people from the village. That night, however, when after so many months of misery she and her children lay beside her husband, she talked with Christian of the growing suspicion and hatred now again rending the life of the little community.

“Only thee of all the white men do my people trust,” she said. “Wilt thou not yet come and decide between them and thy countrymen, ere it be too late? Is it not better, my husband, for all men to dwell together in peace? A hot word leadeth to a blow, and the hand toucheth the musket, and death leaps out from the hollow iron.”

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“True, Mahina,” he answered mournfully; “I alone am to blame for the bloodshed in Afitā. But never more will I interfere.”

How long they had slept they knew not, when suddenly they awoke to the report of firearms.

“What new horror is this?” muttered Christian to himself, as he hastily rose and dressed.

“'Tis my countrymen who have again attacked the white men,” answered Mahina, trembling with fear lest her people should seek Christian's life in their mad lust for slaughter, and her newly-found happiness come to a sudden end.

“'Tis as likely that the white men have attacked the brown,” answered Christian bitterly. “Are we not all rebels and murderers?”

Determined to shoot the first man who should attempt to enter with hostile intent, he took a stool to the mouth of the cave, and sat there musket in hand, waiting for the dawn. No further sound reached them from the valley, and they were beginning to hope that they had heard only the Tahitians discharging their pieces to frighten away “evil spirits,” but as the day broke, they saw the figure of Alrema clambering up the path along the ridge.

“What has happened?” cried Mahina to the girl.

“Alas! Mahina, the white men are well, but all or our countrymen and the men of Tubuai are dead; the white men have slain them all. And their wives have now fled in fear and hidden themselves.”

In a few words she told her dreadful story, and

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added how, when daylight came, the wives of McCoy and Smith, going to comfort the widows of the murdered men, found nothing there but the cold bodies of the victims—the women had fled. So while the four seamen buried those whom they had slain, their wives went in search of the missing women, and Alrema had come to the cave, thinking that they might have taken refuge with Christian.

“Thou cruel murderess,” said Christian sternly to Alrema, “so thine was the bloody hand which took the life of Talalu! May the gods punish thee, thou cruel and wicked woman!”

His savage words terrified her, and she shrunk back in alarm. Disdaining further speech with her, Christian turned to Mahina.

“Come, Mahina, let us seek for these poor creatures who in the madness of their despair and terror may do themselves injury.”

Leaving the sleeping children, and closely followed by Alrema, Christian and Mahina began to descend the mountain by the narrow and intricate path winding to the plain. Sometimes it led through huge crevices in the rock, which shut out the light on either side, and left only a patch of blue sky overhead; sometimes it ran sharply over the dizzy summit of the broken mountain, from whence they could see the surf-beaten beach below.

Suddenly the quick seaman's eye of Christian detected moving figures on Bounty Beach, and he stopped and gazed intently down. Away from the wash of the waves the Bounty's boat lay bottom upwards, rapidly

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falling into decay from disuse; and the figures he had seen were turning it over upon its keel.

Even while he looked he saw the three women, the moment they had turned the boat over, begin to drag her towards the water; but they were not strong enough to make much progress in their efforts.

A cry of pity escaped Mahina.

“What would they do?” she said. “The boat is old and rotten, and they seek to drag it to the water! Save them, my husband, ere they die by the sharks.”

“Nay, it is I who have filled them with fear, and 'tis I who will save them from death!” And Alrema bounded down the dangerous path, her long, black hair flying about her naked shoulders as she sprang from ledge to ledge, thoughtless of danger to herself in her effort to avert this last calamity.

Christian and Mahina followed closely, but when Alrema gained the beach the women had succeeded in floating the boat and, using her bottom boards as paddles, had sent her some little distance from the shore.

“Come back, come back, thou foolish Nahi!” Alrema cried frantically from the beach. “Come back; I swear by the gods that no harm shall come to thee!”

A heavy roller lifted the boat and carried her back for some distance shoreward, and the women had all they could do to keep her from broaching to; but Nahi while she paddled looked over her shoulder at Alrema and cursed her bitterly.

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“Thou murderess!” she cried, “rather will we drown or go into the bellies of the sharks than live in this bloody land of Afitā with thee.”

Alrema took no heed of her words, but cast off her waist-cloth of tappa and plunged into the sea. She could see that there was a brief lull in the succession of rollers tumbling in upon the beach, and that, poor as their boards were, the women would succeed in getting out to deep water unless she managed to reach the boat quickly.

“Paddle, paddle,” panted Nahi to the others; “let not the red-handed woman touch the boat!” and she plunged her board into the water with all her strength—it broke in halves, and the boat broached to.

She stood up in the stern, with despair in her eyes, and looked round her. Already Alrema was within a few feet of the boat, and in imploring tones was calling to the women to return, when Nahi spoke to her two companions in a low voice. They looked inquiringly at her, and she answered their looks with an impatient gesture to cease paddling.

Panting, and now almost exhausted, Alrema at last gained the boat, put out her right hand and grasped the gunwale.

“Come,” she said faintly, “come back with me, Nahi.”

Looking down at her with savage hatred, the wife of Talalu smiled cruelly at the pleading face.

“Aye,” she answered, “I come.” And, without another word she sprang out of the boat, clasped her

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arms round Alrema's neck, and uttering a curse with her last breath, dragged her enemy to death with her beneath the water.