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Chapter XXXIV “Try to Forget the Past”

CHRISTIAN, as soon as he heard of the death of Quintal, bitterly reproached himself as the cause; his old brooding manner returned to him in all its former intensity, and, nothing that Mahina or Smith said could soften the feeling of passionate remorse which now took possession of him.”

“God knows, Mr. Christian,” said Smith to the mutineer in an endeavour to rouse him from his melancholy, “you have nothing to reproach yourself with. You are not responsible for what led to the death of these men. If my musket had been loaded I would have shot Quintal myself; and I am no lover of bloodshed.”

Christian made no answer, but buried his face in his hands; and presently Smith, seeing that he seemed to have become unconscious of his presence, returned to his house. Descending the ridge he met Young coming up. His face was very pale, and Smith saw that he was suffering deeply.

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“You shouldn't overtax yourself like this, Mr. Young,” he said. “Where are you going?”

A deep flush dyed Young's sallow face. “I am going to Christian. Do you think he will see me?”

Smith looked at him curiously for a moment, then held out his hand, “I am sure he will, sir. God knows you have done him bitter wrong, but he said to me only the other day, when he was speaking of his wife, that he had too many sins upon his own head to judge either you or her.”

Edward Young's hand trembled a little as he leaned upon his stick; and without another word he turned and went towards Christian's cave.

The dead silence of the place oppressed him, and the sight of Christian's figure, as he sat with his hands to his face at the entrance to the cave, made him hesitate and shook his resolution, but only for a moment. He took a few quick steps and touched the man who had once been his friend on the shoulder. Christian raised his head and looked at him.

“I have come to you, Christian, for the last time. I am not a sentimental fool, but I feel that if you would once more give me your hand and think of me, not as the cowardly scoundrel I have proved, but as your old and trusted messmate of days gone by, I should be less miserable. I feel that I am a dying man—will you forgive and forget?”

Only the sound of Young's panting breath was heard for a few moments, and then Fletcher Christian stood up and held out his hand.

“I forgive you freely, Young. Not for the sake of

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our comradeship in crime, but in the knowledge that I, too, need forgiveness in the sight of God for the bloody deeds that my mad folly and hasty temper have brought about. There is my hand.”

For a little time neither of them spoke. Young, looking at the gaunt figure of his old shipmate, was filled with pity.

His memory flew back to the days at Matavai when the young officer had vanquished in friendly contest the picked wrestlers of Tahiti, and Tinā and the gentle Aitia had praised his strength and courage. And Christian, as he listened to Young's laboured breath and almost whispered tones, knew that his time was not far off, yet that for them both there was at least some hope of a brighter future, short as it might be.

Presently Young, with his hand on Christian's shoulder, broke the silence.

“Let us try, old friend, to reconcile ourselves to our lot. I have not long to live, but by God's help will try to lead a better life than I have done. I think it is Smith's teaching.… And so I want you to come down to the settlement and live with us again.… The men who were ever a disturbing influence here are dead—one by my hand.… You alone can inspire all that are left of us with hope for the future. What is there to keep you from us now?”

“Remorse, Young—the misery of my thoughts—the constant dread—but there, my dear fellow, leave me to myself. You and Smith alone, of all the fated wretches who participated in my villainy, have striven

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to lead decent lives. If the others had been like you, our life here would have been different. It is too late now; I cannot bear to think of it. My crime was bad enough when I saw it in all its hideousness five minutes after that morning off Tofoa, but now——”

“Christian,” and Young's voice took a deep earnestness, “you suffered under Bligh as none of us suffered. I, aye, and Smith too, were equally guilty with you and the mutiny was no crime.”

“No crime! Is it no crime to have been the murderer of nineteen persons?—nineteen of my fellow-countrymen turned adrift to die of the horrors of hunger and thirst in an open boat!”

“They may have reached land.”

A faint light came into Christian's eyes—“Young, if I could but dare to hope it! God knows I would give my life twenty times over to know it. But, even if they did, all England knows the infamy of Fletcher Christian, the disgraced mutineer.… But what difference does it make? Have I not the blood of those who landed here with me upon my soul?”

He rose from his seat and paced to and fro in the gathering dusk, and Young could see that his emotion had for the time mastered him.

“Come,” he said at last, “try to forget the past. Once more I implore you, Christian, to return to the settlement. Your wife”—and he turned his face away as he spoke as if fearful that even darkness could not hide the burning flush of shame upon his cheeks—“your wife is in no fit state to live here. The dreadful loneliness of it is killing her.”

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A step sounded near, and the next moment Smith joined them.

“Aye, indeed, Mr. Christian. She was never a strong woman, and her time is near. Surely you will let her come and be tended by our women?”

The sincerity of the appeals touched him at last. “You are right, Smith. God bless you, old friends both, for making me think of her a little. Yes, we will come and dwell in the settlement till the child is born.”

The next day Mahina came down from the cavern with a great joy in her heart; for the loneliness of her life, even with her husband to watch over her, robbed her of both health and strength, and she loved to hear the sound of her countrywomen's voices.

A few weeks afterwards her third child was born; and while the other two played with the children of McCoy, Quintal, and Young, Mahina was tenderly nursed and cared for by the Tahitians till she grew strong again.

But soon, unable to conquer his aversion to the society of his fellow-men, Christain again left her to return to his cave, bidding her to follow him when she was well enough.

The first day of the nineteenth century came in as did most days at Pitcairn—a flush of sunlight melting the mists of the mountain tops, piercing the dark shades of the wooded valleys with broad blades of golden light, and rousing the sleeping rookeries of

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sea-birds into clamorous life. Long ere the glittering dews of the night that hung in beady drops from every leaf and blade of grass had quivered and fallen to the first breaths of the trade-wind, Christian awoke from his broken slumbers, and was moodily taking his accustomed walk along the eastern cliffs.

Whath ad happened in the world he had left behind? he thought. Was he accounted as long since dead? Was there one living soul in all England whose thoughts went out to him sometimes? Slowly he paced along buried in thought. When he reached the end of his walk he sat on a jutting ledge of rock overhanging the boiling surf three hundred feet below, where his eye ranged over the wide expanse of sparkling ocean. Day after day, for years he had looked out thus upon the bosom of the sailless sea, and had seen nothing but the swift flight of the blue-billed kanápu and fierce-eyed frigate birds as they sailed to and fro or plunged from aerial heights into the deep; or far above, the snow-white tropic birds, floating with motionless wing and gazing down at the human figure below. Was it likely, he thought, that his refuge would ever be discovered? Would——

He started to his feet and with dilated eyes looked at the horizon. There, clearly within view, were the topgallant sails of a ship!

Crouching—he knew not why—upon his knees, he clutched the ledge of rock with shaking hands and watched for nearly a quarter of an hour. The trade-wind was fast bringing the ship nearer, and before long her courses rose to view. A few minutes more

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he gazed, then, struck by a sudden impulse, he ran along the ledge till he reached the pathway to Bounty Bay. He bounded down the steep and fearful descent to where the Bounty's boat was hauled up upon rough skids laid down by Young and Smith many months before. Old as she was, the boat was not now unseaworthy, as she had been when Nahi and the other Tahitian women attempted to escape in her; for Smith had put her in a fair state of repair, so that she might be used for fishing when the surf did not break too heavily upon the shores of the little bay.

Christian tugged vainly at the boat and rocked her from side to side in an endeavour to start her down the skids; but his strength was not equal to the task.

He ceased his efforts, and then looked seaward, but the ship was not visible from where he stood.

“Oh! for some help,” he muttered,” “but that I cannot, dare not seek; neither Young nor Smith must see me.” He thought for a moment, then with excitement, began again to ascend the path to his cave. Panting with his exertions he soon gained the top of the cliffs, and ran along the dangerous path till he reached the cavern. He darted inside and quickly reappeared with his musket and a block and tackle, which he had often used to drag weights to his retreat. With this he hoped to launch the boat by making one end of the tackle fast to a point of rock just at the water's edge, and the other to her stern ringbolt.

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The musket he intended to fire to attract notice from the ship should other means fail.

Returning to the beach he was soon exerting all his strength to start the heavy little boat down to the water.