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Chapter 15 The Tongue of a Woman

  • DARKNESS fell on the lonely island, and the muffled roar of the breaker_eating against the cliffs of Afita was the only sound that disturbed th_ilence of the night.
  • In the big living-room of Edward Young's house Talalu sat moodily upon a ma_n one corner, wondering what had become of Nahi. His captors, at Young'_equest, had not bound their prisoner, but had left Alrema on guard over hi_ith a loaded musket and pistol.
  • "Where was Nahi?" he wondered. "Why was she, the faithful, loving wife, no_ith him now?" Alrema, by Young's direction, had given him food, but it la_eside him untasted. Young himself was absent; for soon after bringing Talal_o the house he had quietly left again. Alrema sat at the open doorway, he_ale, handsome face wearing a disturbed expression. Where was her husband? Wh_as he so eager to get away at such a time as this, when men's minds wer_isturbed and the scent of blood was in the air! But for her proud and haught_ature she would have watched his movements, and would now have gone in searc_f him. But Mahina's soft, gentle face rose before her, with her pleadin_yes, and Alrema lowered her head and wept silently. How could she kil_ahina, who had ever been her friend, and who had eyes and heart for Kirisian_lone? And yet—ah! she could think no longer. Perhaps her husband was gon_lsewhere, and Mahina slept alone with her children.
  • The long, long hours passed slowly away till midnight; then a step crunche_pon the pebbly path, and Young entered the house. His face was calm, bu_lrema 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'_ouse, and are now coming up to demand that we wait no longer for th_ahitians to surrender. They say their lives are in danger while the native_ave arms in their possession. I have tried to persuade them to leave th_atter to you, but they won't listen."
  • "All right," answered the other quietly; and Alrema noticed that he spok_omewhat brokenly, as if out of breath. "I can do no more, but if they insis_n pursuing this quarrel to the bitter end, I must see it through with th_est of you."
  • Alrema handed him a young coconut to drink. He took it from her hand, but hi_yes avoided his wife's face. Then, taking his musket and putting a pistol i_is belt, he spoke to Talalu.
  • "You must come with us," he said, not unkindly to the Tahitian, "so that you_ountrymen may see that no harm hath been done thee. I will try and reaso_ith them." Then, leaving Alrema with her child, the three men stepped ou_nto the darkness to meet the others.
  • Nahi had not deserted her husband in his extremity. While he sat a prisoner i_oung's house, wondering why she had not come near him, Nahi was busy with he_ongue. Since nightfall she had been in Williams' house talking to he_ountrymen, and with passionate eloquence stirring their hearts to the doin_f a great deed; and the Tahitians and Tubuaians, as they watched her flashin_yes sparkle and glow like diamonds in the faint light and listened to he_iery 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 th_loor. "'Tis not for blood we seek, but for the right to live and work fo_urselves, and no longer remain slaves. Thou art but a woman, and shouldst no_rge—"
  • "A woman!" and she clenched her hand fiercely round the hilt of the knife sh_eld—"a woman, yes. But thou, Manale—bulky as thou art in body, thy heart i_s 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?"
  • "Nay, insult us not, Nahi, with such bitter words," said Tairoa- Maina; "w_re men. It is in our minds that Kirisiani will help us."
  • She laughed bitterly. "Kirisiani! He whom my husband trusted before othe_en—only to be betrayed! He has turned from our people, and cares not if hi_ountrymen rid themselves of us. Death is before ye all, I tell thee. Will y_et these white men slay ye one by one? Have ye not guns in thy hands? Fiv_ieces of iron, and death lieth within them, ready to leap out with flame an_moke. Live and be slaves! Act and be men!"
  • She ceased; the lamp of tui tui nuts flickered, wavered and died out, an_arkness 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 dea_ecause 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, an_hey all filed out in silence.
  • Young and Smith, with Talalu walking between them, had scarcely gone a hundre_ards from the house when they met Quintal and McCoy coming down the rugge_ath towards Young's dwelling.
  • "Mr. Young," said McCoy, "we have determined to clap a stopper on this mutin_t once. We can't let these fellows take charge of the island any longer, an_e want you to come along with us and surprise them before daybreak."
  • "Very well, I'm agreeable. But at the same time"—and Young laughe_ronically—"it does me good to hear you—or any of us—talk about putting down _utiny."
  • "Call it by any name you like," said McCoy, roughly. "But it won't do for u_o let this thing go on. We came to you because we know you won't leave us i_he 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 th_ouse."
  • Following Young in Indian file, the three white men and the Tahitian walked a_uickly as the night would permit along the narrow path which wound gently u_ 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 o_he ever-restless surf and the strange, plaintive cries of the young sea-bird_n their rookeries on the cliffs.
  • Suddenly there rang out, and echoed and re-echoed in quavering reverberation_n the hollows of the hills, three musket shots in quick succession, followe_y the hoarse, weird clamour of tens of thousands of birds as they rose an_ircled 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 o_alk 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 i_he direction of the firing, which seemed, however, to be nearer the whit_en's houses than to that of the Tubuaians.
  • "Looks as if our fellows had grabbed 'em while they were asleep, an_ourt—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 hundre_ards further Smith, who was in advance, stumbled and fell over something i_he darkness; the hands he put out to save himself plunged into a pool o_lood which was oozing from the body of Brown, who lay dead in the middle o_he 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 t_ave the others"; and Young, followed by McCoy and Quintal, rushed along th_rack in search of their comrades, and in a few seconds had left Smith man_ards behind.
  • Stooping down again over the body of the murdered man, Smith felt his heart t_atisfy himself that he was dead. He lifted the still bleeding figure, carrie_t 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 undergrowt_ining the path. A clubbed musket was raised in the air, and Smith fell an_ay 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 hat_ver been good to us. But this dog"—and he spurned the body of the other whit_an—"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 a_xclamation of horror burst from them; this time two dead men lay in thei_ath—Mills and Martin.
  • Then, before they could realise what had happened, five muskets blazed ou_rom a rocky ridge above, and several naked figures sprang from their ambus_ith savage yells.
  • None of the white men were struck, but Quintal and McCoy, terrified out o_heir wits, dropped their muskets and fled. The intense darkness favoure_hem. They succeeded in evading the rush of their opponents, and were soo_lambering down the mountain side in the hope of finding better shelter in th_ense scrub of the valley. Young alone stood his ground, and fired his muske_t the first of the natives who sprang upon him; but he missed his mark, an_efore he could club the weapon Nihu struck him a blow on the head with _usket, and laid him senseless.
  • The five figures bent over him for a moment, and talked hurriedly amon_hemselves.
  • "'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 th_usket of the savage Manale, who had pressed the muzzle of the weapon t_oung's heart. "But the other two, Makoi and Kawintali, must die."
  • So they sped away in pursuit of Quintal and McCoy. A class of degrade_ahitians, now happily extinct, who affected the dress and manners of women.