FOR some minutes Edward Young lay stunned upon the rocky path, a stream o_lood oozing from a severe cut in his head. Presently the cool night ai_rought him back to consciousness, and, as by slow degrees his senses returne_e feared that he alone was left alive of all the white men on the island, an_t was likely enough that even his hours were numbered. With a struggle h_ose slowly and painfully, dragging his footsteps along the road until h_eached his house. Fearful of again encountering the enraged islanders h_roceeded with the greatest caution, stopping suddenly, when at a turn in th_arrow track he saw three figures in a crouching position.
He dropped upon his hands and knees and scanned them carefully. Presently h_ecognised Nahi, Alrema, and Terere. The three women were supporting Smith, who was too badly hurt to stand upon his feet. As Young watched, doubtfu_hether to approach or not, he saw a fourth figure join them, and knew Mahin_y the black mantle of hair falling down her back.
"Is he dead, I wonder?" he muttered to himself. "Better for him if he is. _ill 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, pantin_osom pressed to his lovingly. "My husband, my husband," she murmured, "tho_rt wounded; yet Nahi said thou wouldst be safe." She turned fiercely upon th_ife 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'_earts 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 agonise_eart, 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 wep_ilently. Did Alrema know that she, her friend, had yielded, and that Edwar_oung no longer cared for the brave, loyal wife who had fought and bled fo_im in the days gone by in Tubuai?
Alrema did know. But maddened as she was by the discovery of her husband'_aithlessness, she was yet true to Mahina; and all her love for Young welle_p fresh and strong in her heart when she felt him swaying to and fro on hi_eet from weakness.
"Thou cruel Nahi," she cried bitterly, "dost thou think that thy husband i_ore dear to thee than mine is to me"—a sob choked her utterance—"he for who_y life is ever ready to be given? If he comes to further harm I swear I wil_ill thee, thou false and wicked Nahi."
Nahi sprang to her feet, and her black eyes gleamed with fire as she threw he_rms wide out. "What I have done was for the love of Talalu! But let us no_aste time in words; hide thy husband and the husband of Terere until the fur_f our people hath spent itself."
It was now agreed that Young, who was only just able to walk, should go o_head 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 furthe_engeance from the brown men; and, supported by Alrema and the tremblin_ahina, the wounded man set out, and the three toiled slowly along. Then Youn_egan to talk.
"Leave me by myself," he said weakly in English. "You, Alrema, return home an_ee to our child. Maybe she has come to harm. You, Mahina, look for you_usband, 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 hi_o the cave whilst I seek out thy husband and bring him to thee—to thee and t_is friend—his true and good friend."
The bitterness of the words, "his true and good friend," pierced the anguishe_eart 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, t_all upon her face a few yards away and weep out her shame and bitterness o_eart. "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, assiste_im to his feet; they set out towards the cave where Young was gone, and i_nother hour their journey was successfully accomplished.
The wives of McCoy and Quintal—Puni the Huahine woman, and Malama— meantim_at alone in their houses, weeping at the thought of the fate which they fel_ure had overtaken their husbands. Nahi, on her way to seek Talalu had calle_n and spoken words of encouragement which somewhat allayed their fears. Sh_romised that she would restrain her countrymen from further attacking th_hite men; then still fearful as to what had become of her own husband, sh_uickly ran the rest of the distance to her little dwelling in Williams'
enclosure. When she entered she found the gigantic Tahitian quietly seate_ross-legged upon a mat, with his musket beside him, eating his supper. Sh_mbraced 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 wa_idden in a clump of trees and saw all that took place between thee and th_ounded white men. And now that thou hast returned in safety I myself will g_o Manale and the others, and stay their hands from further killing. Enoug_lood has been shed."
Towards dawn the islanders returned from their fruitless search for McCoy an_uintal, and as they filed one by one into Williams' house they were met b_alalu, who had just missed them in the darkness.
In a few words he so worked upon their feelings that they readily agreed to d_o further harm to the remaining white men, and consented to meet and discus_heir future relations towards each other.
Christian, slumbering in the loneliness of his mountain cave, had heard th_eport of the muskets and guessed what was happening; but he was perfectl_ndifferent 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 _oman'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 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 b_live or dead?"
He laughed bitterly. "None. What care I for Mahina? Dost thou think I a_lind? Hast thou not seen what I have seen?"
The woman sank on her knees beside him, and, taking his hand in hers, wep_assionately. "Aye, I know it now. But yet Mahina is my friend, else had _illed her. And because of that and for my great friendship for thee have _rought 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 th_ude lamp of coconut oil.
"She is waiting for thee in the cave with Simeti and my husband. And see, thi_o I swear—only because I bade her stay and help the wounded men did sh_emain away from thy house and children. Else would she have come, and wit_hem sought thee here."
Christian regarded her for a moment or two in silence. He admired her intens_oyalty and devotion to Mahina, which was put to such a test, and s_estrained 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 togethe_ little."
"Bring them in," he said, "and stay with them here till I return."
She placed her hand upon his shoulder. "Thou wilt hurt neither my husband no_ahina?" she said beseechingly.
"No," he said in a low voice, "neither. For the sake of these, my children, _ill not."
She took his hand and kissed it again. "Forgive her, Kirisiani. When tho_idst cast her aside from thee on the cliffs she became in the hands of m_usband, who is a cunning man, as a twig that is bent by the fingers of _hild. 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 ar_alse to their friends and their duty when a woman's face comes between. Sta_ere 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 fro_mith; Young, who lay upon a couch of leaves, merely nodded to him and sai_othing. Mahina was not visible.
"I am glad to find you both alive—both," he added, with a steady glance a_dward Young, whose eyes dropped before his, "although if every white man o_he island had been killed it would have been but justice. How can thes_eople trust men who, even among themselves, are guilty of the blackes_reachery to each other?"
For a little while no one spoke; then came a murmur of voices outside, an_alalu stood before the three white men.
"This is my message to ye, oh white men who were once my friends; these ar_he words of Temua, Nihu, the men of Tubuai, and I, Talalu. Let there be peac_etween us. We sought not blood; only when it was forced upon us did we figh_nd kill. Let there be peace."
"I blame neither thee nor them," said Christian quietly, "and now I tell thes_wo men here, who were once my friends, but whom I wish to see no more, tha_hey 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 bot_oung and Smith saw, was unfeignedly glad at their escape; and they in thei_urn were relieved to hear that McCoy and Quintal were safe.
As the sun rose they heard plaintive notes of wailing for the dead rising fro_he 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 retrea_nd, assisted by the now friendly Tahitians, reach the valley, where they sa_tanding round the three bodies a little group of brown people. As they dre_ear, 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; and the bodies of the slai_en, having been wrapped in mats by the women, were placed in their graves i_ilence, broken only by the sobs of their wives.
Walking slowly away from the cave, Fletcher Christian, with white, despairin_ace, went first to his house, intending to bring away some further article_or his own use in his retreat. The door was closed, but not fastened on th_nside. Pushing it open, he saw the figure of his wife upon her couch. She ha_een weeping, and as he entered the room trembled in every nerve; then, ere h_ould 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 wome_n my country, even though they be false to their husbands. Listen to me. S_hat I never see thy face again I am content. But still would I see m_hildren sometimes. Therefore with thee they shall remain, and sometimes wil_ come to them."
In another moment he was gone, and Mahina looked wildly after his retreatin_igure. Then she swayed and fell, and an hour after Alrema, with tears of pit_illing her star-like eyes, came in with the children and embraced her frien_ovingly.
"He will yet love thee again," said the loyal girl—"'tis but a black clou_hat will vanish. And see, I too forgive thee."