SCARCE two cables' lengths away from the dark fringe of palms which lined th_hite, shimmering beach, the Bounty lay motionless upon the placid, reef- sheltered waters of the quiet little bay, her hempen cable hanging straight u_nd down from hawse-pipe to anchor, fifteen fathoms below her forefoot. Fro_he cabin windows a light in the captain's berth shot a dulled gleam upon th_arkened water under her cumbrous stern, which the bright rays of moonligh_ad not yet touched, for though the moon was full it was not high, and th_hip lay head to the south-eastward, with her bows toward the verdured slope_f Orohena Mountain, whose mist-capped summit towered seven thousand feet t_he sky. Aloft, the ship's black spars stood silhouetted against the snow- white canvas bent in readiness for her departure; for in a day or two her lon_tay at Tahiti would come to an end, and the bows of the little barque woul_e turned southward for her voyage to the West Indies.
In the great cabin, the chief entrance to which was from the main deck, th_oon—rays sent a stream of light through the open doors, and showed a strang_ight to see on shipboard.
Instead of being fitted up like a King's ship, or indeed as a merchantman, th_hole cabin space was filled with young breadfruit plants. Reaching fore an_ft from the cabin doors to the transoms were five tiers of stout shelving, built to receive the pots in which the plants were placed; while slopin_pwards towards the after part of the quarter deck from the transom_hemselves were five tiers more. Nearly all the plants were fully-leaved, an_ stray moonbeam now and then pierced its way through them to strike agains_nd illumine the dark mahogany doors of the rooms on either side of thi_trangely furnished cabin.
Nearly nine months before, the Bounty, of 215 tons burden, had left Spithea_or Tahiti under the command of Lieutenant William Bligh, who had bee_ailing—master with the great navigator Cook in the Resolution. The ship whic_ligh now commanded was specially fitted to convey specimens of the breadfrui_ree from Tahiti—the Otaheite of Cook—to the West Indies, in the hope that th_ree would there take root and flourish and furnish as bountiful a food suppl_o the negroes of those islands as it did to the light, copper-coloured peopl_f the isles of the Pacific.
Of the forty-six persons who sailed from Spithead in the Bounty, all, sav_letcher Christian, the senior master's mate, and a guard of four men who wer_n shore, were at that moment on board; and all, except the anchor watch, wer_eep in slumber.
Walking to and fro on the forepart of the upper deck was Edward Young, _quare-built, dark-complexioned man of twenty-two, and midshipman in charge o_he watch. For nearly an hour he had thus paced the deck, glancing now a_loud—capped Orohena, six miles away, and now at the white tents of the shor_arty with the dark figure of the sentry in the foreground. Presently h_topped and looked intently towards another part of the beach where, an hou_efore, he had seen two figures seated upon a canoe which was drawn up on th_ard, white sand; they were gone, but his quick eye discerned the smaller o_he two disappear among the coconut groves towards the village of Papawa, while the taller person walked quickly over to the largest of the four tent_nd entered it.
"Ah," he said to himself, and an amused smile flitted over his sallo_eatures, "Master Fletcher and Mahina, as I thought. He's badly love-smitte_ith that girl… no wonder he doesn't grumble at doing duty over the breadfrui_lants on shore, with such a woman as that to sit by his side and charm hi_ith her sweet prattle… Better to be at that than doing this cursed dog-tro_p and down in the moonlight… and yet 'tis dangerous… aye, as dangerous fo_im as it is for me to linger among these people so long."
He sighed, and then baring his left arm, looked at a name tatooed upon i_engthwise; then with an angry gesture of contempt, pulled down his sleeve, and resumed his walk to and fro.
"Dangerous! Aye, indeed it is! Else why should I, a King's officer, and a_roud a man as Fletcher Christian—whom I call a fool—commit such folly a_his? What would my fine uncle say did he know that I had gone so far as t_romise this girl, whose name is on my arm, never to leave her. And though _o leave her, is it less dishonourable for me to beguile her with lies becaus_y skin is white and hers is brown? Well, in a week or so, poor Alrema wil_ave to learn to forget me."
A cool breath of air touched his cheek, and looking shoreward he saw th_lumèd palm-tops swaying gently to and fro; then again a smart puff ripple_he glassy surface of the water between the ship and the shore and swep_eaward; and Young saw the black wall of a rain squall come fleeting down fro_he dark shadow of the mountain.
Calling to the watch to stand-by, the young officer picked up his oil-skin, which one of the men brought him, put it on, and waited for the squall t_trike the ship. Quickly it loomed down upon the line of palms, the blac_loud paling to a misty white as it drew nearer; then it rustled, the_iercely shook the waving branches and drenched them with an ice-cold showe_re it hummed and whistled through the Bounty's cordage and sent her sharpl_stern, to tauten up her cable as rigid as an iron bar.
"Pretty stiff while it lasts, Tom," said one of the anchor watch to _essmate, as, ten minutes afterwards, the tail end of the squall passed an_he bright moonlight again played upon the soaking decks. "Damme, but I'd lik_o see a stiffer one come along and part the cable, eh?"
As the droning hum of the squall ceased and the palm branches hung pendulou_o rest again, a woman, nude, except for the narrow girdle of leaves aroun_er waist, raised herself from the foot of a coconut tree behind which she ha_rouched, and looked at the ship. In her right hand was an open clasp knife.
She leant her back against the tree and gazed steadily at the Bounty fo_early a minute, then with an angry exclamation cast the knife from her int_he sea.
"Fool that I was! Why did I not cut the rope through? Even though the youn_rii had seen me he would not have raised his hand to harm me, for he to_ould gladly see the ship cast away and broken upon the reef, so that he nee_ot leave my cousin Alrema."
An hour later, when daylight broke, Edward Young, after calling the ship'_ompany, again went to the bows to take a look at the cable. It was his las_uty before reporting to his relief that all was well, and then turning in. A_e peered over the low bows of the vessel he saw the hemp cable stretchin_way down into the clear depths of the calm water. In a moment his sailor'_ye saw that all the strands of the cable but one were parted.
His sallow face turned white, then flushed again, and quickly walking aft h_nocked at the door of the state room occupied by Lieutenant William Bligh.
"Who is it?" inquired a sharp, imperious voice; then ere the young man ha_iven his name the cabin door opened and a man of medium height, little mor_han thirty years old, stood facing the midshipman. His features were clea_ut and refined and of singular whiteness—remarkable in one whose occupatio_as the sea—and his complexion contrasted strikingly with the jet black of hi_air.
"The cable is nearly chafed through, sir, or the strands have parted. Ther_as a strong squall just before daylight and the ship strained very heavil_pon it. I think—"
"Keep your opinions to yourself. You are a damned careless fellow, and not fi_ven to keep anchor watch. Where is it chafed?"
"About a fathom below the water, sir," answered the young man with an unstead_oice and an angry gleam in his dark eyes. "When I looked just now it wa_autened out, and I saw that only one strand remained."
"Bah," said the commander with a contemptuous laugh; "and you have th_udacity to attempt to screen your carelessness by telling me it has chafed—_ouple of fathoms down from the hawse-pipe and in fifteen fathoms of water!
The fact is, some of the natives have been off in a canoe and cut it unde_our nose. You ought to have prevented it. Were you asleep on your watch, Mr.
Young? Answer me quickly."
"I was not, sir," answered the young man quietly, steadying his voice; "and _ill swear that no canoe has come near the ship since I took charge of th_eck. I believe she brought up to her anchor so suddenly during the squal_hat the jerk caused the cable to part."
"That will do. I will see to this matter myself. You are all alike— every on_f you. There is not an officer in the ship that I can trust. Order my boa_way."
The angry, red flush in the commander's pale cheeks and the steady glitter i_is light blue eyes boded ill to the young officer, whose own dark feature_ere dyed deep with repressed passion; but by a powerful effort he overcam_he desire to hurl back his superior officer's taunts, and saluting th_aptain with a hand which trembled with rage, he withdrew.
In a quarter of an hour Bligh stepped out of his boat on to the beach. Befor_e had walked a dozen paces he was met with smiles of welcome by Moana an_ina, two of the leading chiefs, as had ever been the case during the man_eeks of the Bounty's stay at the island.
But instead of the outstretched hand of friendship the angry officer gave the_ut a cold inclination of his head, and passed them by. At the entrance to th_rincipal tent stood Fletcher Christian, who saluted as the commande_pproached.
"Mr. Christian," and the moment the master's mate heard the sharp, fierce rin_n his captain's tones, his jaw set firmly and his eye looked steadily int_ligh's, "Mr. Christian, the cable has been cut. Most providentially, however, despite the criminal negligence of Mr. Young, the officer of the watch, on_trand was not severed. That, fortunately, held the ship; otherwise she woul_ow be lying on the reef. I am determined that the culprit shall be found an_ade an example of—as, by God! he shall."
"Very good, sir. Shall I send word for Tina and the other chiefs to come t_ou?"
"Why so, sir? What reason have you to jump to the conclusion that this piec_f villainy is the work of the natives?"
"I cannot imagine, sir, who else should be suspected."
"That is a matter of opinion. I have mine. But as you have made the suggestio_ will at least put your uncalled-for suspicions to the test o_nvestigation."
"Pardon me, sir—" began Christian, when Bligh cut him short with an imperiou_esture.
"Send for Tina."
In another minute a tall, stout, but handsome native whose speakin_ountenance expressed the most timid deference and respect, joined the captai_nd Christian.
"Tina," said Bligh, fixing his keen eyes upon the chief's face, which alread_howed the deepest concern, "what does this mean? My ship's cable has bee_ut. Some of your people have done it. Let them be found instantly."
Like the simple child of nature that he was, the chief clasped his hand_eseechingly together, and the quick tears welled up into his dark eyes ere h_ould speak.
"What man is there of mine, oh friend of Tuti and friend of Tina, who would d_hee or thine such wrong as this?" and then with the utmost distress depicte_n his face he beckoned to him a fine, handsome woman of about thirty, an_urriedly spoke a few words to her. As she quickly walked away to do hi_idding, he turned to Bligh, and in pleading accents besought him to wait _ittle till his wife Aitia returned.
The captain of the Bounty nodded, seated himself upon a stool which the sentr_rought to him, and waited. The chief's house was but a short distance fro_he tents and soon the woman returned carrying with her a framed picture of _aval officer. It was a portrait of Captain Cook, painted by Webber in 1777, which the great navigator had presented to the Tahitians, and which the_reated with as much reverence as if it were a god.
"See," said the chief, taking the picture from Aitia's hand, and the accent_f perfect truth rang in his voice, "see, this is Tuti," and he held it ou_owards the two officers; "would I, Tina, whom he knew as Umu his friend, an_hose eyes love to look upon this, his face which speaketh not, would I tel_hee lies? Nay, oh chief, it is my mind that none of my people have done thi_hing; but yet who can tell the wickedness that cometh into the hearts of me_t times? And so now will I speak and seek if there be a man among my peopl_ith such an evil heart, and if there be then will I myself slay him befor_hee, so that the bitterness that is in my heart and thine shall die away an_e forgotten."
And then, before the officer could frame a reply to the chief's impassione_peech, Aitia was at his feet, the tears streaming down her face while sh_epeated her husband's protestations of love and affection for all who cam_rom the land of Peretane.
The earnest manner of the chief had its effect upon the quick, impulsiv_emper of Bligh—a man who could change in a moment from the violence o_ntemperate passion to the most winning amiability of manner.
In more gentle tones he replied that he was satisfied that Tina would do hi_est to discover who had cut the cable, although if the culprit were found h_oped he would not go so far in punishing him as to take his life. Then h_urned to Christian, and altering the suave tone in which he had addressed th_hief, curtly ordered him to take the boat's crews and load the boats wit_lants.
Merely touching his hat, the master's mate repeated the order to the coxswai_f the boat near by and turned away.
In an instant Bligh's pale cheek flushed angrily, and he sprang to his feet.
"What the devil do you mean by receiving my order in that manner? Why don'_ou answer me when I address you? By heavens, sir, I will teach you th_espect due to your superior officer!"
Christian turned and faced him; and Bligh, hot and furious as was his moo_ow, could not but notice the repressed passion in his eyes and the palenes_hat blanched his tanned cheeks, and realise that Fletcher Christian was not _an to drive to desperation.
For a moment the younger man did not answer, then the pallor of hi_ountenance purpled with the sudden rush of blood to his face, the thick blac_yebrows came together and his forehead showed two deep furrows as h_eplied—and in his voice there was no attempt to disguise the bitterness o_eart within him—
"I treat you, sir, with all the respect that the rules of the Service demand; with the same courtesy"—and here his tones rang with contemptuous sarcasm—"_nswer you as you show to me. Nothing, sir, shall induce me to forget that _m compelled by my duty to adopt that courtesy and respect. But, sir, beyon_hat I will take care to be no more civil to you than your treatment of m_emands or justifies."
"Beware, sir; you are treading on dangerous ground—you are mutinous! I've hal_ mind to make a prisoner of you and keep you under arrest until we reac_ngland. By heavens, sir, I'll stand none of your insolence and misconduct!
You and every other officer of the ship shall be brought up to the mark an_earn your duties."
But the master's mate made no reply, and walked quietly away after the boat'_rew; and Bligh, his frame trembling with passion, went towards the house o_ina the chief.
Aided by the willing hands of the natives, men and women, who had stood b_istening with deep concern to the angry discussion between the two officers, the boats' crews soon loaded their boats, and Christian was left alone.
Suddenly he felt a hand placed upon his and a voice murmured—
"Kirisiani, dost know who cut the rope?"
He started, and turned to meet the beautiful face of the girl he had talke_ith during the night.
"Hush, Mahina, tell me not, else must I tell his name to the captain—and tha_eans death."
She laughed. "Thou knowest that it was I who did it. And yet tell of it i_hou so desirest. What is death to me, my beloved, if thou leavest me?
Listen—I will tell thee all. So that I might keep thee near me always, and m_yes look into thine, from sunrise to dark, and my hand lie in thine throug_he silence of the night, I swam to the ship as the wind and rain swept dow_rom the dark valleys of Orohena, and cut the rope."
"Mahina, Mahina, 'twas well for thee that the chief of the ship is no frien_f mine—even now hot words passed between us—else would I tell him 'twas thee.
With us, who are servants of the King of Britain, no woman's love mus_ount—our love to him is first of all. Forget that thou hast ever seen me."
She flung her arms round his neck and drew his face down to hers. "Thou ar_ine—if thou leavest in the ship then will I curse thee and die."
Ere he could say more, with an angry sob she had gone.