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Chapter 2 The Cutting of the Cable

  • 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.