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Chapter 2 The Flight of the Kanápu

  • ON further careful study of Carteret's book and chart, the mind of Fletche_hristian was greatly disturbed, for he knew that there was much to fear i_he position of Pitcairn had been wrongly laid down. The currents, too, i_his part of the world were but little understood by those few navigators wh_ad sailed among the islands; indeed, the natives themselves were far bette_nformed of both the winds and currents of Eastern Polynesia than were the fe_uropean voyagers among the various groups since the days of Carteret an_ook.
  • Carteret had laid down the centre of Pitcairn in lat. 20° 2' south, and long.
  • 133° 21' west; but although Christian was fairly confident of sighting th_sland by keeping a careful look-out and heaving-to at night when he got nea_t, he felt that his limited knowledge of the winds and currents might lead t_rolonged and tedious search.
  • For twenty-one days after leaving Fakarava the Bounty sailed south- easterly.
  • Several low-lying atolls were sighted, but no sign of high land had been seen; yet, by Christian's calculations (only revealed to Young, Smith, and McCoy), he had twice sailed over the position assigned to the island by Carteret. Hi_isgivings that a strong current had set him too far to the eastward wer_aily growing stronger. His only chronometer, through an accident, had bee_endered useless, and besides this the weather latterly was gloomy and the su_eldom visible. The last land had been sighted eighteen days after leavin_akarava, and Talalu and Tairoa-Maina, who from the break of day wer_ontinuously aloft on the lookout, assured him on that day that no land la_urther to the south-east but Afita and a little sandy island called Oeno, about half a day's sail to the northward. Small as this island was, the_eclared that the clamour of the sea- birds, whose resting-place it was, woul_eveal its presence even on the darkest night; and this alone somewha_eassured him in the hope that he had not drifted past it or Pitcairn in th_arkness. A day's sail further to the eastward was another island which the_aid was called Fenua-manu; this, too, was the home of millions of sea-birds, whose voices stifled the beating of the surf upon the reefs, so great wer_heir numbers.
  • With his chin upon his hands, Fletcher Christian gazed moodily at the char_efore him. Mahina, who by the cabin door was watching him with tende_nterest, heard him sigh wearily. Stepping up to him, she pressed her coo_and to his forehead, and leant her cheek against his in loving sympathy.
  • In the great cabin no sound broke the stillness save the swish and swirl o_he ship's wake as she slipped through the water; and presently Christian, drawing the girl's slender figure to a seat beside him, pointed to the chart.
  • "Mahina," he said, "you and three of my white comrades alone know that th_hip hath twice sailed over the place where this island of Afita should hav_een; and no sign have we yet seen, not even a drifting coconut or a piece o_ood."
  • The girl's eyes filled with tears; for a few moments her bosom heaved, and sh_ried to speak without showing her emotion; and Christian, moody an_reoccupied as he was, knew by her voice that she felt for and sympathise_ith him.
  • "Kirisiani, I too have looked and looked and prayed to Oro and Tane to guid_he ship to Afita, but now I begin to fear that the gods have turned asid_rom me."
  • He pressed her hand in silence, and was about to bid her come with him on dec_hen the murmuring of voices at the door of the great cabin broke in upo_hem, and presently Talalu, Tairoa-Maina, and two other natives asked leave t_peak with him.
  • "Let them wait awhile," he said sullenly, although knowing that in th_ubuaian chief and his Tahitian comrade he had two firm friends, who wit_mith, Young, and McCoy would stand by him to the last. For nearly half a_our he remained communing with himself and endeavouring to think out som_ther course for the future, should his search be still unrewarded on th_ollowing day.
  • Already the long voyage had had a bad effect upon most of the mutineers, an_nly that morning he had noticed the gloomy faces and sullen manner of the me_hen changing the ship's course another point to the southward. Some of th_ahitians were suffering from the effects of the strange food which, fo_eeks, they had been forced to live upon, and the confinement told seriousl_n their health and spirits. Yet, despite this, their regard for Mahina, an_heir faith in, and respect for Christian were unbroken, and they would hav_ndured the most prolonged hardships rather than let either imagine that the_ere repining. With some of the white seamen, however, these feelings wer_anting. Although there was no open expression of discontent, more than on_urmured at the delay, declaring that Christian and Young, either throug_gnorance or design, were not doing their duty to their associates.
  • It was no wonder, therefore, that Christian himself grew day by day mor_nxious and less confident of finding this island of Carteret's. True, th_lace was small and solitary, and, unless his reckoning was very exact, migh_asily be missed. Twice had he sailed across Carteret's position, and nothin_ad rewarded his search; and now he felt that another day's fruitless ques_ould assure him either that his observations had been incorrect or that th_sland had disappeared by some convulsion of nature. Worn out with anxiety, with constant watching, and his own sad emotions, nothing but the devotion an_ender love of Mahina had kept him from ending it all with a loaded pisto_hich he always carried in his pocket.
  • He pushed the chart away wearily, and was about to go on deck when Mahina, wh_ad remained, touched his arm, and with a timid, beseeching look asked him t_et Tairoa-Maina and the other natives have speech with him.
  • "Come in, friends," he said, in kindly tones.
  • The Tubuaian chief, who, with Talalu and two other natives, had been patientl_aiting at the cabin door, came in, sat silently down, and waited permissio_o speak.
  • "Speak, my brother," said Mahina to Tairoa-Maina. "My husband is wearied, an_ould go out upon the deck to breathe the cool wind of the night."
  • Pleased at the relationship assigned to him by Christian's wife, the handsom_oung Tubuaian looked at them with affectionate regard, and said he and thos_ith him desired to speak of something in their minds, at which they praye_im not to be angered, "for," he added, with a grave smile, "we men of brow_kin are but fools on the great ocean when the sky is dull and there i_either sun nor moon nor stars to guide us. But with the clever white men i_s different; they are full of wisdom to guide a ship, even if there b_either sun by day nor stars by night. Yet in some little things we hav_isdom, and that is why we now ask that thou, Kirisiani, will listen to us—wh_re thy friends."
  • "That I well know," said the mutineer, placing his hand on Tairoa's shoulder.
  • "Speak, my brother."
  • "Thou knowest, Kirisiani, that for many days I have climbed the masts an_atched, so that I might be the first to see the land of Afita; and when i_rew dark I have waited upon the deck and listened to hear if the sound o_eating surf came over the sea. Last night, as Talalu and I lay on the deck, and the ship rose and fell and made no sound, we saw first one and the_nother of the birds called kanápu fly swiftly over the ship towards th_estward. As we watched there came another, and then another, and then a floc_f twenty or more, and these too all flew swiftly westwards, for we saw thei_hadows darken the bright strip of water that shot out from the dying moon.
  • Then, as we lay down again, there came to our minds that on Oeno, the littl_andy islet but a day's sail from Afita, there do the kanápu breed in th_hick puka scrub which groweth in the sand."
  • "True," said Mahina quickly; "I have heard my mother say that on Oeno th_ries of the kanápu when they come home to roost at night drown the noise o_he breaking surf."
  • "Aye," said the Tubuaian, "and so have I been told. Yet only at night; for i_he daytime they fly to the lagoon of Fenua-manu, where they find many fish.
  • We talked of this as we lay on the deck, and I desired to come and tell thee, Kirisiani, of the flight of the birds, but feared that thou wouldst chide m_or doubting thy skill to guide the ship. But I have heard some of those wit_s say some little things."
  • Christian smiled bitterly. "They speak truly, my friend; I cannot find thi_and of Afita."
  • Leaning over towards him and placing his hand on Christian's, the Tubuaia_ontinued: "But this morning, when the lower half of the sun was still burie_n the sea, we saw many, many kanápu and katafa flying swiftly towards it, an_fita lieth between Oeno and Fenua-manu."
  • Christian's eyes sparkled. "Thanks, my good friend. I see now thy meaning. Fo_wo days have I thought that the ship hath come too far towards the risin_un, and that the place we seek lieth westward."
  • "Even so think we," answered Talalu, "for the current runneth strong toward_he rising sun, and the kanápu and the katafa went westward to rest."
  • For a little while Christian considered. Oeno, the sandy island which bot_ahina and Tairoa asserted was but a day's sail north and west from Afita, wa_ot marked in any of the two or three charts he possessed, but Ducie Island, the "Fenua-manu," or Island of Birds, of the natives, was, and lay due east o_eno. And he knew the natives relied much upon simple indications to fin_heir position when making long voyages at sea. He soon made up his mind.
  • "We will turn the ship to follow the kanápu," he said.
  • The natives sprang to their feet, and with animated countenances waited fo_im to precede them on deck.
  • The Bounty, with the gentle trade-wind filling her sails, was steering a_.N.E. course, when Christian, with Mahina and the others, came on deck.
  • Sitting near the wheel was Young, who had charge of the watch.
  • "Young," said Christian, "I am convinced that if this island is in existenc_t is to the west of us."
  • "So Alrema says," nonchalantly replied the young man; "but I didn't think i_orth while mentioning it."
  • "What do you say? Shall we keep her away?"
  • "Certainly—why not? As we cannot find it ourselves by the chart let us go wes_y all means."
  • "Hands to the braces, men!" called out Christian after a moment's hesitation.
  • "We are going to run down to the westward."
  • In a few minutes the yards were hauled round, and the Bounty was heading wes_y north. Telling Talalu and Tairoa to go aloft, Christian turned to Young an_mith and related the incident of the previous night.
  • About four o'clock in the afternoon, just as Christian was about to lie dow_or an hour, there burst from Talalu on the fore top-gallant yard a cry tha_ent a thrill through the hearts of every one on board—
  • "Te fenua no Afita!" ("The land of Afita!").
  • There was a sudden rush aloft, Christian himself ascending the main riggin_lightly in advance of McCoy, Quintal, and Young.
  • "There it is, sir!" said Quintal excitedly, pointing almost right ahead.
  • Then as the others saw the faint blue outline of a pyramidal peak rising fro_he sea, a cheer broke from them, and the people on the deck took it up an_epeated it again and again.
  • "Thank God!" said Christian to Edward Young. Instinctively their hands met, and in silence they all gazed intently at the little spot, which at that fa_istance no eye but that of a seaman or a native could distinguish from _one-shaped cloud. Ducie Island, about ninety miles east of Pitcairn. It i_ninhabited now. The old name, Fenua— manu, meant "The Island of Birds."