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Chapter 21 The Last Shot on Afita

  • BY this time the ship was within three or four miles of the island, and ha_een seen by one of the Tahitian women. She ran back to the settlement, an_oused the little community to a state of wild excitement by her loud cries of
  • "A ship! a ship! A ship is coming."
  • Soon Young and Smith reached the cliffs, and one glance at the ocean showe_hem the vessel—a ship of war, they were quick to perceive, by the cut of he_anvas and her lofty spars.
  • Young was scarcely able to walk, and his excitement at first prevented hi_rom speaking, but when he could control himself he held a hurrie_onsultation with Smith, who then set off for Christian's cave to inform hi_f the ship's approach, while Young returned to the settlement and told Mahin_o prepare to leave the house and, with the other women, be ready to hid_erself if necessary.
  • They had resolved, as a first step towards safety, that every person on th_sland should assemble near the cavern. The difficulty of access and th_emoteness of its situation, they thought, would afford them all a saf_etreat from such people as might land. It was hoped by Young and Smith that, unless the vessel was a King's ship specially sent to search for the missin_utineers, those who placed foot on shore would not easily discover that th_sland was inhabited. As a first precaution, however, some of the women wer_ent to remove all traces of human occupancy from the two little beaches, an_o cover up the Bounty's boat with dead coconut branches and bushes.
  • Four of them departed to do this, while Mahina and her children, with th_emaining women, set out for Christian's cave.
  • But when they reached the cavern they found it deserted by both Christian an_mith, and saw that no preparations had been made to defend the narrow pat_eading to the stronghold.
  • Frightened at the absence of the two men, the terrified women ran hither an_hither, calling loudly, and seeking for traces of them; till presentl_ahina, wildly excited, sped down the path and looked over the edge of th_liffs to the beach below. Then a cry of alarm broke from her.
  • Beckoning to the others, she flew down the perilous path to the shore. Half- way she stumbled and, but for a projecting pinnacle of rock, would hav_itched headlong to the beach. Before she recovered herself the other wome_vertook her, and were peering down to discover what it was that had s_gitated her. But from where they clustered together they could see only th_illows bursting in foam upon the black rocks below; and while they waited fo_ahina to explain there came the report of a musket from beneath.
  • Too far down on their way to turn back, as their rears dictated, Mahina'_ompanions stood trembling and hesitating, their hearts filled with a_ndefined apprehension that some fresh tragedy had occurred.
  • Smith, filled with anxiety for his leader, had hurried along the rocky trac_o Christian's cave. The dreaded hour had arrived at last—the hour that he an_he other mutineers had so often feared. A King's ship! Yes, she could be n_ther! His seaman's eye told him she was a ship of war. Perhaps she was _renchman? That was not likely. She was English—sent to search for them; an_ven if she were not, she evidently intended to send a boat ashore. Once _anding party from the ship ascended the cliffs they could not fail to see th_ouses, and would not take long to find those who lived in them. Then woul_ome discovery and a disgraceful death.
  • But, thought he, Christian will never be taken alive; and even if the presenc_f white men upon the island should be discovered, the cave was hard to find.
  • And still, even if the ship were in search of Christian and his companions, the identity of the inhabitants might not perhaps be suspected. If the wors_ame to the worst, they could make a fight of it to the death in such a plac_s Christian's stronghold.
  • So ran the quick current of his thoughts as he panted up the ridge to th_ave—then, with an exclamation of dismay, he saw that it was untenanted.
  • As loudly as possible he called Christian's name, but only the countles_everberation of his cries answered him from the desolate solitude. A hurrie_lance down the path which he had just ascended showed no human being i_ight. Surely Christian could not be far off? He must either be coming alon_he ridge and hidden from view, or lying asleep somewhere along the edge o_he cliffs. Perhaps he had gone to the beach?
  • Hastily descending again, Smith struck across to the eastern side of th_sland, till he came to a spot which overlooked Bounty Bay. He knew tha_hristian, in his lonely wanderings, sometimes visited the place, and sat fo_ours upon the wreckage of the Bounty's spars. A thick, stunted growth o_atted scrub and vines grew to the very edge of the cliffs, but hastil_ushing through it, the seaman looked down. There, far below, he saw the ma_e sought, bending his tackle to launch the Bounty's boat!
  • The next moment, too anxious even to lose time by descending the regular pat_mith, at the hazard of his life, began to scramble down the almos_recipitous face of the cliff. At last, with bleeding feet and hands, h_eached the shore.
  • "In God's name, Mr. Christian, what are you trying to do?" he demanded, breathlessly.
  • "What am I trying to do?" repeated Christian fiercely—"I am about to end i_ll. That is a King's ship, and I am going to give myself up."
  • "You must be mad to talk like this. Come away at once and let us get back t_he cave, or we shall all be discovered."
  • "It will be your own fault if you are; you and those with you may do as yo_lease, but I will board that ship," answered Christian wildly, and Smith sa_hat he was nearly mad with excitement. As he spoke he still strained with al_is might on the tackle, and the boat, once started, slid down the skids til_er stern touched the pebbly beach.
  • "By God, you shan't do this! Our lives as well as yours depend upon you_iding with us"; and Smith laid his hand on the fall of the tackle so as t_revent Christian from unshipping the hook.
  • "Stand back, Smith! Stand back, I say. I swear that no longer shall justice g_nsatisfied. I will go!" As a wave dashed up, the boat lifted and floated; h_prang past Smith, jumped in and cast off the tackle.
  • Seizing hold of the gunwale, Smith exerted all his strength and drew the boa_roadside on to the beach.
  • "Beware, man, beware!" and Christian's eyes blazed with sudden fury— "let g_our hold, I say. I am dangerous!" Smith recognised it was no time for words; he released his hold, jumped into the boat, and threw himself upon th_esperate man. They went down together, and the boat rocked from side to sid_ith the violence of their struggle. No word was spoken, but there was i_hristian's face such a look of savage determination to overcome his friend, that Smith at last aimed a blow at his head, thinking to stun him for a time.
  • Nerved with a madman's strength, the blow only seemed to rouse him to greate_ury; with a mighty effort he freed himself from Smith's left arm, which wa_ound about his waist, and in another moment his hand grasped the barrel o_he loaded musket, which he drew towards him by the muzzle.
  • Then Smith again threw himself upon him. There was a short, fierce struggle, _eport, and Fletcher Christian sank back with a groan—the ball had passe_hrough his chest.
  • Sick with horror, Smith staggered to his feet and raised the dying man in hi_rms. He lifted him out of the boat and carried him to the beach, where h_laced him in a sitting posture; then tearing off his shirt he sought t_tanch the fearful rush of blood.
  • "My God, sir! my God, sir! you don't think 'twas my doing?" he asked i_nguished tones.
  • "No, no, my good fellow," gasped Christian, "you are not to blame. My foo_ust have touched the trigger… I was mad."
  • Smith knelt beside him, overcome with grief and blinded by tears. He took hi_eader's hand in his and tried to speak, but one look at the gaping wound tol_im that the end was near.
  • And then there echoed from the cliffs a cry of heart-broken agony. Mahina, springing from rock to rock, had reached the overhanging ledge under which he_usband lay, and, looking down, saw him.
  • Leaping to the ground, she turned upon Smith. "Thou murderer; thou hast slai_im!" she cried, and pushing him away, threw herself upon her knees beside he_usband.
  • "Nay, nay, Mahina," he said; "not so. My foot struck the gun… He hath eve_een my friend… Listen to me… for in a little time I die."
  • Slowly and gaspingly the words came, and Mahina, with a sob of misery, saw th_rey shadows of death dimming the eyes of him she loved so well.
  • "He shall not die; he shall not die!" she cried wildly to Smith and Young, wh_ad now joined them, and was overcome at the scene before him. "Save him, sav_im, lest ye both die accursed!" then burst into anguished weeping, as sh_ent her face upon her husband's knees.
  • "Is that you, Young?" asked Christian faintly—"my time is nearly run, ol_riend," and he put out his brown, sun-tanned hand. "But, quick; listen to me… Save yourselves while there is yet time… The ship must be near now."
  • "No," said Young, pressing his hand, "she kept off quite suddenly when withi_ mile of the land. I saw her stand away again to the westward. In anothe_our she'll be hull down."
  • "Thank God!" he murmured. "Mahina. wife… come closer to me… and you, Young an_mith, give me your hands. Promise me that no one but yourselves shall eve_now where I lie. Let no other white man point to my grave and say, 'Fletche_hristian… mutineer.'"
  • He ceased, then by a dying effort, opened his arms wide.
  • "Mahina! My wife! Mother of my children!… it is all over now," he sighed wit_is last breath, as his arms closed gently round her neck.
  • She pressed her cheek to his; his head sank upon her shoulder, and then la_here in the quietness of death.
  • Years later, when Pitcairn was "discovered," the venerable man, loved an_evered by the children of the mutineers under the name of John Adams, revealed his identity with Alexander Smith, and tremblingly waited to hear hi_ate from the lips of the naval officers who had landed on the island. Th_tory of the death of Young from consumption soon after that of Christian, a_ell as the deaths of the others of the ill-starred company, was told by him; though, faithful to his promise, he refused to show his leader's last resting- place; and the listeners heard for the first time the fate of the Bount_utineers.
  • **THE END**