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.