TOWARDS sunset, when the Bounty was still some thirty miles distant from th_and, the trade-wind as usual died away, and by eight in the evening the ne_oon shone over a sea as calm as a mountain lake. Fearing that the easterl_urrent would set the ship back in the night during the continuance of th_alm, Christian and Young had carefully taken the ship's bearings just as th_ale blue of the distant island was changing to a shade of purple under th_ays of the setting sun.
The knowledge that their long search was ended at last inspirited every one o_oard. After supper the men gathered on the main deck, and with their wive_nd their brown-skinned shipmates forgot the weary days which had tried thei_empers and forbearance so severely. Alrema, who had an influence upon he_ountrymen almost equal to that of Mahina, was in high spirits, and Young,
despite his usual seeming indifference to her vivacity and beauty, was ye_ecretly pleased to see the respect with which she was treated by the others.
Her conduct during the attack on the fort at Tubuai had shown her to b_ossessed of a fiery, undaunted courage; indeed, had the murmurers known tha_his beautiful Tahitian girl with the dark, languorous eyes, and soft red lip_ad advised Young to induce Christian to shoot them, they would hav_emembered the incident of the bloody cutlass, and been more careful of thei_peech in her hearing. Yet now she seemed but a merry—hearted, mirth-lovin_irl, and as she raised her sweet voice in some old Tahitian love-song, whil_er eyes sought those of Edward Young, the men were struck with her bright an_nimated beauty.
Tired of singing and talking with the group assembled on the main- deck, sh_resently ascended to the poop, where her husband sat with Christian an_ahina discussing their plans for the future.
She seated herself beside Young, and listened till they ceased talking—the_aid, clasping Mahina's hand in her own, "Tell us, oh friend of my heart, th_tory of this land of Afita."
"Nay," replied Mahina, smiling and stroking Alrema's dark hair, "'tis bu_ittle I know, and that little did I learn from my mother; but call hithe_airoa-Maina, and let him tell the story, for he hath more knowledge of Afit_han I."
Christian's consent having been gained, the Tubuaian chief was called upon th_oop, and sat in front of the little group with his two faithful attendant_ehind him; his swart, handsome features lit up with pleasure when he was tol_hat was wanted of him.
"Kirisiani," said Mahina, caressing her husband's cheek with her soft, brow_and, "but for this dear friend, Tairoa-Maina, still might we have bee_earching for this land of his and my father's."
"True," answered Christian frankly, "but for him we might perhaps have neve_ound it. Thou seest, Mahina, that in some things the white men have not th_nowledge nor judgment of thy people."
"Even so," she answered gravely, "we have no such things as those tuhi o_hine which are full of wisdom. And it is strange to us that by looking a_ome little black marks thou couldst tell us of the sea chief who saw the lan_f Afita thirty years ago. Yet, though we have no wise men among us like the_nd the great Tuti and Pirai, we have memories and songs and tales which hav_ome down from father to son; and all that is told is remembered by th_hildren, and they, when they grow up, tell it to their children, so that al_ay know the beginning of things since Taaroa the father of the gods and hi_wo sons Oro and Tane made the world."
Acquainted as he was in some degree with the wild and fabulous nature o_lmost every Polynesian tradition bearing upon the ancestry of the people,
Christian was convinced by the many long conversations he had held with Mahin_bout her descent that much of what she told him had a basis of fact. Th_ahitian custom of deifying their ancestors would naturally result i_onfusing historical facts and rendering them absurd, but his keen observatio_nd quickly acquired knowledge of the Tahitian tongue enabled him to sift ou_n a great measure the real from the fabulous and visionary. He therefore,
while listening to Tairoa-Maina's story of Afita, quickly divested it of al_hat was mythological and fictitious, and accepted the substance of it a_act.
To his mind much of what Mahina told him of Afita had appeared no more tha_he vague traditions of native legend, but as he listened to the Tubuaia_hief's story he found a remarkable resemblance between the two accounts.
Sitting in the light of the moon, which fell upon his symmetrical head an_houlders and revealed the curious and delicate tracery of the tattooing upo_is polished skin, the young chief related the Tubuaian story about the lan_nd the people whence he came.
"Long, long ago, Kirisiani, Taaroa the Sky-Producer, and Oro and Tane hi_ons, between them created new lands by dipping their hands to the bottom o_he deep sea and dragging them up above the surface, so that the trees migh_row and men live upon them. In those days there dwelt upon Huahine a taat_aari (wise man) named Poiata, who had himself been created by the gods, an_is wife Mahinihini. In the same house lived Rumia and his wife Motupapa; onl_hese four were on Huahine. At the end of two years neither of the women ha_orne a child to their husbands, and Poiata and Rumia, assailing them wit_itter words and blows, drove them away to the sea-shore, and bade them g_wim out into the ocean and drown.
"'Nay,' cried Mahinihini, 'give us a canoe, so that at least we may seek som_ther land and hide the shame of our childlessness.'"
"But Poiata and Rumia laughed and jeered at them, and pointing to a grea_hark that lay upon the water outside the reef, mockingly bade them hold on t_ts fin and begone.
"Now this shark was Tahua; and the two women, who wept as they swam,
approached him silently, and clambering upon his great back, held on to hi_in while Tahua sped away with them.
"For many days he swam southward and eastward, till Mahinihini and Motupap_aw, rising out of the sea, what seemed the fin of another great shark; s_igh was it that it pierced the clouds, even as does the peak of Orohena. Bu_hen they drew near they saw that it was land rising up steeply from the dee_ea, and on the high cliffs there stood strange men with yellowish faces an_irclets of red and green parrots' feathers round their foreheads. As the tw_omen gazed in fear and trembling, Tahua the shark sank from beneath them, an_hey struck out and swam to the shore. The strange men ran down the cliffs an_elped them to land, and gave them food to eat and coconuts to drink. Seve_en were they, and they said they came from a great country to the east wher_he mountain-tops were for ever covered with white clouds."
"How came they there?" asked Christian.
Tairoa-Maina shook his head. "No man knoweth. But they were pleased to se_otupapa and Mahinihini, for there were no women with them on the island,
which they had named Afita—'the land shot up by fire from the bottom of th_ea.' So these two women became wives to the seven men, and they bore seve_hildren to each man. By and by, as the years passed on, there came more o_he strange people from the great eastern land; and they were pleased with th_eauty of Afita and the great richness of the land, and dwelt with Mahinihin_nd Motupapa and their husbands. Very joyously they lived together, until th_eople grew so in number that breadfruit and taro and yams and plantains bega_o be scarce because of the many mouths of children who cried with hunger. An_hen the land would no longer hold them and famine came, twenty-and-two scor_en and women sailed far away in canoes to seek another home. Westward the_ailed for ten days till a storm separated them, and four of the canoes cam_o the land of Tubuai, and four to the land of Rapa. Of those that reached th_and of Rapa I know nought, save that the chief was named Teata-rua; but o_hose that came to Tubuai my father was one."
"And did he ever tell thee how appeared this Afita, this lonely island tha_pringeth up from the sea like the fin of a shark that swimmeth on th_urface?" asked Mahina.
"I have heard my father say," answered the chief, "that so steep are it_ountains that they shut in from the winds the rich soil of the belly of th_and; and down the sides of the hills run many streams of water sweet t_rink. And save in one place no reef ran out from the shore."
"That does not agree with Carteret," said Young to Christian.
"And the great ocean rollers," added Mahina, "for ever dashed up against th_ace of the cliffs so that no strangers could land in their canoes, else woul_hey be broken to pieces in the angry surf."
"But still there is one little spot on the north and north-west," continue_he Tubuaian chief, "so small that only those who have lived in Afita can fin_t, where the sea is not always rough. And on the eastern side there is _mall bay, where, when the wind is from the west and south, the sea is quiet,
and a deeply-laden canoe can land with safety."
"Is the water deep?" asked Christian.
"Aye, so deep is it, that five fathoms from the shore the water is as blue a_he deep ocean; and close to the high cliffs swim great fish that we in Tubua_atch only with lines a hundred fathoms in length. Ah, Kirisiani, to-morro_ilt thou see if Mahina and I have told thee aught but the truth."
As the pleasant tones of the chief's voice ceased there came a gentle puff o_ir, which filled the ship's upper canvas, and Christian and Young sprang t_heir feet, quickly followed by the natives, and trimmed the sails for th_oming breeze.
For three or four hours the Bounty slid softly over a moonlit sea; then a_awn broke and the red sun sprang from the horizon, Fletcher Christian and hi_omrades saw the island for which they had so long sought lying before the_right and shining green upon the sunlit sea.
An hour later the ship was hove-to as close to the land as her safet_ermitted, and Christian, in her one boat with Taiaro-Maina and some whit_eamen, was searching for the only little bay where it was thought a landin_ight be effected.