Vailima Letters, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter XVI

My Dear Colvin, — This has been a busyish month for a sick man. First, Faauma — the bronze candlestick, whom otherwise I called my butler — bolted from the bed and bosom of Lafaele, the Archangel Hercules, prefect of the cattle. There was the deuce to pay, and Hercules was inconsolable, and immediately started out after a new wife, and has had one up on a visit, but says she has ‘no conversation’; and I think he will take back the erring and possibly repentant candlestick; whom we all devoutly prefer, as she is not only highly decorative, but good-natured, and if she does little work makes no rows. I tell this lightly, but it really was a heavy business; many were accused of complicity, and Rafael was really very sorry. I had to hold beds of justice — literally — seated in my bed and surrounded by lying Samoans seated on the floor; and there were many picturesque and still inexplicable passages. It is hard to reach the truth in these islands.

The next incident overlapped with this. S. and Fanny found three strange horses in the paddock: for long now the boys have been forbidden to leave their horses here one hour because our grass is over-grazed. S. came up with the news, and I saw I must now strike a blow. ‘To the pound with the lot,’ said I. He proposed taking the three himself, but I thought that too dangerous an experiment, said I should go too, and hurried into my boots so as to show decision taken, in the necessary interviews. They came of course — the interviews — and I explained what I was going to do at huge length, and stuck to my guns. I am glad to say the natives, with their usual (purely speculative) sense of justice highly approved the step after reflection. Meanwhile off went S. and I with the three corpora delicti; and a good job I went! Once, when our circus began to kick, we thought all was up; but we got them down all sound in wind and limb. I judged I was much fallen off from my Elliott forefathers, who managed this class of business with neatness and despatch. Half-way down it came on to rain tropic style, and I came back from my outing drenched liked a drowned man — I was literally blinded as I came back among these sheets of water; and the consequence was I was laid down with diarrhoea and threatenings of Samoa colic for the inside of another week.

I have a confession to make. When I was sick I tried to get to work to finish that Samoa thing, wouldn’t go; and at last, in the colic time, I slid off into DaviD.Balfour, some 50 pages of which are drafted, and like me well. Really I think it is spirited; and there’s a heroine that (up to now) seems to have attractions: absit omen! David, on the whole, seems excellent. Alan does not come in till the tenth chapter, and I am only at the eighth, so I don’t know if I can find him again; but David is on his feet, and doing well, and very much in love, and mixed up with the Lord Advocate and the (untitled) Lord Lovat, and all manner of great folk. And the tale interferes with my eating and sleeping. The join is bad; I have not thought to strain too much for continuity; so this part be alive, I shall be content. But there’s no doubt David seems to have changed his style, de’il ha’e him! And much I care, if the tale travel!

Friday, Feb.?? 19TH?

Two incidents today which I must narrate. After lunch, it was raining pitilessly; we were sitting in my mother’s bedroom, and I was reading aloud Kinglake’s Charge of the Light Brigade, and we had just been all seized by the horses aligning with Lord George Paget, when a figure appeared on the verandah; a little, slim, small figure of a lad, with blond (i.e. limed) hair, a propitiatory smile, and a nose that alone of all his features grew pale with anxiety. ‘I come here stop,’ was about the outside of his English; and I began at once to guess that he was a runaway labourer, and that the bush-knife in his hand was stolen. It proved he had a mate, who had lacked his courage, and was hidden down the road; they had both made up their minds to run away, and had ‘come here stop.’ I could not turn out the poor rogues, one of whom showed me marks on his back, into the drenching forest; I could not reason with them, for they had not enough English, and not one of our boys spoke their tongue; so I bade them feed and sleep here to-night, and tomorrow I must do what the Lord shall bid me.

Near dinner time, I was told that a friend of Lafaele’s had found human remains in my bush. After dinner, a figure was seen skulking across towards the waterfall, which produced from the verandah a shout, in my most stentorian tones: ‘O Ai Le Ingoa?’ literally ‘Who the name?’ which serves here for ‘What’s your business?’ as well. It proved to be Lafaele’s friend; I bade a kitchen boy, Lauilo, go with him to see the spot, for though it had ceased raining, the whole island ran and dripped. Lauilo was willing enough, but the friend of the archangel demurred; he had too much business; he had no time. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘you too much frightened, I go along,’ which of course produced the usual shout of delight from all those who did not require to go. I got into my Saranac snow boots. Lauilo got a cutlass; Mary Carter, our Sydney maid, joined the party for a lark, and off we set. I tell you our guide kept us moving; for the dusk fell swift. Our woods have an infamous reputation at the best, and our errand (to say the least of it) was grisly. At last ‘they found the remains; they were old, which was all I cared to be sure of; it seemed a strangely small ‘pickle-banes’ to stand for a big, flourishing, buck-islander, and their situation in the darkening and dripping bush was melancholy. All at once, I found there was a second skull, with a bullet-hole I could have stuck my two thumbs in — say anybody else’s one thumb. My Samoans said it could not be, there were not enough bones; I put the two pieces of skull together, and at last convinced them. Whereupon, in a flash, they found the not unromantic explanation. This poor brave had succeeded in the height of a Samoan warriors ambition; he had taken a head, which he was never destined to show to his applauding camp. Wounded himself, he had crept here into the bush to die with his useless trophy by his side. His date would be about fifteen years ago, in the great battle between Laupepa and Talavou, which took place on My Land, Sir. To-morrow we shall bury the bones and fire a salute in honour of unfortunate courage.

Do you think I have an empty life? or that a man jogging to his club has so much to interest and amuse him? — touch and try him too, but that goes along with the others: no pain, no pleasure, is the iron law. So here I stop again, and leave, as I left yesterday, my political business untouched. And lo! here comes my pupil, I believe, so I stop in time.

March 2nd.

Since I last wrote, fifteen chapters of DaviD.Balfour have been drafted, and five tires au clair. I think it pretty good; there’s a blooming maiden that costs anxiety — she is as virginal as billy; but David seems there and alive, and the Lord Advocate is good, and so I think is an episodic appearance of the Master of Lovat. In Chapter XVII. I shall get David abroad — Alan went already in Chapter XII. The book should be about the length of Kidnapped; this early part of it, about D.‘s evidence in the Appin case, is more of a story than anything in Kidnapped, but there is no doubt there comes a break in the middle, and the tale is practically in two divisions. In the first James More and the M’Gregors, and Catriona, only show; in the second, the Appin case being disposed of, and James Stewart hung, they rule the roast and usurp the interest — should there be any left. Why did I take up DaviD.Balfour? I don’t know. A sudden passion.

Monday, I went down in the rain with a colic to take the chair at a public meeting; dined with Haggard; sailed off to my meeting, and fought with wild beasts for three anxious hours. All was lost that any sensible man cared for, but the meeting did not break up — thanks a good deal to R. L. S. — and the man who opposed my election, and with whom I was all the time wrangling, proposed the vote of thanks to me with a certain handsomeness; I assure you I had earned it . . . Haggard and the great Abdul, his high-caste Indian servant, imported by my wife, were sitting up for me with supper, and I suppose it was twelve before I got to bed. Tuesday raining, my mother rode down, and we went to the Consulate to sign a Factory and Commission. Thence, I to the lawyers, to the printing office, and to the Mission. It was dinner time when I returned home.

This morning, our cook-boy having suddenly left — injured feelings — the archangel was to cook breakfast. I found him lighting the fire before dawn; his eyes blazed, he had no word of any language left to use, and I saw in him (to my wonder) the strongest workings of gratified ambition. Napoleon was no more pleased to sign his first treaty with Austria than was Lafaele to cook that breakfast. All morning, when I had hoped to be at this letter, I slept like one drugged and you must take this (which is all I can give you) for what it is worth —

D.B.

Memoirs of his adventures at home and abroad. The second part; wherein are set forth the misfortunes in which he was involved upon the Appin murder; his troubles with Lord Advocate Prestongrange; captivity on the Bass Rock; journey into France and Holland; and singular relations with James More Drummond or Macgregor, a son of the notorious Rob Roy.

Chapters. — I. A Beggar on Horseback. II. The Highland Writer. III. I go to Pilrig. IV. Lord Advocate Prestongrange. V. Butter and Thunder. VI. I make a fault in honour. VII. The Bravo. VIII. The Heather on Fire. IX. I begin to be haunted with a red-headed man. X. The Wood by Silvermills. XI. On the march again with Alan. XII. Gillane Sands. XIII. The Bass Rock. XIV. Black Andie’s Tale of Tod Lapraik. XV. I go to Inveraray.

That is it, as far as drafted. Chapters IV. V. VII. IX. and XIV. I am specially pleased with; the last being an episodical bogie story about the Bass Rock told there by the Keeper.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stevenson/robert_louis/s848vl/chapter16.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30