Vailima Letters, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter XXII

My Dear Colvin, — On Tuesday, we had our young adventurer ready, and Fanny, Belle, he and I set out about three of a dark, deadly hot, and deeply unwholesome afternoon. Belle had the lad behind her; I had a pint of champagne in either pocket, a parcel in my hands, and as Jack had a girth sore and I rode without a girth, I might be said to occupy a very unstrategic position. On the way down, a little dreary, beastly drizzle beginning to come out of the darkness, Fanny put up an umbrella, her horse bounded, reared, cannoned into me, cannoned into Belle and the lad, and bolted for home. It really might and ought to have been an A1 catastrophe; but nothing happened beyond Fanny’s nerves being a good deal shattered; of course, she could not tell what had happened to us until she got her horse mastered.

Next day, Haggard went off to the Commission and left us in charge of his house; all our people came down in wreaths of flowers; we had a boat for them; Haggard had a flag in the Commission boat for us; and when at last the steamer turned up, the young adventurer was carried on board in great style, with a new watch and chain, and about three pound ten of tips, and five big baskets of fruit as free-will offerings to the captain. Captain Morse had us all to lunch; champagne flowed, so did compliments; and I did the affable celebrity life-sized. It made a great send-off for the young adventurer. As the boat drew off, he was standing at the head of the gangway, supported by three handsome ladies — one of them a real full-blown beauty, Madame Green, the singer — and looking very engaging himself, between smiles and tears. Not that he cried in public.

My, but we were a tired crowd! However, it is always a blessing to get home, and this time it was a sort of wonder to ourselves that we got back alive. Casualties: Fanny’s back jarred, horse incident; Belle, bad headache, tears and champagne; self, idiocy, champagne, fatigue; Lloyd, ditto, ditto. As for the adventurer, I believe he will have a delightful voyage for his little start in life. But there is always something touching in a mite’s first launch.

Date unknown.

I am now well on with the third part of the D.BAcle. The two first I liked much; the second completely knocking me; so far as it has gone, this third part appears the ramblings of a dull man who has forgotten what he has to say — he reminds me of an M.P. But Sedan was really great, and I will pick no holes. The batteries under fire, the red-cross folk, the county charge — perhaps, above all, Major Bouroche and the operations, all beyond discussion; and every word about the Emperor splendid.

September 30th.

David Balfour done, and its author along with it, or nearly so. Strange to think of even our doctor here repeating his nonsense about debilitating climate. Why, the work I have been doing the last twelve months, in one continuous spate, mostly with annoying interruptions and without any collapse to mention, would be incredible in Norway. But I have broken down now, and will do nothing as long as I possibly can. With David Balfour I am very well pleased; in fact these labours of the last year — I mean Falesa and D. B., not Samoa, of course — seem to me to be nearer what I mean than anything I have ever done; nearer what I mean by fiction; the nearest thing before was Kidnapped. I am not forgetting the Master of Ballantrae, but that lacked all pleasurableness, and hence was imperfect in essence. So you see, if I am a little tired, I do not repent.

The third part of the D.BAcle may be all very fine; but I cannot read it. It suffers from impaired vitality, and uncertain aim; two deadly sicknesses. Vital — that’s what I am at, first: wholly vital, with a buoyancy of life. Then lyrical, if it may be, and picturesque, always with an epic value of scenes, so that the figures remain in the mind’s eye for ever.

October 8th.

Suppose you sent us some of the catalogues of the parties what vends statutes? I don’t want colossal Herculeses, but about quarter size and less. If the catalogues were illustrated it would probably be found a help to weak memories. These may be found to alleviate spare moments, when we sometimes amuse ourselves by thinking how fine we shall make the palace if we do not go pop. Perhaps in the same way it might amuse you to send us any pattern of wall paper that might strike you as cheap, pretty and suitable for a room in a hot and extremely bright climate. It should be borne in mind that our climate can be extremely dark too. Our sitting-room is to be in varnished wood. The room I have particularly in mind is a sort of bed and sitting-room, pretty large, lit on three sides, and the colour in favour of its proprietor at present is a topazy yellow. But then with what colour to relieve it? For a little work-room of my own at the back. I should rather like to see some patterns of unglossy — well, I’ll be hanged if I can describe this red — it’s not Turkish and it’s not Roman and it’s not Indian, but it seems to partake of the two last, and yet it can’t be either of them, because it ought to be able to go with vermilion. Ah, what a tangled web we weave — anyway, with what brains you have left choose me and send me some — many — patterns of this exact shade.

A few days ago it was Haggard’s birthday and we had him and his cousin to dinner — bless me if I ever told you of his cousin! — he is here anyway, and a fine, pleasing specimen, so that we have concluded (after our own happy experience) that the climate of Samoa must be favourable to cousins. Then we went out on the verandah in a lovely moonlight, drinking port, hearing the cousin play and sing, till presently we were informed that our boys had got up a siva in Lafaele’s house to which we were invited. It was entirely their own idea. The house, you must understand, is one-half floored, and one-half bare earth, and the dais stands a little over knee high above the level of the soil. The dais was the stage, with three footlights. We audience sat on mats on the floor, and the cook and three of our work-boys, sometimes assisted by our two ladies, took their places behind the footlights and began a topical Vailima song. The burden was of course that of a Samoan popular song about a white man who objects to all that he sees in Samoa. And there was of course a special verse for each one of the party — Lloyd was called the dancing man (practically the Chief’s handsome son) of Vailima; he was also, in his character I suppose of overseer, compared to a policeman — Belle had that day been the almoner in a semi-comic distribution of wedding rings and thimbles (bought cheap at an auction) to the whole plantation company, fitting a ring on every man’s finger, and a ring and a thimble on both the women’s. This was very much in character with her native name Teuila, the adorner of the ugly — so of course this was the point of her verse and at a given moment all the performers displayed the rings upon their fingers. Pelema (the cousin — our cousin) was described as watching from the house and whenever he saw any boy not doing anything, running and doing it himself. Fanny’s verse was less intelligible, but it was accompanied in the dance with a pantomime of terror well-fitted to call up her haunting, indefatigable and diminutive presence in a blue gown.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stevenson/robert_louis/s848vl/chapter22.html

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