Vailima Letters, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter XXXVIII

My Dear Colvin, — This is the very day the mail goes, and I have as yet written you nothing. But it was just as well — as it was all about my ‘blacks and chocolates,’ and what of it had relation to whites you will read some of in the Times. It means, as you will see, that I have at one blow quarrelled with all the officials of Samoa, the Foreign Office, and I suppose her Majesty the Queen with milk and honey blest. But you’ll see in the Times. I am very well indeed, but just about dead and mighty glad the mail is near here, and I can just give up all hope of contending with my letters, and lie down for the rest of the day. These Times letters are not easy to write. And I dare say the Consuls say, ‘Why, then, does he write them?’

I had miserable luck with St. Ives; being already half-way through it, a book I had ordered six months ago arrives at last, and I have to change the first half of it from top to bottom! How could I have dreamed the French prisoners were watched over like a female charity school, kept in a grotesque livery, and shaved twice a week? And I had made all my points on the idea that they were unshaved and clothed anyhow. However, this last is better business; if only the book had come when I ordered it! a Propos, many of the books you announce don’t come as a matter of fact. When they are of any value, it is best to register them. Your letter, alas! is not here; I sent it down to the cottage, with all my mail, for Fanny; on Sunday night a boy comes up with a lantern and a note from Fanny, to say the woods are full of Atuas and I must bring a horse down that instant, as the posts are established beyond her on the road, and she does not want to have the fight going on between us. Impossible to get a horse; so I started in the dark on foot, with a revolver, and my spurs on my bare feet, leaving directions that the boy should mount after me with the horse. Try such an experience on Our Road once, and do it, if you please, after you have been down town from nine o’clock till six, on board the ship-of-war lunching, teaching Sunday School (I actually do) and making necessary visits; and the Saturday before, having sat all day from half past six to half-past four, scriving at my Times letter. About half-way up, just in fact at ‘point’ of the outposts, I met Fanny coming up. Then all night long I was being wakened with scares that really should be looked into, though I knew there was nothing in them and no bottom to the whole story; and the drums and shouts and cries from Tanugamanono and the town keeping up an all night corybantic chorus in the moonlight — the moon rose late — and the search-light of the war-ship in the harbour making a jewel of brightness as it lit up the bay of Apia in the distance. And then next morning, about eight o’clock, a drum coming out of the woods and a party of patrols who had been in the woods on our left front (which is our true rear) coming up to the house, and meeting there another party who had been in the woods on our right { front / rear } which is Vaea Mountain, and 43 of them being entertained to ava and biscuits on the verandah, and marching off at last in single file for Apia. Briefly, it is not much wonder if your letter and my whole mail was left at the cottage, and I have no means of seeing or answering particulars.

The whole thing was nothing but a bottomless scare; it was obviously so; you couldn’t make a child believe it was anything else, but it has made the Consuls sit up. My own private scares were really abominably annoying; as for instance after I had got to sleep for the ninth time perhaps — and that was no easy matter either, for I had a crick in my neck so agonising that I had to sleep sitting up — I heard noises as of a man being murdered in the boys’ house. To be sure, said I, this is nothing again, but if a man’s head was being taken, the noises would be the same! So I had to get up, stifle my cries of agony from the crick, get my revolver, and creep out stealthily to the boys’ house. And there were two of them sitting up, keeping watch of their own accord like good boys, and whiling the time over a game of Sweepi (Cascino — the whist of our islanders) — and one of them was our champion idiot, Misifolo, and I suppose he was holding bad cards, and losing all the time — and these noises were his humorous protests against Fortune!

Well, excuse this excursion into my ‘blacks and chocolates.’ It is the last. You will have heard from Lysaght how I failed to write last mail. The said Lysaght seems to me a very nice fellow. We were only sorry he could not stay with us longer. Austin came back from school last week, which made a great time for the Amanuensis, you may be sure. Then on Saturday, the curacoa came in — same commission, with all our old friends; and on Sunday, as already mentioned, Austin and I went down to service and had lunch afterwards in the wardroom. The officers were awfully nice to Austin; they are the most amiable ship in the world; and after lunch we had a paper handed round on which we were to guess, and sign our guess, of the number of leaves on the pine-apple; I never saw this game before, but it seems it is much practised in the Queen’s Navee. When all have betted, one of the party begins to strip the pine-apple head, and the person whose guess is furthest out has to pay for the sherry. My equanimity was disturbed by shouts of The American Commodore, and I found that Austin had entered and lost about a bottle of sherry! He turned with great composure and addressed me. ‘I am afraid I must look to you, Uncle Louis.’ The Sunday School racket is only an experiment which I took up at the request of the late American Land Commissioner; I am trying it for a month, and if I do as ill as I believe, and the boys find it only half as tedious as I do, I think it will end in a month. I have carte blanche, and say what I like; but does any single soul understand me?

Fanny is on the whole very much better. Lloyd has been under the weather, and goes for a month to the South Island of New Zealand for some skating, save the mark! I get all the skating I want among officials.

Dear Colvin, please remember that my life passes among my ‘blacks or chocolates.’ If I were to do as you propose, in a bit of a tiff, it would cut you off entirely from my life. You must try to exercise a trifle of imagination, and put yourself, perhaps with an effort, into some sort of sympathy with these people, or how am I to write to you? I think you are truly a little too Cockney with me. — Ever yours,

Robert Louis Stevenson.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stevenson/robert_louis/s848vl/chapter38.html

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