Vailima Letters, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter XXXIV

Dear Colvin, — My wife came up on the steamer and we go home together in 2 days. I am practically all right, only sleepy and tired easily, slept yesterday from 11 to 11.45, from 1 to 2.50, went to bed at 8 P.M., and with an hour’s interval slept till 6 A.M., close upon 14 hours out of the 24. We sail tomorrow. I am anxious to get home, though this has been an interesting visit, and politics have been curious indeed to study. We go to P.P.C. on the ‘Queen’ this morning; poor, recluse lady, Abreuvee d’injures qu’elle est. Had a rather annoying lunch on board the American man-of-war, with a member of the P.G. (provincial government); and a good deal of anti-royalist talk, which I had to sit out — not only for my host’s sake, but my fellow guests. At last, I took the lead and changed the conversation.

R. L. S.

I am being busted here by party named Hutchinson. Seems good.


Home again, and found all well, thank God. I am perfectly well again and ruddier than the cherry. Please note that 8000 is not bad for a volume of short stories; the Merry Men did a good deal worse; the short story never sells. I hope Catriona will do; that is the important. The reviews seem mixed and perplexed, and one had the peculiar virtue to make me angry. I am in a fair way to expiscate my family history. Fanny and I had a lovely voyage down, with our new C. J. and the American Land Commissioner, and on the whole, and for these disgusting steamers, a pleasant ship’s company. I cannot understand why you don’t take to the Hawaii scheme. Do you understand? You cross the Atlantic in six days, and go from ‘Frisco to Honolulu in seven. Thirteen days at sea in all. — I have no wish to publish The Ebb Tide as a book, let it wait. It will look well in the portfolio. I would like a copy, of course, for that end; and to ‘look upon’t again’ — which I scarce dare.


This is disgraceful. I have done nothing; neither work nor letters. On the Me (May) day, we had a great triumph; our Protestant boys, instead of going with their own villages and families, went of their own accord in the Vailima uniform; Belle made coats for them on purpose to complete the uniform, they having bought the stuff; and they were hailed as they marched in as the Tama-ona — the rich man’s children. This is really a score; it means that Vailima is publicly taken as a family. Then we had my birthday feast a week late, owing to diarrhoea on the proper occasion. The feast was laid in the Hall, and was a singular mass of food: 15 pigs, 100 lbs. beef, 100 lbs. pork, and the fruit and filigree in a proportion. We had sixty horse-posts driven in the gate paddock; how many guests I cannot guess, perhaps 150. They came between three and four and left about seven. Seumanu gave me one of his names; and when my name was called at the ava drinking, behold, it was au mai taua ma manu-vao! You would scarce recognise me, if you heard me thus referred to!

Two days after, we hired a carriage in Apia, Fanny, Belle, Lloyd and I, and drove in great style, with a native outrider, to the prison; a huge gift of ava and tobacco under the seats. The prison is now under the Pule of an Austrian, Captain Wurmbrand, a soldier of fortune in Servia and Turkey, a charming, clever, kindly creature, who is adored by ‘his chiefs’ (as he calls them) meaning our political prisoners. And we came into the yard, walled about with tinned iron, and drank ava with the prisoners and the captain. It may amuse you to hear how it is proper to drink ava. When the cup is handed you, you reach your arm out somewhat behind you, and slowly pour a libation, saying with somewhat the manner of prayer, ‘ia taumafa e le Atua. Ua matagofie le Fesilafaiga Nei.’ ‘Be it (high-chief) partaken of by the God. How (high chief) beautiful to view is this (high chief) gathering.’ This pagan practice is very queer. I should say that the prison ava was of that not very welcome form that we elegantly call spit-ava, but of course there was no escape, and it had to be drunk. Fanny and I rode home, and I moralised by the way. Could we ever stand Europe again? did she appreciate that if we were in London, we should be actually jostled in the street? and there was nobody in the whole of Britain who knew how to take ava like a gentleman? ’Tis funny to be thus of two civilisations — or, if you like, of one civilisation and one barbarism. And, as usual, the barbarism is the more engaging.

Colvin, you have to come here and see us in our { native / mortal } spot. I just don’t seem to be able to make up my mind to your not coming. By this time, you will have seen Graham, I hope, and he will be able to tell you something about us, and something reliable, I shall feel for the first time as if you knew a little about Samoa after that. Fanny seems to be in the right way now. I must say she is very, very well for her, and complains scarce at all. Yesterday, she went down Sola (at least accompanied by a groom) to pay a visit; Belle, Lloyd and I went a walk up the mountain road — the great public highway of the island, where you have to go single file. The object was to show Belle that gaudy valley of the Vaisigano which the road follows. If the road is to be made and opened, as our new Chief Justice promises, it will be one of the most beautiful roads in the world. But the point is this: I forgot I had been three months in civilisation, wearing shoes and stockings, and I tell you I suffered on my soft feet; coming home, down hill, on that stairway of loose stones, I could have cried. O yes, another story, I knew I had. The house boys had not been behaving well, so the other night I announced a Fono, and Lloyd and I went into the boys’ quarters, and I talked to them I suppose for half an hour, and Talolo translated; Lloyd was there principally to keep another ear on the interpreter; else there may be dreadful misconceptions. I rubbed all their ears, except two whom I particularly praised; and one man’s wages I announced I had cut down by one half. Imagine his taking this smiling! Ever since, he has been specially attentive and greets me with a face of really heavenly brightness. This is another good sign of their really and fairly accepting me as a chief. When I first came here, if I had fined a man a sixpence, he would have quit work that hour, and now I remove half his income, and he is glad to stay on — nay, does not seem to entertain the possibility of leaving. And this in the face of one particular difficulty — I mean our house in the bush, and no society, and no women society within decent reach.

I think I must give you our staff in a tabular form.


+ o Sosimo, provost and butler, and my valet.

o Misifolo, who is Fanny and Belle’s chamberlain.


+ o Talolo, provost and chief cook.

+ o Iopu, second cook.

Tali, his wife, no wages.

ti’a, Samoan cook.

Feiloa’i, his child, no wages, likewise no work — Belle’s pet.

+ o Leuelu, Fanny’s boy, gardener, odd jobs.

In Apia.

+ Eliga, washman and daily errand man.


+ o Henry Simele, provost and overseas of outside boys.


Tasi Sele.


Pulu, who is also our talking man and cries the ava.

The crosses mark out the really excellent boys. Ti’a is the man who has just been fined half his wages; he is a beautiful old man, the living image of ‘Fighting Gladiator,’ my favourite statue — but a dreadful humbug. I think we keep him on a little on account of his looks. This sign o marks those who have been two years or upwards in the family. I note all my old boys have the cross of honour, except Misifolo; well, poor dog, he does his best, I suppose. You should see him scour. It is a remark that has often been made by visitors: you never see a Samoan run, except at Vailima. Do you not suppose that makes me proud?

I am pleased to see what a success The Wrecker was, having already in little more than a year outstripped The Master of Ballantrae.

About DaviD.Balfour in two volumes, do see that they make it a decent-looking book, and tell me, do you think a little historical appendix would be of service? Lang bleats for one, and I thought I might address it to him as a kind of open letter.

Dec. 4th.

No time after all. Good-bye.

R. L. S.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00