I wonder if you ever receive any of my letters. I see you miss many; and I have myself lost so much that I now take the precaution of registering. This is disagreeable matter. I have at least received word from Lloyd: one letter – others are lost I suppose. From it I gather that Henley has not been to call on my mother.
I have taken a good deal from Henley for myself and my wife, for a wife counts on the same plane as her husband;
this treatment on an old lady, recently bereaved and very lonely, I refuse to pass over – the supplies are stopped.
He may go and beg from whom he pleases; no threepenny piece of mine goes near him. His disloyalty as a friend has long been very plain to me. What a picture, when in the midst of our trouble, I send McClure to him – McClure who had heard from us nothing but Henley’s praise –
and the uncivil fellow receives my guest with dispraise of myself; and what a contrast is the conduct of McClure, who never breathed a word in betrayal of Henley, and continues to give me news of him as though all were well, so that I only hear of this by a back way. And yet that is what I have been accustomed to accept, and accepted. The treatment of my mother stands on a different base: it is so cruelly small to an old woman very much alone. I have a loyalty to her also; he has chosen to strike me there, and I am done with him for time and for eternity.
You will kindly communicate to him the enclosed scrap of paper; on second thoughts I will post it myself. Here are the terms:
“The man who did not care to call upon my mother returning alone and bereaved to the empty roof of my father, is – in the name of him dead and of her living – dead to me forever. Farewell.” Explicit Amicitia.
My mother also did not tell me; everyone seeks to spare me pain, save Henley alone. But he has given me the last pang. Should he write to me, I will enclose his letter unopened. I have supped full of him. What would my father say, ye Gods, if he could but know?
I think he – W.E.H. – had some entertainment in his time in that poor house.
The fire is a little cold; he might have made a visit of digestion to the widow, now when the mirth has ceased.
I am so moved with living rage that I can think of nothing else. You seem to be doing as I would you have you, to judge from Lloyd’s letter.
A thousand thanks. I do not think this breach should make you think me variable in my affections. Change the thing: suppose your father were dead, you in a far part of the world, your mother returning alone to Rutland Square,
and I keeping camp unmoved in Heriot Row.
Would you accept such conduct? I know you better. And yet, if I have tried you – and I fear I have – it has not been as Henley has tried me. It was an ill day for me when I saw him; all that was pleasant in the past but augments my bitterness this hour. I am, my dear Charles, Your ever affectionately and gratefully,
Of course the first note is condemned; I give you a copy of the substitute:
“I hear you have not thought fit to call on my mother since her return. I think my father tried to make you welcome in that house. He is gone, the house is empty; it would have been very fit you should have paid your respects to his widow. Perhaps if you had called to mind some of the past, you would have thought it kind to visit my mother. Had I been so indifferent, we should never have met.
I will say no more; I do not wish to part in harshness from so old a friend and one bound up with the memories of so much joy and sorrow. But let the parting, if you please, be final. R.L.S.”
I have no more anger; I am simply weary of the incubus. He must feel it strange after all to receive, and to have earned, such a farewell in that city of Edinburgh, where I made myself no sluggish friend of him.
RLS cherished the hope of visiting Revd. James Chalmers (Tamate) in New Guinea, but this design proved, unhappily, impossible.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Lovett. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2279.]
To James Chalmers
[Lovett, James Chalmers, 1902, pp. 355-7]
[Vailima, 29 November 1890]
My dear Tamate.
I had looked forward to meeting you with a pleasure that I should find it hard to exaggerate.
The kindness of your letter, which encourages me to suppose that you yourself had looked forward to the event, makes me the more sad to-day. Yet I am very sure you will approve me altogether. I have my work well forward, I have never done so much in so short a time before. I am pretty tired. I looked forward to a change, and here is the state of affairs; my wife has been working and over-working; cutting, planting, digging. All the time she has never heard from her son; and has not the usual consolation, for Lloyd has never neglected to write to us.
Doubtless the post office is at fault, so we think, so we know,
but this scarce mitigates the strain of waiting and the annoyance of receiving disappointments. I was practically packed up to come away, and I have given up. My wife is not fit to be left alone with all this work and all these workmen.
It would be base in me if I dreamed of leaving her. You must go without my farewell; and I must do without the inspiration of seeing you.
I am a man now past forty.
Scotch at that, and not used to big expressions in friendship; and used on the other hand to be very much ashamed of them. Now, when I break my word to you, I may say so much; I count it a privilege and a benefit to have met you. I count it loss not to meet with you again.
“Just now,” I make haste to add. If death spare us, and the junctions of life permit, I mean to see you, and that soon. If things oppose, accept the expression of my love and gratitude, my love for yourself, my gratitude for your example and your kindness.
I hope Mrs. Chalmers will not mind if I send also my love to her; and my wife’s.
How often have we talked of you both; how often shall we not think of you in the future! I ask you as a particular favour, send me a note of the most healthy periods in New Guinea.
I am only a looker on. I have a (rather heavy) charge of souls and bodies. If I can make out any visit, it must be done sensibly, and with the least risk. But oh, Tamate, if I had met you when I was a boy and a bachelor, how different my life would have been!
Dear Mrs. Chalmers, you say (and very justly), “Tamate is such a rowdy” – your own excellent expression. I wonder if even you know what it means, to a man like me – a very clever man, no modesty, observe! a man fairly critical, a man of the world (in most of the ill senses), to meet one who represents the essential, and who is so free from the formal, from the grimace.
My friend, Mr. Clarke, said, “I wish I could have him for a colleague to keep me up to the mark.” So I; I wish I had him for a neighbour to keep me human.
Farewell! Forgive me my failure. I think your Master would have had me break my word. I live in the hope of seeing you again. I pray God watch over you.
RLS had written more chapters of his next novel, The Wrecker, and momentarely given up the High Woods of Ulufanua, the title first given to The Beach of Falesá, which was to be published in the book Island Nights’ Entertainments, 1893.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2277.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 245-54]
Vailima, Tuesday, November 25th, 1890
My dear Colvin,
I wanted to go out bright and early to go on with my survey. You never heard of that. The world has turned, and much water run under bridges, since I stopped my diary. I have written six more chapters of the book, all good I potently believe, and given up, as a deception of the devil’s, the High Woods. I have been once down to Apia, to a huge native feast at Seumanutafa’s, the chief of Apia. There was a vast mass of food, crowds of people, the police charging among them with whips, the whole in high good humour on both sides; infinite noise;
and a historic event – Mr. Clarke, the missionary, and his wife, assisted at a native dance. On my return from this function, I found work had stopped; no more South Seas in my belly. Well, Henry had cleared a great deal of our bush on a contract, and it ought to be measured. I set myself to the task with a tape-line;
it seemed a dreary business; then I borrowed a prismatic compass,
and tackled the task afresh. I have no books; I had not touched an instrument nor given a thought to the business since the year of grace 1871; you can imagine with what interest I sat down yesterday afternoon to reduce my observations; five triangles I had taken; all five came right, to my ineffable joy. Our dinner – the lowest we have ever been – consisted of one avocado pear between Fanny and me,
a ship’s biscuit for the guidman,
white bread for the Missis,
and red wine for the twa.
No salt horse, even, in all Vailima! After dinner Henry came, and I began to teach him decimals; you wouldn’t think I knew them myself after so long desuetude! I could not but wonder how Henry stands his evenings here; the Polynesian loves gaiety – I feed him with decimals, the mariner’s compass, derivations, grammar, and the like; delecting myself, after the manner of my race, moult tristement. I suck my paws; I live for my dexterities and by my accomplishments; even my clumsinesses are my joy – my woodcuts,
my stumbling on the pipe,
this surveying even – and even weeding sensitive;
anything to do with the mind, with the eye, with the hand – with a part of me; diversion flows in these ways for the dreary man. But gaiety is what these children want; to sit in a crowd, tell stories and pass jests, to hear one another laugh and scamper with the girls. It’s good fun, too, I believe, but not for R.L.S., aetat. 40. Which I am now past forty, Custodian, and not one penny the worse that I can see; as amusable as ever; to be on board ship is reward enough for me; give me the wages of going on – in a schooner! Only, if ever I were gay, which I misremember, I am gay no more. And here is poor Henry passing his evenings on my intellectual husks, which the professors masticated; keeping the accounts of the estate – all wrong I have no doubt – I keep no check, beyond a very rough one; marching in with a cloudy brow, and the day-book under his arm; tackling decimals, coming with cases of conscience – how would an English chief behave in such a case? etc.; and, I am bound to say, on any glimmer of a jest, lapsing into native hilarity as a tree straightens itself after the wind is by. The other night I remembered my old friend – I believe yours also – Scholastikos, and administered the crow and the anchor – they were quite fresh to Samoan ears (this implies a very early severance) – and I thought the anchor would have made away with my Simelé altogether.
Fanny’s time, in this interval, has been largely occupied in contending publicly with wild swine. We have a black sow;
we call her Jack Sheppard;
impossible to confine her – impossible also for her to be confined! To my sure knowledge she has been in an interesting condition for longer than any other sow in story; else she had long died the death; as soon as she is brought to bed, she shall count her days. I suppose that sow has cost us in days’ labour from thirty to fifty dollars; as many as eight boys (at a dollar a day) have been twelve hours in chase of her. Now it is supposed that Fanny has outwitted her; she grins behind broad planks in what was once the cook-house. She is a wild pig; far handsomer than any tame; and when she found the cook-house […] was too much for her methods of evasion, she lay down on the floor and refused food and drink for a whole Sunday. On Monday morning she relapsed, and now eats and drinks like a little man. I am reminded of an incident. Two Sundays ago, the sad word was brought that the sow was out again; this time she had carried another in her flight. Moors and I and Fanny were strolling up to the garden, and there by the waterside we saw the black sow, looking guilty. It seemed to me beyond words; but Fanny’s cri du coeur was delicious: ‘G-r-r!’ she cried; ‘nobody loves you!’
I would I could tell you the moving story of our cart and cart-horses; the latter are dapple-grey, about sixteen hands, and of enormous substance; the former was a kind of red and green shandrydan with a driving bench;
plainly unfit to carry lumber or to face our road. (Remember that the last third of my road, about a mile, is all made out of a bridle-track by my boys and my dollars.)
It was supposed a white man had been found – an ex-German artilleryman – to drive this last; he proved incapable and drunken; the gallant Henry, who had never driven before, and knew nothing about horses – except the rats and weeds that flourish on the islands – volunteered; Moors accepted, proposing to follow and supervise: despatched his work and started after.
No cart! he hurried on up the road – no cart. Transfer the scene to Vailima, where on a sudden, to Fanny and me, the cart appears, apparently at a hard gallop, some two hours before it was expected; Henry radiantly ruling chaos from the bench. It stopped: it was long before we had time to remark that the axle was twisted like the letter L. Our first care was the horses. There they stood, black with sweat, the sweat raining from them – literally raining – their heads down, their feet apart – and blood running thick from the nostrils of the mare. We got out Fanny’s underclothes – couldn’t find anything else but our blankets – to rub them down, and in about half an hour we had the blessed satisfaction to see one after the other take a bite or two of grass. But it was a toucher; a little more and these steeds would have been foundered.
Monday, 31st (?) November. Near a week elapsed and no journal. On Monday afternoon, Moors rode up and I rode down with him, dined, and went over in the evening to the American consulate;
present, Consul-General Sewall,
Lieut. Parker and Mrs. Parker, Lafarge the American decorator,
Adams an American historian;
we talked late, and it was arranged I was to write up for Fanny, and we should both dine on the morrow.
On the Friday, I was all forenoon in the mission house,
lunched at the German Consulate,
went on board the Sperber (German war-ship) in the afternoon,
called on my lawyer on my way out to American Consulate,
and talked till dinner time with Adams, whom I am supplying with introductions and information for Tahiti and the Marquesas. Fanny arrived a wreck, and had to lie down.
The moon rose, one day past full, and we dined in the verandah, a good dinner on the whole; talk with Lafarge about art and the lovely dreams of art students.
Remark by Adams, which took me briskly home to the Monument –
‘I only liked one young woman – and that was Mrs. Procter.’
Henry James would like that.
Back by moonlight in the consulate boat – Fanny being too tired to walk – to Moors’s. Saturday, I left Fanny to rest, and was off early to the Mission
where the politics are thrilling just now. The native pastors (to every one’s surprise) have moved of themselves in the matter of the native dances, desiring the restrictions to be removed, or rather to be made dependent on the character of the dance. Clarke, who had feared censure and all kinds of trouble, is, of course, rejoicing greatly. A characteristic feature: the argument of the pastors was handed in in the form of a fictitious narrative of the voyage of one Mr. Pye, an English traveller, and his conversation with a chief; there are touches of satire in this educational romance. Mr. Pye, for instance, admits that he knows nothing about the Bible. At the Mission I was sought out by Henry in a devil of an agitation; he has been made the victim of a forgery – a crime hitherto unknown in Samoa. I had to go to Folau, the chief judge here, in the matter. Folau had never heard of the offence, and begged to know what was the punishment; there may be lively times in forgery ahead. It seems the sort of crime to tickle a Polynesian. After lunch – you can see what a busy three days I am describing – we set off to ride home. My Jack was full of the devil of corn and too much grass, and no work. I had to ride ahead and leave Fanny behind. He is a most gallant little rascal is my Jack, and takes the whole way as hard as the rider pleases.
Single incident: half-way up, I find my boys upon the road and stop and talk with Henry in his character of ganger, as long as Jack will suffer me. Fanny drones in after; we make a show of eating – or I do – she goes to bed about half-past six! I write some verses, read Irving’s Washington,
and follow about half-past eight. O, one thing more I did, in a prophetic spirit. I had made sure Fanny was not fit to be left alone, and wrote before turning in a letter to Chalmers, telling him I could not meet him in Auckland at this time.
By eleven at night, Fanny got me wakened – she had tried twice in vain – and I found her very bad. Thence till three, we laboured with mustard poultices,
soda and ginger –
Heavens! wasn’t it cold; the land breeze was as cold as a river; the moon was glorious in the paddock, and the great boughs and the black shadows of our trees were inconceivable.
But it was a poor time.
Sunday morning found Fanny, of course, a complete wreck, and myself not very brilliant. Paul had to go to Vailele re cocoa-nuts; it was doubtful if he could be back by dinner; never mind, said I, I’ll take dinner when you return. Off set Paul. I did an hour’s work, and then tackled the house work. I did it beautiful: the house was a picture, it resplended of propriety. Presently Mr. Moors’ Andrew rode up; I heard the doctor was at the Forest House and sent a note to him; and when he came, I heard my wife telling him she had been in bed all day, and that was why the house was so dirty! Was it grateful? Was it politic? Was it TRUE? Enough! In the interval, up marched little L[udwig] S[chmidt], one of my neighbours, all in his Sunday white linens; made a fine salute, and demanded the key of the kitchen in German and English. And he cooked dinner for us, like a little man, and had it on the table and the coffee ready by the hour.
Paul had arranged me this surprise. Some time later, Paul returned himself with a fresh surprise on hand; he was almost sober; nothing but a hazy eye distinguished him from Paul of the week days: vivat!
On the evening I cannot dwell. All the horses got out of the paddock, went across, and smashed my neighbour’s garden into a big hole. How little the amateur conceives a farmer’s troubles. I went out at once with a lantern, staked up a gap in the hedge, was kicked at by a chestnut mare, who straightway took to the bush;
and came back. A little after, they had found another gap, and the crowd were all abroad again. What has happened to our own garden nobody yet knows.
Fanny had a fair night, and we are both tolerable this morning, only the yoke of correspondence lies on me heavy. I beg you will let this go on to my mother. I got such a good start in your letter, that I kept on at it, and I have neither time nor energy for more. – Yours ever,
Something new. – I was called from my letters by the voice of Mr. [Hay], who had just come up with a load of wood, roaring, ‘Henry! Henry! Bring six boys!’ I saw there was something wrong, and ran out. The cart, half unloaded, had upset with the mare in the shafts; she was all cramped together and all tangled up in harness and cargo, the off shaft pushing her over, the carter holding her up by main strength, and right along-side of her – where she must fall if she went down – a deadly stick of a tree like a lance. I could not but admire the wisdom and faith of this great brute; I never saw the riding-horse that would not have lost its life in such a situation; but the cart-elephant patiently waited and was saved. It was a stirring three minutes, I can tell you.
I forgot in talking of Saturday to tell of one incident which will particularly interest my mother. I met Dr. Davies from Savaii, and had an age-long talk about Edinburgh folk […]; it was very pleasant. He has been studying in Edinburgh, along with his son; a pretty relation. He told me he knew nobody but college people: ‘I was altogether a student,’ he said with glee. He seems full of cheerfulness and thickset energy. I feel as if I could put him in a novel with effect; and ten to one, if I know more of him, the image will be only blurred.
Tuesday, Dec. 2nd. – I should have told you yesterday that all my boys were got up for their work in moustaches and side-whiskers of some sort of blacking – I suppose wood-ash.
It was a sight of joy to see them return at night, axe on shoulder, feigning to march like soldiers, a choragus with a loud voice singing out, ‘March – step! March – step!’ in imperfect recollection of some drill.
The Revd. Clarke of the London Missionary Society recorded that the occasion for the dancing of the Siva – the Samoan national dance – was the arrival of Henry C. Ide as Chief Justice in 1893, but the reference is surely to the feast on 20 November 1890. Henry Adams also recorded that it was at this feast that ‘the leading white missionaries, for the first time, publicly looked on at the Siva’. Clarke explained that because of the obscenities associated with it, any Church member present at the dance was automatically excommunicated. White missionaries – arguing that the best course was to purge the Siva of any improprieties – had sought to have the rule amended but the native pastors had always insisted on a complete veto [Mehew 7, pp. 38 f., n. 2.].
[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2276.]
To Revd. W.E. Clarke
[Clarke, Yale Review X, 1921, p. 283]
[Vailima, ? 21 November 1890
My dear Clarke,
I was unable to speak with you when I was down after the feast.
After what you had previously told me about the ‘Siva’ I was more than astonished to see you present.
I also wished time to think. I have since thought as much as in me lies; I took a walk this afternoon, and thought of little else, so strongly you had convinced me of the difficulties of relaxation, so unprepared was I for the step you took. Please receive the result of my meditations for what they are worth. I cannot tell if you have done wisely; I am sure you have done well, that is, I do not know if this will bring you good now, but it should bring better afterwards, and I know that you have put yourself in a better position. The other course might have been the more diplomatic – this was the more honest. May we not have sometimes faith enough to think the frank step the right one? Surely we may.
And there can be no doubt the only honest thing is to discriminate boldly between the use and the abuse in this as in all things. Cowardice lies in the extremes, whether of severity or of indulgence.
I wish you to understand, should any difficulty follow, my pen, and my influence, such as it is, will be very gladly made ready to defend you in what the ignorant may have thought a very natural step, and I, enlightened by yourself, think a very bold one.
I have drawn on you today at 30 days in favour of H.J. Moors for £200.
All my money is to go to you from the letters, so you should soon be in high funds. I have done this to get the profit on the dollar, instead of receiving it here; and it is better it should pass through your hands at any rate. I have no time for more. Very busy and pretty well, but there’s a lot to do, and little time to turn round, and a lot of nincompoops to boss.
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2272.]
To James Chalmers
[Lovett, James Chalmers, 1902, pp. 354-5]
Vailima, 5 November 1890
My dear Tamate,
I wish I could tell you how pleased I was to get your note.
I shall never cease to rejoice I had the good fortune to meet you; and whatever you are good enough to think of me, be sure it is returned with interest. I cannot come on the Richmond; our presence here is very needful; our work pressing; the most I can do (and in that I do not mean to fail) is to go by the next Wainui and meet you – or arrive about the same time with you – in Auckland.
My wife, who is tired and dirty and rheumatic and embittered by bad yeast – and yet (like myself) interested beyond measure by our hard and busy life here on the mountain – bids me send all things nice – ‘I cannot think of anything nice enough,’ quo’ she – to Tamate and his wife.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2269.]
To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 254-6]
[Vailima, 4 November 1890]
My dear Burlingame,
By some diabolical accident, I have mislaid your last. What was in it? I know not, and here I am caught unexpectedly by the American mail, a week earlier than by computation. The computation, not the mail, is supposed to be in error. The vols. of Scribner’s have arrived, and present a noble appearance in my house, which is not a noble structure at present. But by autumn we hope to be sprawling in our verandah, twelve feet, sir, by eighty-eight in front, and seventy-two on the flank;
view of the sea and mountains,
and the German fleet at anchor three miles away in Apia harbour.
I hope some day to offer you a bowl of kava there, or a slice of a pine-apple,
or some lemonade from my own hedge. I know a hedge where the lemons grow: Shakespeare. My house at this moment smells of them strong;
and the rain, which a while ago roared there, now rings in minute drops upon the iron roof.
I have no Wrecker for you this mail, other things having engaged me. I was on the whole rather relieved you did not vote for regular papers, as I feared the traces. It is my design from time to time to write a paper of a reminiscential (beastly word) description; some of them I could scarce publish from different considerations; but some of them – for instance, my long experience of gambling places – Homburg, Wiesbaden, Baden-Baden, old Monaco, and new Monte Carlo – would make good magazine padding, if I got the stuff handled the right way.
I never could fathom why verse was put in magazines; it has something to do with the making-up, has it not? I am scribbling a lot just now; if you are taken badly that way, apply to the South Seas. I could send you some, I believe, anyway, only none of it is thoroughly ripe. If you have kept back the volume of ballads, I’ll soon make it of a respectable size if this fit continue. By the next mail you may expect some more Wrecker, or I shall be displeased. Probably no more than a chapter, however, for it is a hard one, and I am denuded of my proofs, my collaborator having walked away with them to England;
hence some trouble in catching the just note. […]
I am a mere farmer: my talk, which would scarce interest you on Broadway,
is all of fuafua
and black boys, and planting and weeding, and axes and cutlasses; my hands are covered with blisters and full of thorns; letters are, doubtless, a fine thing, so are beer and skittles, but give me farmering in the tropics for real interest. Life goes in enchantment; I come home to find I am late for dinner; and when I go to bed at night, I could cry for the weariness of my loins and thighs. Do not speak to me of vexation, the life brims with it, but with living interest fairly.
Christmas I go to Auckland, to meet Tamate, the New Guinea missionary, a man I love.
The rest of my life is a prospect of much rain, much weeding and making of paths, a little letters, and devilish little to eat. – I am, my dear Burlingame, with messages to all whom it may concern, very sincerely yours,
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Claxton. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2268.]
To Revd Arthur E. Claxton
[Claxton, in I Can Remember RLS, 1922, p. 250]
[Vailima, ? Early November 1890]
I am sorry I wrote you so hurriedly the other day. I knew after I had begun I should leave a false impression – that your sermon had really something to do with my heat; but I was too deeply engaged to begin again, and let it go.
I do not know why you should care: but I had no fault to find. Only the strong statement – how shall I say? – wearied me. I once wrote, long ago, something like this: “I know there is no discharge in this war, but shall there be no furlough?”
And your expression seemed to blot all furloughs out; and, believe me, I understood not only the sense in which it was true, but (what is more to the purpose) the sense in which it would be needful for some among your hearers – perhaps even . . . for . . . the immaculate
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2266.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 224-42]
Tuesday, 4th [November 1890]
I begin to see the whole scheme of letter-writing; you sit down every day and pour out an equable stream of twaddle.
This morning all my fears were fled, and all the trouble had fallen to the lot of Peni himself, who deserved it; my field was full of weeders; and I am again able to justify the ways of God. All morning I worked at the South Seas, and finished the chapter I had stuck upon on Saturday. Fanny, awfully hove-to with rheumatics and injuries received upon the field of sport and glory, chasing pigs, was unable to go up and down stairs, so she sat upon the back verandah,
and my work was chequered by her cries. ‘Paul, you take a spade to do that – dig a hole first. If you do that, you’ll cut your foot off! Here, you boy, what you do there? You no get work? You go find Simelé; he give you work. Peni, you tell this boy he go find Simelé; suppose Simelé no give him work, you tell him go ‘way. I no want him here. That boy no good.’ – Peni (from the distance in reassuring tones), ‘All right, sir!’ – Fanny (after a long pause), ‘Peni, you tell that boy go find Simelé! I no want him stand here all day. I no pay that boy. I see him all day. He no do nothing.’ – Luncheon, beef,
pineapple in claret,
Try to write a poem; no go. Play the flageolet.
Then sneakingly off to farmering and pioneering. Four gangs at work on our place; a lively scene; axes crashing and smoke blowing;
all the knives are out. But I rob the garden party of one without a stock, and you should see my hand – cut to ribbons. Now I want to do my path up the Vaituliga single-handed, and I want it to burst on the public complete.
Hence, with devilish ingenuity, I begin it at different places; so that if you stumble on one section, you may not even then suspect the fulness of my labours. Accordingly, I started in a new place, below the wire, and hoping to work up to it. It was perhaps lucky I had so bad a cutlass, and my smarting hand bid me stay before I had got up to the wire, but just in season, so that I was only the better of my activity, not dead beat as yesterday.
A strange business it was, and infinitely solitary; away above, the sun was in the high tree-tops
the lianas noosed and sought to hang me;
the saplings struggled, and came up with that sob of death that one gets to know so well; great, soft, sappy trees fell at a lick of the cutlass, little tough switches laughed at and dared my best endeavour. Soon, toiling down in that pit of verdure, I heard blows on the far side, and then laughter. I confess a chill settled on my heart. Being so dead alone, in a place where by rights none should be beyond me, I was aware, upon interrogation, if those blows had drawn nearer, I should (of course quite unaffectedly) have executed a strategic movement to the rear; and only the other day I was lamenting my insensibility to superstition! Am I beginning to be sucked in? Shall I become a midnight twitterer like my neighbours? At times I thought the blows were echoes; at times I thought the laughter was from birds. For our birds are strangely human in their calls. Vaea mountain about sundown sometimes rings with shrill cries, like the hails of merry, scattered children.
As a matter of fact, I believe stealthy wood-cutters from Tanugamanono were above me in the wood and answerable for the blows; as for the laughter, a woman and two children had come and asked Fanny’s leave to go up shrimp-fishing in the burn;
beyond doubt, it was these I heard. Just at the right time I returned; to wash down, change, and begin this snatch of letter before dinner was ready, and to finish it afterwards, before Henry has yet put in an appearance for his lesson in ‘long explessions.’
Dinner: stewed beef and potatoes,
new loaf-bread hot from the oven,
pineapple in claret.
These are great days; we have been low in the past; but now are we as belly-gods, enjoying all things.
[to be continued]
Wednesday [5 November 1890]
Hist. Vailima resumed.
A gorgeous evening of after-glow in the great tree-tops and behind the mountain,
and full moon over the lowlands and the sea,
inaugurated a night of horrid cold. To you effete denizens of the so-called temperate zone, it had seemed nothing; neither of us could sleep; we were up seeking extra coverings, I know not at what hour – it was as bright as day. The moon right over Vaea – near due west,
the birds strangely silent, and the wood of the house tingling with cold; I believe it must have been 60°! Consequence: Fanny has a headache and is wretched, and I could do no work. (I am trying all round for a place to hold my pen; you will hear why later on; this to explain penmanship.) I wrote two pages, very bad, no movement, no life or interest; then I wrote a business letter; then took to tootling on the flageolet, till glory should call me farmering.
I took up at the fit time Lafaele and Mauga – Mauga, accent on the first, is a mountain,
I don’t know what Maugà means – mind what I told you of the value of g – to the garden, and set them digging, then turned my attention to the path. I could not go into my bush path for two reasons: 1st, sore hands; 2nd, had on my trousers and good shoes. Lucky it was. Right in the wild lime hedge which cuts athwart us just homeward of the garden, I found a great bed of kuikui – sensitive plant – our deadliest enemy. A fool brought it to this island in a pot, and used to lecture and sentimentalise over the tender thing. The tender thing has now taken charge of this island, and men fight it, with torn hands, for bread and life. A singular, insidious thing, shrinking and biting like a weasel; clutching by its roots as a limpet clutches to a rock.
As I fought him, I bettered some verses in my poem, The Woodman;
the only thought I gave to letters. Though the kuikui was thick, there was but a small patch of it,
and when I was done I attacked the wild lime, and had a hand-to-hand skirmish with its spines and elastic suckers.
All this time, close by, in the cleared space of the garden, Lafaele and Mauga were digging. Suddenly quoth Lafaele, ‘Somebody he sing out.’ – ‘Somebody he sing out? All right. I go.’ And I went and found they had been whistling and ‘singing out’ for long, but the fold of the hill and the uncleared bush shuts in the garden so that no one heard, and I was late for dinner, and Fanny’s headache was cross; and when the meal was over, we had to cut up a pineapple which was going bad, to make jelly of;
and the next time you have a handful of broken blood-blisters, apply pineapple juice, and you will give me news of it, and I request a specimen of your hand of write five minutes after – the historic moment when I tackled this history. My day so far.
Fanny was to have rested. Blessed Paul began making a duck-house; she let him be; the duck-house fell down, and she had to set her hand to it. He was then to make a drinking-place for the pigs; she let him be again – he made a stair by which the pigs will probably escape this evening, and she was near weeping. Impossible to blame the indefatigable fellow; energy is too rare and goodwill too noble a thing to discourage; but it’s trying when she wants a rest. Then she had to cook the dinner; then, of course – like a fool and a woman – must wait dinner for me, and make a flurry of herself. Her day so far. Cetera adhuc desunt.
Friday – I think [7 November 1890]
I have been too tired to add to this chronicle, which will at any rate give you some guess of our employment. All goes well; the kuikui – (think of this mispronunciation having actually infected me to the extent of misspelling! tuitui is the word by rights) – the tuitui is all out of the paddock – a fenced park between the house and boundary; Peni’s men start to-day on the road; the garden is part burned, part dug; and Henry, at the head of a troop of underpaid assistants, is hard at work clearing. The part clearing you will see from the map; from the house run down to the stream side, up the stream nearly as high as the garden; then back to the star which I have just added to the map.
My long, silent contests in the forest have had a strange effect on me. The unconcealed vitality of these vegetables, their exuberant number and strength, the attempts – I can use no other word – of lianas to enwrap and capture the intruder, the awful silence, the knowledge that all my efforts are only like the performance of an actor, the thing of a moment, and the wood will silently and swiftly heal them up with fresh effervescence; the cunning sense of the tuitui, suffering itself to be touched with wind-swayed grasses and not minding but let the grass be moved by a man, and it shuts up; the whole silent battle, murder, and slow death of the contending forest; weigh upon the imagination. My poem the Woodman stands; but I have taken refuge in a new story, which just shot through me like a bullet in one of my moments of awe, alone in that tragic jungle: –
The High Woods of Ulufanua
1. A South Sea Bridal.
2. Under the Ban.
3. Savao and Faavao.
4. Cries in the High Wood.
5. Rumour full of Tongues.
6. The Hour of Peril.
7. The Day of Vengeance.
It is very strange, very extravagant, I dare say; but it’s varied, and picturesque, and has a pretty love affair, and ends well. Ulufanua is a lovely Samoan word, ulu = grove; fanua = land; grove-land – ‘the tops of the high trees.’ Savao, ‘sacred to the wood,’ and Faavao, ‘wood-ways,’ are the names of two of the characters, Ulufanua the name of the supposed island.
I am very tired, and rest off to-day from all but letters. Fanny is quite done up; she could not sleep last night, something it seemed like asthma – I trust not. I suppose Lloyd will be about, so you can give him the benefit of this long scrawl.
Never say that I can’t write a letter, say that I don’t. – Yours ever, my dearest fellow.
Later on Friday.
The guid wife had bread to bake, and she baked it in a pan, O!
But between whiles she was down with me weeding sensitive in the paddock. The men have but now passed over it; I was round in that very place to see the weeding was done thoroughly, and already the reptile springs behind our heels. Tuitui is a truly strange beast, and gives food for thought. I am nearly sure – I cannot yet be quite, I mean to experiment, when I am less on the hot chase of the beast – that, even at the instant he shrivels up his leaves, he strikes his prickles downward so as to catch the uprooting finger; instinctive, say the gabies; but so is man’s impulse to strike out. One thing that takes and holds me is to see the strange variation in the propagation of alarm among these rooted beasts; at times it spreads to a radius (I speak by the guess of the eye) of five or six inches; at times only one individual plant appears frightened at a time. We tried how long it took one to recover; ’tis a sanguine creature; it is all abroad again before (I guess again) two minutes. It is odd how difficult in this world it is to be armed. The double armour of this plant betrays it. In a thick tuft, where the leaves disappear, I thrust in my hand, and the bite of the thorns betrays the topmost stem. In the open again, and when I hesitate if it be clover, a touch on the leaves, and its fine sense and retractile action betrays its identity at once.
Yet it has one gift incomparable. Rome had virtue and knowledge; Rome perished. The sensitive plant has indigestible seeds – so they say – and it will flourish for ever. I give my advice thus to a young plant – have a strong root, a weak stem, and an indigestible seed; so you will outlast the eternal city, and your progeny will clothe mountains, and the irascible planter will blaspheme in vain. The weak point of tuitui is that its stem is strong.
Here beginneth the third lesson, which is not from the planter but from a less estimable character, the writer of books.
I want you to understand about this South Sea Book. The job is immense; I stagger under material.
I have seen the first big tache. It was necessary to see the smaller ones; the letters were at my hand for the purpose, but I was not going to lose this experience, and, instead of writing mere letters, have poured out a lot of stuff for the book. How this works and fits, time is to show. But I believe, in time, I shall get the whole thing in form. Now, up to date, that is all my design, and I beg to warn you till we have the whole (or much) of the stuff together, you can hardly judge – and I can hardly judge. Such a mass of stuff is to be handled, if possible without repetition – so much foreign matter to be introduced – if possible with perspicuity – and, as much as can be, a spirit of narrative to be preserved. You will find that come stronger as I proceed, arid get the explanations worked through. Problems of style are (as yet) dirt under my feet; my problem is architectural, creative – to get this stuff jointed and moving. If I can do that, I will trouble you for style; anybody might write it, and it would be splendid; well-engineered, the masses right, the blooming thing travelling – twig?
This I wanted you to understand, for lots of the stuff sent home is, I imagine, rot – and slovenly rot – and some of it pompous rot; and I want you to understand it’s a lay-in.
Soon, if the tide of poeshie continues, I’ll send you a whole lot to damn. You never said thank you for the handsome tribute addressed to you from Apemama;
such is the gratitude of the world to the God-sent poick. Well, well: – ‘Vex not thou the poick’s mind,
With thy coriaceous ingratitude, The P. will be to your faults more than a little blind, And yours is a far from handsome attitude.’ Having thus dropped into poetry in a spirit of friendship, I have the honour to subscribe myself, Sir, your obedient humble servant,
I suppose by this you will have seen the lad – and his feet will have been in the Monument – and his eyes beheld the face of George.