This letter about the First Samoan Civil War was to be published on The Times, 11 March 1889, under the heading ‘Recent German Doings in Samoa’. Cf. for details RLS’s essay A Footnote to History, 1892.
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2136.]
To the Editor of The Times
[The Works of RLS, 1907, XVII, pp. 345-9]
Yacht “Casco”, Hawaiian Islands, Feb. 10, 1889
News from Polynesia is apt to come piecemeal, and thus fail of its effect, the first step being forgotten before the second comes to hand. For this reason I should like to be allowed to recapitulate a little of the past before I go on to illustrate the present extraordinary state of affairs in the Samoan Islands.
It is quite true that this group was largely opened up by German enterprise, and that the port of Apia is much the creation of the Godeffroys.
So far the German case extends; no farther. Apia was governed till lately by a tripartite municipality, the American, English, and German Consuls, and one other representative of each of the three nations making up the body.
To both America and Germany a harbour had been ceded. England, I believe, had no harbour, but that her position was quite equal to that of her neighbours one fact eloquently displays. Malietoa – then King of Samoa, now a prisoner on the Marshall Islands – offered to accept the supremacy of England.
Unhappily for himself, his offer was refused, Her Majesty’s Government declaring, I am told, that they would prefer to see him independent.
As he now wanders the territory of his island prison, under the guns of an Imperial war-ship, his independence (if it still exist) must be confined entirely to his bosom.
Such was the former equal and pacific state of the three nations at Apia. It would be curious to tell at length by what steps of encroachment on the one side and weakness on the other the present reign of terror has been brought about; but my time before the mail departs is very short, your space is limited, and in such a history much must be only matter of conjecture. Briefly and roughly, then, there came a sudden change in the attitude of Germany. Another treaty was proposed to Malietoa and refused;
the cause of the rebel Tamasese was invented or espoused;
Malietoa was seized and deported, Tamasese installed, the tripartite municipality dissolved, the German Consul seated aristocratically in its place, and the Hawaiian Embassy (sent by a Power of the same race to moderate among Samoans) dismissed with threats and insults.
In the course of these events villages have been shelled, the German flag has been at least once substituted for the English, and the Stars and Stripes (only the other day) were burned at Matafangatele.
On the day of the chase after Malietoa the houses of both English and Americans were violently entered by the Germans. Since the dissolution of the municipality English and Americans have paid their taxes into the hands of their own Consuls, where they accumulate, and the German representative, unrecognised and unsupported, rules single in Apia. I have had through my hands a file of Consular proclamations, the most singular reading – a state of war declared, all other authority but that of the German representative suspended, punishment (and the punishment of death in particular) liberally threatened.
It is enough to make a man rub his eyes when he reads Colonel de Coetlogon’s protest
and the high-handed rejoinder posted alongside of it the next day by Dr. Knappe. Who is Dr. Knappe, thus to make peace and war, deal in life and death, and close with a buffet the mouth of English Consuls? By what process known to diplomacy has he risen from his one-sixth part of municipaal authority to be the Bismarck of a Polynesian island?
And what spell has been cast on the Cabinets of Washington and St. James’s, that Mr. Blacklock should have been so long left unsupported, and that Colonel de Coetlogon must bow his head under a public buffet?
I have not said much of the Samoans. I despair, in so short a space, to interest English readers in their wrongs; with the mass of people at home they will pass for some sort of cannibal islanders, with whom faith were superfluous, upon whom kindness might be partly thrown away. And, indeed, I recognise with gladness that (except as regards the captivity of Malietoa) the Samoans have had throughout the honours of the game. Tamasese, the German puppet, has had everywhere the under hand;
almost none, except those of his own clan, have ever supported his cause, and even these begin now to desert him. “This is no Samoan war”, said one of them, as he transferred his followers and services to the new Malietoa – Mataafa; “this is a German war”. Mataafa, if he be cut off from Apia and the sea, lies inexpugnable in the foot-hills immediately behind with 5,000 warriors at his back.
And beyond titles to a great deal of land, which they extorted in exchange for rifles and ammunition from the partisans of Tamasese, of all this bloodshed and bullying the German behold no profit. I have it by last advices that Dr. Knappe has approached the King privately with fair speeches, assuring him that the state of war, bombardments, and other evils of the day, are not at all directed at Samoans, but against the English and Americans; and that, when these are extruded, peace shall again smile on a German island. It can never be proved, but it is highly possible he may have said so; and, whether he said it or not, there is a sense in which the thing is true. Violence has not been found to succeed with the Samoans; with the two Anglo-Saxon Powers it has been found to work like a charm.
I conclude with two instances, one American, one English: –
First. – Mr. Klein, an American journalist, was on the beach with Malietoa’s men on the night of the recebt German defeat.
Seeing the boats approach in the darkness, Mr. Klein hailed them and warned them of the Samoan ambush, and, by this innocent and humane step, made public the fact of his presence. Where much else is contested so much appears to be admitted (and, indeed, claimed) upon both sides. Mr. Klein is now accused of firing on the Germans and of advising the Samoans to fire, both of which he denies. He is accused, after the fight, of succouring only the wounded of Malietoa [Mataafa]’s party; he himself declares that he helped both; and, at any rate, the offence appears a novel one, and the accusation threatens to introduce fresh dangers into Red Cross work.
He was on the beach that night in the exercise of his profession.
If he was with Malietoa [Mataafa]’s men, which is the real gist of his offence, we who are not Germans may surely ask, Why not? On what ground is Malietoa [Mataafa] a rebel? The Germans have not conquered Samoa that I ever heard of; they are there on treaty like their neighbours, and Dr. Knappe himself (in the eyes of justice) is no more than the one-sixth part of the town council of Apia. Lastly, Mr. Klein’s innocence stands very clearly proven by the openness with which he declared his presence. For all that, this gentleman lay for a considerable time, watched day and night by German sailors, a prisoner in the American Consulate;
even after he had succeeded in running the gauntlet of the German guards, and making his escape in a canoe to the American warship Nipsic, he was imperiously redemanded from under his own flag, and it is probable his extradition is being already called for at Washington.
Secondly. – An English artist had gone into the bush sketching. I believe he had been to Malietoa [Mataafa]’s camp, so that his guilt stands on somewhat the same gound as Mr. Klein’s. He was forcibly seized on board the British packet Richmond, carried half-dressed on board the Adler, and detained there, in spite of all protest, until an English war-ship had been cleared for action.
This is of notoriety, and only one case (although a strong one) of many. Is it what the English people understand by the sovereignty of the seas? – I am, etc.,
[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2133.]
To Marcel Schwob [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 118-9]
Honolulu, Sandwich Islands, February 8th, 1889
I thank you – from the midst of such a flurry as you can imagine, with seven months’ accumulated correspondence on my table – for your two friendly and clever letters.
Pray write me again. I shall be home in May or June, and not improbably shall come to Paris in the summer.
Then we can talk; or in the interval I may be able to write, which is today out of the question. Pray take a word from a man of crushing occupations, and count it as a volume. Your little conte is delightful.
Ah yes, you are right, I love the eighteenth century; and so do you, and have not listened to its voice in vain. – The Hunted One,
and have dismissed the yacht, and lie here till April anyway, in a fine state of haze, which I am yet in hopes some letter of yours (still on the way) may dissipate. No money, and not one word as to money! However, I have got the yacht paid off in triumph, I think; and though we stay here impignorate, it should not be for long, even if you bring us no extra help from home. The cruise has been a great success, both as to matter, fun, and health; and yet, Lord, man! we’re pleased to be ashore! Yon was a very fine voyage from Tahiti up here, but – the dry land’s a fine place too, and we don’t mind squalls any longer, and eh, man, that’s a great thing.
Blow, blow, thou wintry wind, thou hast done me no appreciable harm beyond a few grey hairs!
Altogether, this foolhardy venture is achieved; and if I have but nine months of life and any kind of health, I shall have both eaten my cake and got it back again with usury. But, man, there have been days when I felt guilty, and thought I was in no position for the head of a house.
Your letter and accounts are doubtless at S. F. and will reach me in course. My wife is no great shakes; she is the one who has suffered most. My mother has had a Huge Old Time; Lloyd is first chop; I so well that I do not know myself – sea bathing, if you please, and what is far more dangerous, entertaining and being entertained by His Majesty here, who is a very fine intelligent fellow,
but O, Charles! what a crop for the drink! He carries it, too, like a mountain with a sparrow on its shoulders. We calculated five bottles of champagne in three hours and a half (afternoon), and the sovereign quite presentable, although perceptibly more dignified at the end.
Valentine leaves us here, to mutual glee. Stop her private wages, and be ready (when she applies) to give her her little stock. It has been the usual tale of the maid on board the yacht.
– This reminds me, I believe I poured forth my sorrows over my captain in your ear. Patience and time have quite healed these conflicts; we do what we want now, and the captain is a trusted friend. It did require patience in the beginning; but the seed has borne a most plentiful cup, and we feel quite proud of our tame captain, and (as I say) really like the man.
I have very little time by this mail, so hurry all I can. I was overjoyed at the news of the Henley Baby: it should go far to heal that household.
I have no word for him, and shall not try to write in the midst of my scurry. He little understands the harm he did me; but I am sure, upon all our cruise, the number of time we – all of us – longed for his presence would show it was no change of liking for him that we feel. For all that, time has not diminished my fear of him, and I doubt if I ever desire to correspond again.
As for Katharine, I had an answer to my appeal, which settled that matter; I do not wish to see her.
All these clouds, and the extraordinary health I enjoy and variety of interests I find among these islands, would tempt me to remain here – only for Lloyd, who is not well placed in such countries for a permanency, and a little for Colvin, to whom I feel I owe a sort of filial duty.
And these two considerations will no doubt bring me back to go to bed again in England. I will write again soon, and beg for all news of the Henleys and all friends and beloved enemies. Yours ever affectionately,
RLS’s stepdaughter Belle, her husband Joe Strong and their son Austin (then 8 y. o.) had lived in Honolulu since 1882. The Stevenson party joined them on 24 January 1889, moving to a bungalow, Manuia Lanai, at Waikiki, 3 miles out of Honolulu.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2132.]
To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 108-13]
Honolulu, [5 February 1889]
My dear Burlingame,
Here at last I have arrived. We could not get away from Tahiti till Christmas Day, and then had thirty days of calms and squalls, a deplorable passage.
This has thrown me all out of gear in every way. I plunge into business.
1. The Master. Herewith go three more parts.
You see he grows in bulk; this making ten already, and I am not sure yet if I can finish it in an eleventh; which shall go to you quam primum – I hope by next mail.
2. Illustrations to M. I totally forgot to try to write to Hole.
It was just as well, for I find it impossible to forecast with sufficient precision. You had better throw off all this and let him have it at once. Please do: all, and at once: see further; and I should hope he would still be in time for the later numbers. The three pictures I have received are so truly good that I should bitterly regret having the volume imperfectly equipped. They are the best illustrations I have seen since I don’t know when.
3. Money. To-morrow the mail comes in, and I hope it will bring me money either from you or home, but I will add a word on that point.
4. My address will be Honolulu – no longer Yacht Casco, which I am packing off – till probably April.
5. As soon as I am through with The Master, I shall finish The Game of Bluff – now rechristened The Wrong Box. This I wish to sell, cash down. It is of course copyright in the States; and I offer it to you for five thousand dollars.
Please reply on this by return. Also please tell the typewriter who was so good as to be amused by our follies that I am filled with admiration for his piece of work.
6. Master again. Please see that I haven’t the name of the Governor of New York wrong (1764 is the date) in part ten. I have no book of reference to put me right.
Observe you now have up to August inclusive in hand, so you should begin to feel happy. Is this all? I wonder, and fear not. Henry the Trader has not yet turned up:
I hope he may tomorrow, when we expect a mail. Not one word of business have I received either from the States or England, nor anything in the shape of coin; which leaves me in a fine uncertainty and quite penniless on these islands. H.M. (who is a gentleman of a courtly order and much tinctured with letters) is very polite;
I may possibly ask for the position of palace doorkeeper.
My voyage has been a singular mixture of good and ill fortune. As far as regards interest and material, the fortune has been admirable; as far as regards time, money, and impediments of all kinds, from squalls and calms to rotten masts and sprung spars, simply detestable. I hope you will be interested to hear of two volumes on the wing. The cruise itself, you are to know, will make a big volume with appendices; some of it will first appear as (what they call) letters in some of M’Clure’s papers […]. I believe the book when ready will have a fair measure of serious interest: I have had great fortune in finding old songs and ballads and stories, for instance, and have many singular instances of life in the last few years among these islands.
The second volume is of ballads. You know Ticonderoga. I have written another: The Feast ofFamine, a Marquesan story. A third is half done: The Song of Rahero, a genuine Tahitian legend. A fourth dances before me. A Hawaiian fellow this, The Priest’s Drought, or some such name. If, as I half suspect, I get enough subjects out of the islands, Ticonderoga shall be suppressed, and we’ll call the volume South Sea Ballads.
In health, spirits, renewed interest in life, and, I do believe, refreshed capacity for work, the cruise has proved a wise folly. Still we’re not home, and (although the friend of a crowned head) are penniless upon these (as one of my correspondents used to call them) ‘lovely but fatil islands.’
By the way, who wrote the Lion of the Nile?
My dear sir, that is Something Like. Overdone in bits, it has a true thought and a true ring of language. Beg the anonymous from me, to delete (when he shall republish) the two last verses, and end on ‘the lion of the Nile.’ One Lampman has a good sonnet on a ‘Winter Evening’ in, I think, the same number: he seems ill named, but I am tempted to hope a man is not always answerable for his name.
For instance, you would think you knew mine. No such matter. It is – at your service and Mr. Scribner’s and that of all of the faithful Teriitera (pray pronounce Tayree-Tayra) or (gallicé) Téri-téra.
More when the mail shall come.
I am an idiot. I want to be clear on one point. Some of Hole’s drawings must of course be too late; and yet they seem to me so excellent I would fain have the lot complete. It is one thing for you to pay for drawings which are to appear in that soulswallowing machine, your magazine: quite another if they are only to illustrate a volume. I wish you to take a brisk (even a fiery) decision on the point; and let Hole know. […] To resume my desultory song, I desire you would carry the same fire (hereinbefore suggested) into your decision on The Wrong Box; for in my present state of benighted ignorance as to my affairs for the last seven months – I know not even whether my house or my mother’s house have been let – I desire to see something definite in front of me – outside the lot of palace doorkeeper. I believe the said Wrong Box is a real lark; in which, of course, I may be grievously deceived; but the typewriter is with me. I may also be deceived as to the numbers of The Master now going and already gone; but to me they seem First Chop, sir, First Chop. I hope I shall pull off that damned ending;
but it still depresses me: this is your doing, Mr. Burlingame: you would have it there and then, and I fear it – I fear that ending.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2130.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 105-8]
Yacht Casco, at Sea, 14 January, 1889.
My dear Colvin,
Twenty days out from Papeete. Yes, sir, all that, and only (for a guess) in 4° north or at the best 4°30’, though already the wind seems to smell a little of the North Pole.
My handwriting you must take as you get, for we are speeding along through a nasty swell, and I can only keep my place at the table by means of a foot against the divan, the unoccupied hand meanwhile gripping the ink-bottle. As we begin (so very slowly) to draw near to seven months of correspondence, we are all in some fear; and I want to have letters written before I shall be plunged into that boiling pot of disagreeables which I constantly expect at Honolulu. What is needful can be added there.
We were kept two months at Tautira in the house of my dear old friend, Ori a Ori,
till both the masts of this invaluable yacht had been repaired.
It was all for the best; Tautira being the most beautiful spot, and its people the most amiable, I have ever found.
Besides which, the climate suited me to the ground; I actually went sea-bathing almost every day,
and in our feasts (we are all huge eaters in Taiarapu) have been known to apply four times for pig.
And then again I got wonderful materials for my book, collected songs and legends on the spot; songs still sung in chorus by perhaps a hundred persons, not two of whom can agree on their translation;
legends, on which I have seen half a dozen seniors sitting in conclave and debating what came next.
Once I went a day’s journey to the other side of the island to Tati, the high chief of the Tevas – my chief that is, for I am now a Teva and Teriitera, at your service – to collect more and correct what I had already.
In the meanwhile I got on with my work, almost finished The Master of Ballantrae,
which contains more human work than anything of mine but Kidnapped,
and wrote the half of another ballad, the Song of Rahero, on a Taiarapu legend of my own clan, sir – not so much fire as the Feast of Famine, but promising to be more even and correct.
But the best fortune of our stay at Tautira was my knowledge of Ori himself, one of the finest creatures extant. The day of our parting was a sad one. We deduced from it a rule for travellers: not to stay two months in one place – which is to cultivate regrets.
At last our contemptible ship was ready; to sea we went, bound for Honolulu and the letter-bag, on Christmas Day;
and from then to now have experienced every sort of minor misfortune, squalls,
contrary winds and seas, pertinacious rains,
declining stores, till we came almost to regard ourselves as in the case of Vanderdecken.
Three days ago our luck seemed to improve, we struck a leading breeze, got creditably through the doldrums, and just as we looked to have the N.E. trades and a straight run, the rains and squalls and calms began again about midnight, and this morning, though there is breeze enough to send us along, we are beaten back by an obnoxious swell out of the north.
Here is a page of complaint, when a verse of thanksgiving had perhaps been more in place. For all this time we must have been skirting past dangerous weather, in the tail and circumference of hurricanes, and getting only annoyance where we should have had peril, and ill-humour instead of fear.
I wonder if I have managed to give you any news this time, or whether the usual damn hangs over my letter? ‘The midwife whispered, Be thou dull!’ or at least inexplicit.
Anyway I have tried my best, am exhausted with the effort, and fall back into the land of generalities. I cannot tell you how often we have planned our arrival at the Monument:
two nights ago, the 12th January, we had it all planned out, arrived in the lights and whirl of Waterloo,
hailed a hansom,
span up Waterloo Road, over the bridge, etc. etc.,
and hailed the Monument gate in triumph and with indescribable delight.
My dear Custodian,
I always think we are too sparing of assurances: Cordelia is only to be excused by Regan and Goneril in the same nursery;
I wish to tell you that the longer I live, the more dear do you become to me; […] nor does my heart own any stronger sentiment. If the bloody schooner didn’t send me flying in every sort of direction at the same time, I would say better what I feel so much; but really, if you were here, you would not be writing letters, I believe; and even I, though of a more marine constitution, am much perturbed by this bobbery and wish – O ye Gods, how I wish! – that it was done, and we had arrived, and I had Pandora’s Box (my mail-bag) in hand,
and was in the lively hope of something eatable for dinner instead of salt horse,
duff without any plums,
and pie fruit,
which now make up our whole repertory. O Pandora’s Box!
I wonder what you will contain. As like as not you will contain but little money: if that be so, we shall have to retire to ‘Frisco in the Casco,
and thence by sea via Panama
to Southampton, where we should arrive in April. I would like fine to see you on the tug:
ten years older both of us than the last time you came to welcome Fanny and me to England […].
If we have money, however, we shall do a little differently: send the Casco away from Honolulu empty of its high-born lessees, for that voyage to ‘Frisco is one long dead beat in foul and at last in cold weather; stay awhile behind, follow by steamer, cross the States by train, stay awhile in New York on business, and arrive probably by the German Line in Southampton. But all this is a question of money. We shall have to lie very dark awhile to recruit our finances: what comes from the book of the cruise, I do not want to touch until the capital is repaid.
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2129.]
To Thomas Archer [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 91-4]
Tautira, Island of Taiti [? 18 December 1888]
This is a pretty state of things! seven o’clock and no word of breakfast!
And I was awake a good deal last night, for it was full moon,
and they had made a great fire of cocoa-nut husks down by the sea, and as we have no blinds or shutters, this kept my room very bright.
And then the rats had a wedding or a school-feast under my bed.
And then I woke early, and I have nothing to read except Virgil’s Aeneid, which is not good fun on an empty stomach, and a Latin dictionary, which is good for naught,
and by some humorous accident, your dear papa’s article on Skerryvore.
And I read the whole of that, and very impudent it is, but you must not tell your dear papa I said so, or it might come to a battle in which you might lose either a dear papa or a valued correspondent, or both, which would be prodigal. And still no breakfast; so I said ‘Let’s write to Tomarcher’.
This is a much better place for children than any I have hitherto seen in these seas. The girls (and sometimes the boys) play a very elaborate kind of hopscotch.
The boys play horses exactly as we do in Europe;
and have very good fun on stilts, trying to knock each other down, in which they do not often succeed.
The children of all ages go to church and are allowed to do what they please, running about the aisles, rolling balls, stealing mamma’s bonnet and publicly sitting on it, and at last going to sleep in the middle of the floor.
I forgot to say that the whips to play horses, and the balls to roll about the church – at least I never saw them used elsewhere – grow ready made on trees; which is rough on toy-shops. The whips are so good that I wanted to play horses myself;
but no such luck! my hair is grey, and I am a great, big, ugly man.
The balls are rather hard, but very light and quite round. When you grow up and become offensively rich, you can charter a ship in the port of London, and have it come back to you entirely loaded with these balls; when you could satisfy your mind as to their character, and give them away when done with to your uncles and aunts.
But what I really wanted to tell you was this: besides the tree-top toys (Hush-a-by, toy-shop, on the tree-top!),
I have seen some real made toys, the first hitherto observed in the South Seas.
This was how. You are to imagine a four-wheeled gig; one horse;
in the front seat two Tahiti natives, in their Sunday clothes, blue coat, white shirt, kilt (a little longer than the Scotch) of a blue stuff with big white or yellow flowers, legs and feet bare; in the back seat me and my wife, who is a friend of yours;
under our feet, plenty of lunch and things: among us a great deal of fun in broken Tahitian, one of the natives, the sub-chief of the village, being a great ally of mine.
Indeed we have exchanged names; so that he is now called Rui, the nearest they can come to Louis, for they have no l and no s in their language. Rui is six feet three in his stockings, and a magnificent man. We all have straw hats, for the sun is strong. We drive between the sea, which makes a great noise, and the mountains;
the road is cut through a forest mostly of fruit trees, the very creepers, which take the place of our ivy, heavy with a great and delicious fruit, bigger than your head and far nicer, called Barbedine.
Presently we came to a house in a pretty garden, quite by itself, very nicely kept, the doors and windows open, no one about, and no noise but that of the sea.
It looked like a house in a fairy-tale,
and just beyond we must ford a river,
and there we saw the inhabitants.
Just in the mouth of the river, where it met the sea waves, they were ducking and bathing and screaming together like a covey of birds: seven or eight little naked brown boys and girls as happy as the day was long:
and on the banks of the stream beside them, real toys – toy ships, full rigged, and with their sails set, though they were lying in the dust on their beam ends.
And then I knew for sure they were all children in a fairy-story, living alone together in that lonely house with the only toys in all the island; and that I had myself driven, in my four-wheeled gig, into a corner of the fairy-story, and the question was should I get out again? But it was all right; I guess only one of the wheels of the gig had got into the fairy-story; and the next jolt the whole thing vanished, and we drove on in our sea-side forest as before,
and I have the honour to be Tomarcher’s valued correspondent, Teriitera, which he was previously known as
This letter from Fanny Stevenson serves to explain allusions in RLS’s letters.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2127.]
Fanny Stevenson to Sidney Colvin
[Colvin 1912, pp. 241-50]
Tautira, Tahiti, Dec. 4th 
Dear, long neglected, though never forgotten Custodian,
I write you from fairyland,
where we are living in a fairy story, the guests of a beautiful brown princess.
We came to stay a week, five weeks have passed, and we are still indefinite as to our time of leaving. It was chance brought us here, for no one in Papeete could tell us a word about this part of the island except that it was very fine to look at, and inhabited by wild people — “almost as wild as the people of Anaho!” That touch about the people of Anaho inclined our hearts this way, so we finally concluded to take a look at the other side of Tahiti.
The place of our landing was windy, uninhabited except by mosquitoes, and Louis was ill. The first day Lloyd and the Captain made an exploration, but came back disgusted.
They had found a Chinaman, a long way off, who seemed to have some horses, but no desire to hire them to strangers, and they had found nothing else whatever.
The next morning I took Valentine and went on a prospecting tour of my own. I found the Chinaman, persuaded him to let me have two horses and a wagon, and went back for the rest of my family.
When asked where I wished to go, I could only say to the largest native village and the most wild. Ill as Louis was, I brought him the next day, and shall never cease to be thankful for my courage, for he has gained health and strength every day. He takes sea baths and swims, and lives almost entirely in the open air as nearly without clothes as possible, a simple pyjama suit of striped light flannel his only dress.
As to shoes and stockings we all have scorned them for months except Mrs. Stevenson, who often goes barefoot and never, I believe, wears stockings. Lloyd’s costume, in which he looks remarkably well, consists of a striped flannel shirt and a pareu. The pareu is no more or less than a large figured blue and white cotton window curtain twisted about the waist, and hanging a little below the bare knees. Both Louis and Lloyd wear wreaths of artificial flowers, made of the dried pandanus leaf, on their hats.
[7 December or later]
Moë has gone to Papeete by the command of the king, whose letter was addressed “To the great Princess at Tautira. P.V.” P.V. stands for Pomaré 5th.
Every evening, before she went, we played Van John lying in a circle on pillows in the middle of the floor with our heads together:
and hardly an evening passed but it struck us afresh how very much you would like Moë, and we told her of you again. […] The house (really here a palace) in which we live, belongs to the sub-chief, Ori, a subject and relation of the Princess. He, and his whole family, consisting of his wife, his two little adopted sons, his daughter and her two young babies, turned out to live in a little bird-cage hut of one room.
Ori is the very finest specimen of a native we have seen yet; he is several inches over six feet, of perfect though almost gigantic proportions, and looks more like a Roman Emperor in bronze than words can express. One day, when Moë gave a feast, it being the correct thing to do, we all wore wreaths of golden yellow leaves on our heads; when Ori walked in and sat down at the table, as with one voice we all cried out in admiration. His manners and I might say his habit of thought are English. In some ways, he is so like a Colonel of the Guards that we often call him Colonel.
It was either the day before, or the morning of our public feast, that Louis asked the Princess if she thought Ori would accept his name. She was sure of it, and much pleased at the idea. I wish you could have seen Louis, blushing like a schoolgirl, when Ori came in, and the brotherhood was offered. So now if you please, Louis is no more Louis, having given that name away in the Tahitian form of Rui, but is known as Terii-Tera (pronounced Tereeterah), that being Ori’s Christian name. “Ori of Ori” is his clan name.
Let me tell you of our village feast. The chief, who was our guide in the matter, found four large fat hogs, which Louis bought, and four cases of ship’s biscuit were sent over from the Casco, which is lying at Papeete for repairs. Our feast cost in all about eighty dollars. Every Sunday all things of public interest are announced in the Farehau (an enormous public bird cage) and the news of the week read aloud from the Papeete journal, if it happens to turn up.
Our feast was given on a Wednesday, and was announced by the chief the Sunday before, who referred to Louis as “the rich one”.
Our hogs were killed in the morning, washed in the sea, and roasted whole in a pit with hot stones. When done they were laid on their stomachs in neat open coffins of green basket work, each hog with his case of biscuits beside him.
Early in the morning the entire population began bathing, a bath being the preliminary to everything. At about three o’ clock – four was the hour set – there was a general movement towards our premises, so that I had to hurry Louis into his clothes, all white, even to his shoes. Lloyd was also in white, but barefoot. I was not prepared, so had to appear in a red and white muslin gown, also barefoot. As Mrs. Stevenson had had a feast of her own, conducted on religious principles, she kept a little in the background, so that her dress did not matter so much.
The chief, who speaks French very well, stood beside Louis to interpret for him. By the time we had taken our respective places on the veranda in front of our door, an immense crowd had assembled. They came in five, instead of four detachments which was what the chief expected, and he was a little confused at first, as he and Louis had been arranging a speech to four sets of people, which ran in this order. The clergyman at the head of the Protestants;
the chief, council, and irreligious – one of the council at their head. The schoolmaster with the schoolchildren; the catechist and the Catholics;
but there was another very small sect, by some strange mischance called Mormons, which it was supposed would be broken up and swallowed by the others. But no, the Mormons came in a body alone, marshalled by the best and wittiest speaker – bar Rui – in Tautira. Each set of people came bending under the weight of bamboo poles laden with fruits, pigs, fowls, etc. All were dressed in their gayest parius, and many had wreaths of leaves or flowers on their heads. The prettiest sight of all was the children, who came marching two and two abreast, the bamboo poles lying lengthwise across their shoulders.
When all the offerings had been piled in five great heaps upon the ground, Louis made his oration to the accompaniment of the squealing of pigs,
the cackling of hens,
and the roar of the surf which beats man-high upon the roof.
A speech was made in return on behalf of the village, and then each section sent forth its orator, the speeches following in the order I have given above.
Each speaker finished by coming forward with one of the smaller things in his hand, which he offered personally to Louis, and then shook hands with us all and retired. Among these smaller presents were many fish-hooks for large fishing, laboriously carved from mother-of-pearl shell.
One man came with one egg in each hand, saying, “Carry these to Scotland with you, let them hatch into cocks, and their song shall remind you of Tautira”.
The schoolmaster, with a leaf-basket of rose apples, made his speech in French.
Somehow the whole effect of the scene was like a story out of the Bible, and I am not ashamed that Louis and I both shed tears when we saw the enchanting procession of schoolchildren. The Catholic priest, Father Bruno, a great friend of ours, said that for the next fifty years the time of the feast of the rich one will be talked of:
which reminds me of our friend Donat, of Fakarava, who was temporary resident at the time we were there. “I am so glad”, he said, “that the Casco came in just now, otherwise I should be forgotten: but now the people will always say this or that happened so long before – or so long after – the coming of the Silver Ship, when Donat represented the government”.
In front of our house is a broad stretch of grass, dotted with cocoanuts,
and the strange pandanus tree.
I wish you could have seen them, their lower branches glowing with the rich colours of the fruits hung upon them by Ori and his men, and great heaps lying piled against their roots, on the evening of our feast.
From the bamboo poles that they were carried upon, a pen was made for the ten pigs,
and a fowl house for the twenty-three fowls that were among the presents.
But there was a day of reckoning at hand. Time after time we ran down to the beach to look for the Casco until we were in despair.
For over a month we had lived in Ori’s house, causing him infinite trouble and annoyance, and not even his, at that. Areia (the chief – means the Prince) went to Papeete and came back with a letter to say that more work had to be done upon the Casco, and it might be any time before she could get to Tautira. We had used up all our stores, and had only a few dollars of money left in Tautira, and not very much in Papeete. Could we stand the journey to Papeete, we could not live upon the yacht in the midst of the workmen, and we had not money enough left to live at an hotel. We were playing cards on the floor, as usual, when this message came, and you can imagine its effect. I knew perfectly well that Rui would force us to stay on with him, but what depressed me the most of all, was the fact of Louis having made brothers with him just before this took place. Had there been a shadow of doubt on our dear Rui’s face, I should have fled from before him. Sitting there on the floor waiting for him was too much for my nerves and I burst into tears, upon which the princess wept bitterly. In the meantime the priest had dropped in, so that we had him and Moë, and Areia, as witnesses to our humiliating position. First came Madame Rui, who heard the story, and sat down on the floor in silence, which was very damping for a beginning, and then Ori of Ori, the magnificent, who listened to the tale of the shipwrecked mariners with serious dignity, asking one or two questions, and then spoke to this effect. “You are my brother: all that I have is yours. I know that your food is done, but I can give you plenty of fish and taro. We like you, and wish to have you here. Stay where you are till the Casco comes. Be happy – et ne pleurez pas”. Louis dropped his head into his hands and wept, and then we all went up to Rui and shook hands with him and accepted his offer. Madame Rui, who had been silent only as a dutiful wife, that her husband might speak first, poured forth manifold reasons for our staying on as long as we could possibly manage. During all this scene, an attendant of the princess had been sitting on the floor behind us, a baby in his arms, where he had ensconced himself for the purpose of watching the game. He understood nothing of what was going on; we wondered afterwards what he thought of it. Reduced as we were, we still had a few bottles of champagne left. Champagne being an especial weakness of our gigantic friend, it occurred to some one that this was a proper occasion to open a couple of bottles. Louis, the Princess, and I were quite, as the Scotch so well say, “begrutten”, Areia’s immense eyes were fairly melting out of his head with emotion, the priest was wiping his eyes and blowing his nose: and then for no apparent cause we suddenly fell to drinking and clinking glasses quite merrily: the bewildered attendant clinked and drank too, and then sat down and waited in case there should be any repetition of the drinking part of the performance. And sure enough there was, for in the midst of an animated discussion as to ways and means, Mrs. Stevenson announced that it was St. Andrew’s day, so again the attendant clinked and drank with Ori’s mad foreigners.
It is quite true that we live almost entirely upon native food; our luncheon to-day consisted of raw fish with sauce made of cocoanut milk mixed with sea water and lime juice, taro poi-poi, and bananas roasted in hot stones in a little pit in the ground, with cocoanut cream to eat with them. Still we like coffee in the evening, a little wine at dinner, and a few other products of civilisation. It would be possible, the chief said, to send a boat, but that would cost sixty dollars. A final arrangement, which we were forced to accept, was that Rui should go in his own boat, and the chief would appoint a substitute for some public work that he was then engaged upon. Early the next morning, amidst a raging sea and a storming wind, Rui departed with three men to help him. It is forty miles to Papeete, and Rui, starting in the early morning, arrived there at nine o’clock; but alas, the wind was against him, and it was altogether six days before he got back.
Louis has done a great deal of work on his new story, The Master of Ballantrae, almost finished it in fact, while Mrs. Stevenson and I are deep in the mysteries of hat-making, which is a ladies’ accomplishment taking the place of water-colour drawing in England. It is a small compliment to present a hat to an acquaintance. Altogether we have about thirteen. Next door to us is Areia’s out-of-door house, where he and the ladies of his family sleep and eat; it has a thatched roof of palm branches, and a floor of boards, the sides and ends being open to the world. On the floor are spread mats plaited of pandanus leaves, and pillows stuffed with silk cotton from the cotton tree. We make little calls upon the ladies, lie upon the mats, and smoke cigarettes made of tobacco leaves rolled in a bit of dried pandanus, and admire their work, or get a lesson; or they call upon us, and lie upon our mats.
One day there was an election in the Farehau. It takes place all over the island once a year, and among others, the sub-chief and head-councillor is chosen. For the latter, our Rui was a candidate. In the beginning, the French deposed the born chiefs and told the people to elect men for themselves. The choice of Tautira fell upon Rui, who declined the honour, saying that Areia was his natural chief, and he could not take a position that should belong to his superior; upon which the people elected Areia chief, and Rui sub-chief and head-councillor. We all went over to the Farehau, where Areia sat in the middle of his councillors on a dais behind a long table. The Farehau is an immense bird-cage of bamboos tied together with pandanus fibre, and thatched with palms.
In front of the dais the ground is deeply covered with dried leaves. The costume of the dignitaries was rather odd. Areia wore a white shirt and blue flannel coat, which was well enough; but on his plump legs were a pair of the most incredible trousers: light blue calico with a small red pattern, such as servant girls wear for gowns in England: on his feet were neat little shoes and stockings. […]
[…] Rui was a fine sight, and we were very proud of him; he sat, exactly like an English gentleman, holding himself well in hand, alert as a fox and keen as a greyhound: several men spoke from the farther end of the hall, making objections of some sort, we could see. Rui listened with a half satirical, half kindly smile in his eyes, and then dropped a quiet answer without rising from his seat, which had the effect of raising a shout of laughter, and quite demolishing his opponent. Voters came up to the table and dropped their bits of paper into a slit in a box: some led children by the hand, and some carried babies in their arms; across the centre of the great room children and dogs ran chasing each other and playing. I noticed two little maids who walked up and down for a long time with their arms intertwined about each other’s waists. Near where we sat (we were on the dais, above the common herd), a pretty young lady having tied up her dog’s mouth with a tuft of grass, industriously caught and cracked fleas from its back. Both Lloyd and I grew very sleepy, and as we did not like to leave till the election was decided, we just threw ourselves down and took a nap at the feet of the councillors: nor did we wake till the chief called out to us in English “it is finished”. I never thought I should be able to calmly sleep at a public meeting on a platform in the face of several hundred people: but it is wonderful how quickly one takes up the ways of a people when you live with them as intimately as we do. […]
[…] I hear dinner coming on the table, so with much love from us all to you and other dear ones, including our dear friend Henry James, believe me, affectionately yours,