I had a strange rambling dream about you last night, in which I am sorry to say you figured in a divorce court and turned out to be the heir of a Highland family – Campbell of Glenure, in fact.
My emotion, as I sat in court, was so extreme that I woke up; and then I thought your claim to the estates and name was scarce valid. It was this: that the late Campbell was the illegitimate son of – proh pudor! – your excellent father! But the judge was delighted with the case, and divorced you, and changed your name to Charles Baxter Campbell, and served you heir in Glenure – all in one advice, which was quick work. He mentioned, in his decision, that twenty ancient highland targets hung in your (highly illegitimate) ancestral halls.
McClure is bothering about The Beach of Falesá, and as I want no bother, I have told him to take it or want it.
Should he choose the latter, you will receive the copy close on the heels of this, when I believe the best way will be to give it to Cassells to publish in a small volume, as I believe I suggested before.
It will come in well about Easter, and though I never thought that a good publishing season, it pleases the publishers, who are supposed to know.
I again repeat my opinion that it should be bound and sold at half-a-crown. Should Cassells hesitate, take it to Charles Longman, who will jump at it, or I’m mistaken.
At 250 words to the page it will make close on 130 pp.: a little volume truly.
I have just received a letter from Cassell and Co., in which they seem to speak of taking the serial rights themselves and to prefer holding off for other stories to make a larger volume. I think this chimerical: two of the proposed stories have already telescoped into a proposed longer one, which will be a volume itself.
And unless Cassell and Co. choose to pay at least £400 for the serial rights – supposing McClure to throw up – it must come out as a volume. I enclose herewith a plan, which should be added to the volume, and this is the dedication:
To three old shipmates among the islands: Harry Henderson, Ben Hird, Jack Buckland, their friend, R. L. S.
You are to understand that this appearance in book form is what I would prefer. Only the lust of gold and the tightness of the money market makes me hesitate. And even so, I am not sure that I shall not lose in the long run. I fear the P.D. has a bad time, and will try not to load him again with such disagreeables. But this year of house-building and plantation-making was necessarily a dear one, and I reached for cash down where I could see it. Have just had the Bloo-ming Influenza and lost a month: poor start for the year. No scrape of the pen from you or Colvin this mail, which seems mangy but is doubtless susceptible of explanation.
My influenza will explain nothing going to Henley. I have received his Lyra Heroica
and was knocked of a heap to find myself Lyring Heroically, which I thought beyond expectation.
It was good of him to stretch a point for his old friend. The book is in many ways excellent; I found many brave old friends – the chief joy of such a collection – and made some new.
He may well be proud of it, but I had rather in these days see another volume of his own. However, that will be coming, and should be good. I have remarked one or two fine pieces – and one very fine – in the Journal. As to his finances, I dare not ask. But I repeat my promise to try all I can to help him. I think you know pretty well how I feel: few things in my mishandled life make me sicker than the thought of that breach. And yet I bore much, as God sees me. And yet I know in the original quarrel it was not he who was to blame directly:
he was only to blame indirectly, by having corridor’d, and stewed, and Shepherd’s-Bushed,
till he prepared the state of mind which brought the mine to an explosion. Well, he managed to be his own enemy and mine, but I should not wish him to lose, if I can prevent that.
The South Sea novel here mentioned, Sophia Scarlet, never got beyond the planning stage. A 15-page outline dictated to Belle giving a detailed summary of the first ten chapters survives at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
[For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2384.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 11-4]
[Vailima] Jan. 31st, ’92
My dear Colvin,
No letter at all from you, and this scratch from me! Here is a year that opens ill. Lloyd is off to ‘the coast’ sick – the coast means California over most of the Pacific –
I have been down all month with influenza, and am just recovering –
I am overlaid with proofs, which I am just about half fit to attend to. One of my horses died this morning, and another is now dying on the front lawn – Lloyd’s horse and Fanny’s.
Such is my quarrel with destiny. But I am mending famously, come and go on the balcony, have perfectly good nights, and though I still cough, have no oppression and no hemorrhage and no fever. So if I can find time and courage to add no more, you will know my news is not altogether of the worst; a year or two ago, and what a state I should have been in now! Your silence, I own, rather alarms me. But I tell myself you have just miscarried; had you been too ill to write, some one would have written me.
Understand, I send this brief scratch not because I am unfit to write more, but because I have 58 galleys of The Wrecker and 102 of The Beach of Falesá to get overhauled somehow or other in time for the mail, and for three weeks I have not touched a pen with my finger.
The second horse is still alive, but I still think dying. The first was buried this morning. My proofs are done; it was a rough two days of it, but done. Consummatum est; na uma. I believe The Wrecker ends well; if I know what a good yarn is, the last four chapters make a good yarn – but pretty horrible. The Beach of Falesá I still think well of, but it seems it’s immoral and there’s a to-do, and financially it may prove a heavy disappointment. The plaintive request sent to me, to make the young folks married properly before ‘that night,’ I refused;
you will see what would be left of the yarn, had I consented.
This is a poison bad world for the romancer, this Anglo-Saxon world; I usually get out of it by not having any women in it at all; but when I remember I had The Treasure of Franchard refused as unfit for a family magazine, I feel despair weigh upon my wrists.
As I know you are always interested in novels, I must tell you that a new one is now entirely planned. It is to be called Sophia Scarlet, and is in two parts. Part I. The Vanilla Planter. Part II. The Overseers. No chapters, I think; just two dense blocks of narrative, the first of which is purely sentimental, but the second has some rows and quarrels, and winds up with an explosion, if your please! I am just burning to get at Sophia, but I must do this Samoan journalism – that’s a cursed duty. The first part of Sophia, bar the first twenty or thirty pages, writes itself; the second is more difficult, involving a good many characters – about ten, I think – who have to be kept all moving, and give the effect of a society. I have three women to handle, out and well-away! but only Sophia is in full tone. Sophia and two men, Windermere, the Vanilla Planter, who dies at the end of Part I,
and Rainsforth, who only appears in the beginning of Part II. The fact is, I blush to own it, but Sophia is a regular novel; heroine and hero, and false accusation, and love, and marriage, and all the rest of it – all planted in a big South Sea plantation run by ex-English officers – à la Stewart’s plantation in Tahiti.
There is a strong undercurrent of labour trade which gives it a kind of Uncle Tom flavour, absit omen!
The first start is hard; it is hard to avoid a little tedium here, but I think by beginning with the arrival of the three Miss Scarlets hot from school and society in England, I may manage to slide in the information. The problem is exactly a Balzac one, and I wish I had his fist –
for I have already a better method – the kinetic, whereas he continually allowed himself to be led into the static. But then he had the fist, and the most I can hope is to get out of it with a modicum of grace and energy, but for sure without the strong impression, the full, dark brush. Three people have had it, the real creator’s brush: Scott, see much of The Antiquary
and The Heart of Midlothian (especially all round the trial, before, during, and after) –
Balzac – and Thackeray in Vanity Fair.
Everybody else either paints thin, or has to stop to paint, or paints excitedly, so that you see the author skipping before his canvas. Here is a long way from poor Sophia Scarlet!
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2382.]
To Adelaide Boodle [Colvin 1912, pp. 278-82]
Vailima, January 4th, 1892,
My dear Adelaide,
We were much pleased with your letter and the news of your employment. Admirable, your method. But will you not run dry of fairy stories?
Please salute your pupils, and tell them that a long, lean, elderly man who lives right through on the under side of the world, so that down in your cellar you are nearer him than the people in the street, desires his compliments.
This man lives in an island which is not very long, and extremely narrow.
The sea beats round it very hard, so that it is difficult to get to shore.
There is only one harbour where ships come, even that is very wild and dangerous; four ships of war were broken there a little while ago,
and one of them is still lying on its side on a rock clean above water, where the sea threw it as you might throw your fiddle-bow on the table.
All round the harbour the town is strung out, it is nothing but wooden houses,
only there are some churches built of stone, not very large, but the people have never seen such fine buildings.
Almost all the houses are of one story. Away at one end lives the King of the whole country.
His palace has a thatched roof which stands upon posts; it has no walls, but when it blows and rains, they have Venetian blinds which they let down between the posts and make it very snug.
There is no furniture, and the King and Queen and the courtiers sit and eat on the floor, which is of gravel: the lamp stands there too, and every now and then it is upset. These good folks wear nothing but a kilt about their waists,
unless to go to church or for a dance, or the New Year, or some great occasion.
The children play marbles all along the street;
and though they are generally very jolly, yet they get awfully cross over their marbles, and cry and fight like boys and girls at home.
Another amusement in country places is to shoot fish with a bow and arrow.
All round the beach there is bright shallow water where fishes can be seen darting or lying in shoals.
The child trots round the shore, and wherever he sees a fish, lets fly an arrow and misses, and then wades in after his arrow. It is great fun (I have tried it) for the child, and I never heard of it doing any harm to the fishes: so what could be more jolly?
The road up to this lean man’s house is uphill all the way and through forests; the forests are of great trees, not so much unlike the trees at home, only here and there are some very queer ones mixed with them, cocoanut palms,
and great forest trees that are covered with blossom like red hawthorn, but not near so bright;
and from all the trees thick creepers hang down like ropes, and nasty-looking weeds that they call orchids grow in the forks of the branches
and on the ground many prickly things are dotted which they call pine-apples:
I suppose every one has eaten pine-apple drops.
On the way up to the lean man’s house you pass a little village, all of houses like the King’s house, so that as you ride through you can see everybody sitting at dinner,
or if it be night, lying in their beds by lamplight; for all these people are terribly afraid of ghosts, and would not lie in the dark for any favour. After the village, there is only one more house, and that is the lean man’s. For the people are not very many, and live all by the sea, and the whole inside of the island is desert woods and mountains.
When the lean man goes into this forest, he is very much ashamed to say it, but he is always in a terrible fright. The wood is so great and empty and hot,
and it is always filled with curious noises; birds cry like children and bark like dogs,
and the other day (when he was far in the woods) he heard a great sound like the biggest mill-wheel possible going with a kind of dot-and-carry-one movement like a dance.
That was the noise of an earthquake away down below him in the bowels of the earth, and that is the same thing as to say away up towards you in your cellar in Kilburn.
All these noises make him feel lonely and scared, and he doesn’t quite know what he is scared of. Once when he was just about to cross a river, a blow struck him on the top of his head and knocked him head-foremost down the bank and splash into the water.
It was a nut, I fancy, that had fallen from a tree, by which accidents people are sometimes killed. But at the time he thought it was a black boy.
Aha, say you, and what is a black boy? Well, there are here a lot of poor people who are brought here from distant islands to labour as slaves for the Germans.
They are not at all like the King or his people, who are brown and very pretty;
but these are black as negroes and as ugly as sin, poor souls, and in their own lands they live all the time at war and cook and eat men’s flesh.
The Germans thrash them with whips to make them work, and every now and then some run away into the Bush, as the forest is called, and build little sheds of leaves, and eat nuts and roots and fruit, and dwell there by themselves in the great desert.
Sometimes they are bad and wild and come down in the villages and steal and kill; and people whisper to each other that some of them have gone back to their horrid old habits, and catch men and women in order to eat them. But it is very likely not true; and the most of them are only poor, stupid, trembling, halfstarved, pitiful creatures like frightened dogs. Their life is all very well when the sun shines, as it does eight or nine months in the year. But it is very different the rest of the time. The wind rages here most violently.
The great trees thrash about like whips; the air is filled with leaves and great branches flying about like birds; and the sound of the trees falling shakes the earth. It rains too as it never rains at home.
You can hear a shower while it is yet half a mile away, hissing like a shower-bath in the forest; and when it comes to you, the water blinds your eyes, and the cold drenching takes your breath away as though some one had struck you. In that kind of weather it must be dreadful indeed to live in the woods, one man alone by himself. And you must know that, if the lean man feels afraid to be in the forest, the people of the island and the black boys are much more afraid than he. For they believe the woods to be quite filled with spirits; some are like pigs,
and some are like flying things;
but others (and these are thought the most dangerous) come in the shape of beautiful young women and young men, beautifully dressed in the island manner,
with fine kilts and fine necklaces and crowns of scarlet seeds and flowers. Woe betide he or she who gets to speak with one of these! They will be charmed out of their wits, and come home again quite silly, and go mad and die. So that the poor black boy must be always trembling and looking about for the coming of the women-devils.
Sometimes the women-devils go down out of the woods into the villages, and here is a tale the lean man heard last year. One of the islanders was sitting in his house and he had cooked fish. There came along the road two beautiful young women, dressed as I told you,
who came into his house and asked for some of his fish. It is the fashion in the islands always to give what is asked, and never to ask folks’ names. So the man gave them fish and talked to them in the island jesting way. And presently he asked one of the women for her red necklace,
which is good manners and their way; he had given the fish, and he had a right to ask for something back. “I will give it you by and by,” said the woman, and she and her companion went away; but he thought they were gone very suddenly, and the truth is they had vanished. The night was nearly come, when the man heard the voice of the woman crying that he should come to her and she would give the necklace. And he looked out, and behold she was standing calling him from the top of the sea, on which she stood as you might on the table.
At that, fear came on the man; he fell on his knees and prayed, and the woman disappeared.
It was known afterwards that this was once a woman indeed, but should have died a thousand years ago, and has lived all that while as a devil in the woods beside the spring of a river.
Sau-mai-afe (Sow-my-affy) is her name, in case you want to write to her.
[For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2381.]
To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 4-5]
[Vailima] Jan. 2nd, ’92
My dear Burlingame,
Overjoyed you were pleased with The Wrecker, and shall consider your protests. There is perhaps more art than you think for in the peccant chapter, where I have succeeded in packing into one a dedication, an explanation, and a termination.
Surely you had not recognised the phrase about boodle? It was a quotation from Jim Pinkerton, and seemed to me agreeably skittish. However, all shall be prayerfully considered.
To come to a more painful subject. Herewith go three more chapters of the wretched History; as you see, I approach the climax. I expect the book to be some 70,000 words, of which you have now 45. Can I finish it for next mail? I am going to try! ‘Tis a long piece of journalism, and full of difficulties here and there, of this kind and that, and will make me a power of friends to be sure. There is one Becker who will probably put up a window to me in the church where he was baptized; and I expect a testimonial from Captain Hand.
Sorry to let the mail go without the Scott; this has been a bad month with me, and I have been below myself. I shall find a way to have it come by next, or know the reason why. The mail after, anyway.
A bit of a sketch map appears to me necessary for my History; perhaps two.
If I do not have any, ’tis impossible any one should follow; and I, even when not at all interested, demand that I shall be able to follow; even a tourist book without a map is a cross to me; and there must be others of my way of thinking. I inclose the very artless one that I think needful. Vailima, in case you are curious, is about as far again behind Tanugamanono as that is from the sea.
M’Clure is publishing a short story of mine, some 50,000 words, I think, The Beach of Falesá; when he’s done with it, I want you and Cassell to bring it out in a little volume;
I shall send you a dedication for it; I believe it good; indeed, to be honest, very good. Good gear that pleases the merchant.
The other map that I half threaten is a chart for the hurricane. Get me Kimberley’s report of the hurricane: not to be found here.
It is of most importance; I must have it with my proofs of that part if I cannot have it earlier, which now seems impossible. – Yours in hot haste,
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2378.]
To Sidney Colvin (continued) [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 378-92]
[Vailima,] Jan. 2nd 
I woke this morning to find the blow quite ended. The heaven was all a mottled grey; even the east quite colourless; the downward slope of the island veiled in wafts of vapour, blue like smoke; not a leaf stirred on the tallest tree;
only, three miles away below me on the barrier reef, I could see the individual breakers curl and fall, and hear their conjunct roaring rise, as it still rises at 1 P.M., like the roar of a thoroughfare close by.
I did a good morning’s work, correcting and clarifying my draft, and have now finished for press eight chapters, ninety-one pages, of this piece of journalism. Four more chapters, say fifty pages, remain to be done; I should gain my wager and finish this volume in three months, that is to say, the end should leave me per February mail; I cannot receive it back till the mail of April. Yes, it can be out in time; pray God that it be in time to help.
How do journalists fetch up their drivel? I aim only at clearness and the most obvious finish, positively at no higher degree of merit, not even at brevity – I am sure it could have been all done, with double the time, in two-thirds of the space. And yet it has taken me two months to write 45,500 words; and, be damned to my wicked prowess, I am proud of the exploit! The real journalist must be a man not of brass only, but bronze. Chapter IX gapes for me, but I shrink on the margin, and go on chattering to you. This last part will be much less offensive (strange to say) to the Germans. It is Becker they will never forgive me for; Knappe I pity and do not dislike; Becker I scorn and abominate.
Here is the tableau. I. Elements of Discord: Native. II. Elements of Discord: Foreign. III. The Sorrows of Laupepa. IV. Brandeis. V. The Battle of Matautu. VI. Last Exploits of Becker. VII. The Samoan Camps. VIII. Affairs of Lautii and Fangalii. IX. ‘Furor Consularis.’ X. The Hurricane. XI. Stuebel Recluse. XII. The Present Government.
I estimate the whole roughly at 70,000 words. Should anybody ever dream of reading it, it would be found amusing. 70000/300=233 printed pages; a respectable little five-bob volume, to bloom unread in shop windows. After that, I’ll have a spank at fiction. And rest? I shall rest in the grave, or when I come to Italy. If only the public will continue to support me! I lost my chance not dying; there seems blooming little fear of it now. I worked close on five hours this morning; the day before, close on nine; and unless I finish myself off with this letter, I’ll have another hour and a half, or aiblins twa, before dinner. Poor man, how you must envy me, as you hear of these orgies of work, and you scarce able for a letter. But Lord, Colvin, how lucky the situations are not reversed, for I have no situation, nor am fit for any. Life is a steigh brae. Here, have at Knappe, and no more clavers!
There was never any man had so many irons in the fire, except Jim Pinkerton.
I forgot to mention I have the most gallant suggestion from Lang, with an offer of MS authorities, which turns my brain. It’s all about the throne of Poland and buried treasure in the Mackay country, and Alan Breck can figure there in glory.
Yesterday, J[oe Strong] and I set off to Blacklock’s (American Consul) who lives not far from that little village I have so often mentioned as lying between us and Apia.
I had some questions to ask him for my History; thence we must proceed to Vailele, where I had also to cross-examine the plantation manager about the battle there. We went by a track I had never before followed down the hill to Vaisigano, which flows here in a deep valley, and was unusually full, so that the horses trembled in the ford.
The whole bottom of the valley is full of various streams posting between strips of forest with a brave sound of waters. In one place we had a glimpse of a fall some way higher up, and then sparkling in sunlight in the midst of the green valley.
Then up by a winding path scarce accessible to a horse for steepness, to the other side, and the open cocoanut glades of the plantation.
Here we rode fast, did a mighty satisfactory afternoon’s work at the plantation house, and still faster back. On the return Jack fell with me, but got up again;
when I felt him recovering I gave him his head, and he shoved his foot through the rein; I got him by the bit however, and all was well; he had mud over all his face, but his knees were not broken. We were scarce home when the rain began again; that was luck.
It is pouring now in torrents; we are in the height of the bad season. Lloyd leaves along with this letter on a change to San Francisco;
he had much need of it, but I think this will brace him up. I am, as you see, a tower of strength. I can remember riding not so far and not near so fast when I first came to Samoa, and being shattered next day with fatigue; now I could not tell I have done anything: have re-handled my battle of Fangalii according to yesterday’s information – four pages rewritten; and written already some half-dozen pages of letters. I observe with disgust that while of yore, when I own I was guilty, you never spared me abuse – but now, when I am so virtuous, where is the praise? Do admit that I have become an excellent letterwriter – at least to you, and that your ingratitude is imbecile.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2378.]
To Sidney Colvin (continued) [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 378-92]
Thursday [17 December] – Yesterday the same expedition set forth to the southward by what is known as Carruthers’ Road.
At a fallen tree which completely blocks the way, the main body was as before left behind, and the advance guard of one […] now proceeded with the exploration.
and the advance guard of one […] now proceeded with the exploration. At the great tree known as Mepi Tree, after Maben the surveyor, the expedition struck forty yards due west till it struck the top of a steep bank which it descended. The whole bottom of the ravine is filled with sharp lava blocks quite unrolled and very difficult and dangerous to walk among; no water in the course, scarce any sign of water. And yet surely water must have made this bold cutting in the plateau. And if so, why is the lava sharp? My science gave out; but I could not but think it ominous and volcanic. The course of the stream was tortuous, but with a resultant direction a little by west of north; the sides the whole way exceeding steep, the expedition buried under fathoms of foliage.
Presently water appeared in the bottom, a good quantity; perhaps thirty or forty cubic feet, with pools and waterfalls.
A tree that stands all along the banks here must be very fond of water; its roots lie close-packed down the stream, like hanks of guts, so as to make often a corrugated walk, each root ending in a blunt tuft of filaments, plainly to drink water. Twice there came in small tributaries from the left or western side – the whole plateau having a smartish inclination to the east; one of the tributaries in a handsome little web of silver hanging in the forest.
Twice I was startled by birds; one that barked like a dog;
another that whistled loud ploughman’s signals, so that I vow I was thrilled, and thought I had fallen among runaway blacks, and regretted my cutlass which I had lost and left behind while taking bearings.
A good many fishes in the brook, and many cray-fish; one of the last with a queer glow-worm head.
Like all our brooks, the water is pure as air, and runs over red stones like rubies.
The foliage along both banks very thick and high, the place close, the walking exceedingly laborious. By the time the expedition reached the fork, it was felt exceedingly questionable whether the moral of the force were sufficiently good to undertake more extended operations. A halt was called, the men refreshed with water and a bath, and it was decided at a drumhead council of war to continue the descent of the Embassy Water straight for Vailima, whither the expedition returned, in rather poor condition, and wet to the waist, about […] 4 P.M.
Thus in two days the two main watercourses of this country have been pretty thoroughly explored, and I conceive my instructions fully carried out. The main body of the second expedition was brought back by another officer despatched for that purpose from Vailima. Casualties: one […] horse wounded; one […] man bruised; no deaths – as yet, but the bruised man feels to-day as if his case was mighty serious.
Dec. 28, ’91. – Your note with a very despicable bulletin of health arrived only yesterday, the mail being a day behind. It contained also the excellent Times article, which was a sight for sore eyes.
I am still taboo; the blessed Germans will have none of me; and I only hope they may enjoy the Times article. ‘Tis my revenge!
I wish you had sent the letter too, as I have no copy, and do not even know what I wrote the last day, with a bad headache, and the mail going out. However, it must have been about right, for the Times article was in the spirit I wished to arouse. I hope we can get rid of the man before it is too late. He has set the natives to war; but the natives, by God’s blessing, do not want to fight, and I think it will fizzle out – no thanks to the man who tried to start it. But I did not mean to drift into these politics; rather to tell you what I have done since I last wrote.
Well, I worked away at my History for a while, and only got one chapter done; no doubt this spate of work is pretty low now, and will be soon dry; but, God bless you, what a lot I have accomplished; Wrecker done, Beach of Falesá done, half the History: c’est étonnant. (I hear from Burlingame, by the way,
that he likes the end of the Wrecker; ’tis certainly a violent, dark yarn with interesting, plain turns of human nature).
Then Lloyd and I went down to live in Haggard’s rooms, where Fanny presently joined us.
Haggard’s rooms are in a strange old building – old for Samoa, and has the effect of the antique like some strange monastery; I would tell you more of it, but I think I’m going to use it in a tale. The annexe close by had its door sealed; poor Dowdney lost at sea in a schooner. The place is haunted. The vast empty sheds, the empty store, the airless, hot, long, low rooms, the claps of wind that set everything flying a strange uncanny house to spend Christmas in.
Jan. 1st, ’92. – For a day or two I have sat close and wrought hard at the History, and two more chapters are all but done. About thirty pages should go by this mail, which is not what should be, but all I could overtake. Will any one ever read it? I fancy not; people don’t read history for reading, but for education and display – and who desires education in the history of Samoa, with no population, no past, no future, or the exploits of Mataafa,
and Consul Knappe?
Colkitto and Galasp are a trifle to it.
Well, it can’t be helped, and it must be done, and, better or worse, it’s capital fun. […] There are two to whom I have not been kind – German Consul Becker and English Captain Hand, R.N.
On Dec. 30th I rode down with Belle to go to (if you please) the Fancy Ball.
When I got to the beach, I found the barometer was below 29°, the wind still in the east and steady, but a huge offensive continent of clouds and vapours forming to leeward.
It might be a hurricane; I dared not risk getting caught away from my work, and, leaving Belle, returned at once to Vailima.
Next day – yesterday – it was a tearer;
we had storm shutters up; I sat in my room and wrote by lamplight – ten pages, if you please, seven of them draft, and some of these compiled from as many as seven different and conflicting authorities, so that was a brave day’s work. About two a huge tree fell within sixty paces of our house; a little after, a second went; and we sent out boys with axes and cut down a third, which was too near the house, and buckling like a fishing rod. At dinner we had the front door closed and shuttered, the back door open, the lamp lit. The boys in the cook-house were all out at the cook-house door, where we could see them looking in and smiling. Lauilo and Faauma waited on us with smiles. The excitement was delightful. Some very violent squalls came as we sat there, and every one rejoiced; it was impossible to help it; a soul of putty had to sing.
All night it blew; the roof was continually sounding under missiles; in the morning, the verandahs were half full of branches torn from the forest.
There was a last very wild squall about six; the rain, like a thick white smoke, flying past the house in volleys, and as swift, it seemed, as rifle balls; all with a strange, strident hiss, such as I have only heard before at sea, and, indeed, thought to be a marine phenomenon. Since then the wind has been falling with a few squalls, mostly rain.
But our road is impassable for horses; we hear a schooner has been wrecked and some native houses blown down in Apia, where Belle is still and must remain a prisoner. Lucky I returned while I could! But the great good is this; much bread-fruit and bananas have been destroyed;
if this be general through the islands, famine will be imminent; and whoever blows the coals, there can be no war. Do I then prefer a famine to a war? you ask. Not always, but just now. I am sure the natives do not want a war; I am sure a war would benefit no one but the white officials, and I believe we can easily meet the famine – or at least that it can be met. That would give our officials a legitimate opportunity to cover their past errors.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2378.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 378-92]
[Vailima] Tuesday  Dec. 1891
I have the honour to report further explorations of the course of the river Vaea, with accompanying sketch plan.
The party under my command consisted of one […] horse,
and was extremely insubordinate and mutinous, owing to not being used to go into the bush, and being half-broken anyway – and that the wrong half. The route indicated for my party was up the bed of the so-called river Vaea, which I accordingly followed to a distance of perhaps two or three furlongs eastward from the house of Vailima, where the stream being quite dry, the bush thick, and the ground very difficult, I decided to leave the main body of the force under my command tied to a tree, and push on myself with the point of the advance guard, consisting of one […] man. The valley had become very narrow and airless; foliage close shut above; dry bed of the stream much excavated, so that I passed under fallen trees without stooping. Suddenly it turned sharply to the north, at right angles to its former direction; I heard living water,
and came in view of a tall face of rock and the stream spraying down it; it might have been climbed, but it would have been dangerous, and I had to make my way up the steep earth banks, where there is nowhere any footing for man, only for trees, which made the rounds of my ladder. I was near the top of this climb, which was very hot and steep, and the pulses were buzzing all over my body, when I made sure there was one external sound in my ears, and paused to listen.
No mistake; a sound of a mill wheel thundering, I thought, close by, yet below me, a huge mill wheel, yet not going steadily, but with a schottische movement, and at each fresh impetus shaking the mountain. There, where I was, I just put down the sound to the mystery of the bush; where no sound now surprises me – and any sound alarms; I only thought it would give Jack a fine fright, down where he stood tied to a tree by himself, and he was badly enough scared when I left him. The good folks at home identified it; it was a sharp earthquake.
At the top of the climb I made my way again to the water-course;
it is here running steady and pretty full; strange these intermittencies – and just a little below the main stream is quite dry, and all the original brook has gone down some lava gallery of the mountain – and just a little further below, it begins picking up from the left hand in little boggy tributaries, and in the inside of a hundred yards has grown a brook again.
The general course of the brook was, I guess, S.E.; the valley still very deep and whelmed in wood.
It seemed a swindle to have made so sheer a climb and still find yourself at the bottom of a well. But gradually the thing seemed to shallow, the trees to seem poorer and smaller; I could see more and more of the silver sprinkles of sky among the foliage, instead of the sombre piling up of tree behind tree.
And here I had two scares –
first, away up on my right hand I heard a bull low; I think it was a bull from the quality of the low, which was singularly songful and beautiful; the bulls belong to me, but how did I know that the bull was aware of that? and my advance guard not being at all properly armed, we advanced with great precaution until I was satisfied that I was passing eastward of the enemy. It was during this period that a pool of the river suddenly boiled up in my face in a little fountain. It was in a very dreary, marshy part among dilapidated trees that you see through holes in the trunks of;
and if any kind of beast or elf or devil had come out of that sudden silver ebullition, I declare I do not think I should have been surprised. It was perhaps a thing as curious – a fish, with which these head waters of the stream are alive.
They are some of them as long as my finger, should be easily caught in these shallows, and some day I’ll have a dish of them.
Very soon after I came to where the stream collects in another banana swamp, with the bananas bearing well.
Beyond, the course is again quite dry; it mounts with a sharp turn a very steep face of the mountain,
and then stops abruptly at the lip of a plateau, I suppose the top of Vaea mountain: plainly no more springs here – there was no smallest furrow of a water-course beyond – and my task might be said to be accomplished.
But such is the animated spirit in the service that the whole advance guard expressed a sentiment of disappointment that an exploration, so far successfully conducted, should come to a stop in the most promising view of fresh successes. And though unprovided either with compass or cutlass, it was determined to push some way along the plateau, marking our direction by the laborious process of bending down, sitting upon, and thus breaking the wild cocoanut trees.
This was the less regretted by all from a delightful discovery made of a huge banyan growing here in the bush, with flying-buttressed flying buttresses, and huge arcs of trunk hanging high overhead and trailing down new complications of root.
I climbed some way up what seemed the original beginning; it was easier to climb than a ship’s rigging, even rattled;
everywhere there was foot-hold and hand-hold. It was judged wise to return and rally the main body, who had now been left alone for perhaps forty […] minutes in the bush.
The return was effected in good order, but unhappily I only arrived (like so many other explorers) to find my main body or rear-guard in a condition of mutiny; the work, it is to be supposed, of terror. It is right I should tell you the Vaea has a bad name, an aitu fafine – female devil of the woods – succubus – haunting it,
and doubtless Jack had heard of her; perhaps, during my absence, saw her; lucky Jack! Anyway, he was neither to hold nor to bind, and finally, after nearly smashing me by accident, and from mere scare and insubordination several times, deliberately set in to kill me; but poor Jack! the tree he selected for that purpose was a banana! I jumped off and gave him the heavy end of my whip over the buttocks! Then I took and talked in his ear in various voices; you should have heard my alto – it was a dreadful, devilish note – I knew Jack knew it was an aitu. Then I mounted him again, and he carried me fairly steadily. He’ll learn yet. He has to learn to trust absolutely to his rider; till he does, the risk is always great in thick bush, where a fellow must try different passages, and put back and forward, and pick his way by hair’s-breadths.
The expedition returned to Vailima in time to receive the visit of the R.C. Bishop […]. He is a superior man, much above the average of priests.
My dear Charles, No word from you, and there need be little in mine. 1mo. A man, D.C. Doig, 175 Bond Street, London, writes to ask me to give my name to a committee for a statoot to Sir Walter.
I write and give my name, and announce ‘a frugal subscription’. Will you please send it to him. How much would you give, if you were me? Would £5,5 be shabby? Judge and act. 2nd. Baron Tauchnitz will soon write to you, I believe. We have been corresponding, and I can’t be bothered with it any longer. If he makes a decent offer accept him. Try and screw him up to £50 a volume; I think that would be good. £40 I think he should give; and at £40 I am willing to bind myself to give him all my books, if he is willing to bind himself to take them all.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2374.]
To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 376-8]
[Vailima] December 7th, 1891
My dear Henry James,
Thanks for yours; your former letter was lost; so it appears was my long and masterly treatise on the Tragic Muse.
I remember sending it very well, and there went by the same mail a long and masterly tractate to Gosse about his daddy’s life, for which I have been long expecting an acknowledgment, and which is plainly gone to the bottom with the other. If you see Gosse, please mention it.
These gems of criticism are now lost literature, like the tomes of Alexandria. I could not do ’em again. And I must ask you to be content with a dull head, a weary hand, and short commons, for to-day, as I am physically tired with hard work of every kind, the labours of the planter and the author both piled upon me mountain deep. I am delighted beyond expression by Bourget’s book:
he has phrases which affect me almost like Montaigne;
I had read ere this a masterly essay of his on Pascal;
this book does it; I write for all his essays by this mail, and shall try to meet him when I come to Europe. The proposal is to pass a summer in France, I think in Royat,
where the faithful could come and visit me; they are now not many. I expect Henry James to come and break a crust or two with us.
I believe it will be only my wife and myself; and she will go over to England, but not I, or possibly incog. to Southampton,
and then to Boscombe to see poor Lady Shelley.
I am writing – trying to write in a Babel fit for the bottomless pit; my wife, her daughter, her grandson and my mother, all shrieking at each other round the house – not in war, thank God! but the din is ultra martial, and the note of Lloyd joins in occasionally, and the cause of this to-do is simply cacao, whereof chocolate comes.
You may drink of our chocolate perhaps in five or six years from now, and not know it.
It makes a fine bustle, and gives us some hard work, out of which I have slunk for to-day.
I have a story coming out: God knows when or how; it answers to the name of the Beach of Falesá, and I think well of it.
I was delighted with the Tragic Muse; I thought the Muse herself one of your best works; I was delighted also to hear of the success of your piece,
as you know I am a dam failure, and might have dined with the dinner club that Daudet and these parties frequented.
Next day. – I have just been breakfasting at Baiae and Brindisi, and the charm of Bourget hag-rides me.
I wonder if this exquisite fellow, all made of fiddle-strings and scent and intelligence, could bear any of my bald prose. If you think he could, ask Colvin to send him a copy of these last essays of mine when they appear;
and tell Bourget they go to him from a South Sea Island as literal homage.
I have read no new book for years that gave me the same literary thrill as his Sensations d’Italie.
If (as I imagine) my cut-and-dry literature would be death to him, and worse than death – journalism – be silent on the point. For I have a great curiosity to know him, and if he doesn’t know my work, I shall have the better chance of making his acquaintance.
I read The Pupil the other day with great joy;
your little boy is admirable; why is there no little boy like that unless he hails from the Great Republic?
Here I broke off, and wrote Bourget a dedication;
no use resisting; it’s a love affair. […] O, he’s exquisite, I bless you for the gift of him. I have really enjoyed this book as I – almost as I – used to enjoy books when I was going twenty – twenty-three; and these are the years for reading!
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2372.]
To W. Craibe Angus [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 360-1]
Vailima, Samoa, November 1891
My dear Mr. Angus,
Herewith the invaluable sheets.
They came months after your letter, and I trembled; but here they are, and I have scrawled my vile name on them, and ‘thocht shame’ as I did it. I am expecting the sheets of your catalogue, so that I may attack the preface. Please give me all the time you can. The sooner the better; you might even send me early proofs as they are sent out, to give me more incubation. I used to write as slow as judgment; now I write rather fast; but I am still ‘a slow study,’ and sit a long while silent on my eggs. Unconscious thought, there is the only method: macerate your subject, let it boil slow, then take the lid off and look in – and there your stuff is, good or bad. But the journalist’s method is the way to manufacture lies; it is will-worship – if you know the luminous quaker phrase
and the will is only to be brought in the field for study and again for revision. The essential part of work is not an act, it is a state.
I do not know why I write you this trash.
Many thanks for your handsome dedication. I have not yet had time to do more than glance at Mrs. Begg; it looks interesting.