The Road of the Loving Heart: Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa
Authors who have enjoyed enormous popularity in their day are very likely to be neglected for some time after their death. Then comes reassessment, which in the exceptional case is accompanied by a revival of interest. This has happened recently in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald; and if J. C. FURNAS is right, an even greater retribution is due to Robert Loius Stevenson. For ten years Mr. Furnas, who was graduated from Harvard in 1927, has been following Stevenson’s trail in Oceania, in the United States, and in Scotland, and from his glowing appreciative biography. Voyage to Windward, which will be published in October by William Sloane Associates, the Atlantic has been privileged to draw two sections.
by J. C. FURNAS
IN 1890 Henry Adams, seeking distraction from the recent death of his wife, traveled into the Pacific with his friend John La Farge. In October they reached Samoa, where their appropriately august letters of introduction secured them great deference from Sewall, the U.S. consul. Adams found that it also made him all sorts of a great chief in Samoan eyes merely to state that the 1 SS John Adams — a man-of-war closely and indiscreetly involved in recent Samoan squabbles — was named after his great-grandfather. Sewall soon took them up the mountain to call on the only resident lion. Adams wrote home about it voluminously: —
. . . a clearing dotted with burned stumps. . . . a two-story Irish shanty with steps outside to the upper floor and a galvanized iron roof . . . squalor like a railroad navvy’s board hut . . . a man so thin and emaciated that he looked like a bundle of sticks in a bag, with a head and eyes morbidly intelligent and restless . . . dirty striped pajamas, the baggy legs tucked into coarse woollen stockings, one of which was bright brown in color, the other a purplish dark tone. . . . a woman . . . the usual missionary nightgown which was no cleaner than her husband’s shirt and drawers, but she omitted the stockings . . . complexion and eyes were dark and strong, like a half-breed Mexican. . . . though I could not forget the dirt and discomfort, I found Stevenson extremely entertaining . . . he cannot be quiet, but sits down, jumps up, darts off and flies back, at every sentence he utters, and his eyes and features gleam with a hectic glow. . . . looking like an insane stork . . .
When asking them to breakfast later, the Stevensons encouraged La Farge and Adams to bring their own provisions. After Louis had cordially supplied him with invaluable introductions to the cream of Tahitian “royalty,” Adams had the grace to feel slightly embarrassed over how he had enlarged on their “squalor.” But he was doomed to proceed with invidious and inaccurate solemnity: —
Their mode of existence here is far less human than that of the natives and compared with their shanty a native house is a palace; but the squalor must be somehow due to his education. All through him, the education shows. His early associates were all second-rate; he never seems by any chance to have come in contact with first-rate people, either men, women, or artists. He does not know the difference between people and mixes them up as if they were characters in his New Arabian Nights. Of course he must have found me out at once, for my Bostonianism, and finikin clinging to what I think the best, must rub him raw all over, all the more because I try not to express it; but I suspect he does not know quite enough to hate me for it; and I am sure he would never have the finesse to penetrate La Farge, though compared with La Farge, I am a sort, of Stevenson for coarseness. . . . The two characters in contact are rather amusing as contrasts; the oriental delicacy of La Farge seems to be doubled by the Scotch ecceutrieif ies of Stevenson who is as one-sided as a crab, and flies off at angles no matter what rocks stand in his way.
It is late in the day to feel the old urge to kick Henry Adams for a snob. Forgiveness is easier because this is a valuable picture of the Stevensons newly installed in their kingdom. The “board shack” was the temporary dwelling to be camped in while a comfortable house was building. The “burned stumps” were presage of a huge lawn before the house. The pair were alone because Lloyd Osbourne, Stevenson’s stepson, was in England arranging shipment of civilized necessities from Skerryvore; Aunt Maggie, Louis’s mother, was to return with Lloyd from Scotland; and Louis’s stepdaughter Belle and her husband Joe Strong were waiting in Sydney until matters had somewhat: shaken down. Louis and Fanny were so dirty and sloppy because both were hard at weeding, planting, cleaning — Louis worked in singlet and trousers, with bare feet. Provisions were so short because all men-of-war had left port and it was no longer profit able for local suppliers to bring produce to Apia — which immensely complicated the problem of getting provisions up the rough track from town. One day Louis and Fanny lunched on a single avocado; another lunch was a can of sardines, supper the same day a single breadfruit. Apparently it never occurred to Louis’s low breeding to explain their privations or to excuse their grubbiness by the exigencies of settling down in a tropical wilderness. People should be more careful when entertaining Brahmins unawares.
Copyright 1951, by J. C. Furnas.
Within weeks improvements were going ahead rapidly — and expensively. The track was widened, though in Louis’s time it was never practicable for wheels in all weathers; in the meantime riding down to Apia amounted to a sort of steeplechase in slow motion. The immediate clearing was freed of stumps, and extensive cutting of brush discouraged the mosquitoes. Saddle horses for personal transport, pack horses for supplies, and ducks, hogs, chickens, and a cow had variously to be stabled, fenced, or penned. During a roaring rain the horses ate the palm thatch off their temporary stable and were found with their heads protruding into the weather like the giraffe out of a Noah’s Ark. An overgrown banana patch and an abandoned taro patch were found and cleared into usefulness, and Fanny’s truck garden was already hoping for onions, green peppers, parsley, tomatoes, and asparagus; she was startled to find that, in this climate, string beans grew a foot long. What time Louis could spare from The Wrecker and South Seas and, as family man of business, riding on his brown pony, Jack, to Apia, he spent with a bush knife cutting paths in exploration of his new domain or doggedly uprooting the poetic sensitive plant that is so nasty an imported nuisance in Samoa. Wryly he noted deriving a great glow of virtuous feeling out of doing a shilling’s worth of manual labor and a feeling of an afternoon wasted if he earned ten pounds by assiduous writing.
Perhaps only a chronic invalid can appreciate his exultation in his new privilege of physical activity, He discreetly left ax and mattock alone; but even so he could spend hours sweating wet and breathing deep without imminent risk of hemorrhage or weeks of exhaustion to follow. It had been eleven years since he had done anything as strenuous as his rugged rides to the port. For that matter, it had been seventeen years since he had chosen a prolonged place of residence for any reason other than established renown among the consumptive. This was no Menton, Davos, or Hyères, thick with invalids, soft to the enforced idle, artificial as a prison or a school, but a highly complicated community, raw, petty, turbulent, and peevishly stimulating in its own right. Small wonder that he felt as if readmitted to the human race after years of exile, or that here in Samoa Louis matured so broadly.
The improvement could nevertheless be exaggerated. In 1893, a temporary fit of discouragedly considering himself “an ancient, lean, grim, exiled Scot” set him to writing to Meredith: —
For fourteen years I have not had a day’s real health; I have wakened sick and gone to bed weary; and I have done my work unflinchingly. I have written in bed, and written out of it, written in hemorrhages, Written in sickness, written torn by coughing, written when my head swam for weakness; . . . I am better now, have been rightly speaking since first I came to the Pacific; and still, few are the days when I am not in some physical distress. And the battle goes on — ill or well, is a trifle; so as it goes. I was made for a contest, and the Powers have willed that my battlefield should be this dingy, inglorious one of the bed and the physic bottle. . . .
I would have preferred a place of trumpetings and the open air over my head.
Fanny — that “haunting, indefatigable and diminutive presence in a blue gown . . . she comes in heated and bemired up to the eyebrows, late for every meal” — was the terror of hired labor and the admiration of her vastly amused husband, sure and direct, whether right or not, about chickens or cocoa, pineapple or pigs or people. For her, too, Samoa was a consummation. Louis never quite shook off the dream of going home, or at least of meeting his friend Sidney Colvin in Cairo . . . or Ceylon . . . or Honolulu. . . . The day he died he was speculating about a trip to the Stales. But, while he lived, Fanny left Samoa only once for reasons other than her own or Louis’s health. I have an impression that, as years came and went, Vailima, the Stevenson estate, became an obsession with her, enabling her to sink ever farther within herself while still feeling that to do so was to continue as a function of Louis the all-important.
IN January, 1891, Louis went to Sydney to fetch Aunt Maggie and, of course, fell ill there, with a high fever this time. On their return to Samoa, the “squalid” phase that Adams saw proved too much for her; she went visiting relatives in New Zealand until the projected big house should afford better quarters.
Louis and Fanny drew, redrew, and reredrew plans for the house. From a Sydney architect Louis got some ideas that proved far too costly to begin; then local talent was called in and plans were settled on in the cubage-wasting, airy style of timbers and planking that characterizes white men’s houses in the British tropics, using corrugated iron roofs and many verandas. Over the years, as money came available, Vailima grew en échelon of two contiguous units, each ol two stories. Its fireplaces — for warming Louis’s sheets, it appears — are still, I believe, the only such things in Samoa. Aunt Maggie paid for the bathhouse and the concrete work and pipes to bring a copious water supply down from the mountain. Verandas lined the northern face toward the monochromatic and vastly extensive wall of ocean.
Apia itself was invisible, but ships approaching were easily made out — the San Francisco mails, the little German packet, the New Zealand packet, war vessels taking post on this troubled station, trading schooners, big square-riggers fetching supplies to the German Firm, which had hoped to mean to the South Pacific what the Fast India Company had meant to India, and taking away copra.
Louis’s room, built like a swallow’s nest in the northwest corner of the upper veranda, where he lived like a sergeant in barracks with little but a cot and a work table, had the best of this view. The red iron roof contrasted handsomely with the dull blue siding. In the rear were cook shed and staff quarters, to south and west rose a heaped-up, dark, lofty forest. The original shack was rebuilt to the east as overflow quarters, sometimes for guests, sometimes for Belle and Joe, sometimes a bachelor hall for Lloyd. Down the slope and to the left the principal stream plunged over a rocky shelf into a much patronized bathing pool.
These premises, rather like the nucleus of a large children’s camp, often puzzled visitors who had heard London or Sydneyside gossip about Louis’s barbaric palace of immense cost and splendor. In the South Pacific, of course, Vailima was a palace. In Fiji in late 1891 Fanny found Polynesians already agog with tales of this miraculous edifice. And local whites were necessarily much stirred by the great expense of importing so much lumber and hardware, for saw mills are scarce and rolling mills nonexistent in the Islands; every nail, sheet of iron, pane of glass, and sliver of wood in Vailima came from the Colonies or the States. “We call these our marble halls,” Lloyd told some visitors who had evidently expected something more imposing than a capacious wooden barrack, “because they cost so much.”
Both browns and whites were even more deeply impressed at the arrival of the contents of Skerryvore plus bits from Heriot Row: mahogany and rosewood furniture, family portraits, hundreds of books, chests of silver and linen, wineglasses, decanters, and mirrors, a cottage piano that came up from Apia on poles slung over the shoulders of a whole troupe of Samoans, a plaster cast of Rodin’s Le Printemps, gift of the sculptor, from which missionary-shy Samoans averted their shocked eyes. . . . Not even the manager of the Firm or the chief missionary at Malua had so many costly things t hat shone and broke easily. So dinner at Vailima was soon the great show of the island — massive silver, glowing red wine, shaded lights reflected in the varnished redwood of the “great hall,” Samoans with flowers in I heir hair serving with the serene hauteur appropriate to duty for a great chief, fuming braziers under the table to keep mosquitoes away from chiefly ankles. On great occasions the staff wore striped blazers and special lavalavas of the Royal Stewart tartan, which Louis chose for colorful blending with their skins — a Samoan, Belle wrote with an artist’s accuracy, is the same hue as a light bay horse.
Though committed to bare feel and haloku by day, Fanny was tinily majestic on occasion in gray silk or a black velvet-and-laee that Louis bought her in Sydney. Louis too rigged out elaborately for evening — a starched white mess jacket, pleated white silk shirt made in Sydney, black dress trousers, pumps on his narrow feel: “Slovenly youth, all right — not slovenly age. So really now I am pretty spruce . . . fresh shave, silk socks, O a great sight!” Trips to Apia saw him in battered white yachting cap, white shirt, white trousers I licked into lace-up high boots an effect as of an irregular military man in tropic kit. Though during the day at home he might dress about as sketchily as ever, his prejudice against complicated fixing and elaborate possessions had unceremoniously vanished. For some while it had not been much of an issue: after all, his favorite passage from Walt Whitman was: “Do I contradict myself? . . . Very well, then, I contradict myself.” He liked this life and he loved “My beautiful forest, O my beautiful, shining windy house!” When riding back from Apia at night, he ordered lights kept burning, no matter how long he delayed, so that he could sec the glow of his own windows through the trees.
The track to and from Apia was soon worn deep as much by social visits as by delivery of goods — dinings back and forth, occasional public balls (for Louis was now an earnest if never a brilliant dancer), evenings sponsored by Louis and Fanny for the growing and dislocated population of half-Samoans. Louis averred that the whites of Apia, however heterogeneous, averaged higher in ability and intelligence than an equally random lot of the same size in Europe or the States. Most were somehow interesting, many made sound friends: Sewall, the U.S. consul; Ide, the U.S. Land Commissioner, later Chief Justice of Samoa (it was to his lovely daughter Annie that Louis gave the famous deed to his birthday to console her for having been born on Christmas); Haggard (brother of the romancer), the gaily indiscreet British Land Commissioner; Harry J. Moors, a Michigan-born trader with a Samoan wife; Stuebel, the German consul, with whom Louis remained friends in spite of formal frictions; affectionately respected missionaries like Clarke and Newell. At Clarke’s Louis met George Brown, the fighting Wesleyan, whom he liked immensely, and James Chalmers, the martyr-hero of New Guinea missions, whom he thought one of the greatest personalities he had ever known.
Vailima saw a great variety of occasional guests, including traveling journalists picking up a salable interview while the mail steamer was in port, and people in hard luck. A consumptive musician who had tried to teach Louis the flute in Sydney appeared with his wife to try Samoa for his lungs; Louis found him the start of a livelihood and put the couple up until they secured quarters. Again, a tuberculous little Pennsylvania Quaker had to be given a hand just because he seemed badly in need of it; as also a derelict Scot with an honest story of misfortune. At Louis’s death the acting U.S. consul wrote to Washington that the late Mr. Stevenson had been “the first citizen of Samoa and the center of its social life.”
Not that the Stevensons were universally popular. Ramrod-stiff Colonel de Coetlogon, who was British consul when Louis came, found this eccentric most dismaying. Louis retaliated by warmly praising in print the Colonel’s record as honorable official and merciful organizer of and chief worker in an amateur hospital for Samoans wounded in the fighting that occasionally racked the islands. So unsparing a Good Samaritan could be as diffidently rude to Louis as he liked. Louis’s politicking also strained the patience of the genial Swede and the gentlemanly German who, as President and as Chief Justice, made a botch of governing Samoa for the Powers; but he could not avoid liking them personally. In a square* dance at a public ball Louis and the Chief Justice — whom the squire of Vailima was just then moving heaven and earth to get recalled — found themselves dancing opposite. Each caught t ho other’s eve and saw a flash of amusement there, and thenceforward, Louis wrote, “. . . we pranced for each other.”
Healthier, closer to generalized people than ever before, he rejoiced in wide cordialities. Of all Vailima’s guests he best liked the officers and ratings of British men-of-vvar on the station. The complement of HMS Curaçoa iron made such eager use of their standing invitation to Vailima that the road thither was dubbed “the Curaçoa track.”
THE skirted and deflowered Samoan servants at Vailima are the key to the Stevensons’ life there. At first, hearing from local whites of the natives’ unreliability — confirmed by early experience of their own — they tried white supervisors outdoors and white servants indoors. Available talent, however, consisted largely of stranded ne’er-do-wells. In 1891 Fanny imported a Mohammedan cook from Fiji, from whom she learned a famous curry. Finding that, in her absence, Lloyd and Belle had made a pliable and promising cook out of a handsome young Samoan named Taalolo, she passed the confused Moslem on to Haggard and embarked on a consistent program of employing Polynesians for everything.
In those first few months, thinking Samoan men untrustworthy and Samoan women sluttish, she had doubted that she would ever come to like them. Louis too thought Samoans less self-respecting than Polynesians elsewhere, though pleasantly courteous; and, during his early visit to Tutuila, had been daunted by their leering pleasure in obscene references and lewd dances: —
No sense of shame in this race is the word of the superficial, but the point of the indecent dance is to trifle with the sense of shame: and that . . . the chief actor should be a maid further discloses the corrupt element which has created and so much loves this diversion; for it is useless to speak, the Samoan loves the business like pie.
But two experimental native servants began soon to prove fitfully reliable: Lafaele (Raphael) and Henry Simele, a young chief from Savaii who attached himself to Louis to learn English, which he called “long explessions.” Presently there appeared Sosimo, an ostensibly turgid and slow young fellow whose rapidly developing loyally to Louis turned him into a devoted and flexible right-hand. By Christmas, 1891, Vailima had five Samoans indoors and out; within a year the household numbered nineteen, including wives of some of the men, but not all Samoans: there was also a Tongan, from the colony that Shirley Baker’s dictatorial regime had exiled, a Wallis Islander, a Fijian — and an ugly and ingratiating little Solomon Islander who turned up at Vailima pitifully half-starved and with the scars of long welts across his buck, after running away from a German plantation. Louis hired his time from the Germans, fed him up and — in spite of the Samoans’ strong prejudice against darker outsiders: — installed him in the household, where he became a popular pet.
A group of his tribal enemies among the Germans’ laborers waylaid and wounded this Arrick. Next day he spent hours in Fanny’s room expressing appropriate emotions in a half-hypnotized war dance while playing a homemade one-string harp; he once asked Louis to lend him a gun with which to shoot his enemies among other runaways in the bush. Queer emergencies were frequent among such servants: inexplicable magic threw one man into convulsions that only certain mystic herbs could relieve; another’s wife caused social feuds and a sort of slowdown strike because she proved to be of disgracefully low social rank; another appropriated a pig to contribute to a feast in his nearby village.
What held the staff together was the complete glory of Vailima. At least this is my reading of the situation, based on some acquaintance with the Islands: The more packing-cases were lightered ashore, the more “the beach" heard of barrels of red wine, acres of roofing, and trunks of fine raiment, the more the Samoans respected this thin but tallish papalagi. In writing “The Bottle Imp” Louis accidentally strengthened this impression. A missionary heard the plot from Louis and, thinking it cognate with certain Samoan notions (which it was) and perhaps a sermon against the things of this world (which it was not), translated the finished draft into Samoan for serialization in a missionary paper for natives. It ran from May to December, roughly the same period as the blossoming of Vailima.
Now Islanders have small notion of deliberately conceded ficlion. However misty or fantastic, their own tales are supposed to beat least constructions of actual events; they can hardly conceive of a novel as acknowledgedly untrue. Hence as “The Bottle Imp” infiltrated the Samoans via those who practiced the literacy taught by the missions, Louis’s wealth was readily assumed to come from his actual command of just such a magic bottle as that in the tale. Native inability to understand that Louis’s writing was highly profitable encouraged the mistake. Even Teriitera had been startled and baffled to hear what sums Kidnapped had earned: “As they scarcely ever read themselves,” Aunt Maggie wrote, “it must be . . . almost incredible to them that book-making should be a paying occupation.”Samoans on social-political visits, all eyes for the Burmese idols at the foot of the stairs, the piano, the shining great hall that was the glory of Vailima, sometimes broke down toward the end of the tour and asked if they might see the bottle.
Such occult powers added the prestige of the wizard to that of the chief. In the islands a great chief’s mana, (roughly prestige-power-luek) can readily manifest itself in sorcery as well as in great possessions, for both are aspects of supernally attained powers. Fanny reinforced the notion: her piercing and broody glance, masterful ways, skill with foreign plants (doubtless magical themselves), readiness with nasty-tasting and alien doses for ailing retainers — medicine being a branch of sorcery, of course — made her uncanny in her own right. By a schoolgirl trick involving the victim’s feeling an inexplicable tap on his back while his eyes are closed, she persuaded a Samoan servant that she commanded a familiar spirit. “I am glad to say,” she wrote Aunt Maggie’s sisier. “that the gossip among the natives is that I have eyes all round my head and am in fifty places at once, and that I am a person to be feared and obeyed.”
It all fitted handily well with the local reputation for aitu. The extreme Samoan view of Louis probably was: He lived untroubled in a land of ghosts and spirits, drew untold wealth from a demon in a bottle, and was deferred to by a woman who was a considerable witch in her own right. I have unavoidably made all this sound logical and definite, which it was not, but I cannot doubt some such element in Louis’s local prestige. Whites believing equally firmly in such things would have fled the premises. But Louis obviously exuded good will, sorcery does lend prestige in Polynesia, prestige is attractive in itself, and it was taken to be in Louis’s own interest not to harm his own retainers. Fanny, in fact, was able to work cures on the servants by assuring them that no evil spirit could harm a man belonging to her as Louis’s deputy.
LOUIS’S prestige enabled him to utilize a suggestion of Clarke’s that Samoan servants handled best on a basis of “family.” (Missionaries on local stations were accustomed to gather round them and educate natives in the same relation as that of the villager to his local clan and chief — a matter of the ethnologist’s “extended family” including various social grades all related by blood or equivalent adoption, all owing services to the head of the family as expression of the family.) Samoans whom Louis might “adopt” would retain certain rights in their home villages, but their boast and social raison d’être would soon specially become their status in the “Tama Ona” — which Louis neatly translated for Colvin as “The MacRiehies.”
This half-implicit, half-formal relation recruited the Vailima staff and held them to what must often have seemed to them strange requirements imposed by Louis as iheir white chief and quasi parent. In November, 1893, when, attending a festival in a body, the Vailima servants appeared in their blazers and tartan lavalavas, they wore hailed by all others present as a genuine Samoan clan.
Not as employer demanding due performance, rather as elder invoking clan loyalties, Louis held councils to punish malingerers and fine offenders. “We don’t haxe servants,” Fanny told an interxfiewer after Louis’s death. “We have families. . . . If you called the money you give your family for spending money ‘wages,’ they’d all leave you in a body.” Once this institution was well knit together, cooking, cleaning, care of animals — in which, like most Polynesians. Samoans are cruelly lax — even sweaty drudgery in bush or garden, went in reasonably acceptable fashion: whereas other papalagi, committed to the wage relation, got little but smiling inefficiency. It was remarked with wonder: “You never see a Samoan run except at Vailima.”
Notions as to men’s and women’s work differed, sometimes conveniently. A muscular male Samoan did Aunt Maggie’s laundry, starching and fluting her crisp widow’s caps with the right Parisian skill. Taking these caps as tokens of rank, in fact, he preserved discards and appeared abroad proudly wearing the same headgear as Queen Victoria in her later portraits. But training often presented troubles. Instructed to take a bucket of water to the second floor, a new man unfamiliar with stairs took the bail in his teeth and shinned up a veranda post. Another planted Fanny’s costly imported vanilla vines upside-down; trying to spare his pride in the job, she secretly replanted them properly; finding them reversed next morning, he hurriedly replanted them the wrong way again — an ordeal that they failed to survive. Reproached with not watering a horse, a third tried to persuade her that, though watering some horses might be necessary, this one came of a breed that never needed it.
But patience, incisive sympathy, jokes varied with dignified anger in season worked wonders. It is all clearest in the case of Elina, a dogged, somber Vailima underling who — deformity being shameful in Samoa — had disgraced his family by developing a wen on his neck. The local German doctor called it safely operable, but for long neither bribery up to five dollars nor calling him a coward would move Elina to permit surgery. When he finally gave in, Louis took him to his relatives in Apia for the job and personally administered the chloroform; the poor, terrified devil went under repeating, like a safeguarding charm: “I belong Tusitala . . . I belong Tusitala. . . .” The site healed well and, when wenless Elina next visited his clan village on Savaii, he came back with prestige completely restored and glorying in having been given a minor chief-“name.” That is the handsomest and most loyalty-building way to be a patriarch.
The Stevensons all had Samoan names used partly in fun, partly to divert retainers from offhandedly addressing them as “Louis” or “Belle.” Fanny was “Aolele” — Flying Cloud — for her perpetual skirmishing bustle; also “Tamaitai” — a rough equivalent of Madame; also “O le Fafine Manama o i le Mauga” — the Witch Woman of the Mountain. Belle was “Teuila” — Adorner of the Ugly — for her pleasant habit of impulsively making the staff little gifts of trinkets and scraps of cloth. Louis, of course, was “Tusitala” — usually translated as “Teller of Tales”; be rendered it literally as “Chief White Information.” In all native ceremonies the Stevensons wisely took care to observe the elaborate behavior expected of high chiefs. All studied Samoan, informally or with mission teachers. Lloyd became reasonably adept, Louis learned enough to make set speeches in form and to admire highly the beauties of a tongue so full of liquid, connotation-packed adjectives and verbs.
Growing sympathy with his own and other Samoans did not move Louis to idealize them: “. . . like other folk,” he said of them, “false enough, lazy enough, not heroes, not saints — ordinary men, damnably misused.” But grasp grew with sympathy and he began to reap the rewards of Polynesians’ transmutation of apparently crass respect into valid love and loyalty. A common self-respect, a common trust in Tusitala’s dignity and fairness, drew brown and while steadily closer.
Louis’s firm belief in the inheritance of personality trails never tempted him to race prejudice. “Of all stupid ill-feelings,”he wrote of his first trip to California, “the sentiment of our fellow Caucasians toward our companions in the Chinese car was the most siupid and the worst. They seemed never to have looked at them, listened to them, or thought of them, but hated them a priori.” Handling Samoans, he ripened sympathy with a device that he had used in the Marquesas and Tahiti, telling himself that these social bonds were much like those among the Highlanders, whose “barbarian” virtues he had long admired. Analogies between, say, aitu and kelpie, Mataafa and Cluny Macpherson, leave much to seek in ethnological accuracy. But they greatly forwarded Louis’s task of comprehending his own dan-family-household-encomienda.
These values soon became a principal part of his life, along with the theatrical kettledrumming of rain on the iron roof and the sweetness of waking in the presunrise tropical dawn to think out and note the work of the day. Many a morning’s writing was ruined by the unexpected visit of a Samoan chief and retainers, necessitating kava and speeches on the veranda. But as one got the feel of these things, they acquired inner meaning. Once Sosimo, who was not usually on that duty, fetched Louis’s early coffee along with an unexpected and prettily turned omelet. Louis asked who had made it. “I did,” said Sosimo. “Great is your wisdom,” said Louis in the proper form of approval. “Great is my love,” said Sosimo. And that too was ceremony; only — this is difficult for both sentimentalist and cynic — it was also heartfelt.
LOUIS usually cut a queer figure but seldom more so than when presiding cross-legged over Samoan ceremonies with the gravity due Tusitala’s mana — or when acting paterfamilias of the Vailima family. Though its components continued somewhat to change, the itinerant entourage now struck roots. Belle was permanent. (Joe Strong, whose instability and conviviality distressed everybody, himself included, was divorced and went Stateside, eventually remarrying happily, I am told.) Lloyd was permanent, having declined to go to Cambridge because Louis’s expenses on account of others were too heavy. In midsummer, 1892, came Graham Balfour, Louis’s scholarly cousin and later his biographer, to stay for months before going schoonering in Micronesia. Noting his hosts’ bare feet, Balfour turned up on the second day barefoot himself. Said Louis: “Why, he’s the same kind of fool we are!” and his status was assured.
The resl of the establishment included Belle’s cockatoo, which frequently bit Louis; Louis’s brown pony; a sedate, broad-backed horse from the circus for Aunt Maggie; mares for Fanny, Lloyd, and Belle, who loathed horses but had no other way to visit Apia; two pack horses, two cows, a bull. “Is not this Babylon the Great which I have builded? Call it Subpriorsford.”
By Chrislmas, 1892, it all felt consolidated enough for a Christmas tree — the pinelike, feathery iron wood made a plausible Tannenbaum — to the delight of the Samoan retainers. Louis was fond of special occasions with formal presentations, songs written to match, special things to drink, ceremonious fooling. This relish for ceremony was a great asset in Samoa, never more so than when Louis led prayers in the great hall at Vailima. All the brown-skinned family would troop in to sing a hymn led by one of the women, then hear a chapter from the Samoan Bible, with Louis presiding. Only thus could the Vailima clan qualify as respectable. However short on Western-style moral niceties, the Samoan is long on formal religious observance. In native eye it was a great feather in Louis’s cap that his was the only nonmissionary white household in Samoa to bother with this rigid spiritual toothbrushing.
This is the provenance of the Vailima Prayers, which, posthumously published, made so many wonder what touch of Salvation Army had come over the man in the tropics. Being himself, Louis naturally wrote these prayers for household use as well as he could and filled them with ethical values that he took seriously himself and considered Samoans to need — such as truthfulness, charity, industry. As Aunt Maggie sat serenely, her handsome head bowed, while grown-up Lou read prayers of his own composing to marginally converted heathen — he deferring to their borrowed theological plumage, they revering him as chieftain-prieslbig brother — she must have recalled the times when, long before he was sent to school, the solemn mite had talked to her about growing up to be a missionary to the savages.
She may have had even further hopes when Louis joined the three ravishingly beautiful Ide sisters to teach classes in an Apia Sunday School for native and half-caste children. But the children merely wriggled dumbly at Louis as he talked, apparently not even understanding why he was there. Despairingly talked out, he offered sixpence to any child who would ask a question — no response. He raised it to a shilling — still no response. It took half a crown to get his question: “ Who made God?” — and this routed him, never to return. In no case would he have kept up this holy project. For he had not gone pious in any conventional sense — he had merely abandoned dogmatism about his “Calvinisto-Agnosticism.” Incurably interested in people, skeptic to the bone, Louis could not be drawn to recognizable religion even by the personal magnetism of the great missionaries whom he so admired.
NOBODY could live near Apia a week without entanglement in local politics. “I never saw so good a place,” an Apia Irishman told Louis. “You can be in a new conspiracy every day!” What traders one dealt with, who bought one a drink, the relative warmth of this or that “good morning” — all were assumed, and usually correctly, to carry partisan significance. Louis was a landowner with a major stake in Samoa’s future; took native interests much to heart; was a Briton with an American household; already mistrusted the dominant Germans; and was, besides, daily more inclined to help “spin the great wheel of earth about.”
Part of the day Tusitala sat in his little clapboarded box dictating to pay for 1500 cocoa trees, a new tennis net, and red Bordeaux from Noumea. Another part of the day often saw him riding down to Apia to attend a public meeting or consult Clarke, his missionary friend, about the tactical significance of some native ceremony or seek Moors s aid in some new device to goad Chief Justice Cederorantz into resigning. His letters contain railings against the “cursed idiots . . . I cannot bear idiots” whose misgovernings drove him into political meddling. But Colvin’s protest against such activity also produced a magnificent sweep of the pen: —
Why, you madman, I wouldn’t change my present installation for any post, dignity, honour, or advantage conceivable to me. . . . as for wars and rumours of wars, you surely know enough of me to he aware that I like that also a thousand times better than decrepit peace in Middlesex. I do not quite like politics; I am too aristocratic, I fear, for that. God knows I don’t care who I chum with, perhaps like sailors best: but to go round and sue and sneak to keep a crowd together — never. My imagination, which is not the least damped by the idea of having my head cut off in the hush, recoils aghast from the idea of a life like Gladstone’s, and the shadow of the newspaper chills me to the bone. Hence my late eruption was interesting, but not what I like. All else suits me in this (killed a mosquito) A 1 abode.
Mail-service and climate had been his first reasons for choosing Samoa. Within a couple of years he told an interviewer that he chose it because it was “awful fun.”
This is more understandable when one has some idea of what was going on in this “distracted archipelago of children, sat upon by a clique of fools.”
Samoa’s troubles came of alien pressures aggravated by an indigenous political system — or social system, since it pervaded Samoan life — so ill adapted to centralization that outside efforts to use it always frustrated all parties.
The Powers — newly imperialistic Germany, sluggishly imperialistic Britain, sporadically imperialistic America — had intruded for reasons both strategic and economic. The States had long maintained shadowy rights on Tutuila and were further invoked by past antics of American land sharks and quasi-official carpetbaggers. Mistrusting German ambitions in Micronesia and the big, potentially rich islands of Melanesia, Britain looked askance at German efforts to swallow up strategically located Samoa. For a generation Germany, seeking power in the Pacific partly for nuisance value, partly to bolster her stake in China, partly to forward exploitation of Melanesia, had had the major interest and called the tune, the other two merely braking her growing aggressiveness. Hence outbreaks of war among native Samoan factions in false situations due to alien intrigue. Hence the assiduous presence of the Powers’ men-of-war in Apia harbor. The hurricane of March, 1889, would never have had the opportunity to wreck all those ships if their commanders, each jealous lest another steal a march on him, had not too long delayed seeking sea room. It was truly said at the time that, the value of the lost ships: and lives would have bought all Samoa.
In the Treaty of Berlin of 1889, the dismayed Powers agreed to regularize extraterritorial, international government of the municipality of Apia and to stabilize a recognizable native “ king -ship. Under direction of the Powers’ consuls a “ President of the Council" would supervise the municipality. A “Chief Justice" would reduce chaos by doing justice between municipality and “king"-dom. A tripartite land commission would determine the thorny question of what sales of natives’ land to aliens had been fraudulent. Tripartite responsibility seldom works well. Besides, this arrangement was doomed from the oulset. It failed to recognize preponderance of German interests and ambitions. It gave the Powers no general government through which to control and manipulate a centralized native authority. It assumed a native understanding of the idea of “king”-ship workably close to that of whites. Further, the Treaty officials appointed to the new posts were, however well-meaning, astonishingly devious and inept.
In order to understand the complications that Louis encountered and the ingrained instability of the polity to which he was entrusting several thousand pounds of investment, one must struggle with the tangle of Samoan native institutions. The local “extended-family” system heads up in “names” — honorary titles each expressing the prestige of the village granting it to the ablest eligible high chief in behalf of a much larger group of villages. (Suppose certain district clubs of Tammany Hall carried high nominating powers denied most of the others — only, God help us, it is not so simple as that either.) Sometimes several crucial names were awarded to the same chief. If, by juggling and threatening, one such name-bearer could acquire a striking preponderance of the highest names, he became “ king” of Samoa. In the prewhite past this had actually happened once, but it was never clear that the king notion as such was not a while importation. The validity of the name-monopolist’s honors had been little more than acknowledgment of power. Certainly such a “ king “-ship, with its hint of centralization, was purely personal in fact and sure to collapse at the death or the discrediting of the name-laden “king.” I know all this is confusing. So was Samoa, all the more so because the system was based on mere oral tradition, leaving ample room for informal treacheries, desertions, resentment, grudging loyalties, ambitions, and suspicions based on religious feuds — for the London Missionary Society (Congregationalist), English Wesleyan, and French Catholic missions were all strong in Samoa.
When Louis first landed, the Germans had recently brought back from punitive exile and installed as puppet-“ king” the chief Malietoa (highest “name”) Laupepa, whom, some years before, they had torn down as a tool of Britain and the States. Germany was now alone in holding him up. In his absence, greater physical power and personal (as opposed to hereditary) prestige had come to his two long-standing rivals: Tamasese, whom the Germans had sometimes used to keep Malietoa in line; and Mataafa, proud kinsman of Malietoa’s, ablest and personally most impressive of the three. The consequent bewilderment and frustration among natives had recently culminated in Mataafa’s men, using arms sold them by British and American traders, repulsing with loss a landing party from the German corvette Adler. A vague local notion of a “vice-king,” first suggested by an American carpetbagger in the 1870s, enabled Mataafa to insist that Malietoa’s power, whatever it was, was invalid unless he were associated with it. This tended to concentrate anti-German feeding behind Mataafa, particularly since, the new President of the Council being a German, the new Treaty government was not implausibly suspect of being a front for the German Firm.
Outright alliance between Britain and the States might have simplified matters. But Mataafa was a “Popee” (Catholic), thus looked at askance by British missions, which had powerful friends in London; the Foreign Office, disliking diversions from more crucial frictions with Germany in Africa, was trying to let Samoa cool off; and local whites were not yet solidly hostile to the Treaty government since, in the unlikely but possible event that it worked, it might be a permanent and welcome check on Germany. Government’s flounderings ruined what, hope there was. What revenues were collected went for official salaries and government buildings, while the municipality was starved for funds for bridges and court expenses, and “king” Malietoa lived in a second-grade native hut over the way from the President’s new house. When annoyed by the local newspaper, the government exhausted the treasury by clandestinely buying it — a fact that leaked out only when the gold paid down was found to be still in government wrappings. After the Powers’ men-of-war arrested chiefs supporting Mataafa in arms and jailed them in Apia, rumors of a projected rescue moved the government to mine the jail with dynamite in terrorem. Then, startled by local disapproval of this singular confession of weakness, the government exiled the prisoners without color of legal justification — and, to a Polynesian, exile is worse than death.
Such highhanded shufflings were well calculated to offend Louis’s nose for official indecency. While the house was yet building, he was wading deep in investigation of his new community. His findings were first intended to supply a final section of South Seas on Samoa; but, as that scheme lurched to a halt, they became a small book, A Footnote to History, published in 1892, which is still a considerable document on South Sea politics. At last Louis was doing able and exhaustive, if sometimes dry, reporting, shrewdly and skillfully weaving official records and firsthand recollections together. His opening diagnosis of Samoa is invaluable, and his necessarily secondhand description of the hurricane is a great document of the sea, a piece of writing that should have — but never has — silenced those doubting his ability in anything but verbal embroidery. His conclusion — that Samoa would know no peace until Mataafa had a sizable place in the sun — was borne out by history when, in 1899, the Germans’ first act after taking Western Samoa over was to make Mataafa unrivaled “king.” But the content was tactless, intentionally so. Louis’s purpose was to rouse opinion “at home” to some healthy interest in English-speaking commitment in these remote islands, and to discredit the Treaty government — which meant defiance of the German influence in Samoa.
While the Footnote was preparing and printing, Louis further identified himself with anti-German forces by eloquent protest against the dynamite episode, the purchase of the newspaper, the sequestration of taxes needed by the municipality — all duly gone into at length in his letters to the London Times. (Taking the chair at a public meeting of irate citizens, he conducted it so well that the customary vote of thanks to the chairman was moved by a previously inimical German.) He also showed a talent for drafting documents of rigid protocol and exquisite incisiveness that unquestionably rankled in the formal bosoms of officialdom as they were meant to. And he clearly recognized the possibility that, once the Footnote saw print, officialdom would nail his hide to the wall for being a turbulent nuisance. It was unwise thus to comment publicly on a German Jack-in-office: “Such an official I never remember to have heard of, though I have seen the like, from across the footlights and the orchestra, evolving in similar figures to the strains of Offenbach.”
Repercussions from the Footnote were lively, if not altogether as expected. The firm of Tauehnitz was prosecuted and fined for reprinting it in Germany, Louis gamely offering to pay half the fine and costs. Its account, of a treacherous scheme against Mataafa offhandedly suggested to the American consul by an L.M.S. missionary with political ambitions caused an uproar in the Society’s London offices. On returning from a trip “home,” the missionary tried to bring suit for libel against Louis. The affair ended when Louis agreed publicly to apologize if a board of his enemy’s colleagues should require it after a formal hearing — which they did not. The editor and nominal lessee of the government-purchased newspaper loudly protested Louis’s Times letters and did secure an apology, studded with skillful reservations, from Louis in the matter of the purchase itself.
But the Germans in Samoa were intelligent enough to approve the general honesty and accuracy of the book, though confessing irritation with some of its lashings. The German Firm actually asked Louis to dinner to bury the hatchet. When, early in 1893, the President and the Chief Justice left Samoa in self-engendered defeat, Louis had some reason to congratulate himself and Samoa. But he was not vindictive about
. . . the two dwindling stars. Poor devils! I like the one. and the other has a little wife, now lying in! . . . When I heard that the C.J. was in low spirits and never left his house, I could scarce refrain from going to him.
IN the meantime Stevenson had kept his personal situation boiling. During most of 1892 and 1893 Mataafa lay behind armed sentries m a politically significant village west of Apia, where, every month or so, Louis defied official frowns by visiting the “ beautiful, sweet old fellow,” as he found him to be. (Aunt Maggie once went along on such a visit, unhesitatingly jumping her horse over pig-fences en route.) Louis’s role was that of one high chief countenancing and advising another, sometimes in efforts to mediate the rebellion, sometimes taking the long view and seeking Mataafa’s backing for a coconut-fiber mill to give Samoa another cash crop — which last gave rise to rumors that Louis was arranging to buy arms for the rebels. Impressed with these visits, Mataafa soon accorded Louis “royal” kava — the highest honor in Samoan etiquette and of grave political import.
In August, 1892, Louis showed real genius for embarrassing officialdom: Lady Jersey, ulterly aristocratic wife of the Governor of New South Wales, came visiting Haggard with her daughter and old-school-tie brother. Captain Rupert Leigh. Vivacious, clever, she liked the Stevensons as much as Louis liked her; and though Fanny did not care for the Countess, she did not show it openly. Haggard was rather a bull in a china shop in relations with his government. Louis was full of the considerable wrongs and marked virtues of Mataafa, then likely to start shooting any day. Somebody suggested that Leigh might visit the rebel “king,”strictly incognito, since anybody close to the representative of the sovereign person of Queen Victoria in a major colony could hardly appear to countenance rebels. Lady Jersey determined to go along — which was sheer lunacy. The same reasons that made the visit inappropriate for Leigh meant that she had no business even to think of it.
Louis invented for Lady Jersey an incognito as his cousin, “Amelia Balfour,”writing her mysterious notes of instruction in the idiom of Jacobite doings in the Forty-Five with Mataafa cast as “The King over the Water,”and commencing a burlesque epic somewhat in the manner of William Morris to commemorate the occasion. Mataafa received the party with special honors for Louis’s cousin that gave every indication that he knew very well indeed who the Tamaitai Sili (great lady) was. They spent the night and returned next day mischievously certain that
it is all nonsense that it can be concealed; Miss Amelia Balfour will be at once identified as the Queen of Sydney, as they call her: and I would not in the least wonder if the visit proved the signal of war. . . . The thing wholly suits my book and fits my predilections for Samoa.
The German consul reported home that local gossip said Lady Jersey had given Mataafa much money. She and Haggard added insult to injury by paying a visit to Tamasese, the third “king,”and being received by him in uniform; fora wonder, Louis does not seem to have been involved in this second prank.
Cusaek-Smith wrote home in a sort of agony that , as Louis thought, these antics made war very likely. Moors was reasonably certain — and so was all Samoa — that, if Mataafa had struck at this time, he would have extinguished Malietoa and given the Powers a fait accompli to reconcile themselves to. It Is not at all unlikely that Louis rather hoped that just this would happen. People remembered it the next year when Mataafa did start shooting and received a resounding defeat from the Malietoas, who had userd the interval to strengthen themselves and their prestige.
I do not know what explaining Lady Jersey and Leigh had to do on returning to Sydney. But Haggard was in much trouble with his superiors. And, by October, when HMS Ringarooma came into Apia to pick up sealed orders, “the beach" was certain that they principally concerned arresting and deporting Louis. Forehandedly Louis called on her commander and made friends with the wardroom to secure a comfortable trip if rumor was correcl. It was not — not yet.
In late December, however, the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific, Sir John Thurston, whose duties included the policing of British subjects outside formal European polities, issued a Regulation for the Maintenance of Peace and Good Order in Samoa, prescribing fine and imprisonment for any British subject guilty of sedition toward the Samoan government and defining sedition as
all practices, whether by word, deed, or writing, having for their object to bring about in Samoa discontent or dissatisfaction, public disturbance, civil war, hatred or contempt toward the King or Government of Samoa or the laws or constitution of the country, and generally to promote public disorder in Samoa.
The impression that this Russian-sounding document was aimed at Louis was soon so strong that he wrote to ask Colvin for help in the right quarters. Colvin’s strings in London pulled most effectively. By March, Lord Rosebery (for the Foreign Office) was most cordially writing Louis that CusaekSmith’s dispatches gave Whitehall no uneasiness about Tusitala’s adivity; by April the Colonial Office had soundly spanked Thurston — told him to take no steps about the inconvenient Mr. Stevenson without first consulting his superiors in London, and coldly instructed him to amend his Regulation into something faintly resembling British notions of law. This was being in polities with a vengeance, when government departments intervened in one’s behalf against their own high-echelon officers. But Louis was not tempted to make it a career. In early 1893, during a stopover at Auckland, Louis met Sir George Grey, great elder statesman of the Pacific. The old gentleman warmly commended the general tenor of what the amaleur had been doing in Samoa, but also cautioned him to refrain from further letters to the British papers. Only once thereafter was that caution disregarded.
When Mataafa’s disastrous armed rebellion broke out in July, 1893, Louis arranged use of the Apia public hall as hospital and assisted at bloody operations on wounded Mataafa partisans. This was the other side of the drama of war that, when he had passed a Mataafa picket a few days before, had made his spirit “nicker like a stallion.” He told Mark Twain: —
I wish you could see my “simple and sunny heaven” now; war has broken out, “they have long been making it, “they” have worked hard, and here it is — with its concomitants of blackened faces, severed heads and men dying in hospital. . . . The government troops have started a horrid novelty: taking women’s heads. If this lead to reprisals, we shall be a fine part of the world. Perhaps the best that could happen would be a complete and immediate suppression of the rebels; but alas! all my friends (bar but a few) are in the rebellion.
Mataafa and his higher chiefs were exiled to the German-controlled Marshall Islands, his minor chiefs were jailed in Apia. Loyally solicitous, aware how deadly a disease homesickness can he to Polynesians, Louis sent a supply of prestige-restoring kava and trade cloth, for shirts and lavalavas, via Graham Balfour, who visited the Marshalls later that year.
IN October, 1893, Louis went to Hawaii for a few weeks of change, taking with him as servant Taalolo, the Vailima cook and minor chief in his own right, to see the sights of Honolulu, which was to the South Seas what Paris is to Europe. The boy developed measles before landing, but was out of quarantine in time to look after Louis, who fell ill in his quarters in the Sans Souci boardinghouse at Waikiki; the next boat brought Fanny to help him home again. In discussing Samoan affairs with the Honolulu press, Louis showed a sort of oversimplified despair about white encroachment on and shattering of native ways, perhaps heightened by the recent deposition of Queen Liliuokalani by the “ missionaries ”: —
I can see but one way out — to follow the demand of the Samoan people that the Berlin Act be rescinded. while the three Powers withdraw absolutely, and the natives be let alone, and allowed to govern the islands as they choose . . . there would be internal dissensions covering a certain period ... it might affect commerce, and certainly the present standing of all foreigners . . . but ... it is the patient and not the doctor who is in danger. . . . If left alone, the Samoans would continue fighting, just as they do under the tripartite treaty . . . but at least they would fight it out by themselves, without their wars being turned to the advantage of meddling foreigners.
The suggestion has small realism, but much grasp of the problem and considerable objectivity from a man who stood to lose so much if, by a miracle of disinterestedness, the Powers should turn Samoa back to the Samoans. The rack of Colt rifles at Vailima was not there just for ornament. Several times, as rumors of war blew stronger, they had been cleaned and assigned to various members of the household.
This, though Louis could not have known it, was his last glimpse of the outside world. He spent much time ill in bed, some with old friends or sitting on the veranda at Sans Souci chatting with anybody who came along or playing solitaire or just looking at the sea breaking on the distant reef. For all his illness he made a major point of securing for Taalolo the feature of the trip that he most yearned for — a ride on the narrow-gauge railroad from Honolulu to Pearl Harbor. A local sculptor named Hutchinson did a bad bust of him. The Thistle Club of Honolulu made him an honorary chieftain — he wore the club’s tiny silver thistle on his jacket thenceforth — and his speech of acceptance was gracefully ironical and sentimental. The doctor and Fanny persuaded him to abandon the idea of another and more serious speech for a public meeting of the club.
At home in November —a Samoan festival season coinciding with Louis’s birthday — he made gestures showing how well he had learned Samoan values. Those minor Mataafa chiefs in the Apia jail were not suffering actual privation, but their quarters, in thatched lean-tos in the courtyard, were not suited to their rank. Rations were sufficient; they collaborated with their genial Austrian jailer, Count Wurmbrand, in policing and discipline; but they stood much in need of countenance and, in defiance of tact, Louis determined to supply that. On November 15, Fanny, Belle, Lloyd, and he drove openly to the jail in a hired carriage to make the prisoners gifts of tobacco and kava, thus openly confirming his friendship for and support of the defeated.
Next month the prisoners gave a tremendous return feast for Louis and family — in the jail. (This sounds bizarre only to those unacquainted with Polynesia.) The courtyard was heaped with handicrafts, pigs, chickens, fish, kava, all brought by the prisoners’ families. The highest chief of the lot honored Fanny by calling her name first at kava. Then, in token of his high prestige and honorable behavior, the whole mass of things was presented to Louis item by item. Speakers described Louis as their “only friend,” saying that they had no money to buy wort hy luxuries, such as salt beef and ship’s biscuit from traders, but all these things were the work of the chiefs’ families’ grateful hands — beautiful pieces of siapo (bark-cloth), dozens of decorated fans and baskets. . . .
“This,” said the high-talking chief, in a typically ironic Samoan idiom of self-depreciation, “is a present from the poor prisoners to the Rich Man.”
Louis knew that it was all pregnant with politics. His hosts insisted that he summon help and take all the presents home at once, so that they would make the greatest possible show passing Malietoa’s house. There were rumors that this confusing affair — during which the jail gates stood wide, guarded only by a couple of distracted sentries — was a cloak for an armed rising of the Tamasese faction, who wanted the Stevensons for hostages. But Louis trusted Mataafa’s men, and was moved by it all, as he well might have been: —
. . . one thing sure: no such feast was ever made for a single family, and no such present was ever given to a single white man. It is something to have been the hero of it. And whatever ingredients there were, undoubtedly gratitude was present.
Gratitude soon had a wider basis stilt: Taalolo’s father-in-law, a stout Mataafa man of rank enough to be imprisoned, fell ill in jail. Louis fetched a doctor — probably Dr. Funk, the local general practitioner — to look after him. On the doctor’s advice to get the patient into belter quarters, Fanny persuaded Wurmbrand to look the other way while she effected a jail-delivery of one. When Wurmbrand lost his job over it, Louis took him up to live at free charges at Vailima and quieted the rest of the hullabaloo by posting bond for the sick man’s return, which was duly effected after his recovery. During 1894 the prisoners were gradually released on a sort of sliding-scale amnesty, Taalolo’s fatherin-law among the last. In September, 1894, to thank Louis for upholding their hands, he and a number of former prisoners served notice that they personally — in Samoa chiefs do not willingh do such work — would make him a new road from the cross-island track to the main Vailima stream. The offer was freer than most native promises: Louis was to furnish no food for the workers and make no presents, merely lend necessary tools. And they not only promised it: they performed it.
By early October the road was finished. Louis made a great feast of acceptance for the participants in this drudgery, wrote himself a great speech, with the pious references and elaborate courtesies necessary in Samoan speaking, had a missionary translate it, and read it impressively. The gist of it was the politically neutral point that Samoa’s only future lay in working harder and quarreling less; that, if Samoans did not make optimum use of their land, thronging outsiders would take it away. But, in view of the strictly Mataafa character of t he guests and of Louis’s previous calculated indiscretions, most of Apia was too nervous to accept his invitation to come and grace the occasion.
This has often been stickily misinterpreted as a matter of all Samoa thanking nice, kind Tusitala for his help. It was nothing of the sort: Louis’s championing of the Mataafas was not likely to rouse gratitude among Malietoas or Tamaseses, so the Road of the Loving Heart was the work of a single faction in temporary eclipse. But — neither must this be lost sight of — the extraordinary nature of the gesture points to extraordinary emotions affecting the chiefs concerned. Faction they might be; certainly the terms in which they may have stated their motives would sound strange to us; but this was a thing that they would not have done spontaneously, or even voluntarily, for any other white man conceivable. Let them speak for themselves. The signboard that they erected at the highway entrance of the road said: —
We bear in mind the surpassing kindness of Mr. R. L. Stevenson and his loving care during our tribulations while in prison. We have therefore prepared a type of gift that will endure without decay forever — the road we have constructed. We are: —
LELEI PALAULI TUPUOLA LOTOFAGA
MATAAFA PALAULI TUPUOLA AMAILE
SAIEVAO SI’UMU MUNIAIGA AMAILE
POE SI’UMU IFOPO MANONO
TELESE SI’UMU FATIALOFA LEPA
Six weeks later some of the same men helped to carry Tusitala up Mt. Vaca for burial.
It would be gratifying to tell how the road did endure forever. But Samoans’ memories are short and, since Louis died, they have seen several changes of authority and much distracting confusion. In 1946 the new Administrator for the New Zealand Mandate found the road, long superseded by a macadamized affair installed by the Germans, almost lost in new growth. Under the illusion that Tusitala’s name still meant much in Samoa, he organized a road-clearing festival, reopened the track with a feast at which Samoan schoolteachers planted rare native trees along its margin — and read them Louis’s speech about more work and less bickering. Whatever spark he hoped to arouse failed to glow. Only prison labor now keeps the Road of the Loving Heart open, the plantings are dying of neglect, and few bother to think how appropriate it is that the narrow cut through the trees is closed by a fine view of the summit, of Vaca.
Five years ago the present holder of the Malietoa “name” told me that only very, very old Samoans would normally even remember Louis’s name. Now and again alien influence may revive the tradition locally. But, except for his house and tomb, the only striking relic of Louis is the current issue of Samoan postage stamps, which shows Yailima on the one-shilling and the tomb on the sixpenny.
(To be continued)