Something in it
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The natives told him many tales. In particular, they
warned him of the house of yellow reeds tied with black sinnet,
how any one who touched it became instantly the prey of
Akaänga, and was handed on to him by Miru the ruddy, and
hocussed with the kava of the dead, and baked in the ovens and
eaten by the eaters of the dead.
“There is nothing in it,” said the missionary.
There was a bay upon that island, a very fair bay to look
upon; but, by the native saying, it was death to bathe
there. “There is nothing in that,” said the
missionary; and he came to the bay, and went swimming.
Presently an eddy took him and bore him towards the reef.
“Oho!” thought the missionary, “it seems there
is something in it after all.” And he swam the
harder, but the eddy carried him away. “I do not care
about this eddy,” said the missionary; and even as he said
it, he was aware of a house raised on piles above the sea; it was
built of yellow reeds, one reed joined with another, and the
whole bound with black sinnet; a ladder led to the door, and all
about the house hung calabashes. He had never seen such a
house, nor yet such calabashes; and the eddy set for the
ladder. “This is singular,” said the
missionary, “but there can be nothing in it.”
And he laid hold of the ladder and went up. It was a fine
house; but there was no man there; and when the missionary looked
back he saw no island, only the heaving of the sea.
“It is strange about the island,” said the
missionary, “but who’s afraid? my stories are the
true ones.” And he laid hold of a calabash, for he
was one that loved curiosities. Now he had no sooner laid
hand upon the calabash than that which he handled, and that which
he saw and stood on, burst like a bubble and was gone; and night
closed upon him, and the waters, and the meshes of the net; and
he wallowed there like a fish.
“A body would think there was something in this,”
said the missionary. “But if these tales are true, I
wonder what about my tales!”
Now the flaming of Akaänga’s torch drew near in the
night; and the misshapen hands groped in the meshes of the net;
and they took the missionary between the finger and the thumb,
and bore him dripping in the night and silence to the place of
the ovens of Miru. And there was Miru, ruddy in the glow of
the ovens; and there sat her four daughters, and made the kava of
the dead; and there sat the comers out of the islands of the
living, dripping and lamenting.
This was a dread place to reach for any of the sons of
men. But of all who ever came there, the missionary was the
most concerned; and, to make things worse, the person next him
was a convert of his own.
“Aha,” said the convert, “so you are here
like your neighbours? And how about all your
“It seems,” said the missionary, with bursting
tears, “that there was nothing in them.”
By this the kava of the dead was ready, and the daughters of
Miru began to intone in the old manner of singing.
“Gone are the green islands and the bright sea, the sun and
the moon and the forty million stars, and life and love and
hope. Henceforth is no more, only to sit in the night and
silence, and see your friends devoured; for life is a deceit, and
the bandage is taken from your eyes.”
Now when the singing was done, one of the daughters came with
the bowl. Desire of that kava rose in the
missionary’s bosom; he lusted for it like a swimmer for the
land, or a bridegroom for his bride; and he reached out his hand,
and took the bowl, and would have drunk. And then he
remembered, and put it back.
“Drink!” sang the daughter of Miru.
“There is no kava like the kava of the dead, and to
drink of it once is the reward of living.”
“I thank you. It smells excellent,” said the
missionary. “But I am a blue-ribbon man myself; and
though I am aware there is a difference of opinion even in our
own confession, I have always held kava to be
“What!” cried the convert. “Are you
going to respect a taboo at a time like this? And you were
always so opposed to taboos when you were alive!”
“To other people’s,” said the
missionary. “Never to my own.”
“But yours have all proved wrong,” said the
“It looks like it,” said the missionary,
“and I can’t help that. No reason why I should
break my word.”
“I never heard the like of this!” cried the
daughter of Miru. “Pray, what do you expect to
“That is not the point,” said the
missionary. “I took this pledge for others, I am not
going to break it for myself.”
The daughter of Miru was puzzled; she came and told her
mother, and Miru was vexed; and they went and told
Akaänga. “I don’t know what to do about
this,” said Akaänga; and he came and reasoned with the
“But there is such a thing as right and
wrong,” said the missionary; “and your ovens cannot
“Give the kava to the rest,” said Akaänga to
the daughters of Miru. “I must get rid of this
sea-lawyer instantly, or worse will come of it.”
The next moment the missionary came up in the midst of the
sea, and there before him were the palm trees of the
island. He swam to the shore gladly, and landed. Much
matter of thought was in that missionary’s mind.
“I seem to have been misinformed upon some
points,” said he. “Perhaps there is not much in
it, as I supposed; but there is something in it after all.
Let me be glad of that.”
And he rang the bell for service.
The sticks break, the stones crumble,
The eternal altars tilt and tumble,
Sanctions and tales dislimn like mist
About the amazed evangelist.
He stands unshook from age to youth
Upon one pin-point of the truth.