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 anyone who touched
it became instantly the prey of Akaanga, 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
"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 Akaanga'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
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
"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
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 excluded."
"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
"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
"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 Akaanga.
"I don't know what to do about this," said
Akaanga; and he came and reasoned with the
"But there is such a thing as right and
wrong," said the missionary; "and your ovens
cannot alter that."
"Give the kava to the rest," said Akaanga 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.