Now I find that war has been made upon me by the Emperor of Germany, and Tamasese has been proclaimed king of Samoa. I desire to remind you of the promises so frequently made by your government, and trust that you will so far redeem them as to cause the lives and liberties of my chiefs and people to be respected."

Sewall's immediate adversary was, of course, Becker. I have formed an opinion of this gentleman, largely from his printed despatches, which I am at a loss to put in words. Astute, ingenious, capable, at moments almost witty with a kind of glacial wit in action, he displayed in the course of this affair every description of capacity but that which is alone useful and which springs from a knowledge of men's natures. It chanced that one of Sewall's early moves played into his hands, and he was swift to seize and to improve the advantage. The neutral territory and the tripartite municipality of Apia were eyesores to the German consulate and Brandeis. By landing Tamasese's two or three hundred warriors at Mulinuu, as Becker himself owns, they had infringed the treaties, and Sewall entered protest twice. There were two ways of escaping this dilemma: one was to withdraw the warriors; the other, by some hocus-pocus, to abrogate the neutrality. And the second had subsidiary advantages: it would restore the taxes of the richest district in the islands to the Samoan king; and it would enable them to substitute over the royal seat the flag of Germany for the new flag of Tamasese. It is true (and it was the subject of much remark) that these two could hardly be distinguished by the naked eye; but their effects were different. To seat the puppet king on German land and under German colours, so that any rebellion was constructive war on Germany, was a trick apparently invented by Becker, and which we shall find was repeated and persevered in till the end.

Otto Martin was at this time magistrate in the municipality. The post was held in turn by the three nationalities; Martin had served far beyond his term, and should have been succeeded months before by an American. To make the change it was necessary to hold a meeting of the municipal board, consisting of the three consuls, each backed by an assessor. And for some time these meetings had been evaded or refused by the German consul. As long as it was agreed to continue Martin, Becker had attended regularly; as soon as Sewall indicated a wish for his removal, Becker tacitly suspended the municipality by refusing to appear. This policy was now the more necessary; for if the whole existence of the municipality were a check on the freedom of the new government, it was plainly less so when the power to enforce and punish lay in German hands. For some while back the Malietoa flag had been flown on the municipal building: Becker denies this; I am sorry; my information obliges me to suppose he is in error. Sewall, with post-mortem loyalty to the past, insisted that this flag should be continued. And Becker immediately made his point. He declared, justly enough, that the proposal was hostile, and argued that it was impossible he should attend a meeting under a flag with which his sovereign was at war. Upon one occasion of urgency, he was invited to meet the two other consuls at the British consulate; even this he refused; and for four months the municipality slumbered, Martin still in office. In the month of October, in consequence, the British and American ratepayers announced they would refuse to pay. Becker doubtless rubbed his hands. On Saturday, the 10th, the chief Tamaseu, a Malietoa man of substance and good character, was arrested on a charge of theft believed to be vexatious, and cast by Martin into the municipal prison. He sent to Moors, who was his tenant and owed him money at the time, for bail. Moors applied to Sewall, ranking consul. After some search, Martin was found and refused to consider bail before the Monday morning. Whereupon Sewall demanded the keys from the gaoler, accepted Moors's verbal recognisances, and set Tamaseu free.

Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa Page 26

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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