An elderly man came leaping and cheering, his gun in one hand, a basket of three heads in the other. A fellow came shot through the forearm. "It doesn't hurt now," he said, as he bought his cartridges; "but it will hurt to-morrow, and I want to fight while I can." A third followed, a mere boy, with the end of his nose shot off: "Have you any painkiller? give it me quick, so that I can get back to fight." On either side, there was the same delight in sound and smoke and schoolboy cheering, the same unsophisticated ardour of battle; and the misdirected skirmish proceeded with a din, and was illustrated with traits of bravery that would have fitted a Waterloo or a Sedan.

I have said how little I regard the alleged plan of battle. At least it was now all gone to water. The whole forces of Mataafa had leaked out, man by man, village by village, on the so-called false attack. They were all pounding for their lives on the front and the left flank of Matautu. About half-past three they enveloped the right flank also. The defenders were driven back along the beach road as far as the pilot station at the turn of the land. From this also they were dislodged, stubbornly fighting. One, it Is told, retreated to his middle in the lagoon; stood there, loading and firing, till he fell; and his body was found on the morrow pierced with four mortal wounds. The Tamasese force was now enveloped on three sides; it was besides almost cut off from the sea; and across its whole rear and only way of retreat a fire of hostile bullets crossed from east and west, in the midst of which men were surprised to observe the birds continuing to sing, and a cow grazed all afternoon unhurt. Doubtless here was the defence in a poor way; but then the attack was in irons. For the Mataafas about the pilot house could scarcely advance beyond without coming under the fire of their own men from the other side of the Fuisa; and there was not enough organisation, perhaps not enough authority, to divert or to arrest that fire.

The progress of the fight along the beach road was visible from Mulinuu, and Brandeis despatched ten boats of reinforcements. They crossed the harbour, paused for a while beside the Adler--it is supposed for ammunition--and drew near the Matautu shore. The Mataafa men lay close among the shore-side bushes, expecting their arrival; when a silly lad, in mere lightness of heart, fired a shot in the air. My native friend, Mrs. Mary Hamilton, ran out of her house and gave the culprit a good shaking: an episode in the midst of battle as incongruous as the grazing cow. But his sillier comrades followed his example; a harmless volley warned the boats what they might expect; and they drew back and passed outside the reef for the passage of the Fuisa. Here they came under the fire of the right wing of the Mataafas on the river-bank. The beach, raked east and west, appeared to them no place to land on. And they hung off in the deep water of the lagoon inside the barrier reef, feebly fusillading the pilot house.

Between four and five, the Fabeata regiment (or folk of that village) on the Mataafa left, which had been under arms all day, fell to be withdrawn for rest and food; the Siumu regiment, which should have relieved it, was not ready or not notified in time; and the Tamaseses, gallantly profiting by the mismanagement, recovered the most of the ground in their proper right. It was not for long. They lost it again, yard by yard and from house to house, till the pilot station was once more in the hands of the Mataafas. This is the last definite incident in the battle. The vicissitudes along the line of the entrenchments remain concealed from us under the cover of the forest. Some part of the Tamasese position there appears to have been carried, but what part, or at what hour, or whether the advantage was maintained, I have never learned. Night and rain, but not silence, closed upon the field. The trenches were deep in mud; but the younger folk wrecked the houses in the neighbourhood, carried the roofs to the front, and lay under them, men and women together, through a long night of furious squalls and furious and useless volleys.

Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa Page 38

Robert Louis Stevenson

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book