Tamasese was still to be recognised, and, if possible, supported: such was the German policy. Two days after his arrival, accordingly, Knappe addressed to Mataafa a threatening despatch. The German plantation was suffering from the proximity of his "war- party." He must withdraw from Laulii at once, and, whithersoever he went, he must approach no German property nor so much as any village where there was a German trader. By five o'clock on the morrow, if he were not gone, Knappe would turn upon him "the attention of the man-of-war" and inflict a fine. The same evening, November 14th, Knappe went on board the Adler, which began to get up steam.

Three months before, such direct intervention on the part of Germany would have passed almost without protest; but the hour was now gone by. Becker's conduct, equally timid and rash, equally inconclusive and offensive, had forced the other nations into a strong feeling of common interest with Mataafa. Even had the German demands been moderate, de Coetlogon could not have forgotten the night of the taumualua, nor how Mataafa had relinquished, at his request, the attack upon the German quarter. Blacklock, with his driver of a captain at his elbow, was not likely to lag behind. And Mataafa having communicated Knappe's letter, the example of the Germans was on all hands exactly followed; the consuls hastened on board their respective war-ships, and these began to get up steam. About midnight, in a pouring rain, Pelly communicated to Fritze his intention to follow him and protect British interests; and Knappe replied that he would come on board the Lizard and see de Coetlogon personally. It was deep in the small hours, and de Coetlogon had been long asleep, when he was wakened to receive his colleague; but he started up with an old soldier's readiness. The conference was long. De Coetlogon protested, as he did afterwards in writing, against Knappe's claim: the Samoans were in a state of war; they had territorial rights; it was monstrous to prevent them from entering one of their own villages because a German trader kept the store; and in case property suffered, a claim for compensation was the proper remedy. Knappe argued that this was a question between Germans and Samoans, in which de Coetlogon had nothing to see; and that he must protect German property according to his instructions. To which de Coetlogon replied that he was himself in the same attitude to the property of the British; that he understood Knappe to be intending hostilities against Laulii; that Laulii was mortgaged to the MacArthurs; that its crops were accordingly British property; and that, while he was ever willing to recognise the territorial rights of the Samoans, he must prevent that property from being molested "by any other nation." "But if a German man-of-war does it?" asked Knappe.--"We shall prevent it to the best of our ability," replied the colonel. It is to the credit of both men that this trying interview should have been conducted and concluded without heat; but Knappe must have returned to the Adler with darker anticipations.

At sunrise on the morning of the 15th, the three ships, each loaded with its consul, put to sea. It is hard to exaggerate the peril of the forenoon that followed, as they lay off Laulii. Nobody desired a collision, save perhaps the reckless Leary; but peace and war trembled in the balance; and when the Adler, at one period, lowered her gun ports, war appeared to preponderate. It proved, however, to be a last--and therefore surely an unwise--extremity. Knappe contented himself with visiting the rival kings, and the three ships returned to Apia before noon. Beyond a doubt, coming after Knappe's decisive letter of the day before, this impotent conclusion shook the credit of Germany among the natives of both sides; the Tamaseses fearing they were deserted, the Mataafas (with secret delight) hoping they were feared. And it gave an impetus to that ridiculous business which might have earned for the whole episode the name of the war of flags.

Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa Page 53

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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