The unconcealed vitality of these vegetables, their exuberant number and strength, the attempts - I can use no other word - of lianas to enwrap and capture the intruder, the awful silence, the knowledge that all my efforts are only like the performance of an actor, the thing of a moment, and the wood will silently and swiftly heal them up with fresh effervescence; the cunning sense of the tuitui, suffering itself to be touched with wind-swayed grasses and not minding - but let the grass be moved by a man, and it shuts up; the whole silent battle, murder, and slow death of the contending forest; weigh upon the imagination. My poem the WOODMAN stands; but I have taken refuge in a new story, which just shot through me like a bullet in one of my moments of awe, alone in that tragic jungle:-
THE HIGH WOODS OF ULUFANUA.
1. A South Sea Bridal. 2. Under the Ban. 3. Savao and Faavao. 4. Cries in the High Wood. 5. Rumour full of Tongues. 6. The Hour of Peril. 7. The Day of Vengeance.
It is very strange, very extravagant, I daresay; but it's varied, and picturesque, and has a pretty love affair, and ends well. Ulufanua is a lovely Samoan word, ulu=grove; fanua=land; grove-land - 'the tops of the high trees.' Savao, 'sacred to the wood,' and Faavao, 'wood-ways,' are the names of two of the characters, Ulufanua the name of the supposed island.
I am very tired, and rest off to-day from all but letters. Fanny is quite done up; she could not sleep last night, something it seemed like asthma - I trust not. I suppose Lloyd will be about, so you can give him the benefit of this long scrawl. Never say that I CAN'T write a letter, say that I don't. - Yours ever, my dearest fellow, R. L. S.
LATER ON FRIDAY.
The guid wife had bread to bake, and she baked it in a pan, O! But between whiles she was down with me weeding sensitive in the paddock. The men have but now passed over it; I was round in that very place to see the weeding was done thoroughly, and already the reptile springs behind our heels. Tuitui is a truly strange beast, and gives food for thought. I am nearly sure - I cannot yet be quite, I mean to experiment, when I am less on the hot chase of the beast - that, even at the instant he shrivels up his leaves, he strikes his prickles downward so as to catch the uprooting finger; instinctive, say the gabies; but so is man's impulse to strike out. One thing that takes and holds me is to see the strange variation in the propagation of alarm among these rooted beasts; at times it spreads to a radius (I speak by the guess of the eye) of five or six inches; at times only one individual plant appears frightened at a time. We tried how long it took one to recover; 'tis a sanguine creature; it is all abroad again before (I guess again) two minutes. It is odd how difficult in this world it is to be armed. The double armour of this plant betrays it. In a thick tuft, where the leaves disappear, I thrust in my hand, and the bite of the thorns betrays the topmost stem. In the open again, and when I hesitate if it be clover, a touch on the leaves, and its fine sense and retractile action betrays its identity at once. Yet it has one gift incomparable. Rome had virtue and knowledge; Rome perished. The sensitive plant has indigestible seeds - so they say - and it will flourish for ever. I give my advice thus to a young plant - have a strong root, a weak stem, and an indigestible seed; so you will outlast the eternal city, and your progeny will clothe mountains, and the irascible planter will blaspheme in vain. The weak point of tuitui is that its stem is strong.
Here beginneth the third lesson, which is not from the planter but from a less estimable character, the writer of books.
I want you to understand about this South Sea Book. The job is immense; I stagger under material. I have seen the first big TACHE. It was necessary to see the smaller ones; the letters were at my hand for the purpose, but I was not going to lose this experience; and, instead of writing mere letters, have poured out a lot of stuff for the book.