Two pages (1st and 3rd page of one folded leaf). Undated, but in the original envelope addressed by Stevenson "Captain Reid | U.S.S. Iroquois | Apia Roads", with RLS's wax seal on the back; in another hand is "Vailima" on the front, and on the rear "Rec'd Friday Oct 31st 1891 -- 4.30 pm Samoan Time".
The text of this letter reads:
I have tried both yesterday and today to get down and give a personal explanation of what I fear appeared to you a liberty. But I am very far from feeling well, and fear to risk the journey. I inclose accordingly a letter which I received from Captain Foss, and which I beg you will return to me. You will see how nice a fellow he is even in warfare: how much the more I was vexed he should have taken up this attitude; and how impossible it was for me (having once received it[)], to come to your luncheon.
Mr Osbourne carries this down; and if he can find the time, for he has many affairs, will deliver it himself.
Believe me, with many apologies,
Yours very truly
[signed] Robert Louis Stevenson.
Starting in June 1889, Stevenson and his wife and the Osbourne step-family toured the Pacific for about 18 months; when they arrived in Apia, Samoa the second time, Stevenson bought 300 acres of land up in the hills (with a cabin), and in early 1891 commenced construction of "Vailima" -- which would be their home until his death in late 1894.
At this time, Samoa was home to many American and German ships, as both countries vied for dominance in the region. The U.S.S. Iroquois, a Union sloop of war built in 1860, was at the time of this letter near the end of its existence: in 1889 it was sent from Honolulu to be "station ship" in Apia, Samoa, but the engines failed and after foundering for 82 days, she washed up in Washington State -- after which (and after 40 of her crew deserted!), she headed out again to Apia. Its captain in 1891-1892 was Commander John J. Read (so spelled according to Naval records). The German warship ("unprotected cruiser") Sperber had just been launched in 1888, and was also in Apia Harbor; its commanding officer was Captain Max Foss. Stevenson knew both captains, and in one of his "Vailima Letters" he wrote of attending a performance, sitting amongst Foss and other officers of both foreign navies (he recalled Foss hollering "wunderschön!").
As for this letter, Captain Reid/Read had apparently invited both Captain Foss and Stevenson to a luncheon, but something Foss had recently written to Stevenson so "vexed" him that he felt it would be inappropriate for the two of them to be together at Reid/Read's luncheon -- and thus with great apology Stevenson declined to attend. Apparently this episode created a parting of the ways between RLS and Foss, for on November 11th Stevenson wrote, "... it was decided that I was to be made a culprit against Germany; the German Captain -- a delightful fellow and our constant visitor -- wrote to say that as 'a German officer' he could not come even to say farewell."
The letter, and accompanying envelope, are in fine condition. Item #14928