- Frewen's crank axle is a failure just at present - but he bears up.'

'JUNE 14TH. - The boys enjoy their riding. It gets them whole funds of adventures. One of their caps falling off is matter for delightful reminiscences; and when a horse breaks his step, the occurrence becomes a rear, a shy, or a plunge as they talk it over. Austin, with quiet confidence, speaks of the greater pleasure in riding a spirited horse, even if he does give a little trouble. It is the stolid brute that he dislikes. (N.B. You can still see six inches between him and the saddle when his pony trots.) I listen and sympathise and throw out no hint that their achievements are not really great.'

'JUNE 18TH. - Bernard is much impressed by the fact that I can be useful to Frewen about the steamboat' [which the latter irrepressible inventor was making]. 'He says quite with awe, "He would not have got on nearly so well if you had not helped him."'

'JUNE 27TH. - I do not see what I could do without Austin. He talks so pleasantly and is so truly good all through.'

'JUNE 27TH. - My chief difficulty with Austin is to get him measured for a pair of trousers. Hitherto I have failed, but I keep a stout heart and mean to succeed. Frewen the observer, in describing the paces of two horses, says, "Polly takes twenty-seven steps to get round the school. I couldn't count Sophy, but she takes more than a hundred."'

'FEB. 18TH, 1877. - We all feel very lonely without you. Frewen had to come up and sit in my room for company last night and I actually kissed him, a thing that has not occurred for years. Jack, poor fellow, bears it as well as he can, and has taken the opportunity of having a fester on his foot, so he is lame and has it bathed, and this occupies his thoughts a good deal.'

'FEB. 19TH. - As to Mill, Austin has not got the list yet. I think it will prejudice him very much against Mill - but that is not my affair. Education of that kind! . . . I would as soon cram my boys with food and boast of the pounds they had eaten, as cram them with literature.'

But if Fleeming was an anxious father, he did not suffer his anxiety to prevent the boys from any manly or even dangerous pursuit. Whatever it might occur to them to try, he would carefully show them how to do it, explain the risks, and then either share the danger himself or, if that were not possible, stand aside and wait the event with that unhappy courage of the looker-on. He was a good swimmer, and taught them to swim. He thoroughly loved all manly exercises; and during their holidays, and principally in the Highlands, helped and encouraged them to excel in as many as possible: to shoot, to fish, to walk, to pull an oar, to hand, reef and steer, and to run a steam launch. In all of these, and in all parts of Highland life, he shared delightedly. He was well onto forty when he took once more to shooting, he was forty-three when he killed his first salmon, but no boy could have more single-mindedly rejoiced in these pursuits. His growing love for the Highland character, perhaps also a sense of the difficulty of the task, led him to take up at forty-one the study of Gaelic; in which he made some shadow of progress, but not much: the fastnesses of that elusive speech retaining to the last their independence. At the house of his friend Mrs. Blackburn, who plays the part of a Highland lady as to the manner born, he learned the delightful custom of kitchen dances, which became the rule at his own house and brought him into yet nearer contact with his neighbours. And thus at forty-two, he began to learn the reel; a study, to which he brought his usual smiling earnestness; and the steps, diagrammatically represented by his own hand, are before me as I write.

It was in 1879 that a new feature was added to the Highland life: a steam launch, called the PURGLE, the Styrian corruption of Walpurga, after a friend to be hereafter mentioned. 'The steam launch goes,' Fleeming wrote. 'I wish you had been present to describe two scenes of which she has been the occasion already: one during which the population of Ullapool, to a baby, was harnessed to her hurrahing - and the other in which the same population sat with its legs over a little pier, watching Frewen and Bernie getting up steam for the first time.' The PURGLE was got with educational intent; and it served its purpose so well, and the boys knew their business so practically, that when the summer was at an end, Fleeming, Mrs.

Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin Page 57

Robert Louis Stevenson

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