I was, however, determined to have out of these UNWILLING witnesses the language alluded to. I fixed upon Mr. Stewart as chief; he hedged. My curiosity increased, and I urged. Then he said, "What would I think, just exactly, of Mr. Watt being called an Old B-?" You may judge of my surprise. There was not another word uttered. This was quite enough, as coming from a person I should have calculated upon quite different behaviour from. It spoke a volume of the man's mind and want of principle.' 'Object to the keeper keeping a Bull-Terrier dog of ferocious appearance. It is dangerous, as we land at all times of the night.' 'Have only to complain of the storehouse floor being spotted with oil. Give orders for this being instantly rectified, so that on my return to-morrow I may see things in good order.' 'The furniture of both houses wants much rubbing. Mrs. -'s carpets are absurd beyond anything I have seen. I want her to turn the fenders up with the bottom to the fireplace: the carpets, when not likely to be in use, folded up and laid as a hearthrug partly under the fender.'

My grandfather was king in the service to his finger-tips. All should go in his way, from the principal lightkeeper's coat to the assistant's fender, from the gravel in the garden-walks to the bad smell in the kitchen, or the oil-spots on the store-room floor. It might be thought there was nothing more calculated to awake men's resentment, and yet his rule was not more thorough than it was beneficent. His thought for the keepers was continual, and it did not end with their lives. He tried to manage their successions; he thought no pains too great to arrange between a widow and a son who had succeeded his father; he was often harassed and perplexed by tales of hardship; and I find him writing, almost in despair, of their improvident habits and the destitution that awaited their families upon a death. 'The house being completely furnished, they come into possession without necessaries, and they go out NAKED. The insurance seems to have failed, and what next is to be tried?' While they lived he wrote behind their backs to arrange for the education of their children, or to get them other situations if they seemed unsuitable for the Northern Lights. When he was at a lighthouse on a Sunday he held prayers and heard the children read. When a keeper was sick, he lent him his horse and sent him mutton and brandy from the ship. 'The assistant's wife having been this morning confined, there was sent ashore a bottle of sherry and a few rusks--a practice which I have always observed in this service,' he writes. They dwelt, many of them, in uninhabited isles or desert forelands, totally cut off from shops. Many of them were, besides, fallen into a rustic dishabitude of life, so that even when they visited a city they could scarce be trusted with their own affairs, as (for example) he who carried home to his children, thinking they were oranges, a bag of lemons. And my grandfather seems to have acted, at least in his early years, as a kind of gratuitous agent for the service. Thus I find him writing to a keeper in 1806, when his mind was already preoccupied with arrangements for the Bell Rock: 'I am much afraid I stand very unfavourably with you as a man of promise, as I was to send several things of which I believe I have more than once got the memorandum. All I can say is that in this respect you are not singular. This makes me no better; but really I have been driven about beyond all example in my past experience, and have been essentially obliged to neglect my own urgent affairs.' No servant of the Northern Lights came to Edinburgh but he was entertained at Baxter's Place to breakfast. There, at his own table, my grandfather sat down delightedly with his broad-spoken, homespun officers. His whole relation to the service was, in fact, patriarchal; and I believe I may say that throughout its ranks he was adored. I have spoken with many who knew him; I was his grandson, and their words may have very well been words of flattery; but there was one thing that could not be affected, and that was the look and light that came into their faces at the name of Robert Stevenson.

Records of a Family of Engineers Page 27

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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