There was another death in 1812; it passes almost unremarked; a single funeral seemed but a small event to these 'veterans in affliction'; and by 1816 the nursery was full again. Seven little hopefuls enlivened the house; some were growing up; to the elder girl my grandfather already wrote notes in current hand at the tail of his letters to his wife: and to the elder boys he had begun to print, with laborious care, sheets of childish gossip and pedantic applications. Here, for instance, under date of 26th May 1816, is part of a mythological account of London, with a moral for the three gentlemen, 'Messieurs Alan, Robert, and James Stevenson,' to whom the document is addressed:

'There are many prisons here like Bridewell, for, like other large towns, there are many bad men here as well as many good men. The natives of London are in general not so tall and strong as the people of Edinburgh, because they have not so much pure air, and instead of taking porridge they eat cakes made with sugar and plums. Here you have thousands of carts to draw timber, thousands of coaches to take you to all parts of the town, and thousands of boats to sail on the river Thames. But you must have money to pay, otherwise you can get nothing. Now the way to get money is, become clever men and men of education, by being good scholars.'

From the same absence, he writes to his wife on a Sunday:

'It is now about eight o'clock with me, and I imagine you to be busy with the young folks, hearing the questions [Anglice, catechism], and indulging the boys with a chapter from the large Bible, with their interrogations and your answers in the soundest doctrine. I hope James is getting his verse as usual, and that Mary is not forgetting her little hymn. While Jeannie will be reading Wotherspoon, or some other suitable and instructive book, I presume our friend, Aunt Mary, will have just arrived with the news of A THRONG KIRK [a crowded church] and a great sermon. You may mention, with my compliments to my mother, that I was at St. Paul's to-day, and attended a very excellent service with Mr. James Lawrie. The text was "Examine and see that ye be in the faith."'

A twinkle of humour lights up this evocation of the distant scene-- the humour of happy men and happy homes. Yet it is penned upon the threshold of fresh sorrow. James and Mary--he of the verse and she of the hymn--did not much more than survive to welcome their returning father. On the 25th, one of the godly women writes to Janet:

'My dearest beloved madam, when I last parted from you, you was so affected with your affliction [you? or I?] could think of nothing else. But on Saturday, when I went to inquire after your health, how was I startled to hear that dear James was gone! Ah, what is this? My dear benefactors, doing so much good to many, to the Lord, suddenly to be deprived of their most valued comforts! I was thrown into great perplexity, could do nothing but murmur, why these things were done to such a family. I could not rest, but at midnight, whether spoken [or not] it was presented to my mind-- "Those whom ye deplore are walking with me in white." I conclude from this the Lord saying to sweet Mrs. Stevenson: "I gave them to be brought up for me: well done, good and faithful! they are fully prepared, and now I must present them to my father and your father, to my God and your God."'

It would be hard to lay on flattery with a more sure and daring hand. I quote it as a model of a letter of condolence; be sure it would console. Very different, perhaps quite as welcome, is this from a lighthouse inspector to my grandfather:

'In reading your letter the trickling tear ran down ray cheeks in silent sorrow for your departed dear ones, my sweet little friends. Well do I remember, and you will call to mind, their little innocent and interesting stories. Often have they come round me and taken me by the hand, but alas! I am no more destined to behold them.'

The child who is taken becomes canonised, and the looks of the homeliest babe seem in the retrospect 'heavenly the three last days of his life.' But it appears that James and Mary had indeed been children more than usually engaging; a record was preserved a long while in the family of their remarks and 'little innocent and interesting stories,' and the blow and the blank were the more sensible.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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