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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

AES TRIPLEX                            23

of life, or were half as frightened as they make out we
are, for the subversive accident that ends it all, the
trumpets might sound by the hour and no one would
follow them into battle—the blue-peter might fly at the
truck, but who would climb into a sea-going ship ? Think
(if these philosophers were right) with what a preparation
of spirit we should affront the daily peril of the dinner-
table, a deadlier spot than any battlefield in history,
where the far greater proportion of our ancestors have
miserably left their bones ! What woman would ever be
lured into marriage, so much more dangerous than the
wildest sea ? And what would it be to grow old ? For,
after a certain distance, every step we take in life we find
the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us
and behind us we see our contemporaries going through.
By the time a man gets well into the seventies, his con-
tinued existence is a mere miracle, and when he lays his
old bones in bed for the night, there is an overwhelming
probability that he will never see the day. Do the old
men mind it, as a matter of fact ? Why, no. They were
never merrier ; they have their grog at night, and tell the
raciest stories ; they hear of the death of people about
their own age, or even younger, not as if it was a grisly
warning, but with a simple, childlike pleasure at having
outlived some one else; and when a draught might puff
them out like a guttering candle, or a bit of a stumble
" shatter them like so much glass, their old hearts keep
sound and unaffrighted, and they go on bubbling with
laughter, through years of man's age compared to which
the valley at Balaklava was as safe and peaceful as a village
cricket-green on Sunday. It may fairly be questioned
(if we look to the peril only) whether it was a much more
daring feat for Curtius to plunge into the gulf than for
any old gentleman of ninety to doff his clothes and clamber
into bed.

Indeed, it is a memorable subject for consideration, with
what unconcern and gaiety mankind pricks along the
Valley of the Shadow of Death. The whole way is one
wilderness of snares, and the end of it, for those who fear
the last pinch, is irrevocable ruin. And yet we go spinning