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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

713                       RANDOM MEMORIES

ringed about with surf, the coves were over-brimmed with
clamorous froth, the sea-birds screamed, the wind sang
in the thyme on the cliff's edge ;   here and there, small
ancient castles toppled on the brim ;   here and there, it
was possible to dip into a dell of shelter, where you might
lie and tell yourself you were a little warm, and hear (near
at hand) the whin-pods bursting in the afternoon sun, and
(farther  off)  the rumour of  the turbulent sea.    As for
Wick itself, it is one of the meanest of man's towns, and
situate certainly on the baldest of God's bays.    It lives
for herring, and a strange sight it is to see (of an afternoon)
the heights  of  Pulteney blackened  by  seaward-looking
fishers, as when a city crowds to a review—or, as when
bees have swarmed, the ground is horrible with lumps
and clusters ;  and a strange sight, and a beautiful, to see
the fleet put silently out against a rising moon, the sea-
line rough as a wood with sails, and ever and again and one
after another, a boat flitting swiftly by the silver disk.
This mass of fishers, this great fleet of boats, is out of a.ll
proportion to the town itself ;   and the oars are manned
and the nets hauled by immigrants from the Long Island
(as we ca.ll the outer Hebrides), who come for that season
only, and depart again, if ' the  take ' be  poor, leaving
debts behind them.    In a bad year, the end of the herring
fishery is therefore an exciting time ;   fights are common,
riots often possible ; an apple knocked from a child's hand
was once the signal for something like a war ;   and even
when I was there, a gunboat lay in the bay to assist the
authorities.    To contrary interests, it should be observed,
the curse of Babel is here added ; the Lews men are Gaelic
speakers.    Caithness has adopted English ;   an odd cir-
cumstance, if you reflect that both must be largely Norse-
men by descent.   I remember seeing one of the strongest
instances of this division :  a thing like a Punch-and-Judy
box erected on the flat grave-stones of the  churchyard;
from the hutch or proscenium—I know not what to call
it—an eldritch-looking preacher laying  down the law in
Gaelic about some one of the name of Fowl, whom I at last
divined to be the apostle to the Gentiles ; a large congrega-
tion of the Lews men very devoutly listening ;  and on the