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RANDOM MEMORIES                      81

the petty niceties of drawing, or measure Ms inaccurate
mind with several pages of consecutive figures. He is a
wise youth, to be sure, who can balance one part of
genuine life against two parts of drudgery between four
walls, and for the sake of the one, manfully accept the

Wick was scarce an eligible place of stay. But how
much better it was to hang in the cold wind upon the
pier, to go down with Bob Bain among the roots of the
staging, to be all day in a boat coiling a wet rope and
shouting orders—not always very wise—than to be warm
and dry, and dull, and dead-alive, in the most comfortable
office. And Wick itself had in those days a note of
originality. It may have still, but I misdoubt it much.
The old minister of Keiss would not preach, in these
degenerate times, for an hour and a half upon the clock.
The gipsies must be gone from their cavern ; where you
might see, from the mouth, the women tending their fire,
like Meg Merrilies, and the men sleeping off their coarse
potations ; and where, in winter gales, the surf would
beleaguer them closely, bursting in their very door. A
traveller to-day upon the Thurso coach would scarce
observe a little cloud of smoke among the moorlands, and
be told, quite openly, it marked a private still. He would
not indeed make that journey, for there is now no Thurso
coach. And even if he could, one little thing that happened
to me could never happen, to him, or not, with the same
trenchancy of contrast.

We had been upon the road all evening ; the coach-top
was crowded with Lews fishers going home, scarce any-
thing but Gaelic had sounded in my ears ; and our way
had lain throughout over a moorish country very northern
to behold. Latish at night, though it was still broad day
in our subarctic latitude, we came down upon the shores
of the roaring Pentland Firth, that grave of mariners ;
on one hand, the cliffs of Dunnet Head ran seaward; in
front was the little bare, white town of Castleton, its
streets full of blowing sand ; nothing beyond, but the
North Islands, the great deep, and the perennial ice-fields
of the Pole. And here, in the last imaginable place,