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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

82                      RANDOM MEMORIES

there sprang up young outlandish voices and a chatter of
some foreign speech ; and I saw, pursuing the coach with
its load of Hebridean fishers—as they had pursued vetturini
up the passes of the Apennines or perhaps along the grotto
under Virgil's tomb-—two little dark-eyed, white-toothed
Italian vagabonds, of twelve to fourteen years of age, one
with a hurdy-gurdy, the other with a cage of white mice.
The coach passed on, and their small Italian chatter died
in the distance ; and I was left to marvel how they had
wandered into that country, and how they fared in it,
and what they thought of it, and when (if ever) they
should see again the silver wind-breaks run among the
olives, and the stone-pine stand guard upon Etruscan
sepulchres,

Upon any American, the strangeness of this incident
is somewhat lost. For as far back as he goes in his own
land, he will find some alien camping there; the Cornish
miner, the French or Mexican half-blood, the negro in the
South, these are deep in the woods and far among the
mountains. But in an old, cold, and rugged country such
as mine, the days of immigration are long at an end; and
away up there, which was at that time far beyond the
northernmost extreme of railways, hard upon the shore
of that ill-omened strait of whirlpools, in a land of moors
where no stranger came, unless it should be a sportsman
to shoot grouse or an antiquary to decipher runes, the
presence of these small pedestrians struck the mind as
though a bird-of-paradise had risen from the heather or
an albatross come fishing in the bay of Wick. They were
as strange to their surroundings as my lordly evangelist
or the old Spanish grandee on the Fair Isle.