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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

86                 THE LANTERN-BEARERS

visitor died, and a dark old woman continued to dwell
alone with the dead body ; nor how this old woman
conceived a hatred to myself and one of my cousins, and in
the dread hour of the dusk, as we were clambering on the
gar den-walls, opened a window in that house of mortality
and cursed us in a shrill voice and with a marrowy
choice of language. It was a pair of very colourless
urchins that fled down the lane from this remarkable
experience ! But I recall with a more doubtful sentiment,
compounded out of fear and exultation, the coil of equinoc-
tial tempests ; trumpeting squalls, scouring flaws of rain ;
the boats with their reefed lugsails scudding for the harbour
mouth, where danger lay, for it was hard to make when
the wind had any east in it; the wives clustered with
blowing shawls at the pier-head, where (if fate was against
them) they might see boat and husband and sons—their
whole wealth and their whole family—engulfed under
their eyes ; and (what I saw but once) a troop of neighbours
forcing such an unfortunate homeward, and she squalling
and battling in their roidst, a figure scarcely human, a
tragic Msenad.

These are tilings that I recall with interest; but what
my memory dwells upon the most, I have been all this
while withholding. It was a sport peculiar to the place,
and indeed to a week or so of our two months' holiday
there. Maybe it still flourishes in its native spot; for
boys and their pastimes are swayed by periodic forces
inscrutable to man ; so that tops and marbles reappear
in their due season, regular like the sun and moon ; and
the harmless art of knucklebones has seen the fall of
the Roman empire and the rise of the United States. It
may still flourish in its native spot, but nowhere else, I
am persuaded ; for I tried myself to introduce it on
Tweed-side, and was defeated lamentably ; its charm being
quite local, like a country wine that cannot be exported.
The idle manner of it was this :—

Toward the end of September, when school-time was
drawing near and the nights were already black, we would
begin to sally from our respective villas, each equipped
with a tin bull's-eye lantern. The thing was so well