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17 Heriot Row
by [?]

He showed us all through the house; and you may imagine that we stepped softly and with beating hearts. Here we were on the very track of the Magician himself: his spirit whispered in the lonely rooms. We imagined R.L.S. as a little child, peering from the windows at dusk to see Leerie light the street-lamps outside–a quaint, thin, elvish face with shining brown eyes; or held up in illness by Cummie to see the gracious dawn heralded by oblongs of light in the windows across the Queen Street gardens. We saw the college lad, tall, with tweed coat and cigarette, returning to Heriot Row with an armful of books, in sad or sparkling mood. The house was dim and dusty: a fine entrance hall, large dining room facing the street–and we imagined Louis and his parents at breakfast. Above this, the drawing room, floored with parquet oak, a spacious and attractive chamber. Above this again, the nursery, and opening off it the little room where faithful Cummie slept. But in vain we looked for some sign or souvenir of the entrancing spirit. The room that echoed to his childish glee, that heard his smothered sobs in the endless nights of childish pain, the room where he scribbled and brooded and burst into gusts of youth’s passionate outcry, is now silent and forlorn.

With what subtly mingled feelings we peered from room to room, seeing everything, and yet not daring to give ourselves away to the courteous young agent. And what was it he said?–“This was the house of Lord So-and-so” (I forget the name)–“and incidentally, Robert Louis Stevenson lived here once. His signature occurs once or twice in the deeds.”


Like many houses in Auld Reekie, 17 Heriot Row is built on a steep slant of ground, so that the rear of the house is a storey or more higher than the face. We explored the kitchens, laundries, store-rooms, and other “offices” with care, imagining that little “Smoutie” may have run here and there in search of tid-bits from the cook. Visions of that childhood, fifty years before, were almost as real as our own. We seemed to hear the young treble of his voice. That house was the home of the Stevensons for thirty years (1857-1887)–surely even the thirty years that have gone by since Thomas Stevenson died cannot have laid all those dear ghosts we conjured up!

We thanked our guide and took leave of him. If the firm of Guild and Shepherd should ever see this, surely they will forgive our innocent deception, for the honour of R.L.S. I wonder if any one has yet put a tablet on the house? If not, Mifflin and I will do so, some day.

In the evenings we used to wander up to Heriot Row in the long Northern dusk, to sit on the front steps of number 17 waiting for Leerie to come and light the famous lamp which still stands on the pavement in front of the dining-room windows:

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

But no longer does Leerie “with lantern and with ladder come posting up the street.” Nowadays he carries a long pole bearing a flame cunningly sheltered in a brass socket. But the Leerie of 1911 (“Leerie-light-the-lamps” is a generic nickname for all lamplighters in Scotland) was a pleasant fellow even if ladderless, and we used to have a cigar ready for him when he reached 17. We told him of R.L.S., of whom he had vaguely heard, and explained the sanctity of that particular lamp. He in turn talked freely of his craft, and learning that we were Americans he told us of his two sisters “in Pennsylvania, at 21 Thorn Street.” He seemed to think Pennsylvania a town, but finally we learned that the Misses Leerie lived in Sewickley where they were doing well, and sending back money to the “kiddies.” Good Leerie, I wonder do you still light the lamps on Heriot Row, or have you too seen redder beacons on Flanders fields?