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17 Heriot Row
by [?]

One evening I remember we fell into discussion whether the lamp-post was still the same one that R.L.S. had known. We were down on hands and knees on the pavement, examining the base of the pillar by match-light in search of possible dates. A very seedy and disreputable looking man passed, evidently regarding us with apprehension as detectives. Mifflin, never at a loss, remarked loudly “No, I see no footprints here,” and as the ragged one passed hastily on with head twisted over his shoulder, we followed him. At the corner of Howe Street he broke into an uneasy shuffle, and Mifflin turned a great laugh into a Scotland Yard sneeze.

Howe Street crosses Heriot Row at right angles, only a few paces prom No. 17. It dips sharply downhill toward the Water of Leith, and Mifflin and I used to stand at the corner and wonder just where took place the adventure with the lame boy which R.L.S. once described when setting down some recollections of childhood.

In Howe street, round the corner from our house, I often saw a lame boy of rather a rough and poor appearance. He had one leg much shorter than the other, and wallowed in his walk, in consequence, like a ship in a seaway. I had read more than enough, in tracts and goody story books, of the isolation of the infirm; and after many days of bashfulness and hours of consideration, I finally accosted him, sheepishly enough I daresay, in these words: “Would you like to play with me?” I remember the expression, which sounds exactly like a speech from one of the goody books that had nerved me to the venture. But the answer was not one I had anticipated, for it was a blast of oaths. I need not say how fast I fled. This incident was the more to my credit as I had, when I was young, a desperate aversion to addressing strangers, though when once we had got into talk I was pretty certain to assume the lead. The last particular may still be recognized. About four years ago I saw my lame lad, and knew him again at once. He was then a man of great strength, rolling along, with an inch of cutty in his mouth and a butcher’s basket on his arm. Our meeting had been nothing to him, but it was a great affair to me.

We strolled up the esplanade below the Castle, pausing in Ramsay’s Gardens to admire the lighted city from above. In the valley between the Castle and Princes Street the pale blue mist rises at night like an exhalation from the old gray stones. The lamps shining through it blend in a delicate opalescent sheen, shot here and there with brighter flares. As the sky darkens the castle looms in silhouette, with one yellow square below the Half Moon Battery. “There are no stars like the Edinburgh street lamps,” says R.L.S. Aye, and the brightest of them all shines on Heriot Row.

The vision of that child face still comes to me, peering down from the dining-room window. R.L.S. may never have gratified his boyish wish to go round with Leerie and light the lamps, but he lit many and more enduring flames even in the hearts of those who never saw him.