The moving lanterns were shaken to and fro, as if in a wind

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 339].

To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1912, pp. 96-97]

[Edinburgh, 13 December, 1874,] Sunday.

I was never more sorry to leave you, […] but I never left you with a better heart, than last night. […]

I had a long journey and a cold one; but never was sick nor sorry the whole way. It was a long one because when we got to Berwick, we had to go round through the hills by Kelso, as there was a block on the main line. I knew nothing of this, and you may imagine my bewilderment when I came to myself, the train standing and whistling dismally in the black morning, before a little vacant half-lit station, with a name up that I had never heard before.

A winter sunset at Sandyknowe Farm, Smailholm, Kelso []

Kelso []

My fellow-traveller woke up and wanted to know what was wrong. “O, it’s nothing,” I said, “nothing at all, it’s an evil dream.” However we had the thing explained to us at the end of ends, and trailed on in the dark among the snowy hills, stopping every now and again and whistling in an appealing kind of way, as much as to say, “God knows where we are, for God’s sake don’t run into us;” until at last we came to a dead standstill, and remained so for perhaps an hour and a quarter.

GWR engine “Leopard” caught in a snow drift on the Devon/Cornwall border during the Great Storm of 1891 being relieved some three days after the derailment []

A train stuck in a snow drift somewhere in Caithness, late 19th century []


This wakened us up for a little; and we managed, at last, to attract the attention of one of the officials whom we could see picking their way about the snow with lanterns. This man (very wide awake, and hale, and lusty) informed us we were waiting for another conductor, as our own guard did not know the line. “Where is the new guard coming from? ” we ask. “O, close by; only – he, he – he was married last night.” And immediately we heard much hoarse laughter in the dark about us; and the moving lanterns were shaken to and fro, as if in a wind.

Railroad lantern, 19th century []


This poor conductor! However, I recomposed myself for slumber, and did not reawake much before Edinburgh, where I was discharged three hours too late and found my father waiting for me in the snow, with a very long face.

[…] – Ever your faithful friend,

Robert Louis Stevenson


Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887). lighthouse and harbour engineer []


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