Miss Adelaide Boodle was once a neighbor of Mr and Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson when they lived in Bournemouth, England, their last home before arriving in America and then Saranac Lake. An amateur musician herself, just like RLS, the two had hit it off while trying to make music together at the house Stevenson named “Skerryvore”, after one of the lighthouses the Stevenson family engineering firm had built off the west coast of Scotland.
It was the house in which the disabled author had written two of his greatest hits: “Kidnapped” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Miss Boodle also took writing lessons from Louis and reciprocated by looking after the Stevensons’ pets and poultry when they were away, earning her the affectionate title. “Ranger.”
Miss Boodle survived Louis like most of her friends. In 1899, she published her own contribution to the ever-expanding Stevensonia universe. “RLS and its Sine Qua Non flashlights from Skerryvore” is an insider’s look at the deeply sympathetic relationship between RLS and his wife, Fanny, his Sine Qua Non.
Naturally, Louis and Fanny’s letters from Baker’s in Adelaide, England would first pass through the relatively new US Post Office at Saranac Lake. The story has been around since 1887 and with some feasibility that when Robert Louis Stevenson was the town’s resident celebrity, locals with too much free time would gather each morning at the post office while the postmaster gave some kind of lesson of geography by reading the return addresses of a considerable daily volume of mail and parcels. On December 10, when RLS wrote The Gamekeeper again, he mentioned his health. “I’m doing very well, better than in years.” He also mentioned a lesser-known character who also had an important role to play that winter, in the “The Hunter’s House”:
“You should also see the boy who ‘does chores’ for us, and with his red stockings and his thirteen-year-old face, and his very manly wandering about the room; and his two alternative responses to all questions about the weather: either ‘Cold’ or with a very lyrical voice movement, ‘Lovely-rainning!’ »
Meet Anson MacIntyre, “Mac,” from Lake Placid whose first job might have been as a chore boy for the bakers at 25 cents a day. He did important things like carrying water in buckets (no wells), carrying firewood and eventually cutting it, carrying other things like servicing latrines, even milking cows, “Silky” and “Sulkie”. He also spoke a lot to RLS.
Many years later, when the Adirondack-oriented novelist, T. Morris Longstreth, happened to come across an adult Mac and after hearing Mac’s story, he jumped on it and told a mutual friend, Alfred Donaldson, than “I’m full of ideas. I’ll do it (Mac) in a tighter romance than the four and twenty blackbirds in their pie. The finished product was and still is “Mac of Placid” (1920), a book that convincingly describes life in these regions in the 1880s. Longstreth’s depiction of RLS as Mac’s friend and mentor appears to be based on research, but for Mac to legally play his role in this story, he must have turned 18 all of a sudden. There is great drama in this winter’s tale, which features a heroine and a villain. Mac is the hero, of course, and the villain is coincidentally a literary reincarnation of James Durisdeer, also known as The Master of Ballantrae, an evil personality in the novel Stevenson was writing at Baker that winter.
So far, Stevenson’s letters from Baker during this winter of 1887-88, reflect two wonderful new themes in his life, each a surprise: one, sudden wealth, thanks to the American appreciation of his talent, and two, better health, the reward for putting with a winter in “this dark, black and beggarly climate” as he said, what he nevertheless had to admit was the best thing for him. All that was missing was a goal to tap into these positive new realities. As he had told his cousin Bob in his first letter from Baker’s: “Wealth is only useful for two things: a yacht and a string quartet.”
Samuel McClure, owner of a publishing syndicate in New York, would act as a catalyst in harnessing Stevenson’s newfound potential. When RLS and his family came to America in 1887, they expected to return to Brittany in 1888, if all went well. We already know it all turned out well, a real-life storybook success story. McClure came to Saranac Lake several times that winter to see Stevenson. He came to do business. He bought the rights to the American edition of “The Black Arrow” here, for example. They became friends and years later McClure would have his own magazine, McClure Magazine, in which he proudly placed RLS feature articles. They spent many evenings talking in Andrew Baker’s living room by the fireplace and out of those talks came the next great adventure for the author of “Treasure Island.”
In a real and figurative sense, Baker’s, or the “The Hunter’s House” is the halfway house in Robert Louis Stevenson’s mortal existence, meaning the great divide between his Old World roots and his final resting place in distant Oceania; also between obscurity and fame. And the reality of it all fell on The Penny Piper of Saranac like a ton of bricks while living on a farm on the outskirts of town. That’s why they still call it her Saranac connection, after all these years.
In 1922, McClure came to Saranac Lake for the last time when he was a guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Stevenson Society of America. Their meetings took place on the grounds of the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage, founded in 1916. From the veranda, McClure spoke for a long time without notes and finally ended up mentioning Stevenson’s modesty:
“After a conversation, I asked him how much he wanted for his serial rights; he said 800 pounds. “Well,” I said, “I’ll pay you $8,000. He was somewhat reluctant and said blushing that he didn’t think he had to take that much money, and was I sure he was worth it? I told him that was done… We were just in this room here (showing the inside from the veranda) with the fireplace. Gradually, he reconciled with the offer; but he still felt rather greedy and wanted to explain and apologize.
“He was unlike almost any author I’ve met, singularly lovely as an author and as a man. He wouldn’t be tempted to take so much money for a novel, he says, but for a project he had in mind. Then he explained to me that he was always better at sea than elsewhere and that he wanted to fit out a yacht and go on long cruises and settle at sea for a while.” Well, I say, it’s easy. If you get a yacht and go on long sea voyages and write about them, stories of adventures and so on, I’ll pay all the expenses of the yacht. … I think the South Seas must have been mentioned that evening as I remember that after my return to New York I sent him a number of books on the South Seas, including a directory of the South Pacific. The next time I came to Saranac, we actually planned the South Pacific cruise, talking late into the night. e of the most extraordinary evenings of my life. Mr. Stevenson walked through this room with the fireplace, or stopped now and then to lean his elbow on the fireplace and we made the most splendid plans and arrangements…and out of that conversation came the cruise in the South Seas.
In 1917, while delivering one of his own speeches, this one at the Saranac Lake Free Library, Stevenson’s son-in-law Lloyd Osbourne, the dedicatee of “Treasure Island,” remembers this turning point in the life of his stepfather, when he lived in the “The Hunter’s House”:
“Mr. McClure had suggested the great voyage to the South Seas, and he appealed most urgently to Mr. Stevenson’s love of wandering and adventure. I remember he was so full that he quickly sent for all kinds of directories, maps and books about ports, soundings, strange islands and their anchorage. It amuses me while still touching me to think of him in this time, loaded with repertoires, living a dream so to speak – a dream of the great adventure to come.
It is the great link in Stevenson’s Saranac connection, the birthplace of his last great adventure that would have been inconceivable but for the sudden wealth and better health that came to him while residing at Saranac Lake.