He strove hard, therefore, to lead his normal life. But it was very difficult; the glorious light, which suddenly had shone upon it and then vanished, had left behind a gloom bitter and intensified.
But still in his inmost heart he did not despair. "What a man truly wants," he once related, "that will he get." And he proved the truth of his aphorism.
Indeed, barely a year after her return to California, he heard that Mrs. Osbourne could be released from her husband ; her family even approved of the idea. This was astonishingly unexpected news, and it threw Stevenson into a turmoil of doubt. Should he go to her immediately ? Dare he ? Neither friends or relations, he knew, would ever countenance his action; to love he must sacrifice everything ; to a dream of love, for, after all, its beauty and its sincerity might prove merely to be creations of his imagination which reality would dispel.
And so for several months he existed in a state of restless indecision. Then came news that Mrs. Osbourne was ill, dangerously ill. So, for that matter, was Stevenson. But he hesitated no longer - now ; he became strong in his purpose. Quickly, therefore, and with the utmost secrecy, he made preparations for departure, and early in August set sail from Glasgow in the steamship Devonia, bound for New York.
He travelled in the second cabin, " steerage " it would be called to-day. Lack of funds forbade him greater comfort. Although he suffered terribly on the voyage, moreover, he could not afford or even allow himself to be idle. But his pluck was indomitable. And before reaching New York, "in a slantin-dicular cabin, with the table playing bob-cherry with the ink-bottle," he wrote the greater part of " The Story of a Lie."
He landed on August 18, but did not delay a minute to recuperate. Forthwith he boarded an emigrant train, and set out for San Francisco. And the journey nearly killed him ; it was a terrible experience. He began it on a Monday evening, but did not arrive at his destination until the Saturday morning of the following week, and then he was so ill that he could barely stand.
In such a state he dared not show himself to his beloved. Instead, therefore, he continued his journey 150 miles to the South, and camped out alone on a range of mountains on the coast beyond Monterey. There, undoubtedly, he would have died had not two ranchers, who found him lying under a tree " in a sort of stupor," carried him to the ranch and nursed him back to life.
He remained with them a fortnight. Then he returned to San Francisco, and here his Fanny found him. At last she was free. And on May 19, 1880, he married her.
' As I look back," he wrote two years before his death, "I think my marriage was the best move I ever made in my life. Not only would I do it again, I cannot conceive the idea of doing otherwise." And he was not a demonstrative man.
Yet again, " I may as well tell you," he declared in a letter to his mother, " that my marriage has been the most successful in the world. 1 say so, and, being the child of my parents, I can speak with knowledge. She is everything to me - wife, brother, sister, daughter, and dear companion ; and I would not change to get a goddess or a saint."
Indeed, so high was the old man Stevenson's opinion of her that, before his death, he made his son promise that he would "never publish anything without Fanny's approval." And an admirable critic she proved herself.
" Keep him alive till he is forty," the doctor told Mrs. Stevenson, "and then, although a winged bird, he may live to ninety." But this was no easy task ; the man's energy was unbounded ; he would not rest. And in 1884 he again became dangerously ill ; so ill that his wife wrote to her mother-in-law, and said that for the next few years he must ' live as though he were walking on eggs."
But a man with Stevenson's temperament, needless to say, could not lead a life like this. To him it seemed merely an existence, a living death. He soon found it intolerable. And so at last, in 1888, he sailed, with his household, " beyond the sunset." And there, in the South Seas, he found a home and peace. Europe saw him no more. On the island of Upolu, in his wonderful house of Vailima, he passed the remainder of his days.
It was a strange, beautiful life. Stevenson loved it, and loved it the more since his wife shared his happiness and enjoyed it with him. But it was all too short. The end came in December, 1894, the end which Mrs. Stevenson long had dreaded. For some time past her mind had been filled with strange presentiments of tragedy ; nothing could dispel them. Only a few hours before his death her husband rallied her tenderly about these forebodings, and then ' played a game of cards with her to drive away her melancholy." But all to no purpose ; she was conscious of death's presence ; she knew that he would be denied no longer, and, when the time came, knelt in frenzied grief by the side of the man she loved while life ebbed away, impotent to save him.
Rarely has a man been mourned more truly. And on the hillside where his body found its final resting-place the chiefs have forbidden the use of firearms, so " that the birds may live there undisturbed and raise about his grave the songs he loved so well."