A College And An Almshouse
( Originally Published 1900 )
N0 little city ever lent itself so admirably to the innocent designs of two tourists bent on the capture of every hidden secret of its ancient charm and antique beauty, as Winchester. One may almost count on an adventure with the picturesque at every turning. A surprise appears to lie in wait for one at the corner of each of its perfect streets. Gateways open at most unexpected angles, beneath which one passes from the bustle of its lively old streets into the cloistral calm of some ancient convent or palace ; or one confronts the crenellated tops of mediaeval walls to find within such a nest of old houses, in so perfect a state of preservation as to make it appear as if the enclosure had been built for the sole purpose of affording a fortified protection against decay and ruin.
The contrast presented between such model specimens of antique life and the active, stirring, everyday modern living invests these old towns and cities with their perfect quality and charm. In spite of its venerable and austerely remote age, Winchester ends by impressing one with its having already included the nineteenth century among its collection of historical periods. The bargaining, for instance, which we could not fail to notice, from the quite audible tones in the little open shops, gave us a very realizing feeling that if time was fleeting, trade at least was long. The Winchester buyers and tradesmen have not lost all their ancient talent for investing the simple act of buying and selling with those difficulties which raise it into an art. Its citizens have had a long tutelage in trade. From the time of the early Norman kings to the reign of Henry VIII., its great annual fairs on St. Giles' Hill, just outside the town, attracted the great merchants from Flanders and France and Italy, who came to buy English cloth. The little city still retains some pretty customs and habits as a legacy of that lost glory of commercial supremacy. We chanced to prolong our stay over the market-day, which, in England, is still held on Saturday. Early in the morning strolling venders and pedlers erected little booths and improvised gay holiday shows along the undulating High Street. All day the thoroughfare was thickly packed with a swarming mass of humanity, with farmers and their wives, the latter in wonderful poke-bonnets of the last century, and their more modern daughters in the modified French poke of our own decade ; with townspeople and county squires, who crowded about the shops, the booths, and the gayly decked carts, swarming into the middle of the street and filling the air with the noise of their bargaining. There were brilliant dashes of color among the dull blouses and the flimsy printed lawns, contributed by the numerous red coats of the soldiers ; for Win-chester is a brigade station, and we concluded that the entire brigade had assumed, as part of its military obligations, the duty of lighting up the sombre nineteenth-century dulness with the brave splendor of its fatigue-coats and gold Iace.
We followed, at a discreet distance, a group of these sons of war on their stroll through the crowd, up to the top of the hill. It was partly with the desire to learn whether the day's unwonted animation had spread up and beyond the imperial crown of the great gateway, and also because we were in search of a palace and a fountain. The sons of war deserted us before we had discovered either. They passed, in a body, beneath a swinging open door near the gateway. The door remained open long enough for us to catch a glimpse of a charming pair of blue eyes, a mass of curly hair, a trim jaunty figure, and a row of shining glasses. We were no longer in doubt as to the cause of the brigade's unanimous preference for beer a mile away from the barracks, even if to drink it they must climb the long steep hill.
The fountain lay so close to the little beer-shop that we could hear the click of the glasses and the short bass notes in the laughs that went up within. The admonition contained in the lines cut on the stone pedestal of the fountain seemed curiously ineffectual and meaningless with that rival establishment and its potent magnet so near. Who would even stop to read the appeal on the old fountain ?
" Stop, friends, and drink your fill, And do not use my fountain ill."
The thin stream of water trickling into the open basin seemed of a piece with most of the wise counsel in the world, a slender treble of warning drowned in the deep chorus of the unheeding.
The mass of gray shadow which filled up the foreground directly in front of us, as we turned to the right, could be nothing else save the palace which we had come to find. If it was a palace it had so very pronounced an ecclesiastical aspect as at first to lead us to infer it was a church. But as we had been told to find in this ancient pal-ace of Henry III.'s reign one of the most perfect examples of domestic architecture of that palace-building period, the fact of its interior being divided into aisles by pillars, and the long church-like windows, that further served to emphasize its religious character, only proved the deficiencies of our own architectural standards. The series of murders which historians, with more amenity than veracity, call executions that have taken place in the courtyard of the castle make it, on the whole, much safer for the tourist at once to establish its identity as a palace. The Church has had so many such dark stains to hide within its own mantle, it is but generous to allow the State to stand sponsor for a few of those bloody necessities. The luckless Earl of Kent came to his execution here; and in the seventeenth century several priests marched wearily up the long hill to look their last on earth over the stone parapet which crowns the hill, and beyond which lies such a glorious prospect of the city, the cathedral, and the sloping hills.
The least depressing association with this palace is the fact that to its keeping has fallen the honor of preserving a rare and singular painting. It is so old that its history is lost in conjecture. The painting represents King Arthur's Round Table ; the gallant king himself in the centre, wearing his crown, the twenty-four radiations of which bear each the name of some famous knight. The severe, upright-looking monarch, with his grotesque limbs out of drawing, and his strange history-flowering crown, seemed admirably in keeping with the solemn cathedral-like interior, the heraldic bearings on the old stained glass, and the air of brooding silence we had left behind as. It was the ghost of the past come to take possession of this ghoulish palace.
Our walk that afternoon did not end with our discovery of the castle. We descended the hill by making a detour among a number of little streets, avoiding the more thronged thoroughfare. We were rewarded for our temerity in plunging into these unknown labyrinths by stumbling on a number of little adventures. We learned, among other things, that all of the Winchester inhabitants who were not shopping on High Street were very busy doing nothing, unless lolling out of narrow casements and leaning against door-jambs, exchanging the small pence of conversational amenities, may be termed a form of industry. It was quite evident that market-day in the little city was looked upon as a quasi holiday, a time for a loosening of the moral tension and for an unwonted indulgence in the breaking of the eternal English silence. We might almost have thought ourselves in some French town, such was the din of the voices and the clatter of heavy-booted feet over the rough stones. The faces could never have been anything but English, with their fresh high color, their calm and immobile expression, and the soft liquid eyes. Beauty among the women in England appears to diminish in proportion as the rank in life increases. These streets were filled with charmingly pretty girls and fine-looking women, whose type can only be classed as rustic, because the word seems best to describe the delicious quality of their freshness and riant health. Two girls standing in an open doorway, with close little English hats and white netted veils, made a charming little picture for us as we passed down one of the wider streets. Their air of simple unaffected naturalness was rather heightened than otherwise by the fact that they were both munching tarts ; and this proof of their hearty and unabashed young appetites reminded us forcibly that a two hours' walk up and down crooked streets would make the sight of a cake shop a most welcome spectacle.
At the turn of the next street, as if in answer to our wish, we stumbled on a really astonishing collection of pastry. For nearly two streets, on either side of the way, every other shop appeared to be a cake-shop. Every variety of jumble, muffin, tart, seed-cake, plum-cake, and turnover, known to the inventive mind of cake-making man, was arranged in such multitudinous confusion and pro-fusion that nothing but a proximity of boy could possibly explain so many rival establishments eying one another so complacently.
" I have my suspicions that we are nearing the college ; only a college could eat and pay for so many cakes," I remarked to Boston, as we stood making our choice of the several shop-windows in front of us.
The suspicions were entirely confirmed by the appearance of two dashing young fellows, carrying the train of their black gowns over their arms, and wearing the well-known three-cornered Wykehamite hat. They were of stalwart build, and both boasted a very perceptible growth of virgin mustaches ; and they were engaged in no less serious an occupation than the eating of two large seed-cakes. Age in this case, it was quite evident, had nothing to do with an appreciation of tarts. The shops, we discovered as we strolled past them, were peopled with numbers of young gentlemen of similar tastes ; however grown up their appearance might proclaim them to be, their capacity for devouring unlimited cakes proved there was nothing venerable at least in their fresh young appetites.
College Street, which ended by leading us directly to the college, is flanked on the side nearest that famous collection of buildings by a wall so high and so formidably protective as to suggest its capacity for withstanding a very respectable siege. Doubtless the wall has served this very obvious purpose in the defence and security of the buildings ; for these latter date back to a time when every house needed to be a fortress. In Saxon days Winchester had already gained its reputation as an educational centre. King Alfred and Ethelwold were sent here to be under the influence of the learned Saint Swithun. Five hundred years later, when William of Wykeham raised the present noble buildings on their ancient foundations, the system of education which he established increased the fame of the college to such a degree as to make it stand among the first in the world, a preeminence it maintains until the present day.
As we entered the courtyard, we seemed all at once to have entered into a different climate. There was something peculiarly soft and sweet in the air. It was more than sweet; it was sweetish. The air was heavy with a fragrance which appeared to penetrate into all parts of the grounds and the buildings. When we learned later that the college still brews its own beer, the mystery of this rich soft odor was revealed. It is the distilling that makes the college appear to have a climate of its own. William of Wykeham had presumably some relish for the good things of life, although doubtless his taste did not take the now classical Wykehamite preference for tarts over other dainties. He made very ample provision that his boys should not suffer for the essentials of life. Beside the brewery, which is close to the street, there stands a building, now empty, where until very recently the college did its own beef-killing. With an abattoir, a brewery, and the college bakers and cooks, the institution was as independent of the rest of the world as all self-respecting institutions should be.
That a man's stomach was of far more importance than the condition of his skin in those old days before the fine art of cleanliness was dis-covered, was very forcibly proved by the contrast presented between the grand old medieval kitchen, of the proportions of a palace audience-chamber, and the washing apparatus of the same period. The latter is now shown among the curiosities of the college. In the courtyard was a low arched recess, within which stood a moderately-sized square stone trough. This, we were assured, was the primitive lavatory, bath and basin in one, of those less scrupulously cleanly days. It was assuredly most complete in the economy of its equipment. No Yankee invention for supplying an entire college with an apparatus of that nature, one which should combine simplicity with cheapness, could hope to equal so perfect an arrangement. Imagine the spectacle of seventy or eighty boys in line on frosty mornings awaiting their turn at that ice-cold basin. Such a reminder of past sufferings in that line makes one's sympathies with the great mediaeval unwashed very active. The only wonder is, if English boys have grown up under influences so adverse to the development of a love of personal cleanliness, how it comes that the daily bath has now become the sign by which, the world over, the Englishman betrays his nationality. In keeping with the Spar-tan severity of the washing-trough was the primitive character of the dormitories. A still more eloquent reminder of the discipline maintained in those ruder, hardier days are the warning mottoes on the walls of the big school-room, " Aut disce aut discede : manet sors tertia cadi," and the various devices illustrating the same ; one of the quaint paintings being a vivid portrayal of the meaning of " sors tertia," the birch. The old oak forms, on which the boys sit astride, and their " scots " still remain ; both bear the hieroglyphic writing of which every boy appears to have the secret.
Architecturally one's interest centres in the college chapel, which is of great beauty. It bears evidence, in all the features of its refined and perfect proportions, of the genius and taste of its builder, William of Wykeham having built it in 1387. It is the more interesting as proving that wonderful architect's versatility in dealing with different styles, the severe simplicity of the Early English interior of this delightful little chapel differing as widely as possible from the more ornate perpendicular of his work in the cathedral. The cloisters are in an equally perfect state of preservation, with some rare and charming traceries in the arcades. Here, in the cool sweet damp of the summer-time, the Wykehamites in olden days came to walk or to sit as they conned their lessons. The stone benches are as worn as if they had been made originally of more impressionable wood. They are as scratched with names and dates as only school-boys and glaciers know how to scratch. Many of the names one reads over the archways or along the cornices are among those now great and famous. Among them the initials "T. K." are a reminder of Bishop Ken, that courageous churchman who, as Prebendary Ken, refused to allow the gay wanton Nell Gwynne to enter the deanery on the occasions when her lover Charles H. had the impulse to lodge there during one of his flying visits.
Another kind of hand-writing still more eloquent than these scrawled great names is written on the tablets and brasses in the little open arcade adjoining the chapel. Here, as well as in the chapel, are memorial tablets commemorating the bravery and gallant deeds of those Wykehamites who have fallen on the battlefield in defence of their country. Some bore very recent dates. The Zulu and Afghanistan wars have mown down many a Winchester hero; and here was the record of their glorious courage blazoned in gold and black on the shining brass tablets. There is something stupendously fine in this speedy recognition of heroism. In England, if a man loses his life for his country, at least he may count on her not forgetting the sacrifice. This admirable and hearty recognition of a man's services must breed the very heroism it commemorates. There can be no more stirring appeal to youthful imaginations and to young courage than just such eloquence as this, -- the eloquence of heroism aureoled by death and crowned by public recognition.
It was impossible, however, to entertain such a sombre assemblage of departed heroes in the company of the very lively young gentlemen who were engaged in cricket and ball matches in the playground at the back of the college buildings. These grounds are of great extent, ending only with the river, which makes a silver thread of gleaming light in among the more distant meadows. There were a number of the boys crossing the river, on their way up towards St. Catherine Hill, a favorite playground on a still wider plane of extension. It all formed a charming, brilliant prospect, the green fields, the splendid trees, the soft summer sky, and the added animation of the romping, ball-tossing, fine young English lads with their bats and their cricket.
Their holiday gayety was infectious. In spite of our long walk we did not feel in the least inclined to go back into the narrow, close little streets of the city. These soft, brilliant meadows and the flowery river-banks were altogether too tempting company to forsake on such a golden afternoon.
Our stroll took us along the very edge of the river, under noble trees, with the full breadth of the hills on the opposite side, on which the after-noon shadows were sleeping as if on a mother's breast. We traversed several fields, green, star-gemmed with the trefoiled buttercup, and behold ! again more ruins. A noble mass sprang up, as if magic impelled, at a sudden bend in the road.
In taking the most innocent walk about Win-chester, bent only on pastoral pleasures, it is not safe, apparently, to venture forth without one's guide-book and an exceedingly alert imagination.
Our memory and our imagination served us admirably that afternoon in establishing the date and the history of this beautiful crumbling pile of buildings. We knew the ruins could be none other than those of Wolversy Castle, formerly the great and splendid Bishop's Palace. It was demolished in the time of the civil war, and never entirely rebuilt, the bishops having taken refuge in Farnham Castle, Surrey, which latter seat has since been the Bishop's Palace. Nothing more admirable could be conceived than the taste of the Commonwealth troopers in making such a superb collection of ruins just here. The river, the surrounding green fields, the tender protecting foliage, and the delightful grouping made by the crumbling castle in the foreground, with the little modernized perpendicular chapel, and beyond, the square mass of the cathedral tower, made as complete a picturesque ensemble as the most fastidious tourist's eye could desire. Even Henri de Blois, who built the great Bishop's Castle, would have forgiven his iconoclastic countrymen who destroyed it, if he could but have seen how charming a picture it made under the soft haze of that August afternoon. Unquestionably the bishops made the best builders ; but Cromwell's troops made the best ruin-makers, and I am not quite sure that, in the end, the ruins of a country do not become even more famous than its buildings. A ruin is an appeal to the least gifted, architecturally, to do a little building on their own account.
With the ruins our discoveries had not come to an end. Just beyond them, a fine square tower amid a mass of foliage began to grow nearer and nearer. It grew- also more beautiful. A few steps farther on, and we saw that it was attached to a massive old Norman church. A long high wall seemed to shut it off from the surrounding fields and the cluster of houses immediately about us. Soon we discovered a fine arched gateway, of remarkable beauty, with a square octagonal turret, which we had no hesitation in approaching, since the door stood invitingly open. Having passed within the portal, we found ourselves in a small quadrangle, whence issued a porter with a black hat and a demand for sixpence apiece. To our inquiries as to where we were to go, after having crossed his hand with the required stipend, he waved us towards another gateway. Here we stepped into a larger quadrangle, within whose broad space was a group of wonderful buildings. Directly in front was the church, whose tower had led us hither. At the right a row of the quaintest, primmest, whitest, neatest little houses formed two sides of the angle of the bright green square of grass-plot that made a dazzling spot of brightness in the midst of the open court. In front of each house was a gay little garden, and up the faηade of each house-front ran a tall straight chimney. It was so entirely obvious that there being just so many chimneys, so many gardens, and so many little houses concealed some intention in the mind of the builder and designer, that I proceeded at once to count them. There were just thirteen.
" I know what this place is," I cried in the de-light of my discovery. " It is St. Cross. Those are the thirteen houses of the thirteen old brethren, and this is their church ; and and there comes one of the old men out to meet us." For a gray-haired upright old gentleman had appeared all at once in one of the doorways of the little houses. He wore a black gown with a silver cross on his breast, and that we both knew to be the dress of the St. Cross Brethren.
We had been reading only the day before of this beautiful old charity, one of the oldest and most famed in England,how that Henri de Blois, in the midst of his fighting and palace-building, had found time to think of the poor and the aged. He founded St. Cross, in 1136, as a hospital, designed as a retreat for thirteen old men who were unable to furnish means for their own support. There were to be also daily doles for many who resided outside the establishment. Under Cardinal Beaufort, it was made more of a conventual establishment. This great churchman changed its name to " The Almshouse of Noble Poverty," and added priors, nuns, and brethren. During the troublons period of the Middle Ages, St. Cross was enabled to keep its endowments, although many abuses crept in. Its original purpose has gradually been restored, however, and now it is admirably administered by trustees, the former number of thirteen inmates and the " Wayfarer's Dole " being retained in virtue of its founder's original intention. The brethren come from all parts of the kingdom, the only eligibility being their inability to earn their own livelihood.
" It is as well, assuredly, that the number is limited to thirteen. If inability to earn one's own livelihood be the only test, the hospital would otherwise be as crowded as a Roman amphitheatre. I know a good many who would be eligible. I am not sure that I myself would be above submitting my failures to the test, if I could end my days in such a retreat," said Boston, as we had strolled out to meet the little old gentleman who was coming towards us.
The place did, indeed, breathe the most tranquil, peaceful, unworldly calm. It was so still that our footfalls on the gravel walk made resounding echoes. It was so neat, so bright, so exquisitely dainty, with its clipped lawns and trim gardens and spotless houses, that one became insensibly possessed with the longing to become a part of the noiseless, spotless purity.
We had been joined by our old gentleman, who asked us, as he gave us a beautiful old-fashioned bow, adorned with the cheeriest smile, if we wished to be shown about. He preceded us, after our reply in the affirmative, with so brisk and firm a step that, in spite of his silver hair, we classed him as among the younger members of the little fraternity. He was beautifully erect, with such a rich blue tinting his eye as bespoke the vigor of his health. His whole personality diffused an air of singular simplicity and contentment, such as only cloistered seclusion appears to breed.
Convents and institutions create a distinct type of face. It is the face of those who live untouched by the worry of the world and remote from its activities. It was such a face as this that this Brother had. It was serenely calm, with a child-like simplicity and credulity. What he had been when he was an actor in -his little world's drama, it would have been impossible to conjecture. Neither his troubles nor his disappointments, had he ever had either, had left their mark on him. Even the memory of his past appeared to have been left behind with his relation to it. Now he was only a Brother, one of the little family who receive their daily bread from the hand of charity, and who, in taking it, have parted forever from the outer world, from its battles and its contests.
His pride in the fine old buildings was beautiful to see. It was with an air of most satisfied proprietorship that he pointed out the chief architectural features in the charming group of quaint and rare structures that fronted on the two quadrangles, the church on the left, the cloisters leading from it to the gatehouse above the former nuns' old chambers, the kneeling figure of the cardinal above the gate-arch, and the charming background made by the great trees beyond in the open fields. Later he led us into the fine old hall which contains the offices, the old kitchen, and dining-hall.
His pride was tempered by the cheeriest good-humor and a certain boyish light-hearted gayety. A little fountain of inward merriment appeared to be perpetually playing within. It leaped out in his kindly old eyes, and curved the sweet wrinkled corners of his fine old mouth. He grew merry, indeed, as he was showing us. the old kitchen, its grand roasting-apparatus, the huge spits, and the quaint old ovens. To our inquiries as to whether cooking was still carried on here, he gave a gay little laugh as he answered,
" Oh yes, indeed, ma'am, there is cookin' still done here. We have hot joints four times a week ; an' on those big spits there 's still whole sheep roasted on our gaudy days, as we call them."
" On gaudy days ? " I asked, a little wonderingly.
" Yes, on festivals, ma'am, on holidays an' the like, on Whitsuntide, Michaelmas, Easter Sunday, and other great days; these are our gaudy days. Then we eats the sheep, all together, the whole thirteen on us, over yonder in the old dining-room, just to keep up the good old customs."
The dining-room, which we entered a moment later, retains with a startling degree of preservation its medieval character. The high-pitched timber roof, the minstrels' gallery, the upright little stairway leading to the muniment room over-head, even the black jacks and the quaint tall and narrow tables, remain to impart to this beautiful old room the most completely fourteenth-century air conceivable. In the centre of the room the primitive brick fireplace is preserved, with its iron railing. The brethren still make a fire here on those famous " gaudy days," of a kind of pre-pared wood, instead of those great logs that formerly burned there, that blackened the room with their smoke, and turned the rafters to the deep hue which still makes their shadows so rich overhead. Even now it must be a goodly sight to see the thirteen gathered here, even about a nineteenth-century compromise of an open fire. But the picturesque still lies in the dimmer perspectives of the past, when a group of minstrels over-head, in buff jerkin and leathern breeches, breathed music out of their horns and quavering flutes; when the old gentlemen sat at the deal tables yonder, while a rude stone lamp, such as are shown us in the cases now, and the great fire blazing away on the bricks, filling the air with the sweet perfume of burning wood, made the flaring flickering light ; when the great and heavy leathern jacksthe beer jugs were passed from one shaking old hand to another ; and as the fiddlers took up the jig measure, one can fancy the feeble, cheery old song that broke forth as the little company of jolly old brethren filled their glasses anew and drank to the health of the oldest.
The guide-books and the reference-books on architecture will tell you that the church of St. Cross is one of the most interesting of the style known as the transition-Norman, although it also possesses several Early English and Decorated features of unusual beauty and distinction. The first impression is certainly less Norman in character than early Gothic ; for the nave, which dates from the twelfth century, with its remarkably massive columns and heavy pointed archings, belongs among the most admirable specimens of Early English work. The choir is a superb ex-ample of transition-Norman, with exquisite zigzag mouldings, and is further enriched now by the polychrome decorations which were intrusted to Mr. Butterfield. This decoration is as exact a reproduction of the old work (all church interiors being profusely decorated and colored by the mediaeval architects) as it was possible to make it. Some faint bits of the older work are still to be traced over one or two of the arches and along the mouldings. The new painting certainly results in producing very brilliant and rich effects. At the first, indeed, one is impressed with the sense that it is all a little too brilliant, the strong colors interfering with the effect of the simple massive richness of the architectural details. Cela saute aux yeux, so to speak. Doubtless time will soften these rather too intense purples, reds, and blues, and fuse their now somewhat obtrusive garishness into a more complete harmony with the architectural ensemble.
With an air of its being a personal grievance, our conductor pointed to the vacancies left in the floor and on the walls by the stolen brasses, and also referred in a melancholy tone to the fact that all the glass was modern. While the nineteenth century cannot hope satisfactorily to replace the beautiful old brass-work, the fine memorial windows in this perfect little church prove that the old art of glass-making is not wholly a lost one. They were very beautiful in color, and equally strong in design.
We had gone to the rear of the church to look out upon the fields and the noble trees. As we stood for a moment, our eyes resting on the tranquil rich pasture-lands, and the admirable grouping of the buildings behind us defined against the sky-line, a man crossed the lawn within the quadrangle. It was a beggar with a pack on his back. He was turning towards the porter's lodge.
" Is he going for the dole ?" Boston asked our little old gentleman, who was placidly eying him out of the corner of his kindly blue eye.
"Oh yes, sir, that 's what he's come for."
" Are they always the same beggars, the same wayfarers ; or are they sometimes genuine ? "
" Well, sir," the brother replied, with a little ripple of laughter, " some does come every day in the summer-times ; but for the most part it's poor men going along the road who stops for the beer and the bread. Many of them comes a long ways out of their road to get it ; it 's known, you know, sir, and my good lady, all over the kingdom."
In his character of wayfarer, Boston concluded that he also must test the quality of the hospital beer. He declared it excellent, and avowed him-self quite ready for a second glass. The porter and the brother both laughed, the former saying that even the Prince of Wales himself could not be given double measure. The porter further hastened to assure Boston that that particular mug was the one from which his Royal Highness had drunk on his recent visit to the hospital ; at which excellent invention the old brother kept an unmoved face.
A few seconds later he had bloomed into his habitual wreath of smiles, as he bade us farewell, when Boston had left a bit of shining silver in his pink old hand. He stood, hat in hand, under the great archway, bowing us out, his black gown making a dark mass of color against the bit of sky that was framed in the arch. His kindly, smiling old face seemed the epitome of the content, the peace, and the calm that make this hospital one's ideal of a home for sheltered old age.
" What a place for them to do their dying in ! "
" Hasn't it seemed to you as if we had strayed into a little paradise of noiseless, restful calm ? It's like a bit out of some other planet, before worry or dust or nerves were invented."
" Or dying, you might add ; for it appears they live forever. The porter told me that very few die before reaching the nineties. One of them, who is still alive, has been here over forty years, and as yet gives no hint of dying."
" Why should he ? I wouldn't if I were he. I presume if none of us ever did anything in particular except to make a business of growing as old as possible, we should no doubt find it beset with difficulty. It is n't so easy as one thinks to die just when it is expected one should."
" Well, it appears these old gentlemen surmount the difficulty by dying as infrequently as possible. And now which way home ? "
" By the river, by all means, and then we can face the city and the sunset."
We journeyed towards a golden city, through golden fields, under a golden tinted sky. Even the river had changed to a rich amber. Each blade of grass in the dying sunlight looked like a golden dagger freshly unsheathed, and the trees appeared to have absorbed the tinted light into their remotest depths of shade. No hour, I think, reveals the splendid luxuriance and perfection of English foliage and verdure as does the short the all too short golden sunset, which, like a torch, lights up for one brilliant glorious moment into fullest splendor the riches of English efflorescence.