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Chap. XV. MADRID AND BAY OF BISCAY SCHEME. 315
"bright bits of red and amber colour in the dresses of the women, and the gay sashes of the men, formed a striking picture, on which the travellers gazed in silent admiration. It was something entirely novel and unexpected. Beside the villagers sat two venerable old men, whose canonical hats indicated their quality as village pastors. Two groups of young women and children were dancing outside the porch to the accompaniment of a simple pipe; and within a hundred yards of them, some of the youths of the village were disporting themselves in athletic exercises; the whole being carried on beneath the fostering care of the old church, and with the sanction of its ministers. It was a beai.itiful scene, and deeply moved the travellers as they approached the principal group. The villagers greeted them courteously, supplied their present wants, and pressed upon them some fine melons, brought from their adjoining gardens. Mr. Stephenson used afterwards to look back upon that simple scene, and speak of it as one of the most charming pastorals he had ever witnessed.
They shortly reached the site of the proposed railway, passing through Irun, St. Sebastian, St. Andero, and Bilbao, at which places they met deputations of the principal inhabitants who were interested in the subject of their journey. At Eaynosa Mr. Stephenson carefully examined the mountain passes and ravines through which a railway could be formed. He rose at break of day, and surveyed until the darkness set in; and frequently his resting-place at night was the floor of some miserable hovel. He was thus laboriously occupied for ten days, after which he proceeded across the province of Old Castile towards Madrid, surveying as he went. The proposed plan included the purchase of the Castile canal; and that property was also surveyed. He next proceeded to El Escorial, situated at the foot of the Guadarama mountains, through which he found that it would be necessary to construct two formidable tunnels; added to which he ascertained that the country between El Escorial and Madrid was of a very difficult and expensive character to work through. Taking these circumstances into account, and looking at the 316 JOURNEY HOMEWARD. Chap. XV.
expected traffic on the proposed line, Sir Joshua "Walmsley, acting under the advice of Mr. Stephenson, offered to construct the line from Madrid to the Bay of Biscay, only on condition that the requisite land was given to the Company for the purpose; that they should be allowed every facility for cutting such timber belonging to the Crown as might be required for the purposes of the railway; and also that the materials required from abroad for the construction of the line should be admitted free of duty. In return for these concessions the Company offered to clothe and feed several thousands of convicts while engaged in the execution of the earthworks. General Narvaez, afterwards Duke of Valencia, received Sir Joshua Walmsley and Mr. Stephenson on the subject of their proposition, and expressed his willingness to close with them; but it was necessary that other influential parties should give their concurrence before the scheme could be carried into effect. The deputation waited ten days to receive tho answer of the Spanish government; but no answer of any kind was vouchsafed. The authorities, indeed, invited them to be present at a Spanish bull-fight, but that was not quite the business that Mr. Stephenson had gone all the way to Spain to transact; and the offer was politely declined. The result was, that Mr. Stephenson dissuaded his friend from making the necessary deposit at Madrid. Besides, he had by this time formed an unfavourable opinion of the entire project, and considered that the traffic would not amount to one-eighth of the estimate.
Mr. Stephenson was now anxious to be in England. During the journey from Madrid he often spoke with affection of friends and relatives; and when apparently absorbed by other matters, he would revert to what he thought might then be passing at home. Few incidents -worthy of notice occurred on the journey homeward, but one may be mentioned. While travelling in an open conveyance between Madrid and Vittoria, the driver was urging his mules down hill at a dangerous pace. He was requested to slacken speed; but suspecting his passengers to be afraid, he only flogged the brutes into a still more furious gallop. Observing this, Mr. Chap. XV. ILLNESS AND RECOVERY. 317
Stephenson coolly said, "Let us try him on the other tack; tell him to show us the fastest pace at which Spanish mules can go." The rogue of a driver, when he found his tricks of no avail, pulled up and proceeded at a moderate rate for the rest of his journey.
Urgent business required Mr. Stephenson's presence in London on the last day of November. They travelled, therefore almost continuously, day and night; and' the fatigue consequent on the journey, added to the privations voluntarily endured by the engineer while carrying on the survey among the Spanish mountains, began to tell seriously on his health. By the time he reached Paris, he was evidently ill, but be nevertheless determined on proceeding. He reached Havre in time for the Southampton boat; but when on board, pleurisy developed itself, and it was necessary to bleed him freely. During the voyage, he spent his time chiefly in dictating letters and reports to Sir Joshua VValmsley, who never left him, and whose kindness on the occasion he gratefully remembered. His friend was struck by the clearness of his dictated composition, which exhibited a vigour and condensation which to him seemed marvellous. After a few weeks' rest at home, Mr. Stephenson gradually recovered, though his health remained severely shaken.
On his report being presented to the shareholders in the projected " Eoyal North of Spain Eailway" in the course of the following month, it was so decidedly unfavourable, that the project was abandoned, and the Company forthwith dissolved.
318 LIFE AT TAPTON Chap. STL
Closing Years — Illness And Death — Chabacteb.
Towards the close of his life, Mr. Stephenson almost entirely withdrew from the active pursuit of his profession as a railway engineer. He devoted himself chiefly to his extensive collieries and lime-works, taking a local interest only in such projected railways as were calculated to open up new markets for their products.
At home he lived the life of a country gentleman, enjoying his garden and his grounds, and indulging his love of nature, which, through all his busy life, had never left him. It was not until the year 1845 that he took an active interest in horticultural pursuits. Then he began to build new melonhouses, pineries, and vineries of great extent; and he now seemed as eager to excel all other growers of exotic plants in the neighbourhood, as he had been to surpass the villagers of Killingworth in the production of gigantic cabbages and cauliflowers some thirty years before. He had a pine-house built sixty-eight feet in length, and a pinery one hundred and forty feet. The workmen were never idle about the garden, and the additions to the forcing-houses proceeded until at length he had no fewer than ten glass forcing-houses, heated with hot water, which he was one of the first to introduce in that neighbourhood. He did not take so much pleasure in flowers as in fruits. At one of the county agri. cultural meetings, he said that he intended yet to grow pineapples at Tapton as big as pumpkins. The only man to whom he would "knock under " was his friend Paxton, the gardener to the Duke of Devonshire; and he was so old in the service, and so skilful, that he could scarcely hope to beat him. Yet his " Queen " pines did take the first prize at a competition with the Duke,—though this was not until shortly after his
Chap. XVI. HIS FARMING OPERATIONS. 319
death, when the plants had become more fully grown. His grapes also recently took the first prize at Kotherham, at a competition open to all England. He was extremely successful in producing melons, having invented a method of suspending them in baskets of wire gauze, which, by relieving the stalk from tension, allowed nutrition to proceed more freely, and better enabled the fruit to grow and ripen. Amongst his other erections, he built a joiner's shop, where he kept a workman regularly employed in carrying out his many ingenious contrivances of this sort.
He took much pride also in his growth of cucumbers. He raised them very fine and large, but he could not make them grow straight. Place them as he would, notwithstanding all his propping of them, and humouring them by modifying the application of heat and the admission of light for the purpose of effecting his object, they would still insist on growing crooked in their own way. At last he had a number of glass cylinders made at Newcastle, for the purpose of an experiment; into these the growing cucumbers were inserted, and then he succeeded in growing them perfectly straight. Carrying one of the new products into his house one day, and exhibiting it to a party of visitors, he told them of the expedient he had adopted, and added gleefully, "I think I have bothered them noo!"
Mr. Stephenson also carried on farming operations with some success. He experimented on manure, and fed cattle after methods of his own. He was very particular as to breed and build in stock-breeding. "You see, sir," he said to one gentleman, "I like to see the coo's back at a gradient something like this" (drawing an imaginary line with his hand), "and then the ribs or girders will carry more flesh than if they were so, or so." W hen he attended the county agricultural meetings, which he frequently did, he was accustomed to take part in the discussions, and he brought the same vigorous practical mind to bear upon questions of tillage, drainage, and farm economy, which he had been accustomed to exercise on mechanical and engineering matters. At one of the meetings of the North Derbyshire Agricultural