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secluded valleys lying amongst the Western Pyrenees. A small hamlet lay before them, consisting of some thirty or forty houses and a fine old church. The sun was low on the horizon, and, under the wide porch, beneath the shadow of the church, were seated nearly all the inhabitants of the place. They were dressed in their holiday attire. The delightful bits of red and rich amber colour 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 of 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 beautiful 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 Raynosa 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 day, after which he proceeded across the
cHAP. xxxiii.] MADRID AND BAY OF BISCAY SCHEME. 465
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 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 the 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. 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 he 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 Walmsley, 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'
chap. xxxHI.] SPANISH RAILWAY PROJECT ABANDONED. 467
rest at home, Mr. Stephenson gradually recovered, though his health remained severely shaken.
On his report being presented to the shareholders in the projected “Royal North of Spain Railway” in the course of the following month, it was so decidedly unfavourable, that the project was abandoned and the Company forthwith dissolved.
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 agricultural meetings, he said that he intended yet to grow pineapples at Tapton as big as pumpkins. The only man to