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began to go quickly down hill, and as we could not stop it, and were afraid of being pulled into the water, we had to let go, and the roller rushed on, splashed into the pond, and disappeared. We were rather frightened, and were, of course, lectured on the narrow escape we had had from drowning ourselves. This is really all I recollect of my first experience of a boarding school.
My next recollections are of the town of Hertford, where we lived for eight or nine years, and where I had the whole of my school education. We had a small house, the first of a row of four at the beginning of St. Andrew's Street, and I must have been a little more than six years old when I first remember myself in this house, which had a very narrow yard at the back, and a dwarf wall, perhaps five feet high, between us and the adjoining house. The very first incident I remember, which happened, I think, on the morning after my arrival, was of a boy about my own age looking over this wall, who at once inquired, “Hullo! who are you?" I told him that I had just come, and what my name was, and we at once made friends. The stand of a water-butt enabled me to get up and sit upon the wall, and by means of some similar convenience he could do the same, and we were thus able to sit side by side and talk, or get over the wall and play together when we liked.
Thus began the friendship of George Silk and Alfred Wallace, which, with long intervals of absence at various periods, has continued to this day.
The way in which we were brought together throughout our boyhood is very curious. While at Hertford I lived altogether in five different houses, and in three of these the Silk family lived next door to us, which involved not only each family having to move about the same time, but also that two houses adjoining each other should on each occasion have been vacant together, and that they should have been of the size required by each, which after the first was not the same, the Silk family being much the largest. When we moved to our second house, George's grandmother had an old house opposite to us, and we were thus again brought together. Besides this, for the greater part of the time we were schoolfellows at the Hertford Grammar School; and it is certainly a curious coincidence that this the earliest acquaintance of my childhood, my playmate and schoolfellow, should be the only one of all my schoolfellows who were also friends, that I have ever seen again or that, so far as I know, are now alive.
The old town of Hertford, in which I passed the most impressionable years of my life, and where I first obtained a rudimentary acquaintance with my fellow-creatures and with nature, is, perhaps, on the whole, one of the most pleasantly situated county towns in England, although as a boy I did not know this, and did not appreciate the many advantages I enjoyed. Among its most delightful features are numerous rivers and streams in the immediately surrounding country, affording pleasant walks through flowery meads, many pic. turesque old mills, and a great variety of landscape. The river Lea, coming from the south-west, passes through the middle of the town, where the old town mill was situated in an open space called the Wash, which was no doubt liable to be flooded in early times. The miller was reputed to be one of the richest men in the town, yet we often saw him standing at the mill doors in his dusty miller's clothes as we passed on our way from school. He was a cousin of my
mother's by marriage, and we children sometimes went to tea at his house, and then, as a great treat, were shown all over the mill with all its strange wheels and whirling millstones, its queer little pockets, on moving leather belts, carrying the wheat up to the stones in a continual stream, the ever-rattling sieves and cloths which sifted out the bran and pollard, and the weird peep into the dark cavern where the great dripping water-wheel went on its perpetual round. Where the river passed under the bridge close by, we could clamber up and look over the parapet into the deep, clear water rushing over a dam, and also see where the stream that turned the wheel passed swiftly under a low arch, and this was a sight that never palled upon us, so that almost every fine day, as we VOL. I.
passed this way home from school, we gave a few moments to gazing into this dark, deep water, almost always in shadow owing to high buildings on both sides of it, but affording a pleasant peep to fields and gardens beyond.
After passing under the bridge, the river flowed on among houses and workshops, and was again dammed up to supply another mill about half a mile away, and to form the river Lea navigation. There was also, in my time, a small lateral stream carried off to pump water to the top of a wooden water-tower to supply part of the town, so that about half a mile from the middle of the town there were four distinct streams side by side, though not parallel, which I remember used to puzzle me very much as to their origin. In addition to these there was another quite distinct river, the Beane, which came from the north-west till it was only a furlong from the Lea at the town bridge, when it turned back to the north-east, and entered that river half a mile lower down, enclosing between the two streams the fine open space of about thirty acres called Hartham, which was sufficiently elevated to be always dry, and which was at once a common grazing field and general cricket and playground, the turf being very smooth and good, and seldom requiring to be rolled. The county cricket matches were played here, and it was considered to be a first-rate ground.
Here, too, in the river Beane, which had a gentle stream with alternate deep holes and sandy shallows, suitable for boys of all ages, was our favourite bathing-place, where, not long after our coming to Hertford, I was very nearly being drowned. It was at a place called Willowhole, where those who could swim a little would jump in, and in a few strokes in any direction reach shallower water. I and my brother John and several schoolfellows were going to bathe, and I, who had undressed first, was standing on the brink, when one of my companions gave me a sudden push from behind, and I tumbled in and went under water immediately. Coming to the surface half dazed, I splashed about and went under again, when my brother, who was four and a half years older, jumped in and pulled me out. I do not think I had
actually lost consciousness, but I had swallowed a good deal of water, and I lay on the grass for some time before I got strength to dress, and by the time I got home I was quite well. It was, I think, the first year, if not the first time, I had ever bathed, and if my brother had not been there it is quite possible that I might have been drowned. This gave me such a fright that though I often bathed here afterwards, I always went in where the water was shallow, and did not learn to swim, however little, till several years later.
Few small towns (it had then less than six thousand inhabitants) have a more agreeable public playground than Hartham, with the level valley of the Lea stretching away to Ware on the east, the town itself just over the river on the south, while on the north, just across the river Beane, was a steep slope covered with scattered fir trees, and called the Warren, at the foot of which was a footpath leading to the picturesque little village and old church of Bengeo. This path along the Warren was a favourite walk of mine either alone or with a playmate, where we could scramble up the bank, climb up some of the old trees, or sit comfortably upon one or two old stumpy yews, which had such twisted branches and stiff spreading foliage as to form delightful seats. This place was very little frequented, and our wanderings in it were never interfered with.
In the other direction the river Beane, as already stated, flows down a picturesque valley from the north, but I do not remember walking much beyond Bengeo. A little way beyond Hartham, toward Ware, another small stream, the Rib, came from the north, with a mill-stream along the west side of Ware Park, but this also was quite unexplored by us. Just out of the town, to the south-west, the river Mimram joined the Lea. This came through the village of Hertingfordbury, about a mile off, and then through the fine park of Panshanger, about two miles long and containing about a thousand acres. This park was open to the public, and we occasionally went there to visit the great oak tree which was, I believe, one of the finest grown large oaks in the kingdom. It was one of the sights of the district.
About three-quarters of a mile from the centre of the town, going along West Street, was a mill called Horn's Mill, which was a great attraction to me. It was an old-fashioned mill for grinding linseed, expressing the oil, and making oil-cake. The mill stood close by the roadside, and there were small low windows always open, through which we could look in at the fascinating processes as long as we liked. First, there were two great vertical millstones of very smooth red granite, which shone beautifully from the oil of the ground seeds. These were fixed on each side of a massive vertical wooden axis on a central iron axle, revolving slowly and silently, and crushing the linseed into a fine oily meal. A curved fender or scoop continually swept the meal back under the rollers with an excentric motion, which was itself altogether new to us, and very fascinating; and, combined with the two-fold motion of the huge revolving stones, and their beautiful glossy surfaces, had an irresistible attraction for us which never palled.
But this was only one part of this delightful kind of peepshow. A little way off an equally novel and still more complex operation was always going on, accompanied by strange noises always dear to the young. Looking in at other windows we saw numbers of workmen engaged in strange operations amid strange machinery, with its hum and whirl and reverberating noises. Close before us were long erections like shop counters, but not quite so high. Immediately above these, at a height of perhaps ten or twelve feet, a long cylindrical beam was continually revolving with fixed beams on each side of it, both higher up and lower down. At regular intervals along the counter were great upright wooden stampers shod with iron at the bottom. When not in action these were supported so that they were about two feet above the counter, and just below them was a square hole. As we looked on a man would take a small canvas sack about two feet long, fill it quite full of linseed meal from a large box by his side, place this bag in a strong cover of a kind of floorcloth with flaps going over the top and down each side. The sack of meal thus prepared would be then dropped into the hole, which it entered easily. Then a thin board of hard wood, tapered to