I RIDE ON A PILGRIMAGE.
“Heus Rogere! fer caballos;
Eja, nunc eamus!”
At Winchester, which we boys (though we fared hardly) never doubted to be the first school in the world, as it was the most ancient in England, we had a song we called Domum: and because our common pride in her—as the best pride will—belittled itself in speech, I trust that our song honoured Saint Mary of Winton the more in that it celebrated only the joys of leaving her.
The tale went, it had been composed (in Latin, too) by a boy detained at school for a punishment during the summer holidays. Another fable improved on this by chaining him to a tree. A third imprisoned him in cloisters whence, through the arcades and from the ossuaries of dead fellows and scholars, he poured out his soul to the swallows haunting the green garth—
“Jam repetit domum
Nosque domum repetamus.”
Whatever its origin, our custom was to sing it as the holidays— especially the summer holidays—drew near, and to repeat it as they drew nearer, until every voice was hoarse. As I remember, we kept up this custom with no decrease of fervour through the heats of June 1756, though they were such that our hostiarius Dr. Warton, then a new broom, swept us out of school and for a fortnight heard our books (as the old practice had been) in cloisters, where we sat upon cool stone and in the cool airs, and between our tasks watched the swallows at play. Nevertheless we panted, until evening released us to wander forth along the water-meadows by Itchen and bathe, and, having bathed, to lie naked amid the mints and grasses for a while before returning in the twilight.
This bathing went on, not in one or two great crowds, but in groups, and often in pairs only, scattered along the river-bank almost all the way to Hills; it being our custom again at Winchester (and I believe it still continues) to socius or walk with one companion; and only at one or two favoured pools would several of these couples meet together for the sport. On the evening of which I am to tell, my companion was a boy named Fiennes, of about my own age, and we bathed alone, though not far away to right and left the bank teemed with outcries and laughter and naked boys running all silvery as their voices in the dusk.
With all this uproar the trout of Itchen, as you may suppose, had gone into hiding; but doubtless some fine fellows lay snug under the stones, and—the stream running shallow after the heats—as we stretched ourselves on the grass Fiennes challenged me to tickle for one; it may be because he had heard me boast of my angling feats at home. There seemed a likely pool under the farther bank; convenient, except that to take up the best position beside it I must get the level sun full in my face. I