When all these thoughts were thus tumultuously busy, an odd bizarre idea presented itself. By an unusual concatenation, there was before me but a strictly-tightened space of leisure that could not be expanded. Friday must be spent at home. This was Wednesday, already three-quarters spent; but there was the coming night and the whole of Thursday. But Friday morning imperatively required that the traveller should be found back at home again. The whole span, the irreducible maximum, not to be stretched by any contrivance beyond about thirty hours. Something could be done, but not much. As I thought of the strict and narrow limits, it seemed that these were some precious golden hours, and never to recur again; the opportunity must be seized, or lost for ever! As I walked the sunshiny streets, images rose of the bright streets abroad, their quaint old towers, and town-halls, and marketplaces, and churches, red-capped fisherwomen—all this scenery was ’set,’—properties and decorations—and the foreign play seemed to open before my eyes and invite me.
There is an Eastern story of a man who dipped his head into a tub of water, and who there and then mysteriously passed through a long series of events: was married, had children, saw them grow up, was taken prisoner by barbarians, confined long in gaol, was finally tried, sentenced, and led out to execution, with the scimitar about to descend, when of a sudden—he drew his head out of the water. And lo! all these marvels had passed in a second! What if there were to be magically crowded into those few hours all that could possibly be seen—sea and land, old towns in different countries, strange people, cathedrals, town-halls, streets, etc.? It would be like some wild, fitful dream. And on the Friday I would draw my head, as it were, out of the tub. But it would need the nicest balancing and calculation, not a minute to be lost, everything to be measured and jointed together beforehand.
There was something piquant in this notion. Was not life short? and precious hours were too often wasted carelessly and dawdled away. It might even be worth while to see how much could be seen in these few hours. In a few moments the resolution was taken, and I was walking down to Victoria, and in two hours was in Snargate Street, Dover.
Dover has an old-fashioned dignity of its own; the town, harbour, ports, and people seem, as it were, consecrated to packets. There is an antique and reverend grayness in its old inns, old streets, old houses, all clustered and huddled into the little sheltered amphitheatre, as if trying to get down close by their pride, the packets. For centuries it has been the threshold, the hall-door, of England. It is the last inn, as it were, from which we depart to see foreign lands. History, too, comes back on us: we think of ‘expresses’ in