We find a door masked by such a rock as that faintly and vaguely pictured, which opens on a broad corridor. Through all its length, four hundred feet, it is ceilinged with baskets of Mexican orchid, as close as they will fit. Upon the left hand lie a series of glass structures; upon the right, below the level of the corridor, the workshops; at the end—why, to be frank, the end is blocked by a ponderous screen of matting just now. But this dingy barrier is significant of a work in hand which will not be the least curious nor the least charming of the strange sights here. The farmer has already a “siding” of course, for the removal of his produce; he finds it necessary to have a station of his own also for the convenience of clients. Beyond the screen at present lies an area of mud and ruin, traversed by broken walls and rows of hot-water piping swathed in felt to exclude the chill air. A few weeks since, this little wilderness was covered with glass, but the ends of the long “houses” have been cut off to make room for a structure into which visitors will step direct from the train. The platform is already finished, neat and trim; so are the vast boilers and furnaces, newly rebuilt, which would drive a cotton factory.
A busy scene that is which we survey, looking down through openings in the wall of the corridor. Here is the composing-room, where that magnificent record of orchidology in three languages, the “Reichenbachia,” slowly advances from year to year. There is the printing-room, with no steam presses or labour-saving machinery, but the most skilful craftsmen to be found, the finest paper, the most deliberate and costly processes, to rival the great works of the past in illustrating modern science. These departments, however, we need not visit, nor the chambers, lower still, where mechanical offices are performed.
The “Importing Room” first demands notice. Here cases are received by fifties and hundreds, week by week, from every quarter of the orchid world, unpacked, and their contents stored until space is made for them up above. It is a long apartment, broad and low, with tables against the wall and down the middle, heaped with things which to the uninitiated seem, for the most part, dry sticks and dead bulbs. Orchids everywhere! They hang in dense bunches from the roof. They lie a foot thick upon every board, and two feet thick below. They are suspended on the walls. Men pass incessantly along the gangways, carrying a load that would fill a barrow. And all the while fresh stores are accumulating under the hands of that little group in the middle, bent and busy at cases just arrived. They belong to a lot of eighty that came in from Burmah last night—and while we look on, a boy brings a telegram announcing fifty more from Mexico, that will reach Waterloo at 2.30 p.m. Great is the wrath and great the anxiety at this news, for some one has blundered; the warning should have been despatched three hours before. Orchids must not arrive at unknown stations unless there be somebody of discretion and experience to meet them, and the next train does not leave St. Albans until 2.44 p.m. Dreadful is the sense of responsibility, alarming the suggestions of disaster, that arise from this incident.