She might have added what I knew to be true, that the penalties of London life fell heavier upon her than me. I was not insensible to the instantaneous lightening of spirits that happened with her when she was able to forsake the abominable purlieus of the cellar-kitchen where her life was spent; and although I knew not half her toils, nor half her dejections and anxieties, which were sedulously kept from me, yet I was not wholly blind. I had seen her too amid the roses of a cottage garden flying the colour of long-forgotten roses in her cheeks; in the hay-field shaking off a dozen years in as many hours; and although she was always young to me, she never seemed so young and sweet as when we walked a honeysuckled lane together. Her desire was with me I knew well; she had no fear of poverty, and would have been content with plainer fare than I; but her children made her prudent.
At last the one thing happened which made her prudence coincide with her desires; one of the children sickened with a languor that was the precursor of disease, and the doctors said that only country air could bring back strength. And then fate itself took the whole matter out of my control. Something happened in the city—I know not what—and the firm I served came near to shipwreck. Business shrank to a diminished channel, and the staff of clerks must needs be reduced. I have said some hard words of my employer as the exploiter of my labour; he will appear no more in this history, and my last word about him shall be justly kind. He broke the news of his misfortune to me with a delicacy that made me respect him, and with a hesitating painful shame that made me pity him. He praised me beyond my merit for my twenty years of service; he had hoped to keep me with him for another twenty years, and I believe he spoke the truth when he said it pained him to think that his misfortunes should be mine. He handed me in silence a cheque for fifty pounds. He then shook my hand heartily, murmured some vague words about hoping to reinstate me if things should mend, and hurried from me; and in his broken look and bowed shoulders I read the prophecy that his days of fortune and success were gone for ever. The little tragedy was played out in less than ten minutes. I locked my desk, put on my hat and coat, and went out into the street; and my heart felt a pang at leaving the place which I should never have imagined possible. I had walked fully half a mile before another thought occurred to me. My blood suddenly sang in my veins, and I remembered that I was an emancipated slave; at last I was Free!
IN SEARCH OF THE PICTURESQUE