He struggled for a while to prevent himself from finding this out, but facts were too strong for him. Again he called on me and told me what had happened. I was glad the crisis had come; I was sorry for Ellen, but a complete separation from her was the only chance for her husband. Even after this last outbreak he was unwilling to consent to this, and talked nonsense about dying at his post, till I got tired of him. Each time I saw him the old gloom had settled more and more deeply upon his face, and I had about made up my mind to put an end to the situation by a coup de main, such as bribing Ellen to run away with somebody else, or something of that kind, when matters settled themselves as usual in a way which I had not anticipated.
The winter had been a trying one. Ernest had only paid his way by selling his piano. With this he seemed to cut away the last link that connected him with his earlier life, and to sink once for all into the small shop-keeper. It seemed to him that however low he might sink his pain could not last much longer, for he should simply die if it did.
He hated Ellen now, and the pair lived in open want of harmony with each other. If it had not been for his children, he would have left her and gone to America, but he could not leave the children with Ellen, and as for taking them with him he did not know how to do it, nor what to do with them when he had got them to America. If he had not lost energy he would probably in the end have taken the children and gone off, but his nerve was shaken, so day after day went by and nothing was done.
He had only got a few shillings in the world now, except the value of his stock, which was very little; he could get perhaps 3 or 4 pounds by selling his music and what few pictures and pieces of furniture still belonged to him. He thought of trying to live by his pen, but his writing had dropped off long ago; he no longer had an idea in his head. Look which way he would he saw no hope; the end, if it had not actually come, was within easy distance and he was almost face to face with actual want. When he saw people going about poorly clad, or even without shoes and stockings, he wondered whether within a few months’ time he too should not have to go about in this way. The remorseless, resistless hand of fate had caught him in its grip and was dragging him down, down, down. Still he staggered on, going his daily rounds, buying second-hand clothes, and spending his evenings in cleaning and mending them.
One morning, as he was returning from a house at the West End where he had bought some clothes from one of the servants, he was struck by a small crowd which had gathered round a space that had been railed off on the grass near one of the paths in the Green Park.
It was a lovely soft spring morning at the end of March, and unusually balmy for the time of year; even Ernest’s melancholy was relieved for a while by the look of spring that pervaded earth and sky; but it soon returned, and smiling sadly he said to himself: “It may bring hope to others, but for me there can be no hope henceforth.”