It happened that on the following day, spent in idling in the forest and about the hamlet, conversing with the cottagers, we were told that our old man was a bit of a humbug; that he was a great talker, with a hundred schemes for the improvement of his fortunes, and, incidently, for the benefit of his neighbours and the world at large; but nothing came of it all and he was now fast sinking into the lowest depths of poverty. Yet who would blame him? ’Tis the nature of the gorse to be “unprofitably gay.” All that, however, is a question for the moralist; the point now is that in walking, even in that poor way, when, on account of physical weakness, it was often a pain and weariness, there are alleviations which may be more to us than positive pleasures, and scenes to delight the eye that are missed by the wheelman in his haste, or but dimly seen or vaguely surmised in passing—green refreshing nooks and crystal streamlets, and shadowy woodland depths with glimpses of a blue sky beyond—all in the wilderness of the human heart.
The “walks” already spoken of, at a time when life had little or no other pleasure for us on account of poverty and ill-health, were taken at pretty regular intervals two or three times a year. It all depended on our means; in very lean years there was but one outing. It was impossible to escape altogether from the immense unfriendly wilderness of London simply because, albeit “unfriendly,” it yet appeared to be the only place in the wide world where our poor little talents could earn us a few shillings a week to live on. Music and literature! but I fancy the nearest crossing-sweeper did better, and could afford to give himself a more generous dinner every day. It occasionally happened that an article sent to some magazine was not returned, and always after so many rejections to have one accepted and paid for with a cheque worth several pounds was a cause of astonishment, and was as truly a miracle as if the angel of the sun had compassionately thrown us down a handful of gold. And out of these little handfuls enough was sometimes saved for the country rambles at Easter and Whitsuntide and in the autumn. It was during one of these Easter walks, when seeking for a resting-place for the night, that we met with another adventure worth telling.
We had got to that best part of Surrey not yet colonized by wealthy men from the City, but where all things are as they were of old, when, late in the day, we came to a pleasant straggling village with one street a mile long. Here we resolved to stay, and walked the length of the street making inquiries, but were told by every person we spoke to that the only place we could stay at was the inn—the “White Hart.” When we said we preferred to stay at a cottage they smiled a pitying smile. No, there was no such place. But we were determined not to go to the inn, although it had a very inviting look, and was well placed with no other house near it, looking on the wide village green with ancient trees shading the road on either side.