With what sort of a heart it was, then, that I embarked upon my solitary wanderings over the “rueful roads of Wynth” (as Esculanius calls them), I shall leave it to my reader to imagine: adding only that my premonitions of the vicissitudes that awaited me on this journey, though just, were incomplete. Of the travails and affliction that visit all such purseless peripatetics as I was to become, my gloomy imagination could taste the bile already; but of the single principal curse that was to be mine I had not the faintest notion. I refer to the mere length and temporal extension of my roamings. It is a fact little remarked, that in those cases (none too uncommon) where troubles present themselves to us in unrelenting succession and over long stretches of time, their force seems to result not merely additive, but exponential. This I suppose is because, as each fresh blow digs deeper the cavern in the heart, so its successor has a more ample space in which to echo; so that what began as a little notch or nook, which scarce afforded room for reverberation to even the most plangent wail of woe, by prolonged excavation becomes a very sound-chamber or acoustic hall of mirrors, and amplifies into a rumbling roar every slight hiss or whisper that would previously have passed unheard.
So, as I stepped forth out of my dear hosts’ cottage on that chill and cloudless Nibblinghamshire dawn, I believed myself miserable; but how carefree, how blessedly and blithely happy now appears that long-vanished figure I must call myself! If, as Dr Firtham says, ‘sorrow is not sorrow that lacks knowledge of sorrow,’ if woe unseen is woe unfelt, then that babe whose eyes are yet shut against the specter of despair that haunts the race of the sighted must be called happy, though it be famished and shivering with cold; for that one chief ghostly anguish it cannot yet see will, when it once opens its eyes, drive out all sensation of these secondary bodily griefs. Likewise my unsuspecting mind on that morning, still unracked by agonies that it could not imagine, though suffering from what I now know to be minor and inconsequential sorrows, appears with the objectivity of hindsight as having enjoyed an enviable state of bliss.
But I must not deject my patient reader with pitiful ruminations. Let me recount, instead, my first peregrinations and perambulations through the wintry forests of Wynth; for in these days of settled urban prosperity it is scarcely likely that he shall have experienced treks as squalid, or as seemingly unending, as mine. These days (and I am conscious as I write, simultaneously of the old man’s wont to dote upon the remembered unpleasantnesses of his youth for their sheer pathetic charmless charm, and of the youth’s contempt for these hobbling excursions into nostalgia) – these days, I say, it is a rare member of the novel-reading classes who has in his own past (whether shamefully buried, or paraded at the dinner-table for gasps of shocked fascination) any such adventures as my penurious and friendless state then forced me into. Let me then exhibit before the naïve reader my most prized anecdotes of abjectitude: for I have, through frequent telling of these events, constructed a kind of horrid museum, through the stations of which, now ordered and routine, I lead all who are sufficiently indulgent or enthralled as to listen to these true stories of varicolored tragedy.