They went the whole length of Victoria Street. Stonehouse had been physically tired out when he had started. Now he was not aware of being tired at all. A gradually rising excitement carried him on, unconscious of himself. He had no idea what he expected, but he knew definitely that something deeply significant was about to happen to them both, that they were running into some crisis.
Outside the Abbey the fog became impenetrable. The traffic had stopped, and the lights, patches of opaque rayless crimson, added to the confusion. There were people moving, however, faceless ghosts with loud footfalls, feeling their way hesitatingly, and among them Mr. Ricardo vanished. Almost at once Stonehouse lost his own bearings. In the complete paralysis of all sense of direction which only fog can produce, he crossed the wide street twice without knowing it. Then he came up suddenly under the spread statue of Boadicea and into little knots of people. A policeman was trying to move them on without success. They hung about hopefully like children who cannot be convinced that a show is really over.
“It’s no good messing round here. You aren’t helping anyone. Better be getting home.”
Stonehouse knew what had happened. It was extraordinary how sure he was. It was almost as though he had known all along. But he said mechanically to one slouching shadow:
“What is it?”
A face, dripping and livid in the fog, like the face of a dead man, gaped at him.
“Some old fellow gone over—no, he didn’t tumble, I tell yer. You cawn’t tumble over a four-foot parapet. Chucked ’isself, and I don’t blame ’im. One of them police-launches ’as gone out to fish ’im out. But they won’t get ’im. Not now, anyway. Can’t see two feet in front of yer, and the tide running out fast.”
Stonehouse felt his way to the parapet and peered over. Above the water the fog was pitch-black and moving. It looked a solid mass. He could almost hear it slapping softly against the pillars of the bridge as it flowed seawards. By now Mr. Ricardo had travelled with it a long way. His death did not seem to Stonehouse tragic, but only inevitable and ironical. It was as though someone had played a grave and significant, not unkindly, joke at Mr. Ricardo’s expense. Nor did Stonehouse feel remorse, for he knew that he could have done nothing. As Mr. Ricardo had said, it was not material things that had mattered. He had not killed himself because he was starving, but because the long struggle of his spirit with the enigma of life had reached its crisis. He had gone out to meet it with a superb gesture of defiance, which had also been the signal of surrender and acknowledgment.
The crowd had moved on at last. In the muffled silence and darkness Stonehouse’s thoughts became shadowy and fantastic. Though he did not grieve he knew that a stone had shifted under the foundations of his mental security. Death took on a new aspect. It seemed unlikely that it was so simply the end.