Tom was the first to break the silence which had fallen upon us.
“Jasper, did you ever see or hear the like? Can a man help worshipping her? But for her, ‘Francesca’ would have been hissed. I know it, I could see it, and now, I suppose, I shall be famous.
“Famous!” continued he, soliloquising. “Three months ago I would have given the last drop of my blood for fame; and now, without Clarissa, fame will be a mockery. Do you think I might have any chance, the least chance?”
How could I answer him? The fog caught my breath as I tried to stammer a reply, and Tom, misinterpreting my want of words, read his condemnation.
“You do not? Of course, you do not; and you are right. Success has intoxicated me, I suppose. I am not used to the drink!” and he laughed a joyless laugh.
Then, with a change of mood, he caught my hat from off my head, and set his own in its place.
“We will change characters for the nonce,” he said, “after the fashion of Falstaff and Prince Hal, and I will read myself a chastening discourse on the vanity of human wishes. ’Do thou stand for me, and I’ll play my father.’ Eh, Jasper?”
“‘Well, here I am set,’” quoted I, content to humour him.
“Well, then, I know thee; thou art Thomas Loveday, a beggarly Grub Street author, i’ faith, a man of literature, and wouldst set eyes upon one to whom princes fling bouquets; a low Endymion puffing a scrannel pipe, and wouldst call therewith a queen to be thy bride. Out upon thee for such monstrous folly!”
In his voice, as it came to me through the dense gloom, there rang, for all its summoned gaiety, a desperate mockery hideous to hear.
“Behold, success hath turned thy weak brain. But an hour agone enfranchised from Grub Street, thou must sing ‘I’d be a butterfly.’ Thou art vanity absolute, conceit beyond measure, and presumption out of all whooping. Yea, and but as a fool Pygmalion, not content with loving thine own handiwork, thou must needs fall in love with the goddess that breathed life into its stiff limbs; must yearn, not for Galatea, but for Aphrodite; not for Francesca, but for—Ah!”
What was that? I saw a figure start up as if from below our feet, and Tom’s hand go up to his breast. There was a scuffle, a curse, and as I dashed forward, a dull, dim gleam—and Tom, with a groan, sank back into my arms.
That was all. A moment, and all had happened. Yet not all; for as I caught the body of my friend, and saw his face turn ashy white in the gloom, I saw also, saw unmistakably framed for an instant in the blackness of the fog, a face I knew; a face I should know until death robbed my eyes of sight and my brain of remembrance—the face of Simon Colliver.
A moment, and before I could pursue, before I could even shout or utter its name, it had faded into the darkness, and was gone.