On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, Mr. David Mosscrop lounged against the low stone parapet of Westminster Bridge, and surveyed at length the unflagging procession of his fellow-creatures plodding past him northward into the polite half of London town.
He had come upon the bridge in a melancholy frame of mind, and had paused first of all gloomily to look down at the water. His thoughts were a burden to him, and his head ached viciously. This was no new experience of a morning, worse luck; he had grown accustomed to these evil opening hours of depression and nausea. The fact that it was his birthday, however, gave uncomfortable point to his reflections. He had actually crossed the threshold of the thirties, and he came into the presence of this new lustrum worse than empty-handed. He had done none of the great things which his youth had promised. He had not even found his way into helpful and cleanly company. The memory of the people with whom he spent his time nowadays—in particular, the recollection of the wastrels and fools with whom he had started out yesterday to celebrate the eve of his anniversary—made him sick. He stared down at the slowly-moving flood, and asked himself angrily why a man of thirty who had learned nothing worth learning, achieved nothing worth the doing; who didn’t even know enough to keep sober over-night, should not be thrown like garbage into the river.
The impulse to jump over the parapet hung somewhere very close to the grasp of his consciousness. His mind almost touched it as his eyes dwelt upon the broad, opaque mass of shifting drab waters. He said to himself that he had never before been so near the possibility of deliberate suicide as he was at this moment.
He did not allow the notion to take any more definite shape, but mused for a while upon the fact of its lying there, vaguely formless at the back of his brain, ready to leap into being at his will. Of course, he would not give the word: it was merely interesting to think that he was in the same street, so to speak, with the spirit of self-murder.
After a little, the effect of this steadily drifting body of water seemed to soothe his vision. He grew less conscious of mental disturbance and physical disgust alike. Then he stood up, yawned, and glanced at the big clock-tower, where the laggard hands still clung to the unreasonable neighbourhood of seven o’clock. For some reason, he felt much better. The sensation was very welcome. He drew a long breath of satisfaction, and, leaning with his back to the stonework, fell to watching the people go past. By a sudden revulsion of mood, he discovered all at once that the excess of the night was now offering him compensations. His brain was extremely clear, and, now that the lees of drink were gone, served him with an eager and almost fluttering acuteness which it was pleasant to follow.
He noted with minute attention the varying types of workmen, shopgirls, clerks, and salesmen as they trooped by in the throng, and found himself devoting to each some appropriate mental comment, some wondering guess into their history, or some flash of speculation as to their future. The instantaneous play of his fancy among these flitting items brought great diversion. He rollicked in it—picking out as they trudged along side by side the book-keeper who was probably short in his accounts, the waiter who had been hacking the wrong horses, the barmaid with the seraph’s face who at luncheon time would be listening unmoved to conversation from City men fit to revolt a dock labourer. It was indeed as good as a play, this marvellous aggregation of human dramatic possibilities surging tirelessly before him. He wondered that he had never thought of seeing it before.