George Gissing.

Eve's Ransom online

. (page 11 of 13)
Online LibraryGeorge GissingEve's Ransom → online text (page 11 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


case. Yes, I had rather have it so. Narramore said just now he might
look in to see me in the after' noon. But come over on Monday. When
does Patty's train go from New Street?"

Eve was mute, gazing at the speaker as if she did not catch what he had
said. Patty answered for herself.

"Then you can either come to my place," he continued, "or I'll meet you
at the station."

Patty's desire was evident in her face; she looked at Eve.

"We'll come to you early in the afternoon," said the latter, speaking
like one aroused from reverie. "Yes, we'll come whatever the weather
is."

The young man shook hands with them, raised his hat, and walked away
without further speech. It occurred to him that he might overtake
Narramore at the station, and in that hope he hastened; but Narramore
must have left by a London and North-Western train which had just
started; he was nowhere discoverable. Hilliard travelled back by the
Great Western, after waiting about an hour; he had for companions
half-a-dozen beer-muddled lads, who roared hymns and costers' catches
impartially.

His mind was haunted with deadly suspicions: he felt sick at heart.

Eve's headache, undoubtedly, was a mere pretence for not accompanying
Patty to-day. She had desired to be alone, and - this he discovered no
less clearly - she wished the friendship between him and Patty to be
fostered. With what foolish hope? Was she so shallow-natured as to
imagine that he might transfer his affections to Patty Ringrose? it
proved how strong her desire had grown to be free from him.

The innocent Patty (_was_ she so innocent?) seemed not to suspect the
meaning of her friend's talk. Yet Eve must have all but told her in so
many words that she was weary of her lover. That hateful harping on
"gratitude"! Well, one cannot purchase a woman's love. He had missed
the right, the generous, line of conduct. That would have been to
rescue Eve from manifest peril, and then to ask nothing of her. Could
he but have held his passions in leash, something like
friendship - rarest of all relations between man and woman - might have
come about between him and Eve. She, too, certainly had never got
beyond the stage of liking him as a companion; her senses had never
answered to his appeal He looked back upon the evening when they had
dined together at the restaurant in Holborn. Could he but have stopped
at _that_ point! There would have been no harm in such avowals as then
escaped him, for he recognised without bitterness that the warmth of
feeling was all on one side, and Eve, in the manner of her sex, could
like him better for his love without a dream of returning it. His error
was to have taken advantage - perhaps a mean advantage - of the strange
events that followed. If he restrained himself before, how much more he
should have done so when the girl had put herself at his mercy, when to
demand her love was the obvious, commonplace, vulgar outcome of the
situation? Of course she harped on "gratitude." What but a sense of
obligation had constrained her?

Something had taken place to-day; he felt it as a miserable certainty.
The man from London had been with her. She expected him, and had
elaborately planned for a day of freedom. Perhaps her invitation of
Patty had no other motive.

That Patty was a conspirator against him he could not believe. No! She
was merely an instrument of Eve's subtlety. And his suspicion had not
gone beyond the truth. Eve entertained the hope that Patty might take
her place. Perchance the silly, good-natured girl would feel no
objection; though it was not very likely that she foresaw or schemed
for such an issue.

At Snow Hill station it cost him an effort to rise and leave the
carriage. His mood was sluggish; he wished to sit still and think idly
over the course of events.

He went byway of St. Philip's Church, which stands amid a wide
graveyard, enclosed with iron railings, and crossed by paved walks. The
locality was all but forsaken; the church rose black against the grey
sky, and the lofty places of business round about were darkly silent. A
man's footstep sounded in front of him, and a figure approached along
the narrow path between the high bars. Hilliard would have passed
without attention, but the man stopped his way.

"Hollo! Here we are again!"

He stared at the speaker, and recognised Mr. Dengate.

"So you've come back?"

"Where from?" said Hilliard. "What do you know of me?"

"As much as I care to," replied the other with a laugh. "So you haven't
quite gone to the devil yet? I gave you six months. I've been watching
the police news in the London papers."

In a maddening access of rage, Hilliard clenched his fist and struck
fiercely at the man. But he did no harm, for his aim was wild, and
Dengate easily warded off the blows.

"Hold on! You're drunk, of course. Stop it, my lad, or I'll have you
locked up till Monday morning. Very obliging of you to offer me the
pleasure I was expecting, but you _will_ have it, eh?"

A second blow was repaid in kind, and Hilliard staggered back against
the railings. Before he could recover himself, Dengate, whose high hat
rolled between their feet, pinned his arms.

"There's someone coming along. It's a pity. I should enjoy thrashing
you and then running you in. But a man of my position doesn't care to
get mixed up in a street row. It wouldn't sound well at Liverpool.
Stand quiet, will you!"

A man and a woman drew near, and lingered for a moment in curiosity.
Hilliard already amazed at what he had done, became passive, and stood
with bent head.

"I must have a word or two With you," said Dengate, when he had picked
up his hat. "Can you walk straight? I didn't notice you were drunk
before I spoke to you. Come along this way."

To escape the lookers-on, Hilliard moved forward.

"I've always regretted," resumed his companion, "that I didn't give you
a sound thrashing that night in the train. It would have done you good.
It might have been the making of you. I didn't hurt you, eh?"

"You've bruised my lips - that's all. And I deserved it for being such a
damned fool as to lose my temper."

"You look rather more decent than I should have expected. What have you
been doing in London?"

"How do you know I have been in London?"

"I took that for granted when I knew you'd left your work at Dudley."

"Who told you I had left it?"

"What does it matter?"

"I should like to know," said Hilliard, whose excitement had passed and
left him cold. "And I should like to know who told you before that I
was in the habit of getting drunk?"

"Are you drunk now, or not?"

"Not in the way you mean. Do you happen to know a man called Narramore?"

"Never heard the name."

Hilliard felt ashamed of his ignoble suspicion. He became silent.

"There's no reason why you shouldn't be told," added Dengate; "it was a
friend of yours at Dudley that I came across when I was making
inquiries about you: Mullen his name was."

A clerk at the ironworks, with whom Hilliard had been on terms of
slight intimacy.

"Oh, that fellow," he uttered carelessly. "I'm glad to know it was no
one else. Why did you go inquiring about me?"

"I told you. If I'd heard a better account I should have done a good
deal more for you than pay that money. I gave you a chance, too. If
you'd shown any kind of decent behaviour when I spoke to you in the
train - but it's no good talking about that now. This is the second time
you've let me see what a natural blackguard you are. It's queer, too,
you didn't get that from your father. I could have put you in the way
of something good at Liverpool. Now, I'd see you damned first, Well,
have you run through the money?"

"Every penny of it gone in drink."

"And what are you doing?"

"Walking with a man I should be glad to be rid of."

"All right. Here's my card. When you get into the gutter, and nobody'll
give you a hand out, let me know."

With a nod, Dengate walked off. Hilliard saw him smooth his silk hat as
he went; then, without glancing at the card, he threw it away.

The next morning was cold and wet. He lay in bed till eleven o'clock,
when the charwoman came to put his rooms in order. At mid-day he left
home, had dinner at the nearest place he knew where a meal could be
obtained on Sunday, and afterwards walked the streets for an hour under
his umbrella. The exercise did him good; on returning he felt able to
sit down by the fire, and turn over the plates of his great book on
French Cathedrals. This, at all events, remained to him out of the
wreck, and was a joy that could be counted upon in days to come.

He hoped Narramore would keep his promise, and was not disappointed. On
the verge of dusk his friend knocked and entered.

"The blind woman was at the door below," he explained, "looking for
somebody."

"It isn't as absurd as it sounds. She does look for people - with her
ears. She knows a footstep that no one else can hear. What were _you_
doing at Dudley yesterday?"

Narramore took his pipe out of its case and smiled over it.

"Colours well, doesn't it?" he remarked. "You don't care about the
colouring of a pipe? I get a lot of satisfaction out of such little
things! Lazy fellows always do; and they have the best of life in the
end. By-the-bye, what were _you_ doing at Dudley?"

"Had to go over with a girl."

"Rather a pretty girl, too. Old acquaintance?"

"Someone I got to know in London. No, no, not at all what you suppose."

"Well, I know you wouldn't talk about it. It isn't my way, either, to
say much about such things. But I half-promised, not long ago, to let
you know of something that was going on - if it came to anything. And it
rather looks as if it might. What do you think! Birching has been at
me, wanting to know why I don't call. I wonder whether the girl put him
up to it?"

"You went rather far, didn't you?"

"Oh, I drew back in time. Besides, those ideas are old-fashioned. It'll
have to be understood that marriageable girls have nothing specially
sacred about them. They must associate with men on equal terms. The day
has gone by for a hulking brother to come asking a man about his
'intentions.' As a rule, it's the girl that has intentions. The man is
just looking round, anxious to be amiable without making a fool of
himself. We're at a great disadvantage. A girl who isn't an idiot can
very soon know all about the men who interest her; but it's devilish
difficult to get much insight into _them_ - until you've hopelessly
committed yourself - won't you smoke? I've something to tell you, and I
can't talk to a man who isn't smoking, when my own pipe's lit."

Hilliard obeyed, and for a few moments they puffed in silence, twilight
thickening about them.

"Three or four months ago," resumed Narramore, "I was told one day - at
business - that a lady wished to see me. I happened to have the room to
myself, and told them to show the lady in. I didn't in the least know
who it could be, and I was surprised to see rather a good-looking
girl - not exactly a lady - tallish, and with fine dark eyes - what did
you say?"

"Nothing."

"A twinge of gout?"

"Go on."

Narramore scrutinised his friend, who spoke in an unusual tone.

"She sat down, and began to tell me that she was out of work - wanted a
place as a bookkeeper, or something of the kind. Could I help her? I
asked her why she came to _me_. She said she had heard of me from
someone who used to be employed at our place. That was flattering. I
showed my sense of it. Then I asked her name, and she said it was Miss
Madeley."

A gust threw rain against the windows. Narramore paused, looking into
the fire, and smiling thoughtfully.




CHAPTER XXIII


"You foresee the course of the narrative?"

"Better tell it in detail," muttered Hilliard.

"Why this severe tone? Do you anticipate something that will shock your
moral sense? I didn't think you were so straitlaced."

"Do you mean to say - - "

Hilliard was sitting upright; his voice began on a harsh tremor, and
suddenly failed. The other gazed at him in humorous astonishment.

"What the devil do you mean? Even suppose - who made you a judge and a
ruler? This is the most comical start I've known for a long time. I was
going to tell you that I have made up my mind to marry the girl."

"I see - it's all right - - "

"But do you really mean," said Narramore, "that anything else would
have aroused your moral indignation?"

Hilliard burst into a violent fit of laughter. His pipe fell to the
floor, and broke; whereupon he interrupted his strange merriment with a
savage oath.

"It was a joke, then?" remarked his friend.

"Your monstrous dulness shows the state of your mind. This is what
comes of getting entangled with women. You need to have a sense of
humour."

"I'm afraid there's some truth in what you say, old boy. I've been
conscious of queer symptoms lately - a disposition to take things with
absurd seriousness, and an unwholesome bodily activity now and then."

"Go on with your tragic story. The girl asked you to find her a
place - - "

"I promised to think about it, but I couldn't hear of anything
suitable. She had left her address with me, so at length I wrote her a
line just saying I hadn't forgotten her. I got an answer on black-edged
paper. Miss Madeley wrote to tell me that her father had recently died,
and that she had found employment at Dudley; with thanks for my
kindness - and so on. It was rather a nicely written letter, and after a
day or two I wrote again. I heard nothing - hardly expected to; so in a
fortnight's time I wrote once more. Significant, wasn't it? I'm not
fond of writing letters, as you know. But I've written a good many
since then. At last it came to another meeting. I went over to Dudley
on purpose, and saw Miss Madeley on the Castle Hill. I had liked the
look of her from the first, and I liked it still better now. By dint of
persuasion, I made her tell me all about herself."

"Did she tell you the truth?"

"Why should you suppose she didn't?" replied Narramore with some
emphasis. "You must look at this affair in a different light, Hilliard.
A joke is a joke, but I've told you that the joking time has gone by. I
can make allowance for you: you think I have been making a fool of
myself, after all."

"The beginning was ominous."

"The beginning of our acquaintance? Yes, I know how it strikes you. But
she came in that way because she had been trying for months - - "

"Who was it that told her of you?"

"Oh, one of our girls, no doubt. I haven't asked her - never thought
again about it."

"And what's her record?"

"Nothing dramatic in it, I'm glad to say. At one time she had an
engagement in London for a year or two. Her people, 'poor but
honest' - as the stories put it. Father was a timekeeper at Dudley;
brother, a mechanic there. I was over to see her yesterday; we had only
just said good-bye when I met you. She's remarkably well educated, all
things considered: very fond of reading; knows as much of books as I
do - more, I daresay. First-rate intelligence; I guessed that from the
first. I can see the drawbacks, of course. As I said, she isn't what
_you_ would call a lady; but there's nothing much to find fault with
even in her manners. And the long and the short of it is, I'm in love
with her."

"And she has promised to marry you?"

"Well, not in so many words. She seems to have scruples - difference of
position, and that kind of thing."

"Very reasonable scruples, no doubt."

"Quite right that she should think of it in that way, at all events.
But I believe it was practically settled yesterday. She isn't in very
brilliant health, poor girl! I want to get her away from that beastly
place as soon as possible. I shall give myself a longish holiday, and
take her on to the Continent. A thorough change of that kind would set
her up wonderfully.

"She has never been on to the Continent?"

"What a preposterous question! You're going to sleep, sitting here in
the dark. Oh, don't trouble to light up for me; I can't stay much
longer."

Hilliard had risen, but instead of lighting the lamp he turned to the
window and stood there drumming with his fingers on a pane.

"Are you seriously concerned for me?" said his friend. "Does it seem a
piece of madness?"

"You must judge for yourself, Narramore."

"When you have seen her I think you'll take my views. Of course it's
the very last thing I ever imagined myself doing; but I begin to see
that the talk about fate isn't altogether humbug. I want this girl for
my wife, and I never met any one else whom I really _did_ want. She
suits me exactly. It isn't as if I thought of marrying an ordinary,
ignorant, low-class girl. Eve - that's her name - is very much out of the
common, look at her how you may. She's rather melancholy, but that's a
natural result of her life."

"No doubt, as you say, she wants a thorough change," remarked Hilliard,
smiling in the gloom.

"That's it. Her nerves are out of order. Well, I thought I should like
to tell you this, old chap. You'll get over the shock in time. I more
than half believe, still, that your moral indignation was genuine. And
why not? I ought to respect you for it."

"Are you going?"

"I must be in Bristol Road by five - promised to drink a cup of Mrs.
Stocker's tea this afternoon. I'm glad now that I have kept up a few
homely acquaintances; they may be useful, Of course I shall throw over
the Birchings and that lot. You see now why my thoughts have been
running on a country house!"

He went off laughing, and his friend sat down again by the fireside.

Half an hour passed. The fire had burnt low, and the room was quite
dark. At length, Hilliard bestirred himself. He lit the lamp, drew down
the blind, and seated himself at the table to write. With great
rapidity he covered four sides of note-paper, and addressed an
envelope. But he had no postage-stamp. It could be obtained at a
tobacconist's.

So he went out, and turned towards a little shop hard by. But when he
had stamped the letter he felt undecided about posting it. Eve had
promised to come to-morrow with Patty. If she again failed him it would
be time enough to write. If she kept her promise the presence of a
third person would be an intolerable restraint upon him. Yet why? Patty
might as well know all, and act as judge between them. There needed
little sagacity to arbitrate in a matter such as this.

To sit at home was impossible. He walked for the sake of walking,
straight on, without object. Down the long gas-lit perspective of
Bradford Street, with its closed, silent workshops, across the
miserable little river Rea - canal rather than river, sewer rather than
canal - up the steep ascent to St. Martin's and the Bull Ring, and the
bronze Nelson, dripping with dirty moisture; between the big buildings
of New Street, and so to the centre of the town. At the corner by the
Post Office he stood in idle contemplation. Rain was still falling, but
lightly. The great open space gleamed with shafts of yellow radiance
reflected on wet asphalt from the numerous lamps. There was little
traffic. An omnibus clattered by, and a tottery cab, both looking
rain-soaked. Near the statue of Peel stood a hansom, the forlorn horse
crooking his knees and hanging his hopeless head. The Town Hall
colonnade sheltered a crowd of people, who were waiting for the rain to
stop, that they might spend their Sunday evening, as usual, in rambling
about the streets. Within the building, which showed light through all
its long windows, a religious meeting was in progress, and hundreds of
voices peeled forth a rousing hymn, fortified with deeper organ-note.

Hilliard noticed that as rain-drops fell on the heated globes of the
street-lamps they were thrown off again in little jets and puffs of
steam. This phenomenon amused him for several minutes. He wondered that
he had never observed it before.

Easter Sunday. The day had its importance for a Christian mind. Did Eve
think about that? Perhaps her association with him, careless as he was
in all such matters, had helped to blunt her religious feeling. Yet
what hope was there, in such a world as this, that she would retain the
pieties of her girlhood?

Easter Sunday. As he walked on, he pondered the Christian story, and
tried to make something out of it. Had it any significance for _him_?
Perhaps, for he had never consciously discarded the old faith; he had
simply let it fall out of his mind. But a woman ought to have religious
convictions. Yes; he saw the necessity of that. Better for him if Eve
were in the Town Hall yonder, joining her voice with those that sang.

Better for _him_. A selfish point of view. But the advantage would be
hers also. Did he not desire her happiness? He tried to think so, but
after all was ashamed to play the sophist with himself. The letter he
carried in his pocket told the truth. He had but to think of her as
married to Robert Narramore and the jealous fury of natural man drove
him headlong.

Monday was again a holiday. When would the cursed people get back to
their toil, and let the world resume its wonted grind and clang? They
seemed to have been making holiday for a month past.

He walked up and down on the pavement near his door, until at the
street corner there appeared a figure he knew. It was Patty Ringrose,
again unaccompanied.




CHAPTER XXIV


They shook hands without a word, their eyes meeting for an instant
only. Hilliard led the way upstairs; and Patty, still keeping an
embarrassed silence, sat down on the easy-chair. Her complexion was as
noticeably fresh as Hilliard's was wan and fatigued. Where Patty's skin
showed a dimple, his bore a gash, the result of an accident in shaving
this morning.

With hands behind he stood in front of the girl.

"She chose not to come, then?"

"Yes. She asked me to come and see you alone."

"No pretence of headache this time."

"I don't think it was a pretence," faltered Patty, who looked very ill
at ease, for all the bloom on her cheeks and the clear, childish light
in her eyes.

"Well, then, why hasn't she come to-day?"

"She has sent a letter for you, Mr. Hilliard."

Patty handed the missive, and Hilliard laid it upon the table.

"Am I to read it now?"

"I think it's a long letter."

"Feels like it. I'll study it at my leisure. You know what it contains?"

Patty nodded, her face turned away.

"And why has she chosen to-day to write to me?" Patty kept silence.
"Anything to do with the call I had yesterday from my friend Narramore?"

"Yes - that's the reason. But she has meant to let you know for some
time."

Hilliard drew a long breath. He fixed his eyes on the letter.

"She has told me everything," the girl continued, speaking hurriedly.
"Did you know about it before yesterday?"

"I'm not so good an actor as all that. Eve has the advantage of me in
that respect. She really thought it possible that Narramore had spoken
before?"

"She couldn't be sure."

"H'm! Then she didn't know for certain that Narramore was going to talk
to me about her yesterday?"

"She knew it _must_ come."

"Patty, our friend Miss Madeley is a very sensible person - don't you
think so?"

"You mustn't think she made a plan to deceive you. She tells you all
about it in the letter, and I'm quite sure it's all true, Mr. Hilliard.
I was astonished when I heard of it, and I can't tell you how sorry I
feel - - "

"I'm not at all sure that there's any cause for sorrow," Hilliard
interrupted, drawing up a chair and throwing himself upon it. "Unless
you mean that you are sorry for Eve."

"I meant that as well."

"Let us understand each other. How much has she told you?"

"Everything, from beginning to end. I had no idea of what happened in
London before we went to Paris. And she does so repent of it! She
doesn't know how she could do it. She wishes you had refused her."

"So do I."

"But you saved her - she can never forget that. You mustn't think that
she only pretends to be grateful. She will be grateful to you as long
as she lives. I know she will."

"On condition that I - what?"

Patty gave him a bewildered look.

"What does she ask of me now?"

"She's ashamed to ask anything. She fears you will never speak to her
again."

Hilliard meditated, then glanced at the letter.

"I had better read this now, I think, if you will let me."

"Yes - please do - - "

He tore open the envelope, and disclosed two sheets of note-paper,
covered with writing. For several minutes there was silence; Patty now
and then gave a furtive glance at her companion's face as he was
reading. At length he put the letter down again, softly.

"There's something more here than I expected. Can you tell me whether


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13

Online LibraryGeorge GissingEve's Ransom → online text (page 11 of 13)