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she heard from Narramore this morning?"

"She has had no letter."

"I see. And what does she suppose passed between Narramore and me
yesterday?"

"She is wondering what you told him."

"She takes it for granted, in this letter, that I have put an end to
everything between them. Well, hadn't I a right to do so?"

"Of course you had," Patty replied, with emphasis. "And she knew it
must come. She never really thought that she could marry Mr. Narramore.
She gave him no promise."

"Only corresponded with him, and made appointments with him, and
allowed him to feel sure that she would be his wife."

"Eve has behaved very strangely. I can't understand her. She ought to
have told you that she had been to see him, and that he wrote to her.
It's always best to be straightforward. See what trouble she has got
herself into!"

Hilliard took up the letter again, and again there was a long silence.

"Have you said good-bye to her?" were his next words.

"She's going to meet me at the station to see me off."

"Did she come from Dudley with you?"

"No."

"It's all very well to make use of you for this disagreeable
business - - "

"Oh, I didn't mind it!" broke in Patty, with irrelevant cheerfulness.

"A woman 'who does such things as this should have the courage to go
through with it. She ought to have come herself, and have told me that.
She was aiming at much better things than _I_ could have promised her.
There would have been something to admire in that. The worst of it is
she is making me feel ashamed of her. I'd rather have to do with a
woman who didn't care a rap for my feelings than with a weak one, who
tried to spare me to advantage herself at the same time. There's
nothing like courage, whether in good or evil. What do you think? Does
she like Narramore?"

"I think she does," faltered Patty, nervously striking her dress.

"Is she in love with him?"

"I - I really don't know!"

"Do you think she ever was in love with anyone, or ever will be?"

Patty sat mute.

"Just tell me what you think."

"I'm afraid she never - Oh, I don't like to say it, Mr. Hilliard!"

"That she never was in love with _me_? I know it."

His tone caused Patty to look up at him, and what she saw in his face
made her say quickly:

"I am so sorry; I am indeed! You deserve - - "

"Never mind what I deserve," Hilliard interrupted with a grim smile.
"Something less than hanging, I hope. That fellow in London; she was
fond of _him_?"

The girl whispered an assent.

"A pity I interfered."

"Ah! But think what - - "

"We won't discuss it, Patty. It's a horrible thing to be mad about a
girl who cares no more for you than for an old glove; but it's a fool's
part to try to win her by the way of gratitude. When we came back from
Paris I ought to have gone my way, and left her to go hers. Perhaps
just possible - if I had seemed to think no more of her - - "

Patty waited, but he did not finish his speech.

"What are you going to do, Mr. Hilliard?"

"Yes, that's the question. Shall I hold her to her promise? She says
here that she will keep her word if I demand it."

"She says that!" Patty exclaimed, with startled eyes.

"Didn't you know?"

"She told me it was impossible. But perhaps she didn't mean it. Who can
tell _what_ she means?"

For the first time there sounded a petulance in the girl's voice. Her
lips closed tightly, and she tapped with her foot on the floor.

"Did she say that the other thing was also impossible - to marry
Narramore?"

"She thinks it is, after what you've told him."

"Well, now, as a matter of fact I told him nothing."

Patty stared, a new light in her eyes.

"You told him - nothing?"

"I just let him suppose that I had never heard the girl's name before."

"Oh, how kind of you! How - - "

"Please to remember that it wasn't very easy to tell the truth. What
sort of figure should I have made?"

"It's too bad of Eve! It's cruel! I can never like her as I did before."

"Oh, she's very interesting. She gives one such a lot to talk about."

"I don't like her, and I shall tell her so before I leave Birmingham.
What right has she to make people so miserable?"

"Only one, after all."

"Do you mean that you will let her marry Mr. Narramore?" Patty asked
with interest.

"We shall have to talk about that."

"If I were you I should never see her again!"

"The probability is that we shall see each other many a time."

"Then _you_ haven't much courage, Mr. Hilliard!" exclaimed the girl,
with a flush on her cheeks.

"More than you think, perhaps," he answered between his teeth.

"Men are very strange," Patty commented in a low voice of scorn,
mitigated by timidity.

"Yes, we play queer pranks when a woman has made a slave of us. I
suppose you think I should have too much pride to care any more for
her. The truth is that for years to come I shall tremble all through
whenever she is near me. Such love as I have felt for Eve won't be
trampled out like a spark. It's the best and the worst part of my life.
No woman can ever be to me what Eve is."

Abashed by the grave force of this utterance, Patty shrank back into
the chair, and held her peace.

"You will very soon know what conies of it all," Hilliard continued
with a sudden change of voice. "It has to be decided pretty quickly,
one way or another."

"May I tell Eve what you have said to me?" the girl asked with
diffidence.

"Yes, anything that I have said."

Patty lingered a little, then, as her companion said no more, she rose.

"I must say good-bye, Mr. Hilliard."

"I am afraid your holiday hasn't been as pleasant as you expected."

"Oh, I have enjoyed myself very much. And I hope" - her voice
wavered - "I do hope it'll be all right. I'm sure you'll do what seems
best."

"I shall do what I find myself obliged to, Patty. Good-bye. I won't
offer to go with you, for I should be poor company."

He conducted her to the foot of the stairs, again shook hands with her,
put all his goodwill into a smile, and watched her trip away with a
step not so light as usual. Then he returned to Eve's letter. It gave
him a detailed account of her relations with Narramore. "I went to him
because I couldn't bear to live idle any longer; I had no other thought
in my mind. If he had been the means of my finding work, I should have
confessed it to you at once. But I was tempted into answering his
letters.... I knew I was behaving wrongly; I can't defend myself.... I
have never concealed my faults from you - the greatest of them is my
fear of poverty. I believe it is this that has prevented me from
returning your love as I wished to do. For a long time I have been
playing a deceitful part, and the strange thing is that I _knew_ my
exposure might come at any moment. I seem to have been led on by a sort
of despair. Now I am tired of it; whether you were prepared for this or
not, I must tell you.... I don't ask you to release me. I have been
wronging you and acting against my conscience, and if you can forgive
me I will try to make up for the ill I have done...."

How much of this could he believe? Gladly he would have fooled himself
into believing it all, but the rational soul in him cast out credulity.
Every phrase of the letter was calculated for its impression. And the
very risk she had run, was not that too a matter of deliberate
speculation? She _might_ succeed in her design upon Narramore; if she
failed, the 'poorer man was still to be counted upon, for she knew the
extent of her power over him. It was worth the endeavour. Perhaps, in
her insolent self-confidence, she did not fear the effect on Narramore
of the disclosure that might be made to him. And who could say that her
boldness was not likely to be justified?

He burned with wrath against her, the wrath of a hopelessly infatuated
man. Thoughts of revenge, no matter how ignoble, harassed his mind. She
counted on his slavish spirit, and even in saying that she did not ask
him to release her, she saw herself already released. At each reperusal
of her letter he felt more resolved to disappoint the hope that
inspired it. When she learnt from Patty that Narramore was still
ignorant of her history how would she exult! But that joy should be
brief. In the name of common honesty he would protect his friend. If
Narramore chose to take her with his eyes open - -

Jealous frenzy kept him pacing the room for an hour or two. Then he
went forth and haunted the neighbourhood of New Street station until
within five minutes of the time of departure of Patty's train. If Eve
kept her promise to see the girl off he might surprise her upon the
platform.

From the bridge crossing the lines he surveyed the crowd of people that
waited by the London train, a bank-holiday train taking back a freight
of excursionists. There-amid he discovered Eve, noted her position,
descended to the platform, and got as near to her as possible. The
train moved off. As Eve turned away among the dispersing people, he
stepped to meet her.




CHAPTER XXV


She gave no sign of surprise. Hilliard read in her face that she had
prepared herself for this encounter.

"Come away where we can talk," he said abruptly.

She walked by him to a part of the station where only a porter passed
occasionally. The echoings beneath the vaulted roof allowed them to
speak without constraint, for their voices were inaudible a yard or two
off. Hilliard would not look into her face, lest he should be softened
to foolish clemency.

"It's very kind of you," he began, with no clear purpose save the
desire of harsh speech, "to ask me to overlook this trifle, and let
things be as before."

"I have said all I _can_ say in the letter. I deserve all your anger."

That was the note he dreaded, the too well remembered note of pathetic
submission. It reminded him with intolerable force that he had never
held her by any bond save that of her gratitude.

"Do you really imagine," he exclaimed, "that I could go on with
make-believe - that I could bring myself to put faith in you again for a
moment?"

"I don't ask you to," Eve replied, in firmer accents. "I have lost what
little respect you could ever feel for me. I might have repaid you with
honesty - I didn't do even that. Say the worst you can of me, and I
shall think still worse of myself."

The voice overcame him with a conviction of her sincerity, and he gazed
at her, marvelling.

"Are you honest _now_? Anyone would think so; yet how am I to believe
it?"

Eve met his eyes steadily.

"I will never again say one word to you that isn't pure truth. I am at
your mercy, and you may punish me as you like."

"There's only one way in which I can punish you. For the loss of _my_
respect, or of my love, you care nothing. If I bring myself to tell
Narramore disagreeable things about you, you will suffer a
disappointment, and that's all. The cost to me will be much greater,
and you know it. You pity yourself. You regard me as holding you
ungenerously by an advantage you once gave me. It isn't so at all. It
is I who have been held by bonds I couldn't break, and from the day
when you pretended a love you never felt, all the blame lay with you."

"What could I do?"

"Be truthful - that was all."

"You were not content with the truth. You forced me to think that I
could love you, Only remember what passed between us."

"Honesty was still possible, when you came to know yourself better. You
should have said to me in so many words: 'I can't look forward to our
future with any courage; if I marry it must be a man who has more to
offer.' Do you think I couldn't have endured to hear that? You have
never understood me. I should have said: 'Then let us shake hands, and
I am your friend to help you all I can.'"

"You say that _now_ - - "

"I should have said it at any time."

"But I am not so mean as you think me. If I loved a man I could face
poverty with him, much as I hate and dread it. It was because I only
liked you, and could not feel more - - "

"Your love happens to fall upon a man who has solid possessions."

"It's easy to speak so scornfully. I have not pretended to love the man
you mean."

"Yet you have brought him to think that you are willing to marry him."

"Without any word of love from me. If I had been free I would have
married him - just because I am sick of the life I lead, and long for
the kind of life he offered me."

"When it's too late you are frank enough."

"Despise me as much as you like. You want the truth, and you shall hear
nothing else from me."

"Well, we get near to understanding each other. But it astonishes me
that you spoilt your excellent chance. How could you hope to carry
through this - - "

Eve broke in impatiently.

"I told you in the letter that I had no hope of it. It's your mistake
to think me a crafty, plotting, selfish woman. I'm only a very
miserable one - it went on from this to that, and I meant nothing. I
didn't scheme; I was only tempted into foolishness. I felt myself
getting into difficulties that would be my ruin, but I hadn't strength
to draw back."

"You do yourself injustice," said Hilliard, coldly. "For the past month
you have acted a part before me, and acted it well. You seemed to be
reconciling yourself to my prospects, indifferent as they were. You
encouraged me - talked with unusual cheerfulness - showed a bright face.
If this wasn't deliberate acting what did it mean?"

"Yes, it was put on," Eve admitted, after a pause. "But I couldn't help
that. I was obliged to keep seeing you, and if I had looked as
miserable as I felt - - " She broke off. "I tried to behave just like a
friend. You can't charge me with pretending - anything else. I _could_
be your friend: that was honest feeling."

"It's no use to me. I must have more, or nothing."

The flood of passion surged in him again. Some trick of her voice, or
some indescribable movement of her head - the trifles which are
all-powerful over a man in love - beat down his contending reason.

"You say," he continued, "that you will make amends for your unfair
dealing. If you mean it, take the only course that shows itself.
Confess to Narramore what you have done; you owe it to him as much as
to me."

"I can't do that," said Eve, drawing away. "It's for you to tell
him - if you like."

"No. I had my opportunity, and let it pass. I don't mean that you are
to inform him of all there has been between us; that's needless. We
have agreed to forget everything that suggests the word I hate. But
that you and I have been lovers and looked - I, at all events - to be
something more, this you must let him know."

"I can never do that."

"Without it, how are you to disentangle yourself?"

"I promise you he shall see no more of me."

"Such a promise is idle, and you know it. Remember, too, that Narramore
and I are friends. He will speak to me of you, and I can't play a farce
with him. It would be intolerable discomfort to me, and grossly unfair
to him. Do, for once, the simple, honourable thing, and make a new
beginning. After that, be guided by your own interests. Assuredly I
shall not stand in your way."

Eve had turned her eyes in the direction of crowd and bustle. When she
faced Hilliard again, he saw that she had come to a resolve.

"There's only one way out of it for me," she said impulsively. "I can't
talk any longer. I'll write to you."

She moved from him; Hilliard followed. At a distance of half-a-dozen
yards, just as he was about to address her again, she stopped and
spoke -

"You hate to hear me talk of 'gratitude.' I have always meant by it
less than you thought. I was grateful for the money, not for anything
else. When you took me away, perhaps it was the unkindest thing you
could have done."

An unwonted vehemence shook her voice. Her muscles were tense; she
stood in an attitude of rebellious pride.

"If I had been true to myself then - - But it isn't too late. If I am to
act honestly, I know very well what I must do. I will take your advice."

Hilliard could not doubt of her meaning. He remembered his last talk
with Patty. This was a declaration he had not foreseen, and it affected
him otherwise than he could have anticipated.

"My advice had nothing to do with _that_," was his answer, as he read
her face. "But I shall say not a word against it. I could respect you,
at all events."

"Yes, and I had rather have your respect than your love."

With that, she left him. He wished to pursue, but a physical languor
held him motionless. And when at length he sauntered from the place, it
was with a sense of satisfaction at what had happened. Let her carry
out that purpose: he faced it, preferred it. Let her be lost to him in
that way rather than any other. It cut the knot, and left him with a
memory of Eve that would not efface her dishonouring weakness.

Late at night, he walked about the streets near his home, debating with
himself whether she would act as she spoke, or had only sought to
frighten him with a threat. And still he hoped that her resolve was
sincere. He could bear that conclusion of their story better than any
other - unless it were her death. Better a thousand times than her
marriage with Narramore.

In the morning, fatigue gave voice to conscience. He had bidden her go,
when, perchance, a word would have checked her. Should he write, or
even go to her straightway and retract what he had said? His will
prevailed, and he did nothing.

The night that followed plagued him with other misgivings. It seemed
more probable now that she had threatened what she would never have the
courage to perform. She meant it at the moment - it declared a truth but
an hour after she would listen to commonplace morality or prudence.
Narramore would write to her; she might, perhaps, see him again. She
would cling to the baser hope.

Might but the morrow bring him a letter from London!

It brought nothing; and day after day disappointed him. More than a
week passed: he was ill with suspense, but could take no step for
setting his mind at rest. Then, as he sat one morning at his work in
the architect's office, there arrived a telegram addressed to him -

"I must see you as soon as possible. Be here before six. - Narramore."




CHAPTER XXVI


"What the devil does this mean, Hilliard?"

If never before, the indolent man was now thoroughly aroused. He had an
open letter in his hand. Hilliard, standing before him in a little
office that smelt of ledgers and gum, and many other commercial things,
knew that the letter must be from Eve, and savagely hoped that it was
dated London.

"This is from Miss Madeley, and it's all about you. Why couldn't you
speak the other day?"

"What does she say about me?"

"That she has known you for a long time; that you saw a great deal of
each other in London; that she has led you on with a hope of marrying
her, though she never really meant it; in short, that she has used you
very ill, and feels obliged now to make a clean breast of it."

The listener fixed his eye upon a copying-press, but without seeing it.
A grim smile began to contort his lips.

"Where does she write from?"

"From her ordinary address - why not? I think this is rather too bad of
you. Why didn't you speak, instead of writhing about and sputtering?
That kind of thing is all very well - sense of honour and all that - but
it meant that I was being taken in. Between friends - hang it! Of course
I have done with her. I shall write at once. It's amazing; it took away
my breath. No doubt, though she doesn't say it, it was from you that
she came to know of me. She began with a lie. And who the devil could
have thought it! Her face - her way of talking! This will cut me up
awfully. Of course, I'm sorry for you, too, but it was your plain duty
to let me know what sort of a woman I had got hold of. Nay, it's she
that has got hold of me, confound her! I don't feel myself! I'm
thoroughly knocked over!"

Hilliard began humming an air. He crossed the room and sat down.

"Have you seen her since that Saturday?"

"No; she has made excuses, and I guessed something was wrong. What has
been going on? _You_ have seen her?"

"Of course."

Narramore glared.

"It's devilish underhand behaviour! Look here, old fellow, we're nut
going to quarrel. No woman is worth a quarrel between two old friends.
But just speak out - can't you? What did you mean by keeping it from me?"

"It meant that I had nothing to say," Hilliard replied, through his
moustache.

"You kept silence out of spite, then? You said to yourself, 'Let him
marry her and find out afterwards what she really is!'"

"Nothing of the kind." He looked up frankly. "I saw no reason for
speaking. She accuses herself without a shadow of reason; it's mere
hysterical conscientiousness. We have known each other for half a year
or so, and I have made love to her, but I never had the least
encouragement. I knew all along she didn't care for me. How is she to
blame? A girl is under no obligation to speak of all the men who have
wanted to marry her, provided she has done nothing to be ashamed of.
There's just one bit of insincerity. It's true she knew of you from me.
But she looked you up because she despaired of finding employment; she
was at an end of her money, didn't know what to do. I have heard this
since I saw you last. It wasn't quite straightforward, but one can
forgive it in a girl hard driven by necessity."

Narramore was listening with eagerness, his lips parted, and a growing
hope in his eyes.

"There never was anything serious between you?"

"On her side, never for a moment. I pursued and pestered her, that was
all."

"Do you mind telling me who the girl was that I saw you with at Dudley?"

"A friend of Miss Madeley's, over here from London on a holiday. I have
tried to make use of her - to get her influence on my side - - "

Narramore sprang from the corner of the table on which he had been
sitting.

"Why couldn't she hold her tongue! That's just like a woman, to keep a
thing quiet when she ought to speak of it, and bring it out when she
had far better say nothing. I feel as if I had treated you badly,
Hilliard. And the way you take it - I'd rather you eased your mind by
swearing at me."

"I could swear hard enough. I could grip you by the throat and jump on
you - - "

"No, I'm hanged if you could!" He forced a laugh. "And I shouldn't
advise you to try. Here, give me your hand instead." He seized it.
"We're going to talk this over like two reasonable beings. Does this
girl know her own mind? It seems to me from this letter that she wants
to get rid of me."

"You must find out whether she does or not."

"Do you _think_ she does?"

"I refuse to think about it at all."

"You mean she isn't worth troubling about? Tell the truth, and be
hanged to you! Is she the kind of a girl a man may marry?"

"For all I know."

"Do you suspect her?" Narramore urged fiercely.

"She'll marry a rich man rather than a poor one - that's the worst I
think of her."

"What woman won't?"

When question and answer had revolved about this point for another
quarter of an hour, Hilliard brought the dialogue to an end. He was
clay-colour, and perspiration stood on his forehead.

"You must make her out without any more help from me. I tell you the
letter is all nonsense, and I can say no more."

He moved towards the exit.

"One thing I must know, Hilliard - Are you going to see her again?"

"Never - if I can help it."

"Can we be friends still?"

"If you never mention her name to me."

Again they shook hands, eyes crossing in a smile of shamed hostility.
And the parting was for more than a twelvemonth.

Late in August, when Hilliard was thinking of a week's rest in the
country, after a spell of harder and more successful work than he had
ever previously known, he received a letter from Patty Ringrose.

"Dear Mr. Hilliard," wrote the girl, "I have just heard from Eve that
she is to be married to Mr. Narramore in a week's time. She says you
don't know about it; but I think you _ought_ to know. I haven't been
able to make anything of her two last letters, but she has written
plainly at last. Perhaps she means me to tell you. Will you let me have
a line? I should like to know whether you care much, and I do so hope
you don't! I felt sure it would come to this, and if you'll believe me,
it's just as well. I haven't answered her letter, and I don't know
whether I shall. I might say disagreeable things. Everything is the
same with me and always will be, I suppose." In conclusion, she was his
sincerely. A postscript remarked: "They tell me I play better. I've
been practising a great deal, just to kill the time."


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