George Gissing.

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once cheated an apple-woman out of three-halfpence. At the age of
sixteen I encountered the old woman again, and felt immense
satisfaction in giving her a shilling. But then, you see, I had done
with petty cheating; I wished to clear my conscience, and look my
fellow-woman in the face."

"That's it, no doubt. He seems to have got some sort of position in
Liverpool society, and he didn't like the thought that there was a poor
devil at Dudley who went about calling him a scoundrel. By-the-bye,
someone told him that I had taken to liquor, and was on my way to
destruction generally. I don't know who it could be."

"Oh, we all have candid friends that talk about us.

"It's true I have been drunk now and then of late. There's much to be
said for getting drunk."

"Much," assented Narramore, philosophically.

Hilliard went on with his supper; his friend puffed tobacco, and idly
regarded the cheque he was still holding.

"And what are you going to do?" he asked at length.

There came no reply, and several minutes passed in silence. Then
Hilliard rose from the table, paced the floor once or twice, selected a
cigar from a box that caught his eye, and, in cutting off the end,
observed quietly -

"I'm going to live."

"Wait a minute. We'll have the table cleared, and a kettle on the fire."

While the servant was busy, Hilliard stood with an elbow on the
mantelpiece, thoughtfully smoking his cigar. At Narramore's request, he
mixed two tumblers of whisky toddy, then took a draught from his own,
and returned to his former position.

"Can't you sit down?" said Narramore.

"No, I can't."

"What a fellow you are! With nerves like yours, I should have been in
my grave years ago. You're going to live, eh?"

"Going to be a machine no longer. Can I call myself a man? There's
precious little difference between a fellow like me and the damned
grinding mechanism that I spend my days in drawing - that roars all day
in my ears and deafens me. I'll put an end to that. Here's four hundred
pounds. It shall mean four hundred pounds'-worth of life. While this
money lasts, I'll feel that I'm a human being."

"Something to be said for that," commented the listener, in his tone of
drowsy impartiality.

"I offered Emily half of it. She didn't want to take it, and the man
Marr wouldn't let her. I offered to lay it aside for the child, but
Marr wouldn't have that either, It's fairly mine."

"Undoubtedly."

"Think! The first time in my life that I've had money on which no one
else had a claim. When the poor old father died, Will and I had to go
shares in keeping up the home. Our sister couldn't earn anything; she
had her work set in attending to her mother. When mother died, and
Marian married, it looked as if I had only myself to look after: then
came Will's death, and half my income went to keep his wife and child
from the workhouse. You know very well I've never grudged it. It's my
faith that we do what we do because anything else would be less
agreeable. It was more to my liking to live on a pound a week than to
see Emily and the little lass suffer want. I've no right to any thanks
or praise for it. But the change has come none too soon. There'd have
been a paragraph in the Dudley paper some rainy morning."

"Yes, I was rather afraid of that," said Narramore musingly.

He let a minute elapse, whilst his friend paced the room; then added in
the same voice:

"We're in luck at the same tune. My uncle Sol was found dead this
morning."

"Do you come in for much?"

"We don't know what he's left, but I'm down for a substantial fraction
in a will he made three years ago. Nobody knew it, but he's been stark
mad for the last six months. He took a bed-room out Bordesley way, in a
false name, and stored it with a ton or two of tinned meats and
vegetables. There the landlady found him lying dead this morning; she
learnt who he was from the papers in his pocket. It's come out that he
had made friends with some old boozer of that neighbourhood; he told
him that England was on the point of a grand financial smash, and that
half the population would die of hunger. To secure himself, he began to
lay in the stock of tinned provisions. One can't help laughing, poor
old chap! That's the result, you see, of a life spent in sweating for
money. As a young man he had hard times, and when his invention
succeeded, it put him off balance a bit. I've often thought he had a
crazy look in his eye. He may have thrown away a lot of his money in
mad tricks: who knows?"

"That's the end the human race will come to," said Hilliard. "It'll be
driven mad and killed off by machinery. Before long there'll be
machines for washing and dressing people - machines for feeding
them - machines for - - "

His wrathful imagination led him to grotesque ideas which ended in
laughter.

"Well, I have a year or two before me. I'll know what enjoyment means.
And afterwards - - "

"Yes; what afterwards?"

"I don't know. I may choose to come back; I may prefer to make an end.
Impossible to foresee my state of mind after living humanly for a year
or two. And what shall _you_ do if you come in for a lot of money?"

"It's not likely to be more than a few thousands," replied Narramore.
"And the chances are I shall go on in the old way. What's the good of a
few thousands? I haven't the energy to go off and enjoy myself in your
fashion. One of these days I may think of getting married, and
marriage, you know, is devilish expensive. I should like to have three
or four thousand a year; you can't start housekeeping on less, if
you're not to be bored to death with worries. Perhaps I may get a
partnership in our house. I began life in the brass bedstead line, and
I may as well stick to brass bedsteads to the end the demand isn't
likely to fall off. Please fill my glass again."

Hilliard, the while, had tossed off his second tumbler. He began to
talk at random.

"I shall go to London first of all. I may go abroad. Reckon a pound a
day. Three hundred and - how many days are there in a year? Three
hundred and sixty-five. That doesn't allow me two years. I want two
years of life. Half a sovereign a day, then. One can do a good deal
with half a sovereign a day - don't you think?"

"Not very much, if you're particular about your wine."

"Wine doesn't matter. Honest ale and Scotch whisky will serve well
enough. Understand me; I'm not going in for debauchery, and I'm not
going to play the third-rate swell. There's no enjoyment in making a
beast of oneself, and none for me in strutting about the streets like
an animated figure out of a tailor's window. I want to know the taste
of free life, human life. I want to forget that I ever sat at a desk,
drawing to scale - drawing damned machines. I want to - - "

He checked himself. Narramore looked at him with curiosity.

"It's a queer thing to me, Hilliard," he remarked, when his friend
turned away, "that you've kept so clear of women. Now, anyone would
think you were just the fellow to get hobbled in that way."

"I daresay," muttered the other. "Yes, it _is_ a queer thing. I have
been saved, I suppose, by the necessity of supporting my relatives.
I've seen so much of women suffering from poverty that it has got me
into the habit of thinking of them as nothing but burdens to a man."

"As they nearly always are."

"Yes, nearly always."

Narramore pondered with his amiable smile; the other, after a moment's
gloom, shook himself free again, and talked with growing exhilaration
of the new life that had dawned before him.




CHAPTER IV


Hilliard's lodgings - they were represented by a single room - commanded
a prospect which, to him a weariness and a disgust, would have seemed
impressive enough to eyes beholding it for the first time. On the
afternoon of his last day at Dudley he stood by the window and looked
forth, congratulating himself, with a fierceness of emotion which
defied misgiving, that he would gaze no more on this scene of his
servitude.

The house was one of a row situated on a terrace, above a muddy
declivity marked with footpaths. It looked over a wide expanse of waste
ground, covered in places with coarse herbage, but for the most part
undulating in bare tracts of slag and cinder. Opposite, some quarter of
a mile away, rose a lofty dome-shaped hill, tree-clad from base to
summit, and rearing above the bare branches of its topmost trees the
ruined keep of Dudley Castle. Along the foot of this hill ran the
highway which descends from Dudley town - hidden by rising ground on the
left - to the low-lying railway-station; there, beyond, the eye
traversed a great plain, its limit the blending of earth and sky in
lurid cloud. A ray of yellow sunset touched the height and its crowning
ruin; at the zenith shone a space of pure pale blue save for these
points of relief the picture was colourless and uniformly sombre. Far
and near, innumerable chimneys sent forth fumes of various density
broad-flung jets of steam, coldly white against the murky distance; wan
smoke from lime-kilns, wafted in long trails; reek of solid blackness
from pits and forges, voluming aloft and far-floated by the sluggish
wind.

Born at Birmingham, the son of a teacher of drawing, Maurice Hilliard
had spent most of his life in the Midland capital; to its grammar
school he owed an education just sufficiently prolonged to unfit him
for the tasks of an underling, yet not thorough enough to qualify him
for professional life. In boyhood he aspired to the career of an
artist, but his father, himself the wreck of a would-be painter, rudely
discouraged this ambition; by way of compromise between the
money-earning craft and the beggarly art, he became a
mechanical-draughtsman. Of late years he had developed a strong taste
for the study of architecture; much of his leisure was given to this
subject, and what money he could spare went in the purchase of books
and prints which helped him to extend his architectural knowledge. In
moods of hope, he had asked himself whether it might not be possible to
escape from bondage to the gods of iron, and earn a living in an
architect's office. That desire was now forgotten in his passionate
resolve to enjoy liberty without regard for the future.

All his possessions, save the articles of clothing which he would carry
with him, were packed in a couple of trunks, to be sent on the morrow
to Birmingham, where they would lie in the care of his friend
Narramore. Kinsfolk he had none whom he cared to remember, except his
sister; she lived at Wolverhampton, a wife and mother, in narrow but
not oppressive circumstances, and Hilliard had taken leave of her in a
short visit some days ago. He would not wait for the wedding of his
sister-in-law enough that she was provided for, and that his conscience
would always be at ease on her account.

For he was troubled with a conscience - even with one unusually
poignant. An anecdote from his twentieth year depicts this feature of
the man. He and Narramore were walking one night in a very poor part of
Birmingham, and for some reason they chanced to pause by a
shop-window - a small window, lighted with one gas-jet, and laid out
with a miserable handful of paltry wares; the shop, however, was newly
opened, and showed a pathetic attempt at cleanliness and neatness. The
friends asked each other how it could possibly benefit anyone to embark
in such a business as that, and laughed over the display. While he was
laughing, Hilliard became aware of a woman in the doorway, evidently
the shopkeeper; she had heard their remarks and looked distressed.
Infinitely keener was the pang which Maurice experienced; he could not
forgive himself, kept exclaiming how brutally he had behaved, and sank
into gloominess. Not very long after, he took Narramore to walk in the
same direction; they came again to the little shop, and Hilliard
surprised his companion with a triumphant shout. The window was now
laid out in a much more promising way, with goods of modest value. "You
remember?" said the young man. "I couldn't rest till I had sent her
something. She'll wonder to the end of her life who the money came
from. But she's made use of it, poor creature, and it'll bring her
luck."

Only the hopeless suppression of natural desires, the conflict through
years of ardent youth with sordid circumstances, could have brought him
to the pass he had now reached - one of desperation centred in self.
Every suggestion of native suavity and prudence was swept away in
tumultuous revolt. Another twelvemonth of his slavery and he would have
yielded to brutalising influences which rarely relax their hold upon a
man. To-day he was prompted by the instinct of flight from peril
threatening all that was worthy in him.

Just as the last glimmer of daylight vanished from his room there
sounded a knock at the door.

"Your tea's ready, Mr. Hilliard," called a woman's voice.

He took his meals downstairs in the landlady's parlour. Appetite at
present lie had none, but the pretence of eating was a way of passing
the time; so he descended and sat down at the prepared table.

His wandering eyes fell on one of the ornaments of the room - Mrs.
Brewer's album. On first coming to live in the house, two years ago, he
had examined this collection of domestic portraits, and subsequently,
from time to time, had taken up the album to look at one photograph
which interested him. Among an assemblage of types excelling in
ugliness of feature and hideousness of costume - types of toil-worn age,
of ungainly middle life, and of youth lacking every grace, such as are
exhibited in the albums of the poor - there was discoverable one female
portrait in which, the longer he gazed at it, Hilliard found an
ever-increasing suggestiveness of those qualities he desired in woman.
Unclasping the volume, he opened immediately at this familiar face. A
month or two had elapsed since he last regarded it, and the countenance
took possession of him with the same force as ever.

It was that of a young woman probably past her twentieth year. Unlike
her neighbours in the album, she had not bedizened herself before
sitting to be portrayed. The abundant hair was parted simply and
smoothly from her forehead and tightly plaited behind; she wore a linen
collar, and, so far as could be judged from the portion included in the
picture, a homely cloth gown. Her features were comely and intelligent,
and exhibited a gentleness, almost a meekness of expression which was
as far as possible from seeming affected. Whether she smiled or looked
sad Hilliard had striven vainly to determine. Her lips appeared to
smile, but in so slight a degree that perchance it was merely an effect
of natural line; whereas, if the mouth were concealed, a profound
melancholy at once ruled the visage.

Who she was Hilliard had no idea. More than once he had been on the
point of asking his landlady, but characteristic delicacies restrained
him: he feared Mrs. Brewer's mental comment, and dreaded the possible
disclosure that he had admired a housemaid or someone of yet lower
condition. Nor could he trust his judgment of the face: perhaps it
shone only by contrast with so much ugliness on either side of it;
perhaps, in the starved condition of his senses, he was ready to find
perfection in any female countenance not frankly repulsive.

Yet, no; it was a beautiful face. Beautiful, at all events, in the
sense of being deeply interesting, in the strength of its appeal to his
emotions. Another man might pass it slightingly; to him it spoke as no
other face had ever spoken. It awakened in him a consciousness of
profound sympathy.

While he still sat at table his landlady came in. She was a worthy
woman of her class, not given to vulgar gossip. Her purpose in entering
the room at this moment was to ask Hilliard whether he had a likeness
of himself which he could spare her, as a memento.

"I'm sorry I don't possess such a thing," he answered, laughing,
surprised that the woman should care enough about him to make the
request. "But, talking of photographs, would you tell me who this is?"

The album lay beside him, and a feeling of embarrassment, as he saw
Mrs. Brewer's look rest upon it, impelled him to the decisive question.

"That? Oh! that's a friend of my daughter Martha's - Eve Madeley. I'm
sure I don't wonder at you noticing her. But it doesn't do her justice;
she's better looking than that. It was took better than two years
ago - why, just before you came to me, Mr. Hilliard. She was going
away - to London."

"Eve Madeley." He repeated the name to himself, and liked it.

"She's had a deal of trouble, poor thing," pursued the landlady. "We
was sorry to lose sight of her, but glad, I'm sure, that she went away
to do better for herself. She hasn't been home since then, and we don't
hear of her coming, and I'm sure nobody can be surprised. But our
Martha heard from her not so long ago - why, it was about
Christmas-time."

"Is she" - he was about to add, "in service?" but could not voice the
words. "She has an engagement in London?"

"Yes; she's a bookkeeper, and earns her pound a week. She was always
clever at figures. She got on so well at the school that they wanted
her to be a teacher, but she didn't like it. Then Mr. Reckitt, the
ironmonger, a friend of her father's, got her to help him with his
books and bills of an evening, and when she was seventeen, because his
business was growing and he hadn't much of a head for figures himself,
he took her regular into the shop. And glad she was to give up the
school-teaching, for she could never abear it."

"You say she had a lot of trouble?"

"Ah, that indeed she had! And all her father's fault. But for him,
foolish man, they might have been a well-to-do family. But he's had to
suffer for it himself, too. He lives up here on the hill, in a poor
cottage, and takes wages as a timekeeper at Robinson's when he ought to
have been paying men of his own. The drink - that's what it was. When
our Martha first knew them they were living at Walsall, and if it
hadn't a' been for Eve they'd have had no home at all. Martha got to
know her at the Sunday-school; Eve used to teach a class. That's seven
or eight years ago; she was only a girl of sixteen, but she had the
ways of a grown-up woman, and very lucky it was for them belonging to
her. Often and often they've gone for days with nothing but a dry loaf,
and the father spending all he got at the public."

"Was it a large family?" Hilliard inquired.

"Well, let me see; at that time there was Eve's two sisters and her
brother. Two other children had died, and the mother was dead, too. I
don't know much about _her_, but they say she was a very good sort of
woman, and it's likely the eldest girl took after her. A quieter and
modester girl than Eve there never was. Our Martha lived with her aunt
at Walsall - that's my only sister, and she was bed-rid, poor thing, and
had Martha to look after her. And when she died, and Martha came back
here to us, the Madeley family came here as well, 'cause the father got
some kind of work. But he couldn't keep it, and he went off I don't
know where, and Eve had the children to keep and look after. We used to
do what we could to help her, but it was a cruel life for a poor thing
of her age - just when she ought to have been enjoying her life, as you
may say."

Hilliard's interest waxed.

"Then," pursued Mrs. Brewer, "the next sister to Eve, Laura her name
was, went to Birmingham, into a sweetstuff shop, and that was the last
ever seen or heard of her. She wasn't a girl to be depended upon, and I
never thought she'd come to good, and whether she's alive or dead
there's no knowing. Eve took it to heart, that she did. And not six
months after, the other girl had the 'sipelas, and she died, and just
as they was carrying her coffin out of the house, who should come up
but her father! He'd been away for nearly two years, just sending a
little money now and then, and he didn't even know the girl had been
ailing. And when he saw the coffin, it took him so that he fell down
just like a dead man. You wouldn't have thought it, but there's no
knowing what goes on in people's minds. Well, if you'll believe it,
from that day he was so changed we didn't seem to know him. He turned
quite religious, and went regular to chapel, and has done ever since;
and he wouldn't touch a drop of anything, tempt him who might. It was a
case of conversion, if ever there was one.

"So there remained only Eve and her brother?"

"Yes. He was a steady lad, Tom Madeley, and never gave his sister much
trouble. He earns his thirty shillings a week now. Well, and soon after
she saw her father going on all right, Eve left home. I don't wonder at
it; it wasn't to be expected she could forgive him for all the harm and
sorrows he'd caused. She went to Birmingham for a few months, and then
she came back one day to tell us she'd got a place in London. And she
brought that photo to give us to remember her by. But, as I said, it
isn't good enough."

"Does she seem to be happier now?"

"She hasn't wrote more than once or twice, but she's doing well, and
whatever happens she's not the one to complain. It's a blessing she's
always had her health. No doubt she's made friends in London, but we
haven't heard about them. Martha was hoping she'd have come for
Christmas, but it seems she couldn't get away for long enough from
business. I'd tell you her address, but I don't remember it. I've never
been in London myself. Martha knows it, of course. She might look in
to-night, and if she does I'll ask her."

Hilliard allowed this suggestion to pass without remark. He was not
quite sure that he desired to know Miss Madeley's address.

But later in the evening, when, after walking for two or three hours
about the cold, dark roads, he came in to have his supper and go to
bed, Mrs. Brewer smilingly offered him a scrap of paper.

"There," she said, "that's where she's living. London's a big place,
and you mayn't be anywhere near, but if you happened to walk that way,
we should take it kindly if you'd just leave word that we're always
glad to hear from her, and hope she's well."

With a mixture of reluctance and satisfaction the young man took the
paper, glanced at it, and folded it to put in his pocket. Mrs. Brewer
was regarding him, and he felt that his silence must seem ungracious.

"I will certainly call and leave your message," he said.

Up in his bed-room lie sat for a long time with the paper lying open
before him. And when he slept his rest was troubled with dreams of an
anxious search about the highways and byways of London for that
half-sad, half-smiling face which had so wrought upon his imagination.

Long before daylight he awoke at the sound of bells, and hootings, and
whistlings, which summoned the Dudley workfolk to their labour. For the
first time in his life he heard these hideous noises with pleasure:
they told him that the day of his escape had come. Unable to lie still,
he rose at once, and went out into the chill dawn. Thoughts of Eve
Madeley no longer possessed him; a glorious sense of freedom excluded
every recollection of his past life, and he wandered aimlessly with a
song in his heart.

At breakfast, the sight of Mrs. Brewer's album tempted him to look once
more at the portrait, but he did not yield.

"Shall we ever see you again, I wonder?" asked his landlady, when the
moment arrived for leave-taking.

"If I am ever again in Dudley, I shall come here," he answered kindly.

But on his way to the station he felt a joyful assurance that fate
would have no power to draw him back again into this circle of fiery
torments.




CHAPTER V


Two months later, on a brilliant morning of May, Hilliard again awoke
from troubled dreams, but the sounds about him had no association with
bygone miseries. From the courtyard upon which his window looked there
came a ringing of gay laughter followed by shrill, merry gossip in a
foreign tongue. Somewhere in the neighbourhood a church bell was
pealing. Presently footsteps hurried along the corridor, and an
impatient voice shouted repeatedly, "Alphonse! Alphonse!"

He was in Paris; had been there for six weeks, and now awoke with a
sense of loneliness, a desire to be back among his own people.

In London he had spent only a fortnight. It was not a time that he
cared to reflect upon. No sooner had he found himself in the
metropolis, alone and free, with a pocketful of money, than a delirium
possessed him. Every resolution notwithstanding, he yielded to London's
grossest lures. All he could remember, was a succession of
extravagances, beneath a sunless sky, with chance companions whose


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