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hour or two of talk under shelter might make Eve's journey hither worth
while. As Hilliard lived at the north end of the town, he suggested
Aston Hall as a possible rendezvous, and here they met, early one
Saturday afternoon in December.

From the eminence which late years have encompassed with a proletarian
suburb, its once noble domain narrowed to the bare acres of a stinted
breathing ground, Aston Hall looks forth upon joyless streets and
fuming chimneys, a wide welter of squalid strife. Its walls, which bear
the dints of Roundhead cannonade, are blackened with ever-driving
smoke; its crumbling gateway, opening aforetime upon a stately avenue
of chestnuts, shakes as the steam-tram rushes by. Hilliard's
imagination was both attracted and repelled by this relic of what he
deemed a better age. He enjoyed the antique chambers, the winding
staircases, the lordly gallery, with its dark old portraits and vast
fireplaces, the dim-lighted nooks where one could hide alone and dream
away the present; but in the end, reality threw scorn upon such
pleasure. Aston Hall was a mere architectural relic, incongruous and
meaningless amid its surroundings; the pathos of its desecrated dignity
made him wish that it might be destroyed, and its place fittingly
occupied by some People's Palace, brand new, aglare with electric
light, ringing to the latest melodies of the street. When he had long
gazed at its gloomy front, the old champion of royalism seemed to
shrink together, humiliated by Time's insults.

It was raining when he met Eve at the entrance.

"This won't do," were his first words. "You can't come over in such
weather as this. If it hadn't seemed to be clearing tip an hour or two
ago, I should have telegraphed to stop you."

"Oh, the weather is nothing to me," Eve answered, with resolute gaiety.
"I'm only too glad of the change. Besides, it won't go on much longer.
I shall get a place."

Hilliard never questioned her about her attempts to obtain an
engagement; the subject was too disagreeable to him.

"Nothing yet," she continued, as they walked up the muddy roadway to
the Hall. "But I know you don't like to talk about it."

"I have something to propose. How if I take a couple of cheap rooms in
some building let out for offices, and put in a few sticks of
furniture? Would you come to see me there?"

He watched her face as she listened to the suggestion, and his timidity
seemed justified by her expression.

"You would be so uncomfortable in such a place. Don't trouble. We shall
manage to meet somehow. I am certain to be living here before long."

"Even when you are," he persisted, "we shall only be able to see each
other in places like this. I can't talk - can't say half the things I
wish to - - "

"We'll think about it. Ah, it's warm in here!"

This afternoon the guardians of the Hall were likely to be troubled
with few visitors. Eve at once led the way upstairs to a certain suite
of rooms, hung with uninteresting pictures, where she and Hilliard had
before this spent an hour safe from disturbance. She placed herself in
the recess of a window: her companion took a few steps backward and
forward.

"Let me do what I wish," he urged. "There's a whole long winter before
us. I am sure I could find a couple of rooms at a very low rent, and
some old woman would come in to do all that's necessary."

"If you like."

"I may? You would come there?" he asked eagerly.

"Of course I would come. But I sha'n't like to see you in a bare,
comfortless place."

"It needn't be that. A few pounds will make a decent sort of
sitting-room."

"Anything to tell me?" Eve asked, abruptly quitting the subject.

She seemed to be in better spirits than of late, notwithstanding the
evil sky; and Hilliard smiled with pleasure as he regarded her.

"Nothing unusual. Oh, yes; I'm forgetting. I had a letter from Emily,
and went to see her."

Hilliard had scarcely seen his quondam sister-in-law since she became
Mrs. Marr. On the one occasion of his paying a call, after his return
from Paris, it struck him that her husband offered no very genial
welcome. He had expected this, and willingly kept aloof.

"Read the letter."

Eve did so. It began, "My dear Maurice," and ended, "Ever
affectionately and gratefully yours." The rest of its contents ran thus:

"I am in great trouble - dreadfully unhappy. It would be such a kindness
if you would let me see you. I can't put in a letter what I want to
say, and I do hope you won't refuse to come. Friday afternoon, at
three, would do, if you can get away from business for once. How I look
back on the days when you used to come over from Dudley and have tea
with us in the dear little room. Do come!"

"Of course," said Hilliard, laughing as he met Eve's surprised look. "I
knew what _that_ meant. I would much rather have got out of it, but it
would have seemed brutal. So I went. The poor simpleton has begun to
find that marriage with one man isn't necessarily the same thing as
marriage with another. In Ezra Marr she has caught a Tartar."

"Surely he doesn't ill-use her?"

"Not a bit of it. He is simply a man with a will, and finds it
necessary to teach his wife her duties. Emily knows no more about the
duties of life than her little five-year-old girl. She thought she
could play with a second husband as she did with the first, and she was
gravely mistaken. She complained to me of a thousand acts of
tyranny - every one of them, I could see, merely a piece of rude
commonsense. The man must be calling himself an idiot for marrying her.
I could only listen with a long face. Argument with Emily is out of the
question. And I shall take good care not to go there again."

Eve asked many questions, and approved his resolve.

"You are not the person to console and instruct her. But she must look
upon you as the best and wisest of men. I can understand that."

"You can understand poor, foolish Emily thinking so - - "

"Put all the meaning you like into my words," said Eve, with her
pleasantest smile. "Well, I too have had a letter. From Patty. She
isn't going to be married, after all."

"Why, I thought it was over by now."

"She broke it off less than a week before the day. I wish I could show
you her letter, but, of course, I mustn't. It's very amusing. They had
quarrelled about every conceivable thing - all but one, and this came up
at last. They were talking about meals, and Mr. Dally said that he
liked a bloater for breakfast every morning. 'A bloater!' cried Patty.
'Then I hope you won't ask me to cook it for you. I can't bear them.'
'Oh, very well: if you can't cook a bloater, you're not the wife for
me.' And there they broke off, for good and all."

"Which means for a month or two, I suppose."

"Impossible to say. But I have advised her as strongly as I could not
to marry until she knows her own mind better. It is too bad of her to
have gone so far. The poor man had taken rooms, and all but furnished
them. Patty's a silly girl, I'm afraid."

"Wants a strong man to take her in hand - like a good many other girls."

Eve paid no attention to the smile.

"Paris spoilt her for such a man as Mr. Dally. She got all sorts of new
ideas, and can't settle down to the things that satisfied her before.
It isn't nice to think that perhaps we did her a great deal of harm."

"Nonsense! Nobody was ever harmed by healthy enjoyment."

"Was it healthy - for _her_? That's the question."

Hilliard mused, and felt disinclined to discuss the matter.

"That isn't the only news I have for you," said Eve presently. "I've
had another letter."

Her voice arrested Hilliard's step as he paced near her.

"I had rather not have told you anything about it, but I promised. And
I have to give you something."

She held out to him a ten-pound note.

"What's this?"

"He has sent it. He says he shall be able to pay something every three
months until he has paid the whole debt. Please to take it."

After a short struggle with himself, Hilliard recovered a manly bearing.

"It's quite right he should return the money, Eve, but you mustn't ask
me to have anything to do with it. Use it for your own expenses. I gave
it to you, and I can't take it back."

She hesitated, her eyes cast down,

"He has written a long letter. There's not a word in it I should be
afraid to show you. Will you read it - just to satisfy me? Do read it!"

Hilliard steadily refused, with perfect self-command.

"I trust you - that's enough. I have absolute faith in you. Answer his
letter in the way you think best, and never speak to me of the money
again. It's yours; make what use of it you like."

"Then I shall use it," said Eve, after a pause, "to pay for a lodging
in Birmingham. I couldn't live much longer at home. If I'm here, I can
get books out of the library, and time won't drag so. And I shall be
near you."

"Do so, by all means."

As if more completely to dismiss the unpleasant subject, they walked
into another room. Hilliard began to speak again of his scheme for
providing a place where they could meet and talk at their ease. Eve now
entered into it with frank satisfaction.

"Have you said anything yet to Mr. Narramore?" she asked at length.

"No. I have never felt inclined to tell him. Of course I shall some
day. But it isn't natural to me to talk of this kind of thing, even
with so intimate a friend. Some men couldn't keep it to themselves: for
me the difficulty is to speak."

"I asked again, because I have been thinking - mightn't Mr. Narramore be
able to help me to get work?"

Hilliard repelled the suggestion with strong distaste. On no account
would he seek his friend's help in such a matter. And Eve said no more
of it.

On her return journey to Dudley, between eight and nine o'clock, she
looked cold and spiritless. Her eyelids dropped wearily as she sat in
the corner of the carriage with some papers on her lap, which Hilliard
had given her. Rain had ceased, and the weather seemed turning to
frost. From Dudley station she had a walk of nearly half an hour, to
the top of Kate's Hill.

Kate's Hill is covered with an irregular assemblage of old red-tiled
cottages, grimy without, but sometimes, as could be seen through an
open door admitting into the chief room, clean and homely-looking
within. The steep, narrow alleys leading upward were scarce lighted;
here and there glimmered a pale corner-lamp, but on a black night such
as this the oil-lit windows of a little shop, and the occasional gleam
from doors, proved very serviceable as a help in picking one's path.
Towards the top of the hill there was no paving, and mud lay thick.
Indescribable the confusion of this toilers' settlement - houses and
workshops tumbled together as if by chance, the ways climbing and
winding into all manner of pitch-dark recesses, where eats prowled
stealthily. In one spot silence and not a hint of life; in another,
children noisily at play amid piles of old metal or miscellaneous
rubbish. From the labyrinth which was so familiar to her, Eve issued of
a sudden on to a sort of terrace, where the air blew shrewdly: beneath
lay cottage roofs, and in front a limitless gloom, which by daylight
would have been an extensive northward view, comprising the towns of
Bilston and Wolverhampton. It was now a black gulf, without form and
void, sputtering fire. Flames that leapt out of nothing, and as
suddenly disappeared; tongues of yellow or of crimson, quivering,
lambent, seeming to snatch and devour and then fall back in satiety.
When a cluster of these fires shot forth together, the sky above became
illumined with a broad glare, which throbbed and pulsed in the manner
of sheet-lightning, though more lurid, and in a few seconds was gone.

She paused here for a moment, rather to rest after her climb than to
look at what she had seen so often, then directed her steps to one of
the houses within sight. She pushed the door, and entered a little
parlour, where a fire and a lamp made cheery welcome. By the hearth, in
a round-backed wooden chair, sat a grizzle-headed man, whose hard
features proclaimed his relation to Eve, otherwise seeming so
improbable. He looked up from the volume open on his knee - a Bible - and
said in a rough, kind voice:

"I was thinkin' it 'ud be about toime for you. You look starved, my
lass."

"Yes; it has turned very cold."

"I've got a bit o' supper ready for you. I don't want none myself;
there's food enough for me _here_." He laid his hand on the book.
"D'you call to mind the eighteenth of Ezekiel, lass? - 'But if the
wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed - - '"

Eve stood motionless till he had read the verse, then nodded and began
to take off her out-of-door garments. She was unable to talk, and her
eyes wandered absently.




CHAPTER XIX


After a week's inquiry, Hilliard discovered the lodging that would suit
his purpose. It was Camp Hill; two small rooms at the top of a house,
the ground-floor of which was occupied as a corn-dealer's shop, and the
story above that tenanted by a working optician with a blind wife. On
condition of papering the rooms and doing a few repairs necessary to
make them habitable, he secured them at the low rent of four shillings
a week.

Eve paid her first visit to this delectable abode on a Sunday
afternoon; she saw only the sitting-room, which would bear inspection;
the appearance of the bed-room was happily left to her surmise. Less
than a five-pound note had paid for the whole furnishing.
Notwithstanding the reckless invitation to Eve to share his fortunes
straightway, Hilliard, after paving his premium of fifty guineas to the
Birching Brothers, found but a very small remnant in hand of the money
with which he had set forth from Dudley some nine months ago. Yet not
for a moment did he repine; he had the value of his outlay; his mind
was stored with memories and his heart strengthened with hope.

At her second coming - she herself now occupied a poor little lodging
not very far away - Eve beheld sundry improvements. By the fireside
stood a great leather chair, deep, high-backed, wondrously
self-assertive over against the creaky cane seat which before had
dominated the room. Against the wall was a high bookcase, where
Hilliard's volumes, previously piled on the floor, stood in loose
array; and above the mantelpiece hung a framed engraving of the
Parthenon.

"This is dreadful extravagance!" she exclaimed, pausing at the
threshold, and eying her welcomer with mock reproof.

"It is, but not on my part. The things came a day or two ago, simply
addressed to me from shops."

"Who was the giver, then?"

"Must be Narramore, of course. He was here not long ago, and growled a
good deal because I hadn't a decent chair for his lazy bones."

"I am much obliged to him," said Eve, as she sank back in the seat of
luxurious repose. "You ought to hang his portrait in the room. Haven't
you a photograph?" she added carelessly.

"Such a thing doesn't exist. Like myself, he hasn't had a portrait
taken since he was a child. A curious thing, by-the-bye, that you
should have had yours taken just when you did. Of course it was because
you were going far away for the first time; but it marked a point in
your life, and put on record the Eve Madeley whom no one would see
again If I can't get that photograph in any other way I shall go and
buy, beg, or steal it from Mrs. Brewer."

"Oh, you shall have one if you insist upon it."

"Why did you refuse it before?"

"I hardly know - a fancy - I thought you would keep looking at it, and
regretting that I had changed so."

As on her previous visit, she soon ceased to talk, and, in listening to
Hilliard, showed unconsciously a tired, despondent face.

"Nothing yet," fell from her lips, when he had watched her silently.

"Never mind; I hate the mention of it."

"By-the-bye," he resumed, "Narramore astounded me by hinting at
marriage. It's Miss Birching, the sister of my man. It hasn't come to
an engagement yet, and if it ever does I shall give Miss Birching the
credit for it. It would have amused you to hear him talking about her,
with a pipe in his mouth and half asleep. I understand now why he took
young Birching with him to Switzerland. He'll never carry it through;
unless, as I said, Miss Birching takes the decisive step."

"Is she the kind of girl to do that?" asked Eve, waking to curiosity.

"I know nothing about her, except from Narramore's sleepy talk. Rather
an arrogant beauty, according to him. He told me a story of how, when
he was calling upon her, she begged him to ring the bell for something
or other, and he was so slow in getting up that she went and rang it
herself. 'Her own fault,' he said; 'she asked me to sit on a chair with
a seat some six inches above the ground, and how can a man hurry up
from a thing of that sort?'"

"He must be a strange man. Of course he doesn't care anything about
Miss Birching."

"But I think he does, in his way."

"How did he ever get on at all in business?"

"Oh, he's one of the lucky men." Hilliard replied, with a touch of
good-natured bitterness. "He never exerted himself; good things fell
into his mouth. People got to like him - that's one explanation, no
doubt."

"Don't you think he may have more energy than you imagine?"

"It's possible. I have sometimes wondered."

"What sort of life does he lead? Has he many friends I mean?"

"Very few. I should doubt whether there's anyone he talks with as he
does with me. He'll never get much good out of his money; but if he
fell into real poverty - poverty like mine - it would kill him. I know he
looks at me as an astonishing creature, and marvels that I don't buy a
good dose of chloral and have done with it."

Eve did not join in his laugh.

"I can't bear to hear you speak of your poverty," she said in an
undertone. "You remind me that I am the cause of it."

"Good Heavens! As if I should mention it if I were capable of such a
thought!"

"But it's the fact," she persisted, with something like irritation.
"But for me, you would have gone into the architect's office with
enough to live upon comfortably for a time."

"That's altogether unlikely," Hilliard declared. "But for you, it's
improbable that I should have gone to Birching's at all. At this moment
I should be spending my money in idleness, and, in the end, should have
gone back to what I did before. You have given me a start in a new
life."

This, and much more of the same tenor, failed to bring a light upon
Eve's countenance. At length she asked suddenly, with a defiant
bluntness - -

"Have you ever thought what sort of a wife I am likely to make?"

Hilliard tried to laugh, but was disagreeably impressed by her words
and the look that accompanied them.

"I have thought about it, to be sure," he answered carelessly

"And don't you feel a need of courage?"

"Of course. And not only the need but the courage itself."

"Tell me the real, honest truth." She bent forward, and gazed at him
with eyes one might have thought hostile. "I demand the truth of you: I
have a right to know it. Don't you often wish you had never seen me?"

"You 're in a strange mood."

"Don't put me off. Answer!"

"To ask such a question," he replied quietly, "is to charge me with a
great deal of hypocrisy. I did _once_ all but wish I had never seen
you. If I lost you now I should lose what seems to me the strongest
desire of my life. Do you suppose I sit down and meditate on your
capacity as cook or housemaid? It would be very prudent and laudable,
but I have other thoughts - that give me trouble enough."

"What thoughts?"

"Such as one doesn't talk about - if you insist on frankness."

Her eyes wandered.

"It's only right to tell you," she said, after silence, "that I dread
poverty as much as ever I did. And I think poverty in marriage a
thousand times worse than when one is alone."

"Well, we agree in that. But why do you insist upon it just now? Are
_you_ beginning to be sorry that we ever met?"

"Not a day passes but I feel sorry for it."

"I suppose you are harping on the old scruple. Why will you plague me
about it?"

"I mean," said Eve, with eyes down, "that you are the worse off for
having met me, but I mean something else as well. Do you think it
possible that anyone can owe too much gratitude, even to a person one
likes?"

He regarded her attentively.

"You feel the burden?"

She delayed her answer, glancing at him with a new expression - a
deprecating tenderness.

"It's better to tell you. I _do_ feel it, and have always felt it."

"Confound this infernal atmosphere!" Hilliard broke out wrathfully.
"It's making you morbid again. Come here to me! Eve - come!"

As she sat motionless, he caught her hands and drew her forward, and
sat down again with her passive body resting upon his knees. She was
pale, and looked frightened.

"Your gratitude be hanged! Pay me back with your lips - so - and so!
Can't you understand that when my lips touch yours, I have a delight
that would be well purchased with years of semi-starvation? What is it
to me how I won you? You are mine for good and all - that's enough."

She drew herself half away, and stood brightly flushed, touching her
hair to set it in order again. Hilliard, with difficulty controlling
himself, said in a husky voice -

"Is the mood gone?"

Eve nodded, and sighed.




CHAPTER XX


At the time appointed for their next meeting, Hilliard waited in vain.
An hour passed, and Eve, who had the uncommon virtue of punctuality,
still did not come. The weather was miserable - rain, fog, and
slush - but this had heretofore proved no obstacle, for her lodgings
were situated less than half a mile away. Afraid of missing her if he
went out, he fretted through another hour, and was at length relieved
by the arrival of a letter of explanation. Eve wrote that she had been
summoned to Dudley; her father was stricken with alarming illness, and
her brother had telegraphed.

For two days he heard nothing; then came a few lines which told him
that Mr. Madeley could not live many more hours. On the morrow Eve
wrote that her father was dead.

To the letter which he thereupon despatched Hilliard had no reply for
nearly a week. When Eve wrote, it was from a new address at Dudley.
After thanking him for the kind words with which he had sought to
comfort her, she continued -

"I have at last found something to do, and it was quite time, for I
have been very miserable, and work is the best thing for me. Mr.
Welland, my first employer, when I was twelve years old, has asked me
to come and keep his books for him, and I am to live in his house. My
brother has gone into lodgings, and we see no more of the cottage on
Kate's Hill. It's a pity I have to be so far from you again, but there
seems to be no hope of getting anything to do in Birmingham, and here I
shall be comfortable enough, as far as mere living goes. On Sunday I
shall be quite free, and will come over as often as possible; but I
have caught a bad cold, and must be content to keep in the house until
this dreadful weather changes. Be more careful of yourself than you
generally are, and let me hear often. In a few months' time we shall be
able to spend pleasant hours on the Castle Hill. I have heard from
Patty, and want to tell you about her letter, but this cold makes me
feel too stupid Will write again soon."

It happened that Hilliard himself was just now blind and voiceless with
a catarrh. The news from Dudley by no means solaced him. He crouched
over his fire through the long, black day, tormented with many
miseries, and at eventide drank half a bottle of whisky, piping hot,
which at least assured him of a night's sleep.

Just to see what would be the result of his silence, he wrote no reply
to this letter. A fortnight elapsed; he strengthened himself in
stubbornness, aided by the catarrh, which many bottles of whisky would
not overcome. When his solitary confinement grew at length
insufferable, he sent for Narramore, and had not long to wait before
his friend appeared. Narramore was rosy as ever: satisfaction with life
beamed from his countenance.

"I've ordered you in some wine," he exclaimed genially, sinking into
the easy-chair which Hilliard had vacated for him - an instance of
selfishness in small things which did not affect his generosity in
greater. "It isn't easy to get good port nowadays, but they tell me
that this is not injurious. Hasn't young Birching been to see you? No,
I suppose he would think it _infra dig_. to come to this neighbourhood.
There's a damnable self-conceit in that family: you must have noticed
it, eh? It comes out very strongly in the girl. By-the-bye I've done


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