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   Chapter 8 No.8

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 12964

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Hilliard waited for her to continue, but Patty kept her eyes down and said no more.

"Did you think," he asked, "that I was likely to be in Miss Madeley's confidence?"

"You've known her a long time, haven't you?"

This proof of reticence, or perhaps of deliberate misleading, on Eve's part astonished Hilliard. He replied evasively that he had very little acquaintance with Miss Madeley's affairs, and added:

"May she not simply have changed her lodgings?"

"Why should she go so suddenly, and without letting me know?"

"What had the landlady to say?"

"She heard her tell the cab to drive to Mudie's-the library, you know."

"Why," said Hilliard; "that meant, perhaps, that she wanted to return a book before leaving London. Is there any chance that she has gone home-to Dudley? Perhaps her father is ill, and she was sent for."

Patty admitted this possibility, but with every sign of doubt.

"The landlady said she had a letter this morning."

"Did she? Then it may have been from Dudley. But you know her so much better than I do. Of course, you mustn't tell me anything you don't feel it right to speak of; still, did it occur to you that I could be of any use?"

"No, I didn't think; I only came because I was so upset when I found her gone. I knew you lived in Gower Place somewhere, and I thought you might have seen her since Sunday."

"I have not. But surely you will hear from her very soon. You may even get a letter tonight, or to-morrow morning."

Patty gave a little spring of hopefulness.

"Yes; a letter might come by the last post to-night. I'll go home at once."

"And I will come with you," said Hilliard. "Then you can tell me whether you have any news."

They turned and walked towards the foot of Hampstead Road, whence they could go by tram-car to Patty's abode in High Street, Camden Town. Supported by the hope of finding a letter when she arrived, Miss Ringrose grew more like herself.

"You must have wondered what ever I meant by calling to see you, Mr. Hilliard. I went to five or six houses before I hit on the right one. I do wish now that I'd waited a little, but I'm always doing things in that way and being sorry for them directly after. Eve is my best friend, you know, and that makes me so anxious about her."

"How long have you known her?"

"Oh, ever so long-about a year."

The temptation to make another inquiry was too strong for Hilliard.

"Where has she been employed of late?"

Patty looked up at him with surprise.

"Oh, don't you know? She isn't doing anything now. The people where she was went bankrupt, and she's been out of a place for more than a month."

"Can't find another engagement?"

"She hasn't tried yet. She's taking a holiday. It isn't very nice work, adding up money all day. I'm sure it would drive me out of my senses very soon. I think she might find something better than that."

Miss Ringrose continued to talk of her friend all the way to Camden Town, but the information he gathered did not serve to advance Hilliard in his understanding of Eve's character. That she was keeping back something of grave import the girl had already confessed, and in her chatter she frequently checked herself on the verge of an indiscretion. Hilliard took for granted that the mystery had to do with the man he had seen at Earl's Court. If Eve actually disappeared, he would not scruple to extract from Patty all that she knew; but he must see first whether Eve would communicate with her friend.

In High Street Patty entered a small shop which was on the point of being closed for the night.

Hilliard waited for her a few yards away; on her return he saw at once that she was disappointed.

"There's nothing!"

"It may come in the morning. I should like to know whether you hear or not."

"Would this be out of your way?" asked Patty. "I'm generally alone in the shop from half-past one to half-past two. There's very seldom any business going on then."

"Then I will come to-morrow at that time."

"Do, please? If I haven't heard anything I shall be that nervous."

They talked to no purpose for a few minutes, and bade each other good-night.

Next day, at the hour Patty had appointed, Hilliard was again in High Street. As he approached the shop he heard from within the jingle of a piano. A survey through the closed glass door showed him Miss Ringrose playing for her own amusement. He entered, and Patty jumped up with a smile of welcome.

"It's all right! I had a letter this morning. She has gone to Dudley."

"Ah! I am glad to hear it. Any reason given?"

"Nothing particular," answered the girl, striking a note on the piano with her forefinger. "She thought she might as well go home for a week or two before taking another place. She has heard of something in Holborn."

"So your alarm was groundless."

"Oh-I didn't really feel alarmed, Mr. Hilliard. You mustn't think that. I often do silly things."

Patty's look and tone were far from reassuring. Evidently she had been relieved from her suspense, but no less plainly did she seek to avoid an explanation of it. Hilliard began to glance about the shop.

"My uncle," resumed Patty, turning with her wonted sprightliness to another subject, "always goes out for an hour or two in the middle of the day to play billiards. I can tell by his face when he comes back whether he's lost or won; he does so take it to heart, silly man! Do you play billiards?"

The other shook his head.

"I thought not. You have a serious look."

Hilliard did not relish this compliment. He imagined he had cast away his gloom; he desired to look like the men who take life with easy courage. As he gazed through the glass door into the street, a figure suddenly blocked his prospect, and a face looked in. Then the door opened, and there entered a young man of clerkly appearance, who glanced from Miss Ringrose to her companion with an air of severity. Patty had reddened a little.

"What are you doing here at this time of day?" she asked familiarly.

"Oh-business-had to look up a man over here. Thought I'd speak a word as I passed."

Hilliard drew aside.

"Who has opened this new shop opposite?" added the young man, beckoning from the doorway.

A more transparent pretext for drawing Patty away could not have been conceived; but she readily lent herself to it, and followed. The door closed behind them. In a few minutes Patty returned alone, with rosy cheeks and mutino

us lips.

"I'm very sorry to have been in the way," said Hilliard, smiling.

"Oh, not you. It's all right. Someone I know. He can be sensible enough when he likes, but sometimes he's such a silly there's no putting up with him. Have you heard the new waltz-the Ballroom Queen?"

She sat down and rattled over this exhilarating masterpiece.

"Thank you," said Hilliard. "You play very cleverly."

"Oh, so can anybody-that's nothing."

"Does Miss Madeley play at all?"

"No. She's always saying she wishes she could but I tell her, what does it matter? She knows no end of things that I don't, and I'd a good deal rather have that."

"She reads a good deal, I suppose?"

"Oh, I should think she does, just! And she can speak French."

"Indeed? How did she learn?"

"At the place where she was bookkeeper there was a young lady from Paris, and they shared lodgings, and Eve learnt it from her. Then her friend went to Paris again, and Eve wanted very much to go with her, but she didn't see how to manage it. Eve," she added, with a laugh, "is always wanting to do something that's impossible."

A week later, Hilliard again called at the music-shop, and talked for half an hour with Miss Ringrose, who had no fresh news from Eve. His visits were repeated at intervals of a few days, and at length, towards the end of June, he learnt that Miss Madeley was about to return to London; she had obtained a new engagement, at the establishment in Holborn of which Patty had spoken.

"And will she come back to her old lodgings?" he inquired.

Patty shook her head.

"She'll stay with me. I wanted her to come here before, but she didn't care about it. Now she's altered her mind, and I'm very glad."

Hilliard hesitated in putting the next question.

"Do you still feel anxious about her?"

The girl met his eyes for an instant.

"No. It's all right now."

"There's one thing I should like you to tell me-if you can."

"About Miss Madeley?"

"I don't think there can be any harm in your saying yes or no. Is she engaged to be married?"

Patty replied with a certain eagerness.

"No! Indeed she isn't. And she never has been."

"Thank you." Hilliard gave a sigh of relief. "I'm very glad to know that."

"Of course you are," Patty answered, with a laugh.

As usual, after one of her frank remarks, she turned away and struck chords on the piano. Hilliard meditated the while, until his companion spoke again.

"You'll see her before long, I dare say?"

"Perhaps. I don't know."

"At all events, you'll want to see her."

"Most likely."

"Will you promise me something?"

"If it's in my power to keep the promise."

"It's only-I should be so glad if you wouldn't mention anything about my coming to see you that night in Gower Place."

"I won't speak of it."

"Quite sure?"

"You may depend upon me. Would you rather she didn't know that I have seen you at all?"

"Oh, there's no harm in that. I should be sure to let it out. I shall say we met by chance somewhere."

"Very well. I feel tempted to ask a promise iii return."

Patty stood with her hands behind her, eyes wide and lips slightly apart.

"It is this," he continued, lowering his voice. "If ever you should begin to feel anxious again about her will you let me know?"

Her reply was delayed; it came at length in the form of an embarrassed nod. Thereupon Hilliard pressed her hand and departed.

He knew the day on which Eve would arrive in London; from morning to night a feverish unrest drove him about the streets. On the morrow he was scarcely more at ease, and for several days he lived totally without occupation, save in his harassing thoughts. He paced and repaced the length of Holborn, wondering where it was that Eve had found employment; but from Camden Town he held aloof.

One morning there arrived for him a postcard on which was scribbled: "We are going to the Savoy on Saturday night. Gallery." No signature, no address; but of course the writer must be Patty Ringrose. Mentally, he thanked her with much fervour. And on the stated evening, nearly an hour before the opening of the doors, he climbed the stone steps leading to the gallery entrance of the Savoy Theatre. At the summit two or three persons were already waiting-strangers to him. He leaned against the wall, and read an evening paper. At every sound of approaching feet his eyes watched with covert eagerness. Presently he heard a laugh, echoing from below, and recognised Patty's voice; then Miss Ringrose appeared round the winding in the staircase, and was followed by Eve Madeley. Patty glanced up, and smiled consciously as she discovered the face she had expected to see; but Eve remained for some minutes unaware of her acquaintance's proximity. Scrutinising her appearance, as he could at his ease, Hilliard thought she looked far from well: she had a tired, dispirited expression, and paid no heed to the people about her. Her dress was much plainer than that she wore a month ago.

He saw Patty whispering to her companion, and, as a result, Eve's eyes turned in his direction. He met her look, and had no difficulty in making his way down two or three steps, to join her. The reception she gave him was one of civil indifference. Hilliard made no remark on what seemed the chance of their encounter, nor did he speak of her absence from London; they talked, as far as talk was possible under the circumstances, of theatrical and kindred subjects. He could not perceive that the girl was either glad or sorry to have met him again; but by degrees her mood brightened a little, and she exclaimed with pleasure when the opening of the door caused an upward movement.

"You have been away," he said, when they were in their places, he at one side of Eve, Patty on the other.

"Yes. At Dudley."

"Did you see Mrs. Brewer?"

"Several times. She hasn't got another lodger yet, and wishes you would go back again. A most excellent character she gave you."

This sounded satirical.

"I deserved the best she could say of me," Hilliard answered.

Eve glanced at him, smiled doubtfully, and turned to talk with Patty Ringrose. Through the evening there was no further mention of Dudley. Eve could with difficulty be induced to converse at all, and when the entertainment was over she pointedly took leave of him within the theatre. But while shaking hands with Patty, he saw something in that young lady's face which caused him to nod and smile.

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