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   Chapter 10 No.10

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 8780

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


When fruit had been set before them-and as he was peeling a banana:

"What a vast difference," said Hilliard, "between the life of people who dine, and of those who don't! It isn't the mere pleasure of eating, the quality of the food-though that must have a great influence on mind and character. But to sit for an hour or two each evening in quiet, orderly enjoyment, with graceful things about one, talking of whatever is pleasant-how it civilises! Until three months ago I never dined in my life, and I know well what a change it has made in me."

"I never dined till this evening," said Eve.

"Never? This is the first time you have been at a restaurant?"

"For dinner-yes."

Hilliard heard the avowal with surprise and delight. After all, there could not have been much intimacy between her and the man she met at the Exhibition.

"When I go back to slavery," he continued, "I shall bear it more philosophically. It was making me a brute, but I think there'll be no more danger of that. The memory of civilisation will abide with me. I shall remind myself that I was once a free man, and that will support me."

Eve regarded him with curiosity.

"Is there no choice?" she asked. "While you have money, couldn't you find some better way of earning a living?"

"I have given it a thought now and then, but it's very doubtful. There's only one thing at which I might have done well, and that's architecture. From studying it just for my own pleasure, I believe I know more about architecture than most men who are not in the profession; but it would take a long time before I could earn money by it. I could prepare myself to be an architectural draughtsman, no doubt, and might do as well that way as drawing machinery. But--"

"Then why don't you go to work! It would save you from living in hideous places."

"After all, does it matter much? If I had anything else to gain. Suppose I had any hope of marriage, for instance--"

He said it playfully. Eve turned her eyes away, but gave no other sign of self-consciousness.

"I have no such hope. I have seen too much of marriage in poverty."

"So have I," said his companion, with quiet emphasis.

"And when a man's absolutely sure that he will never have an income of more than a hundred and fifty pounds--"

"It's a crime if he asks a woman to share it," Eve added coldly.

"I agree with you. It's well to understand each other on that point.-Talking of architecture, I bought a grand book this afternoon."

He described the purchase, and mentioned what it cost.

"But at that rate," said Eve, "your days of slavery will come again very soon."

"Oh! it's so rarely that I spend a large sum. On most days I satisfy myself with the feeling of freedom, and live as poorly as ever I did. Still, don't suppose that I am bent on making my money last a very long time. I can imagine myself spending it all in a week or two, and feeling I had its worth. The only question is, how can I get most enjoyment? The very best of a lifetime may come within a single day. Indeed, I believe it very often does."

"I doubt that-at least, I know that it couldn't be so with me."

"Well, what do you aim at?" Hilliard asked disinterestedly.

"Safety," was the prompt reply.

"Safety? From what?"

"From years of struggle to keep myself alive, and a miserable old age."

"Then you might have said-a safety-match."

The jest, and its unexpectedness, struck sudden laughter from Eve. Hilliard joined in her mirth.

After that she suggested, "Hadn't we better go?"

"Yes. Let us walk quietly on. The streets are pleasant after sunset."

On rising, after he had paid the bill, Hilliard chanced to see himself in a mirror. He had flushed cheeks, and his hair was somewhat disorderly. In contrast with Eve's colourless composure, his appearance was decidedly bacchanalian; but the thought merely amused him.

They crossed Holborn, and took their way up Southampton Row, neither speaking until they were within sight of Russell Square.

"I like this part of London," said Hilliard at length, pointing before him. "I often walk about the squares late at night. It's quiet, and the trees make the air taste fresh."

"I did the same, sometimes, when I lived in Gower Place."

"Doesn't it strike you that we are rather like each other in some things?"

"Oh, yes!" Eve replied frankly. "I have noti

ced that."

"You have? Even in the lives we have led there's a sort of resemblance, isn't there?"

"Yes, I see now that there is."

In Russell Square they turned from the pavement, and walked along the edge of the enclosure.

"I wish Patty had been with us," said Eve all at once. "She would have enjoyed it so thoroughly."

"To be sure she would. Well, we can dine again, and have Patty with us. But, after all, dining in London can't be quite what it is in Paris. I wish you hadn't gone back to work again. Do you know what I should have proposed?"

She glanced inquiringly at him.

"Why shouldn't we all have gone to Paris for a holiday? You and Patty could have lived together, and I should have seen you every day."

Eve laughed.

"Why not? Patty and I have both so much more money than we know what to do with," she answered.

"Money? Oh, what of that! I have money."

She laughed again.

Hilliard was startled.

"You are talking rather wildly. Leaving myself out of the question, what would Mr. Dally say to such a proposal?"

"Who's Mr. Dally?"

"Don't you know? Hasn't Patty told you that she is engaged?"

"Ah! No; she hasn't spoken of it. But I think I must have seen him at the music-shop one day. Is she likely to marry him?"

"It isn't the wisest thing she could do, but that may be the end of it. He's in an auctioneer's office, and may have a pretty good income some day."

A long silence followed. They passed out of Russell into Woburn Square. Night was now darkening the latest tints of the sky, and the lamps shone golden against dusty green. At one of the houses in the narrow square festivities were toward; carriages drew up before the entrance, from which a red carpet was laid down across the pavement; within sounded music.

"Does this kind of thing excite any ambition in you?" Hilliard asked, coming to a pause a few yards away from the carriage which was discharging its occupants.

"Yes, I suppose it does. At all events, it makes me feel discontented."

"I have settled all that with myself. I am content to look on as if it were a play. Those people have an idea of life quite different from mine. I shouldn't enjoy myself among them. You, perhaps, would."

"I might," Eve replied absently. And she turned away to the other side of the square.

"By-the-bye, you have a friend in Paris. Do you ever hear from her?"

"She wrote once or twice after she went back; but it has come to an end."

"Still, you might find her again, if you were there."

Eve delayed her reply a little, then spoke impatiently.

"What is the use of setting my thoughts upon such things? Day after day I try to forget what I most wish for. Talk about yourself, and I will listen with pleasure; but never talk about me."

"It's very hard to lay that rule upon me. I want to hear you speak of yourself. As yet, I hardly know you, and I never shall unless you--"

"Why should you know me?" she interrupted, in a voice of irritation.

"Only because I wish it more than anything else, I have wished it from the day when I first saw your portrait."

"Oh! that wretched portrait! I should be sorry if I thought it was at all like me."

"It is both like and unlike," said Hilliard. "What I see of it in your face is the part of you that most pleases me."

"And that isn't my real self at all."

"Perhaps not. And yet, perhaps, you are mistaken. That is what I want to learn. From the portrait, I formed an idea of you. When I met you, it seemed to me that I was hopelessly astray; yet now I don't feel sure of it."

"You would like to know what has changed me from the kind of girl I was at Dudley?"

"Are you changed?"

"In some ways, no doubt. You, at all events, seem to think so."

"I can wait. You will tell me all about it some day."

"You mustn't take that for granted. We have made friends in a sort of way just because we happened to come from the same place, and know the same people. But--"

He waited.

"Well, I was going to say that there's no use in our thinking much about each other."

"I don't ask you to think of me. But I shall think a great deal about you for long enough to come."

"That's what I want to prevent."

"Why?"

"Because, in the end, it might be troublesome to me."

Hilliard kept silence awhile, then laughed. When he spoke again, it was of things indifferent natures.

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