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   Chapter 11 No.11

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 8522

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Laziest of men and worst of correspondents, Robert Narramore had as yet sent no reply to the letters in which Hilliard acquainted him with his adventures in London and abroad; but at the end of July he vouchsafed a perfunctory scrawl. "Too bad not to write before, but I've been floored every evening after business in this furious heat. You may like to hear that my uncle's property didn't make a bad show. I have come in for a round five thousand, and am putting it into brass bedsteads. Sha'n't be able to get away until the end of August. May see you then." Hilliard mused enviously on the brass bedstead business.

On looking in at the Camden Town music-shop about this time he found Patty Ringrose flurried and vexed by an event which disturbed her prospects. Her uncle the shopkeeper, a widower of about fifty, had announced his intention of marrying again, and, worse still, of giving up his business.

"It's the landlady of the public-house where he goes to play billiards," said Patty with scornful mirth; "a great fat woman! Oh! And he's going to turn publican. And my aunt and me will have to look out for ourselves."

This aunt was the shopkeeper's maiden sister who had hitherto kept house for him. "She had been promised an allowance," said Patty, "but a very mean one."

"I don't care much for myself," the girl went on; "there's plenty of shops where I can get an engagement, but of course it won't be the same as here, which has been home for me ever since I was a child. There! the things that men will do! I've told him plain to his face that he ought to be ashamed of himself, and so has aunt. And he is ashamed, what's more. Don't you call it disgusting, such a marriage as that?"

Hilliard avoided the delicate question.

"I shouldn't wonder if it hastens another marriage," he said with a smile.

"I know what you mean, but the chances are that marriage won't come off at all. I'm getting tired of men; they're so selfish and unreasonable. Of course I don't mean you, Mr. Hilliard, but-oh! you know what I mean."

"Mr. Dally has fallen under your displeasure?"

"Please don't talk about him. If he thinks he's going to lay down the law to me he'll find his mistake; and it's better he should find it out before it's too late."

They were interrupted by the entrance of Patty's amorous uncle, who returned from his billiards earlier than usual to-day. He scowled at the stranger, but passed into the house without speaking. Hilliard spoke a hurried word or two about Eve and went his way.

Something less than a week after this he chanced to be away from home throughout the whole day, and on returning he was surprised to see a telegram upon his table. It came from Patty Ringrose, and asked him to call at the shop without fail between one and two that day. The hour was now nearly ten; the despatch had arrived at eleven in the morning.

Without a minute's delay he ran out in search of a cab, and was driven to High Street. Here, of course, he found the shop closed, but it was much too early for the household to have retired to rest; risking an indiscretion, he was about to ring the house bell when the door opened, and Patty showed herself.

"Oh, is it you, Mr. Hilliard!" she exclaimed, in a flurried voice. "I heard the cab stop, and I thought it might be--You'd better come in-quick!"

He followed her along the passage and into the shop, where one gas-jet was burning low.

"Listen!" she resumed, whispering hurriedly. "If Eve comes-she'll let herself in with the latchkey-you must stand quiet here. I shall turn out the gas, and I'll let you out after she's gone upstairs? Couldn't you come before?"

Hilliard explained, and begged her to tell him what was the matter. But Patty kept him in suspense.

"Uncle won't be in till after twelve, so there's no fear. Aunt has gone to bed-she's upset with quarrelling about this marriage. Mind! You won't stir if Eve comes in. Don't talk loud; I must keep listening for the door."

"But what is it? Where is Eve?"

"I don't know. She didn't come home till very late last night, and I don't know where she was. You remember what you asked me to promise?"

"To let me know if you were anxious about her."

"Yes, and I am. She's in danger I onl

y hope--"

"What?"

"I don't like to tell you all I know. It doesn't seem right. But I'm so afraid for Eve."

"I can only imagine one kind of danger--"

"Yes-of course, it's that-you know what I mean. But there's more than you could fancy."

"Tell me, then, what has alarmed you?"

"When did you see her last?" Patty inquired.

"More than a week ago. Two or three days before I came here."

"Had you noticed anything?"

"Nothing unusual."

"No more did I, till last Monday night. Then I saw that something was wrong. Hush!"

She gripped his arm, and they listened. But no sound could be heard.

"And since then," Patty pursued, with tremulous eagerness, "she's been very queer. I know she doesn't sleep at night, and she's getting ill, and she's had letters from-someone she oughtn't to have anything to do with."

"Having told so much, you had better tell me all," said Hilliard impatiently. There was a cold sweat on his forehead, and his heart beat painfully.

"No. I can't. I can only give you a warning."

"But what's the use of that? What can I do? How can I interfere?"

"I don't know," replied the girl, with a helpless sigh. "She's in danger, that's all I call tell you."

"Patty, don't be a fool! Out with it! Who is the man? Is it some one you know?"

"I don't exactly know him I've seen him."

"Is he-a sort of gentleman?"

"Oh, yes, he's a gentleman. And you'd never think to look at him that he could do anything that wasn't right."

"Very well. What reason have you for supposing that he's doing wrong?"

Patty kept silence. A band of rowdy fellows just then came shouting along the street, and one of them crashed up against the shop door, making Patty jump and scream. Oaths and foul language followed; and then the uproar passed away.

"Look here," said Hilliard. "You'll drive me out of my senses. Eve is in love with this man, is she?"

"I'm afraid so. She was."

"Before she went away, you mean. And, of course, her going away had something to do with it?"

"Yes, it had."

Hilliard laid his hands on the girl's shoulders.

"You've got to tell me the plain truth, and be quick about it. I suppose you haven't any idea of the torments I'm suffering. I shall begin to think you're making a fool of me, and that there's nothing but-though that's bad enough for me."

"Very well, I'll tell you. She went away because it came out that the man was married."

"Oh, that's it?" He spoke from a dry throat. "She told you herself?"

"Yes, not long after she came back. She said, of course, she could have no more to do with him. She used to meet him pretty often--"

"Stay, how did she get to know him first?"

"Just by chance-somewhere."

"I understand," said Hilliard grimly. "Go on."

"And his wife got someone to spy on him, and they found out he was meeting Eve, and she jumped out on them when they were walking somewhere together, and told Eve everything. He wasn't living with his wife, and hasn't been for a long time."

"What's his position?"

"He's in business, and seems to have lots of money; but I don't exactly know what it is he does."

"You are afraid, then, that Eve is being drawn back to him?"

"I feel sure she is-and it's dreadful."

"What I should like to know," said Hilliard, harshly, "is whether she really cares for him, or only for his money."

"Oh! How horrid you are! I never thought you could say such a thing!"

"Perhaps you didn't. All the same, it's a question. I don't pretend to understand Eve Madeley, and I'm afraid you are just as far from knowing her."

"I don't know her? Why, what are you talking about, Mr. Hilliard?"

"What do you think of her, then? Is she a good-hearted girl or--"

"Or what? Of course she's good-hearted. The things that men do say! They seem to be all alike."

"Women are so far from being all alike that one may think she understands another, and be utterly deceived. Eve has shown her best side to you, no doubt. With me, she hasn't taken any trouble to do so. And if--"

"Hush!"

This time the alarm was justified. A latchkey rattled at the house-door, the door opened, and in the same moment Patty turned out the light.

"It's my uncle," she whispered, terror-stricken. "Don't stir."

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