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   Chapter 12 No.12

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 12863

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


A heavy footstep sounded in the passage, and Hilliard, to whose emotions was now added a sense of ludicrous indignity, heard talk between Patty and her uncle.

"You mustn't lock up yet," said the girl, "Eve is out."

"What's she doing?"

"I don't know. At the theatre with friends, I dare say."

"If we'd been staying on here, that young woman would have had to look out for another lodging. There's something I don't like about her, and if you take my advice, Patty, you'll shake her off. She'll do you no good, my girl."

They passed together into the room behind the shop, and though their voices were still audible, Hilliard could no longer follow the conversation. He stood motionless, just where Patty had left him, with a hand resting on the top of the piano, and it seemed to him that at least half an hour went by. Then a sound close by made him start; it was the snapping of a violin string; the note reverberated through the silent shop. But by this time the murmur of conversation had ceased, and Hilliard hoped that Patty's uncle had gone upstairs to bed.

As proved to be the case. Presently the door opened, and a voice called to him in a whisper. He obeyed the summons, and, not without stumbling, followed Patty into the open air.

"She hasn't come yet."

"What's the time?"

"Half-past eleven. I shall sit up for her. Did you hear what my uncle said? You mustn't think anything of that; he's always finding fault with people."

"Do you think she will come at all?" asked Hilliard.

"Oh, of course she will!"

"I shall wait about. Don't stand here. Good-night."

"You won't let her know what I've told you?" said Patty, retaining his hand.

"No, I won't. If she doesn't come back at all, I'll see you to-morrow."

He moved away, and the door closed.

Many people were still passing along the street. In his uncertainty as to the direction by which Eve would return-if return she did-Hilliard ventured only a few yards away. He had waited for about a quarter of an hour, when his eye distinguished a well-known figure quickly approaching. He hurried forward, and Eve stopped before he had quite come up to her.

"Where have you been to-night?" were his first words, sounding more roughly than he in tended.

"I wanted to see you, I passed your lodgings and saw there was no light in the windows, else I should have asked for you."

She spoke in so strange a voice, with such show of agitation, that Hilliard stood gazing at her till she again broke silence,

"Have you been waiting here for me?"

"Yes. Patty told me you weren't back."

"Why did you come?"

"Why do I ever come to meet you?"

"We can't talk here," said Eve, turning away. "Come into a quieter place."

They walked in silence to the foot of High Street, and there turned aside into the shadowed solitude of Mornington Crescent. Eve checked her steps and said abruptly-

"I want to ask you for something."

"What is it?"

"Now that it comes to saying it, I-I'm afraid. And yet if I had asked you that evening when we were at the restaurant--"

"What is it?" Hilliard repeated gruffly.

"That isn't your usual way of speaking to me."

"Will you tell me where you have been tonight?"

"Nowhere-walking about--"

"Do you often walk about the streets till midnight?"

"Indeed I don't."

The reply surprised him by its humility. Her voice all but broke on the words. As well as the dim light would allow, he searched her face, and it seemed to him that her eyes had a redness, as if from shedding tears.

"You haven't been alone?"

"No-I've been with a friend."

"Well, I have no claim upon you. It's nothing to me what friends you go about with. What were you going to ask of me?"

"You have changed so all at once. I thought you would never talk in this way."

"I didn't mean to," said Hilliard. "I have lost control of myself, that's all. But you can say whatever you meant to say-just as you would have done at the restaurant. I'm the same man I was then."

Eve moved a few steps, but he did not follow her, and she returned. A policeman passing threw a glance at them.

"It's no use asking what I meant to ask," she said, with her eyes on the ground. "You won't grant it me."

"How can I say till I know what it is? There are not many things in my power that I wouldn't do for you."

"I was going to ask for money."

"Money? Why, it depends what you are going to do with it. If it will do you any good, all the money I have is yours, as you know well enough. But I must understand why you want it."

"I can't tell you that. I don't want you to give me money-only to lend it. You shall have it back again, though I can't promise the exact time. If you hadn't changed so, I should have found it easy enough to ask. Hut I don't know you to-night; it's like talking to a stranger. What has happened to make you so different?"

"I have been waiting a long time for you, that's all," Hilliard replied, endeavouring to use the tone of frank friendliness in which he had been wont to address her. "I got nervous and irritable. I felt uneasy about you. It's all right now: Let us walk on a little. You want money. Well, I have three hundred pounds and more. Call it mine, call it yours. But I must know that you're not going to do anything foolish. Of course, you don't tell me everything; I have no right to expect it. You haven't misled me; I knew from the first that-well, a girl of your age, and with your face, doesn't live alone in London without adventures. I shouldn't think of telling you all mine, and I don't ask to know yours-unless I begin to have a part in them. There's something wrong: of course, I can see that. I think you've been crying, and you don't shed tears for a trifle. Now you come and ask me for money. If it will do you good, take all you want. But I've an uncomfortable suspicion that harm may come of it."

"Why not treat me just like a man-friend? I'm old enough to take care of myself."

"You think so, but I know better. Wait a moment. How much money do you want?"

"Thirty-five pounds."

"Exactly thirty-five? And it isn't for your own use?"

"I can't tell you any more. I am in very great need of the money, and if you will lend it me I shall feel very grateful."

"I want no gratitude, I want nothing from you, Eve, except what you can't give me. I can imagine a man in my position giving you money in the hope that i

t might be your ruin just to see you brought down, humiliated. There's so much of the brute in us all. But I don't feel that desire."

"Why should you?" she asked, with a change to coldness. "What harm have I done you?"

"No harm at all, and perhaps a great deal of good. I say that I wish you nothing but well. Suppose a gift of all the money I have would smooth your whole life before you, and make you the happy wife of some other man. I would give it you gladly. That kind of thing has often been said, when it meant nothing: it isn't so with me. It has always been more pleasure to me to give than to receive. No merit of mine; I have it from my father. Make clear to me that you are to benefit by this money, and you shall have the cheque as soon as you please."

"I shall benefit by it, because it will relieve me from a dreadful anxiety."

"Or, in other words, will relieve someone else?"

"I can speak only of myself. The kindness will be done to me."

"I must know more than that. Come now, we assume that there's someone in the background. A friend of yours, let us say. I can't Imagine why this friend of yours wants money, but so it is. You don't contradict me?"

Eve remained mute, her head bent.

"What about your friend and you in the future? Are you bound to this friend in any irredeemable way?"

"No-I am not," she answered, with emotion.

"There's nothing between you but-let us call it mere friendship."

"Nothing-nothing!"

"So far, so good." He looked keenly into her face. "But how about the future?"

"There will never be anything more-there can't be."

"Let us say that you think so at present. Perhaps I don't feel quite so sure of it. I say again, it's nothing to me, unless I get drawn into it by you yourself. I am not your guardian. If I tell you to be careful, it's an impertinence. But the money; that's another affair. I won't help you to misery."

"You will be helping me out of misery!" Eve exclaimed.

"Yes, for the present. I will make a bargain with you."

She looked at him with startled eyes.

"You shall have your thirty-five pounds on condition that you go to live, for as long as I choose, in Paris. You are to leave London in a day or two. Patty shall go with you; her uncle doesn't want her, and she seems to have quarrelled with the man she was engaged to. The expenses are my affair. I shall go to Paris myself, and be there while you are, but you need see no more of me than you like. Those are the terms."

"I can't think you are serious," said Eve.

"Then I'll explain why I wish you to do this. I've thought about you a great deal; in fact, since we first met, my chief occupation has been thinking about you. And I have come to the conclusion that you are suffering from an illness, the result of years of hardship and misery. We have agreed, you remember, that there are a good many points of resemblance between your life and mine, and perhaps between your character and mine. Now I myself, when I escaped from Dudley, was thoroughly ill-body and soul. The only hope for me was a complete change of circumstances-to throw off the weight of my past life, and learn the meaning of repose, satisfaction, enjoyment. I prescribe the same for you. I am your physician; I undertake your cure. If you refuse to let me, there's an end of everything between us; I shall say good-bye to you tonight, and to-morrow set off for some foreign country."

"How can I leave my work at a moment's notice?"

"The devil take your work-for he alone is the originator of such accursed toil!"

"How can I live at your expense?"

"That's a paltry obstacle. Oh, if you are too proud, say so, and there's an end of it. You know me well enough to feel the absolute truth of what I say, when I assure you that you will remain just as independent of me as you ever were. I shall be spending my money in a way that gives me pleasure; the matter will never appear to me in any other light. Why, call it an additional loan, if it will give any satisfaction to you. You are to pay me back some time. Here in London you perish; across the Channel there, health of body and mind is awaiting you; and are we to talk about money? I shall begin to swear like a trooper; the thing is too preposterous."

Eve said nothing: she stood half turned from him.

"Of course," he pursued, "you may object to leave London. Perhaps the sacrifice is too great. In that case, I should only do right if I carried you off by main force; but I'm afraid it can't be; I must leave you to perish."

"I am quite willing to go away," said Eve in a low voice. "But the shame of it-to be supported by you."

"Why, you don't hate me?"

"You know I do not."

"You even have a certain liking for me. I amuse you; you think me an odd sort of fellow, perhaps with more good than bad in me. At all events, you can trust me?"

"I can trust you perfectly."

"And it ain't as if I wished you to go alone. Patty will be off her head with delight when the thing is proposed to her."

"But how can I explain to her?"

"Don't attempt to. Leave her curiosity a good hard nut to crack. Simply say you are off to Paris, and that if she'll go with you, you will bear all her expenses."

"It's so difficult to believe that you are in earnest."

"You must somehow bring yourself to believe it. There will be a cheque ready for you to-morrow morning, to take or refuse. If you take it, you are bound in honour to leave England not later than-we'll say Thursday. That you are to be trusted, I believe, just as firmly as you believe it of me."

"I can't decide to-night."

"I can give you only till to-morrow morning. If I don't hear from you by midday, I am gone."

"You shall hear from me-one way or the other."

"Then don't wait here any longer. It's after midnight, and Patty will be alarmed about you. No, we won't shake hands; not that till we strike a bargain."

Eve seemed about to walk away, but she hesitated and turned again.

"I will do as you wish-I will go."

"Excellent! Then speak of it to Patty as soon as possible, and tell me what she says when we meet to-morrow-where and when you like."

"In this same place, at nine o'clock."

"So be it. I will bring the cheque."

"But I must be able to cash it at once."

"So you can. It will be on a London bank. I'll get the cash myself if you like."

Then they shook hands and went in opposite directions.

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