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   Chapter 13 No.13

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 9541

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


On the evening of the next day, just after he had lit his lamp, Hilliard's attention was drawn by a sound as of someone tapping at the window. He stood to listen, and the sound was repeated-an unmistakable tap of fingers on the glass. In a moment he was out in the street, where he discovered Patty Ringrose.

"Why didn't you come to see me?" she asked excitedly.

"I was afraid she might be there. Did she go to business, as usual?"

"Yes. At least I suppose so. She only got home at the usual time. I've left her there: I was bound to see you. Do you know what she told me last night when she came in?"

"I dare say I could guess."

Hilliard began to walk down the street. Patty, keeping close at his side, regarded him with glances of wonder.

"Is it true that we're going to Paris? I couldn't make out whether she meant it, and this morning I couldn't get a word from her."

"Are you willing to go with her?"

"And have all my expenses paid?"

"Of course."

"I should think I am! But I daren't let my uncle and aunt know; there'd be no end of bother. I shall have to make up some sort of tale to satisfy my aunt, and get my things sent to the station while uncle's playing billiards. How long is it for?"

"Impossible to say. Three months-half a year-I don't know. What about Mr. Daily?"

"Oh, I've done with him!"

"And you are perfectly sure that you can get employment whenever you need it?"

"Quite sure: no need to trouble about that. I'm very good friends with aunt, and she'll take me in for as long as I want when I come back. But it's easy enough for anybody like me to get a place. I've had two or three offers the last half-year, from good shops where they were losing their young ladies. We're always getting married, in our business, and places have to be filled up."

"That settles it, then."

"But I want to know-I can't make it out-Eve won't tell me how she's managing to go. Are you going to pay for her?"

"We won't talk of that, Patty. She's going; that's enough."

"You persuaded her, last night?"

"Yes, I persuaded her. And I am to hear by the first post in the morning whether she will go to-morrow or Thursday. She'll arrange things with you to-night, I should think."

"It didn't look like it. She's shut herself in her room."

"I can understand that. She is ill. That's why I'm getting her away from London. Wait till we've been in Paris a few weeks, and you'll see how she changes. At present she is downright ill-ill enough to go to bed and be nursed, if that would do any good. It's your part to look after her. I don't want you to be her servant."

"Oh, I don't mind doing anything for her."

"No, because you are a very good sort of girl. You 'Ii live at a hotel, and what you have to do is to make her enjoy herself. I shouldn't wonder if you find it difficult at first, but we shall get her round before long."

"I never thought there was anything the' matter with her."

"Perhaps not, but I understand her better. Of course you won't say a word of this to her. You take it as a holiday-as good fun. No doubt I shall be able to have a few words in private with you now and then. But at other times we must talk as if nothing special had passed between us."

Patty mused. The lightness of her step told in what a spirit of gaiety she looked forward to the expedition.

"Do you think," she asked presently, "that it'll all come to an end-what I told you of?"

"Yes, I think so."

"You didn't let her know that I'd been talking--"

"Of course not. And, as I don't want her to know that you've seen me to-night, you had better stay no longer. She's sure to have something to tell you to-night or to-morrow morning. Get your packing done, and be ready at any moment. When I hear from Eve in the morning, I shall send her a telegram. Most likely we sha'n't see each other again until we meet at Charing Cross. I hope it may be tomorrow; but Thursday is the latest."

So Patty took her departure, tripping briskly homeward. As for Hilliard, he returned to his sitting-room, and was busy for some time with the pencilling of computations in English and French money. Towards midnight, he walked as far as High Street, and looked at the windows above the music-shop. All was dark.

He rose very early next morning, and as post-time drew near he walked about the street in agonies of suspense. He watched the letter-carrier from house to house, followed him up, and saw him pass the number at which he felt assured that he would deliver a letter. In frenzy of disappointment a fierce oath burst from his lips.

"That's what comes of trusting a woman!-she is going to cheat me. She has gained her end, and will put me off with excuses."

But perhaps a telegram would come. He

made a pretence of breakfasting, and paced his room for an hour like a caged animal. When the monotony of circulating movement had all but stupefied him, he was awakened by a double postman's knock at the front door, the signal that announces a telegram.

Again from Patty, and again a request that he would come to the shop at mid-day.

"Just as I foresaw-excuses-postponement. What woman ever had the sense of honour!"

To get through the morning he drank-an occupation suggested by the heat of the day, which blazed cloudless. The liquor did not cheer him, but inspired a sullen courage, a reckless resolve. And in this frame of mind he presented himself before Patty Ringrose.

"She can't go to-day," said Patty, with an air of concern. "You were quite right-she is really ill."

"Has she gone out?"

"No, she's upstairs, lying on the bed. She says she has a dreadful headache, and if you saw her you'd believe it. She looks shocking. It's the second night she hasn't closed her eyes."

A savage jealousy was burning Hilliard's vitals. He had tried to make light of the connection between Eve and that unknown man, even after her extraordinary request for money, which all but confessedly she wanted on his account. He had blurred the significance of such a situation, persuading himself that neither was Eve capable of a great passion, nor the man he had seen able to inspire one. Now he rushed to the conviction that Eve had fooled him with a falsehood.

"Tell her this." He glared at Patty with eyes which made the girl shrink in alarm. "If she isn't at Charing Cross Station by a quarter to eleven to-morrow, there's an end of it. I shall be there, and shall go on without her. It's her only chance."

"But if she really can't--"

"Then it's her misfortune-she must suffer for it. She goes to-morrow or not at all. Can you make her understand that?"

"I'll tell her."

"Listen, Patty. If you bring her safe to the station to-morrow you shall have a ten-pound note, to buy what you like in Paris."

The girl reddened, half in delight, half in shame.

"I don't want it-she shall come--"

"Very well; good-bye till to-morrow, or for good."

"No, no; she shall come."

He was drenched in perspiration, yet walked for a mile or two at his topmost speed. Then a consuming thirst drove him into the nearest place where drink was sold. At six o'clock he remembered that he had not eaten since breakfast; he dined extravagantly, and afterwards fell asleep in the smoking-room of the restaurant. A waiter with difficulty aroused him, and persuaded him to try the effect of the evening air. An hour later he sank in exhaustion on one of the benches near the river, and there slept profoundly until stirred by a policeman.

"What's the time?" was his inquiry, as he looked up at the starry sky.

He felt for his watch, but no watch was discoverable. Together with the gold chain it had disappeared.

"Damnation! someone has robbed me."

The policeman was sympathetic, but reproachful.

"Why do you go to sleep on the Embankment at this time of night? Lost any money?"

Yes, his money too had flown; luckily, only a small sum. It was for the loss of his watch and chain that he grieved; they had been worn for years by his father, and on that account had a far higher value for him than was represented by their mere cost.

As a matter of form, he supplied the police with information concerning the theft. Of recovery there could be little hope.

Thoroughly awakened and sober, he walked across London to Gower Place arriving in the light of dawn. Too spiritless to take off his clothing, he lay upon the bed, and through the open window watched a great cloud that grew rosy above the opposite houses.

Would Eve be at the place of meeting today? It seemed to him totally indifferent whether she came or not; nay, he all but hoped that she would not. He had been guilty of prodigious folly. The girl belonged to another man; and even had it not been so, what was the use of flinging away his money at this rate? Did he look for any reward correspondent to the sacrifice? She would never love him, and it was not in his power to complete the work he had begun, by freeing her completely from harsh circumstances, setting her in a path of secure and pleasant life.

But she would not come, and so much the better. With only himself to provide for he had still money enough to travel far. He would see something of the great world, and leave his future to destiny.

He dozed for an hour or two.

Whilst he was at breakfast a letter arrived for him. He did not know the handwriting on the envelope, but it must be Eve's. Yes. She wrote a couple of lines: "I will be at the station to-morrow at a quarter to eleven.-E. M."

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