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   Chapter 14 No.14

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 14109

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


One travelling bag was all he carried. Some purchases that he had made in London-especially the great work on French cathedrals-were already despatched to Birmingham, to lie in the care of Robert Narramore.

He reached Charing Cross half an hour before train-time, and waited at the entrance. Several cabs that drove up stirred his expectation only to disappoint him. He was again in an anguish of fear lest Eve should not come. A cab arrived, with two boxes of modest appearance. He stepped forward and saw the girls' faces.

Between him and Eve not a word passed. They avoided each other's look. Patty, excited and confused, shook hands with him.

"Go on to the platform," he said. "I'll see after everything. This is all the luggage?"

"Yes. One box is mine, and one Eve's. I had to face it out with the people at home," she added, between laughing and crying. "They think I'm going to the seaside, to stay with Eve till she gets better. I never told so many fibs in my life. Uncle stormed at me, but I don't care."

"All right; go on to the platform."

Eve was already walking in that direction. Undeniably she looked ill; her step was languid; she did not raise her eyes. Hilliard, when he had taken tickets and booked the luggage through to Paris, approached his travelling companions. Seeing him, Eve turned away.

"I shall go in a smoking compartment," he said to Patty. "You had better take your tickets."

"But when shall we see you again?"

"Oh, at Dover, of course."

"Will it be rough, do you think? I do wish Eve would talk. I can't get a word out of her. It makes it all so miserable, when we might be enjoying ourselves."

"Don't trouble: leave her to herself. I'll get you some papers."

On returning from the bookstall, he slipped loose silver into Patty's hands.

"Use that if you want anything on the journey. And-I haven't forgot my promise."

"Nonsense!"

"Go and take your places now: there's only ten minutes to wait."

He watched them as they passed the harrier. Neither of the girls was dressed very suitably for travelling; but Eve's costume resembled that of a lady, while Patty's might suggest that she was a lady's-maid. As if to confirm this distinction, Patty had burdened herself with several small articles, whereas her friend carried only a sunshade. They disappeared among people upon the platform. In a few minutes Hilliard followed, glanced along the carriages till he saw where the girls were seated, and took his own place. He wore a suit which had been new on his first arrival in London, good enough in quality and cut to give his features the full value of their intelligence; a brown felt hat, a russet necktie, a white flannel shirt. Finding himself with a talkative neighbour in the carriage, he chatted freely. As soon as the train had started, he lit his pipe and tasted the tobacco with more relish than for a long time.

On board the steamer Eve kept below from first to last. Patty walked the deck with Hilliard, and vastly to her astonishment, achieved the voyage without serious discomfort. Hilliard himself, with the sea wind in his nostrils, recovered that temper of buoyant satisfaction which had accompanied his first escape from London. He despised the weak misgivings and sordid calculations of yesterday. Here he was, on a Channel steamer, bearing away from disgrace and wretchedness the woman whom his heart desired. Wild as the project had seemed to him when first he conceived it, he had put it into execution. The moment was worth living for. Whatever the future might keep in store for him of dreary, toilsome, colourless existence, the retrospect would always show him this patch of purple-a memory precious beyond all the possible results of prudence and narrow self-regard.

The little she-Cockney by his side entertained him with the flow of her chatter; it had the advantage of making him feel a travelled man.

"I didn't cross this way when I came before," he explained to her. "From Newhaven it's a much longer voyage."

"You like the sea, then?"

"I chose it because it was cheaper-that's all."

"Yet you're so extravagant now," remarked Patty, with eyes that confessed admiration of this quality.

"Oh, because I am rich," he answered gaily. "Money is nothing to me."

"Are you really rich? Eve said you weren't."

"Did she?"

"I don't mean she said it in a disagreeable way. It was last night. She thought you were wasting your money upon us."

"If I choose to waste it, why not? Isn't there a pleasure in doing as you like?"

"Oh, of course there is," Patty assented. "I only wish I had the chance. But it's awfully jolly, this! Who'd have thought, a week ago, that I should be going to Paris? I have a feeling all the time that I shall wake up and find I've been dreaming."

"Suppose you go down and see whether Eve wants anything? You needn't say I sent you."

From Calais to Paris he again travelled apart from the girls. Fatigue overcame him, and for the last hour or two he slept, with the result that, on alighting at the Gare du Nord, he experienced a decided failure of spirits. Happily, there was nothing before him but to carry out a plan already elaborated. With the aid of his guide-book he had selected an hotel which seemed suitable for the girls, one where English was spoken, and thither he drove with them from the station. The choice of their rooms, and the settlement of details took only a few minutes; then, for almost the first time since leaving Charing Cross, he spoke to Eve.

"Patty will do everything she can for you," he said; "I shall be not very far away, and you can always send me a message if you wish. To-morrow morning I shall come at about ten to ask how you are-nothing more than that-unless you care to go anywhere."

The only reply was "Thank you," in a weary tone. And so, having taken his leave he set forth to discover a considerably less expensive lodging for himself. In this, after his earlier acquaintance with Paris, he had no difficulty; by half-past eight his business was done, and he sat down to dinner at a cheap restaurant. A headache spoilt his enjoyment of the meal. After a brief ramble about the streets, he went home and got into a bed which was rather too short for him, but otherwise promised sufficient comfort.

The first thing that came into his mind when he awoke next morning was that he no longer possessed a watch; the loss cast a gloom upon him. But he had slept well, and a flood of sunshine that streamed over his scantily carpeted floor, together with gladly remembered sounds from the street, soon put him into an excellent humour. He sprang tip, partly dressed himself, and unhasped the window. The smell of Paris had become associated in his mind with thoughts of liberty; a grotesque dance about the bed-room expressed his joy.

As he anticipated, Patty alone received him when he called upon the girls. She reported that Eve felt unable to rise.

"What do you think about her?" he asked. "Nothing serious, is it?"

"She can't get

rid of her headache."

"Let her rest as long as she likes. Are you comfortable here?"

Patty was in ecstasies with everything, and chattered on breathlessly. She wished to go out; Eve had no need of her-indeed had told her that above all she wished to be left alone.

"Get ready, then," said Hilliard, "and we'll have an hour or two."

They walked to the Madeleine and rode thence on the top of a tram-car to the Bastille. By this time Patty had come to regard her strange companion in a sort of brotherly light; no restraint whatever appeared in her conversation with him. Eve, she told him, had talked French with the chambermaid.

"And I fancy it was something she didn't want me to understand."

"Why should you think so?"

"Oh, something in the way the girl looked at me."

"No, no; you were mistaken. She only wanted to show that she knew some French."

But Hilliard wondered whether Patty could be right. Was it not possible that Eve had gratified her vanity by representing her friend as a servant-a lady's-maid? Yet why should he attribute such a fault to her? It was an odd thing that he constantly regarded Eve in the least favourable light, giving weight to all the ill he conjectured in her, and minimising those features of her character which, at the beginning, he had been prepared to observe with sympathy and admiration. For a man in love his reflections followed a very unwonted course. And, indeed, he had never regarded his love as of very high or pure quality; it was something that possessed him and constrained him-by no means a source of elevating emotion.

"Do you like Eve?" he asked abruptly, disregarding some trivial question Patty had put to him.

"Like her? Of course I do."

"And why do you like her?"

"Why?-ah-I don't know. Because I do."

And she laughed foolishly.

"Does Eve like you?" Hilliard continued.

"I think she does. Else I don't see why she kept up with me."

"Has she ever done you any kindness?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Nothing particular. She never gave anything, if you mean that. But she has paid for me at theatres and so on."

Hilliard quitted the subject.

"If you like to go out alone," he told her before they parted, "there's no reason why you shouldn't-just as you do in London. Remember the way back, that's all, and don't be out late. And you'll want some French money."

"But I don't understand it, and how can I buy anything when I can't speak a word?"

"All the same, take that and keep it till you are able to make use of it. It's what I promised you."

Patty drew back her hand, but her objections were not difficult to overcome.

"I dare say," Hilliard continued, "Eve doesn't understand the money much better than you do. But she'll soon be well enough to talk, and then I shall explain everything to her. On this piece of paper is my address; please let Eve have it. I shall call to-morrow morning again."

He did so, and this time found Eve, as well as her companion, ready to go out. No remark or inquiry concerning her health passed his lips; he saw that she was recovering from the crisis she had passed through, whatever its real nature. Eve shook hands with him, and smiled, though as if discharging an obligation.

"Can you spare time to show us something of Paris?" she asked.

"I am your official guide. Make use of me whenever it pleases you."

"I don't feel able to go very far. Isn't there some place where we could sit down in the open air?"

A carriage was summoned, and they drove to the Fields Elysian. Eve benefited by the morning thus spent. She left to Patty most of the conversation, but occasionally made inquiries, and began to regard things with a healthy interest. The next day they all visited the Louvre, for a light rain was falling, and here Hilliard found an opportunity of private talk with Eve; they sat together whilst Patty, who cared little for pictures, looked out of a window at the Seine.

"Do you like the hotel I chose?" he began.

"Everything is very nice."

"And you are not sorry to be here?"

"Not in one way. In another I can't understand how I come to be here at all."

"Your physician has ordered it."

"Yes-so I suppose it's all right."

"There's one thing I'm obliged to speak of. Do you understand French money?"

Eve averted her face, and spoke after a slight delay.

"I can easily learn."

"Yes. You shall take this Paris guide home with you. You'll find all information of that sort in it. And I shall give you an envelope containing money-just for your private use. You have nothing to do with the charges at the hotel."

"I've brought it on myself; but I feel more ashamed than I can tell you."

"If you tried to tell me I shouldn't listen. What you have to do now is to get well. Very soon you and Patty will be able to find your way about together; then I shall only come with you when you choose to invite me. You have my address."

He rose and broke off the dialogue.

For a week or more Eve's behaviour in his company underwent little change. In health she decidedly improved, but Hilliard always found her reserved, coldly amicable, with an occasional suggestion of forced humility which he much disliked. From Patty he learnt that she went about a good deal and seemed to enjoy herself.

"We don't always go together," said the girl. "Yesterday and the day before Eve was away by herself all the afternoon. Of course she can get on all right with her French. She takes to Paris as if she'd lived here for years."

On the day after, Hilliard received a postcard in which Eve asked him to be in a certain room of the Louvre at twelve o'clock. He kept the appointment, and found Eve awaiting him alone.

"I wanted to ask whether you would mind if we left the hotel and went to live at another place?"

He heard her with surprise.

"You are not comfortable?"

"Quite. But I have been to see my friend Mdlle. Roche-you remember. And she has shown me how we can live very comfortably at a quarter of what it costs now, in the same house where she has a room. I should like to change, if you'll let me."

"Pooh! You're not to think of the cost--"

"Whether I am to or not, I do, and can't help myself. I know the hotel is fearfully expensive, and I shall like the other place much better. Miss Roche is a very nice girl, and she was glad to see me; and if I'm near her, I shall get all sorts of advantages-in French, and so on."

Hilliard wondered what accounts of herself Eve had rendered to the Parisienne, but he did not venture to ask.

"Will Patty like it as well?"

"Just as well. Miss Roche speaks English, you know, and they'll get on very well together."

"Where is the place?"

"Rather far off-towards the Jardin des Plantes. But I don't think that would matter, would it?"

"I leave it entirely to you."

"Thank you," she answered, with that intonation he did not like. "Of course, if you would like to meet Miss Roche, you can."

"We'll think about it. It's enough that she's an old friend of yours."

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