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   Chapter 15 No.15

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 8364

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


When this change had been made Eve seemed to throw off a burden. She met Hilliard with something like the ease of manner, the frank friendliness, which marked her best moods in their earlier intercourse. At a restaurant dinner, to which he persuaded her in company with Patty, she was ready in cheerful talk, and an expedition to Versailles, some days after, showed her radiant with the joy of sunshine and movement. Hilliard could not but wonder at the success of his prescription.

He did not visit the girls in their new abode, and nothing more was said of his making the acquaintance of Mdlle. Roche. Meetings were appointed by post-card-always in Patty's hand if the initiative were female; they took place three or four times a week. As it was now necessary for Eve to make payments on her own account, Hilliard despatched to her by post a remittance in paper money, and of this no word passed between them. Three weeks later he again posted the same sum. On the morrow they went by river to St. Cloud-it was always a trio, Hilliard never making any other proposal-and the steam-boat afforded Eve an opportunity of speaking with her generous friend apart.

"I don't want this money," she said, giving him an envelope. "What you sent before isn't anything like finished. There's enough for a month more."

"Keep it all the same. I won't have any pinching."

"There's nothing of the kind. If I don't have my way in this I shall go back to London."

He put the envelope in his pocket, and stood silent, with eyes fixed on the river bank.

"How long do you intend us to stay?" asked Eve.

"As long as you find pleasure here."

"And-what am I to do afterwards?"

He glanced at her.

"A holiday must come to an end," she added, trying, but without success, to meet his look.

"I haven't given any thought to that," said Hilliard, carelessly; "there's plenty of time. It will be fine weather for many weeks yet."

"But I have been thinking about it. I should be crazy if I didn't."

"Tell me your thoughts, then."

"Should you be satisfied if I got a place at Birmingham?"

There again Was the note of self-abasement. It irritated the listener.

"Why do you put it in that way? There's no question of what satisfies me, but of what is good for you."

"Then I think it had better be Birmingham."

"Very well. It's understood that when we leave Paris we go there."

A silence. Then Eve asked abruptly:

"You will go as well?"

"Yes, I shall go back."

"And what becomes of your determination to enjoy life as long as you can?"

"I'm carrying it out. I shall go back satisfied, at all events."

"And return to your old work?"

"I don't know. It depends on all sorts of things. We won't talk of it just yet."

Patty approached, and Hilliard turned to her with a bright, jesting face.

Midway in August, on his return home one afternoon, the concierge let him know that two English gentlemen had been inquiring for him; one of them had left a card. With surprise and pleasure Hilliard read the name of Robert Narramore, and beneath it, written in pencil, an invitation to dine that evening at a certain hotel in the Rue de Provence. As usual, Narramore had neglected the duties of a correspondent; this was the first announcement of his intention to be in Paris. Who the second man might be Hilliard could not conjecture.

He arrived at the hotel, and found Narramore in company with a man of about the same age, his name Birching, to Hilliard a stranger. They had reached Paris this morning, and would remain only for a day or two, as their purpose was towards the Alps.

"I couldn't stand this heat," remarked Narramore, who, in the very lightest of tourist garbs, sprawled upon a divan, and drank something iced out of a tall tumbler. "We shouldn't have stopped here at all if it hadn't been for you. The idea is that you should go on with us."

"Can't-impossible--"

"Why, what are you doing here-besides roasting?"

"Eating and drinking just what suits my digestion."

"You look pretty fit-a jolly sight better than when we met last. All the same, you will go on with us. We won't argue it now; it's dinner-time. Wait

till afterwards."

At table, Narramore mentioned that his friend Birching was an architect.

"Just what this fellow ought to have been," he said, indicating Hilliard. "Architecture is his hobby. I believe he could sit down and draw to scale a front elevation of any great cathedral in Europe-couldn't you, Hilliard?"

Laughing the joke aside, Hilliard looked with interest at Mr. Birching, and began to talk with him. The three young men consumed a good deal of wine, and after dinner strolled about the streets, until Narramore's fatigue and thirst brought them to a pause at a cafe on the Boulevard des Italiens. Birching presently moved apart, to reach a newspaper, and remained out of earshot while Narramore talked with his other friend.

"What's going on?" he began. "What are you doing here? Seriously, I want you to go along with us. Birching is a very good sort of chap, but just a trifle heavy-takes things rather solemnly for such hot weather. Is it the expense? Hang it! You and I know each other well enough, and, thanks to my old uncle--"

"Never mind that, old boy," interposed Hilliard. "How long are you going for?"

"I can't very well be away for more than three weeks. The brass bedsteads, you know--"

Hilliard agreed to join in the tour.

"That's right: I've been looking forward to it," said his friend heartily. "And now, haven't you anything to tell me? Are you alone here? Then, what the deuce do you do with yourself?"

"Chiefly meditate."

"You're the rummest fellow I ever knew. I've wanted to write to you, but-hang it!-what with hot weather and brass bedsteads, and this and that--Now, what are you going to do? Your money won't last for ever. Haven't you any projects? It was no good talking about it before you left Dudley. I saw that. You were all but fit for a lunatic asylum, and no wonder. But you've pulled round, I see. Never saw you looking in such condition. What is to be the next move?"

"I have no idea."

"Well, now, I have. This fellow Birching is partner with his brother, in Brum, and they're tolerably flourishing. I've thought of you ever since I came to know him; I think it was chiefly on your account that I got thick with him-though there was another reason I'll tell you about that some time. Now, why shouldn't you go into their office? Could you manage to pay a small premium? I believe I could square it with them. I haven't said anything. I never hurry-like things to ripen naturally. Suppose you saw your way, in a year or two, to make only as much in an architect's office as you did in that--machine-shop, wouldn't it be worth while?"

Hilliard mused. Already he had a flush on his cheek, but his eyes sensibly brightened.

"Yes," he said at length with deliberation. "It would be worth while."

"So I should think. Well, wait till you've got to be a bit chummy with Birching. I think you'll suit each other. Let him see that you do really know something about architecture-there'll be plenty of chances."

Hilliard, still musing, repeated with mechanical emphasis:

"Yes, it would be worth while."

Then Narramore called to Birching, and the talk became general again.

The next morning they drove about Paris, all together. Narramore, though it was his first visit to the city, declined to see anything which demanded exertion, and the necessity for quenching his thirst recurred with great frequency. Early in the afternoon he proposed that they should leave Paris that very evening.

"I want to see a mountain with snow on it. We're bound to travel by night, and another day of this would settle me. Any objection, Birching?"

The architect agreed, and time-tables were consulted. Hilliard drove home to pack. When this was finished, he sat down and wrote a letter:

"DEAR MISS MADELEY,-My friend Narramore is here, and has persuaded me to go to Switzerland with him. I shall be away for a week or two, and will let you hear from me in the meantime. Narramore says I am looking vastly better, and it is you I have to thank for this. Without you, my attempts at 'enjoying life' would have been a poor business. We start in an hour or two,-Yours ever,

"MAURICE HILLIARD."

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