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   Chapter 17 No.17

Eve's Ransom By George Gissing Characters: 8529

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Her accent of submission did not affect Hilliard as formerly; with a nervous thrill, he felt that she spoke as her heart dictated. In his absence Eve had come to regard him, if not with the feeling he desired, with something that resembled it; he read the change in her eyes. As they walked slowly away she kept nearer to him than of wont; now and then her arm touched his, and the contact gave him a delicious sensation. Askance he observed her figure, its graceful, rather languid, movement; to-night she had a new power over him, and excited with a passion which made his earlier desires seem spiritless.

"One day more of Paris?" he asked softly.

"Wouldn't it be better--?" she hesitated in the objection.

"Do you wish to break the journey in London?"

"No; let us go straight on."

"To-morrow, then?"

"I don't think we ought to put it off. The holiday is over."

Hilliard nodded with satisfaction. An incident of the street occupied them for a few minutes, and their serious conversation was only resumed when they had crossed to the south side of the river, where they turned eastwards and went along the quays.

"Till I can find something to do," Eve said at length, "I shall live at Dudley. Father will be very glad to have me there. He wished me to stay longer."

"I am wondering whether it is really necessary for you to go back to your drudgery."

"Oh, of course it is," she answered quickly. "I mustn't be idle. That's the very worst thing for me. And how am I to live?"

"I have still plenty of money," said Hilliard, regarding her.

"No more than you will need."

"But think-how little more it costs for two than for one--"

He spoke in spite of himself, having purposed no such suggestion. Eve quickened her step.

"No, no, no! You have a struggle before you; you don't know what--"

"And if it would make it easier for me?-there's no real doubt about my getting on well enough--"

"Everything is doubtful." She spoke in a voice of agitation. "We can't see a day before us. We have arranged everything very well--"

Hilliard was looking across the river. He walked more and more slowly, and turned at length to stand by the parapet. His companion remained apart from him, waiting. But he did not turn towards her again, and she moved to his side.

"I know how ungrateful I must seem." She spoke without looking at him. "I have no right to refuse anything after all you--"

"Don't say that," he interrupted impatiently. "That's the one thing I shall never like to think of."

"I shall think of it always, and be glad to remember it--"

"Come nearer-give me your hand--"

Holding it, he drew her against his side, and they stood in silence looking upon the Seine, now dark beneath the clouding night.

"I can't feel sure of you," fell at length from Hilliard.

"I promise--"

"Yes; here, now, in Paris. But when you are back in that hell--"

"What difference can it make in me? It can't change what I feel now. You have altered all my life, my thoughts about everything. When I look back, I don't know myself. You were right; I must have been suffering from an illness that affected my mind. It seems impossible that I could ever have done such things. I ought to tell you. Do you wish me to tell you everything?"

Hilliard spoke no answer, but he pressed her hand more tightly in his own.

"You knew it from Patty, didn't you?"

"She told me as much as she knew that night when I waited for you in High Street. She said you were in danger, and I compelled her to tell all she could."

"I was in danger, though I can't understand now how it went so far as that. It was he who came to me with the money, from the gentleman at Hampstead. That was how I first met him. The next day he waited for me when I came away from business."

"It was the first time that anything of that kind had happened?"

"The first time. And you know what the state of my mind was then. But to the end I never felt any-I never really loved him. We met and went to places together. After my loneliness-you can understand. But I distrusted him. Did Patty tell you why I left London so suddenly?"

"Yes."

"When that happened I knew my instinct had been right from the first. It gave me very little pain, b

ut I was ashamed and disgusted. He hadn't tried to deceive me in words; he never spoke of marriage; and from what I found out then, I saw that he was very much to be pitied."

"You seem to contradict yourself," said Hilliard. "Why were you ashamed and disgusted?"

"At finding myself in the power of such a woman. He married her when she was very young, and I could imagine the life he had led with her until he freed himself. A hateful woman!"

"Hateful to you, I see," muttered the listener, with something tight at his heart.

"Not because I felt anything like jealousy. You must believe me. I should never have spoken if I hadn't meant to tell you the simple truth."

Again he pressed her hand. The warmth of her body had raised his blood to fever-heat.

"When we met again, after I came back, it was by chance. I refused to speak to him, but he followed me all along the street, and I didn't know it till I was nearly home. Then he came up again, and implored me to hear what he had to say. I knew he would wait for me again in High Street, so I had no choice but to listen, and then tell him that there couldn't be anything more between us. And, for all that, he followed me another day. And again I had to listen to him."

Hilliard fancied that he could feel her heart beat against his arm.

"Be quick!" he said. "Tell all, and have done with it."

"He told me, at last, that he was ruined. His wife had brought him into money difficulties; she ran up bills that he was obliged to pay, and left him scarcely enough to live upon. And he had used money that was not his own-he would have to give an account of it in a day or two. He was trying to borrow, but no one would lend him half what he needed--"

"That's enough," Hilliard broke in, as her voice became inaudible.

"No, you ought to know more than I have told you. Of course he didn't ask me for money; he had no idea that I could lend him even a pound. But what I wish you to know is that he hadn't spoken to me again in the old way. He said he had done wrong, when he first came to know me; he begged me to forgive him that, and only wanted me to be his friend."

"Of course."

"Oh, don't be ungenerous: that's so unlike you."

"I didn't mean it ungenerously. In his position I should have done exactly as he did."

"Say you believe me. There was not a word of love between us. He told me all about the miseries of his life-that was all; and I pitied him so. I felt he was so sincere."

"I believe it perfectly."

"There was no excuse for what I did. How I had the courage-the shamelessness-is more than I can understand now."

Hilliard stirred himself, and tried to laugh.

"As it turned out, you couldn't have done better. Well, there's an end of it. Come."

He walked on, and Eve kept closely beside him, looking up into his face.

"I am sure he will pay the money back," she said presently.

"Hang the money!"

Then he stood still.

"How is he to pay it back? I mean, how is he to communicate with you?"

"I gave him my address at Dudley."

Again Hilliard moved on.

"Why should it annoy you?" Eve asked. "If ever he writes to me, I shall let you know at once: you shall see the letter. It is quite certain that he will pay his debt; and I shall be very glad when he does."

"What explanation did you give him?"

"The true one. I said I had borrowed from a friend. He was in despair, and couldn't refuse what I offered."

"We'll talk no more of it. It was right to tell me. I'm glad now it's all over. Look at the moon rising-harvest moon, isn't it?"

Eve turned aside again, and leaned on the parapet. He, lingering apart for a moment, at length drew nearer. Of her own accord she put her hands in his.

"In future," she said, "you shall know everything I do. You can trust me: there will be no more secrets."

"Yet you are afraid--"

"It's for your sake. You must be free for the next year or two. I shall be glad to get to work again. I am well and strong and cheerful."

Her eyes drew him with the temptation he had ever yet resisted. Eve did not refuse her lips.

"You must write to Patty," she said, when they were at the place of parting. "I shall have her new address in a day or two."

"Yes, I will write to her."

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