Eve's Ransom - George Gissing - ebook
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Eve's Ransom is the story of a mechanical draughtsman named Maurice Hilliard, who comes into some money, which enables him to live without working. As part of his resulting travels, he meets and falls in love with Eve Madeley, a book keeper.

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George Gissing

George Gissing

Eve’s Ransom

New Edition

LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW

PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA

TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING

New Edition

Published by Sovereign Classic

sales@sovereignclassic.net

www.sovereignclassic.net

This Edition

First published in 2016

Copyright © 2016 Sovereign

All Rights Reserved.

Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER I

On the station platform at Dudley Port, in the dusk of a February afternoon, half-a-dozen people waited for the train to Birmingham. A south-west wind had loaded the air with moisture, which dripped at moments, thinly and sluggishly, from a featureless sky. The lamps, just lighted, cast upon wet wood and metal a pale yellow shimmer; voices sounded with peculiar clearness; so did the rumble of a porter’s barrow laden with luggage. From a foundry hard by came the muffled, rhythmic thunder of mighty blows; this and the long note of an engine-whistle wailing far off seemed to intensify the stillness of the air as gloomy day passed into gloomier night.

In clear daylight the high, uncovered platform would have offered an outlook over the surrounding country, but at this hour no horizon was discernible. Buildings near at hand, rude masses of grimy brick, stood out against a grey confused background; among them rose a turret which vomited crimson flame. This fierce, infernal glare seemed to lack the irradiating quality of earthly fires; with hard, though fluctuating outline, it leapt towards the kindred night, and diffused a blotchy darkness. In the opposite direction, over towards Dudley Town, appeared spots of lurid glow. But on the scarred and barren plain which extends to Birmingham there had settled so thick an obscurity, vapours from above blending with earthly reek, that all tile beacons of fiery toil were wrapped and hidden.

Of the waiting travellers, two kept apart from the rest, pacing this way and that, but independently of each other. They were men of dissimilar appearance; the one comfortably and expensively dressed, his age about fifty, his visage bearing the stamp of commerce; the other, younger by more than twenty years, habited in a way which made it; difficult to as certain his social standing, and looking about him with eyes suggestive of anything but prudence or content. Now and then they exchanged a glance: he of the high hat and caped ulster betrayed an interest in the younger man, who, in his turn, took occasion to observe the other from a distance, with show of dubious recognition.

The trill of an electric signal, followed by a clanging bell, brought them both to a pause, and they stood only two or three yards apart. Presently a light flashed through the thickening dusk; there was roaring, grinding, creaking and a final yell of brake-tortured wheels. Making at once for the nearest third-class carriage, the man in the seedy overcoat sprang to a place, and threw himself carelessly back; a moment, and he was followed by the second passenger, who seated himself on the opposite side of the compartment. Once more they looked at each other, but without change of countenance.

Tickets were collected, for there would be no stoppage before Birmingham: then the door slammed, and the two men were alone together.

Two or three minutes after the train had started, the elder man leaned forward, moved slightly, and spoke.

“Excuse me, I think your name must be Hilliard.”

“What then?” was the brusque reply.

“You don’t remember me?”

“Scoundrels are common enough,” returned the other, crossing his legs, “but I remember you for all that.”

The insult was thrown out with a peculiarly reckless air; it astounded the hearer, who sat for an instant with staring eyes and lips apart; then the blood rushed to his cheeks.

“If I hadn’t just about twice your muscle, my lad,” he answered angrily, “I’d make you repent that, and be more careful with your tongue in future. Now, mind what you say! We’ve a quiet quarter of an hour before us, and I might alter my mind.”

The young man laughed contemptuously. He was tall, but slightly built, and had delicate hands.

“So you’ve turned out a blackguard, have you?” pursued his companion, whose name was Dengate. “I heard something about that.”

“From whom?”

“You drink, I am told. I suppose that’s your condition now.”

“Well, no; not just now,” answered Hilliard. He spoke the language of an educated man, but with a trace of the Midland accent. Dengate’s speech had less refinement.

“What do you mean by your insulting talk, then? I spoke to you civilly.”

“And I answered as I thought fit.”

The respectable citizen sat with his hands on his knees, and scrutinised the other’s sallow features.

“You’ve been drinking, I can see. I had something to say to you, but I’d better leave it for another time.”

Hilliard flashed a look of scorn, and said sternly—

“I am as sober as you are.”

“Then just give me civil answers to civil questions.”

“Questions? What right have you to question me?”

“It’s for your own advantage. You called me scoundrel. What did you mean by that?”

“That’s the name I give to fellows who go bankrupt to get rid of their debts.”

“Is it!” said Dengate, with a superior smile. “That only shows how little you know of the world, my lad. You got it from your father, I daresay; he had a rough way of talking.”

“A disagreeable habit of telling the truth.”

“I know all about it. Your father wasn’t a man of business, and couldn’t see things from a business point of view. Now, what I just want to say to you is this: there’s all the difference in the world between commercial failure and rascality. If you go down to Liverpool, and ask men of credit for their opinion about Charles Edward Dengate, you’ll have a lesson that would profit you. I can see you’re one of the young chaps who think a precious deal of themselves; I’m often coming across them nowadays, and I generally give them a piece of my mind.”

Hilliard smiled.

“If you gave them the whole, it would be no great generosity.”

“Eh? Yes, I see you’ve had a glass or two, and it makes you witty. But wait a bit I was devilish near thrashing you a few minutes ago; but I sha’n’t do it, say what you like. I don’t like vulgar rows.”

“No more do I,” remarked Hilliard; “and I haven’t fought since I was a boy. But for your own satisfaction, I can tell you it’s a wise resolve not to interfere with me. The temptation to rid the world of one such man as you might prove too strong.”

There was a force of meaning in these words, quietly as they were uttered, which impressed the listener.

“You’ll come to a bad end, my lad.”

“Hardly. It’s unlikely that I shall ever be rich.”

“Oh! you’re one of that sort, are you? I’ve come across Socialistic fellows. But look here. I’m talking civilly, and I say again it’s for your advantage. I had a respect for your father, and I liked your brother—I’m sorry to hear he’s dead.”

“Please keep your sorrow to yourself.”

“All right, all right! I understand you’re a draughtsman at Kenn and Bodditch’s?”

“I daresay you are capable of understanding that.”

Hilliard planted his elbow in the window of the carriage and propped his cheek on his hand.

“Yes; and a few other things,” rejoined the well-dressed man. “How to make money, for instance.—Well, haven’t you any insult ready?”

The other looked out at a row of flaring chimneys, which the train was rushing past: he kept silence.

“Go down to Liverpool,” pursued Dengate, “and make inquiries about me. You’ll find I have as good a reputation as any man living.”

He laboured this point. It was evident that he seriously desired to establish his probity and importance in the young man’s eyes. Nor did anything in his look or speech conflict with such claims. He had hard, but not disagreeable features, and gave proof of an easy temper.

“Paying one’s debts,” said Hilliard, “is fatal to reputation.”

“You use words you don’t understand. There’s no such thing as a debt, except what’s recognised by the laws.”

“I shouldn’t wonder if you think of going into Parliament. You are just the man to make laws.”

“Well, who knows? What I want you to understand is, that if your father were alive at this moment, I shouldn’t admit that he had claim upon me for one penny.”

“It was because I understood it already that I called you a scoundrel.”

“Now be careful, my lad,” exclaimed Dengate, as again he winced under the epithet. “My temper may get the better of me, and I should be sorry for it. I got into this carriage with you (of course I had a first-class ticket) because I wanted to form an opinion of your character. I’ve been told you drink, and I see that you do, and I’m sorry for it. You’ll be losing your place before long, and you’ll go down. Now look here; you’ve called me foul names, and you’ve done your best to rile me. Now I’m going to make you ashamed of yourself.”

Hilliard fixed the speaker with his scornful eyes; the last words had moved him to curiosity.

“I can excuse a good deal in a man with an empty pocket,” pursued the other. “I’ve been there myself; I know how it makes you feel—how much do you earn, by the bye?”

“Mind you own business.”

“All right. I suppose it’s about two pounds a week. Would you like to know what my in come is? Well, something like two pounds an hour, reckoning eight hours as the working day. There’s a difference, isn’t there? It comes of minding my business, you see. You’ll never make anything like it; you find it easier to abuse people who work than to work yourself. Now if you go down to Liverpool, and ask how I got to my present position, you’ll find it’s the result of hard and honest work. Understand that: honest work.”

“And forgetting to pay your debts,” threw in the young man.

“It’s eight years since I owed any man a penny. The people I did owe money to were sensible men of business—all except your father, and he never could see things in the right light. I went through the bankruptcy court, and I made arrangements that satisfied my creditors. I should have satisfied your father too, only he died.”

“You paid tuppence ha’penny in the pound.”

“No, it was five shillings, and my creditors—sensible men of business—were satisfied. Now look here. I owed your father four hundred and thirty-six pounds, but he didn’t rank as an ordinary creditor, and if I had paid him after my bankruptcy it would have been just because I felt a respect for him—not because he had any legal claim. I meant to pay him—understand that.”

Hilliard smiled. Just then a block signal caused the train to slacken speed. Darkness had fallen, and lights glimmered from some cottages by the line.

“You don’t believe me,” added Dengate.

“I don’t.”

The prosperous man bit his lower lip, and sat gazing at the lamp in the carriage. The train came to a standstill; there was no sound but the throbbing of the engine.

“Well, listen to me,” Dengate resumed. “You’re turning out badly, and any money you get you’re pretty sure to make a bad use of. But”—he assumed an air of great solemnity—”all the same—now listen——”

“I’m listening.”

“Just to show you the kind of a man I am, and to make you feel ashamed of yourself, I’m going to pay you the money.”

For a few seconds there was unbroken stillness. The men gazed at each other, Dengate superbly triumphant, Hilliard incredulous but betraying excitement.

“I’m going to pay you four hundred and thirty-six pounds,” Dengate repeated. “No less and no more. It isn’t a legal debt, so I shall pay no interest. But go with me when we get to Birmingham, and you shall have my cheque for four hundred and thirty-six pounds.”

The train began to move on. Hilliard had uncrossed his legs, and sat bending forward, his eyes on vacancy.

“Does that alter your opinion of me?” asked the other.

“I sha’n’t believe it till I have cashed the cheque.”

“You’re one of those young fellows who think so much of themselves they’ve no good opinion to spare for anyone else. And what’s more, I’ve still half a mind to give you a good thrashing before I give you the cheque. There’s just about time, and I shouldn’t wonder if it did you good. You want some of the conceit taken out of you, my lad.”

Hilliard seemed not to hear this. Again he fixed his eyes on the other’s countenance.

“Do you say you are going to pay me four hundred pounds?” he asked slowly.

“Four hundred and thirty-six. You’ll go to the devil with it, but that’s no business of mine.”

“There’s just one thing I must tell you. If this is a joke, keep out of my way after you’ve played it out, that’s all.”

“It isn’t a joke. And one thing I have to tell you. I reserve to myself the right of thrashing you, if I feel in the humour for it.”

Hilliard gave a laugh, then threw himself back into the corner, and did not speak again until the train pulled up at New Street station.

CHAPTER II

An hour later he was at Old Square, waiting for the tram to Aston. Huge steam-driven vehicles came and went, whirling about the open space with monitory bell-clang. Amid a press of homeward-going workfolk, Hilliard clambered to a place on the top and lit his pipe. He did not look the same man who had waited gloomily at Dudley Port; his eyes gleamed with life; answering a remark addressed to him by a neighbour on the car, he spoke jovially.

No rain was falling, but the streets shone wet and muddy under lurid lamp-lights. Just above the house-tops appeared the full moon, a reddish disk, blurred athwart floating vapour. The car drove northward, speedily passing from the region of main streets and great edifices into a squalid district of factories and workshops and crowded by-ways. At Aston Church the young man alighted, and walked rapidly for five minutes, till he reached a row of small modern houses. Socially they represented a step or two upwards in the gradation which, at Birmingham, begins with the numbered court and culminates in the mansions of Edgbaston.

He knocked at a door, and was answered by a girl, who nodded recognition.

“Mrs. Hilliard in? Just tell her I’m here.”

There was a natural abruptness in his voice, but it had a kindly note, and a pleasant smile accompanied it. After a brief delay he received permission to go upstairs, where the door of a sitting-room stood open. Within was a young woman, slight, pale, and pretty, who showed something of embarrassment, though her face made him welcome.

“I expected you sooner.”

“Business kept me back. Well, little girl?”

The table was spread for tea, and at one end of it, on a high chair, sat a child of four years old. Hilliard kissed her, and stroked her curly hair, and talked with playful affection. This little girl was his niece, the child of his elder brother, who had died three years ago. The poorly furnished room and her own attire proved that Mrs. Hilliard had but narrow resources in her widowhood. Nor did she appear a woman of much courage; tears had thinned her cheeks, and her delicate hands had suffered noticeably from unwonted household work.

Hilliard remarked something unusual in her behaviour this evening. She was restless, and kept regarding him askance, as if in apprehension. A letter from her, in which she merely said she wished to speak to him, had summoned him hither from Dudley. As a rule, they saw each other but once a month.

“No bad news, I hope!” he remarked aside to her, as he took his place at the table.

“Oh, no. I’ll tell you afterwards.”

Very soon after the meal Mrs. Hilliard took the child away and put her to bed. During her absence the visitor sat brooding, a peculiar half-smile on his face. She came back, drew a chair up to the fire, but did not sit down.

“Well, what is it?” asked her brother-in-law, much as he might have spoken to the little girl.

“I have something very serious to talk about, Maurice.”

“Have you? All right; go ahead.”

“I—I am so very much afraid I shall offend you.”

The young man laughed.

“Not very likely. I can take a good deal from you.”

She stood with her hands on the back of the chair, and as he looked at her, Hilliard saw her pale cheeks grow warm.

“It’ll seem very strange to you, Maurice.”

“Nothing will seem strange after an adventure I’ve had this afternoon. You shall hear about it presently.”

“Tell me your story first.”

“That’s like a woman. All right, I’ll tell you. I met that scoundrel Dengate, and—he’s paid me the money he owed my father.”

“He has paid it? Oh! really?”

“See, here’s a cheque, and I think it likely I can turn it into cash. The blackguard has been doing well at Liverpool. I’m not quite sure that I understand the reptile, but he seems to have given me this because I abused him. I hurt his vanity, and he couldn’t resist the temptation to astonish me. He thinks I shall go about proclaiming him a noble fellow. Four hundred and thirty-six pounds; there it is.”

He tossed the piece of paper into the air with boyish glee, and only just caught it as it was fluttering into the fire.

“Oh, be careful!” cried Mrs. Hilliard.

“I told him he was a scoundrel, and he began by threatening to thrash me. I’m very glad he didn’t try. It was in the train, and I know very well I should have strangled him. It would have been awkward, you know.”

“Oh, Maurice, how can you——?”

“Well, here’s the money; and half of it is yours.”

“Mine? Oh, no! After all you have given me. Besides, I sha’n’t want it.”

“How’s that?”

Their eyes mete Hilliard again saw the flush in her cheeks, and began to guess its explanation. He looked puzzled, interested.

“Do I know him?” was his next inquiry.

“Should you think it very wrong of me?” She moved aside from the line of his gaze. “I couldn’t imagine how you would take it.”

“It all depends. Who is the man?”

Still shrinking towards a position where Hilliard could not easily observe her, the young widow told her story. She had consented to marry a man of whom her brother-in-law knew little but the name, one Ezra Marr; he was turned forty, a widower without children, and belonged to a class of small employers of labour known in Birmingham as “little masters.” The contrast between such a man and Maurice Hilliard’s brother was sufficiently pronounced; but the widow nervously did her best to show Ezra Marr in a favourable light.

“And then,” she added after a pause, while Hilliard was reflecting, “I couldn’t go on being a burden on you. How very few men would have done what you have——”

“Stop a minute. Is that the real reason? If so——”

Hurriedly she interposed.

“That was only one of the reasons—only one.”

Hilliard knew very well that her marriage had not been entirely successful; it seemed to him very probable that with a husband of the artisan class, a vigorous and go-ahead fellow, she would be better mated than in the former instance. He felt sorry for his little niece, but there again sentiment doubtless conflicted with common-sense. A few more questions, and it became clear to him that he had no ground of resistance.

“Very well. Most likely you are doing a wise thing. And half this money is yours; you’ll find it useful.”

The discussion of this point was interrupted by a tap at the door. Mrs. Hilliard, after leaving the room for a moment, returned with rosy countenance.

“He is here,” she murmured. “I thought I should like you to meet him this evening. Do you mind?”

Mr. Marr entered; a favourable specimen of his kind; strong, comely, frank of look and speech. Hilliard marvelled somewhat at his choice of the frail and timid little widow, and hoped upon marriage would follow no repentance. A friendly conversation between the two men confirmed them in mutual good opinion. At length Mrs. Hilliard spoke of the offer of money made by her brother-in-law.

“I don’t feel I’ve any right to it,” she said, after explaining the circumstances. “You know what Maurice has done for me. I’ve always felt I was robbing him——”

“I wanted to say something about that,” put in the bass-voiced Ezra. “I want to tell you, Mr. Hilliard, that you’re a man I’m proud to know, and proud to shake hands with. And if my view goes for anything, Emily won’t take a penny of what you’re offering her. I should think it wrong and mean. It is about time—that’s my way of thinking—that you looked after your own interests. Emily has no claim to a share in this money, and what’s more, I don’t wish her to take it.”

“Very well,” said Hilliard. “I tell you what we’ll do. A couple of hundred pounds shall be put aside for the little girl. You can’t make any objection to that.”

The mother glanced doubtfully at her future husband, but Marr again spoke with emphasis.

“Yes, I do object. If you don’t mind me saying it, I’m quite able to look after the little girl; and the fact is, I want her to grow up looking to me as her father, and getting all she has from me only. Of course, I mean nothing but what’s friendly: but there it is; I’d rather Winnie didn’t have the money.”

This man was in the habit of speaking his mind; Hilliard understood that any insistence would only disturb the harmony of the occasion. He waved a hand, smiled good-naturedly, and said no more.

About nine o’clock he left the house and walked to Aston Church. While he stood there, waiting for the tram, a voice fell upon his ear that caused him to look round. Crouched by the entrance to the churchyard was a beggar in filthy rags, his face hideously bandaged, before him on the pavement a little heap of matchboxes; this creature kept uttering a meaningless sing-song, either idiot jabber, or calculated to excite attention and pity; it sounded something like “A-pah-pahky; pah-pahky; pah”; repeated a score of times, and resumed after a pause. Hilliard gazed and listened, then placed a copper in the wretch’s extended palm, and turned away muttering, “What a cursed world!”

He was again on the tram-car before he observed that the full moon, risen into a sky now clear of grosser vapours, gleamed brilliant silver above the mean lights of earth. And round about it, in so vast a circumference that it was only detected by the wandering eye, spread a softly radiant halo. This vision did not long occupy his thoughts, but at intervals he again looked upward, to dream for a moment on the silvery splendour and on that wide halo dim-glimmering athwart the track of stars.

CHAPTER III

Instead of making for the railway station, to take a train back to Dudley, he crossed from the northern to the southern extremity of the town, and by ten o’clock was in one of the streets which lead out of Moseley Road. Here, at a house such as lodges young men in business, he made inquiry for “Mr. Narramore,” and was forthwith admitted.

Robert Narramore, a long-stemmed pipe at his lips, sat by the fireside; on the table lay the materials of a satisfactory supper—a cold fowl, a ham, a Stilton cheese, and a bottle of wine.

“Hollo! You?” he exclaimed, without rising. “I was going to write to you; thanks for saving me the trouble. Have something to eat?”

“Yes, and to drink likewise.”

“Do you mind ringing the bell? I believe there’s a bottle of Burgundy left. If not, plenty of Bass.”

He stretched forth a languid hand, smiling amiably. Narramore was the image of luxurious indolence; he had pleasant features, dark hair inclined to curliness, a well-built frame set off by good tailoring. His income from the commercial house in which he held a post of responsibility would have permitted him to occupy better quarters than these; but here he had lived for ten years, and he preferred a few inconveniences to the trouble of moving. Trouble of any kind was Robert’s bugbear. His progress up the commercial ladder seemed due rather to the luck which favours amiable and good-looking young fellows than to any special ability or effort of his own. The very sound of his voice had a drowsiness which soothed—if it did not irritate—the listener.

“Tell them to lay out the truckle-bed,” said Hilliard, when he had pulled the bell. “I shall stay here to-night.”

“Good!”

Their talk was merely interjectional, until the visitor had begun to appease his hunger and had drawn the cork of a second bottle of bitter ale.

“This is a great day,” Hilliard then exclaimed. “I left Dudley this afternoon feeling ready to cut my throat. Now I’m a free man, with the world before me.”

“How’s that?”

“Emily’s going to take a second husband—that’s one thing.”

“Heaven be praised! Better than one could have looked for.”

Hilliard related the circumstances. Then he drew from his pocket an oblong slip of paper, and held it out.

“Dengate?” cried his friend. “How the deuce did you get hold of this?”

Explanation followed. They debated Dengate’s character and motives.

“I can understand it,” said Narramore. “When I was a boy of twelve I once cheated an apple-woman out of three-halfpence. At the age of sixteen I encountered the old woman again, and felt immense satisfaction in giving her a shilling. But then, you see, I had done with petty cheating; I wished to clear my conscience, and look my fellow-woman in the face.”

“That’s it, no doubt. He seems to have got some sort of position in Liverpool society, and he didn’t like the thought that there was a poor devil at Dudley who went about calling him a scoundrel. By-the-bye, someone told him that I had taken to liquor, and was on my way to destruction generally. I don’t know who it could be.”

“Oh, we all have candid friends that talk about us.

“It’s true I have been drunk now and then of late. There’s much to be said for getting drunk.”

“Much,” assented Narramore, philosophically.

Hilliard went on with his supper; his friend puffed tobacco, and idly regarded the cheque he was still holding.

“And what are you going to do?” he asked at length.

There came no reply, and several minutes passed in silence. Then Hilliard rose from the table, paced the floor once or twice, selected a cigar from a box that caught his eye, and, in cutting off the end, observed quietly—

“I’m going to live.”

“Wait a minute. We’ll have the table cleared, and a kettle on the fire.”

While the servant was busy, Hilliard stood with an elbow on the mantelpiece, thoughtfully smoking his cigar. At Narramore’s request, he mixed two tumblers of whisky toddy, then took a draught from his own, and returned to his former position.

“Can’t you sit down?” said Narramore.

“No, I can’t.”

“What a fellow you are! With nerves like yours, I should have been in my grave years ago. You’re going to live, eh?”

“Going to be a machine no longer. Can I call myself a man? There’s precious little difference between a fellow like me and the damned grinding mechanism that I spend my days in drawing—that roars all day in my ears and deafens me. I’ll put an end to that. Here’s four hundred pounds. It shall mean four hundred pounds’-worth of life. While this money lasts, I’ll feel that I’m a human being.”

“Something to be said for that,” commented the listener, in his tone of drowsy impartiality.

“I offered Emily half of it. She didn’t want to take it, and the man Marr wouldn’t let her. I offered to lay it aside for the child, but Marr wouldn’t have that either, It’s fairly mine.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Think! The first time in my life that I’ve had money on which no one else had a claim. When the poor old father died, Will and I had to go shares in keeping up the home. Our sister couldn’t earn anything; she had her work set in attending to her mother. When mother died, and Marian married, it looked as if I had only myself to look after: then came Will’s death, and half my income went to keep his wife and child from the workhouse. You know very well I’ve never grudged it. It’s my faith that we do what we do because anything else would be less agreeable. It was more to my liking to live on a pound a week than to see Emily and the little lass suffer want. I’ve no right to any thanks or praise for it. But the change has come none too soon. There’d have been a paragraph in the Dudley paper some rainy morning.”

“Yes, I was rather afraid of that,” said Narramore musingly.

He let a minute elapse, whilst his friend paced the room; then added in the same voice:

“We’re in luck at the same tune. My uncle Sol was found dead this morning.”

“Do you come in for much?”

“We don’t know what he’s left, but I’m down for a substantial fraction in a will he made three years ago. Nobody knew it, but he’s been stark mad for the last six months. He took a bed-room out Bordesley way, in a false name, and stored it with a ton or two of tinned meats and vegetables. There the landlady found him lying dead this morning; she learnt who he was from the papers in his pocket. It’s come out that he had made friends with some old boozer of that neighbourhood; he told him that England was on the point of a grand financial smash, and that half the population would die of hunger. To secure himself, he began to lay in the stock of tinned provisions. One can’t help laughing, poor old chap! That’s the result, you see, of a life spent in sweating for money. As a young man he had hard times, and when his invention succeeded, it put him off balance a bit. I’ve often thought he had a crazy look in his eye. He may have thrown away a lot of his money in mad tricks: who knows?”

“That’s the end the human race will come to,” said Hilliard. “It’ll be driven mad and killed off by machinery. Before long there’ll be machines for washing and dressing people—machines for feeding them—machines for——”

His wrathful imagination led him to grotesque ideas which ended in laughter.

“Well, I have a year or two before me. I’ll know what enjoyment means. And afterwards——”

“Yes; what afterwards?”

“I don’t know. I may choose to come back; I may prefer to make an end. Impossible to foresee my state of mind after living humanly for a year or two. And what shall you do if you come in for a lot of money?”

“It’s not likely to be more than a few thousands,” replied Narramore. “And the chances are I shall go on in the old way. What’s the good of a few thousands? I haven’t the energy to go off and enjoy myself in your fashion. One of these days I may think of getting married, and marriage, you know, is devilish expensive. I should like to have three or four thousand a year; you can’t start housekeeping on less, if you’re not to be bored to death with worries. Perhaps I may get a partnership in our house. I began life in the brass bedstead line, and I may as well stick to brass bedsteads to the end the demand isn’t likely to fall off. Please fill my glass again.”

Hilliard, the while, had tossed off his second tumbler. He began to talk at random.