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- The Town Traveller - 10/41 -
notice to Mrs. Bubb she had not believed for a moment that it would come to this she felt, sure that her old friend would make up the quarrel and persuade her to stay. Nothing of the kind; for once she was taken most literally at her word. There were moments when Polly felt disposed to cry.
It vexed her much more than she would have thought to miss the jocose greetings of her neigh hour Mr. Gammon. As usual he sang in his bedroom of a morning, as usual be shouted orders and questions to Moggie, but for her he had never a word. She listened for him as he came out of the room, and once so far humbled herself as to affect a cough in his bearing. Mr. Gammon paid no attention.
Then she raged at him--of course, _satto voce_. Many were the phrases of abuse softly hurled at him as he passed her door. The worst of it was that none of them seemed really applicable; her vision of the man defeated all such contumely. She had never disliked Mr. Gammon; oddly enough, she seemed to think of him with a more decided friendliness now that his conduct demanded her enmity. She asked herself whether he really believed any harm of her. It looked very much as if he did, and the thought sometimes kept her awake for fully a quarter of an hour.
It was the last day but one of her week. To-morrow she must either submit to the degradation of begging Mrs. Bubb's leave to remain, or pack her boxes and have them removed before nightfall. Worry had ended by giving her a slight headache, a very rare thing indeed. Moreover, it rained, and breakfast was only obtainable by walking some distance.
"Oh, the beasts!" Polly exclaimed to herself, as she pulled on her boots, meaning the inhabitants of the house all together.
Mr. Gammon opened his door and shouted down the staircase.
"Moggie! Fry me three eggs this morning with the bacon--do you hear?"
Three eggs! Fried with bacon! And all comfortably set out at the end of the kitchen table. And to think that she might be going down to breakfast at the same time, with Mr. Gammon's jokes for a relish!
"Oh, the wretches! The mean, selfish brutes!"
She stamped about the floor to ease her nerves as she put on a common hat and an old jacket. She unlocked her door with violence, banged it open, and slammed it to again. From the staircase window she saw that the rain was falling more heavily, and she could not wait, for she felt hungry--after hearing about those three eggs. If she met anyone down below!
And, as chance had it, she met Mrs. Cheeseman just coming up to her room from the kitchen with a dish of sausages. The woman grinned and turned her head away. Polly had never been so tempted to commit an assault; she thought. with a burning brain how effective would be one smart stroke on the dish of sausages with the handle of her umbrella.
Still hot from this encounter in the passage she came face to face with Mrs. Bubb. The landlady seemed to hesitate, but before Polly had gone by she addressed her with exaggerated politeness.
"Good morning, Miss Sparkes. So I s'pose we're losing you to-morrow?"
"Yes, you are," Polly replied, from a parched throat, glaring at her enemy.
"Oh, then I'll put the card up!"
"Do! I wouldn't lose no time about it. And listen to this, Mrs. Bubb. Next time you see your friend Mrs. Clover, you may tell her that if she wants to know where her precious 'usband is she's not to ask _me_, 'cos I wouldn't let her know, not if she was on her death-bed!"
Having uttered this surprising message, with point and emphasis worthy of its significance, Polly hastened from the house. And Mrs. Bubb stood looking after her in bewilderment.
MR. GAMMON'S RESOLVE
Convinced that his life was blighted, Mr. Gammon sang and whistled with more than usual vivacity as he dressed each morning. It was not in his nature to despond; he had received many a knock-down blow, and always came up fresher after it. Mrs. Clover's veto upon his tender hopes with regard to Minnie had not only distressed, but greatly surprised him; for during the last few months he had often said to himself that, whether Minnie favoured his suit or not, her mother's goodwill was a certainty. His advances had been of the most delicate, no word of distinct wooing had passed his lips; but he thought of Minnie a great deal, and came to the decision that in her the hopes of his life were centred. It might be that Minnie had no inkling of his intentions; she was so modest, so unlike the everyday girls who tittered and ogled with every marriageable man; on that very account he had made her his ideal. And Mrs. Clover would help him as a mother best knows how. The shock of learning that Mrs. Clover would do no such thing utterly confused his mind. He still longed for Minnie, yet seemed of a sudden hopelessly remote from her. He could not determine whether he had given her up or not; he did not know whether to bow before Mrs. Clover or to protest and persevere. He liked Mrs. Clover far too much to be angry with her; he respected Minnie far too much to annoy her by an unwelcome courtship; he wished, in fact, that he had not made a fool of himself that evening, and wanted things to be as they were before.
In the meantime he occupied himself in looking out for a new engagement Plenty were to be had, but he aimed at something better than had satisfied him hitherto. He must get a "permanency"; at his age it was time he settled into a life of respect able routine. But for his foolish habit of living from hand to mouth, now in this business, now in that, indulging his taste for variety, Mrs. Clover would never, he felt sure, have "put her foot down" in that astonishing way. The best thing he could do was to show himself in a new light.
Thanks to his good nature, his practicality, and the multitude of his acquaintances, all manner of shiftless or luckless fellows were in the habit of looking to him for advice and help. As soon as they found themselves adrift they turned to Gammon. Every day he had a letter asking him to find a "berth" or a "billet" for some out-at-elbows friend, and in a surprising number of cases he was able to make a useful suggestion. It would have paid him to start an employment agency; as it was, instead of receiving fees, he very often supplied his friends' immediate necessities out of his own pocket. The more he earned the more freely he bestowed, so that his occasional strokes of luck in commerce were of no ultimate benefit to him. No man in his Position had a larger credit; for weeks at a time he could live without cash expenditure; but this was seldom necessary.
By a mental freak which was characteristic of him he nursed the thought of connecting himself with Messrs. Quodling & Son, oil and colour merchants. Theirs was a large and sound business, both in town and country. It might not be easy to become traveller to such a firm, but his ingenious mind tossed and turned the possibilities of the case, and after a day or two spent in looking up likely men--which involved a great deal of drinking in a great variety of public resorts--he came across an elderly traveller who had represented Quodlings on a northern circuit, and who boasted a certain acquaintance with Quodling the senior. Thus were things set in train. At a second meeting with the venerable bagman--who had a wonderful head for whisky--Gammon acquired so much technical information that oil and colours might fairly be set down among his numerous "specialities." Moreover, his friend promised to speak a word for him in the right quarter when opportunity offered.
"By the way," Gammon remarked carelessly, "are these Quodlings any relation to Quodling the silk broker in the City?"
His companion smiled over the rim of a deep tumbler, and continued to smile through a long draught.
"Why do you ask?"
"No particular reason. Happen to know the other man--by sight."
"They're brothers--Quodling senior and the broker."
"What's the joke?" asked Gammon, as the other still smiled.
"Old joke--very old joke. The two men just as unlike as they could be--in face, I mean. I never took the trouble to inquire about it, but I've been told there was a lawsuit years ago, something to do with the will of Lord somebody, who left money to old Mrs. Quodling--who wasn't old then. Don't know the particulars, but I'm told that something turned on the likeness of the younger boy to the man who made the will--see!"
"Ah! Oh!" muttered Gammon reflectively.
"An uppish, high-notioned fellow, Quodling the broker. Won't have anything to do with his brother. He's nothing much himself; went through the court not very long ago."
Gammon promised himself to look into this story when he had time. That it could in any way concern him he did not seriously suppose, but he liked to track things out. Some day he would have another look at Quodling the broker, who so strongly resembled Mrs. Clover's husband. Both of them, it seemed, bore a likeness to some profligate aristocrat. Just the kind of thing to interest that queer fish Greenacre.
In the height of the London season nothing pleased Gammon more than to survey the streets from an omnibus. Being just now a man of leisure he freely indulged himself, spending an hour or two each day in the liveliest thoroughfares. It was a sure way of forgetting his cares. Sometimes he took a box place and chatted with the driver, or he made acquaintances, male and female, on the cosy cross seats just broad enough for two. The London panorama under a sky of June feasted his laughing eyes. Now he would wave a hand to a friend on
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