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The Town Traveller By George Gissing Characters: 13077

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

At noon next day a cab drove up to Mrs. Bubb's house; from it alighted Miss Sparkes, who, with the help of the cabman, brought downstairs a tin box, a wooden box, two bandboxes, and three newspaper bundles. With no one did she exchange a word of farewell; the Cheesemans' were out, the landlady and Moggie kept below stairs. So Polly turned her back upon Kennington Road, and shook the dust thereof from her feet for ever.

Willingly she had accepted a proposal that she should share the room of her friend Miss Waghorn, who was to be married in a month's time to Mr. Nibby, and did not mind a little inconvenience. The room was on the third floor of a house at the north end of Shaftesbury Avenue; it measured twelve feet by fourteen. When Polly's bandboxes had been thrust under the bed and her larger luggage built up in a corner, there was nice standing room both for her and Miss Waghorn. The house contained ten rooms in all, and its population (including seven children) amounted to twenty-three. In this warm weather the atmosphere within doors might occasionally be a trifle close, but Shaftesbury Avenue is a fine broad street, and has great advantages of situation.

To Mr. Gammon's casual inquiry, Mrs. Bubb replied that she neither knew nor cared whither Polly had betaken herself. Himself having no great curiosity in the matter, and being much absorbed in his endeavour to obtain an engagement with the house of Quodling, he let Polly slip from his mind for a few days, until one morning came a letter from her. Positively, and to his vast surprise, a letter addressed to him by Miss Sparkes, with her abode fully indicated in the usual place. True, the style of the epistle was informal. It began:

"You took advantage of me because there wasn't a man in the house to take my part, as I don't call that grinning monkey of a Cheeseman a man at all. If you like to call where I am now, I shall have the pleasure of introducing you to somebody that will give you the good hiding you deserve for being a coward and a brute.


Gammon laughed over this for half an hour. He showed it to Mrs. Bubb, who was again on the old terms with him, and Mrs. Bubb wanted to exhibit it to Mrs. Cheeseman.

"No, don't do that," he interposed gently. "We'll keep it between ourselves."


"Oh, I don't know. The girl can't help herself; she was born that way, you know."

"I only hope she won't pay some rough to follow you at night and bash you," said Mrs. Bubb warningly.

"I don't think that. No, no; Polly's bark is worse than her bite any day."

On the evening of that day, about ten o'clock, he chanced to be in Oxford Street, and as he turned southward it occurred to him that he would so far act upon Polly's invitation as to walk down the Avenue and glance at the house where she lived. He did so, and it surprised him to see that she had taken up her abode in so mean-looking a place; he was not aware, of course, that. Miss Waghorn found the quarters good enough for her own more imposing charms and not less brilliant wardrobe.

Walking on, at Cambridge Circus he came face to face with Miss Sparkes herself, accompanied by Miss Waghorn. To his hat salute and amiable smile Polly replied with a fierce averting of the look. Her friend nodded cheerfully, and they passed. Two minutes after he found Miss Waghorn beside him.

"Hallo! Left Polly?"

"I want you to come back with me, Mr. Gammon," replied the maiden archly. "I 'ear you've offended Miss Sparkes. I don't know what it is, I'm sure, and I don't ask to be told, 'cause it's none of my business; but I want to make you friends again, and I'm sure you'll apologize to her."

"Eh? Apologize? Why, of course I will; only too delighted."

"That's nice of you. I always said you were a nice man, ask Polly if I didn't."

"The same to you, my dear, and many of 'em! Come along."

As if wholly unaware of what was happening Polly had proceeded homewards, not so fast, however, but that the others overtook her with ease before she reached the house.

"How do you do, Miss Sparkes?" began her enemy, not without diffidence as she turned upon him. "I'm surprised to hear from Miss Waghorn that something I've said or done has riled you, if I may use the expression. I couldn't have meant it; I'm sure I 'umbly beg pardon."

Strange to say, by this imperfect expression of regret, Miss Sparkes allowed herself to be mollified. Presenting a three-quarter countenance with a forbearing smile, she answered in the formula of her class:

"Oh, I'm sure it's granted."

"There now, we're all friends again," said Carrie Waghorn. "Miss Sparkes is living with me for the present, Mr. Gammon. There'll be changes before long"-she looked about her with prudish embarrassment-"but, of course, we shall be seeing you again. Do you know the address, Mr. Gammon?"

She mentioned the number of the house, and carefully repeated it, whilst Polly turned away as if the conversation did not interest her. Thereupon Mr. Gammon bade them good night, and went his way, marvelling that Polly Sparkes had all at once become so placable. Was it a stratagem to throw him off his guard and bring him into the clutches of some avenger one of these nights? One never knew what went on in the minds of such young women as Polly.

Next morning he had another surprise, a letter from his friend Greenacre, inviting him, with many phrases of studious politeness, to dine that day at a great hotel, the hour eight o'clock, and begging him to reply by telegram addressed to the same hotel. This puzzled Gammon, yet less than it could have done at an earlier stage of their acquaintance. He had abandoned the hope of explaining Greenacre's mysterious circumstances, and the attempt to decide whether his stories were worthy of belief or not. Half suspecting that he might be the victim of a hoax he telegraphed an acceptance, and thought no more of the matter until evening approached. Part of his day was spent in helping a distracted shopkeeper on the verge of failure to obtain indulgence from certain of his creditors he also secured a place as errand boy for the son of a poor woman with whom he had lodged until her house was burnt down one Bank Holiday; and he made a trip to Hammersmith to give evidence at the police-court for a friend charged with assaulting a policeman. Just before eight o'clock, after a hasty wash and brush up at a public lavatory, he presented himself at the great hotel, where, from a lounge in the smoking-room, Gr

eenacre rose to welcome him. Greenacre indubitably, but much better dressed than Gammon had ever seen him, and with an air of lively graciousness which was very impressive. The strange fellow offered not a word of explanation, but chatted as though their meeting in such places as this were an everyday occurrence.

"I have something interesting to tell you," he observed, when they were seated in the brilliant dining-room, with olives, sardines, and the like to toy with before the serious commencement of their meal. "You remember-when was it? not long ago-asking me about a family named Quodling?"

"Of course I do. It was only the other day at-"

"Ah, just so, yes," interposed Greenacre, suavely ignoring the locality. "You know my weakness for looking up family histories. I happened to be talking with my friend Beeching yesterday-Aldham Beeching, you know, the Q.C.-and Quodling came into my head. I mentioned the name. It was as I thought. I had, you know, a vague recollection of Quodling as connected with a lawsuit when I was a boy. Beeching could tell me all about it."

"Well, what was it?"

"Queer story. A Mrs. Quodling, a widow, or believed to be a widow, came in for a large sum of money under the will of Lord Polperro, the second baron-uncle, I am told, of his present lordship. This will was contested by the family; a very complicated affair, Beeching tells me. Mrs. Quodling, whose character was attacked, declared that she knew Lord Polperro in an honourable way, and that he had taken a great interest in her children-two young boys. Now these boys were produced in court, then it was seen-excellent soup this-that they bore little if any resemblance to each other; and at the same time it was made evident, by exhibition of a portrait, that the younger boy had a face with a strong likeness to the testator, and many witnesses declared the same. Interesting, isn't it?"

"For the widow," remarked Gammon.

"Uncommonly awkward, though she gained her case for all that. Polperro, it seems, had a shady reputation-heavy drinker, and so on. There were strong characteristics-some peculiarity of the nose. The old chap used to say that there was the nose of the Bourbons and the nose of the Trefoyles, his family name."

"What name?"

"Trefoyle. Cornish, you know. Rum lot they always seem to have been. Barony created by George III for some personal service. The first Polperro is said to have lived a year or two as a gipsy, and at another time as a highwayman. There's a portrait of him, Beeching tells me, in somebody's history of Cornwall, showing to perfection the Trefoyle nose."

"Same as Quodling's, then," exclaimed Gammon. "Quodling, the broker?"

"Precisely. I would suggest, my dear fellow, that you don't speak quite so loud. Francis Quodling was the boy who so strongly resembled the Lord Polperro of the lawsuit. Nose with high arch, and something queer about the nostril."

"Yes! and hanged if it isn't just the same as-"

A deprecatory gesture from his friend stopped Gammon on the point of uttering the name "Clover." Again he had sinned against the proprieties by unduly raising his voice, and he subsided in confusion.

"You were going to say?" murmured the host politely.

"Oh, nothing. There's a man I know has just the same nose, that's all."

"That's very interesting. And considering the Polperro reputation, it wouldn't surprise me to come across a good many such noses. You remember my favourite speculation. It comes in very well here, doesn't it? Is all this information of any service to you?"

"Much obliged to you for your trouble. I don't know that I can make any use of it; but yes, it does give a sort of hint."

On reflection Gammon decided to keep the matter to himself. He had set his mind on discovering Mrs. Clover's husband, and was all the more determined to perform this feat since the recent events in Kennington Road. Mrs. Clover had treated him unkindly; he would prove to her that this had no effect upon his zeal in her service. Polly Sparkes was making fun of him, and the laugh should yet be on his side. Greenacre, with his mysterious connexions, might be of use, but must not be allowed to run away with the credit of the discovery. As for these stories about Lord Polperro, it might turn out that Clover was illegitimately related to the noble family-no subject for boasting, though possibly an explanation of his strange life. If Polly were really in communication with him-"Ho, ho! Very good! Ha, ha!"

"What now?" asked Greenacre.

"Nothing! Queer fancy I had."

After dinner they smoked together for an hour, the host talking incessantly, and for the most part in a vein of reminiscence. To hear him one would have supposed that he had always lived in the society of distinguished people; never a word referring to poverty or mean employment fell from his lips.

"Poor Bolsover!" he remarked. "Did I tell you that I had a very kind letter from his widow?"

"I haven't seen you since."

"Ah, no, to be sure. I wrote, or rather I left a card at the town house. Charming letter in reply. The poor lady is still quite young. She was a Thompson of Derbyshire. I never knew the family at all well."

Gammon mused, and it occurred to him in his knowledge of the world that Greenacre's connexion with the house of Bolsover might be that of a begging-letter writer. There might have been some slight acquaintance in years gone by between this strange fellow and young Lord Bolsover-subsequently made a source of profit. Perchance, Greenacre's prosperity at this moment resulted from a skilful appeal to the widowed lady.

Inclined to facetiousness by a blend of choice beverages, Gammon could not resist a joke at the moment when he took leave.

"Been out with the 'Saponaria' van to-day?" he enquired innocently.

Greenacre looked steadily at him with eyes of gentle reproach.

"I'm afraid I don't understand that allusion," he replied gravely. "Is it a current jest? I am not much in the way of hearing that kind of thing. By the by, let me know if I can help you in any more genealogies."

"I will. So long, old man."

And with a wink-an undeniable wink, an audacious wink-Mr. Gammon sallied from the hotel.

Before going to bed he wrote a letter-a letter to Miss Sparkes. Would she see him the day after to-morrow, Sunday, if he strolled along Shaftesbury Avenue at ten a.m.? It would greatly delight him, and perhaps she might be persuaded to take a little jaunt to Dulwich and look at his bow-wows.

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