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Courage and opportunity came together. He sat alone with Mrs. Clover one Sunday evening, and she told him that Minnie was to be married in six months' time. Gammon bore the announcement very well indeed; he seemed really glad to hear it. Then his countenance became troubled, he dropped awkward sentences; with a burst of honest feeling, which made him very red, he at length plunged into his confession. Not a little astonished, Mrs. Clover learnt all that had pa.s.sed between him and Polly Sparkes, now Polly Parish. Nothing did he extenuate, but he wronged neither Polly nor himself.
"There, I've got it out. You had to know. Thank goodness it's over!"
"Why did you tell me?" asked Mrs. Clover, a flush on her comely face, which could not yet smile, though she asked the question with a suggestion of slyness.
"It seemed only right--to make things square--don't you see. I shall know next time I come how you've taken it. And perhaps the next time after that--"
Mrs. Clover was now smiling, and so gently, so modestly, that Gammon forgot all about his scheme for a gradual approach. He began to talk excitedly, and talked for such a long time that his hostess, who wished him to disappear before Minnie's return, had at length to drive him away.
"I shall certainly keep on the shop," were her last words before the door opened. "I've got used to it, and--it'll keep me out of mischief."
Her merry little laugh echoed in Gammon's ears all the way home, and for hours after. And when, as he rose next morning, he looked out on to the strips of back-yard and the towering tenements, they had lost all their ugliness.
"By jorrocks!" he e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed, after gashing his chin with the razor, "I'll send Polly a handsome present next Christmas."