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A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 6517

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

When Bet Granger ran past the open doorway of Mother Bunch's room she had very little idea that in a corner of that room, tied firmly into a chair, sat her bridegroom of to-morrow-Isaac Dent.

The gag had been removed from his mouth, but his hands were still firmly pinioned, and he was so securely strapped into the chair which held him that he could scarcely move a limb. Under these circumstances Dent did not show to advantage. There was none of that conscious innocence which gives to other men a certain nobility in the hour of trial. On the contrary, his face was blanched with the most unmistakable fear, and his restless shifting eyes looked no one member of the motley group who surrounded him full in the face.

To all appearance, however, these people did jot take the smallest notice of Dent. They left him in his corner, and eagerly pursued their own gay revelries, deaf to the sound of the piteous voice which he raised now and then. Patrick O'Flaherty, Mother Bunch's husband, played the fiddle with much spirit, but Mother Bunch herself was the real mistress of the ceremonies, footing it bravely in the jig, and letting her voice peal forth in such enthusiastic Irish songs as "The Shamrock," "Garryowen," "Saint Patrick's Day," and the like.

Hester Wright alone stood grave and silent at a little distance from Dent, She was impatient of the mirth, and there was a troubled, anxious look on her face. She did not join in any of the songs, and at last, going up to Mother Bunch, she said a few words in her ear.

"Right you are, child," replied the Irishwoman. "Frinds-we'll now, if you plaze, stop these tokens of mirth and victory, and attend to the business of the evening."

Instantly the fiddle ceased; the footsteps became motionless; the voices died into silence; and a little group of about twenty people formed a semicircle round Dent. Mother Bunch, who was in the centre of this group, stepped forward a pace or two. Her brawny arm was bare to the elbow. She raised it now with a slightly significant gesture.

"Child," she said, addressing the prisoner-for surely as such Dent had to consider himself now-"I ax you a plain question, and I ax it in the name of the frinds of love and order here assembled. Will you confess yourself a guilty man, and own to the maneness of your nature in concocting a plot to ruin the innocent boy, Will Scarlett? or will ye keep your lips shut, and feel the power of this right ahrum?" "You're all a set o' cowards," burst from Dent. "Let me go free, this minute-I'll have the law of you-I had nothing to say to Scarlett's imprisonment."

"Yes, you had, child; and there's no use in your going for to deny it. You stole the notes and the gold, and the purty bit of a purse, and you put the blame on Will, 'cause you wanted to get scot-free yourself, and you wanted to take his gurl from him. You're a bad boy, Isaac Dent, and you desarves the least taste in life of the rod. Come along, neighbors, hould him, and do your dooty."

Dent began to scream abjectly, and at this juncture Hester Wright stepped to the front.

"Isaac," she said, in her deep, grave voice, "you have got to submit. We plotted this, I and these good Irish friends of mine. I don't mean that Will Scarlett

shall lie in prison for your good pleasure. I don't mean that his good lass shall give herself to you. We plotted this, and we means to see it through. You're a bad man. Isaac, and you deceived Bet, and pretended to set Will free, when you know that he lies still in prison. Bet would have married you, I don't know how soon,-perhaps to-morrow-perhaps the next day,-but now she shall never wed you, Isaac; for here you stay-here you stay, year in, year out, until you confesses the truth."

"Yes-here you stay," repeated the Irish voices in full chorus, and the women began to laugh, and the men to chuckle audibly.

"You don't mean it," said Dent. His white face grew several shades more chalky.

"Yes," continued Hester, "we do mean it. You have managed to escape the law, Dent, and you managed to put the best man in Liverpool under its ban. But we've made a law ourselves, and we'll carry it out on you. Here you stays until you confesses the truth about Will. It ain't no good for you to make a fuss, for the police they doesn't often walk down Paradise Row. Mother Bunch is the only policeman as has much power here. You had better submit, Isaac, for you ha' got no loophole to act contrarywise."

"And ef you felt this right ahrum, child, you mightn't like to feel it a second time," burst in Mother Bunch, as she brandished this powerful member in Dent's face.

"What am I to do?" he exclaimed. "I can't stay on here-I-I-just can't. You ha' got me in your power. You'll rue it some day. Er I say what you want me to say, I'll go to prison instead of Will. It ain't in reason to expect a feller to say a thing like that."

"Isaac," continued Hester, "we don't care nothing about punishing you. This is what you've got to do,-you've got to take Will out of prison, and let him marry his own true love. And you have got to do it in this way. I'm going now to fetch Miss Mary Vallence, the young lady whose purse you stole, and she'll take down your full confession in writing,-all about how you planned to ruin Will, all your reasons, and what you did with the rest of the money. She'll put it down on paper-the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and then you ha' got to sign your name to it, and Mother Bunch and me we'll witness it, and then after that, Isaac, we'll set you free, and one of us will go with you to the end of Paradise Row, and you shall have an hour-jest one hour-to get away in, before Miss Vallence lodges that paper with the police. Them's our terms, Isaac, and you ha' got to say yes or no to them at once."

"Maybe the child 'ud rather feel my right ahrum," burst from Mother Bunch.

"No," said Isaac, sullenly. "You have me in a trap, and I must do what you wish. You'll be true to your promise about the hour, Hester. Oh!-it's the meanest trick that was ever played on a feller, and I'll be even with every one of you yet."

"You may do your worst, child-we ain't afeard," responded Mother Bunch. "Three cheers, boys all-for Isaac Dent have lost his sweetheart."

The room rang again with the sound of boisterous merriment, and in the midst of the confusion and uproar Hester slipped away.

She was going to Miss Vallence, to ask her to come with her at once, and so to redeem her promise.

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