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   Chapter 3 No.3

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 11852

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


In Liverpool there are, perhaps more than in any town in the world, all sorts and conditions of men. The very wealthy and the very poor are to be found within its precincts-also the very good and the very bad. Its slums are black and awful; but it also contains some of the finest public buildings, some of the most massive and comfortable houses, and without any exception the largest and greatest docks, in the world. All nationalities come to Liverpool. It sees life from beyond the seas, it has a population of people always coming and going-Americans who go to the theatre in London and arrive in Liverpool about three in the morning, on their return to their own country; Irishmen, Scotchmen, dwellers in Africa; in fact, people from all parts of the civilized world find their way to Liverpool, to return from thence by way of the sea to their native lands. On certain days in the week the hotels and lodging-houses are packed to overflowing; the different piers present scenes of activity and bustle; the great ships come and go, and the people come and go with them-Liverpool is passed through and forgotten.

That is the case with those fleeting crowds who so largely contribute to its trade and prosperity; but the habitue' of Liverpool, the man who spends his days there, is a totally different order of being. The stranger sees the great city most generally through mist and fog; he regards the pavements as rough and slippery; he thinks the public buildings large, but ugly. Liverpool to him is another London, but without London's attractions. But the true Liverpool man looks at his native town from a very different point of view. He is part and parcel of the place, and he loves it for its size and ugliness, its great commerce, its thriving active business life. Liverpool to its citizens means home; they are proud of their laws and their customs; they like to dispense charity in their own way; they like to support and help their own poor; they have, to an extent absolutely unknown in London, the true spirit of neighborliness. This spirit is shared by all alike, the rich and the poor feel it, and it binds them together; they regard their town as the world, and look askance at inventions and ideas imported from other places. There are bad slums in Liverpool, and wicked deeds committed, and cruel rough men to be found in multitudes; but the evil there compared to London seems at least to be conquerable-the slums can be got at; nobody who chooses to apply in the right quarter need die of famine or distress.

Most of the men are dock-laborers; they are often taken on only for half a day at a time, and in this way their work is precarious, and, except for the most steady-going and respectable, at many periods of the year very hard to get. Almost all the men either work at the docks, or take to a sea-faring life. Thus sailors are coming and going, and there is scarcely a family belonging either to high or low who has not a son, a brother, or a father on the sea. Perhaps this is one of the facts which binds the people to one another-the rich lady in her carriage, and the poor starved, gaunt woman who lives in one room up many pairs of stairs in a dismal back slum, look alike out on the waters of the Mersey for the boy who may come back any day with the taste of the sea about him.

The Liverpool boy has his work cut out for him; those who wish to belong emphatically to the place of their birth, either earn what they can at the docks or go to sea. They need never debate as to their profession or their calling in life; it is cut out for them-it lies at their feet with that sea which is brought by the ships to their very doors.

But the Liverpool girl-that is, the girl of the people-is not so fortunate. She has no special work provided for her; she is not like the Manchester girl, who is as certain to go into the factory as she is to eat and drink-there are scarcely any factories in Liverpool, and a very tiny proportion of girls find work there.

Domestic service is hated by the Liverpool lass. At one time, when forced by necessity to adopt this means of earning her bread, she made a stipulation that she should at least sleep at home-that her evenings from seven o'clock out should be her own. Now that this rule is no longer allowed, domestic service is held in less esteem than ever, and only the most sensible girls dream of availing themselves of its comforts.

While the boys, therefore, are earning and striking out independent paths for themselves, the girls are under difficulties. They must earn money; for life is not too easy to live in their native place, and each must bring in his or her small portion of help to the family purse; but how, is the difficulty. Some hawk fruit and vegetables, doing a fairly brisk trade on Saturdays, and even on Sunday mornings; but the most favored Liverpool girls earn their daily bread by selling newspapers night after night in the streets. A good-looking girl will secure her regular customers, have her own regular and undisturbed beat, and will often earn from tenpence to a shilling a night; but the newspaper beats have to be bought, and often at a high figure, for competition is very keen, and the coveted corners where the greater number of gentlemen are to be met that require evening papers are highly prized.

Bet Granger had been a newspaper girl for a couple of years now; her mother had saved up money to buy her beat for her; it was one of the best in the town, and she was always so trim and neat, so comely and pleasant-looking, and her papers so clean and crisp and neatly cut, that she did a fair trade, and largely helped to support her mother and little brothers. Her trade occupied her for a couple of hours every evening. In the morning, as the mood took her, she helped her mother with plain needlework-Mrs. Granger worked for a wholesale shop at the usual shop prices-or she went do

wn to the docks.

Every Liverpool girl is fond of watching the ships as they come in or go out; they connect her with the outer life, with the far-away world-they give her a pleasing and ever-recurring sense of excitement and exhilaration; but, as a rule, they never implant in her breast that fever to be off and away which so soon affects the Liverpool boy.

Bet liked to watch the ships. She would stand erect and almost haughty in her bearing, often quite close to the edge of the quays, speaking very few words, and making scarcely any acquaintances, but thinking many strange and undefined thoughts in her untutored heart.

The Grangers did not belong to the lowest of the people. Granger was a clever workman. He was seldom out of employment; for although he drank away his earnings, and gave no thought whatever to the comfort of his wife and children, he was sober and steady by day. He had a clever, shrewd head, as yet unaffected by drink, and he did the work allotted to him in a superior manner to most of his class.

When first they were married, he and his wife had two bright, cheery rooms. They were well furnished, and things promised brightly for the couple. Granger, however, was the son of a drunkard, and the sins of the father were soon to be abundantly visited on him. Mrs. Granger meant well, but her religion was not of an inspiriting kind. Whenever she saw her husband the worse for drink she reproached him, and spoke to him about hell-fire. He soon ceased to care for her; and even when Bet was a tiny child she scarcely ever remembered an evening which did not find her mother in tears, and her father returning home, having taken a great deal more than was good for him.

Years went by; children were born, only to live for a day or two and to pass away. Mrs. Granger became more broken-down and unhappy-looking every year, and Bet grew into a tall, comely girl. She was not particularly gentle, nor particularly amiable, and she had the worst possible training for such a nature as hers; but nevertheless she had a certain nobility about her. For instance, no one had ever heard Elizabeth Granger tell a lie. She was proud of her truthfulness, which was simply the result of courage. She was afraid of no one, and no circumstance had ever caused her cheek to blanch with fear. She quickly acquired a name for truth and honesty of purpose, and then pride helped her to live up to her character. She was not very quick to give promises, but she often boasted that, once she gave one, nothing would ever induce her to break it. She was very fiery and hot-tempered, but as a rule she did not fly out about trifles, and there was a certain grandeur about her nature which accorded well with her fine physique and upright bearing.

Bet was an only child for several years. It is true that many little brothers and sisters had been carried away to the cemetery, but none lived until two puny boys put in so feeble an appearance that the neighbors thought the miserable thing called life could not exist in their tiny persons more than a day or two. They were twins, and Mrs. Granger nearly died when she gave them birth. The neighbors said that it would be a good thing if the broken-down mother and the babes that nobody wanted all went away together.

"There's a deal too many children in the world," they said; "it would be good if they was took, poor lambs."

But here Bet, who overheard the words, gave way to one of her bursts of fury. She turned the offending but well-disposed neighbors out of the room; she locked the door, and kneeling down by the babies, gave them a perfect baptism of tears and kisses.

"Who says as they're not wanted?" she sobbed. "I want 'em-I'm allays a-wanting something, and maybe they'll fill my heart."

From this moment she constituted herself the babies' devoted nurse; and so, after a fashion, they throve, and did not die.

The darker the times grew for Mrs. Granger the more she clung to her religion. She had a real belief, a real although dim faith. The belief supported her tottering steps, and the faith kept her worn spirit from utterly fainting; but they did nothing to illumine or render happy the lives of those about her. She believed intensely in a God who punished. He saved-she knew He saved-but only through fire. In the dark winter evenings she poured out her stern thoughts, her unlovely ideas, into the ears of her young daughter. As a child Bet listened in terror; as a woman she simply ceased to believe.

"Ef God were like that, she'd have nought to do with Him,"-this was her thought of thoughts. She refused to accompany her mother to chapel on Sundays; she left the room when the Bible was read aloud; she made one or two friends for herself, and these friends were certainly not of her mother's choosing. She could read, and she loved novels-indeed, she would devour books of any kind, but she had to hide them from her mother, who thought it her duty, as she valued her daughter's immortal soul, to commit them to the flames.

The mother loved the girl, and never ceased to wrestle in prayer for her, and to believe she would shine as a jewel in her crown some day; and the girl also cared for the mother, respecting her stern sense of duty, admiring the length of her prayers, wondering at her ceaseless devotion; but both were outwardly hard to the other, showing no softness, and speaking of no love.

All Bet's up-bringing was hardening; and but for the presence of the boys she might have wondered if she possessed any heart at all.

She was nineteen when her mother suddenly broke down completely in health, and after the shortest of illnesses-too short to alarm anyone, too short for even the word danger to be whispered-closed her eyes on this world, leaving Bet in a state of bewildered and impotent rage.

There was no longer the faintest doubt in her orphaned heart that she loved her mother.

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