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   Chapter 5 No.5

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 8989

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


As Will Scarlett walked home to the small room which he occupied, not very far from his cousin Hester Wright, he was overtaken by a young sailor of about his own age, who linked his arm in his and spoke to him in a half-tipsy, half-jocular voice.

"You was going to give me the slip, Will. And where be you off to at this hour of night?"

"To bed, and to sleep," said Will, shortly. He was in no mood for his companion's idle chatter, and resented the firm grip he had taken of his arm.

"Then it ain't true what I heard," said Isaac Dent. "You're down on your luck, and a bit crusty; and you wouldn't be that ef the news were true."

"What news?" said Will "I'm tired, and that's the truth, Dent. I want to turn in early; for most like I'll be on the briny ocean this time to-morrow."

"Then you are going in the 'Good Queen Anne.' Never knew such a fellow! The best ship in the docks, and you to get a berth in her. I wouldn't be crusty to a less lucky mate if I was in your shoes."

Will sighed. They had come in front of a brilliantly-lighted public-house, and a flood of gaslight lit up both faces. For a sailor Will was tall, slenderly built, with dark clustering curling hair, and very bright, very honest blue eyes. His companion was short and thick-set-he had a flat head, large ears set rather higher up, and small cunning eyes. He was not pleasant-looking, and Will, although one of the most unsuspicious of mortals, regarded him with small favor.

"Come in, and have a parting drink for good luck," said Dent, pointing to the gaily-lit public house.

Will shook his hand from his arm.

"You know my mind on that point," he said. "We took a voyage together, so we needn't talk it all out now. Good-night, Dent, I'm off to bed."

But Dent had no idea of letting Will off so easy.

"Look here," he said-"what shall I pay you for that berth of your'n? It ain't nothing to the cap'n who sails with him, and I wants to get away. What will you take?"

Will felt his face flushing; then he laughed indignantly.

"What folly you talk, Dent. Even suppose I were willing, you haven't sixpence-you know you haven't."

"May I go home with you?" said Dent, "and I'll show you what I have. I'm in real earnest-I want to get away, and I can pay for it. The 'Good Queen Anne' is quite to my mind-time for sailing, length of voyage-all just what I wants. I'll give you ten pound if you'll drop that berth of yours in my favor. There-I can't speak fairer than that."

All the time Dent was speaking Will had walked on stoically. There was not the faintest appearance of wavering about him; but Dent, who was a shrewd observer of character, and knew this particular young sailor well, guessed that Will's teeth were set hard, and that there was a struggle going on in his breast.

"May I come home with you, mate," he said, "just for a bit, to talk the matter over quiet like? I ha' got ten pound-no matter how and no matter where-and it's yours just to let me go to sea this week instead of next. A handy, neat-looking sailor like you, Will, need never be long out of a berth, and it's vital for me to get away just now. Ten pound, just to oblige a mate! You won't get such an offer again in a hurry, Scarlett."

"Stop!" said Will, suddenly. "What child is that? I'll be back with you in a minute if you'll wait by the corner, Dent, but I must follow up that littl'un-he have no call to be out at this hour."

Will made a step or two forward, and found himself in the midst of a small crowd who were admiring the antics of a very small and grotesque performer. A little boy with reddish hair and blackened face was turning somersaults with wonderful rapidity in the centre of the pathway. Another boy, cap in hand, stood by his side. The boy who performed and the boy who begged both looked audacious and disreputable; but, owing to their tiny statures, and the cadaverous whiteness of their faces, there was something pathetic in the spectacle. The boy who stood with his cap waiting for stray half-pence or pence to be dropped into it, had large blue eyes, which were turned with marvelous rapidity, first in the direction of one spectator, then in that of another. He could pick out the people who were hopeful, and whose purse-strings were likely to be loosened, with the swiftest of glances; and his little cap received many doles, considering the nature of the crowd who looked on.

Dent, who had come up to Will, tossed the boy a half-penny, and then began

to laugh heartily, at the rapid contortions of the little acrobat.

"Stop that!" said Will, angrily.

He stepped into the middle of the crowd, and caught the revolving boy suddenly by his shoulder.

"You have no call to be out at this hour, Nat-nor you neither, Thady. What will your sister say when she finds you not in? Bad boys-run home this minute. This ain't what your mother would have liked; and you know it."

The boy called Thady, otherwise the captain, raised his blue eyes, now swimming in tears, to Will's face.

"We was that 'nngry," he said. "And Bet were out. Yer's a lot of coppers; we'll do now. Come along home, Gen'ral."

The two scampered away, flying with their bare feet along the slippery streets, and in a moment were out of sight.

Dent stared hard at Will, whose face showed some agitation.

"So those are the two little Granger lads," he said. "Well, I tell you what-their sister's far and away the handsomest girl in Liverpool."

"She's well enough," said Will, shortly. "The boys had no call to be out so late-and to-night of all nights. Their mother is lying dead, and Bet's in trouble. Good-night, Dent. I ha' made up my mind to sail in the `Good Queen Anne.' I won't trouble you to come home with me, although I'm obleeged for your offer."

The light was falling on Will's face. Dent looked up at him sharply.

"So Bet Granger's mother is dead," he said. "Well, she's a handsome lass. I mean to marry her, if I can, arter next voyage."

"Ef you can," said Will.

Dent noticed his violent stand, and then the quick restraint he put upon himself.

"Yes," repeated Dent. "And her father's willing, for I spoke to him. I'll marry her arter this voyage, or maybe I'll marry her afore, ef you don't let me buy your berth from you, Will. Come, shall I go home with you? Any one with half an eye can see that you have no mind for the ocean wave just at present. Let's come in, Scarlett-we're close to your lodgings now-and finger the bit of gold I ha' by me as comfortable as we please."

"You worry a fellow almost to death," said Will; but he made no further objection, and the two went up to Will's tiny bedroom at the top of a tall house.

They were closeted together for about an hour. At the end of that time Dent came downstairs whistling triumphantly, but with a very ugly look about his face. He had bought a berth on board the "Good Queen Anne" for two crisp Bank of England five-pound notes, but the loss of the money seemed to cause him more relief than otherwise.

"And don't you think, Scarlett, that you'll get the girl either," he said to himself, "for I mean to have her for myself. And if this little trick hasn't checkmated you, my fine lad, I'll find summut else to spoil your bit of a game."

Upstairs Will was fingering the paper money, with a queer dazed expression on his face.

What had he done? Given up his berth on the bonny ship, and his chance of a voyage after his own heart-given it up, too, for Isaac Dent, a fellow whom he was quite sure was more or less a bit of a scoundrel. Will was honest, unsuspicious, and guileless; but even he could not quite think the best of a man with Dent's physiognomy.

"And I care nought at all for the money," he said to himself. "Only maybe it 'ud come in handy, if she wor to wed me 'twixt this week and next. He shan't have her with his ugly face. But she wouldn't look at him. She said to-night that it worn't for her ever to wed, but maybe as I can bring her round. I'll find another berth next week, and I'll speak to Hester to-morrow, and a deal can be done in a week. She said she didn't love me, but-who knows? Bet's a wild one, and a desperate earnest one. Ef she could bring herself to say just once, 'I love you, Will.' it 'ud be as good from her as if she said it every day. It's once and always with Bet. Well, I shouldn't ha' stayed now ef Dent hadn't let out that he meant to make up to her. Dent shan't cross her path if I can help it. She's the bravest lass in Liverpool, and the handsomest to look at; and I'll have her, if fortune will favor me, and the good God above help me. 'I don't love you, Will,' she said; but for that matter, Barbara Allen said much the same, and yet she died for love arter all. When I think of that, and remember how Bet's eyes lit up, and how pitiful she looked, when I sang of Barbara Allen, I ain't sorry as Dent has got my berth. A week off the ocean wave ain't too much to give up for the sake of Bet Granger."

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