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   Chapter 8 No.8

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 10731

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


In due course Mrs. Granger received a decent burial. There was money enough for this purpose in the burial club to which Granger subscribed; and Bet, rather to her surprise, saw that her father did not object to doing the thing respectably for his dead wife. She and the little boys and Granger himself, who was quite sober and looked remarkably sulky, attended the funeral. The short service was quickly over, and the queer-looking band of mourners turned away. As they were leaving the cemetery, a thick-set and ungainly man, with eyes closely set in his head, and a hat slouched over his forehead, came up and spoke to Granger.

"All right, Dent," said Granger.

Then he turned to his daughter.

"You know Isaac Dent, don't you, Bet? You might ha' the manners to give him a civil word."

Bet's eyes were red and swollen, for she had been crying bitterly.

"Oh, yes, I know you, Isaac Dent," she said; "but I ain't in no mood to talk now. Good-bye, father."

"I'll be home presently," called out Granger. "Have a bit of dinner ready for Dent and me-we'll be looking in presently;" and Bet, taking a small brother by each hand, walked away at a good pace.

She had not replied to her father, and there was a very dogged, determined look on her handsome face. The two small boys chattered to one another, looked proudly down at their boots, which had been bought new for the occasion, and often glanced at Bet. She did not pay the slightest heed to their shrill childish chatter. Presently she hailed a passing tramcar, and delighted her little brothers by taking them for a ride outside. The three got down at the nearest point to Sparrow Street, which was the name of Bet's old address. They reached the house and went upstairs. The one room where they had all lived for the last couple of years looked deserted, ugly, desolate. The bed on which the dead woman had lain was empty, the fire was out in the grate, and the broken cups and saucers, out of which the little party had breakfasted before they started for the funeral, stood unwashed on the deal table.

"Now, boys," said Bet, the minute she had got the two little fellows into the room, "you ha' got to obey me. I'm your mother in future. Do you mind?"

She had seated herself on a low chair, and drew her little brothers in front of her. They looked at her with their impudent and bright eyes.

"The Cap'n says," began Nat, glancing in his eager, quick, bird-like way at his brother-"the Cap'n says-"

But Bet put her hand across the eager little mouth.

"Never mind what Thady says now, Nat; we'll have plenty of time to go into that by-and-bye. Now we have a deal to do, and very little time to do it in. But first you two boys ha' got to give me a promise."

"Promises is like pie-crusts," said the Cap'n, drawing himself up to his full tiny height, "I don't mind, nor do the Gen'ral there. Promises is made to be broke."

Bet shook the little speaker impatiently.

"Look here, boys, there's no one loves you two, but me; and I do-yes, I do-with all my heart. There, boys, don't strangle me," for they both fell upon her, covering her face and neck and lips with childish, most affectionate kisses.

"Hurrah for Bet! There, Bet-we'll make no pie-crust promises to you. We'll promise, and we'll keep our words. We'd die afore we broke 'em!" concluded the Cap'n, stamping his small newly-shod foot with great effect on the floor.

"There's no one loves you but me," continued Bet. "Mother did, but she's with God-that is ef-ef-oh, yes, mother's with God. He's keeping her comfortable now, and she have forgot us all. Mother's no good from this out; and father-you know what father is, boys. Look me in the face-you know what father is."

It took a great deal to quench the spirit of the audacious Granger twins, but they looked subdued now. Their thin little faces grew a shade whiter. The two pairs of eyes gave a rapid glance towards the door, and the little figures pressed closer to Bet as if for protection.

"You know, and so do I," she continued, putting her strong arm round them with a most protecting gesture; "and so-and so-boys, I'm going to take you away from father. And the only thing you ha' got to obey me in is when I say 'hide!' you are to hide; and when I ha' to lock you up, as I may have to do now and then, you won't play no larks on me, nor try to get away."

"No-no!" they both vociferated eagerly. "We promise, we promise true. Hurrah for Bet-the best gel in Liverpool!"

"That'll do; now let's pack. We must be out of this room in ten minutes."

The three flew about, Bet putting her own small possessions and the boys' scanty wardrobe into an old shawl of her mother's. It took far less than ten minutes to make a bundle of the poor possessions. At the last moment Bet went over to the bed, laid her head face downwards on her mother's pillow, and reverently kissed the place where the dead cold head had rested.

"That's a seal to my promise," she whispered; and then, slinging the bundle across her shoulder, she again took the boys' hands and went downstairs.

At the entrance to the house she met her landlord, a man of the name of Bounce.

"Ah, my dear, and where are you off to?" he said, in his most facetious voice.

"I am going away, Mr. Bounce," replied Bet, gravely; "you can tell my father-he'll be in presentl

y-as I ain't a-coming back. Neither me nor the boys is a-coming back. Good-bye."

She did not wait for the landlord's surprised answer, but his rude laugh floated after her down the street.

There are slums and slums in Liverpool, as elsewhere, and Sparrow street, which Bet had left, seemed by contrast to Paradise Row, which she presently entered, a thoroughly respectable, indeed genteel, place of residence. Paradise Row was not very far from the river. It was entered by a court, court of not more than twenty feet square. Under one of the houses there was an archway, and it was only through this archway that any one could approach Paradise Row, This charming and most suitably-named place of residence consisted of twenty houses at one side of the street and twenty at the other. The houses were high, and the street between was not more than ten feet across. There were no pathways, and no apparent drains of any sort. The houses got closer together as they approached the sky, so that it would not be impossible for an agile person in case of pursuit to throw a board across from his window to the one opposite, and so effect an escape. There were not a great many panes of glass in the windows-rags and pieces of board taking the place of this precious commodity. It was an evil-looking-place, and the two little boys, accustomed as they were to a very rough life, looked at Bet in some surprise as she led them there.

"This is a rum go," whispered the general under his breath; but the little blue-eyed captain was silent, drawing himself up very erect, and trying to imitate his sister's stately carriage.

Presently Bet paused at a door, and went in.

"Is Mother Bunch in her room?" she asked a red-haired unkempt-looking boy, who, with a short pipe in his mouth, was leaning against the doorway. He did not trouble himself to remove the pipe, but pointed in the direction of a certain door. Bet went forward, and opened it without knocking. A very stout woman of between fifty and sixty was standing before a wash-tub. Her arms were bare to the elbows, and covered with suds. Her blue winsey petticoat was tucked up above her ankles; her large feet were destitute of shoes and stockings. She had a broad face, a snub nose, and two twinkling good-humored eyes. Notwithstanding her dirt-and she was very dirty-the first glance into her face gave one a certain feeling of comfort and confidence. This was curious; for Mother Bunch had the loudest tongue and the most stalwart arm in Paradise Row; she was, in short, the terror of the place and the adjacent neighborhood. Bet, however, approached her without a particle of fear; she knew that Mother Bunch was a good friend as well as a good foe.

"I ha' come," she said, going straight up to her. "And here are the boys. This one is Cap'n, and this one is Gen'ral. They're rare 'uns for fighting, poor lads; and they ain't cowards. Have you got the room for us, Mother Bunch?"

"To be sure, honey," replied Mother Bunch, wiping her arms, and smiling broadly at Bet. "And indeed, and indeed, it's the truth I'm telling you, love, when I say that not a purtier or nicer little room could be found in the whole of the Row. You come along o' me, me dears-oh, and it's chape as dirt you're getting it, love!"

The burly Irishwoman panted and rolled her-self upstairs. Bet came next, carrying her bundle, and the boys followed in the rear. The stairs were slippery, and dark, and broken-full of dangers and pitfalls to all but the most wary.

"Jump across here, love," said Mother Bunch; "there's a hole two feet wide just by this corner, and you'd drop into the cellar ef you worn't careful. Oh, glory! but my breath's nearly gone-I'm bate entirely. I'm letting you the room chape as dirt, Bet Granger, 'cos I've took a fancy to you, honey; and that's as true as my name is Molly O'Flaherty. 'Tis the Irish you have about you here, love-'tis them as is thrue to the backbone as is your neighbors, dear. Fight for you! honey,-oh, yes, we'll fight. Them boys, why they're Mother Bunch's boys now. There, honey, there's your room, and as purty an attic as heart could wish. A shilling a week! Why, it's chaper than dirt! Now then, I must go back to hang up my bits of duds. There's the kay of the room, love, and Molly O'Flaherty's blessings on all three of yez."

Mother Bunch turned, and thumped and bumped herself downstairs; and Bet, her eyes bright, and a spot of intense color on each of her cheeks, turned round to the boys.

"Look here," she said excitedly-"we're as safe here as if we was in London. Do you think father will come to Paradise Row? and do you think he'll face Mother Bunch? Yes, laddies, the room is small and close, and horrid and dirty; and I hate it, but I won't give way, and I won't cry. I've got soap in this bundle, and washing soda, and an old brush, and we'll clean it up-you two and me-and make it fit for mother's boys to live in."

The little fellows, who were really frightened, cheered up at these words. The dreadful attic, with its slanting roof and its tiny skylight window, was illuminated by brave, handsome Bet's presence, and by the comforting knowledge that the wretched man who called himself their father could give them no blows nor kicks here. A miserable neighbor in an opposite attic presently heard the three laughing as they worked.

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