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   Chapter 9 No.9

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 12009

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


Soap-and-Water can effect wonders, and by the evening Bet's attic looked like another place. She and the boys had worked with hearty good-will; three pairs of vigorous young arms had removed cobwebs, and scattered dirt, and let in a little fresh air. After all, there were worse rooms in this house than the upstairs unused attic, and the air which blew right down from the sky when Bet opened the tiny window was pure and sweet. The energetic girl had saved all her nightly earnings since her mother's death, and now she had three or four shillings in her pocket. Accompanied by the twins, who looked at her with adoring eyes, she went out presently, and purchased coals and food; and the three that evening, after the fire was lit and the kettle boiled, felt quite sociable and almost festive. Bet's heart was lighter than it had been since her mother's death; she did not despair of doing well for her brothers, and of bringing them up in such a way, and with such a due regard for religion, that by-and-bye they should meet their mother in the land where she now dwelt.

"Ef she's there-ef there is a future, she must have Nat and Thady with her," concluded Bet, as she watched the two small lads polishing off a hearty meal of bread and tea. "That's my part-to train 'em so as they'll choose religion and go to mother by-and-bye."

When the meal was over she called the boys to her. "Kneel down now, both of you, and say your prayers," she said. "Say 'Our Father 'chart heaven' and 'Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.'"

"Mother didn't teach us 'Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,'" said the captain.

"Well, love, say what she did teach; and be quick, for I must go out to buy and sell my papers."

The captain and the general knelt down obediently, closed their eyes, folded their hands, and went through the Lord's Prayer in high sing-song chanting voices. Then the general was silent-he opened his eyes and looked impatiently at his brother.

"That's all," he said.

"No, it ain't all," repeated Thady, "I'm a-try-ing to thing-don't keep nudging me, Nat-

'In the kingdom of Thy Grace

Grant a little child a place.'

That's it, yes, that's it-and Nat, shut your eyes and say what I'm saying-'God bless Bet for ever and ever. Amen.'"

Nat joined in this last clause with hearty goodwill, and Bet felt a queer sensation coming into her throat. She kissed the little boys, locked the door upon them, and went out.

There were no girls in Paradise Row exactly like Bet. In the first place she was clean; in the next, she carried herself like a princess. She was so well made, and her head so beautifully set upon her shoulders, that it was impossible for her to be awkward. Her uncovered head with its wealth of hair shone with a kind of radiance when she passed under any lamp-post. Her lips were finely set, and she glanced scornfully and with a sort of touch-me-not air at any man or woman who happened to look at her with admiration. Her own defiant young steps and her own proud disdainful face were her best protection. Even in this rough Irish quarter no one molested her with an uncivil word. She felt quite hopeful to-night-the little boys' love and confidence cheered her. Thady's short prayer had touched the really great and deep heart which slumbered in her breast.

"I'd die for 'em, poor little chaps," she murmured; and she clenched her hand at the thought of any evil touching them. "Why, it's well I have 'em; there's no one else as cares for Bet Granger."

But then she thought of Will, and as she did so her heart quickened its steady, even pulse. Will wasn't the sort of lad that a girl could say "No" to without a sensation of pain. Bet thought of him as bonny. "He's good-yes, he's good," she murmured, and then she remembered the song of Barbara Allen, and she found herself humming the words which Will had sung in his strong, brave voice-

"When he was dead and laid in grave.

Her heart was broke with sorrow."

"Folly!" said Bet, breaking off abruptly. "It ain't for me to think of no man; and I'm not Barbara Allen, and Will will get another girl to be a good mate for him some day. Poor Will-he's a bonny lad, all the same."

Bet had now reached the place where she purchased her papers. She made her usual careful selection-so many of the Star, so many of the Evening Echo, so many of the Herald. With them tucked under her arm, she soon reached her own special beat, and standing under the lamp-light, with her goods temptingly displayed, had even more than her usual luck. A dark-eyed, bold-looking girl presently came up and spoke to her.

"You seem to be doing a thriving business, Bet," she said, with a laugh.

"Same as usual," answered Bet. "This is about the best beat in Liverpool, and the gentlemen know me. I always give them their papers clean."

Just then a customer came up who wanted an Evening Echo. The Echo was a halfpenny paper. He gave Bet a penny, who returned him a halfpenny change. When this customer had departed the black-eyed girl burst into a fit of laughter.

"Well, you are a flat, Bet Granger," she said-"the greenest of the green. What can a gent like that want with a ha'penny? When I sells evening papers-and I've made a good thing of them round Lime Street-I never has no change; that's my way."

"Is it?" said Bet. "Well honesty's my way. I've nearly sold my papers now, Louisa, so I'll say 'good-night.'"

"Do tell me what you made first. I ha' a mind to have a new beat-what will you sell me yourn for?"

"Sell my beat?" said Bet-"my beat, what mother bought for me? Not quite."

She turned on her heel, and walked down the street. At the corner, to her great annoyance and vexation, she met her father. He was quite sober, and came up to her at once and put his hand through her arm. His small eyes looked keenly into her face. When he was sober he was more or less afraid of Bet.

"So you give me the slip, my gel!" he said. "But I'm a bit too cute for that sort of game. You'd better t

ell me where you ha' put those two little boys of mine. They're my boys, not yourn, you may as well understand. Where have you them hiding, Bet? I'll find out; so you may as well tell me."

"I don't mind telling you, father. They're with Mother Bunch in Paradise Row-she have the care of them now. And, listen, father-they're going to stay there. Ef you want the boys, you must get round Mother Bunch first."

Granger's face grew purple. For some reason, this piece of information was most disconcerting to him.

"You're a wicked, ungrateful gel," he said. "You don't honor your parents-you don't respect 'em as has been put over you by Providence. You're a bad 'un, you are, Bet Granger; and you'll come to no good end. Them boys are mine, not yourn; and, for that matter, you are mine too-you ain't of age, you know."

"No, I'm not of age," said Bet, in a quiet voice. "But the boys are with Mother Bunch, and they'll stay there. Ef you really tries to get 'em away I ha' quite made up my mind what to do."

"And what's that, if I may be so bold as to ask?" inquired Granger, in a taunting voice.

"Father, there's people here-yes, here, in this great bad Liverpool-who help children when they are treated cruel. If you try to get at the boys I'll take 'em to the Refuge, and I can tell the people there one or two things about you what won't sound too nice."

This last frank statement on Bet's part was even more disagreeable to Granger than her first piece of news. He saw that his daughter was stronger and had a better case than he could possibly have given her credit for. This discovery did not, strange to say, increase his anger. His manner became quiet, and almost deferential.

"Look you here, Bet-what's the good of argufying, and angering a fellow what's your own father? You wouldn't stay in Paradise Row but for me-now, would you, Bet? It ain't the place a likely girl like you would fancy-is it, Bet?"

"I'm going to stay there," said Bet; "it's no question of like or not like. Mother Bunch's, Paradise Row, is where I'm to be found, ef I'm wanted."

"But look you here, my lass-suppose I was to promise you faithful that I'd never touch the lads-that I'd leave them with you to bring up as you could-suppose I was to promise that most solemn, and mean it most faithful; and suppose I was even to go from Liverpool-quite far away, say to London or some such place-would you stay in Paradise Row then, Bet?"

Bet looked steadily at the man who walked with slouching gait at her side. From head to foot she viewed him. Then she said, in a sad, deep tone:

"You're not likely to make that promise, father. Ef you did-ef you made it faithful and true, and ef you went away from Liverpool-why then, then I would not stay in a place what I hates."

Granger chuckled.

"I thought you were my lass, arter all," he said; "I thought as you was bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh, and that you couldn't stand what's real awful low slums-you, as has been brought up in Sparrow Street. Why, it ain't likely-you, the neatest lass in the town-you, as I'm proud to call my daughter! Look you here, Bet; I'll give up the boys. Maybe I ain't fit for the sacred dooties of father. Maybe I am a bit rough, and a bit strong in my temper. I'll give up the boys, and you shall have them, same as if they was your own. I'll go away to Lunnon, and you shan't be fretted by the sight of your poor old father never no more, ef you make me a promise, like the good lass you are. We all know what Bet Granger's promise is worth, and ef you make it you'll keep it, Bet."

"Yes, father; certain sure ef I make it I'll keep it. What do you want me to say?"

"Why now-look you here, Bet; you'll never say again as your poor old father ain't mindful of you. I ha' got a mate for you, Bet-as fine a seafaring lad as ever stepped-always sure of his berth, and earning lots of money-a fine, honest, brave jack-tar; and he'll put you in a little place of your own, and he'll do for you and the boys, and I'll go away to Lunnon. There, Bet-the day you marries him, your father'll take third-class fare to Lunnon."

"Who is he?" said Bet. Her eyes shone, and the color flushed into her cheeks. Had Will Scarlett dared to go to her father. "Who is he?" she repeated-"but oh! it was mean of him when I said as it couldn't be!"

Granger, who was watching her face, laughed loudly.

"Ho-ho, my pretty lass," he said, "you look very bright about the face for a girl what didn't care for a man. You take my advice, Bet, and don't send away your sweetheart: no young maid should do that. There-I needn't tell you his name when you know it. Come back with me now to Sparrow Street, and you shall see him, and we'll settle it all up, day and all, afore the night is over."

"I can't, father."

Bet's face had now grown deadly white.

"Will shouldn't ha' done it, for I give him my answer, and he knows I'm not the girl to change. I can't do that either to help myself or the boys, father. But what do you mean?" she added, suddenly, as a queer look on Granger's face caused her to stop. She wheeled round and confronted her father.

"You can't be asking me to go home to meet Will Scarlett; for he's away, miles away by now in the 'Good Queen Anne.'"

Granger burst into a loud, coarse laugh.

"Will Scarlett!" he repeated-"Will Scarlett? So that's the way the wind blows, pretty lass? But I look higher than that strip of a good-for-nought feller for you. It's Isaac Dent, the best seaman in Liverpool, as would wed you, Bet, and make you the luckiest girl in the place."

Bet put her hand to her forehead.

"Isaac Dent?" she repeated. "He drinks, he's cruel; he ain't even honest. Isaac Dent! Father, you must be mad."

She turned on her heel, and flew down a dark court, which happened to be near.

Granger called after her, but she neither heeded nor heard him. Like most cruel men, he was a coward. He dared not follow her into the place where she was seeking shelter.

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