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   Chapter 10 No.10

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 9468

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


A few of the worst courts in Liverpool are absolutely without gaslight. It was into one of these now that Bet ventured. She leaned her back against the slimy, slippery, dirty wall, and breathed hard and fast. Her father could not see her nor find her there, and she was in a mood at that moment to fear no other living creature. Boys and men, girls and women, talked and swore and quarreled and jostled one another in the bad dark court. A lad of about twenty being pushed up against Bet, seized her familiarly by the arm; she flung him off like a young fury, and, wrapping her mother's plaid shawl which she wore about her shoulders over her head, ran out into the street. Her father was gone. Midnight was approaching, but the place was gayly lighted, for this was Saturday night, and the women, who could only get what was left of their husbands' earnings on their return from the public-houses, were eagerly buying and chaffering, and making what preparations they could for the coming Sabbath. No one molested or looked at Bet as she walked rapidly back to Paradise Row. She reached her destination about midnight, to find the whole house in what seemed to her the most awful state of uproar. Shouts and eager voices filled the air; loud laughter, screams of-"Hurrah! Well done! Do it again, Mother Bunch!" resounded on all sides. The door of Mother Bunch's apartment stood wide open; the small room was a blaze of gas and glowing from the heat of a great fire; and in the middle, with her arms a-kimbo, her head thrown back, and her bare feet twinkling merrily, stood Mother Bunch on a door, dancing, to the cheers of the audience, an Irish jig. As she danced, she sang; and it was to the tune of her merry voice and the movements of her rapidly-revolving feet that the crowd of spectators laughed and cheered.

"O, the shamrock, the shamrock, the green immortal shamrock-"

Mother Bunch sang these words with immense spirit, the Irish folks who looked on and applauded joining heartily and with vociferous cheers in the chorus. Bet had been dragged into the room, where she stood moodily, her shawl thrown off her head and lying in picturesque soft folds of color on her shoulders. Her handsome face attracted attention, and several people looked at her wonderingly; and one very rough looking man went up and addressed her.

Before Bet could reply, Mother Bunch had ceased dancing-had sprung off the dislodged door, which had been placed on the ground for her disposal.

"You leave this child alone, Dan Murphy; she isn't for the likes of you even to walk on the same side of the street with. Whoever says a word oncivil to this young girl shall have something to say also to Molly O'Flaherty. Now, out with yiz, neighbors all; the entertainment's over, and it's time for good folk to be in the land of dhrames. You stay ahint with me, Bet, darlint-I have a word for your private ear."

It was quite evident that in Paradise Row Mother Bunch's smallest command was law; in an incredibly short space of time the little room was cleared, and Mrs. O'Flaherty and Bet were alone.

"Now, look you here, my love," said the Irishwoman, "you make what use you can of this yere arum," and she stretched out a most powerful, sinewy member for Bet's edification. "This arum shall come atween you and trouble, Bet Granger. You ask anybody round what they know of Mother Bunch, and a mimber such as this. You have no call to be fretted, honey, with this atween you and mischief. So go up to bed now; and swate dhrames to you, and the blessing of Molly O'Flaherty."

There was something so hearty in the voice, and so kindly in the gleam of the Irishwoman's twinkling eyes, that Bet's overwrought heart was strangely stirred. She stooped down and kissed Mother Bunch on her forehead.

"I trust you," she said; "you're a safeguard to me and the little lads."

And then she went upstairs.

Meanwhile, Granger, being much too cowardly to follow his daughter into what was known as one of the dark courts of Liverpool, shuffled back in a discomforted and savage mood to his own superior place of residence in Sparrow Street. There he found Dent awaiting him. Splendid jack-tar as he was, no one could be more thoroughly disagreeable than Isaac Dent when things, as he expressed it, "went agin' him." He did not care for his long wait in Granger's dreary, fireless room; and he cared still less for the remark with which Granger announced his return.

"It's all no go, Dent, my man. I telled her what we said I'd tell her, and she went off in a mighty high tantrum. She's in Paradise Row with Mother Bunch-she and the lads; and I don't know how I'm to get them away from there. But," continued Granger, sinking into the fir

st seat he could find, and stretching out his muddy boots, "you're about right on one point, old man-Will Scarlett's the lad of her choice, and not you. Why, she let it out as glib and innocent-like as gel could. Will Scarlett's the man, Dent; so you may put that in your pipe and smoke it."

Dent's ugly face grew a deep, dull red; his small eyes seemed to recede into his head, and grow deeper and more cunning. He did not speak at all for a moment or two, and when he did, the flush was succeeded by a more dangerous pallor.

"Look you yere, mate," he said-"you know a thing or two, and you has gone pals with me in a thing or two. It's nought to me who Bet cares about-she has got to be lawful wedded wife to me-or, or-you don't handle the coin,-you don't handle none of the coin, Granger. And you know a thing or two what would make it uncommon hot for you, if the wind was to blow in a certain quarter. You understand, and no words is needed. As to Will Scarlett, I checkmated him awhile back; so he don't trouble me. I'll say good-night, now, pal."

"Yes, but what's a fellow to do?" said Granger, in an extremely grumpy tone. "Bet's a strong lass, and a cute lass, and a cunning one; and she have got that Irishwoman Mother Bunch to back her up. I don't see what's to be done with a gel like Bet, if her will's fairly made up."

"I'd know what to do with her," grumbled Dent. He went as far as the door, then he turned suddenly-"Mother Bunch don't find her her bread-and-butter, I suppose?"

"No, no-Bet can do that for herself; she's a smart gel, and she have got the best newspaper beat in Liverpool."

"Oh, the best beat, have she? And she's your daughter-not of age yet-and she has carried the kids away from you-and she defies you, and laughs in your face? You couldn't think of a means of starving her out? Oh, no; not you! That good beat of hers-it were bought for her, weren't it?"

"Yes, years agone. Her Mother seed to that."

"Seems to me that as Bet's yourn her newspaper beat is yourn too. There's a tidy bit of money to be made out of such places once in a way; and there's such a thing as starving the wildest and sauciest lass in Liverpool into saying yea to your yea. A hint to the wise man is enough. I'll wish you good-night, mate. Only if I don't get the girl afore long, I takes the next berth that offers, and my money goes with me. Good-night to you, mate."

Dent went downstairs, and a moment after was making his way home to his lodgings. Bet had been perfectly right in speaking of this sailor as bad and cruel. Will was more than justified in any suspicions he might form against him. As Dent now walked through the streets his low type of face looked very bad indeed; the expression of cunning-that most unpleasant, that most diabolical of all expressions-was most apparent. It was past midnight now, and he cast sinister glances behind and around him. It would have been very unpleasant for him had certain people-Will Scarlett, for instance-the least idea he was still in Liverpool. Will, of course, supposed he was leagues away by now, snugly ensconced in that berth which he, Will, had been so loath to part with, on board the "Good Queen Anne." Will would indeed have opened his eyes had any one told him that Dent had never gone near the ship, and that the captain, after waiting and watching in vain for the bright young sailor whose name he had entered on his log, was obliged to choose another hand in a hurry, and knew nothing whatever of the able seaman whom Will now supposed was admirably filling his post.

For Dent had never the least intention of going away in the "Good Queen Anne." The one strongest desire of his life at present was to make handsome Bet Granger his wife; and he certainly did not wish to give Will a clear field in which he could woo and win her without danger or difficulty.

Dent had laid his own plans with care, and he was by no means depressed as to the possible result. When he reached his lodgings he lit a candle, and, first carefully locking the door, and looking round him with his most sinister glance, he lifted a loose board under his bed, and took from the recess beneath a sailor's checked pocket handkerchief. He opened it, and spread out on the table about twelve sovereigns in shining gold. "Six for me," he said, "and six for Granger, the day as Bet's mine. I ha' got a few shillings still, to hold out, and Bet must be mine by-and-bye. Six sovereigns to spend on our honeymoon, and then to find another berth in another ship. But Will has got the notes. I might have made a better bargain with Will. Ten pounds is a deal of money to give away. But never mind-never mind: I have checkmated Will Scarlett with them notes."

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