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   Chapter 11 No.11

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 10464

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


A few days before the present date of this story a fair-haired young lady, with gentle, beautiful brown eyes, who was known in many of the Liverpool slums as Sister Mary, was going home late. She was dressed as a Sister, and belonged to a religious institution; but she lived with her own father and mother, in one of the great suburbs of the city. She was indefatigable in visiting the poor and suffering, going to their houses at all hours without a particle of fear, and coming scathless and without even an insulting word from many rough scenes and from many low haunts.

On this particular night she had seen to the dying Mrs. Granger's comforts, had said a word or two to Bet on her exit from the house, and then walked rapidly down Sparrow Street to the first tramcar which went in the direction of her home. A girl of her acquaintance got in also at the same moment, and the two sat side by side talking on subjects of mutual interest. The car was full; and a rough-looking sailor, of the lowest type of face, was crushed up close to Sister Mary. She sat with her back partly to him, and discoursed with eagerness to her companion. The sailor knew many tricks of sleight-of-hand-he was, in short, a kind of Jack-of-all-trades, and the laudable profession of the professional pickpocket was by no means beneath his notice. He managed to help himself to Sister Mary's purse without her being at all aware of the fact. Her hands were clasped in her muff, which, though unprofessional, the cold night necessitated her wearing. She paid her tram fare with some loose change which she had slipped into her glove, and did not disturb the purse which she supposed to be lying snugly in an inside pocket.

Meanwhile Dent, for it was he, overheard some scraps of conversation of highly interesting nature.

Sister Mary Vallence had been at the bank that afternoon; she had been fortunate in getting to the Bank of England just before the hour of closing, and she described the race she had had, in an amusing manner, to her companion.

"Father would have been so put out if I had not brought him the money," she said. "He wanted it very particularly, for my brother Henry sails for America to-morrow."

"But are you not afraid of going down into these awful, awful slums with so much money in your pocket?" queried her girl friend.

"No, not really-no one would dream of supposing that I had close on 26 pounds in my inner pocket. As to the notes I always make a rule of taking the numbers. Well, good-night dear; I am glad I met you. By the way I saw that splendid-looking girl, Elizabeth Granger, again to-night I wish I could show her to you, Agnes. You would never rest until you had her for a model. Good-night,-I will get down here, conductor."

Dent also soon after left the tramcar; he had secured a richer prize than he had dared to hope for in any ordinary young lady's purse, and went on his way considerably elated,-only what a stupid, silly, almost wicked trick that was of people to take the numbers of bank-notes!

Miss Vallence went home, and very soon afterwards discovered her loss. It so happened that she had never noticed the sailor who sat next her, and consequently had not the smallest clue as to the time or the place where the purse was stolen. She had, indeed, never opened it since she had put the money given to her at the Bank of England into it, having enough small change for her immediate needs in the bag which she usually carried about with her. The purse had been stolen; but how, when, and where, were mysteries which no one seemed able to clear up.

The numbers of the missing notes were sent to the Bank, and a reward offered for the purse should anyone be honest enough to return it. The affair was also put into the hands of the police; but, as Sister Mary could give so little information, they told her that her chance of recovering the money was but slight. The only hope lay in the presentation of the 5 pound notes at the Bank of England; but even if they could trace the thing through this means, he was not very likely to change the notes at present. Sister Mary's brother had to go to sea without the money which would have considerably added to his comfort, and a bad man plotted and schemed to do much mischief through his ill-gotten wealth.

Bet was terribly startled when her father calmly and coolly proposed such a mate for her as Isaac Dent. During the first night she spent in Mother Bunch's attic, she lay awake and tossed wearily from side to side, trying to forget the evil face of the man who would if he could make her life, she knew, a hell on earth. She was glad of Mother Bunch's protection, and wondered if it would be possible for her and the boys to leave Liverpool altogether. But Bet, like most girls of her class, had an intense and almost passionate regard for her native place. The big town, with its wharves and quays and docks represented her world. She was at home in it; she knew both its byways and highways. To live away from the big ships and the rolling splendid river and the taste of the sea which was wafted to her sometimes on the strong fresh breeze, would have been death in life to the Liverpool girl. No; she would rather und

ergo any hardships in her native place than seek the troubles she knew not of elsewhere.

She reflected with satisfaction that her arm was strong as well as Mother Bunch's-that in her own young strength she could defy most dangers, and that these were not the times when girls could be forced to marry against their will.

Towards morning she fell into a heavy sleep, and awoke to find the boys both dressed after a fashion, and regarding her with round eyes of approval and satisfaction.

"I won my bet," shouted Thady, when his sister slowly opened her eyes. He began to turn somersaults in the wheel-like fashion which had drawn him sundry halfpence in the streets. "I won my bet," he repeated gleefully. "You'll have to give me the spotted marble, Nat."

Nat produced his treasure very unwillingly, and told Bet upbraidingly that if she had slept one moment longer, so as to allow St. Jude's clock to strike nine, he might have retained his treasure.

"And you looked real beautiful with the fringes round your eyes as thick as thick," continued Thady, in an affectionate tone. "I'd have lost my bet jest to look on yer," he added.

"You musn't make bets about things, boys," admonished their sister. "Mother never held by betting, and you know, how I promised her that I would bring you two up. Now we'll light the fire and have a bit of breakfast, and then I'll take you to church. All good people go to church, I've heerd say."

"Oh, lor!" whispered Thady to Nat. "Arn't we going to turn out real pious!"

Nat was absorbed in the contemplation of his new boots, which he was now fastening on, and did not reply to his brother. Bet, however, shook her head; and the little captain, being oppressed by a sudden sense of perplexity over this new state of things, stood in a contemplative attitude under the skylight, looking up at the glimpse of blue sky and whistling.

The day passed in a somewhat dreary fashion. Bet took her boys to the nearest place of worship she could find-pushing them, in their decidedly ragged apparel, inside the church door, but remaining in the porch herself.

"You had better come in," whispered the verger.

"No, no; it's for them-get them the best places you can," she said in reply.

And then she stood moodily just inside the porch, looking over the town, and clasping her hands with an excess of excited feeling now and then when the peal of the organ sounded on her ears. It was all beautiful and warm within, but she was outside. Was she to be outside everything all her life?

It is a fact much to be regretted, but both the general and the captain behaved so very badly inside the church, using their newly-shod feet with such vigor in kicking the boys next them, rolling their tongues into their cheeks, distorting their features, and finally exchanging marbles with their neighbors on each side of them, that the verger took them out before the sermon was over, and told Bet that unless she chose to accompany her brothers to church and sit with them during the service, they could not go at all.

"It's no go, Bet," said the captain; "we ain't the sort as you can make good 'uns of. Me and the general don't mind saying our prayers to you, Bet, and not turning head-over-heels in the street, and not betting of no bets, and we don't mind hiding if you tell us to hide, and we don't mind being locked up in the attic, 'cause it ain't 'ard to get on to the roof from the attic, and we can shy things at the cats from there:-but we can't set still in church-can we, General? No, never no more."

The General most heartily reciprocated these sentiments, and Bet perceived that it would not be wise to lay down the laws of supposed goodness too strictly in the case of two such adventurous spirits as animated the breasts of her small brothers. She took them for a walk in the afternoon, and it must be owned that the long day was dreary to all three, and that all felt oppressed with an unnatural sense of restraint. Nat, indeed, confided to his brother, as they lay side by side in bed that night, that he was afeard ef there was much more of that keeping in of a fellow he would have to go back to pie-crust promises, and do again what was pleasing in his own eyes.

Monday morning, however, restored a far less strained order of things. Bet was busy washing and mending, and doing all she could to put this new semblance of a home into order. The boys, delighted at not having to go to school as usual, whistled and cheered, and helped her to the best of their ability. In the afternoon she read them a very exciting story of adventure, which she had picked up in a penny paper, and again the little fellows assured her that there was no one in all the world like her, and that they would not hurt her, nor bring tears to her eyes, nor cause her heart to ache for all the world,-in short, that they would even be good for her sake.

"I'll find another school for you," said Bet, "what father won't know nothing of, and you shall go reg'lar from next Monday out. And now good-night, boys; I'll take the key of the door with me. See, I must have a good sale of papers to-night; for arter I have bought my store I'll only have tuppence left in my pocket."

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