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   Chapter 12 No.12

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 10771

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


Bet generally bought her papers at a tiny shop not far from her old home. She got them at wholesale price, and was well known to the woman who kept the shop. This person regarded Bet as one of her most constant customers, and now and then added a paper or two of the half-penny order to her bundle for nothing, and by way of good luck. On this night she informed her young customer that she had no copies of the Evening Star left.

"There's a run on it," she said. "There's news from the Soudan-something about General Gordon. Anyhow, it's sold out; so you had better take some more of the News."

Bet was vexed, for the Evening Star was the most popular of all her papers.

"I'm late to-night, and that's a fact," she said. "But you might ha' kept some of them for me."

"So I would, dear, but I thought you were leaving the newspaper business. A girl came in and said so, and she bought up all that were left of the Evening Star."

Bet was preparing to reply angrily to this when two or three ladies came into the shop who had to be attended to.

"I'd like to meet that girl," she said to herself as she walked rapidly to her destination. "What lies some folks do tell, to be sure!"

She was, as she said, late; and now as she walked along she opened her papers and sorted them, hoping that she had not lost many customers, and resolving that in future Nat and Thady should not hinder her from being in good time at her post. She was somewhat breathless when she reached it, and as she stood in the full blaze of the gaslight in her favorite position, her eyes were shining, and a rich color mantled in her cheeks. She looked positively lovely, and several people turned and stared at her. Her face was of a refined and even noble cast; and the incongruity of the uncovered head and the poor and tattered clothing only made her beauty the more striking. "Ha, ha!" laughed a coarse voice in her ear.

She turned quickly,-the dark, rough-looking girl who had accosted her on Saturday night was also standing in the blaze of gaslight; she also carried papers in her hands, and Bet saw that she held uppermost a great pile of the favorite Evening Star.

"Ha, ha!" she said, beginning to dance round her companion-"handsome Bet Granger! Lovely Bet Granger! But rosy cheeks won't do it, nor eyes that sparkle, nor lips that smile ever so sweet, when the beat's mine! mine! mine! Want an Evening Star, sir? Great news of Gordon in the Soudan! Great news from the Soudan! Soudan! Evening Star! Latest particulars! Fifth edition! Only a halfpenny, sir! Want an Evening Star, sir?"

"I think this is the girl who always serves me," said the gentleman now addressed.

He turned to Bet, and asked her for a copy of the paper.

"I have only got the Evening News," she replied, in a dull, lifeless voice.

"Then I will take that," he said kindly.

He paid Bet the halfpenny, and went into his club.

"You had no right to do that, my pretty dear," said the dark girl. "I paid fifteen shillin' for your beat only this morning. I said as I were willing to buy, and your father he come and axed me, and I give him the money. What's the matter, Bet? You needn't look like that. Fair play's fair play, and the beat's mine now-I paid for it. You ain't of age," she added with a taunting laugh, "and your father had a right to sell, and the beat's mine now."

"Maybe you are telling me a lie," said Bet, still in that queer dull voice. "Some people don't mind telling lies, and you're one of them. I intend to go on selling papers here until you can prove as the beat's yourn." "Bless your heart, I can do that now-here. I suppose you know your own father's writing? See, there's light enough under the gas for you to read. There-see for yourself what he have said."

The black-eyed girl held up a dirty piece of paper for Bet's inspection. Like a flash she took in the meaning of the few words scribbled on it.

"This is to certify that I has sold the newspaper beat of my daughter, Elizabeth Granger, to Louisa Marks for the sum of fifteen shillings.-JAMES GRANGER."

"It's all right," said Louisa, as Bet handed her back the paper. "You haven't a word to say again it, have you?"

"No," said Bet, raising her voice a very little-"not to you. I haven't a word to say to you though you have stabbed me in the dark. I could fight you, but I won't; for you're of the cowardly sort that think nothing of lies, and creeping into a thing by the back door. You ain't worth fighting. I wouldn't have it said I touched your sort. Keep the beat that wasn't my father's to sell, nor yours to buy. Keep it; make what you can of it. Good-night."

The sparkle had not left her eyes, and the flush of exercise had given place to the flush of burning rage on her cheeks. She felt that she could have done that dark, malicious, talking girl an injury-only she wasn't worth it; she would pour the full vials of her wrath on other heads.

She walked away rapidly, not caring in the least where she wandered. At that moment it was nothing at all to her that she was ruined-that her means of livelihood had been snatched from her-that she had a bundle of unsold papers under her arm, and only twopence in her pocket,-that two little boys would be hungry to-morrow for the bread which she could not give them. All the pain of these things would come later to her; but just now she o

nly felt her swelling, raging anger, and her burning thirst to revenge herself on the cruel man who called himself her father.

As a matter of course, she wandered into the slums and low places of the town-she eschewed the lighted thoroughfares, and walked along the darker streets. Her beauty was so remarkable to-night, that even here she was observed and commented upon; and with an instinctive, almost unconscious movement-for her passion absorbed her so much that she did not see the gaze of the passers-by-she raised her mother's worn, many-colored plaid shawl over her head, and partly hid her flushed, dazzling face in its folds.

Suddenly, in the midst of her rapid, headlong walk, she drew up short, pressing her hand to her heart, her lips parted, her eyes distended to their widest. She was listening to a sound, and that sound was saving her. The full, rich, delicious notes of a woman's voice were floating out through one of the dark courts to Bet's ears-the notes warbled like a bird's, they rose and fell like the clear cool sound of a fountain. Bet's great eyes grew soft-she knew the voice, and the music drew her as certainly as a troubled child will fly to its mother. She went straight into the court, and joined the group of listeners who were hanging on to Hester Wright's melodious utterances.

This special court was not lit by any gaslight, but a man had brought a rude, ill-contrived lantern, and by its dim, flickering rays the slight form and thin earnest face of the singer could be fitfully seen. A great crowd had gathered round her, but she herself was raised above the people by standing on a chair which one of the neighbors had fetched. By her side stood Will Scarlett. He joined her in the choruses, his voice answering note by note to hers; his face, too, was seen in the dim light, and Bet gave a start when she recognized it, and crept herself a little farther into the shade.

The wretched little court was almost full of people, fresh numbers coming in, moment by moment, as the beauty of the voice attracted them. These people belonged to the lowest refuse of Liverpool life; but they were all quiet, subdued, orderly-tamed, in short, for the time, by the magical gift which Hester possessed.

As a rule she chose grave music-it suited the depth and quality of her voice; but very rarely would she favor her audience with rollicking sea-songs, or anything with a comic element. Her taste, as regarded music, was absolutely pure and good, and she had a wonderful faculty for picking up both words and music of the nobler sort.

When Bet entered the court Hester and Will were singing "Kathleen Mavourneen." The fine range of Hester's voice enabled her to do this somewhat difficult melody full justice. Will helped her with a note or two now and then, for his own taste in music was nearly as good as hers, and he knew exactly when and how to aid without spoiling the effect. As each song was finished the people cheered, but not noisily; the cry was generally, "Give us more-give us another, Hester Wright!"

"Yes, I will give you another," said Hester, when "Kathleen Mavourneen" had come to an end. "I will give you something very beautiful now. I don't think you know it-it will touch you."

Her voice rose again into the air-

"I had a message to send her,

To her whom my soul loved best;

But I had my task to finish,

And she had gone home to rest."

All through the difficult evolutions of the melody Hester's voice rose and fell; she rendered no note of the music wrong; her unerring instinct and her real genius carrying her through the most complicated and pathetic music she had ever attempted. The breathless silence grew denser, the people pressed closer, and Bet, forgetting everything in the ecstasy of listening, found herself almost pushed to the front:-

"And at last I know that my message

Has passed through the golden gate,

And my heart is no longer restless,

And I am content to wait."

"That is beautiful," said the singer. "Yes, those words stir my heart-there's nought like music-no, there's nought like music in all the world. Now, I'll give you one more good thing-perhaps a better thing than that-afore I go home. I heard it sung to the organ, and it come from the inside of a church. I don't hold by no church, but this thing has fastened on my heart, and I'll give it to you, neighbors."

Hester stooped down and said a word or two to Will Scarlett.

"Help me with the words, cousin-sing 'em out full, and as if somehow you held on to them."

Will nodded, and the two voices, in perfect harmony, once more filled the court.

"Oh, rest in the Lord. Wait patiently-patiently-for Him; and He shall give thee thy heart's-thy heart's desire."

As the last notes fell upon the listening people they might have noticed, had they not been so absorbed in watching Hester, that the man's deep voice shook and swayed a little. The fact was this: the flickering rays of the lantern had shown him the ruddy glow of a certain stately head, and for an instant a face shone out, and was lost again in the thick darkness. When the last notes died away Bet turned, and, pressing through the crowd, left the court; but the unerring instinct of love made Will Scarlett hear her departing footsteps over and above all the others. He said two hasty words to Hester, and followed her.

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