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   Chapter 14 No.14

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 11811

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


With people in Bet Granger's class the time between the wooing and the wedding is seldom long. Will would not go to sea until Bet was his wife, and so it was decided by the two that they would go to church as soon as ever the parson could be found who would be willing, as they expressed it, to tie the knot between them. Certain preliminaries had to be gone through, of which they were profoundly ignorant; and Will discovered, when he made inquiries, that a short delay was, after all, inevitable.

In some way, girls in Bet's class look upon marriage more solemnly than those who are born in higher grades. To them the marriage itself is all in all,-they have neither time nor money to give to dress and presents, and wedding paraphernalia. Bet would go to Will Scarlett in her poor, neatly-mended gown and when she gave herself to him she would bring him nothing else,-no outward adornings, no household furniture-nothing but just her steadfast spirit, her heart filled to overflowing with the greatest love she had ever known, and her great beauty. Will and Bet would have to live from hand to mouth, and would be still quite regarded as the poorest of the people; but love on such an occasion as this is very apt to laugh at poverty, and these two during the few days that followed were perhaps the happiest pair in the great city.

As was to be expected, Bet had confided to Will and to Hester the whole story of Dent's proposal, and of her father having sold away her beat, and so deprived her of the means of earning bread for herself and her little brothers. Will and Hester between them had provided her with a little money for present necessaries, and Will told her that on the day they were married he meant to buy another newspaper beat for her.

"When I'm at sea you must be earning something, Bet," he said; "and though every girl can't hold her own and be good and respectable as you are, yet there ain't no fear for one like you, and you may as well go on selling newspapers to the gentlemen, and show them what a Liverpool lass can be when she likes."

"But the best beat is gone," said Bet, mournfully-"there ain't another to be had for love or money like that what mother bought for me round by the clubs."

Will's disposition was very sanguine.

"We'll find a beat nearly as good," he said in a confident voice. "There's a great club being built at the far end of Castle Street, and there'll be a lot of gas and light about, and the gentlemen will want their papers. I can buy a boat for you there for ten shillings, Bet, and you can earn a tidy penny. What with that, and what I can send you from sea, you and the lads won't fare so bad."

Bet smiled at these words, and was somewhat comforted-she had no idea of being a burden on the man who was to be her mate, and in particular was determined to support Nat and Thady entirely by her own exertions.

After a great deal of consultation, it was decided that during Will's first voyage after their wedding Bet was to remain in Paradise Row with Mother Bunch. This worthy Irishwoman took an enormous fancy to Will, clapping him on the back, cheering him on with his wooing, and assuring him that that "purty darling blossom of a wife of his" should be her first care, day and night, all the time the waves were washing under him; "and not a hair of her head should be hurt," said Mother Bunch-"and them mischeevous little varmints of hers shall come to no harm, naythur,-oh, will ye then, ye rogues! Why then 'tis you that bates the heart out of Molly O'Flaherty entirely."

With that she gave chase to the captain and general, who were dodging round the corner, and making anything but polite faces at her.

It is a very trite proverb, and a sadly worn truth, exemplified over and over again at all times and seasons, and in all places of the earth, that the course of true love never ran smooth; and alas! notwithstanding all the pleasant preparations being made for them, these two poor lovers were no exception to the rule.

Bet and Will both had enemies, and these enemies were neither inactive nor inclined to forbear from mischief.

On the very day after her engagement Bet came across her father-she came upon him suddenly, and as if by accident; but in truth he had been looking out for her, as he was intensely curious to know how the starving process suggested by Dent was answering, and how soon, in consequence, he might hope to receive Dent's promised gold. No one knew better than Granger the depressing effects of starvation; he had gone through them himself, and was therefore an excellent judge. He expected to see Bet with her hair untidy, her eyes red and dull, and her face heavy,-he expected to be greeted with a torrent of withering anger and sarcasm, or to be assailed by a burst of violent woman's tears and reproaches. Instead of this state of things he saw coming to meet him a trim lass, dressed with remarkable neatness-her hair in a great shining coronet on her head, her eyes bright and yet soft, and a happy smile playing about her lips. Her face changed when she saw him, but it did not get angry, only a little pale, and the eyes took an expression of sadness.

"It weren't worth your while father?' she said. It were a mean, mean trick to play. It were a stab in the dark, father, and it took my breath away for a time, and I were mad with ye. Yes, Father-I was 'most quite mad in earnest; and ef I had met you last night, maybe I'd ha' done you an injury. I can't rightly say, only that I know that my brain was going round, and I was fairly choking with rage-it was as if you had put a devil into me, father."

"That's a nice way to speak to your own father, what give you your being," said Granger, in a puzzled, would-be indignant voice, for he could not understand Bet's speaking of all her trouble and rage in the past tense. "What's come to you, lass?" he continue

d. "You was in a rage-ain't you in a rage still?-the beat's gone for aye and aye, you knows."

"No, I ain't in a rage now," said Bet. "It's over-seems as if there was a spring day in my heart, and I ha' no room to be in a rage. You meant it for bitter bad, father, but maybe 'twas God. I do think as it must have been Him-He meant it all contrariwise, and just because you sold my beat, as I were burning and mad with rage-I-I-never mind that part-only I'm the happiest lass in the whole of Liverpool to-day."

"You air," said Granger with a great oath. "It's like your impidence to defy me more and more. What do you mean by words such as them, you bad disobedient girl? Don't you know as there's a curse on them as don't obey their parents?"

"No, father; there's no curse on a girl who won't go your way; and though it ain't nothing to you, and I ain't nothing to you, yet I may as well tell you that I give myself to Will Scarlett last night, and I'm going to be his lawful wedded wife as soon as ever the law can tie us up."

With that Bet turned on her heel, and walked rapidly away. She had said her say, and did not want to listen to any of Granger's ill-timed comments.

Her quick steps soon took her out of the man's sight; he ground his teeth, and, choking with rage, went to find Dent.

"I could prevent it," he said, as he concluded his story. "The gel's not of age, so I could put my spoke in, and make it rare and troublesome for her. I will, too, ef you'll only put me up to the straight tip, Dent."

To Granger's surprise, Dent took all this information with wonderful equanimity.

"I wouldn't try that on," he said. "Scarlett's of age, if the gel ain't, and you'd have to make a deal of statements, and maybe more 'ud come out than you'd like, and you mightn't gain your point in the end, for there's lots of ways of being married, and once the knot was tied you couldn't do nothing."

"You takes it mighty cool for one who wants the gel yourself," said Granger, who felt ready to dance with vexation.

"Bless yer 'art," said Dent, "you don't suppose as I mean to give her up? Not a bit of it. You keep yourself cool, old man; we'll divide the money, and I'll have my pretty bride yet. Why, Granger, you can never see beyond the stone wall you're gazing at; you haven't, so to speak, no perception at all. Now this don't surprise me, and I'll tell you why. I knew that Will wanted the gel-ay, and haven't I played him a trick on that very account?-and anyone could see with half an eye that she wanted him; and what more like than that they should make it up atween them. Yes, but wooing ain't wedding, and there's many a slip-oh, yes, many and many. Don't you fret, Granger-didn't I tell you as I had checkmated that low fellow, Scarlett? You won't never be demeaned by that marriage, my man."

With these words Dent left his companion; he had managed to comfort him a good deal, and he was certainly by no means depressed himself.

"Nothing could please me better," he muttered. "The thing's moving at last. Yes, my pretty Bet-you'll know what to think of that fine lover of yourn by-and-bye; you'll say to yourself then that there are worse men in the world than honest Isaac Dent."

Here Dent laughed immoderately-the idea of taking up the role of an honest man seemed to tickle his humor to a remarkable extent.

"I mustn't leave a stone unturned, all the same," he continued; and after meditating deeply for a moment he strode rapidly away in the direction of the Eastern Docks. Here he entered a small shop, whose owner specially laid himself out to supply all kinds of heterogeneous things to sailors. There was scarcely anything that a sailor could possibly require which Higgins, the owner of this small shop, could not furnish him with. From wedding-rings to second-hand slop clothes he was up to all emergencies. There was no other shop exactly like Higgins' near this particular part of the docks; and because he was obliging in the matter of credit, and had a very jovial, free-and-easy manner, he was immensely popular with all the sailors who came that way, and in consequence did a roaring trade. Dent knew Higgins well, and was perfectly aware that his virtue was not above contamination. Higgins had, in short, such a keen eye for profit that he thought very little of stepping over the boundary line of strict honesty to obtain it. When Dent entered the shop it was, as usual, full of customers, but presently these cleared off, and Dent and the owner could indulge in a little confidential talk. They spoke in low tones, and Higgins' assistant, strain his ears as he might, could not overhear a word of their conversation. Several customers came in from time to time and interrupted them; nevertheless, when Dent went away he felt abundantly satisfied that he was laying his little trap with consummate care. Did Higgins know a sailor of the name of Scarlett? Of course-did a lot of business with him; as honest a fellow as ever breathed. Honest-oh! Dent raised his eyebrows, and contrived by various innuendoes to convey a contrary impression to the astute Higgins. They talked a little longer. Suddenly Dent became intensely confidential.

"Look here, Higgins," he said, "a word to the wise is enough"-here he pressed that worthy's palm with the hard, delicious pressure which an accompanying crown-piece can bestow-"look here, Higgins, if Scarlett brings you any Bank of England notes to change, be sure you get him to put his full name and address on them." Emphatic head-shakes, profound winks, unutterable contortions, accompanied this piece of sound advice; and Dent left the shop, having conveyed the impression which he meant to convey-that Scarlett had stolen some Bank of England notes, and that Dent for a private motive of his own, which it did not behove Higgins to inquire into, wanted to get him into trouble about them.

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