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   Chapter 15 No.15

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 11773

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


Will Scarlett's wedding-day had very nearly come. This was Tuesday, and on the following Thursday he and Bet were to go to church together, and to be made man and wife. On the following Monday honest Will was to sail away on a long cruise to China, and his young wife might possibly not see him again for a couple of years.

Never mind that; they were both young and buoyant with hope just now-in short, Will felt his love so strong that he was sure it could bridge the whole distance from China to that dread attic in Paradise Row, and surround Bet's heart and life with a halo which would make all things endurable to her; and Bet's love was also so strong-for it was a way of hers when she gave her heart to give it absolutely-that she too was certain that the golden chain of affection would reach from Paradise Row to China, and that, though outwardly divided, she and her brave sailor-mate would in reality still be together.

"You look out for the moon, Bet," Will had said to her. "The bonny moon will be shining on you and on me jest at the same minute; and the stars too, for that matter. Why, when one comes to think of it, we'll have a crowd of things in common still, sweetheart, although we has got to say good bye for a time."

In short, these young folks were in paradise just now. They were as poor as poor could be, and not an individual who heard of their relations to each other would have envied them; but love, which very often fails to appear on the threshold of what the world considers a great match, was shedding quite a golden glory over these two at the present moment. In reality, therefore, Will and Bet were not poor.

They were to part on Monday, but between that parting and the present moment would come the short church ceremony, and the little honeymoon, which they had arranged to spend at Birkenhead. Mother Bunch was to take care of the boys during Bet's absence, and the girl's own small preparations were nearly made.

On Tuesday she sat down in her attic and thought how a few short days had worked a complete revolution in her life. She was excited and hopeful and happy, and nothing was further from her mind at that moment than a certain dreadful old proverb which declares that there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip. The boys were playing in the back court behind the house, and Bet, having tidied up her very humble apartment, until, literally, there was not a pin in the wrong place, had risen to go downstairs, when she heard a lumbering, rolling, and very heavy step ascending. There was no mistaking who was coming to pay her a visit-no one but Mother Bunch could so bang herself against the sides of the slimy wails, or cause the frail balustrade to creak and groan, as she lurched in turn against it; no one but Mother Bunch could so puff and pant and groan, and finally launch herself into Bet's attic like a dead weight, and sit down on the pallet bed, spreading out her broad hands on her knees, and puffing more than ever.

"Oh, glory! them stairs'll be the death of me. Give me a drop of water, for the love of heaven, Bet, my dear. Oh, then, 'tis me as is the good frind to you; but 'tis black mischief as they're brewing agin' you, honey, and no mistake."

Here Mother Bunch recovered her breath, and Having taken a sip or two of the water which Bet gave her in a cracked teacup, began to pour out her tale.

"Come close to me, honey," she said, "for it's thrue as walls has ears, and when them as means mischief is abroad you're never safe, come what may. But we'll spite them, see if we don't-we'll be even with them-you and me, and the sailor boy. Oh, ochone, ochone!-but it's a black world entirely!"

"What have you heard, Mrs. O'Flaherty?" asked Bet. She was trembling now, for Mother Bunch's evident perturbation had infected her. "Tell me the whole story, Mrs. O'Flaherty-you bring my heart into my mouth when you look at me like that, and don't tell me what the real matter is."

"Treachery's the matter, darlint-and a mane, cowardly trick to ruin an honest man, and to give the handsomest girl in Liverpool to a villain. Oh, no-I don't know none too much, only a word dropped here and a word there-and Mother Bunch being what we call in ould Ireland mighty cute, and able to put two and two together. There's a trick to prevent you and Will being wed, Bet; and it's atween your father and that low sailor feller he was talking to-and I heard it in the 'Star and Garter' whin I went there for sixpennu'th of beer just now. They never set eyes on me, becase I'm frinds with the man at the bar, ye knows, and I just dropped down on a bit of a three-legged stool near him, and wan't seen at all, at all. Thin I heard them a contriving and making up their bits of plans, and something was to happen on Thursday as 'ud take our breath away, and the sailor would have his own way; and Will-oh, I couldn't catch what was to be done with Will; but for certain sure he wasn't to be no mate of yourn; and-and-the long and short of it is, honey, that there's black treachery to the fore."

"Let me go," said Bet.

She had been kneeling by Mother Bunch, and drinking in every word. Now she stood up, and taking her mother's plaid shawl, wrapped it round her head and shoulders.

"I'm going out," she said; "see to the boys, Mrs. O'Flaherty. I'll be back, maybe, by-and-bye. Maybe I won't."

"I thought you'd take things in the right spirit, dear," responded Mother Bunch, who showed no particular curiosity to learn Bet's present purpose.

Having delivered her soul, she felt no further anxiety with regard to the matter. Bet was a strong lass, who, when apprised of her danger, could fight her own battles. With the remark that "she would see to the little varmints," and not expect Bet back until she chose to come, she rolled herself downstairs; and Bet followed her quickly, and soon

reached the street.

She walked fast; her heart was beating, and her head was in a whirl. All her latent fear and distrust of her father had risen in full force. As to Dent-for, of course, the sailor was Dent-she regarded him with a kind of sick horror. Could she outwit these two who were plotting against her and her lover?-was there time?

She made straight for the place where she thought it most likely she should find Will. He generally spent his evenings with Hester Wright. When she reached the lodgings a neighbor told her that Hester was out; but as she was about to descend the stairs, with a sickening feeling at her heart, Will's whistle, as he bounded up three steps at a time, fell like the most joyful music on her ears. She sprang to him and clasped her arms around his neck.

"Will-dear Will-I ha' come-we must be wed to-night, Will."

She was panting and trembling, and her words were only coherent by reason of the great stress and force with which she emphasized them. Will wondered if she had taken leave of her senses.

"Come into Hester's room, Bet," he said, tenderly. "Here, set down, darling; why, how terrible you do tremble!"

"Oh, Will, I'm mortal frightened. There's more bad than good in this yer world; and the bad's agin' us-and bad things and bad people have such a power of strength in them, Will-and they'll part us if we don't outwit them. Oh, Will, let us be made man and wife this blessed night."

"But we can't, Bet. I'd like to-it could never be a minute too soon for me-but the license ain't due to me afore to-morrow, and Thursday is fixed up at St. Giles' Church for the parson to wed us. Thursday is not so very far off, sweetheart. Why, I expect it seems longer to me than to you, Bet, for I ha' loved you, as Jacob did Rachel, for many a long year. What's two days when you ha' waited years?" concluded Will, and he put his arm round Bet and tried to get her to rest her head on his shoulder.

She almost pushed his strong arm away.

"You don't understand," she said. "It's to-night or it's never-it's you and me to go away to-night in the darkness, and hide ourselves for a bit, and let the wicked do their worst-or it's you and me to be parted, Will, and me to be hungering for you, and you for me-allays and allays."

Here Bet related what Mother Bunch had told her-that there was a plot brewing, and how her father and Isaac Dent meant to ruin her and Will. She told her story with great excitement and emphasis-her eyes flashing, and the color coming and going in her cheeks. To her it was a terrible story, replete with all possibilities of parting and disaster. The terror of it had taken hold of her, and her teeth almost chattered as she gave emphasis to her words.

To her dismay, however, she saw that the tale itself made little impression on Will. He was much distressed at Bet's agitation, and did all in his power to soothe her; but he could not get himself to believe that Granger or Dent could possibly injure either of them. He had all an honest young fellow's sovereign contempt for these worthies, and he even gently laughed when Bet repeated her assurance that the deep plot they were hatching between them would succeed, and part her and Will forever.

"I ain't afeard," said Will, stoutly. "I don't believe in there being any plot, Bet. Mother Bunch has just had a bit of a dhrame, as she calls it, and she didn't hear half she thinks she heard. As to Granger and Dent, I know they don't love me, and they might do me a nasty turn, if they knew how. But then, they don't know how, Bet, darling; and I ain't going to hide and creep away in the darkness, not for no man. You're shook with trouble, poor Bet; but there ain't no fear-not the least in life; and we'll be wed on Thursday, sweetheart, and have a good time afterwards."

"Oh, Will, Will!" said Bet. Her lover's want of belief in her story seemed to her the crowning drop. She clasped her hands, and suddenly went down on her knees to him.

"Let us be wed to-night, Will!" she asked-"to save me from Isaac Dent, Will! Make me your true wife to-night, whether you believe the story or not!"

Here she cried and wept, and wrung her hands.

Will was dreadfully perturbed-he did not believe in any danger for himself, but he was distressed for Bet. He raised her gently from the floor.

"You know as I'd take you to my arms this minute, darling, ef it could be done," he said. "But it seems to me they hedge round a wedding with a sight of difficulties, and you must either eat your heart out waiting till the banns is called, or have a license. My license is due to-morrow, but not afore."

The idea, however, of the license was very dim to Bet.

"I thought the parson would say some words, and we might be man and wife," she said. "You could send him the license, whatever that means, by-and-bye, Will-but I'm sure the parson would say the good words over us to-night, and then we might go away together. There's a deal of things can be done, if one but tried; and you and me needn't have our hearts broke because we must wait for daylight to get that bit of paper. Oh, Will, let's go together and find the parson. Dear Will, darling, let's go at once!-let's ax him, leastways-and if he says nay, we'll abide by it. Let's go, Will, now, this very minute. Let's find the parson, and abide by his nay or his yea!"

Will, bewildered, agitated by Bet's suffering and despair, yielded a somewhat unwilling assent.

"But I must go to my lodgings first," he said. "For I ha' got some money to change. Ef the parson can be found, and ef he'll wait for his license until to-morrow, and say the good words over us to-night, Bet, why, we can cross to Birkenhead by the last boat this evening. But I'd a sight rather wait till Thursday," he added under his breath; "for it seems like running away when there's nought to run from."

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