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   Chapter 16 No.16

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 11561

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


Will's objection to so sudden a marriage was overruled by Bet's fervor and impetuosity; she would not listen to his objections, but every time he opened his lips shut him up with the emphatic remark, "It's now or never, sweetheart; ef it ain't to-night, something tells me as I'll never be wed to you."

She accompanied Will to the door of his lodgings, and paced up and down the narrow little street, chafing and trembling with impatience, while he ran upstairs to fetch the bank-notes which he had not yet changed. He came down in a few minutes, having donned his best jack-tar suit, and holding out a pretty sealskin purse to Bet.

"Just you see here," he said-"I found this in my room; I can't make out how it came there. Ain't it fine? Look-ain't it wonderful how anything can be turned out so neat?" and he opened the purse, and showed the bright red leather lining; then clasped it again, and stroked the soft seal covering.

"I'd like to give it to you, Bet," he said, "ef I knew how I come by it. It were lying on the floor, and the clasps shone when I held up the candle. I must ask Mrs. Jobling, my landlady, if she knows who it belongs to. It ain't likely as she'd own such a bonny bit o' a thing;" he fingered the purse admiringly, and then thrust it into one of his deep pockets.

"I'll give it to you if I can't find the owner, Bet," he said in conclusion. "I don't suppose you ever had anything so bonny."

Bet, however, was far too impatient and excited to be interested in the most beautiful purse that was ever made.

"Let it be now, Will," she said. "Most like it belongs to Mrs. Jobling-don't let's think of it now. Have you got the money in your pocket, Will, dear? And shall we go at once and find the parson?"

A flush came up into Will's bronzed cheeks.

"None so fast, sweetheart," he said. "What would you say to us going to be married and having never a ring to put on that finger o' yourn? I han't bought the ring yet-the wedding-ring, darling; but I ha' got money to buy it-ten pound; it does seem a sight of riches. Let's go down to Higgins' and change the notes, Bet. We can get the ring there." Bet did not object-she turned at once in the right direction, walking so fast that Will began to chaff her.

"You take my breath away," he said. "You forget that I've got sea-legs, and ain't a match for the land folks when they go at that pace."

"Oh, Will-if you could be in earnest!" said poor Bet. "I'm hurrying 'cause it's life or death to me. It gets late, and parson may be out-oh! a hundred things may happen-oh, if my heart didn't beat so hard!"

"Well, here we are, dear," said Will, and the two turned into the small close marine store presided over by Higgins.

That worthy came forward himself to meet the handsome couple who now stood at the other side of his grimy counter.

"Evenin'," he said. "What may I serve you with? Why, if it ain't Scarlett! I didn't know you at first, lad, and that's a fact. Evening young woman! Courting, eh?" he whispered in an aside to Scarlett.

"Oh, that's about done," said Will. "It's marrying we're after-could you fit this here young woman with a ring?" he added, and he took Bet's hand in his.

A tray of wedding rings was placed on the counter-they were all second-hand, and some of them much the worse for wear.

Will made his selection, choosing a fairly solid gold band. He slipped the ring into his pocket, smiled into Bet's anxious eyes, and taking out his bank-notes, spread them on the counter.

"You'll oblige me with change for these, Mr. Higgins?" he said. "See, it's a nice tidy little lot of money, ain't it? But it comes in handy; for a feller ain't wed every day of the week."

"It air a lot of money," said Higgins, in a contemplative tone. He took up the notes, and fingered them, feeling their texture and looking at the backs. "It air a tidy lot of money," he repeated, and he looked keenly into Will's honest face.

For all his bronzing the color would easily mount into this young sailor's cheeks-it did so now, and he spoke with a little offence.

"You're wondering how so much comes to the like of me," he said. "Well, it's easily answered. I sold my berth in the 'Good Queen Anne'-about the neatest boat in the docks, and the jolliest berth a feller ever had the luck to find-for this yer money. It comes in handy now as I'm about to be wed. But don't change it if you have no mind to, Mr. Tiggins. I can pass it in at the bank to-morrow morning."

At these words Bet turned deadly pale and gripped her companion's arm.

"No," she whispered hoarsely: "we must have the change to-night."

Higgins, who had been watching the pair, now spoke in that oily and seductive tone which had brought many excellent customers to his door.

"What do you take me for, Scarlett?" he said. "Ain't you, so to speak, an old friend, and one of the best customers as this yer house can wish to see? Of course I'll change the notes, man, and good luck to you and your lass there. Yes-of course I'll change the notes; but seeing as I'm poor, and the times is 'ard, you won't object to the usual percentage for obleeging a neighbor?"

"And what's that?" said Will. "I'm in a hurry," he added; "so I'll listen to anything in reason."

"I charge interest a shilling in the pound," said Higgins. "That'll be ten shillings on the two notes, and the ring seven-and-six-seventeen-and-six in total; that leaves nine pounds two-and-six-pence change-and here you air. Only," here Higgins produced pen and ink, "you'll obleege me by writing your name and where you lodges on the back of the notes."

"What's that for?" said Will, drawing back a step or two.

"Nothing, ef you don't want to do it," responded Higgins; "only I can't nohow change the notes

without-it's a precaution I allus uses with regard to bank-notes, which sailors don't have every day in their pockets. No address, no change-you can please yourself."

"Oh, Will, do write," whispered Bet; and so urged, Will did dip his pen in the ink, and scrawled his name in a somewhat uncertain calligraphy on the back of each note. Mrs. Jobling's address was further added. He then received his change, and he and Bet hurried out of the shop.

"Sold!" whispered Higgins to himself; and an ugly grin appeared upon his face. "Now to send these notes up to the bank the first thing to-morrow,-and-and-well, I have no love for Isaac Dent, and Scarlett's the sort of feller as no one could dislike; but the times is 'ard and the worst of us must live."

Here Higgins rang a little bell. When his attendant answered the summons he told him that he was going out, but that if a sailor called Dent looked in, he was to be asked to wait.

Meanwhile Will and Bet were hurrying as fast as they could to that part of the town where St. Giles' Church was situated. The church was a landmark, and it was easy to find it; and not very difficult, either, to ascertain where Mr. Phillips, the hardworked curate, resided. Bet, who could read well, had decided that they would apply to the curate, not to the vicar.

"Mother knew a little about Mr. Phillips," she said; "and I see his name on the notice-board. He'll be maybe more willing to listen, for mother said he were poor, arter a fashion, himself."

The little house at which the two stopped was certainly humble-looking; and the parson's study, in which they presently found themselves, was poorly furnished, with a threadbare carpet, a sad dearth of books, and a very feeble semblance of a fire. The curate, a thin, gray-haired man, with a stoop, rose from his chair as the young couple came and stood before him. Will was feeling intensely sheepish and uncomfortable; but Bet, with the eagerness born of intense conviction, had no room for self-consciousness.

"Ef you please, sir," she said, flinging aside her mother's shawl, and speaking not only with her lips, but with her glowing cheeks and sparkling, lovely eyes-"ef you please, sir, this is Will Scarlett, and I'm-I'm Elizabeth Granger. Mother used to mind you when you preached, sir; and she often comed to your church when she was strong enough. We was to be wed at St. Giles', Will and me, come Thursday, parson." Here she paused and gasped; and her eyes grew full of tears.

"Yes," said Mr. Phillips, in a kind tone. "You and this young man-a sailor, I see-are to be married on Thursday; yes, very good. And you will make him an honest, faithful wife, I hope. Can I do anything for you? Anything to help either of you? Marriage is an honorable estate, none more so."

The tears were still brimming over in Bet's eyes. She had got so far, but now the words she wanted to say stuck in her throat. She looked appealingly at Will, who instantly forgot himself, and came to her rescue. Taking her hand in his, he led her up to the curate's little study table.

"It's this way," he said-"Bet nor me, we don't know the rights of it; but we've a mind to be made man and wife to-night, ef you're willing, parson."

The curate opened his eyes, and was about to speak; but Bet interrupted him.

"Will says the truth," she exclaimed-"we want to be tied up with some of the words out of your book, parson; so that no one can untie us, and so as we'll be true mates to one another for ever and ever. For Will and me we loves one another, and I could-yes, I could be good ef I was Will's true wife. But there are them-there are them as wants to part us, and to ruin me, and to ruin him; and they'll do it, ef you don't wed us tonight, parson."

"And we don't want to cheat by it," continued Will; "for we know that Government must have its fees; and the license is ordered, and you shall have it to-morrow, parson, and here's thirty shillings to pay for it. It ain't no case of cheating-only the lass here she's skeered like, and it's right as she should have her way. Wed us to-night, ef you can, parson," continued Will, and he laid a sovereign and a half-sovereign on the little study table.

"Kneel down, Will," said Bet. "He'll say the good words over us-I know he will, and we don't want to cheat. It's only as we mustn't be parted. Kneel down, Will."

"She knelt herself, and held out her hand to Will, who dropped at her side. Nothing could be more impressive than the little scene, nor the brief expectant silence which followed.

"God bless you, my children," said the curate-"God abundantly bless you"-and he laid one hand for an instant on Bet's head, and the other on Will's-"but"-here he paused, and seemed to swallow something, and the next words came out with difficulty: "I can't do what you wish. I would gladly if it were possible; but it is not. If I were to say the marriage service over you tonight, I should be breaking the laws of the Church and the laws of England. I won't ask you what your need is, but I am quite certain it is sore. I would give five pounds this moment to be able to pronounce you two man and wife before you leave this room. But it is impossible; the matter is not in my hands. Trust in God, and wait until Thursday."

Bet rose to her feet without a word. All the color had left her cheeks, and the sparkle her eyes; and the hand with which she tried to rearrange her mother's shawl about her shoulders trembled violently.

"Good-bye, parson," she said; and she did not lift her eyes as she turned away.

"Good-bye, sir," said Will sorrowfully, as he followed her into the street.

"Parson blessed us, darling," said Will, putting his arm round Bet's waist. "Kiss me, Bet. Thursday ain't long to wait."

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