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   Chapter 17 No.17

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 7778

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


Bet went home, and all Wednesday she stayed indoors, taking little or no notice of her brothers, and never alluding to the subject of the wedding which was to take place the next morning. The boys, finding her intensely unsociable, devoted themselves to their own occupations, which were, after a fashion, absorbing enough. They discovered how to climb on to the roof of this very tall house, and the spice of danger which accompanied such a proceeding rendered it quite delightful to them. From the roof of Mother Bunch's house they could slide or crawl on to other roofs; and Bet knew very little of the amount of liberty they enjoyed on these dirty but airy pinnacles.

She heard their laughter as they scampered in and out of the attic to-day without paying much attention to it. She felt stupid and heavy, and the excitement she had undergone on the previous evening had in its recoil reduced her to a state of almost inertia.

The slow hours dragged themselves along, and Bet's wedding-day, the day when parson could make her and Will one-when, the license being there, and the necessary formalities gone through, they might really stand up in God's house and have the sacred knot tied between them forever-had arrived.

It was a dull, foggy morning, with a drizzling mist. No matter; it was their wedding-day, thought Will, and no one could be more cheerful than he as he donned his becoming sailor suit and brushed his curly hair, and made himself look as spruce and neat as any jack-tar in the land. Rain and mist were nothing to this son of the briny ocean, the sunshine was in his heart, and he could scarcely believe in the wonderful good fortune which was to give him the brightest, the dearest, the handsomest girl in the town.

"Wish me luck, Mrs. Jobling," he said, as he rushed downstairs and encountered his sour-faced landlady in the tiny entrance hall-"I'm to be wed this morning to Bet Granger, the finest and the best lass in Liverpool. You needn't keep the bedroom for me, Mrs. Jobling; for Bet and me, we are going to Birkenhead for our honeymoon, and on Monday I'm off on another cruise. By the way"-here Will suddenly remembered the pretty sealskin purse; he thrust his hand into his trousers pocket-"is this yourn?" he said, holding the dainty treasure out for his landlady to see.

"No, no," she said, backing a step or two; "I'd have no call to a pretty thing like that-why, it is fine! Looks as if it belonged to a lady. However did you come by it, Will?"

"That's more than I can tell you, ma'am. It lay on the floor in my room two nights back, and I picked it up. Well, if it ain't yourn, and I can't find no owner, it'ull do as a wedding-present for Bet." He slipped the purse again into his pocket and made off.

Hester Wright had gone early to Paradise Row to fetch Bet, for she was to be her sole bridesmaid-in fact, the only friend who was to see her give herself to Will. Will had no best man. But what of that? His heart did feel light this morning, and the gay notes which he sang as he hurried along the streets had an undertone of thanksgiving running through them. He was glad the day had really arrived, and thought to himself how relieved his poor girl would be, and how he could laugh at the unreasonable fear which she had shown two nights ago. He had certainly never guessed that Bet was nervous; but she had shown the most unreasonable, the queerest terror when last they had met. Well, it was all right now, and he could prove to her how vain were her alarms.

The doors of the church were not yet opened when the little wedding party of three met. Bet's face was still pale, and her eyes had a tired, almost hunted expression. She came close to Will and took his hand, utterly regardless of the significant looks of the passers-by. The words and glances of the multitude were nothing to her at that moment. She was holding

her true love's hand; and the minutes were flying, flying, and the danger that she dreaded must be even now on their heels.

"What ail's you, Bet?" whispered Will, tenderly. "I'm here, and the hour ha' come. In a minute or two now nought can sever us."

Bet did not speak. She clasped both her hands over Will's, and looked anxiously over her shoulder to right and left.

"Don't worry her," whispered Hester Wright. "She has a dread on her, and there's no argufying it away. After you are wed it will pass. Don't worry her with questions."

Will sighed, and a cold little cloud seemed to come between him and the sun of happiness in which he had been basking all the morning.

Just then there was a bustle and a little commotion. It was only the verger unlocking the church doors. A small crowd of people who scent out even the humblest wedding had already collected-mostly ragged people, shoeless and stockingless boys and girls, women who sold watercress, one or two loafers from the wharves. Will, Bet and Hester were just about to go into the church, when into the midst of this motley group a man neatly dressed in plain clothes stepped briskly. He came straight up to Scarlett.

"Is your name William Scarlett?" he said, "and do you live at Mrs. Jobling's, No. 10 Quay Street?"

"Yes," said Will, in surprise. "I'm a sailor, and my name's Will Scarlet. I have a bedroom at Mrs. Jobling's."

"Yes, just so," replied the man. "Oh, come now, young woman-I've a word to say to this party by himself. Just you let go your hand, young woman, if you please."

Bet seemed neither to hear nor to heed. Her disengaged arm was now flung over Will's shoulder, and the hand which clasped his felt, in its intense grip, as strong and firm as iron.

"I knew that it 'ud come," she whispered between her set lips.

Will looked down at her, and something in her terrible agitation infected him strangely. He felt hot and annoyed and angry-almost angry with Bet, for losing her presence of mind, very angry with the stranger for intercepting him thus with ridiculous, senseless questions.

"Parson's inside," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the church; "and her and me is waiting to be wed. Ef you have anything to say to me, mate, I'll hear it later on, after we is wed.-All the same I don't know you, nor what your business can be," he added.

"My business is plain enough, young man. You're wanted, and you must come with me. I've a warrant here to arrest you on the charge of stealing two five-pound notes-same being passed through the Bank of England yesterday, with your name and address on the back. You'd better come off quietly, for there's no help for it, and the less you say the better, for whatever you does say I warn you will be used against you. Come, young woman,-hands off! You'd better let parson know that his services won't be wanting today."

Bet's head was now lying on Will's breast; her wide-open eyes were fixed on his face. He stooped down and kissed her. He was very white himself, and felt rather dazed, but his anger was gone.

"I can't make it out, sweetheart," he whispered. "It's an ugly mistake, and to happen on our wedding morn. All the same it's nothing in life but a mistake, my dear; and I don't see, if there's a scrap of justice in England, how I can but be back with you by nightfall, darling. You and Hester had better search up Dent, for he's the man to clear me, and I heerd you say as he hadn't sailed in the 'Good Queen Anne.' Now I must go with this feller; but I'll come back to you and Hester soon, for in course I can tell how I got the notes. Here I am-at your service, sir."

Will himself placed Bet's hand in Hester's. She had not said a word nor sought to detain him; but when he turned the corner something seemed all of a sudden to stop in her heart; and the strong girl fainted in Hester's arms.

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