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   Chapter 24 No.24

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 10063

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06

She reached her destination very quickly. The smooth-faced landlord was standing at the door.

"Eh! is that you, Bet Granger?" he exclaimed. "Eh-you are in a taking. You might stop a minute to pass a civil good-morning with a chap. Well, what a gel that is! But ain't she handsome-just."

Bet flew past him like a whirlwind, and his last words were addressed to the empty air. Three pairs up she ran, her breath coming quicker and quicker. On the landing she paused, and pressed her hand to her wildly beating heart. It was all quite true. Louisa Perkins had not told her a lie. The room door stood wide open; the room itself was empty.

"Boys!" she called, when she could gather breath to speak. "Little lads, I ha' come back to you! You needn't hide no more, for Bet's yere."

But she knew as she said the words that the boys were not hiding. They had fallen into the clutches of the oppressor-they had gone. She went slowly now into the deserted room. She was waiting for her breath to return, for her heart to beat easily, to commence her search. Yes: that was the only duty left to her in life-to find the boys and redeem her promise to her mother. She sat down on a chair, and wiped her heated forehead, and gradually made her plans. First of all she would go to Mother Bunch-and then, then-away to Warrington. Warrington was not a big place; it would be impossible for Granger to elude her long there. Could she once again find the lads she need not greatly fear her father. After all she had nearly, if not quite, his physical strength; and she believed that if it came to a personal encounter between them, her muscles, joined to her woman's wit, would give her the victory.

Opening the front of her dress, she pulled out a handkerchief, and, unknotting it, looked at the little money in her possession. The handkerchief only contained a few pence-certainly not the price of a third-class fare to Warrington. As she was leaving the room, however, she caught a hidden gleam on the little deal dresser. She ran to it and picked up half-a-crown. How had it got there? She had no time to think of that; it was hers now, to use as she thought best. She would go to Mother Bunch first. That worthy was offended with her; but what of that, she must soothe Mother Bunch's temper, make her once more her friend, get her to look out for any tidings of the boys, and then go on her wild goose chase to Warrington.

Whenever Mother Bunch was not eating, sleeping, or scolding some one, she was engaged over the wash-tub. It might have puzzled an outsider to know what results she achieved from such arduous labor, for she scorned to take in washing as a profession; and neither she nor her good man, a certain lanky-looking Patrick O'Flaherty, were remarkable for the whiteness of their linen, or the general cleanliness of their apparel.

Mother Bunch washed and washed, hanging out numerous garments to dry, rinsing the suds from her own arms, rendering her small kitchen damp and messy at all hours, and during all seasons. She scarcely raised her head when Bet entered. The soft sound of the soapy water and the gentle splash of the dripping garments greeted the girl as an accustomed sound, and Mother Bunch's broad back was reassuring.

"Oh, Mrs. O'Flaherty," said Bet, running up to her, putting her arms round her neck, and imprinting a kiss on her soapy forehead. "I'm in a sight of trouble, and I've come to you to help me."

"Glory! child, don't stand right in the way of the soap suds! There you go-splashing all the clothes, and I'll have to wash 'em all over again. Oh, dearie, dearie me-my heart's broke, and that's the truth I'm telling ye. Well, honey-and so ye comes back to Mother Bunch when you want a rale drop of consolation. You know as the old Irishwoman's your frind, and don't bear no malice."

"I know that, Mother Bunch! I think now I did wrong to take the lads away from you-only I did it for the best."

"Well, now, honey, I wouldn't say that ef I was you. You did it for love, and love's contrairey. But don't talk to me of doing it for the best. How's that broth of a boy, Scarlett? Have you got your own way about him, lovey?"

"Yes," said Bet. "Will has got his liberty by now." Her face turned white. "We won't talk of that; there was a price to be paid and it's paid. Will is free, that's a comfort."

"Yes," said Mother Bunch. "But there's a sore thrubble on ye, honey. I see it in your eyes. I'm glad the lad's free. Ef they consailed a lad like that in prison-why it would have been the death of him, my dear. Will's the boy that must have his liberty. I expect you'll find him quare and altered, even after one week of prison, Bet."

Bet's face brightened, "I'm glad that you, too, understand Will," she said. "I knew that the prison would kill my lad. He's free now."

"And why arn't you with him, honey? Why, it's an iligant wedding you ought to be having together, and Mother Bunch dancing an Irish jig, and pouring down blessings on the heads of two of yez. Co

me now, Bet, what's up? Spake your mind free to the old Irishwoman."

"I have nothing to tell, and I can't wait," said Bet. "Father have took away the two lads, and I'm follering of him. He said he would take them to Warrington. I'm a-going arter him, and I'll fetch them back; only I thought I'd tell you, Mother Bunch, so as you might keep your ears open, and let me know ef there's any tidings or news going. Father may have said Warrington jest to deceive me, for he's awful deep, and the lads may be here all the time. You keep your eyes open, and your ears too, Mother Bunch, and I'll come back to you in a day or so ef I can't find them. Now, good-bye-I'm off, I want to catch a train."

Bet found herself at Warrington soon after one o'clock.

She was landed on the platform and stood looking round her in a bewildered way. The place was totally strange, and she felt like a deserted vessel cast adrift from its usual moorings. There was no part of Liverpool where she would not know what to do and how to act; but here, standing on this lonely, deserted platform, with scarcely any money in her pocket, her head aching, her tired brain dull and confused, she scarcely knew where to turn. If her father were really here with the children, it might not be such a very easy task to find them.

She was startled by a familiar, half-mocking, half-exultant voice at her elbow. She turned quickly, and there stood the sailor, Isaac Dent.

"Ha, ha! sweetheart!" he said. "I wasn't long in a-follering of you up-was I? And you're mine now, my beautiful Bet. You're mine, and no mistake."

Bet's eyes flashed, and her face grew crimson,-it was as much as she could do to restrain the impulse to raise her hand, and strike Dent. But then she recollected herself. After all, she did belong to this man, and Will's liberty was the price. "You know my terms," she said, when she could find her voice to speak. "Is my lad free? Ef my lad's not free as the air-I'll-! Tell me that afore I have any more words with you."

Dent laughed; he was in exuberant spirits.

"Your lad!" he repeated. "It seems to me as I'm your lad. Name the feller you mean in some other way afore I answers any saucy questions. You're a fine young woman, Bet, but you has to go Isaac Dent's way now. What's the name of the feller you wants me to tell you about?"

"Will Scarlett-is he out of prison?" replied the girl. She swallowed a deep breath, and her face was white and cold as marble.

"Yes; Will Scarlett's free," answered Dent "He's out of prison, in course, and he's free as the air. All owing to that good feller Dent standing up for him, and witnessing for him, and proving him as innercent as the babe unborn. My word!-worn't he glad to get his liberty. And didn't he wring my hand, and say, 'God bless you, my boy!' You sent him a letter, Bet, and he read it, and gived me a line or two to take to you. You'd know Will's fist ef you see'd it on an envelope now-wouldn't you?"

"I can't say," replied Bet. "Give me his letter!"

"All in good time, my pretty-all in werry good time! Shall we walk down the street a bit? You're obliged to poor Isaac Dent, now, ain't you, Bet? He have done his part by Will Scarlett, haven't he?"

"Yes, Isaac. I'm much obleeged to yer. I'm glad as Will is free. Give me the letter what he writ to me, please."

"I will, by-and-bye. You have got to forget him now. You're mine now-you remember as that's the bargain?"

"Yes, Isaac, I remember-I'll wed you as soon as you can fix up the license. Oh, I'm glad that Will is free! Did he look awful bad and changed, Isaac?"

"Bad?" repeated Dent. "Yaller as a guinea,-awful, he look-but he'll be better soon. He said to me, 'Another week o' this, and I'd ha' been a dead man, Dent-bless you, Dent, old pal' said Will-'and take the gel and my blessing too. She was right, Bet wor-liberty's more nor anything else to a sailor chap. Oh, yes-I'll miss her; for she was rare and handsome; but, lord there's plenty of other good fish in the sea;' and then he writ this letter, and give it me-jest a line or two, to make it all square atween you and me, as he said. And he'll come and see us arter his next voyage, he said. Here's the letter, Bet-and obleeged you ought to be to me, sweetheart."

"Thank you, Isaac," replied Bet.

She took Will's letter with a hand that trembled, and thrust it unopened into the bosom of her dress.

"It wor what I wanted," she muttered, half under her breath. "All the same I'm stunned like. Isaac, I ha' come here to find father and the lads. Father has made off with the two boys, and he dropped a hint about bringing 'em here."

"Werry like he did," replied Dent. "He dropped a hint to me about making a tidy penny or so out of them boys round yere. Ef you stay for a day or two, Bet, you'll most likely find them. I'll help you all I can. And Warrington ain't a bad place to stop in. We might be married here-why not? I know a decent gel here what'll share her room with you-we'll go and find her now."

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