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   Chapter 25 No.25

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 9737

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


Dent soon made terms with the girl who was to accommodate Bet with half her room. Her terms were half-a-crown a week, which Dent offered to provide. Bet, however, scowled at him.

"None o' that," she said. "I ain't your wife yet-and I can't be, neither, thank goodness, for a fortnight. Jenny here says I may go round with her and help her to hawk her basket. I'll help Jenny with her bits of cress and vegetables-and I want no help from you."

"You're a proud 'un," said Dent, "but I'll break yer in yet."

He spoke more angrily than he had meant. Bets cheeks grew white; he was turning away, but she followed him.

"Listen, Isaac," she said. "I'm not your wife yet; and by the laws of England I can't be for a fortnight. It was them laws as parted me and Will-cruel, I thought them-bitter cruel. Him and me would have been mated together, and safe and happy-oh, yes! we two would have been happy but for them laws which we mustn't break, if we was to be honest and true man and woman. And them same laws stand good still, Isaac Dent; and I can't come to you to be wedded to you under a fortnight. They was cruel once-now they're kind; they gives me a fortnight afore I steps into a state what will be worse nor death to me-ay, worse than the cold grave! We must wait a fortnight, Dent-you must wait a whole fourteen days afore you take to bullying me. And, listen, Dent-I'm a despert girl. I have lost all that makes life worth anything. You trust me 'cause you know it's said everywhere as Bet Granger keeps true to her word through all things. But I ha' broke a promise already made most solemn to my mother when she lay a-dying; and ef you tries me too far, and don't do what I wish for the next fortnight afore we can come together-why, I'll fling my word back in your face, and dare you to do your worst. I'm despert-evn my word ain't much to me, now. And I'll do it, Isaac, I'll do it; I'll declare as I'll never, never be wed to you! You can't harm me-you can't force me. And Will's free now. You could never touch me at all except through Will. And now my lad's free, and the salt sea will soon blow the prison look out of his face. You haven't got me yet, Isaac Dent: so you had better humor me for the next fortnight."

Dent's unwholesome face became much mottled and disturbed in hue during Bet's speech. When she spoke of Will being free, his lips took an ugly sneer, and he found extreme difficulty in restraining himself. He was well aware, however, that if he disclosed the fact of his own treachery his last hope of winning this proud lass was over. After all, nothing held her to him but her promise; and if she came to regard promises in the same light in which he did, all his pains and troubles would be thrown away. If he wished to win her, it behoved him, therefore, to be cautious, and, as she put it very plainly, to humor her. After the wedding day all the self-restraint which he must at present exhibit might be withdrawn. His feelings for Bet contained a curious mixture of anger and fierce admiration. It never occurred to him for a moment even to try to make her a good husband; but get her he would-oh, yes-possess her he must.

When she harangued him thus, with her eyes flashing, and a world of scorn curving her beautiful lips, he replied gently, drawing close to her, but not offering to touch her.

"I'll do anything in my power to please you, Bet," he said. "I ain't a bad sort-my bark's worse nor my bite. I'm not a polished diamond. But ef I don't make you a good husband, and ef you and me won't have the jolliest little house in Liverpool together, my name ain't Dent-no-my name ain't Dent. You trust me, Bet-I'll not anger you either now nor in the future. What is it you wants me to do?"

"To leave me alone," said Bet, "until you can fetch the license and bring me to church with you. Ef I was to see too much of you atween now and our wedding, no promise that ever was would bind me. You keep away, Isaac, and leave me my fortnight in peace, and I'll do what I said I'd do-yes, I'll do it-I'll pay the price. You go back to Liverpool, Isaac, and leave me yere-I has to find father and the lads. And ef Jenny's a good sort, I'll stay with her. Ef she ain't, I'll find my own lodging. But in no case will I walk with you, or talk with you, until the day as we is wed. Ef I stays here for a fortnight we can be wed here, but you must go back to Liverpool. Them's my terms, and if you don't humor me for the present,-why, you know what to look for."

"Oh, I'm agreed," answered Dent, "I'll humor you now, and I'll humor you in the future. I suppose we can be married before the register. You don't want no church words over yer,-do you, Bet?"

"No, not when I stand by your side," said Bet, shuddering.

"Well, I'll do yer pleasure. I'll go now, and make inquiries, and enter our names to be wed as soon

as may be. Liverpool 'ull suit me a deal better than this dull hole of a Warrington. Goodbye, my fine lady Bet-when next we meets, it 'ull be never to part."

He kissed the tips of his fingers to her, and could not resist a laugh which sounded between mockery and triumph.

As Dent turned away, Bet's attention was arrested by the girl called Jenny, who had been standing by during this colloquy, and plucked her by the sleeve.

"Yer a rare 'un!" she said, in a tone of sincere admiration. "Don't you mate with him. He ain't fit for the likes of you. Break your word with him,-what's a lie or two?"

"I hate lies," said Bet in a voice of scorn. "Let me be, Jenny-you're right in what you say of Isaac Dent; but he have my promise, and I ain't one as lies, ef it's only myself I have to think on."

"Yer a rare 'un," repeated Jenny. She was small and squat, with a broad, freckled face, and light blue, saucer eyes. She looked up at the handsome girl by her side with the most sincere admiration.

"Lor! you have the courage," she said. "I'll be proud to go a-hawking with you."

Jenny's most commonplace appearance-her homely words-had a soothing effect on Bet.

"I'll go with you presently. Jenny," she answered. "But now may I go to your room, and may I stay alone there-for-for-say an hour?"

Jenny's beaming face fell. In her rough, untutored heart she had already conceived an affection for Bet. She would have dearly liked to sit in her very dirty attic bedroom, and gossip with her. That would have been nearly as good as walking through the streets of Warrington in company with so distinguished a companion. To walk through the streets, the envied of all, with Bet by her side would have been a crowning triumph for the poor little hawker, Jenny; but to give her up her room,-not to see her at all for a whole hour,-was a far less agreeable matter.

"Oh, I'll do it," she said. "You're welcome to the room. It ain't for me to make no objections."

She spoke summarily, and with some bitterness of spirit, but Bet was far too much absorbed in her own meditations to notice her.

When Jenny finally closed the door of her apartment, and unwillingly sauntered downstairs, Bet drew Will's letter from its hiding-place. She tore it open, and her feverish bright eyes devoured the few lines it contained. These were the words with which Will bade his sweetheart good-bye:

"Dear Bet,-Isaac Dent will take you my farewell. I am free, and I means to find a berth in the first ship as leaves the docks as 'ull take me on board. Dear Bet-I was innercent as the babe unborn-but it was Dent as cleared me. He spoke as a man, dear Bet, and I was proud to think as we was pals once on board The Albion ship when it sailed over the dancing waves. He's not a feller to let a comrade suffer, is Dent. I got your letter. You was right, Bet-I couldn't a-bear prison,-it was killing me by inches. I'm wasted now almost to a shadder. Dent tells me as you'll soon be wed, and that never may I call you wife o' mine. Bless you and him! I hasn't another word to say.-Will Scarlett."

Bet read this letter with some difficulty. She was, as she said, "a poor scholard," and she had to spread out the sheet of thin paper on Jenny's little bed, and laboriously spell through the words before she could arrive at any true glimpse of their meaning. It dawned upon her, after nearly an hour's severe study,-it dawned upon her just as Jenny's impatient tap came to the door, and her still more impatient voice exclaimed-

"Time's hup-I'm going hawking."

Bet felt herself turning cold and hot, as the meaning of Will's words seemed to scathe and burn her brain. Then, quick as a flash of lightning, another thought came to her, and she smiled, and tore the obnoxious and cruel letter into a thousand little bits.

"That wasn't from my Will," she said. "Dent wrote it-not Will. My lad,-why he jest couldn't put words on paper sech as them! This is Dent's villainy;-yes, Jenny, I'm a-coming," she called out in quite a cheerful tone.

A weight was lifted from her mind when the conviction became assured that this letter was none of Will's. She went downstairs, and Jenny and she, on the best of terms, commenced their life of hawking together.

Will was free,-no doubt on that point arose to shake her confidence,-but Will's whole nature had not changed. He who possessed the tenderest and the truest heart for her in all the world had not lost it during one week in jail. Bet almost sang as she accompanied Jenny through the Warrington streets. Will was free-freed by her act,-freed by her sacrifice; but a fortnight still stood between her and her doom. For a fortnight, therefore, she could be almost happy, and could at least devote her time to searching for her brothers, and trying to rescue them from the tender mercies of their most cruel father.

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