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   Chapter 26 No.26

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 9283

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


Two or three days after Will's second examination before the magistrates-an examination which had ended, owing to Dent's testimony against him, in his being remanded for trial at the coming assizes-Hester Wright was standing in her little room, putting on her shawl and bonnet to go out to her usual day's work. Hester was not at all a model worker; nor had she any of the qualities which ensure commercial success. She was clever all round; and whether it was singing her soul away, or toiling by the hour at shop needlework, or hawking fruit and vegetables about the Liverpool streets, she did a little better than anybody else; but as she would never sell her gift of song, and as her nature was in several respects, notwithstanding its real depth and earnestness, volatile, she could never keep very long to the same mode of earning her bread. A month or two of needlework would be followed by a month or two of hawking: she did not earn more than enough to keep soul and body together by either of these trades; but money and creature comforts were alike matters of indifference to her, and as a rule she preferred the roving life of a hawker, as it brought her more into contact with her fellow creatures. Hawking was in the ascendant now, and she was hurrying out to replenish her basket at St. John's Market when a boy unceremoniously opened her door, and, thrusting a crumpled and dirty piece of paper into her hand, stood staring at her while she opened it.

The letter was a scrawl from Will Scarlett.

"Dear Hetty," it ran, "I may see a friend to-day. Come to me at noon, for I am in a sore taking.-Your cousin Will."

"All right, ain't it?" questioned the boy.

"Yes," replied Hester. "It's from Will. How did you come by it, Davy?"

"John Wheeler gave it to me-he's one of the jailers. He said Will was in a sore way about his lass."

A frown gathered on Hester's brow. "I'll go to him," she said. "Thank you, Davy-the letter's all right."

The boy nodded and vanished, and Hester, taking up her basket, went slowly downstairs.

At twelve o'clock that day she stood by Will's side in his dreary little cell. She was allowed to see him for a few minutes without the presence of a third person. Will had lost somewhat of his bronze; his face was thin and pale; and Hester, going up to him, and clasping his hands, was about to burst forth into a distressful wail at his changed appearance, when he stopped her.

"We ha' no time, Hetty. I know just what your heart's full of, but it's all about Bet we must talk. The time's all too short, and I'm bound hand-and-foot here, and can do nought. See, Hetty-I had a letter from my lass."

"I know, Will; but it ain't worth your while to fret for her. I know she has gived you up for that Dent fellow; and ef she, what thought to call you mate, can wed with one like him-why, let her, I say. I'm sorry as you're pained, Will; but don't let's waste the minutes talking about one like Bet Granger."

"Hush," said Will. "You say false words, Hetty-I'm 'shamed of you."

Will's blue eyes flashed.

He pulled Bet's letter out of the bosom of his prison shirt, and kissed it passionately.

"She gived me up-poor Bet did," he said. "And that's all you thinked on her! She thought to save me, and she took what would be as death to one like her. I'm 'shamed of you, Hetty. I thought-I did think-that when a gel did an out-and-out grand thing you'd be the first to see it."

Hester colored. Her eyes filled with tears.

"It seemed to me," she said, "as no one what loved you could take up with one like Dent. I may be wrong-I was angered at Bet and I spoke angry. Never mind. It's you as she has wronged-ef you can forgive her, I'll bear no malice."

"I ha' nothing to forgive," said Will. "Forgive? It's all t'other way. She said in her letter,-no, I don't want you to read it, as you doubted her, but this is some o' what she said: 'I give you your freedom, Will. I ain't much, only a lass like any other lass; but freedom-that's all in all to one like you. I remember me how you spoke of the salt breeze blowing on your cheek, and you said the fresh air off the Mersey was nought at all to the fresh air off the ocean, when you was miles and miles away to sea. I give it back to you, dear Will. I'll be Dent's wife, for he won't set you free no other way; but there's many another lass, and I pray that you may wed a good wife, and forget poor Bet.' But I'll never forget her," said Will, who had been reading these extracts in a choking voice, "and I say she's the noblest lass in England, what thinks more of her lad than of herself, and I'm proud of her fo

r writing me like this, for she has let me see down into her heart-and it's a good heart, and strong and pure; and though she don't say no words about it she's the best gel in the land, and ef I gave her up arter reading this letter I'd be the meanest cur that ever sailed, and it's Davy Jones' locker as 'ud be the right place for me, and no other. I'm as innercent as a baby, Hester, and that you know, and so does my gel; and you has got now to turn round, and think on her my way, and help me to save her."

Hester went up close to Will and took one of his hard muscular hands in hers.

"I'll go your way, whether I think it or not," she said. "Let thoughts alone, this is a time for deeds. What do you want me to do, Will?"

"To find Bet," said Will. "She mustn't wed that feller. Thank the good God-she can't for a few days; but time passes, and Dent may have her safe in his clutches afore I know. You has got to find her, Hetty, and you has got to say that William Scarlett will never give her up-that I love her tenfold more than ever for what she thought to do for me; but ef she has promised herself ten times over to that scoundrel Dent, she must tear up them promises, and think nought of them,-for she was mine first, and I refuse to part her. Tell her from me, Hetty, that ef they're the last words I'm ever to speak, much as I love her now, I could curse her-ay, and I would curse her-ef she was to become wife to Dent."

"But she can't, Will," said Hester; "the condition was ef you was set free. Dent did not set you free. He locked you up firmer nor ever in jail, so it ain't likely as Bet, seeing as she loved you, 'ud give herself to him when he only deceived her, and done you an injury?"

"But, a while back," said Will, with a sad smile, "you misdoubted Bet's love for me. I never misdoubted it, nor ever will; but I do misdoubt Dent. He's a coward and a sneak, and deep is no word for him. Ef he wants Bet-and I know he wants her, for he let out as much to me-he'll move heaven and earth to win her, and he'd think nought of deceiving her, and telling her dozens of lies. What does a girl like Bet Granger know of the ways of the world? She has been up and down in the slums, you say, all her life; but there's some as evil can't touch, and she's one of them. Dent, he's full of wickedness, and he knows wicked ways here and wicked ways in other places-so how could a gel like Bet be a match for him? She's brave as a lion. But I can't sleep o' nights thinking how he'll deceive her. He'll let her think as I'm free, and she'll believe him, and he'll cast up her promise to her-and she's terrible over promises, is Bet. You must find her, Hetty, and you mustn't lose an hour, for it's near a week now since the day I was examined last. You must find her and take her my message. Say it any way you like, only let her feel that I'll never, never give her up."

"I'll find her," said Hester. "I'll find her, and speak your words to her. Don't you fret, Will. I ain't your cousin Hetty, and the most popular singer in the Liverpool slums, for nought. I own I was a bit rough on Bet, and she's a proud lass, and wouldn't come nigh me ef she thought I was angered, or took her the wrong way. Maybe I judged her wrong-maybe I didn't-we won't go into that. When I meets her now I'll promise to be gentle, and I'll keep her for you, cousin, ef such a thing's possible, and I'll save her from that scoundrel, ef such a thing's possible. You trust her to me. But now, one word about yourself, Will. You has been done a bitter wrong, and you don't look spry-no, you don't look spry."

"It was Dent," said Will. "I see it all now. It was a scheme of his to win my gel from me. I don't suppose as I'll be acquitted, Hetty, and they say as I'll have two year. Well, I ain't the first innercent man as has been done by a rogue; no, nor the last neither. You tell Bet to keep up heart, for, even if it is two year, I'll come to her at the end, and we'll be none the worse, seeing that we know each other and love each other as we do. Good-bye, Hetty-I hear the warder coming. That bit of a verse you sang keeps running in my head, and it soothes me wonderful when I get most mad, like. You remember it-'Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him!'"

"And He will give thee thy heart's desire," said Hester. Her eyes lit up, and she half sang, half chanted the words.

"Seems as if He might." she said. "Not as I holds with no goodness; but them words, they fasten on to me, and I can't rid myself neither of them or of their meaning. Good-bye, Will. I'll do my best, not only for Bet, but to set you free again."

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