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   Chapter 27 No.27

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 12054

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06

When Hester left the jail she went straight to Sparrow Street. She knew that Bet had gone back there, and felt pretty certain either that she would see the girl herself or be able to leave a message for her with one of the other lodgers. She climbed the three pair of stairs, and knocked at the door of Bet's room. A voice, not Bet's, invited her in, and she found herself in a cloud of tobacco-smoke, and in the presence of both Granger and Dent, who were lounging one on each side of the fire, smoking very coarse tobacco, and imbibing beer from a great jug which stood on a little deal table between them.

Both men started, and removed their pipes from their mouth, when Hester entered.

"Well, Hetty, what's your pleasure?" asked Granger, in a would-be facetious tone. "Going, Dent?" For the younger man had risen to his feet and was preparing to leave the room.

"Yes, I may as well see to that matter by the docks," mumbled Dent, as he made for the door. Hester stepped between it and him.

"A word with you first, Isaac," she said, in that rich, peculiar voice of hers. "I want to speak with Bet-where is she?"

Hester laid her hand on the man's shoulder.

"Where's the girl, Elizabeth Granger, Isaac Bent?" she said. "Tell me that much, and then you can go."

Dent laughed disagreeably.

"Hands off, Hetty," he said. "Bless yer! What do I know of Elizabeth Granger? Ask her father-he's there-the girl ain't nought to me. Stand away from the door, Hetty Wright-I'm in no end of a hurry."

"So am I, and so is Will," said Hetty, without budging an inch. "We want Bet-we want the gel what you, Isaac Dent, has stolen away. She was Will's-she was his promised wife, and the good words 'most read over them, and they was very nearly wed. You stepped atween them, and stole her from Will. You're a thief out and out,-you take away a man's character from him, and you part him from his lass as well as stealing bank-notes and sealskin purses from ladies. Oh-I know you! And I'd rather be Will, lying in prison this minute, than I'd be you. Yes, you can go now, for I ha' said my say, and I'd never get the truth out of you ef I was to wait here forever But I'll find Bet, and she shan't be your wife if I can help it. I ain't a singer for nothing; I ain't the most popular singer in the slums for nought. So you needn't defy me; for if I like I can make matters hot for you."

Hester had not only now moved away from the door, but she had flung it open, and Dent, muttering much, with his face white, and a very hangdog expression on it, slunk down the stairs. He said to himself: "There ain't no use in life bandying words with her; and it's true what she says-there ain't a man or woman in Liverpool what wouldn't do her bidding."

When Dent was gone Hester went up to Granger, and, altering her tactics, began to ask him what he knew about Bet. The man was looking up at her in dull surprise, and with an expression of heavy, open-mouthed admiration.

"You did tackle him, Het," he said. "My word!-you has a way with you, lass."

"Let me use it on you, then, Mr. Granger," said Hetty. "I want Bet-where be she?"

"What will you give me ef I tell you?"

"I haven't much to give. I can sing to yer-tell me, and I'll give you the bonniest song-one that no bird in springtime could beat."

"Ay, ay, lass," said Granger. "You know your power, and how you can wheedle anything out of a fellow; but the fact is I don't know where Bet is hiding; and if I did the secret is Dent's, not mine. But I don't-so there. What's the matter, Hester?-what are you staring at?-oh, that child-you let him alone, he's asleep, that child is. I popped him into bed, and he's asleep. You let him be, Hester Wright."

"I will, when I've looked at him," said Hester.

She moved over to the bed, on which a forlorn little figure lay prone. A white cheek pressed the pillow, and two big blue eyes looked up imploringly at Hester.

"Why, it's the cap'n!" said the singer, bending over the boy, and pushing the bright reddish hair off his forehead. "What are you doing, laddie?-and where's your brother?"

The captain's eyes said unutterable things, but his lips did not move-Granger as well as Hester was watching his face.

"He's resting-can't yer see it?" said the man. "You let him go back to his sleep. His brother?-oh, he's out larking in the street."

A curious look came over Hester's face. Her manner completely altered. Stooping again, she pressed a very light kiss on the boy's white cold brow.

"Go to sleep, lad," she said.

Then she turned to Granger.

"I won't trouble you to tell me about Bet," she said, in her most conciliatory tones. "Ef it's Dent's secret, I know as you ain't to blame. There's many a hard thing said about a person what hasn't a word of truth in it. I believe you're a right good man, Mr. Granger. Well, I must go off, for I'd like to get news of Bet, but ef you like I'll come back to-night and sing to you."

"Will you?" said Granger, eagerly. "There's nothing like a song, and somehow, your voice goes through a feller. I'll collect a few neighbors, and we'll have a bit of supper and a fine time. What hour'll you come, Hetty?"

"When the clock's gone seven," said Hester.

"I mightn't be in then,-I sometimes gets an odd job, and I may to-night, down by the docks; but I'll leave the room-door on the latch, and you can come in when you please. The boy? Oh, he's well enough. You won't mind hearing Hetty sing, will you, cap'n?"

Again the blue eyes looked up piteously, but the little white lips were silent. Hester nodded, and smiled brightly at Granger.

"I'll look in as soon as I can," she repeated. "You leave the door on the latch."

Then she tripped downstairs; she had not even glanced again in the direction of the little captain.

"Now to see Mother Bunch," said Hester to herself. "There's no doubt as my hands 'ull be full for the next few days; but I think I see a way of getting the better of Dent, and of Granger too,-see ef I don

't-oh! that poor child-that poor, poor child!"

At the corner of the street, leaning half tipsily against the wall, stood the old hag to whom Hester had once given twopence. Her eyes brightened when she saw who was walking down the street.

"God bless yer, Hetty Wright!" she mumbled.

Hester was accustomed to many such exclamations; they always had a power over her, and brought a light into her eyes. She stopped now in front of the old woman.

"Thank you, Mrs. Flannigan. These are hard times with you, I fear."

"So they be, dearie-so they be. I haven't taken sixpence this blessed day, and 'tis bitter cold standing about, and with not much chance of a shelter before yon for the night."

"I have thought of something," said Hester. "I'll be very busy for the next few days, and I'd like to have my hands free. Will you carry round my basket for me, mother? I'll go to the market and get it filled for you every morning, and you'll give me the change at night. You shall have a third of what you earns. One-third goes for stock-one to me, one to you. It's better nor nought; and ef you say an' it's Hester Wright's basket, folks 'ull buy, for they know as my cresses and oranges ain't to be beat in Liverpool."

The old woman's eyes absolutely danced as Hester made her this offer.

"And I won't cheat you of a farthing, darling," she exclaimed. "Oh, but it's you as is the blessing of God to me!"

"Come home with me, then," said Hester. "The basket is in my room, and the things unsold,-come at once, for I'm in a rare bit of a hurry."

Having disposed of old Mrs. Flannigan, and in this manner secured for herself as well as for the dame a means of livelihood for the next few days, Hester started off for Paradise Row. It was a fact that there was not a more dishonest nor evil-minded old woman in Liverpool than this same Mrs. Flannigan; but Hester was firmly convinced that she would be true to her word, and not rob her of a farthing, and this proved to be the case.

As usual Mother Bunch was bending over her wash-tub. Her broad back was turned to Hester as she entered the little room. Even in Paradise Row the singer was not quite unknown, and Mother Bunch gave her a welcoming word. Hester soon poured out her story, which was received with many exclamations, and such growing and deepening interest that the wash-tub was forgotten and the Irishwoman stood with her arms a-kimbo, fairly panting with indignation and excitement.

"Oh, the villains!-oh, the black-hearted creatures!" she exclaimed once or twice. "Right you are, Hetty,-you have got Mother Bunch on your side, and I have got an ahrum-see, honey,-I'll do whatever you bids me, darlint,-but I'll save Bet and the poor children."

"Listen, then, Mother Bunch," said Hester. "You tell me that Bet has left Liverpool. Can you not try and remember where she said she was going?"

"She didn't tell me, dear. She didn't let out nought. Only it worn't far away. Too far to walk, honey, and the train was to take the poor child. Some miles off-maybe fifteen-maybe a score; but railly I can't remember. I ain't good at mintal 'rithmetic, darlint."

"Never mind about that now," said Hester; "we have to think of the cap'n first, and of how to outwit Dent. Now, listen. I have got an idea in the back of my head."

Here Hester began to talk in a very low voice, and Mother Bunch listened, nodding vehement approval, chuckling audibly once or twice, grinning broadly at other times, and throwing out several practical and shrewd suggestions of her own. Before Hester left Paradise Row the two had come to a complete understanding.

"I'll have his poor sisther's room as snug as snug for him," said Mother Bunch, in conclusion. "Oh, he'll be safe there. You trust me that-he'll be safe there!"

"And I'll sit up with him to-night," said Hester. "Well-all right, Mrs. O'Flaherty, I'll meet you at a quarter to seven at the corner of Sparrow Street."

There are times when it is dreadful to be quite alone-when the head reels, and the floor seems to sink down beneath one, and the solid earth seems no longer firm and supporting. And when one is very young, and, although the battle of life has gone hard, the years that have passed over our heads are only a few, and we feel that we ought to be petted and loved, and made much of, and held tenderly in our mother's arms, with that tired, weary, drooping little head resting on her breast,-then the loneliness is very hard to bear, and the brave child-heart cries in terror, and wonders if God no longer suffers little children to come to Him.

The captain was very weak and ill. He had gone through a cruel time,-he did not want to think of it,-he was lying all alone in bed, quite alone, with a few flickering shadows from the dying fire reflecting a light on the walls, and making grim shadows, too, which frightened him so much that he liked best to lie with his eyes shut.

His father would come back presently,-it was far worse to have his father there than to lie alone in the dark-only, why did his head feel so queer, and why were his hands so feeble? He did not think he could punch anyone now; and as to being victor in a fight, why-even Dan Davis, the weakest boy of his acquaintance, and one for whom he had the greatest contempt, would have been a match for him.

Still, it was very dull being alone, and the room seemed to grow darker, and his head lighter. He was thirsty, but there was nothing to drink. Where was Bet? Where was the general? He opened his little lips to call these friendly and protecting names, but no audible sound would come from them.

Oh, what was the matter? He was really frightened now-even his father's presence would have been better than nothing. Who and what was that? There was a noise on the stairs-the room door opened, and the large face and solid tub-like form of Mother Bunch seemed suddenly to fill the whole apartment. The poor little captain found sudden vent for one weak cry of rapture, then he fainted away.

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