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   Chapter 28 No.28

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 9828

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06

The captain was very ill, but he was no longer uncared for. In the attic which Bet had rendered clean and sweet, he lay and tossed on his hard and feverish bed. His weakness and prostration were difficult to account for; he could give no coherent account of himself, only, as the fever left him false strength, he murmured his brother's name continually, telling him to hide, to run fast, and promising to overtake him as soon as possible. Once or twice he screamed piteously, as though he were again feeling the hard strokes of a cruel hand. The doctor came to see him, and ordered lots of nourishment, and spoke gravely of the boy's state.

"Why is not his sister with him?" the medical man said; for he knew Bet, and had often remarked her kindness and tenderness to her young brothers.

In the absence of Bet, however, the captain was not neglected, Mother Bunch taking care of him by day, and at all times when Hester Wright was obliged to be absent. There were no traces anywhere of the poor little general. It is true he might still be at Sparrow Street, but Hester thought it wiser for many reasons not to venture there just now.

If Granger was in a taking about the kidnapping of his little son, he certainly showed no symptoms of invading Mother Bunch's premises on his behalf; and it was thought best for the captain's sake to do nothing to rouse his father's ire at present.

"We'll have him by-and-bye-he shall feel this ahrum yet," said Mother Bunch. "But now you and me has got to pull this child through, Hetty Wright. It do seem to me that he's 'most took for death, but we'll pull him through by the help of God Almighty."

This was no easy matter; for the little life seemed to be ebbing further and further away from this world's shores, and often it seemed to Hester that the unconscious child scarcely breathed.

"I wouldn't like Bet to come back, and not see the little chap," she replied once to Mother Bunch, who was gazing at him with a very dubious look on her face. "Ef there ever was a good sister, Bet's the one; and I wouldn't like her to come here and see no captain-and, for that matter, no general neither."

"We'll pull him through," said Mother Bunch. "Even if he is took for death-we'll pull him through."

She always said this, although her tones of late had grown less confident.

On this occasion she took Hester's place by the sick child; and Hetty being at liberty wrapped her cloak about her, and went out.

The small captain was lying at death's door; but there were other things to be considered, and Hester Wright's brain was full of a daring project just then.

Mrs. Flannigan was doing very well with Hetty's basket; so she was at liberty to use her own time as she thought fit, and as the old woman would scorn to rob the singer, her pockets were not quite empty. It was the middle of the day-dull and cloudy, a slight drizzling mist falling now and then.

Hester stepped into one of the tramcars, and after a ride of about half-an-hour found herself in a pretty suburb of the great city. She was going to see Sister Mary Vallence, and sincerely hoped that she might find her at home. Her errand was important, and the whole success of the scheme which she was forming in her mind would depend on this young lady's co-operation.

Sister Mary was fairly popular amongst the people for whom she worked. She was a brave, fearless, high-minded girl, never leaving a stone unturned to help others, and influencing many people by the power of a great love. She was at home, and Hetty Wright was at once admitted into her presence. Hetty had never before come in contact with Miss Vallence. Popular as she was in the slums, her rather remarkable face and her great gift of song were both unknown to the young lady. The fact, however, of Hester wearing a poor gown, and one look into her rather worn and pathetic face, ensured her a kindly and interested greeting. Sister Mary asked Hester to seat herself, and then sat quietly down, with that look of leisure on her face which always gives assurance to the teller of a story. Sister Mary did a great deal in her life, but she was never in a hurry; and this fact weighed now with Hester giving her confidence, and causing her heart to beat quietly.

"I ha' come to trouble you with a sad tale, madam," she began.

"I am sorry-will you call me sister, please," responded the young lady.

"Bet Granger has told me of yer," continued Hester. "You were good to her poor mother."

"Certainly, I had a great regard for Mrs. Granger,-she was good. I know she was difficult to understand, but she was a woman with a great faith. I have often been sorry for her daughter; how is she now?"

"Lost, ma'am-lost, as far as we know-we can't get word nor trace of her. She's not in Liverpool, and I don't know where she be. I fear me she's in the clutches of a bad man, and I ha' come to you to-day, S

ister Mary, to ask you to help me to save her. Listen. I can tell in a few words her story, since the night as her mother died."

Hester's great gift was song, but even her speaking voice was refined, pathetic, and with some uncommon notes in it, which always exercised a certain influence over those who listened to her. She told of Bet and Will, of their love and their despair; and the sad tale certainly lost nothing by her manner of telling it. Sister Mary no longer sat still; she rose to her feet, clasping and unclasping her white hands, her lips opening, as if she must arrest the speaker's words-as if she must pour forth some of the pent-up feeling which the story had aroused.

"Then you believe," she said at last, "you firmly believe, that the man, the sailor with the blue eyes, whose face haunts me still, is innocent?-that he never stole my purse-that he is lying in prison now under a false charge? Oh, how glad I am! It seemed to shake my very faith to have to believe that a man with a face like that was really guilty."

"He is innocent, sister. Will Scarlett told a true story. Dent gave him the notes because he wanted to get rid of them, and because he wanted to win Bet for himself. Isaac Dent is the thief, sister; my cousin Will is innocent."

"But if you knew this, Hester Wright-if you were certain on this point," answered Miss Vallence, "why did you not come to the police-court the other day, and clear the sailor? Oh, I think it was cruel of you to stay away."

"What's my word, lady? I know it, but I can't prove it. The facts are all agin' Will-he's in the House of Detention now, and he says he's safe to get two year."

"Two years' imprisonment, when another man did the deed!"

"Yes, sister-he says he's quite sure."

"But this is dreadful! I will speak to my father-you must tell your story to my father."

"That'ull do no good, lady. Facts go agin' Will, and there's only one way of clearing him."

"Oh, is there a way? How glad I am! You are a brave girl, Hester. Tell me at once about the way."

"I can't tell you much, Miss Vallence, but I ha' come here to-day-I ha' come to say-yes, to say that we can't never clear Will, and that a plan I have got in my head can't be carried through without you."

"Without me? Yes; I will certainly help-tell me what I can do."

"I can't lady-not yet-the time ain't ripe yet; but ef you'll trust a lass like me, and give a promise, then I can carry out my plan. And ef it succeeds Will will be cleared, and Bet won't be tied for life to a villain; and a bad man-perhaps two bad men-'ull meet what they deserve. Oh," continued Hester, "I never said as I believed in God-I never went in for being a good 'un in any sense; but I think I do believe in Him now-I think I do. Trust, and He will bring it to pass. Lady," here Hester resumed her usual manner, "I ha' come to ask you to give me a promise in the dark."

"That is a difficult thing to give," replied Miss Vallence, slowly. "I am most desirous of helping you-I may say further, that I certainly will help you to the best of my ability; but a promise in the dark seems scarcely right-why do you ask it of me?"

"Because you can help me in no other way, Miss Vallence. It's just a question of trusting a lass you ha' never seen afore. No harm shall happen to you-not a hair of your head shall be touched, but you must go blindly with me,-in the dark-that's it; there's no other way."

"You're a strange creature," said Miss Vallence. "You move me, you excite me. In spite of myself, I cannot help believing in you. I may be wrong, but for once I will be guided by the queer influence you have over me-by the something within which compels me to trust you. Hester Wright, I will promise to do what you want."

Hester's earnest dark eyes filled with tears.

"You ha' taken a load off me," she said. "There is a good God-for He made you. The lad has a chance now, and Bet has a chance; and perhaps the little 'un may get well arter all. Oh! every thing may come right arter all, and it 'ull be owing to you, just because you weren't afeard, and trusted a lass you had never seen. Miss Vallence, it won't be to-night, nor to-morrow night-but the night arter-some time the night arter-I'll come here, and then I'll ask you to go with me. You needn't be afeard; no one in all Liverpool will be safer nor you; but you'll be coming with me in the dark. A brave lady! Eh! I used to think as ladies had no real sperrit, but I'll never think so no more!"

"I'll be ready for you, Hester," said Sister Mary, in her gravest voice. "The night after next-at what hour will you call for me, Hester?"

"Sister, I may not come at all, and I can't name the hour-it may be any time atween eight o'clock and midnight. I may fail-only I don't think so."

"You will not fail," said Miss Vallence. "I will be ready."

They clasped each other's hands and parted.

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