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   Chapter 29 No.29

A Girl of the People By L. T. Meade Characters: 8592

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:06


If ever a girl ought to feel happy it should be on the eve of her wedding-day. To a great many, however, this turning-point in life, this step into a new and unknown world, is fraught with terror and distress. Wedding bells do not always mean happiness.

Bet Granger was sitting alone in Jenny's attic. She was to be married before the registrar to-morrow to Isaac Dent. He had made all arrangements, and had come over from Liverpool that day to see his promised bride. He had spent half an hour with Bet-had told her when and where to meet him the next morning, and then had gone back to his old haunts, a victorious and satisfied man.

When he left her, Bet had gone up to the attic, and had sat there ever since without moving or speaking. Her hands were clasped loosely in her lap, and her dull and heavy eyes were fixed on the fire. Jenny, finding her poor company, had gone out, and Bet was quite alone. She was to be a bride to-morrow,-Isaac Dent's bride. Her heart beat slowly and calmly; there was nothing more now to hope for; she would keep her promise, and she would try to endure the life which stretched before her. After all, the mate of a sailor had some advantages,-she could often be parted from her lord; he could go away on long voyages,-he could be, he would be, he must be, months away from home; and during that time the very winds that blew, the very breezes that fanned her cheeks, would help to divide them-would help to show her how many miles stretched between her and him.

Yes; the thought of the coming separation, of the certain and inevitable separation, cheered Bet, and made her feel that her lot was endurable.

She was to be a bride to-morrow! How strange! She felt accustomed now to the idea of being almost a bride. It was only a few weeks back that she sat in another attic waiting for the dawn of another wedding-day, and the embrace of another bridegroom. She had not been happy then,-she had been full of fear and apprehension; but the heart now so queer, and dull and heavy, had beat fast, and the eyes had been bright with intense excitement, and in her restless dread and earnest longing she had paced the floor of Mother Bunch's attic until the very dawn. Then she had been unhappy, but she had been alive. Now, what had come over her? Had the spirit of the real Bet Granger gone away with Will over the dancing sea? Had it refused to be parted from her true lover, and was Isaac Dent only marrying a dead woman?

During the fortnight that Bet had spent at Warrington she had searched high and low for her father and the boys. Of course, she had searched in vain. It was quite possible for a clever man like Dent to furnish her with endless clues which all led to nothing. His object was to give her a reason for remaining in Warrington-his object was to keep her at any hazard out of Liverpool. He knew that in Liverpool the knowledge of his treachery towards Will could not long be concealed from her. She would meet Hester Wright-she would meet one friend or another who would certainly tell her that the lad for whom she had sold herself was still in prison.

After they were married-oh! then it mattered nothing at all. Then his triumph would be all the greater when the bad man showed her that, although she was his absolutely, she had done nothing for Will by her deed of self-sacrifice.

Jenny had been a good friend to Bet during the last fortnight. She knew Dent, but did not admire him; and it was an unceasing puzzle to her how any promise could bind Bet to such a man.

"You'll be his forever," she said. "Well, I wouldn't have him-not for no price. I wouldn't be his wife, not if you was to pay me for it. And the other lad, he'll come back from sea, and he won't like to see you Isaac's wife. It's a wrong promise you ha' made, Bet Granger; and you needn't go for to tell me nothing else. If I was you, I wouldn't keep it. Don't 'ee, now, Bet-don't 'ee. Think of the other poor sailor feller-how he'll look at yer when he comes back from sea!"

At first, when Jenny spoke like this, Bet had shut her up with a few sharp words, but of late she had taken no notice; her face every day had grown duller, and her words further apart. Her whole attitude was so dull and lifeless that Jenny gave up teasing her; and findin

g that, from being an entertaining companion, she was now one of the dullest, left her a good deal to herself.

Bet sat on in the attic, and presently the fire went out, and only the moonlight lit up her little dreary room. Bet closed her eyes, and fell into a heavy doze; she slept for about ten minutes, and, whether that sleep had refreshed her, and lifted a cloud from her brain, no one can say, but she awoke in quite a different mood: the apathy and indifference of the last few days had left her; she was once more keenly alive, keenly suffering and rebellious.

The events of the two last months-all the story which had come to her since her mother's death-kept flitting like a series of pictures before her vivid imagination. She saw Will's face with a tender light in the eyes; she felt his breath on her cheek, and her hand seemed again to be clasped in his. Once more she heard Hester and Will singing together-

"I had a message to send her-

To be whom my soul loved best,

But I had my task to finish,

And she had gone home to rest."

Bet saw once more the little room in Sparrow Street, and the smile, the look so full of satisfaction, on her dead mother's face.

"Oh, mother, mother!" she sobbed.

She fell on her knees, and the tears streamed through the fingers which covered her face. "Oh mother! life ha' gone hard-bitter, bitter hard-for poor Bet. I ha' broke my word to you-and the lads, I dunno where they are. Oh, I'm good for nought-I'm good for nought-I wish I were lying dead beside my mother!"

She sobbed and sobbed; and her tears, while they seemed to rend her heart, brough a certain sense of lightness and relief.

"Mother, you was a good woman-you believed in religion and all that. I didn't. I were allers a hard 'un-allers, and allers; but I'd give the world,-mother, mother, hear me, hear me, ef you can, up in heaven with God!-I'd give all the wide world to be good, GOOD, to-night!"

Again Bet seemed to hear Will and Hester singing to her-

"And I know that at last my message

Has passed through the golden gate,

And my heart is no longer restless,

And I am content to wait."

She rose to her feet. Her tears were over, her great grief was lightened, but now a curious and inexplicable desire took possession of her. She would not fail Isaac Dent. If she had broken every other promise she would at least keep this one. She would marry him tomorrow, and perhaps her mother's God would help her to be a good wife to him. But she would-she must-go to Liverpool tonight. She had money enough in her pocket to take her there; she looked at the coins, going close to the window to see them the better in the moonlight, and saw that she had sufficient to purchase a single third-class fare. How was she to get back to Warrington in the morning? How was she to meet Dent at the registrar's office? She did not know; she felt also that she did not care. Already her marriage with Dent seemed to be removed into a dim and intangible future. She would marry him,-oh, yes-but when and how she did not know, she did not care. She could scarcely bring her thoughts to bear on the great and terrible subject which an hour ago had filled her whole horizon. Liverpool, the great city, was drawing her, as though it was the voice of Will himself. She rose, brushed out her hair, plaited it, and wound it in a great coronet round her beautiful head, washed her face and hands, wrapped her mother's shawl tidily round her, and ran downstairs.

At the door she met Jenny.

"Good-bye, dear," she said in a gentle tone. And she stooped and kissed the little round-faced girl.

"Why, Bet, are you mad?" said Jenny. "Where are you going? How spry you look! And your eyes are so bright! Oh, Bet, Bet! have you come to your senses? Are you going to break your promise to Dent?"

"It is not that," said Bet. "I'll be here tomorrow morn. I won't fail Isaac. I'll see you again to-morrow morning, Jenny, but I must go to Liverpool to-night. My heart draws me-I must go. Good-bye, Jenny-good-bye, dear."

Jenny looked after the tall, stately figure.

"Well, this is a rum go," she muttered. "And ef she don't hurry she'll be late. The last train goes at eight o'clock-she'll lose it ef she don't run."

But Bet did not lose the train.

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