A GIRL OF THE PEOPLE
L. T. MEADE
"You have kept us waiting an age! Come along, Bet, do."
"She ain't going to funk it, surely!"
"No, no, not she,—she's a good 'un, Bet is,—come along, Bet. Joe Wilkins is waiting for us round the corner, and he says Sam is to be there, and Jimmy, and Hester Wright: do come along, now."
"Will Hester Wright sing?" suddenly demanded the girl who was being assailed by all these remarks.
"Yes, tip-top, a new song from one of the music halls in London. Now then, be you coming or not, Bet?"
"No, no, she's funking it," suddenly called out a dancing little sprite of a newspaper girl. She came up close to Bet as she spoke, and shook a dirty hand in her face, and gazed up at her with two mirthful, teasing, wicked black eyes. "Bet's funking it,—she's a mammy's girl,—she's tied to her mammy's apron-strings, he-he-he!"
The other girls all joined in the laugh; and Bet, who was standing stolid and straight in the centre of the group, first flushed angrily, then turned pale and bit her lips.
"I ain't funking," she said; "nobody can ever say as there's any funk about me,—there's my share. Good-night."
She tossed a shilling on to the pavement, and before the astonished girls could intercept her, turned on her heel and marched away.
A mocking laugh or two floated after her on the night air, then the black-eyed girl picked up the shilling, said Bet was a "good 'un, though she wor that contrairy," and the whole party set off singing and shouting, up the narrow street of this particular Liverpool slum.
Bet, when she left her companions, walked quickly in the direction of the docks; the pallor still continued on her brown cheeks, and a dazed expression filled her heavy eyes.
"They clinched it when they said I wor a mammy's girl," she muttered. "There ain't no funk in me, but there was a look about mother this morning that I couldn't a-bear. No, I ain't a mammy's girl, not I. There was never nought so good about me, and I have give away my last shilling,—flung it into the gutter. Well, never mind. I ain't tied to nobody's apron-strings—no, not I. Wish I wor, wish I wor."
She walked on, not too fast, holding herself very stiff and erect now. She was a tall girl, made on a large and generous scale, her head was well set on a pair of shapely shoulders, and her coils of red-brown hair were twisted tightly round her massive head.
"Bet," said a young lad, as he rushed up the street—"ha-ha, handsome Bet, give us a kiss, will ye?"
Bet rewarded him with a smart cuff across his face, and marched on, more defiant than ever.
As she paused at a certain door a sweet-looking girl with a white face, dressed in the garb of a Sister, came out.
"Ah, Elizabeth, I am glad you have arrived," she said. "I have just left your mother; she has been crying for you, and—and—she is very ill indeed."
"Oh, I know that, Sister Mary; let me go upstairs now."
Bet pushed past the girl almost rudely, and ascended the dark rickety stairs with a light step. Her head was held very far back, and in her eyes there was a curious mixture of defiance, softness and despair. Two little boys, with the same reddish-brown hair as hers, were playing noisily on the fourth landing. They made a rush at Bet when they saw her, climbed up her like little cats, and half strangled her with their thin half-naked arms.
"Bet, Bet, I say, mother's awful bad. Bet, speak to Nat; he stole my marble, he did. Fie on you, Cap'n; you shouldn't have done it."
"I like that!" shouted the ragged boy addressed as "Cap'n." "You took it from me first, you know you did, Gen'ral."
"If mother's bad, you shouldn't make a noise," said Bet, flinging the two little boys away, with no particular gentleness. "There, of course I'll kiss you, Gen'ral—poor little lad. Go down now and play on the next landing, and keep quiet for the next ten minutes if it's in you."
"Bet," whispered the youngest boy, who was known as "Cap'n," "shall I tell yer what mother did this morning?"
"No, no; I don't want to hear—go downstairs and keep quiet, do."
"Oh, yer'll be in such a steaming rage! She burnt yer book, yer Jane Eyre as yer wor reading—lor, it were fine—the bit as you read to the Gen'ral and me, but she said as it wor a hell-fire book, and she burnt it—I seed her, and so did the Gen'ral—she pushed it between the bars with the poker. She got up in her night-things to do it, and then she got back to bed again, and she panted for nearly an hour after—didn't she, Gen'ral?"
"Yes—yes—come along, come along. Look at Bet! she's going to strike some 'un—look at her; didn't we say as she'd be in a steaming rage. Come, Cap'n."
The little boys scuttled downstairs, shouting and tumbling over one another in their flight. Bet stood perfectly still on the landing. The boys were right when they said she would be in a rage; her heart beat heavily, her face was white, and for an instant she pressed her forehead against the door of her mother's room and clenched her teeth.
The book burnt! the poor book which had given her pleasure, and which she had saved up her pence to buy—the book which had drawn her out of herself, and made her forget her wretched surroundings, committed to the flames—ignominiously destroyed, and called bad names, too. How dared her mother do it? how dared she? The girls were right when they said she was tied to apron-strings—she was, she was! But she would bear it no longer. She would show her mother that she would submit to no leading—that she, Elizabeth Granger, the handsomest newspaper girl in Liverpool, was a woman, and her own mistress.
"She oughtn't to have done it," half-groaned Bet "The poor book! And I'll never know now what's come to Jane and Rochester—I'll never know. It cuts me to the quick. Mother oughtn't to take pleasure from one like that, but it's all of a piece. Well, I'll go in and say 'good night' to her, and then I'll go back to the girls. I'm sorry I've lost my evening's spree, but I can hear Hester Wright sing, leastways; and mebbe she'll let me walk home with her."
With one hand Bet brushed something like moisture from her eyes; with the other she opened the door of her mother's room, and went in. Her entrance was noisy, and as she stood on the threshold her expression was defiant. Then all in a second the girl's face changed; a soft, troubled, hungry look filled her eyes; she glided forward without even making the boards creak. In Bet's absence the room had undergone a transformation. A bright fire burned in a carefully polished grate; in front of the hearth a thick knitted rug was placed; the floor was tidy, the two or three rickety chairs were in order, the wooden mantel-piece was free of dust. Over her mother's bed a soft crimson counterpane was thrown, and her mother, half sitting up, rested her white face against the snowy pillows. A little table stood near the bedside, which contained some cordial in a glass. The sick woman's long thin hands lay outside the crimson counterpane, and her eyes, dark and wistful, were turned in the direction of the door. Bet went straight up to the bed: the transformation in the room was nothing to her; she saw it, and guessed quickly that Sister Mary had done it; but the look, the changed look on her mother's face, was everything. She forgot her own wrongs and the burnt book; her heart was filled with a wild fear, a dreary sense of coming desolation seized her, and clasping her mother's long thin fingers in her own brown strong hands, she bent down and whispered in a husky voice,
The woman looked up and smiled.
"You've come back, Bet?" she said. "Give me a drop of the cordial. I'm glad you've come back. I thought it might have been the will of Him who knows best that I should die without seeing of you again, Elizabeth."
"Oh, no, mother—of course I've come back. I hurried home. I didn't stay for nobody. How nice the room looks, mother—and the kettle boils. I'll make you a cup o' tea."
"No, Bet, I don't want it; stoop down, and look at me. Bet, look me in the eyes—oh, my girl, my girl!"
Bet gazed unflinchingly at her mother. The two faces were somewhat alike—the same red gleam in the brown eyes, the same touch of red on the abundant hair; but one face was tired, worn out, and the other was fresh and full and plump. Both faces had certain lines of hardness, certain indications of stormy, troublous souls looking through the eyes, and speaking on the lips.
"I'm going to die, Bet; Fin going back to the good God," panted Mrs. Granger." he doctor have been, and he says mebbe it'll last till morning, mebbe not. I'm going back to Him as knows best,—it's a rare sight of good fortune for me, ain't it?"
"I don't believe you're going to die," said Bet. She spoke harshly, in an effort to subdue the emotion which was making her tremble all over. "Doctors are allays a-frightening folks. Have a cup o' tea, mother?"
"It don't frighten me, Bet," said Mrs. Granger. "I'm going away, and He's coming to fetch me; I ain't afeard. I never seemed more of a poor sort of a body than I do to-night, but somehow I ain't afeard. When He comes He'll be good—I know He'll be good to me."
"Oh, you're ready fast enough, mother," said Bet, with some bitterness. "No one has less call to talk humble than you, mother. You was allays all for good, as you calls it."
"I was reg'lar at church, and I did my dooty," answered Mrs. Granger. "But somehow I feels poor and humble to-night. Mebbe I didn't go the right way to make you think well on religion, Bet. Mebbe I didn't do nothing right—only I tried, I tried."
There was a piteous note in the voice, and a quivering of the thin austere lips, which came to Bet as a revelation. Her own trembling increased violently; she threw herself down by the bedside and sobs shook her.
"Mother, mother, it have all been hateful, hateful," she moaned. "And oh, mother, why did you burn my book?"
There was no answer. The white thin hand rested with a certain tremble on the girl's thick hair.
"Why did you burn my book, that gave me pleasure, mother?" said Bet, raising her head, and speaking with her old defiance.
"I thought," began Mrs. Granger,—"mebbe I did wrong,—mebbe I were too 'ard. Him that knows best will forgive me."
"Oh, mother, mother! I forgive you from the bottom of my heart."
Bet took one of the thin hands, and covered it with passionate kisses.
"I ain't good," she said, "and I don't want to die. It floors me, mother, how you can be glad to go down into the grave and stay there— ugh!"
"I ain't going to stay there," replied the dying woman, in a faint though confident voice.
She was silent then for a few moments, but there was a shining, satisfied light in her eyes; and her lips opened once or twice, as if to speak. Bet held one of her hands firmly, and her own eager hungry eyes never stirred from the dying, tired-out face.
"You'll make me a bit of promise afore I go?"
"A promise, mother?"
"Yes, a promise. Oh, Bet, a promise from you means an awful lot. You don't break your word. You're as strong as strong,—and if you promise me this, you'll be splendid—you'll be—give me a drop of the cordial, child,—you'll be—I have been praying about it all day, I have been saying, 'Lord, send Bet in gentle-like, and trackable-like, and with no anger nourished in her heart, and, and,—another sip, child—the breath's short—I—you'll make me the promise, won't you, child?"
"Oh yes, poor mother, if I can!"
"Yes, you can; and it'll be so splendid. There, I'm stronger, now. Him as knows has given me the strength. Why, you're me over again, Bet, but you're twice as grand as me. You're me without my frets, and my contrariness. Fancy, Bet, what you'd be in this 'ere place ef you made that promise. Why, strong?—strong 'ud be no word for it! You, with never your temper let out like a raging lion! There'd be no one as could stand agen you, Bet. Your father,—why your father 'd give up the bad ways and the drink. And the little boys,—the little boys,—oh, Bet, Bet, ef you'd only make the promise it 'ud save them all from hell-fire."
"I'll do what I can mother. See, you're wasting all your poor breath. I'll do what I can. You say it all out, and don't tremble so, poor mother."
"Hold my hands, then, child; look me in the face, say the words after me—oh, my poor breath, my poor breath—God give me strength just to say the words. Bet, you hear. Bet, say them after me—'From this moment out I promise to take up with religion, so help me, Lord God Almighty!'"
The woman said the words eagerly, with sudden and intense fire and passion; her whole soul was in them—her dying hands hurt the girl with the firmness of their grip.
"Bet, Bet—you hain't spoke—you hain't spoke!"
"No, no, mother—I can't—not them words—no, mother."
Bet sat down again by the side of the bed; her face was buried in the crimson counterpane; a dry moan or two escaped her lips.
"I'd do anything for mother—anything now as she's really going away, but I couldn't take up with religion," she sobbed. "Oh, it's a mistake—all a mistake, and it ain't meant for one like me. Why, I, if I were religious—why, I'd have to turn into a hypocrite—why,— I—I'd scorn myself. Yes, mother, what are you saying? Yes, mother, I'd do anything to make your death-bed easy—anything but this."
Bet had fancied she had heard her mother speaking; the perfect stillness now alarmed her far more than any words, and she lifted her head with a start. Mrs. Granger was lying motionless, but she was neither dead nor had she fainted. Her restless hands were quiet, and her worn-out face, although it looked deadly pale, was peaceful. Here eyes looked a little upwards, and in them there was a contented smile. Bet saw the look, and nothing in all the world could have horrified her more. Her mother, who thought religion beyond anything else, had just heard her say that never, never, even to smooth a dying pillow, could she, Bet, take up with the ways of the religious; and yet her eyes smiled and she looked content.
"Mother, you don't even care," said Bet, in an anguish of pain and inconsistency.
"O, yes, child, I care; but I seem to hear Him as knows best saying 'Leave it to me.' I ain't fretting, child; I has come to a place where no one frets, and you're either all in despair, or you're as still and calm and happy"—here she broke off abruptly. "Bet, I want yer to be good to the little boys—to stand atween them and their father, and not to larn them no bad ways They're wild little chaps, and they take to the bad as easy as easy; but you can do whatever yer likes with them. Your father, he don't care for nobody, and he'd do them an ill turn; but you'll stand atween them and him—d'ye hear, Bet?"
"Yes, mother—I'll make a promise about that, if you like."
"No, no; you never broke your word, and saying it once'll content me."
"Mother," said Bet, suddenly. "Mebbe you'd like the little chaps to turn religious. As you've allays set such a deal of store on prayers and sich like, mebbe you'd like it for them?"
"Oh, yes, Bet—oh, my poor gel, has the Lord seen fit to soften yer hard heart?"
"Look here, mother,"—here the tall, splendidly-made girl stood up, and throwing back her head, and with the firelight full on her face, and reflecting a new, strange expression of excitement, she spoke suddenly: "I can't promise the other, but I'll promise this. The little boys' lives shall come afore my life—harm shall come to me afore it touches them; and ef religion can do anything for them, why, they shall hear of it and choose for themselves. There, I have promised."
MRS. Granger lingered all through that night, but she scarcely said anything more, and in the cold dawn of the morning her spirit passed very quietly away. The two little boys opened the room door noisily at midnight, but they too were impressed, as Bet had been, by the unusual order and appearance of comfort of the room. Perhaps they were also startled by the girl's still figure crouching by the bedside, and by the look on their mother's face as she lay with her eyes closed, breathing hard and fast. They ceased to talk noisily, and crept over to a straw mattress on the floor which they shared together. When they next opened their eyes they were motherless.
Mrs. Granger died between five and six in the morning; and when the breath had quite left her body Bet arose, stretched herself,—for she was quite stiff from sitting so long in one position,—and going downstairs, woke a neighbor who occupied a room on the next floor.
"Mrs. Bennett, my mother is dead; can you take care of the Cap'n and the Gen'ral this morning? I'll pay you for it when I sell my papers to-night."
Mrs. Bennett was a wrinkled old woman of about sixty-five. She was deeply interested in tales of death and calamity, and instantly offered not only to do what she could for the boys, but to go upstairs and assist in the laying out of the dead woman.
"No, no; I'll do what's wanted myself," replied Bet; "ef you'll take the boys I'll bring them down asleep as they are, and I'll be ever so much obligated. No, don't come upstairs, please. Father'll be in presently, and then him and me and mother must be alone; for I've a word to say to father, and no one must hear me."
Bet went back to the room where her mother had died. She was very tired, and her limbs were stiff and ached badly after the long night's vigil she had gone through. No particular or overwhelming grief oppressed her. On the whole, she had loved her mother better than any other human being; but the time for grief, and the awful sense of not having her to turn to, had not yet arrived; she was only conscious of a very solemn promise made, and of an overpowering sense of weariness. She lay down on the bed beside the dead woman, and fell into a sound and dreamless slumber.
In about an hour's time noisy steps were heard ascending the stairs. The littleboys, cuddling close to one another in Mrs. Bennett's bed, heard them, and clasped each other's hands in alarm; but Bet sound, very sound, asleep did not know when her father reeled into the room. He had been out all night—a common practice of his—and he ought to have been fairly sober now, for the public-houses had been shut for many hours, but a boon companion had taken him home for a private carouse. He was more tipsy than he had ever been known to be at that hour of the morning, and consequently more savage. He entered the room where his dead wife and his young daughter lay, cursing and muttering,—a bad man every inch of him—terrible just then in his savage imbecility.
"Bet," he said, "Bet, get up. Martha, I want my cup of tea. Get it for me at once—I say, at once! I'm an hour late now for the docks, and Jim Targent will get my job. I must have my tea,—my head's reeling! Get up, Martha, or I'll kick you!"
"I'll get you the tea, father," said Bet.
She had risen instantly at the sound of his voice. "Set down in that chair and keep still; keep still, I say—you'd better."
She pushed him on to a hard wooden chair, shaking him not a little as she did so.
"There, I'll put the kettle on and make the tea for you—not that I'll ever do it again—no, never, as long as I live. There, you'd better set quiet, or not one drop shall pass your lips."
"Why don't the woman get it for me?" growled Granger. "I didn't mean you to be awoke, Bet. Young gels must have their slumber out. Why don't the woman see to her duty?"
"She has done her duty, father. You set still, and you shall have the tea presently."
The man glared at his daughter with his bloodshot eyes. She had been up all night, and her hair was tossed, and her eyes smarted; but beside him she looked so fresh, so upright, so brave and strong, that he himself in some undefinable way felt the contrast, and shrank from her. He turned his uneasy gaze towards the bed; he would vent his spite on that weak wife of his—Martha should know what it was to keep a man with a splitting headache waiting for his tea. He made an effort to rise, and to approach the bed, but Bet forestalled him.
"Set you there, or you'll drink no tea in this house," she said; and then, taking a shawl, she threw it over an old clothes-screen, and placed it between Granger and his dead wife.
The kettle boiled at last, the tea was made strong ang good, and Bet took a cup to her father. He drained it off at one long draught, and held out his shaking hand to have the cup refilled. Bet supplied him with a second draught, then she placed her hand with the air of a professional nurse on his wrist.
"You're better now, father."
"That I am, gel, and thank you. You're by no means a bad sort, Bet— worth twenty of her, I can tell you."
"Leave her out of the question, if you please, father, or you'll get no help from me. You'd like to wash your face, mebbe?"
"Yes, yes, with cold water. Give me your hand, child, and I'll get up."
"Set you still—I'll fetch the water."
She brought it in a tin pail, with a piece of flannel and soap and a coarse towel.
"Now, wash—wash and make yourself as clean as you can—for you has got to see summut—leastways you can take the outside dirt away; there, make yourself clean while I lets the daylight in."
The man washed and laved himself. He was becoming gradually sober, and Bet's words had a subduing effect; he looked after her with a certain maudlin admiration, as she drew up the blind, and let the uncertain daylight into the poor little room. Then she went behind the screen, and he heard her for a moment or two moving about. He dried his face and hands and hair and was standing up, looking comparatively fresh and another man, when she returned to him.
"You're not a bad sort of a gel," he said, attempting to chuck her under the chin, only she drew away from him. "You know what a man wants, and you get it for him and don't hurl no ugly words in his face. Well, I'm off to the docks now. I'll let the old 'ooman sleep on, this once, and tell her what I think on her, and how much more I set store by that daughter of hers, tonight."
"You'll let her sleep on, will you?" said Bet.
Her tone was queer and constrained; even her father noticed it.
"She is asleep now; come and look at her; you may wake her if you can."
"No, no, gel; let me get off—Jim Targent will get my berth unless I look sharp. Let me be, Bet—your mother can sleep her fill this morning,"
"Come and look at her, father; come—you must."
She took his hand—she was very strong—stronger than him at that moment, for his legs were not steady, and even now he was scarcely sober.
"I don't want to see an old 'ooman asleep," he muttered, but he let the strong hand lead him forward. Bet pushed back the screen, and drew him close to the bed.
"Wake her if you can," she said, and her eyes blazed into his.
Granger looked. There was no mistaking what he saw.
"My God!" he murmured. "Bet, you shouldn't have done it—you shouldn't have broke it to me like this!"
He trembled all over.
"Martha dead! Let me get away. I hate dead people."
"Put your hand on her forehead, father. See, she couldn't have got your tea for you. It were no fault of her'n—you beat her, and you kicked her, and you made life awful for her; but you couldn't hurt her this morning; she's above you now, you can't touch her now."
"Let me go, Bet—you're an awful girl—you had no call to give me a turn like this. No, I won't touch her, and you can't force me. I'm going out—I won't stay in this room. I'm going down to the docks—I mustn't lose my work. What do you say—that I shan't go? Where will you all be if I don't arn your bread for you?"
"Set down there on the side of the bed, father. I'll keep you five minutes and no more. You needn't be all in a tremble—you needn't be showing of the white feather. Bless you, she never could hurt you less than she does now. Set there, and look at her face. I've a word or two to say, and I can only say it with you looking at her dead face. Then you can go down to the docks, and stay there for always as far as it matters to me."
She pushed the man on to the bed. He could see the white, still face of his dead wife. The tired look had left it; the wrinkles had almost disappeared. Martha Granger looked twenty years younger than she had done yesterday.
Around the closed eyelids, around the softly smiling mouth, lay an awful peace and grandeur. The drunken husband looked at the wife whom he had abused, whose days he had rendered one long misery, and a lump arose in his throat; a queer new sensation, which he could not recognize as either remorse or repentance, filled his breast. He no longer opposed Bet; he gazed fixedly, with a stricken stare, at the dead woman.
"Speak, gel; say what you have to say," he muttered.
"It's only a word or two, father—It's just this. Mother's dead, and in a day or two she'll be buried. You worn't there to bid her good-bye, and it ain't likely you'll ever meet her again, unless that's true about the Judgment Day. Maybe it is true, and maybe mother will tell God some ugly things about you then, father. Maybe you'll see her then for a minute or two—I can't say."
"Don't," said Granger. "You're awful when you likes, Bet. You has me down, and you tramples on me. You're a cruel gel, and no mistake."
A derisive smile came to Bet's face.
"Mother's dead and she'll be buried," she continued, in a dry, monotonous voice. "The money is in the burying club for her, and she can be laid in the grave decent like. Then me and the boys, Nat and Thady, we're going away. I wanted to say that—I wanted to say that your ways aren't our ways, and so we'd best part company; and I wanted to say here, with you looking at mother's dead face, and her smiling back at you so awful and still, and the good God, if there is a God, listening, that I has promised mother that the boys Nat and Thady—the Cap'n and Gen'ral, as they're called here—shan't larn your ways, which are bad past belief; so when mother's buried, we're going away. That's all. You can go to the docks, now."
As Bet spoke she took a little white soft handkerchief, and laid it gently over her mother's face.
"You can go now," she repeated, and she opened the door for the man, who slunk out of the room. He was half-sober, half-stupefied. A burning rage, which was neither remorse nor repentance, and yet was a mixture of both, surged up in his heart. He said to himself, that he was sorry for Martha, who was dead, and quite beyond his reach any more; but he hated Bet, for she had humbled him and dared to defy him.
In Liverpool there are, perhaps more than in any town in the world, all sorts and conditions of men. The very wealthy and the very poor are to be found within its precincts—also the very good and the very bad. Its slums are black and awful; but it also contains some of the finest public buildings, some of the most massive and comfortable houses, and without any exception the largest and greatest docks, in the world. All nationalities come to Liverpool. It sees life from beyond the seas, it has a population of people always coming and going— Americans who go to the theatre in London and arrive in Liverpool about three in the morning, on their return to their own country; Irishmen, Scotchmen, dwellers in Africa; in fact, people from all parts of the civilized world find their way to Liverpool, to return from thence by way of the sea to their native lands. On certain days in the week the hotels and lodging-houses are packed to overflowing; the different piers present scenes of activity and bustle; the great ships come and go, and the people come and go with them—Liverpool is passed through and forgotten.
That is the case with those fleeting crowds who so largely contribute to its trade and prosperity; but the habitue' of Liverpool, the man who spends his days there, is a totally different order of being. The stranger sees the great city most generally through mist and fog; he regards the pavements as rough and slippery; he thinks the public buildings large, but ugly. Liverpool to him is another London, but without London's attractions. But the true Liverpool man looks at his native town from a very different point of view. He is part and parcel of the place, and he loves it for its size and ugliness, its great commerce, its thriving active business life. Liverpool to its citizens means home; they are proud of their laws and their customs; they like to dispense charity in their own way; they like to support and help their own poor; they have, to an extent absolutely unknown in London, the true spirit of neighborliness. This spirit is shared by all alike, the rich and the poor feel it, and it binds them together; they regard their town as the world, and look askance at inventions and ideas imported from other places. There are bad slums in Liverpool, and wicked deeds committed, and cruel rough men to be found in multitudes; but the evil there compared to London seems at least to be conquerable—the slums can be got at; nobody who chooses to apply in the right quarter need die of famine or distress.
Most of the men are dock-laborers; they are often taken on only for half a day at a time, and in this way their work is precarious, and, except for the most steady-going and respectable, at many periods of the year very hard to get. Almost all the men either work at the docks, or take to a sea-faring life. Thus sailors are coming and going, and there is scarcely a family belonging either to high or low who has not a son, a brother, or a father on the sea. Perhaps this is one of the facts which binds the people to one another—the rich lady in her carriage, and the poor starved, gaunt woman who lives in one room up many pairs of stairs in a dismal back slum, look alike out on the waters of the Mersey for the boy who may come back any day with the taste of the sea about him.
The Liverpool boy has his work cut out for him; those who wish to belong emphatically to the place of their birth, either earn what they can at the docks or go to sea. They need never debate as to their profession or their calling in life; it is cut out for them—it lies at their feet with that sea which is brought by the ships to their very doors.
But the Liverpool girl—that is, the girl of the people—is not so fortunate. She has no special work provided for her; she is not like the Manchester girl, who is as certain to go into the factory as she is to eat and drink—there are scarcely any factories in Liverpool, and a very tiny proportion of girls find work there.
Domestic service is hated by the Liverpool lass. At one time, when forced by necessity to adopt this means of earning her bread, she made a stipulation that she should at least sleep at home—that her evenings from seven o'clock out should be her own. Now that this rule is no longer allowed, domestic service is held in less esteem than ever, and only the most sensible girls dream of availing themselves of its comforts.
While the boys, therefore, are earning and striking out independent paths for themselves, the girls are under difficulties. They must earn money; for life is not too easy to live in their native place, and each must bring in his or her small portion of help to the family purse; but how, is the difficulty. Some hawk fruit and vegetables, doing a fairly brisk trade on Saturdays, and even on Sunday mornings; but the most favored Liverpool girls earn their daily bread by selling newspapers night after night in the streets. A good-looking girl will secure her regular customers, have her own regular and undisturbed beat, and will often earn from tenpence to a shilling a night; but the newspaper beats have to be bought, and often at a high figure, for competition is very keen, and the coveted corners where the greater number of gentlemen are to be met that require evening papers are highly prized.
Bet Granger had been a newspaper girl for a couple of years now; her mother had saved up money to buy her beat for her; it was one of the best in the town, and she was always so trim and neat, so comely and pleasant-looking, and her papers so clean and crisp and neatly cut, that she did a fair trade, and largely helped to support her mother and little brothers. Her trade occupied her for a couple of hours every evening. In the morning, as the mood took her, she helped her mother with plain needlework—Mrs. Granger worked for a wholesale shop at the usual shop prices—or she went down to the docks.
Every Liverpool girl is fond of watching the ships as they come in or go out; they connect her with the outer life, with the far-away world—they give her a pleasing and ever-recurring sense of excitement and exhilaration; but, as a rule, they never implant in her breast that fever to be off and away which so soon affects the Liverpool boy.
Bet liked to watch the ships. She would stand erect and almost haughty in her bearing, often quite close to the edge of the quays, speaking very few words, and making scarcely any acquaintances, but thinking many strange and undefined thoughts in her untutored heart.
The Grangers did not belong to the lowest of the people. Granger was a clever workman. He was seldom out of employment; for although he drank away his earnings, and gave no thought whatever to the comfort of his wife and children, he was sober and steady by day. He had a clever, shrewd head, as yet unaffected by drink, and he did the work allotted to him in a superior manner to most of his class.
When first they were married, he and his wife had two bright, cheery rooms. They were well furnished, and things promised brightly for the couple. Granger, however, was the son of a drunkard, and the sins of the father were soon to be abundantly visited on him. Mrs. Granger meant well, but her religion was not of an inspiriting kind. Whenever she saw her husband the worse for drink she reproached him, and spoke to him about hell-fire. He soon ceased to care for her; and even when Bet was a tiny child she scarcely ever remembered an evening which did not find her mother in tears, and her father returning home, having taken a great deal more than was good for him.
Years went by; children were born, only to live for a day or two and to pass away. Mrs. Granger became more broken-down and unhappy-looking every year, and Bet grew into a tall, comely girl. She was not particularly gentle, nor particularly amiable, and she had the worst possible training for such a nature as hers; but nevertheless she had a certain nobility about her. For instance, no one had ever heard Elizabeth Granger tell a lie. She was proud of her truthfulness, which was simply the result of courage. She was afraid of no one, and no circumstance had ever caused her cheek to blanch with fear. She quickly acquired a name for truth and honesty of purpose, and then pride helped her to live up to her character. She was not very quick to give promises, but she often boasted that, once she gave one, nothing would ever induce her to break it. She was very fiery and hot-tempered, but as a rule she did not fly out about trifles, and there was a certain grandeur about her nature which accorded well with her fine physique and upright bearing.
Bet was an only child for several years. It is true that many little brothers and sisters had been carried away to the cemetery, but none lived until two puny boys put in so feeble an appearance that the neighbors thought the miserable thing called life could not exist in their tiny persons more than a day or two. They were twins, and Mrs. Granger nearly died when she gave them birth. The neighbors said that it would be a good thing if the broken-down mother and the babes that nobody wanted all went away together.
"There's a deal too many children in the world," they said; "it would be good if they was took, poor lambs."
But here Bet, who overheard the words, gave way to one of her bursts of fury. She turned the offending but well-disposed neighbors out of the room; she locked the door, and kneeling down by the babies, gave them a perfect baptism of tears and kisses.
"Who says as they're not wanted?" she sobbed. "I want 'em—I'm allays a-wanting something, and maybe they'll fill my heart."
From this moment she constituted herself the babies' devoted nurse; and so, after a fashion, they throve, and did not die.
The darker the times grew for Mrs. Granger the more she clung to her religion. She had a real belief, a real although dim faith. The belief supported her tottering steps, and the faith kept her worn spirit from utterly fainting; but they did nothing to illumine or render happy the lives of those about her. She believed intensely in a God who punished. He saved—she knew He saved—but only through fire. In the dark winter evenings she poured out her stern thoughts, her unlovely ideas, into the ears of her young daughter. As a child Bet listened in terror; as a woman she simply ceased to believe.
"Ef God were like that, she'd have nought to do with Him,"—this was her thought of thoughts. She refused to accompany her mother to chapel on Sundays; she left the room when the Bible was read aloud; she made one or two friends for herself, and these friends were certainly not of her mother's choosing. She could read, and she loved novels—indeed, she would devour books of any kind, but she had to hide them from her mother, who thought it her duty, as she valued her daughter's immortal soul, to commit them to the flames.
The mother loved the girl, and never ceased to wrestle in prayer for her, and to believe she would shine as a jewel in her crown some day; and the girl also cared for the mother, respecting her stern sense of duty, admiring the length of her prayers, wondering at her ceaseless devotion; but both were outwardly hard to the other, showing no softness, and speaking of no love.
All Bet's up-bringing was hardening; and but for the presence of the boys she might have wondered if she possessed any heart at all.
She was nineteen when her mother suddenly broke down completely in health, and after the shortest of illnesses—too short to alarm anyone, too short for even the word danger to be whispered—closed her eyes on this world, leaving Bet in a state of bewildered and impotent rage.
There was no longer the faintest doubt in her orphaned heart that she loved her mother.
Bet wept silently for the greater part of the day which saw her motherless, but in the evening she went out as usual to sell her papers. Her eyes were swollen from the heavy and constant tears she shed, but she had neatly plaited her hair and wound it round her comely head, and she carried herself with even a little more defiance than usual. She was miserable to-night, and she felt that the whole world was against her.
The night, for the time of year was November, was quite in accordance with her feelings. It was damp, a drizzling mist was blown into her face, and the pavements were slippery with that peculiar Liverpool mud which exceeds even London mud in slipperiness. Bet's beat, however, was brightly lighted; there was a public-house at one corner, and a little further up were two gentlemen's clubs. All were brilliant with gaslight, and the girl, wrapping her shawl about her—she wore no hat or bonnet—took her accustomed stand. She always avoided the public-house—not because she feared its tipsy inhabitants, but because she knew no sale for her wares lay there. Her favorite stand was under a lamp post, close to the largest of the clubs. The light of the lamp fell full on her face and figure, and shone on the evening papers which she offered for sale. Her customers came up as usual, bought what they required of her, one or two giving her a careless and some a friendly "good-evening." No one noticed her pallid cheeks, nor the heavy depths of trouble in her red-brown eyes. Her luck, however, was good, and she had almost sold all her little stock of papers, when a vibrating and rather peculiar voice at her elbow caused her to start and turn quickly.
"Is that you, Hester Wright?" she said, speaking in an almost pettish voice. "Well, I can't go with you to-night, no how; I'm off home this minute."
"Why, Bet, is yer mother took worse?" asked the voice. It vibrated again, and two sweet though rather wild-looking eyes gazed full into Bet's tired, white face.
"Mother," said the girl. She made a valiant struggle, but no more words would come.
After about a moment she spoke in a strained and totally altered voice:
"Let me be for to-night, Hester. I've sold my papers, and I'm going home."
"No, you're not, honey; you're coming along o' me. Don't I see as yer white with the grief, and half distraught like. There, I'm alone tonight, unless Will should drop in; come and have a cup o' tea with me, Bet."
"My mother's dead, Hester," said Bet. She could speak without effort now, but the tears were raining down her cheeks.
"Poor lamb! Dead? Well, I thought as the blow would come. You come home with me, Elizabeth. Maybe I'll sing something to you."
At this proposition Bet changed color.
"I'm starved for that voice of yours, Hester," she said. And then she put her hand through her companion's arm, and they walked off at a quiet pace together. Hester was as tall as Bet, and about ten years her senior. She was very slender, and carried herself well; her eyes were dark and beautiful, otherwise she had a queer, irregularly formed face. Her jet-black hair grew low on her forehead, and when she smiled, which she only did occasionally, she showed the gleam of very white teeth. No one called Hester Wright handsome, but few women of her class in Liverpool had a wider influence. She had a peculiar voice, rather deep set, and, at least in speaking, only admitting of a limited range of compass; but every word spoken by her was so nicely adjusted, so carefully modulated, that the simplest and most ill-formed sentence acquired a rude eloquence. This was her speaking voice. When she sang, it rose into power; it was then a deep contralto, utterly untaught, but free and easy as the notes of a bird. Hester could do what she liked with men and women when she sang to them, and she knew her power. In her own circle she was more or less of a queen, and although she was no better and no richer than the poorest of the Liverpool girls, yet her smallest word of approbation was treasured almost as if it had been a royal gift. She had a great insight into character; she had large tact, and she was also affectionate.
Bet in her heart of hearts had a boundless admiration for this woman, and she felt a sense of comfort stealing over her as they walked quickly through the wet, slippery streets side by side.
Hester lived in a little room, which she managed to keep fairly neat and clean, quite close to the docks. In the daytime you could see the masts of the tall ships from her window, and the language of the sailors and the many shouts of the workers on the quays could be borne into her room on the breeze. Now the window was curtained, and a little fire shed a cheerful reflection on the dingy walls. Hester stirred the fire, threw on an additional lump or two of coal, and drawing a three-legged stool forward for Bet, motioned to her to seat herself. The room was fairly warm, and Bet was glad to dry her damp dress, and to spread out her hands before the cheerful blaze. As Hester bustled about, and laid a tiny table with plates for three, she gradually drew from Bet a little of the story of last night.
"I have promised," said Bet, in conclusion, "to keep the two littl'uns safe—that's my work now, and I told father this morning what he wor to expect."
"And how did he take it, honey?" said Hester. "He knew you, Bet. He knew as you weren't a girl to say one thing and mean another."
"Yes, he knew that," answered Bet. "Most folks know that of me," she continued, with a heavy sigh.
"Well, have some tea now, honey—draw up to the table. The butter's good, and the red-herring done to a turn. I expected Will Scarlett in, but we won't wait for him. Ah! here he is—just in the nick o' time."
The door was opened, and a young sailor, with a certain resemblance to Hester both in face and figure, stepped across the threshold. He colored up under his brown skin when he saw Bet, but she scarcely noticed him, and gave him her hand in limp fashion, her eves hardly raised.
"My ship sails to-morrow, Hester," he said, "the 'Good Queen Anne,'— I've got a rattling good berth this time, and no mistake."
He tossed off his cap as he spoke, again glanced at Bet with a certain shyness, and then dropped into the seat opposite to her.
"Help yourself, Will," said Hester. "Bet's in a bit o' trouble—you mustn't mind her; she wor telling me things, and she'll have a hard fight afore her, I can see. Well, I say she must keep up heart. Have some tea, honey? Will, don't you make two mouths of a cherry—put the whole of that herring on your plate—there are more in the bag for me to toast when this is finished."
"I can't eat, Hester—it's no use," said Bet.
She rose from the table, and went back once more to the little three- legged stool by the fire. Then she turned her back on Hester and the young sailor, and went on spreading out her hands to the warmth, as though she could never take the chill off.
"Don't mind her," whispered Hester to her cousin. "She's taking it hard, and I didn't know as it were in her. But presently she'll cry, and that'll bring her round. You tell me what your prospects are, Will. I'm loathe to part with ye, lad, and that's the truth."
"I'll be back by the summer, Hetty. We're going to Africa and back. I'm to be well paid, and it's a good ship to sail in. The cap'n ain't one of your rough and ready, and the rations are fair."
As he spoke he glanced again at Bet, who was leaning her cheek on her hand. Neither he nor Hester could catch any reflection of her face, which was completely hidden.
"We'll talk to her presently," whispered the elder woman. "Now push the table aside, Will, and let's have a sailor-song together, just for good luck."
"No, let's sing 'Barbara Allen,'" said Will. Again he glanced at Bet, and this time he sighed.
The two voices blended well, Will's being of nearly as rare a quality as his cousin's. When they sang, so great was the power of this gift bestowed upon them, they rose several degrees in the scale of refinement and even of education. Their voices lost all trace of dialect, their eyes shone with true feeling. The pathetic old words had never been more fitly rendered.
As the voices rose and swelled, and filled the little room with a perfect melody of sound, Bet ceased to sigh; her hands fell idly into her lap, and her face, which was now turned towards the singers, became filled with a sort of ecstasy. Her parted lips seemed scarcely to breathe, and her eyes reflected the emotions caused by the pathos of the story and the wonderful power of the singers like a mirror.
Will, who was watching her even more intently than Hester, now began to sing only for her. He looked directly at her; and a great many emotions surging in his own soul must have come to her just now, borne on the words of the old ballad—
When he was dead and laid in grave, Her heart was struck with sorrow. O mother, mother, make my bed, For I must die to-morrow.
Farewell, she said, ye virgins all, And shun the fault I fell in; Henceforth, take warning by the fall Of cruel Barbara Allen.
There was almost a note of warning in Will's voice. It died away with a quaver which might have been a reproach.
Bet roused herself with a shivering sigh. "Eh," she said, "she was a cruel one. That was beautiful, Hester. Better than a drink of water when you are thirsty." She raised her hand to wipe away two tears which had rolled down her cheeks.
"It seems to me," she added, "that there is nought in all the world like the music of a grand voice like yours, Hester. It's the only beautiful thing I ha' met—your voice and Will's; they are just grand and summut to be thanked for. Well, I am obliged to you both; but I must say 'goodnight' now, for it is time for me to be going."
"No, no—that you won't, honey," said Hester, bustling forward, and pushing Bet down again on to the three-legged stool. "You're better, and the ice is broke a bit, and you must just set there in that cosy corner and tell me your plans. Oh, you need not mind Will; he'll just smoke his pipe and not listen more than he need to."
"I'll go out if you like," said Will, half rising.
Bet raised her pathetic eyes to his face. "I don't mind you, Will," she said, simply. Her words sent a thrill through the young fellow's heart. He did not know that when she began to speak to Hester she almost forgot his presence.
"Yes, Hester. They ain't much of plans, but such as they be they're made. Mother will be buried come Saturday, and then the boys and me we go away. Father have had fair warning, and he knows me. I'll take the littl'uns and be the best sort of mother I can to them; father shan't have 'em. He kick'd the Cap'n last week—he shan't never do it no more. I promised mother, so there's no argufying on that point—the boys and me we must go."
"But where will you take them, honey? You must find a place where he can't follow you—he's sartin sure to do his best if he thinks you are 'arning money, and I suppose the littl'uns are insured for—same as most of the children around."
"Oh, yes," said Bet, with a short, grim laugh; "he have a price on both their lives—don't let's talk of it. He shan't find 'em—and they shall live, if only to spite him."
"But where will you take 'em, my dear? He's a bad, cruel man, but he is a rare and clever one too, and he will outwit a slip of a lass like you. If he wants the boys he can claim them, I suppose. I'm main sorry for you, Bet; but I don't see how you are to hide them—I really don't."
"I have promised mother," said Bet; "there is no use argufying on that point." Then she added, in a softer voice: "I'm going to the Irish quarter. I know a woman there who'll be a match for father, but I'd best not say her name, for if he comes questioning it is better no one should know. Now, I'll say 'good-night' Hester; thank you for bringing me home. I'm more comforted than I wor."
When Bet rose, Will knocked the ashes out of his pipe. "I'll see you home, Bet," he said; and the two went out together.
When they got out on to the docks, Will said, half slyly, "The night's quite fair; will you come with me, Bet, and I'll show you where the 'Good Queen Anne' is lying at anchor, and all as trim as possible, ready to sail to-morrow night?"
"The 'Good Queen Anne,'" repeated Bet, "that's your ship, ain't it, Will?"
"Why, of course; didn't you hear me tell Hester? I am rare and lucky, I can tell you, to have found a berth in her—good pay and good rations, and a jolly crew, and a fair-spoken captain. It ain't every fellow has the luck to find a berthlike mine. And I'll be back in the summer, Bet. It's a short voyage, and everything just to my mind. You'll wish me luck, won't you, Bet? for the sake of—well, because we used to be playmates a while back, you mind."
"A good while back," repeated Bet. "Oh, yes, I wish you luck, Will. And is that the 'Good Queen Anne?' What is the figure at her bows?"
"A girl," said Will, eagerly, "with her arms over her head and a smile on her lips. Some people say it's a sort of figure of Queen Anne, after whom the ship is named, but I don't take her to be that; and now in the moonlight—you can see her well now, Bet, in the moonlight—with the smile showing upon her lips, she looks like what I take her to be more than ever."
"And what is that, Will?"
"Hope—aye, lass, a right good hope—and luck to Will Scarlett comes in the bonny ship." Bet sighed. Will's blue eyes were looking at her in the moonlight.
"I'll go home now," she said, gently. She sighed again, and half turned away her head from her companion.
"There's a many people have things to be thankful for," she said, presently. "I ain't one of them. I think I'll wish you good-night now, Will. Good-night, and—yes, good luck." She turned away without even offering her hand, plunging suddenly down a narrow court which would lead her out into the front of the town nearest to her home.
Will hesitated for a second; then, the blood surging up into his face, and his heart beating quickly, he ran after her.
"Bet," he cried. "Bet!" He heard her footsteps hurrying faster and faster on ahead of him. Presently, hearing his step, she began to run. He raced after her; he was fleeter than she was, and caught her up by the lamp-post round the corner.
"What did you do that for?" he said to her, almost angrily. "You had no call to give me the slip in that fashion. I hadn't said my say."
"I wanted to get home," said Bet—"the boys will be waiting for their supper, and I have nothing more to talk about."
"But I have," said Will, resolutely—"just a few words, Bet; they won't take long. I made up my mind long ago, only I did not think I'd speak until I had summut to offer. Now I have nought but the name of an honest fellow—only that seems better than nothing at all. Bet, will you wed me if I can manage it afore I sail in the 'Good Queen Anne'?"
Bet looked up with an angry flash in her red-brown eyes.
"Are you mad, Will Scarlet?" she said, "My mother's lying dead, and your ship sails to-morrow night."
"No matter that. If a parson, or the registry office, or any power on God's earth, can make us man and wife to-morrow, Bet why shouldn't we be mated? You have no one in all the world to look after you. There ain't a braver nor a more lone lass in all Liverpool, and I love you with all the strength of my heart. Why shouldn't it be better for me to be your mate than to have no one to take your part, Bet? The voyage will soon be made, and I'll come back with money in my pocket, and while I'm away your father cannot do much agin you if you have wed with me."
All the time Will was talking Bet walked faster and faster. When he had done speaking, however, she had relaxed her steps. They had reached a comparatively deserted place, and, to his surprise and ecstasy, Will felt her lay a timid hand on his arm.
"But I don't love you," she said, sorrowfully.
"You wouldn't want to mate with a girl what didn't love you, Will."
Will caught her hand and held it tightly between both his own.
"There's nought that I mind, except to be a bit of use to you just now, Bet," he said. "You are the lonest lass in this city, and it would be a sight better for you to be wed to me. You ain't afeard, are you? I'll be faithful to you to my dying day, and we have known each other since we were little tots."
"Yes," said Bet, slowly, "and mother liked you, and you can sing fit to wile any lass' heart away; but I don't love you, Will, and I swore long ago that I'd never, never wed."
"You'd never wed?" repeated Will. "There's more lads than me would have a word to say agin that. You ask twenty honest fellows who has the straightest step and bonniest face in the town, and they'd say fast enough it was Bet Granger. You are but joking me when you talk in that fashion, Bet."
"No, Will, it is true. It's a vow I made, and it's my way not to go back of things. When I looked at mother, and see'd the way father treated her, I made up my mind never to wed with none. I'll be no man's mate, and I'll trust myself to none. Good-night, Will, You mean it kindly; and I'd like to ask God, if I was sure that He was there at all, to bless you. Good-night, goodnight."
As Will Scarlett walked home to the small room which he occupied, not very far from his cousin Hester Wright, he was overtaken by a young sailor of about his own age, who linked his arm in his and spoke to him in a half-tipsy, half-jocular voice.
"You was going to give me the slip, Will. And where be you off to at this hour of night?"
"To bed, and to sleep," said Will, shortly. He was in no mood for his companion's idle chatter, and resented the firm grip he had taken of his arm.
"Then it ain't true what I heard," said Isaac Dent. "You're down on your luck, and a bit crusty; and you wouldn't be that ef the news were true."
"What news?" said Will "I'm tired, and that's the truth, Dent. I want to turn in early; for most like I'll be on the briny ocean this time to-morrow."
"Then you are going in the 'Good Queen Anne.' Never knew such a fellow! The best ship in the docks, and you to get a berth in her. I wouldn't be crusty to a less lucky mate if I was in your shoes."
Will sighed. They had come in front of a brilliantly-lighted public- house, and a flood of gaslight lit up both faces. For a sailor Will was tall, slenderly built, with dark clustering curling hair, and very bright, very honest blue eyes. His companion was short and thick-set—he had a flat head, large ears set rather higher up, and small cunning eyes. He was not pleasant-looking, and Will, although one of the most unsuspicious of mortals, regarded him with small favor.
"Come in, and have a parting drink for good luck," said Dent, pointing to the gaily-lit public house.
Will shook his hand from his arm.
"You know my mind on that point," he said. "We took a voyage together, so we needn't talk it all out now. Good-night, Dent, I'm off to bed."
But Dent had no idea of letting Will off so easy.
"Look here," he said—"what shall I pay you for that berth of your'n? It ain't nothing to the cap'n who sails with him, and I wants to get away. What will you take?"
Will felt his face flushing; then he laughed indignantly.
"What folly you talk, Dent. Even suppose I were willing, you haven't sixpence—you know you haven't."
"May I go home with you?" said Dent, "and I'll show you what I have. I'm in real earnest—I want to get away, and I can pay for it. The 'Good Queen Anne' is quite to my mind—time for sailing, length of voyage—all just what I wants. I'll give you ten pound if you'll drop that berth of yours in my favor. There—I can't speak fairer than that."
All the time Dent was speaking Will had walked on stoically. There was not the faintest appearance of wavering about him; but Dent, who was a shrewd observer of character, and knew this particular young sailor well, guessed that Will's teeth were set hard, and that there was a struggle going on in his breast.
"May I come home with you, mate," he said, "just for a bit, to talk the matter over quiet like? I ha' got ten pound—no matter how and no matter where—and it's yours just to let me go to sea this week instead of next. A handy, neat-looking sailor like you, Will, need never be long out of a berth, and it's vital for me to get away just now. Ten pound, just to oblige a mate! You won't get such an offer again in a hurry, Scarlett."
"Stop!" said Will, suddenly. "What child is that? I'll be back with you in a minute if you'll wait by the corner, Dent, but I must follow up that littl'un—he have no call to be out at this hour."
Will made a step or two forward, and found himself in the midst of a small crowd who were admiring the antics of a very small and grotesque performer. A little boy with reddish hair and blackened face was turning somersaults with wonderful rapidity in the centre of the pathway. Another boy, cap in hand, stood by his side. The boy who performed and the boy who begged both looked audacious and disreputable; but, owing to their tiny statures, and the cadaverous whiteness of their faces, there was something pathetic in the spectacle. The boy who stood with his cap waiting for stray half-pence or pence to be dropped into it, had large blue eyes, which were turned with marvelous rapidity, first in the direction of one spectator, then in that of another. He could pick out the people who were hopeful, and whose purse-strings were likely to be loosened, with the swiftest of glances; and his little cap received many doles, considering the nature of the crowd who looked on.
Dent, who had come up to Will, tossed the boy a half-penny, and then began to laugh heartily, at the rapid contortions of the little acrobat.
"Stop that!" said Will, angrily.
He stepped into the middle of the crowd, and caught the revolving boy suddenly by his shoulder.
"You have no call to be out at this hour, Nat—nor you neither, Thady. What will your sister say when she finds you not in? Bad boys—run home this minute. This ain't what your mother would have liked; and you know it."
The boy called Thady, otherwise the captain, raised his blue eyes, now swimming in tears, to Will's face.
"We was that 'nngry," he said. "And Bet were out. Yer's a lot of coppers; we'll do now. Come along home, Gen'ral."
The two scampered away, flying with their bare feet along the slippery streets, and in a moment were out of sight.
Dent stared hard at Will, whose face showed some agitation.
"So those are the two little Granger lads," he said. "Well, I tell you what-their sister's far and away the handsomest girl in Liverpool."
"She's well enough," said Will, shortly. "The boys had no call to be out so late—and to-night of all nights. Their mother is lying dead, and Bet's in trouble. Good-night, Dent. I ha' made up my mind to sail in the 'Good Queen Anne.' I won't trouble you to come home with me, although I'm obleeged for your offer."
The light was falling on Will's face. Dent looked up at him sharply.
"So Bet Granger's mother is dead," he said. "Well, she's a handsome lass. I mean to marry her, if I can, arter next voyage."
"Ef you can," said Will.
Dent noticed his violent stand, and then the quick restraint he put upon himself.
"Yes," repeated Dent. "And her father's willing, for I spoke to him. I'll marry her arter this voyage, or maybe I'll marry her afore, ef you don't let me buy your berth from you, Will. Come, shall I go home with you? Any one with half an eye can see that you have no mind for the ocean wave just at present. Let's come in, Scarlett—we're close to your lodgings now—and finger the bit of gold I ha' by me as comfortable as we please."
"You worry a fellow almost to death," said Will; but he made no further objection, and the two went up to Will's tiny bedroom at the top of a tall house.
They were closted together for about an hour. At the end of that time Dent came downstairs whistling triumphantly, but with a very ugly look about his face. He had bought a berth on board the "Good Queen Anne" for two crisp Bank of Englandfive-pound notes, but the loss of the money seemed to cause him more relief than otherwise.
"And don't you think, Scarlett, that you'll get the girl either," he said to himself, "for I mean to have her for myself. And if this little trick hasn't checkmated you, my fine lad, I'll find summut else to spoil your bit of a game."
Upstairs Will was fingering the paper money, with a queer dazed expression on his face.
What had he done? Given up his berth on the bonny ship, and his chance of a voyage after his own heart—given it up, too, for Isaac Dent, a fellow whom he was quite sure was more or less a bit of a scoundrel. Will was honest, unsuspicious, and guileless; but even he could not quite think the best of a man with Dent's physiognomy.
"And I care nought at all for the money," he said to himself. "Only maybe it 'ud come in handy, if she wor to wed me 'twixt this week and next. He shan't have her with his ugly face. But she wouldn't look at him. She said to-night that it worn't for her ever to wed, but maybe as I can bring her round. I'll find another berth next week, and I'll speak to Hester to-morrow, and a deal can be done in a week. She said she didn't love me, but—who knows? Bet's a wild one, and a desperate earnest one. Ef she could bring herself to say just once, 'I love you, Will.' it 'ud be as good from her as if she said it every day. It's once and always with Bet. Well, I shouldn't ha' stayed now ef Dent hadn't let out that he meant to make up to her. Dent shan't cross her path if I can help it. She's the bravest lass in Liverpool, and the handsomest to look at; and I'll have her, if fortune will favor me, and the good God above help me. 'I don't love you, Will,' she said; but for that matter, Barbara Allen said much the same, and yet she died for love arter all. When I think of that, and remember how Bet's eyes lit up, and how pitiful she looked, when I sang of Barbara Allen, I ain't sorry as Dent has got my berth. A week off the ocean wave ain't too much to give up for the sake of Bet Granger."
Hester Wright was a popular, but by no means, in the usual acceptance of the word, a specially good woman. She was the reverse of strait-laced; her morals were nothing in particular, and her ideas on all subjects, whether on righteousness or wickedness, the broadest of the broad. She went neither to church nor chapel on Sundays—she professed no religion, although when pressed on the point she would not admit that it worn't there. "May be it wor," she would say, only she had no time for it just now. She did not blame people for going to the public-house, although she never went herself, simply because that special place did not suit her special temperament; but she was extremely fond of spending her evenings at the penny theatres, or other cheap and decidedly low places of entertainment. There she would enjoy herself, looking on with eager interest at the coarse and gaudy representations of so-called "life." She would never laugh loudly, however, or applaud noisily, although she encouraged and smiled at those who did. She was very poor, but she was always neat in her person; and the expression in her big black eyes gave her a look a little above her station, so that, although she was not handsome, those who saw her once often turned to glance at her again. Wherever she went, in whatever company she found herself, she was invariably good-natured. Indeed, although she was not in the least aware of the fact, she was a most unselfish person. If a tired-out and hard-worked mother was seen pushing her way to the front at Hester's favorite theatre, The Cleopatra, Hester invariably resigned her own seat in her favor, and took the baby and amused it while the mother looked on and laughed. For girls and boys, particularly girls and boys who were sweethearting, she had a strong sympathy, getting them together in a very quiet and unobtrusive manner, and taking the keenest pleasure in promoting their happiness. She was extremely popular with the Liverpool girls, and this popularity was the great delight of her life. The girl who would not go near the parson or the Sunday-school teacher, or the Sister of Mercy, would pour out her woes or her joys into Hester's sympathetic ears—would receive the advice Hester gave, eagerly, and as a rule, if it were palatable or not, act upon it. No handsome young girl had the least cause to be jealous of Hester; for although she was still comparatively young, and had a power of attraction accorded to few women, it was well known in Hester's very wide circle of indiscriminate acquaintances that she had long ago vowed a vow, far more solemn than Bet's in her ignorance, to take to herself no mate, and to share her life with no one. Hester's mate that shou'd have been had gone away far over the ocean and never come back again. He had been drowned at sea; and although she made no fuss and paraded her sorrow before no one, yet other men saw it would be useless to think of her as a wife. She was not aparticularly industrious woman, and was perfectly indifferent to the comforts of life. She kept her room clean and neat, because, notwithstanding the queer medley which her character presented, she had certain refinements about her, cropping up in all sorts of queer directions—one of them lay in her great regard for personal neatness, the other in her wonderful gift of song. Hester could laugh at a coarse joke, but it was quite impossible for her to lend her voice to singing a coarse song. She liked old ballads best, and her choice of music was quite wonderful for a person of her education. If she had a strong love or passion it was for popularity. She liked to see the young lads or lasses crowding around her, begging for a song, or asking her for advice or help of any kind. She was a good worker, and got plenty to do from one of the beet boys' outfitting shops in Castle Street; but she was always extremely poor, and often knew what it was to be hungry, for she gave her money away quite as fast as she earned it. Her beautiful voice, although only used for the benefit of the lowest of the people, had brought to her more than one offer of lucrative employment from the managers of music-halls and cheap theatres. But Hester would have nothing to say to such proposals.
"I ain't keen about money," she would answer, "and I won't sell my voice. Somehow, it would take the joy out of it."
On the night after Hester had taken Bet home, she found herself in the entrance of The Cleopatra Theatre, about seven o'clock. A new piece was to be put on the stage that night, and the entrance to the small pit was already crowded with rough men and frowsy, untidy, disreputable girls. They all nodded to Hester, and seemed pleased to see her, and one or two made way to get her to the front.
"My Jack is coming presently, Hetty," whispered a girl of the name of Susan Jakes. "Set near me, like a dear, so as to keep a seat for him when he looks in."
Hester often performed this kind office, slipping quietly into the background afterwards, without permitting any word of thanks. Susan Jakes was a pale-faced girl, with light flaxen hair and pale blue eyes; she was rather pretty and very neglected-looking. When she saw "my Jack" her somewhat hard little face assumed a womanly and beautiful expression. Hester took her hand and gave it a squeeze.
"We'll keep side by side until Jack Masters comes," she whispered.
The girl and Hester, by reason of Hester's great popularity, got into quite a foremost position in the pit. Jack Masters arrived about half-an-hour afterwards, and just before the curtain was raised. He scarcely thanked Hetty—it was the usual thing for her to keep seats for the girl's sweethearts. She moved aside into quite the back of the crowded pit, and stood leaning against the wall. A dreadfully tired-looking woman touched her arm.
"I've got out, Hetty Wright—he's at the public, and I'm here. Ain't it fine?"
"What have you done with the children?" asked Hester. "Yes, I'm glad you're in for a bit of pleasure, Mrs. Jones."
"See," said Mrs. Jones, pushing aside her shawl with a triumphant smile, "you overlooked her, the crowd's so great, but little Sarah's here. I put the others to bed, and neighbor Bryce will feed Tommy if he cries; but I brought little Sal along o' me. My! ain't she peart with delight? We're both that starved to see a bit of real gentry life, and to hear a good song or two."
Sal was a very minute maiden of eight years of age. Her whole small face was radiant with anticipation, but she could see nothing over the heads of the crowd. Instantly Hester lifted her into her arms.
"Lean on me, Sal," she said, "and look your fill. See, the curtain is up, and the play is going to begin."
It was a new piece and alas! only half prepared. A wretched performance it would have been at its best, badly put on, badly acted—coarse, common, the reverse of all that was lifelike; but, nevertheless, these eager, hungry, expectant people would have been abundantly content with the most extravagant representations if they had only been carried on with the smallest show of life or spirit. The actors, however, who none of them knew their parts, struggled on miserably for a scene or two, and then broke down utterly. It does not cost much to go to a penny theatre, but the people who frequent such places are, of all those in the world, the most anxious to get their money's worth. There was instantly an uproar and a clamor, and the house resounded with hisses, which but for a small incident would quickly have broken into yells.
The incident was this: Just when the piece was wavering to its miserable and final crash, Hester felt some hot, soft tears dripping on her face.
"I don't like it," said little Sal, "And they don't sing. I'm hungry to hear 'em sing—I'm hungry to hear 'em sing just one song."
"Yes, it's a biting disappointment," whispered the mother. "Sal ha' been telling of nothing else all day. She'd give all the world to hear jest a song, and it seems to me as they can't do nothing—not even speak."
Just then the crash came. The curtain was lowered, and the manager, purple in the face, came hastily and eagerly to the front. Little Sal put her head down on Hester's neck and wept bitterly, and then began the hisses and the cries of "Shame!"
"Never mind, Sal—I'll sing to you," whispered Hester. Quick as thought her resolve was taken. She was not the least self-conscious, but she was full of pity for the people. If every child in the room—and there were several—wanted a song as badly as Sal did, she could satisfy the small disappointed hearts.
She pushed her way through the crowd, saying to each who tried to hinder her—
"Let me pass, I'll sing to you; you know I can sing."
Her words were caught up, and cheers for Hester Wright ran through the house from her friends—and most there knew her, and were her friends—long before she reached the wings, and joined the astonished manager, who stood wavering, and in a considerable state of terror, on his deserted stage.
"I'll sing," said Hester, speaking to him eagerly and quickly. "The children are bitterly disappointed, and a song or two will quiet the whole house. Let me; I know how."
The manager was a stranger in the town, and had no acquaintance with the dark-eyed, intense woman who addressed him. The crowd, however, cheered and vociferated. Their ill-humor was changed into the most hearty approval.
"Just like Hetty, bless her," whispered Susan Jakes to her sweetheart. "Just like Hetty," resounded all over the small house. Be the woman mad or not, the manager saw she was popular, and his brow cleared.
"Yes, sing—sing anything," he responded, in a voice of intense relief. "I'll pay you anything in reason—only sing, and keep them quiet. This is an awful minute for me."
"I'll sing for the children, and not for money," said Hester, flashing an angry glance at him; and then her magnificent voice arose, and filled the house.
For some reason, the ballad which she and her cousin had sung together for Bet the night before was still ringing in her head. It rose easily to her lips, and she sang it first, giving point and meaning to the words in a way which took the manager by storm. What would he not give to secure such a treasure as Hester Wright for his house? "Home, sweet Home," came next; and then why she could not tell, perhaps because of a pain which was tugging at her heart, perhaps because of the weary look on some of the faces, and because a whole tide of memories was thronging before her, she chose "The Land o' the Leal." Such words, such melody, had never been heard before in that penny theatre. The women looked wistful, and many of them wept. Hester seemed to sing straight into their very hearts. The men shuffled uneasily, and one or two of them wiped their rough hands across their eyes.
"And oh, we'll all meet In the Land o' the Leal."
sang Hester, and then her voice died away, and she turned and whispered something to the manager and hastily disappeared.
The men and women went home quietly; tender and long-forgotten feelings had been briefly aroused, and very few who had visited The Cleopatra went near the public-house that night.
"Them was blessed words," whispered little Sal's mother, "and she's a blessed gel. Talk of saints, I call Hester Wright one, though she never preached no sarmon. The 'Land o' the Leal'—why, it's there as our Johnny's gone. Bless her heart! The world ain't quite without comfort, when one thinks of bits of words like them."
Hester was excited and overwrought; she could not meet any of the crowd, and took refuge in one of the deserted wings, until, as she hoped, every one had dispersed. As she was quietly leaving the wings she was met, much to her annoyance, by the manager. He was a coarse, florid-faced person, but he took off his hat to Hester, as if she had been the finest lady in the land.
"I thank you most heartily," he said. "You have saved me—you have saved the house. Now, what shall I give you? A pound, two pounds? I'll give them to you—yes, gladly; and I'll engage that you come here every night at a fair salary. What's your address, my good girl, and what's your name? You've got a voice to be proud of, and that I will say."
"I told you I would not sing for money," said Hester, angrily. "Good- night, sir. I'm glad I gave the children and the women a bit of pleasure, but my voice ain't to be bought for no money. You ain't the first as has wanted it, but it ain't for you. Good-night, sir. I'm sorry as you think so little of the people what come here. They have hard lives, and they want their bit of pleasure, and you shouldn't take their money, what ain't easy to get, ef you have nothing to show them for it. I sang for the people to-night, not for you. My voice and me, we belong to the poor folk of Liverpool. Good-night, sir-you have nought to thank me for."
She rushed out of the open door, not heeding the manager's outstretched hand, nor the raised tones with which he sought still to detain her. It was late now, nearly eleven o'clock, and the public-houses would be closed in about a quarter of an hour. A miserable old dame stood shivering by one, and looking wistfully into the warm and brilliantly lighted place. She turned her wan and wretched face round when she heard Hester approaching.
"Good-night, Hetty Wright, and may the Virgin bless you!" she called out.
"Good-night, Mrs. Flannigan—why, how white and starved you look! Here's twopence; go in and get a drop of gin."
Hester dropped the coins into the old dame's hand, and hurried quickly through the damp streets.
The wretched woman gazed at them in a kind of petrifaction. Twopence from a girl as poor as herself, and she was to buy gin with the money? Gin! Never before had she been told to go and buy gin. Why, the missionaries, and all the good folks round, said it was the curse of the land. And so it was: had it not brought her to what she was? had it not sent her only son to an untimely grave? Oh, yes—none knew better than mother Flannigan what gin meant—what cursing and what tears, and what misery it had caused; and yet the girl with the white face and the great dark earnest wistful eyes had given her twopence to buy it, and told her to get warm and comforted. Oh, yes, gin was bad, but it was very comforting; she would have her two-pennyworth, and she would go home, and forget her hunger, and sleep comfortably all night. It was really good of that decent, pale-faced girl to give her twopence to spend in gin. She knew her: she was the girl with the voice, the girl about whom some of the neighbors, even in the Irish quarter, raved.
With the memory of Hester's face firmly fixed on her dazed old brain, Mother Flannigan entered the public-house. Then a queer thing happened. By the side of Hester's pure, highly-wrought face arose the picture of another—of a very suffering, thirsty little grandchild, who lay waiting for her on a bed of straw at home. Instantly the desire for gin departed—the old woman purchased instead two-pennyworth of very blue and watery milk, and hurried away to give her grandson a drink.
When Hester reached her lodgings the overwrought mood was still upon her. She lit her fire, however, and put the kettle on to boil. Then, throwing aside her hat and thin black cashmere shawl, she sat down beside her little deal table, placed her elbows on it, and stared hard before her. Just at that moment she was suffering acutely—a tumult of mingled feelings possessed her; she was unsatisfied, and longing for she knew not what. A weaker woman in such a mood would have relieved her overcharged brain with a flood of tears. Instead of crying, Hester sang. For a woman with no religion, and no belief in religion, the queerest words arose to her lips. She had sometimes listened outside the churches to the swelling organs and the music of the choirs; once, when an anthem was being very exquisitely rendered, she had stolen fascinated inside the church porch. Now the words of this anthem came to her lips, and floated on her splendid voice through the dreary little attic room:
"Oh, rest in the Lord; wait patiently for him—patiently for him; and he will give thee thy heart's—thy heart's desire."
There came a knock at the door, and Hester sprang to her feet.
"Come in," she said. And Will Scarlet stepped into the room.
"Why, Hetty, how lovely you are making the night with that voice of yourn. I didn't rightly catch the words nor the air—what were they?"
"Oh, words I picked up, Will. It's a way of mine never to lose either words or air that take my fancy. But what are you doing in my room, Will Scarlet? I thought you'd be miles away on the waves, in the 'Good Queen Anne,' by now."
"And I wish I were, Hetty. But I've a bit of a yarn to spin on that head. May I sit by your fire for a bit and say my say?"
"To be sure, Will. And you shall have a cup of tea with me, I'm just making a brew. I expect I were a bit lonely at the thought of your being so far away, cousin; and I'll say frankly I'm real glad to have you sitting again by my fireside."
Will smiled. His likeness to Hetty was very marked at this moment, more particularly so as on his usually careless and almost boyish face there sat an unusual cloud of perplexity and trouble.
"The fact is, Het-I may as well have it all out at once-I'm in a bit of a taking. I had a talk with Bet Granger last night, and I offered to wed her. I didn't see how she could do better than to give herself to me. I has set my heart on her for years, and I thought it would be a kind of a help to her ef she had my name to hold on by, even if I were away at sea. And so I thought we might be wed as soon as ever a parson could tie us up. I hadn't much to offer her, but I were real in earnest, and she could see it."
"Yes, Will; and what did she say?"
Hester had dropped on one knee, and was gazing intently into her cousin's face.
"Oh, she flouted me, Hetty—said she had vowed to wed no one, and all that sort of thing. Poor Bet—she have sperrit of her own, and life have never gone easy with her. She seemed to think she was sorry for me. She makes out that she's all as hard as brass, but she ain't really."
"No, she ain't really," repeated Hester. "It's all a kind of cloak. I ha' used it myself, but Bet overdoes it. Ef ever there's a girl with a great warm heart it's Bet Granger."
Will's eyes were shining at the words of praise.
"God bless you, Hetty!" he said.
Hester looked at him anxiously.
"Poor lad! And she wouldn't have nought to do with you? I'm sorry for you, Will, but Bet ain't the girl not to know her own mind. Ef she refused you, lad, why didn't you join the crew of the 'Good Queen Anne'? It ain't best for a lad like you to be loafing about Liverpool. I'm main sorry you ha' lost your berth in the good ship, Will."
"You must hear me out, Hester. I haven't half told my yarn."
Then Will related what befell him the night before-how Dent walked home with him, and begged to buy his place in the ship; how Will was firm in his refusal until Dent declared his intention of going in for Bet, and making her his wife at any cost.
"He shan't have her," said Will, clenching his fist. "A fellow like Dent!-why, he's a real bad 'un, Hester. Why, he swears dreadful, and he drinks deep, and he's cruel. Ef you had seen how he treated the cabin boy when we was mates together in the 'Betsy Prig' you wouldn't like the feel of knowing that a girl what you loved more than all the world should even set eyes on him. Why, he's a worse man than Bet's father, and that's saying enough."
"Yes, it's saying enough," said Hester. "And so you sold your berth to Isaac?"
"Yes-I wanted to get rid of him, and I can soon find another. Liverpool's a bit a fresher place to-night because he's not in it."
"And what did he give you, Will?"
"Ten pounds, in Bank of England notes. I have them in my pocket. Shall I show them to you, Hester?"
"No, no; only keep them close. Don't talk of them, and don't change them until you can't help yourself. This is a bad part of town for a lad to have a bit of money in. You keep your lips sealed about it, Will—that is, if you want to keep the money."
"Never fear," said Will. "I think I have sold my berth for mighty little."
Hester rose from her place by the fire. She began to pour the boiling water into her little cracked teapot, and now she placed it on the hob to draw.
"What floors me, Will, is this," she said,—"how did a fellow like Dent come by so much money? Ef there is a ne'er-do-well it's Dent; and I want to know how he come by a lot of money like that."
"I can't tell you," replied Will. "I suppose he was well paid after his last voyage. He's a prime seaman, whatever else he ain't. He'd a bit of gold or two in his pocket, and some silver besides the notes—yes, now I come to think of it, he was remarkably flush of coin for a chap like him."
"Well, you hold by the notes, Will, and don't change them afore you need. I suppose you'll be looking out for another berth now you have lost that in the 'Good Queen Anne'?"
"All in good time, Hester. I mean to wed Bet Granger first,"
"But you can't, Will, if the girl has no mind to have you."
"I mean to wed her," replied Will, in a dogged, resolute sort of voice. "Ef she has a heart—and I know she has a heart—she shall give it to me; and she shall love me, yes, as well—as well as I love her. Why, Hetty, that fellow Dent said that her father was on his side, and would help him to get Bet. Do you think arter that I'd leave Liverpool before I made her my lawful wife?"
In due course Mrs. Granger received a decent burial. There was money enough for this purpose in the burial club to which Granger subscribed; and Bet, rather to her surprise, saw that her father did not object to doing the thing respectably for his dead wife. She and the little boys and Granger himself, who was quite sober and looked remarkably sulky, attended the funeral. The short service was quickly over, and the queer-looking band of mourners turned away. As they were leaving the cemetery, a thick-set and ungainly man, with eyes closely set in his head, and a hat slouched over his forehead, came up and spoke to Granger.
"All right, Dent," said Granger.
Then he turned to his daughter.
"You know Isaac Dent, don't you, Bet? You might ha' the manners to give him a civil word."
Bet's eyes were red and swollen, for she had been crying bitterly.
"Oh, yes, I know you, Isaac Dent," she said; "but I ain't in no mood to talk now. Good-bye, father."
"I'll be home presently," called out Granger. "Have a bit of dinner ready for Dent and me-we'll be looking in presently;" and Bet, taking a small brother by each hand, walked away at a good pace.
She had not replied to her father, and there was a very dogged, determined look on her handsome face. The two small boys chattered to one another, looked proudly down at their boots, which had been bought new for the occasion, and often glanced at Bet. She did not pay the slightest heed to their shrill childish chatter. Presently she hailed a passing tramcar, and delighted her little brothers by taking them for a ride outside. The three got down at the nearest point to Sparrow Street, which was the name of Bet's old address. They reached the house and went upstairs. The one room where they had all lived for the last couple of years looked deserted, ugly, desolate. The bed on which the dead woman had lain was empty, the fire was out in the grate, and the broken cups and saucers, out of which the little party had breakfasted before they started for the funeral, stood unwashed on the deal table.
"Now, boys," said Bet, the minute she had got the two little fellows into the room, "you ha' got to obey me. I'm your mother in future. Do you mind?"
She had seated herself on a low chair, and drew her little brothers in front of her. They looked at her with their impudent and bright eyes.
"The Cap'n says," began Nat, glancing in his eager, quick, bird-like way at his brother—"the Cap'n says—"
But Bet put her hand across the eager little mouth.
"Never mind what Thady says now, Nat; we'll have plenty of time to go into that by-and-bye. Now we have a deal to do, and very little time to do it in. But first you two boys ha' got to give me a promise."
"Promises is like pie-crusts," said the Cap'n, drawing himself up to his full tiny height, "I don't mind, nor do the Gen'ral there. Promises is made to be broke."
Bet shook the little speaker impatiently.
"Look here, boys, there's no one loves you two, but me; and I do—yes, I do—with all my heart. There, boys, don't strangle me," for they both fell upon her, covering her face and neck and lips with childish, most affectionate kisses.
"Hurrah for Bet! There, Bet—we'll make no pie-crust promises to you. We'll promise, and we'll keep our words. We'd die afore we broke 'em!" concluded the Cap'n, stamping his small newly-shod foot with great effect on the floor.
"There's no one loves you but me," continued Bet. "Mother did, but she's with God—that is ef—ef—oh, yes, mother's with God. He's keeping her comfortable now, and she have forgot us all. Mother's no good from this out; and father—you know what father is, boys. Look me in the face—you know what father is."
It took a great deal to quench the spirit of the audacious Granger twins, but they looked subdued now. Their thin little faces grew a shade whiter. The two pairs of eyes gave a rapid glance towards the door, and the little figures pressed closer to Bet as if for protection.
"You know, and so do I," she continued, putting her strong arm round them with a most protecting gesture; "and so—and so—boys, I'm going to take you away from father. And the only thing you ha' got to obey me in is when I say 'hide!' you are to hide; and when I ha' to lock you up, as I may have to do now and then, you won't play no larks on me, nor try to get away."
"No—no!" they both vociferated eagerly. "We promise, we promise true. Hurrah for Bet—the best gel in Liverpool!"