L. T. Meade.

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IUU3. L. T. MEADB,



A GIRL "OF THE PEOPLE






BY

L. T. MEADE

AUTHOR OF "GIRL IN TEN THOUSAND," "GIRLS OF THE TRUE
BLUE," "WILD KITTY," ETC., ETC.



NEW YORK
HURST & COMPANY

PUBLISHERS






A GIRL OF THE PEOPLE.



CHAPTER I.

"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 de-
manded 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



2131242



4 A Girl of the People.

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 sing-
ing 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 mam-
my'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



A Girl of the People. 5

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 thlit, Sister Mary ; let me go up-
stairs now."

Bet pushed past the girl almost rudely, and as-
cended 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 red-



6 A Girl of the People.

dish-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,



A Girl of the People. 7

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 sur-
roundings, committed to the flames ignomini-
ously 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 mis-
tress.

" She oughtn't to have done it," half-groaned



8 A Girl of the People.

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 thres-
hold 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 crim-
son 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 crim-
son counterpane, and her eyes, dark and wistful,



A Girl of the People. 9

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,

" Mother oh, mother ! "

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 reel gleam
in the brown eyes, the same touch of red on the
abundant hair; but one face was tired, worn out,



io A Girl of the People.

and the other was fresh and full and plump. Both
faces had certain lines of hardness, certain indi-
cations of stormy, troublous souls looking through
the eyes, and speaking on the lips.

" I'm going to die, Bet ; I'm going back to the
good God," panted Mrs. Granger. " The doctor
have been, and he says mebbe it'll last till morn-
ing, 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 emo-
tion 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.



A Girl of the People. n

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, hate-
ful," 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



12 A Girl of the People.

there was a shining, satisfied light in her eves;
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.

" Bet."

" Yes, mother."

" 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,
1 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 with-
out 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



A Girl of the People. 13

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 wast-
ing 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 l From this moment out I promise to take
up with religion, so help me, Lord God Al-
mighty ! ' "

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



14 A Girl of the People.

all a mistake, and it ain't meant for one like me.
Why, 7, 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 speak-
ing; 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 be-
yond 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



A Girl of the People. 15

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 say-
ing it once '11 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 reflect-
ing 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."



1 6 A Girl of the People.



CHAPTER II.

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 oc-
cupied a room on the next floor.

"Mrs. Bennett, my mother is dead; can you



A Girl of the People. 17

take care of the Cap'n and the Gen'ral this morn-
ing? 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 '11 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 over-
whelming 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



1 8 A Girl of the People. .

ascending the stairs. The little boys, 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 morn-
ing, 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



A Girl of the People. 19

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 blood-
shot 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 fore-
stalled him.

" Set you there, or you'll drink no tea in this
house," she said ; ajid 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 and 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



20 A Girl of the People.

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 least-
ways 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 be-
coming 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 stand-
ing up, looking comparatively fresh and another
man, when she returned to him.



A Girl of the People. 21

"You're not a bad sort of a gel," he said, at-
tempting 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, to-
night."

" 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.



22 A Girl of the People.

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 hat e 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."


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeA girl of the people → online text (page 1 of 14)