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HOME > Short Stories > Sue, A Little Heroine > CHAPTER II. A SERVANT OF GOD.
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 John Atkins, the street preacher, was a little man who led a wonderful life. He was far better educated than most people of his station, and in addition his mind was tender in feeling and very sensitive and loving. He regarded everybody as his brothers and sisters, and in especial he took to his heart all sorrowful people. He never grumbled or repined,4 but he looked upon his life as a pilgrimage to a better country, and did not, therefore, greatly trouble if things were not quite smooth for him. This little man had a very wide circle of friends. The fact is, he had more power of keeping peace and order in the very poor part of London, back of Westminster, where he lived, than had any dignitary of the Church, any rector, any curate, or any minister, be he of what persuasion he might. Father John was very humble about himself. Indeed, one secret of his success lay in the fact that he never thought of himself at all.  
Having preached on this Saturday evening, as was his wont, to a larger crowd than usual, he went home. As he walked a passer-by could have seen that he was lame; he used a crutch. With the winter rain beating on him he looked insignificant. Presently he found the house where he had a room, went up the stairs, and entered, opening the door with a latch-key. A fire was burning here, and a small paraffin lamp with a red shade over it cast a warm glow over the little place. The moment the light fell upon Father John his insignificance vanished. That was a grand head and face which rose above the crippled body. The head was high and splendidly proportioned. It was crowned with a wealth of soft brown hair, which fell low on the shoulders. The forehead was lofty, straight, and full; the mouth rather compressed, with firm lines round it; the eyes were very deep set—they were rather light gray in color, but the pupils were unusually large. The pupils and the peculiar expression of the eyes gave them a wonderful power. They could speak when every other feature in the face was quiet.
"I don't like them—I dread them," said Peter Harris on one occasion. "Aye, but don't I love 'em just!" remarked little Giles.
Giles and Sue were special friends of John Atkins. They had, in fact, been left in his care by their mother three years before this story begins. This was the way they had first learned to know Father John.
The man had a sort of instinct for finding out when people were in trouble and when they specially needed him. There was a poor woman lying on her dying bed, and a boy and a girl were kneeling close to her.
"Keep a good heart up, Giles," she said to the boy. "I know I'm goin' to leave yer, and you're as lame as lame can be, but then there's Sue. Sue has a deal o' gumption for such a young un. Sue won't let yer want, Giles, lad; you need never go to the workhouse while Sue's alive."
"No, that he needn't, mother," answered Sue.
"Can't yer get back on to yer sofa, Giles?" she added, turning to the boy. "You'll break your back kneeling by mother all this time."
"No, I won't; I'd rather stay," answered the boy. His eyes were full of light; he kept on stroking his mother's hand.
"Go on, mother," he said. "Tell us more. You're goin'5 to 'eaven, and you'll see father." A sob strangled his voice for a minute.
"Yes, I'll see my good 'usband—that is, I hope so; I can but trust—I allus have trusted, though often, ef I may say the truth, I couldn't tell what I were a-trusting to. Somehow, whatever folks say, there is a Providence."
"Oh, mother!" said Giles, "God is so beautiful—when you see father again you'll know that."
"Mother," interrupted Sue, "does yer think as Providence 'ull get me constant work at the sewing, enough to keep Giles and me?"
"I dunno, Sue," answered the woman. "I've trusted a good bit all my life, and more specially since your father was took, and somehow we haven't quite starved. Happen it'll be the same with Giles and you."
The boy sighed. His back was aching terribly. His heart was breaking at the thought of losing his mother; he struggled to continue kneeling by the bedside, but each moment the effort became greater.
The children were kneeling so when a quick, light step was heard on the stairs, and a little man entered. It was too dark in the room for the children to see his face; they heard, however, a very pleasant voice. It said in cheerful tones:
"Why haven't you fire here, and a candle? Can I help you?"
"There ain't much candle left," answered Giles.
"And mother's dying," continued Sue. "She don't mind the dark—do yer, mother?"
The little man made no reply in words, but taking some matches from his pocket, and also a candle, he struck a light. He placed the candle in a sconce on the wall, and then turned to the three.
"Be yer a parson?" asked the woman.
"I am a servant of God," answered Atkins.
"I'm real glad as you're a parson," she answered; "you can make it all right between Almighty God and me."
"You are mistaken; I can't do that. That is Jesus Christ's work. But I will pray with you—let me hold your hand, and we will pray together."
Then and there in the dismal attic Father John spoke out his heart in the following simple words. Even Sue never forgot those words to the latest day she lived:
"Lord God Almighty, look down upon this dying woman. Thy Son died for her and she knows it not. Lord, she is in great darkness, and she is so near death that she has no time to learn the truth in its fullness; but Thou who art in the light can show some of Thy light to her. Now, in her dying hour, reveal to her Thyself."
The dying woman fixed her glittering eyes on the strange man. When he ceased speaking she smiled; then she said, slowly:
"I allus felt that I could trust in Providence."6
She never spoke after that, and half an hour afterwards she died.
This was the beginning of Father John's friendship with Giles and Sue.
The next day Sue, by dint of many and anxious inquiries, found him out, and put her queer little unkempt head into his room.
"Ef yer please, parson, may I speak to yer 'bout Giles and me?"
"Certainly, my little girl. Sit down and tell me what I can do for you."
"Parson," said Sue, with much entreaty in her voice and many a pucker on her brow, "what I wants to say is a good deal. I wants ter take care o' Giles, to keep up the bit o' home and the bit o' victual. It 'ud kill Giles ef he wor to be took to the work'us; and I promised mother as I'd keep 'im. Mother wor allers a-trustin', and she trusted Giles ter me."
Here Sue's voice broke off into a sob, and she put up her dirty apron to her eyes.
"Don't cry, my dear," answered Atkins kindly; "you must not break your word to your mother. Will it cost you so much money to keep yourself and Giles in that little attic?"
"It ain't that," said she, proudly. "It ain't a bit as I can't work, fur I can, real smart at 'chinery needlework. I gets plenty to do, too, but that 'ere landlady, she ain't a bit like mother; she'd trusten nobody, and she up this morning, and mother scarce cold, and says as she'd not let her room to Giles and me 'cept we could get some un to go security fur the rent; and we has no un as 'ud go security, so we must go away the day as mother is buried, and Giles must go to the work'us; and it 'ull kill Giles, and mother won't trust me no more."
"Don't think that, my child; nothing can shake your mother's trust where God has taken her now. But do you want me to help you?"
Sue found the color mounting to her little, weather-beaten face. A fear suddenly occurred to her that she had been audacious—that this man was a stranger, that her request was too great for her to ask. But something in the kindness of the eyes looking straight into hers brought sudden sunshine to her heart and courage to her resolve. With a burst, one word toppling over the other, out came the whole truth:
"Please, sir—please, sir, I thought as you might go security fur Giles and me. We'd pay real honest. Oh, sir, will you, jest because mother did trusten so werry much?"
"I will, my child, and with all the heart in the world. Come home with me now, and I will arrange the whole matter with your landlady."

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