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HOME > Short Stories > Sue, A Little Heroine > CHAPTER V. EAGER WORDS.
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 When John Atkins was quite young he was well-to-do. His father and mother had kept a good shop, and not only11 earned money for their needs but were able to put by sufficient for a rainy day. John was always a small and delicate child, and as he grew older he developed disease of the spine, which not only gave him a deformed appearance but made him slightly lame. Nevertheless, he was an eager little scholar, and his father was able to send him to a good school. The boy worked hard, and eagerly read and learned all that came in his way.  
Thus life was rather pleasant than otherwise with John Atkins up to his fifteenth year, but about then there came misfortunes. The investment into which his father had put all his hard-won earnings was worthless; the money was lost. This was bad enough, but there was worse to follow. Not only had the money disappeared, but the poor man's heart was broken. He ceased to attend to his business; his customers left him to go elsewhere; his wife died suddenly, and he himself quickly followed her to the grave.
After these misfortunes John Atkins had a bad illness himself. He grew better after a time, took to cobbling as a trade, and earned enough to support himself. How he came to take up street preaching, and in consequence to be much beloved by his neighbors, happened simply enough.
On a certain Sunday evening he was walking home from the church where he attended, his heart all aglow with the passionate words of the preacher he had been listening to. The preacher had made Bunyan the subject of his discourse, and the author of the Pilgrim's Progress was at that time the hero of all heroes in the mind of Atkins. He was thinking of his wonderful pilgrimage as he hurried home. He walked on. Suddenly, turning a corner, he knocked up against a man, who, half-reeling, came full-tilt against him.
"Aye, Peter," he said, knowing the man, and perceiving that he was far too tipsy to get to his home with safety, "I'll just walk home with you, mate. I've got an apple in my pocket for the little wench."
The man made no objection, and they walked on. At the next corner they saw a crowd, all listening eagerly to the words of a large, red-faced man who, mounted on a chair, addressed them. On the burning, glowing heart of John Atkins fell the following terrible words:
"For there be no God, and there be nothing before us but to die as the beasts die. Let us get our fill of pleasure and the like of that, neighbors, for there ain't nothing beyond the grave."
"It's a lie!" roared Atkins.
The words had stung him like so many fiery serpents. He rushed into the midst of the crowd; he forgot Peter Harris; he sprang on to the chair which the other man in his astonishment had vacated, and poured out a whole string of eager, passionate words. At that moment he discovered that he had a wonderful gift. There was the message in his heart which God had put there, and he was able to deliver it. His words were powerful. The crowd, who had listened without any great excitement to the unbeliever, came close now to the man of God, applauding him loudly. Atkins spoke of the Fatherhood of God and of His love.
"Ain't that other a coward?" said two or three rough voices when Atkins ceased to speak. "And he comes here talking them lies every Sunday night," said one poor woman. "Come you again, master, and tell us the blessed truth."
This decided Atkins. He went to his parish clergyman, an overworked and badly paid man, and told him the incident. He also spoke of his own resolve. He would go to these sheep who acknowledged no Shepherd, and tell them as best he could of a Father, a Home, a Hope. The clergyman could not but accept the services of this fervent city missionary.
"Get them to church if you can," he said.
"Aye, if I can," answered Atkins; "but I will compel them to enter the Church above—that is the main thing."
Soon he began to know almost all the poor folks who crowded to hear him. In their troubles he was with them; when joy came he heard first about it, and rejoiced most of all; and many a poor face of a tired woman or worn-out man, or even a little child, looking into his, grew brighter in the presence of death.

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