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HOME > Short Stories > Sue, A Little Heroine > CHAPTER VI. DIFFERENT SORT OF WORK.
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 Connie was a very pretty girl. She was between thirteen and fourteen years of age, and very small and delicate-looking. Her hair was of a pale, soft gold; her eyes were blue; she had a delicate complexion, pink and white—almost like a china figure, Sue said; Giles compared her to an angel. Connie was in the same trade that Sue earned her bread by; she also was a machinist in a large warehouse in the City. All day long she worked at the sewing-machine, going home with Sue night after night, glad of Sue's sturdy support, for Connie was much more timid than her companion.  
Connie was the apple of Harris's eye, his only child. He did everything he could for her; he lived for her. If any one could make him good, Connie could; but she was sadly timid; she dreaded the terrible moments when he returned home, having taken more than was good for him. At these times she would slink away to visit Giles and Sue, and on more than one occasion she had spent the night with the pair rather than return to her angry father. Some months, however, before this story begins, a terrible misfortune had come to Peter Harris. He had come home on a certain evening worse than usual from the effects of drink. Connie happened to be in. She had dressed herself with her usual exquisite neatness. She always kept the place ship-shape. The13 hearth was always tidily swept. She managed her father's earnings, which were quite considerable, and the wretched man could have had good food and a comfortable home, and been happy as the day was long, if only the craze for drink had not seized him.
Connie was very fond of finery, and she was now trimming a pretty hat to wear on the following Sunday. Not long ago she had made a new friend, a girl at the warehouse of the name of Agnes Coppenger. Agnes was older than Connie. She was the kind of girl who had a great admiration for beauty, and when she saw that people turned to look at pretty Connie with her sweet, refined face and delicate ways, she hoped that by having such a pleasant companion she also might come in for her share of admiration. She therefore began to make much of Connie. She praised her beauty, and invited her to her own home. There Connie made companions who were not nearly such desirable ones as Sue and Giles.
She began to neglect Sue and Giles, and to spend more and more of her time with Agnes.
On a certain day when the two girls were working over their sewing-machines, the whir of the numerous machines filling the great warehouse, Agnes turned to Connie.
"When we go out at morning break I 'ave a word to say to yer."
Connie's eyes brightened.
"You walk with me," whispered Agnes again.
An overseer came round. Talking was forbidden in the great room, and the girls went on with their mechanical employment, turning out long seam after long seam of delicate stitches. The fluff from the work seemed to smother Connie that morning. She had inherited her mother's delicacy. She coughed once or twice. There was a longing within her to get away from this dismal, this unhealthy life. She felt somehow, down deep in her heart, that she was meant for better things. The child was by nature almost a poet. She could have worshiped a lovely flower. As to the country, what her feelings would have been could she have seen it almost baffles description.
Now, Sue, working steadily away at her machine a little farther down the room, had none of these sensations. Provided that Sue could earn enough money to keep Giles going, that was all she asked of life. She was as matter-of-fact as a young girl could be; and as to pining for what she had not got, it never once entered her head.
At twelve o'clock there was a break of half-an-hour. The machinists were then turned out of the building. It did not matter what sort of day it was, whether the sun shone with its summer intensity, or whether the snow fell in thick flakes—whatever the condition of the outside world, out all the working women had to go. None could skulk behind; all had to seek the open air.14
Connie coughed now as the bitter blast blew against her cheeks.
"Isn't it cold?" she said.
She expected to see Agnes by her side, but it was Sue she addressed.
"I've got a penny for pease-pudding to-day," said Sue. "Will you come and have a slice, Connie? Or do yer want somethin' better? Your father, Peter Harris, can let yer have more than a penny for yer dinner."
"Oh, yes," answered Connie; "'tain't the money—I 'aven't got not a bit of happetite, not for nothing; but I want to say a word to Agnes Coppenger, and I don't see her."
"Here I be," said Agnes, coming up at that moment. "Come right along, Connie; I've got a treat for yer."
The last words were uttered in a low whisper, and Sue, finding she was not wanted, went off in another direction. She gave little sighs as she did so. What was wrong with pretty Connie, and why did she not go with her? It had been her custom to slip her hand inside Sue's sturdy arm. During the half-hour interval, the girls used to repair together to the nearest cheap restaurant, there to secure what nourishing food their means permitted. They used to chatter to one another, exchanging full confidences, and loving each other very much.
But for some time now Connie had only thought of Agnes Coppenger, and Sue felt out in the cold.
"Can't be helped," she said to herself; "but if I am not mistook, Agnes is a bad un, and the less poor Connie sees of her the better."
Sue entered the restaurant, which was now packed full of factory girls, and she asked eagerly for her penn'orth of pease-pudding.
Meanwhile Connie and Agnes were very differently employed. When the two girls found themselves alone, Agnes looked full at Connie and said:
"I'm going to treat yer."
"Oh, no, you ain't," said Connie, who was proud enough in her way.
"Yes, but I be," said Agnes; "I ha' lots o' money, bless yer! Here, we'll come in here."
An A.B.C. shop stood invitingly open just across the road. Connie had always looked at these places of refreshment with open-eyed admiration, and with the sort of sensation which one would have if one stood at the gates of Paradise. To enter any place so gorgeous as an A.B.C., to be able to sit down and have one's tea or coffee or any other refreshment at one of those little white marble tables, seemed to her a degree of refinement scarcely to be thought about. The A.B.C. was a sort of forbidden fruit to Connie, but Agnes had been there before, and Agnes had described the delight of the place.
"The quality come in 'ere," said Agnes, "an' they horders15 all sorts o' things, from mutton-chops to poached heggs. I am goin' in to-day, and so be you."
"Oh, no," said Connie, "you can't afford it."
"That's my lookout," answered Agnes. "I've half-a-crown in my pocket, and ef I choose to have a good filling meal, and ef I choose that you shall have one too, why, that is my lookout."
As Agnes spoke she pulled her companion through the swinging door, and a minute later the two young girls had a little table between them, not far from the door. Agnes called in a lofty voice to one of the waitresses.
"Coffee for two," she said, "and rolls and butter and poached heggs; and see as the heggs is well done, and the toast buttered fine and thick. Now then, look spruce, won't yer?"
The waitress went off to attend to Agnes's requirements. Agnes sat back in her chair with a sort of lofty, fine-lady air which greatly impressed poor Connie. By-and-by the coffee, the rolls and butter, and the poached eggs appeared. A little slip of paper with the price of the meal was laid close to Agnes's plate, and she proceeded to help her companion to the good viands.
"It's this sort of meal you want hevery day," she said. "Now then, eat as hard as ever you can, and while you're eating let me talk, for there's a deal to say, and we must be back in that factory afore we can half do justice to our wittles."
Connie sipped her coffee, and looked hard at her companion.
"What is it?" she asked suddenly. "What's all the fuss, Agnes? Why be you so chuff to poor Sue, and whatever 'ave you got to say?"
"This," said Agnes. "You're sick o' machine-work, ain't you?"
"Oh, that I be!" said Connie, stretching her arms a little, and suppressing a yawn. "It seems to get on my narves, like. I am that miserable when I'm turning that horrid handle and pressing that treadle up and down, up and down, as no words can say. I 'spect it's the hair so full of fluff an' things, too; some'ow I lose my happetite for my or'nary feed when I'm working at that 'orrid machine."
"I don't feel it that way," said Agnes in a lofty tone. "But then, I am wery strong. I can heat like anything, whatever I'm a-doing of. There, Connie; don't waste the good food. Drink up yer corffee, and don't lose a scrap o' that poached egg, for ef yer do it 'ud be sinful waste. Well, now, let me speak. I know quite a different sort o' work that you an' me can both do, and ef you'll come with me this evening I can tell yer all about it."
"What sort of work?" asked Connie.
"Beautiful, refined—the sort as you love. But I am not going to tell yer ef yer give me away."16
"What do you mean by that, Agnes?"
"I means wot I say—I'll tell yer to-night ef yer'll come 'ome with me."
"Yer mean that I'm to spend all the evening with yer?" asked Connie.
"Yes—that's about it. You are to come 'ome with me, and we'll talk. Why, bless yer! with that drinkin' father o' yourn, wot do you want all alone by yer lonesome? You give me a promise. And now I must pay hup, and we'll be off."
"I'll come, o' course," said Connie after brief reflection. "Why shouldn't I?" she added. "There's naught to keep me to home."
The girls left the A.B.C. shop and returned to their work.
Whir! whir! went the big machines. The young heads were bent over their accustomed toil; the hands on the face of the great clock which Connie so often looked at went on their way. Slowly—very slowly—the time sped. Would that long day ever come to an end?
The machinists' hours were from eight o'clock in the morning to six in the evening. Sometimes, when there were extra lots of ready-made clothes to be produced, they were kept till seven or even eight o'clock. But for this extra work there was a small extra pay, so that few of them really minded. But Connie dreaded extra hours extremely. She was not really dependent on the work, although Peter would have been very angry with his girl had she idled her time. She herself, too, preferred doing this to doing nothing. But to-night, of all nights, she was most impatient to get away with Agnes in order to discover what that fascinating young person's secret was.
She looked impatiently at the clock; so much so that Agnes herself, as she watched her eyes, chuckled now and then.
"She'll be an easy prey," thought Agnes Coppenger. "I'll soon get 'er into my power."
At six o'clock there was no further delay; no extra work was required, and the machinists poured into the sloppy, dark, and dreary streets.
"Come along now, quickly," said Agnes. "Don't wait for Sue; Sue has nothing to do with you from this time out."
"Oh dear! oh dear!" said Connie. "But I don't want to give up Sue and Giles. You ha' never seen little Giles Mason?"
"No," replied Agnes, "and don't want to. Wot be Giles to me?"
"Oh," said Connie, "ef yer saw 'im yer couldn't but love 'im. He's the wery prettiest little fellow that yer ever clapped yer two eyes on—with 'is delicate face an' 'is big brown eyes—and the wonnerful thoughts he have, too. Poetry ain't in it. Be yer fond o' poetry yerself, Agnes?"
"I fond o' poetry?" almost screamed Agnes. "Not I! That is, I never heerd it—don't know wot it's like. I ha' no time to think o' poetry. I'm near mad sometimes fidgeting and17 fretting how to get myself a smart 'at, an' a stylish jacket, an' a skirt that hangs with a sort o' swing about it. But you, now—you never think on yer clothes."
"Oh yes, but I do," said Connie; "and I ha' got a wery pwitty new dress now as father guv me not a fortnight back; and w'en father don't drink he's wery fond o' me, an' he bought this dress at the pawnshop."
"Lor', now, did he?" said Agnes. "Wot sort be it, Connie?"
"Dark blue, with blue velvet on it. It looks wery stylish."
"You'd look like a lydy in that sort o' dress," said Agnes. "You've the face of a lydy—that any one can see."
"Have I?" said Connie. She put up her somewhat roughened hand to her smooth little cheeks.
"Yes, you 'ave; and wot I say is this—yer face is yer fortoon. Now, look yer 'ere. We'll stand at this corner till the Westminster 'bus comes up, and then we'll take a penn'orth each, and that'll get us wery near 'ome. Yer don't think as yer father'll be 'ome to-night, Connie?"
"'Tain't likely," replied Connie; "'e seldom comes in until it's time for 'im to go to bed."
"Well then, that's all right. When we get to Westminster, you skid down Adam Street until yer get to yer diggin's; an' then hup you goes and changes yer dress. Into the very genteel dark-blue costoom you gets, and down you comes to yer 'umble servant wot is waitin' for yer below stairs."
This programme was followed out in all its entirety by Connie. The omnibus set the girls down not far from her home. Connie soon reached her room. No father there, no fire in the grate. She turned on the gas and looked around her.
The room was quite a good one, of fair size, and the furniture was not bad of its sort. Peter Harris himself slept on a trundle-bed in the sitting-room, but Connie had a little room all to herself just beyond. Here she kept her small bits of finery, and in especial the lovely new costume which her father had given her.
She was not long in slipping off her working-clothes. Then she washed her face and hands, and brushed back her soft, glistening, pale-golden hair, and put on the dark-blue dress, and her little blue velvet cap to match, and—little guessing how lovely she appeared in this dress, which simply transformed the pretty child into one of quite another rank of life—she ran quickly downstairs.
A young man of the name of Anderson, whom she knew very slightly, was passing by. He belonged to the Fire Brigade, and was one of the best and bravest firemen in London. He had a pair of great, broad shoulders, and a very kind face. It looked almost as refined as Connie's own.
Anderson gave her a glance, puzzled and wondering. He felt half-inclined to speak, but she hurried by him, and the next minute Agnes gripped her arm.
"My word, ain't you fine!" said that young lady. "You18 be a gel to be proud of! Won't yer do fine, jest! Now then, come along, and let's be quick."
Connie followed her companion. They went down several side-streets, and took several short cuts. They passed through the roughest and worst part of the purlieus at the back of Westminster. At last they entered a broader thoroughfare, and there Agnes stopped.
"Why, yer never be livin' here?" asked Connie.
"No, I bean't. You'll come to my 'ome afterwards. I want to take yer to see a lydy as maybe'll take a fancy to yer."
"Oh!" said Connie, feeling both excited and full of wonder.
The girls entered a side passage, and presently Connie, to her astonishment, found herself going upwards—up and up and up—in a lift. The lift went up as far as it would go. The girls got out. Agnes went first, and Connie followed. They walked down the passage, and Agnes gave a very neat double knock on the door, which looked like an ordinary front door to a house.
The door was opened by a woman rather loudly dressed, but with a handsome face.
"How do you do, Mrs. Warren?" said Agnes. "I ha' brought the young lydy I spoke to yer about. Shall us both come in?"
"Oh, yes, certainly," said Mrs. Warren.
She stood aside, and Connie, still following her companion, found herself at the other side of the neat door. The place inside was bright with electric light, and the stout, showily dressed lady, going first, conducted the girls into a room which Agnes afterwards spoke of as the dining-room. The lady sat down in a very comfortable arm-chair, crossed her legs, and desired Connie to come forward and show herself.
"Take off yer 'at," she said.
Connie did so.
"You're rather pretty."
Connie was silent.
"I want," said the stout woman, "a pretty gel, something like you, to come and sit with me from ten to two o'clock hevery day. Yer dooties'll be quite light, and I'll give yer lots o' pretty clothes and good wages."
"But what'll I have to do?" asked Connie.
"Jest to sit with me an' keep me company; I'm lonesome here all by myself."
Connie looked puzzled.
"You ask wot wages yer'll get," said Agnes, poking Connie on the arm. Connie's blue eyes looked up. The showy lady was gazing at her very intently.
"I'll give yer five shillin's a week," she said, "and yer keep, and some carst-off clothes—my own—now and again; and ef that bean't a bargain, I don't know wot be."
Connie was silent.
"You 'ad best close with it," said Agnes. "It's a charnce19 once in a 'undred. Yer'll be very 'appy with Mrs. Warren—her's a real lydy."
"Yes, that I be," said Mrs. Warren. "I come of a very hold family. My ancestors come hover with William the Conqueror."
Connie did not seem impressed by this fact.
"Will yer come or will yer not?" said Mrs. Warren. "I'll take yer jaunts, too—I forgot to mention that. Often on a fine Saturday, you an' me—we'll go to the country together. You don't know 'ow fine that 'ull be. We'll go to the country and we'll 'ave a spree. Did yer never see the country?"
"No," said Connie, in a slow voice, "but I ha' dreamt of it."
"She's the sort, ma'am," interrupted Agnes, "wot dreams the queerest things. She's hall for poetry and flowers and sech like. She's not matter-o'-fack like me."
"Jest the sort I want," said Mrs. Warren. "I—I loves poetry. You shall read it aloud to me, my gel—or, better still, I'll read it to you. An' as to flowers—why, yer shall pluck 'em yer own self, an' yer'll see 'em a-blowin' an' a-growin', yer own self. We'll go to the country next Saturday. There, now—ain't that fine?"
Connie looked puzzled. There certainly was a great attraction at the thought of going into the country. She hated the machine-work. But, all the same, somehow or other she did not like Mrs. Warren.
"I'll think o' it and let yer know," she said.
But when she uttered these words the stately dressed and over-fine lady changed her manner.
"There's no thinking now," she said. "You're 'ere, and yer'll stay. You go out arter you ha' been at my house? You refuse my goodness? Not a bit o' it! Yer'll stay."
"Oh, yes, Connie," said Agnes in a soothing tone.
"But I don't want to stay," said Connie, now thoroughly frightened. "I want to go—and to go at once. Let me go, ma'am; I—I don't like yer!"
Poor Connie made a rush for the door, but Agnes flew after her and clasped her round the waist.
"Yer be a silly!" she said. "Yer jest stay with her for one week."
"But I—I must go and tell father," said poor Connie.
"You needn't—I'll go an' tell him. Don't yer get into such a fright. Don't, for goodness' sake! Why, think of five shillin's a week, and jaunts into the country, and beautiful food, and poetry read aloud to yer, and hall the rest!"
"I has most select poetry here," said Mrs. Warren. "Did yer never yere of a man called Tennyson? An' did yer never read that most touching story of the consumptive gel called the 'May Queen'? 'Ef ye're wakin' call me hearly, call me hearly, mother dear.' I'll read yer that. It's the most beauteous thing."
"It sounds lovely," said Connie.20
She was always arrested by the slightest thing which touched her keen fancy and rich imagination.
"And you 'ates the machines," said Agnes.
"Oh yes, I 'ates the machines," cried Connie. Then she added after a pause: "I'm 'ere, and I'll stay for one week. But I must go back first to get some o' my bits o' duds, and to tell father. You'd best let me go, ma'am; I won't be long away."
"But I can't do that," said Mrs. Warren; "it's a sight too late for a young, purty gel like you to be out. Agnes, now, can go and tell yer father, and bring wot clothes yer want to-morrow.—Agnes, yer'll do that, won't yer?"
"Yes—that I will."
"They'll never let me stay," said Connie, reflecting on this fact with some satisfaction.
"We won't ax him, my dear," said Mrs. Warren.
"I must go, really, now," said Agnes. "You're all right, Connie; you're made. You'll be a fine lydy from this day out. And I'll come and see yer.—W'en may I come, Mrs. Warren?"
"To-morrer evenin'," said Mrs. Warren. "You and Connie may have tea together to-morrer evenin', for I'm goin' out with some friends to the thayertre."
Poor Connie never quite knew how it happened, but somehow she found herself as wax in the strong hands of Mrs. Warren. Connie, it is true, gave a frightened cry when she heard Agnes shut the hall door behind her, and she felt positive that she had done exceedingly wrong. But Mrs. Warren really seemed kind, although Connie could not but wish that she was not quite so stout, and that her face was not of such an ugly brick red.
She gave the girl a nice supper, and talked to her all the time about the lovely life she would have there.
"Ef I takes to yer I'll maybe hadopt yer as my own daughter, my dear," she said. "You're a wery purty gel. And may I ax how old you are, my love?"
Connie answered that she was fourteen, and Mrs. Warren remarked that she was small for her age and looked younger. She showed the girl her own smart clothing, and tried the effect of her bit of fur round Connie's delicate throat.
"There," she said; "you can keep it. It's only rabbit; I can't afford no dearer. But yer'll look real foine in it when we goes out for our constooshionul to-morrow morning."
Connie was really touched and delighted with the present of the fur. She got very sleepy, too, after supper—more sleepy than she had ever felt in her life—and when Mrs. Warren suggested that her new little handmaid should retire early to bed, the girl was only too glad to obey.

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