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HOME > Short Stories > Sue, A Little Heroine > CHAPTER XII. LEFT ALONE.
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 When Agnes went out the two children stared at each other.  
"Connie," said Ronald, "I wish you'd tell me the real, real truth."
But Connie was trembling very much. "Don't yer ax me," she said. She suddenly burst into tears. "I am so dreadfully frightened," she cried. "I don't think I ever wor so frightened in all my life before. You're not half so frightened as I am, Ronald."
"Of course not," said Ronald, "for I am a boy, you see, and I'll be a man by-and-by. Besides, I have to think of father—father would have gone through anything. Once he was in a shipwreck. The ship was really wrecked, and a great many of the passengers were drowned. Father told me all about it, but it was from a friend of father's that I learned afterwards how splendid he was, saving—oh, heaps of people! It was that night," continued Ronald, sitting down by the fire as he spoke, his eyes glowing with a great thought, and his little face all lit up by the fire-light—"it was that night that he49 first found out how much he loved mother; for mother was in a great big Atlantic liner, and it was father who saved her life. Afterwards they were married to each other, and afterwards I came to them—God sent me, you know."
"Yus," said Connie.
She dried her eyes.
"Go on talking, Ronald," she said. "I never met a boy like you. I thought there were no one like Giles, but it seems to me some'ow that you're a bit better—you're so wonnerful, wonnerful brave, and 'ave such a cunnin' way of talkin'. I s'pose that's 'cos you—you're a little gen'leman, Ronald."
Ronald made no answer to this. After a minute he said:
"There's no thanks to me to be brave—that is, when I'm brave it's all on account of father, and 'Like father, like son.' Mother used to teach me that proverb when I was very small. Shall I tell you other things that father did?"
"Oh yus, please," said Connie.
"He saved some people once in a great big fire. No one else had courage to go in, but he wasn't afraid of anything. And another time he saved a man on the field of battle. He got his V. C. for that."
"Wotever's a V. C.?" inquired Connie.
"Oh," said Ronald, "don't you even know that? How very ignorant you are, dear Connie. A V. C.—why, it's better to be a Victoria Cross man than to be the greatest noble in the land. Even the King couldn't be more than a Victoria Cross man."
"Still, I don't understand," said Connie.
"It's an honor," said Ronald, "that's given for a very, very brave deed. Father had it; when he comes back he'll show you his Victoria Cross; then you'll know."
"Do yer think as he'll come soon?" asked Connie.
"He may come to-day," said Ronald—"or he may not," he added, with a profound sigh.
The little boy had been talking with great excitement, but now the color faded from his cheeks and he coughed a little. He had coughed more or less since that dreadful day when Mrs. Warren had taken him out in the snowstorm. He was always rather a delicate child, and after his bad fever he was not fit to encounter such misery and hardship.
"Connie," he said after a time, "it's the worst of all dreadful things, isn't it, to pretend that you are what you aren't?"
"What do yer mean by that?" asked Connie.
"Well, it's this way. You praise me for being brave. I am not brave always; I am very frightened sometimes. I am very terribly frightened now, dear Connie."
"Oh Ronald!" said Connie, "if you're frightened hall's hup."
"Let me tell you," said Ronald. He laid his little, thin hand on the girl's arm. "It's about father. Do you think, Connie, that Mammy Warren could have invented that story about him?"50
"I dunno," said Connie.
"But what do you think, Connie? Tell me just what you think."
"Tell me what you think, Ronald."
"I am afraid to think," said the child. "At first I believed it, just as though father had spoken himself to me. I thought for sure and certain he'd be waiting for me here. I didn't think for a single moment that he'd be the sort of father that would come and stand outside in the landing and go away again just because I wasn't here. For, you see, I am his own little boy; I am all he has got. I know father so well, I don't believe he could do that kind of thing."
"Oh, but you can't say," answered Connie. "Certain sure, it seemed as though Agnes spoke the truth."
"I thought that too; only father's a very refined sort of man, and he'd never, never chuck Mrs. Warren under the chin."
"Agnes might have invented that part," said poor Connie. But in her heart of hearts she had long ago given up all hope of Ronald's father coming to fetch him.
"She might," said Ronald; "that is quite true; and he might have had to go to the country—perhaps to rescue some one in great danger. He is the sort who are always doing that. That's quite, quite likely, for it would be in keeping with father's way. And he'd like me, of course, to be unselfish, and never to make a fuss—he hated boys who made a fuss. Oh yes, I did believe it; and on Saturday night and on Sunday, when Big Ben talked to us, it seemed that it was mother telling me that father would soon be with me. But a whole week has gone and he hasn't come. Why, it's Saturday night again, Connie. I've been back again in this house for a whole week now, and father has never, never come."
"Maybe he'll come to-night," said Connie.
"I don't think so; somehow I'd sort of feel it in my bones if he was coming back."
"What do yer mean by that?" said Connie.
"Oh, I'd be springy-like and jumpy about. But I'm not. I feel—oh, so lazy and so—so tired! and a little bit—yes, a greatbit—frightened—terribly frightened."
"You must cheer up, Ronald," said Connie. Then she added, "I wish we could get out o' this. I wish I could pick the lock and get aw'y."
"Oh, I wish you could, Connie," said the child. "Couldn't you try?"
"I'm a'most afeered to go into Mammy Warren's room," said Connie; "for ef she did come back and see me any time, she'd punish me awful; but p'r'aps I might find tools for picking the lock in her room."
"Oh, do let's try!" said Ronald.
Connie half-rose, then sat down again.
"It's me that's the coward now," she said.
"Oh, how so, Connie?"51
"'Cos," said Connie, "there's that dark room with no winder—'tain't a dream, Ronald."
"I thought it wasn't," said Ronald, turning white.
"No—it's there," said Connie, "and I'm afeered o' it."
Ronald sat very still for a minute then. He was thinking hard. He was only a little boy of ten years old, but he was a very plucky one. He looked at Connie, who although a little older than he, was very slight and small for her age.
"Connie," he said, "if you and I are ever to make our escape we must not be frightened. Even the dark closet won't frighten me now. I am going into Mrs. Warren's room."
"Oh Ronald! Are you? Dare you?"
"Yes, I dare. Father did worse things than that—why should I be afraid?"
"You'd win the V. C., Ronald, wouldn't you, now?"
Ronald smiled.
"Not for such a little, little thing. But perhaps some day," he said; and his eyes looked very bright. "Connie, if we can unpick the lock and get the door open, where shall we go?"
"We'll go," said Connie in a brisk voice, "back to Father John as fast as ever we can."
"Father John," said Ronald—"who is he?"
"I told you, Ronnie—I told you about him."
"I forgot for a minute," said Ronald. "You mean the street preacher."
"Yus," said Connie. "'E'll save us. There's no fear o' Mammy Warren getting to us ever again ef he takes us in 'and."
Ronald smiled.
"The only thing I'm afraid of is this," he said—"that if it's true about father, he may come here and find me gone."
"Let's leave a note for him," said Connie then. "Let's put it on the table. If Mammy Warren should come back she'll find the note, but that won't do any harm, for she knows Father John, and she's awful afeered of him, 'cos she said as much, so she'd never follow us there."
"The very thing!" said Ronald. "Let's get some paper. Will you write the note, Connie?"
The children poked round in the sitting-room, and found a sheet of very thin paper, and an old pen, and a penny bottle of ink. Ronald dictated, and Connie wrote:
"Dear Father,—I've waited here for a week. I am trying to be very brave. Connie's an awful nice girl. We've picked the lock here, father, and we've gone to Father John, in Adam Street. Please come quick, for your little boy is so very hungry for you. Come quick, darling father.—Your little waiting boy, Ronald."
"That'll bring him," said Ronald. "We'll put it on the table."
Connie had written her letter badly, and there were several blots; but still a feat was accomplished. Her cheeks were bright with excitement now.52
"What shall I put outside?" she asked—"on the envelope, I mean."
Ronald thought for a minute; then he said in a slow and impressive voice:
"To Major Harvey, V. C., from Ronald."
"Nobody can mistake who it's meant for," said Ronald.
"Here's a bit of sealing-wax," said Connie. "Let's seal it."
They did so, Connie stamping the seal with a penny thimble which she took out of her pocket.
"And now," said Ronald, pulling himself up, "all is ready, and I am going into Mammy Warren's room to try and find tools for picking the lock."
"I'm a-goin' with yer," said Connie.
"Oh Connie, that is brave of you."
"No," said Connie, "it 'ud be real cowardly to let yer go alone."
Hand in hand the two children crossed the ugly sitting-room, and opened the door which led into that mysterious apartment known as Mammy Warren's room. It certainly was a very strange-looking place. There was no bed to be seen anywhere, which in itself was surprising. But Connie explained to Ronald that the huge wooden wardrobe was doubtless a press-bed which let down at night.
"She'd keep all kinds of things at the back of the bed," said the practical Connie, who had seen several similar arrangements in the houses of the poor.
This room, however, although ugly and dark—very dark—seemed to be suspiciously bare. The children had turned on the gas—for evening had already arrived—and they could see with great distinctness.
Mammy Warren owned the upper part of this tenement-house, and no one ever came up the creaking stairs except to visit her. The children therefore knew that if there was a footstep they would be in danger. Connie, however, assured Ronald that she could put out the light and be innocently seated by the fire if Mammy Warren did arrive unexpectedly.
All was silence, however, on the creaking stairs, and they were able to resume their search. The chest of drawers stood with all its drawers open and each one of them empty. No sort of tool could the children find. The yellow and black silk dress had disappeared, but the disreputable old beggar's clothes hung on the peg behind the door. There was also a very ancient bonnet, which was hung by its strings over the dress. Otherwise there was not a scrap of anything whatever in the room except the press bedstead, which the children could not possibly open, and the empty chest of drawers.
"But here," said Connie, "is a door. P'rhaps it's a cupboard door."
"Let's try if it will open," said Ronald.
He turned the handle. The door shot back with a spring, and the boy's face turned pale.53
"The dark closet!" said Connie. "The dark, dark room without a winder!"
Ronald caught hold of Connie's hand and squeezed it tightly. After a minute he said in a husky voice:
"Come away."
Connie shut the mysterious closet door. The children turned out the gas in Mammy Warren's bedroom, and went back to the sitting-room. Here they crouched down, pale and trembling, before the fire.
"Don't, Ronnie—don't," said Connie.
"Hold me very tight, Connie," said the little boy.
She did so, pressing him to her heart and kissing his little face. After a minute tears came to his eyes, and he said in a sturdy tone:
"Now I am better. It was wrong of me to be so frightened."
"Hark—there's the Woice!" said Connie.
They sat very still while Big Ben proclaimed the hour of nine.
"What does he say?" asked Ronald, turning round and looking at Connie.
"I know," said Connie, a light on her pretty face. "Father John preached on it once. I know wot Big Ben's a-sayin' of to-night."
"Tell me," said Ronald.
"He that shall endure," said Connie. "Yes, Connie," repeated Ronald—"'He that shall endure'——"
"To the end," said Connie, "shall be saved," she added.
"Oh Connie!" cried the boy. "Do you really, really think so?"
"Father John says it, and Father John couldn't tell a lie," continued the girl. "He says that is one of God's promises, and God never made a mistake. 'He that shall endure to the end—shall be saved.'"
"Then," said Ronald, "if we endure we shall be saved."
"Yes," replied Connie.
"You're not frightened, then?"
"Not after that," said Connie.
"How can you tell that was what Big Ben said?"
"'Eard him," said Connie.
She unclasped Ronald's arms from her neck and stood up.
"I'm better," she said; "I'm not frightened no more. Sometimes it's 'ard to endure—Father John says it is. But ''E that shall endure to the end'—to the end—he made a great p'int o' that—'shall be saved.'"
"Then we'll be saved," said Ronald.
"Yus," answered Connie.
She looked down at the little boy. The boy was gazing into the fire and smiling. Connie put on some fresh lumps of coal, and the fire broke into a cheerful blaze. It did not matter at all to the good coal whether it burned out its heart in an attic or a palace; wherever it was put to do its duty, it did it. Now54 gay little flames and cheerful bursts of bubbling gas rendered even the hideous room bright.
"W'y, it's long past tea!" said Connie. "I'll put on the kettle and we'll have our tea, Ronald. Maybe Aggie'll be back in a minute, and maybe she'd like a cup o' tea."
Connie put on the kettle, and then went to the cupboard to get out the provisions. These were exceedingly short. There was little more than a heel of very stale bread, and no butter, and only a scrape of jam; but there was a little tea in the bottom of the tea-canister, and a little coarse brown sugar in a cup.
Connie laid the table quite cheerfully.
"We'll toast the bread," she said. "Tea and toast is famous food."
She got an old, bent toasting-fork, and she and Ronald laughed and even joked a little as they browned the stale bread until it was quite crisp and tempting-looking.
"I'd ever so much rather have this tea than a great, big, grand one with Mammy Warren," said Connie.
"Yes, Connie," said the boy; ............
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