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HOME > Short Stories > Sue, A Little Heroine > CHAPTER XIII. PETER HARRIS.
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 While Connie was going through such strange adventures in Mammy Warren's attic room, her father, Giles, and Sue, and dear Father John were nearly distracted about her.  
Peter Harris was a rough, fierce, unkempt individual. He was fond of drink. He was not at all easily impressed by good things; but, as has been said before, if he had one tender spot in his heart it was for Connie. When he drank he was dreadfully unkind to his child; but in his sober moments there was nothing he would not do for the pretty, motherless girl.
As day after day passed without his seeing her, he got nearly frantic with anxiety. At first he tried to make nothing of her disappearance, saying that the girl had doubtless gone to visit some friends; but when a few days went by and there were no tidings of her, and Sue assured him that she not only never appeared now at the great warehouse in Cheapside where they used to work together, but also that she had been seen last with Agnes Coppenger, and that Agnes Coppenger had also disappeared from her work at the sewing-machine, he began to fear that something bad had happened.
Father John was consulted, and Father John advised the necessity of at once acquainting the police. But although the police did their best, they could get no trace whatever either of Agnes or of Connie.
Thus the days passed, and Connie's friends were very unhappy about her. Her absence had a bad effect on Peter, who, from his state of grief and uneasiness, had taken more and more consolation out of the gin-palace which he was fond of frequenting. Every night now he came home tipsy, and the neighbors were afraid to go near. Soon he began to abuse Connie, to say unkind things about her, and to fly into a passion with any neighbor who mentioned her name.
Giles shed silent tears for his old playmate, and even the voice of Big Ben hardly comforted him, so much did he miss the genial companionship of pretty Connie. But now at last the girl herself was going home. She had no fear. She was full of a wild and yet terrible delight. How often she had longed for her father! Connie had a great deal of imagination, and during the dreadful time spent at Mother Warren's, and in especial since Ronald had come, she began61 to compare her father with Ronald's, and gradually but surely to forget the cruel and terrible scenes when that father was drunk, and to think of him only in his best moments when he kissed her and petted her and called her his dear little motherless girl.
Oh, he would be glad to see her now! He would rejoice in her company.
Connie quickly found the old house in Adam Street, and ran up the stairs. One or two people recognized her, and said, "Hullo, Con! you back?" but being too busy with their struggle for life, did not show any undue curiosity.
"Is my father in?" asked Connie of one.
The man said, "He be." And then he added, "Yer'd best be careful. He ain't, to say, in his pleasantest mood to-night."
Connie reached the well-known landing. She turned the handle of the door. It was locked. She heard some one moving within. Then a rough voice said:
"Get out o' that!"
"It's me, father!" called Connie back. "It's Connie!"
"Don't want yer—get away!" said the voice.
Connie knelt down and called through the keyhole:
"It's me—I've 'ad a dreadful time—let me in."
"Go 'way—don't want yer—get out o' this!"
"Oh father—father!" called Connie. She began to sob. After all her dreams, after all her longings, after all her cruel trials—to be treated like this, and by her father! It seemed to shake her very belief in fathers, even in the great Father of all.
"Please—please—I'm jest wanting yer awfu' bad!" she pleaded.
Her gentle and moving voice—that voice for which Peter Harris, when sober and in his right mind, so starved to hear again—now acted upon him in quite the opposite direction. He had not taken enough to make him stupid, only enough to rouse his worst passions. He strode across the room, flung the door wide, and lifting Connie from her knees, said to her:
"Listen. You left me without rhyme or reason—not even a word or a thought. I sorrowed for yer till I turned to 'ate yer! Now then, get out o' this. I don't want yer, niver no more. Go down them stairs, unless yer want me to push yer down. Go 'way—and be quick!"
There was a scowl on his angry face, a ferocious look in his eyes. Connie turned quite gently, and without any apparent anger went downstairs.
"Ah!" said a man in the street, "thought yer wouldn't stay long."
"He's wery bad," said Connie. She walked slowly, as though her heart were bleeding, down Adam Street until she came to the house where Father John Atkins lived.
It was a little house, much smaller than its neighbors. Father John's room was on the ground floor. She knocked62 at the door. There was no answer. She turned the handle: it yielded to her pressure. She went in, sank down on the nearest chair, and covered her face with both her hands.
She was trembling exceedingly. The shock of her father's treatment was far greater than she could well bear in her present weak and over-excited condition. She had gone through—oh, so much—so very much! That awful time with Mammy Warren; her anxiety with regard to little Ronald; and then that final, awful, never-to-be-forgotten day, that night which was surely like no other night that had ever dawned on the world—the noise of the gathering flames, the terrific roar they made through the old building; the shouts of the people down below; the heat, the smoke, the pain, the cruel, cruel fear; and then last but not least—the deliverance!
When that gallant fireman appeared, it seemed to both Connie and Ronald as though the gates of heaven had opened, and they had been taken straight away from the pains of hell into the glories of the blest. But all these things told on the nerves, and when Connie now had been turned away from her father's door, she was absolutely unfit for such treatment.
When she reached Father John's she was as weak and miserable a poor little girl as could found anywhere in London.
"My dear! my dear!" said the kind voice—the sort of voice that always thrilled the hearts of those who listened to him. A hand was laid on the weeping girl's shoulder. "Look up," said the voice again. Then there was a startled cry, an exclamation of the purest pleasure.
"Why Connie—my dear Connie—the good Lord has heard our prayers and has sent you back again!"
"Don't matter," said Connie, sobbing on, quite impervious to the kindness, quite unmoved by the sympathy. "There ain't no Father 'chart 'eaven," she continued. "I don't believe in 'Im no more. There ain't no Father, and no Jesus Christ. Ef there were, my own father wouldn't treat me so bitter cruel."
"Come, Connie," said the preacher, "you know quite well that you don't mean those dreadful words. Sit down now by the cosy fire; sit in my own little chair, and I'll talk to you, my child. Why, Connie, can't you guess that we've been praying for you?"
"Don't matter," whispered Connie again.
The preacher looked at her attentively. He put his kind hand for a minute on her forehead, and then, with that marvellous knowledge which he possessed of the human heart and the human needs, he said nothing for the time being. Connie was not fit to argue, and he knew she was worn-out. He got her to sit in the old arm-chair, and to lay her golden head against a soft cushion, and then he prepared coffee—strong coffee—both for her and himself.
It was late, and he was deadly tired. He had been up all the night before. It was his custom often to spend his nights in this fashion; for, as he was fond of expressing it, the Divine63 Master seemed to have more work for him to do at night than in the daytime.
"There are plenty of others to help in the daytime," thought Father John, "but in the darkness the sin and the shame are past talking about. If I can lift a burden from one heart, and help one poor suffering soul, surely that is the best night's rest I can attain to."
Last night he had put a drunken woman to bed. He had found her on a doorstep, and had managed, notwithstanding his small stature and slender frame, to drag her upstairs. There her terrified children met him. He managed to get them into a calm state of mind, and then induced them to help him for all they were worth. The great, bulky woman was undressed and put into bed. She slept, and snored loudly, and the children crowded round. He made them also go to bed, and went away, promising to call in the morning.
He did so. The woman was awake, conscious, and bitterly ashamed. He spoke to her as he alone knew how, and, before he left, induced her to go with him to take the pledge. He then gave her a little money out of his slender earnings to get a meal for the children, and spent the rest of the day trying to get fresh employment for her. She had been thrown out of work by her misdemeanors; but Father John was a power, and more than one lady promised to try Mrs. Simpkins once again. The little preacher was, therefore, more tired than his wont. He bent over Connie. She drank her coffee, and, soothed by his presence, became calmer herself.
"Now then," he said, "you will tell me everything. Why did you run away?"
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