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HOME > Short Stories > Sue, A Little Heroine > CHAPTER XXI. SAFE HOME AT LAST.
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 When Harris parted from Sue he ran quickly in his cowardly flight. He did not stay his fleet steps until he had gained a very quiet street. Then, knowing that he was now quite safe, he exchanged his running for a rapid walk. He suddenly remembered that he was to meet the detectives, who were moving heaven and earth to get Connie back for him, not later than three o'clock.  
They were to meet by appointment in a certain street, and the hour of rendezvous was quickly approaching. He got there in good time; but what was his amazement to see, not only the two detectives—ordinary-looking men in plain clothes—but also the street preacher?
The street preacher came up to him eagerly. The detectives also followed close.
"Harris," said Atkins, "you can thank God on your knees—your child is safe at home."
"Wot?" said Harris.
In that instant something sharp as a sword went through his heart. Oh, what a mean, terrible, horrible wretch he was! What a cowardly deed he had just committed! And yet God was kind, and had given him back his child.
"Connie is in your room, waiting for you," said Atkins. "I went in not an hour ago, hoping to find you, and there she was."
"It's very queer," said Detective Z. "You should have been there also, and have questioned the girl. There isn't the least doubt that she could give the most valuable information, but she won't utter a word—not a word."
"Won't she, now?" said Harris. "Perhaps not to you, but she wull, quick enough, to her own father."
The entire party then turned in the direction of Harris's rooms. They went up the stairs, and Harris flung the door wide. A little, slight girl, in the identical same dark-blue dress which Harris had bought for her with such pride not many weeks ago, was standing near the fire. Already her womanly influences had been at work.
The fire burned brightly. The room was tidy. The girl herself was waiting—expectation, fear, longing, all expressed in her sensitive face.
"Father!" she cried as Harris—brutal, red of face, self-reproachful, at once the most miserable and the gladdest man on earth—almost staggered into the room.95
He took the slim little creature into his arms, gave her a few fierce, passionate kisses; then saying, "It is good to have yer back, wench," pushed her from him with unnecessary violence. He sank into a seat, trembling all over. The two detectives marked his agitation and were full of compassion for him. How deeply he loved his child, they felt. But Father John read deeper below the surface.
The man was in a very queer state. Had anything happened? He knew Harris well. At such a moment as this, if all were right, he would not be so overcome.
The detectives began to question Connie.
"We want to ask you a few questions, my dear," said Constable Z. "Who dragged you into that court last night?"
"I won't say," answered Connie.
"You won't say? But you know."
"I won't say nothing," said Connie.
"That is blamed nonsense!" cried Harris, suddenly rousing himself. "Yer've got to say—yer've got to make a clean breast of it. Wot's up? Speak!"
"I wouldn't be here, father," said Connie, "'ef I'd not promised most faithfully not iver to tell, and I won't iver, iver, iver tell, not to anybody in all the world."
There was a decidedly new quality in the girl's voice.
"I wouldn't do it for nobody," continued Connie. She drew herself up, and looked taller; her eyes were shining. The detectives glanced at each other.
"If you was put in the witness-box, missy," said one, "yer'd have to break that promise o' yourn, whoever you made it to, or you'ud know what contempt of the law meant."
"But I am not in the witness-box," said Connie, her tone suddenly becoming gay. "It was awful kind of people to look for me, but they might ha' looked for ever and niver found me again. I'm 'ere now quite safe, and nothing 'as 'appened at all, and I'm niver goin' to tell. Please, Father John, you won't ask me?"
"No, my child," said Father John. "You have made a promise, perhaps a rash one, but I should be the last to counsel you to break it."
Nothing more could be gained from Connie at present; and by-and-by Father John and the two detectives left her alone with Harris. When the door closed behind the three men a timid expression came into Connie's gentle eyes. Beyond doubt her father was sober, but he looked very queer—fearfully red in the face, nervous, trembling, bad in his temper. Connie had seen him in many moods, but this particular mood she had never witnessed in him before. He must really love her. He knew nothing about that terrible time last night when he had turned her away. Then he did not know what he was doing.
Connie was the last to bear him malice for what—like many other little girls of her class—she considered he could not help. Most of the children in the courts and streets96 around had fathers who drank. It seemed to Connie and to the other children that this was a necessary part of fathers—that they all took what was not good for them, and were exceedingly unpleasant under its influence.
She stood now by the window, and Harris sank into a chair. Then he got up restlessly.
"I be goin' out for a bit, lass," he said. "You stay 'ere."
"Oh, please, father," said Connie, "ef you be goin' out, may I go 'long and pay Giles a wisit? I want so much to have a real good talk with him."
When Connie mentioned the word Giles, Harris gave quite a perceptible start. Something very like an oath came from his lips; then he crushed back his emotion.
"Hall right," he said; "but don't stay too long there. And plait up that 'air o' yourn, and put it tight round yer 'ead; I don't want no more kidnappin' o' my wench."
There was a slight break in the rough man's voice, and Connie's little sensitive heart throbbed to the tone of love. A minute later Harris had gone out, and Connie, perceiving that it was past four o'clock, and that it would not be so very long before Sue was back from Cheapside, prepared to set off in quite gay spirits to see little Giles.
She went into her tiny bedroom. It was a very shabby room, nothing like as well furnished as the one she had occupied at Mammy Warren's. But oh, how glad she was to be back again! How sweet the homely furniture looked! How dear was that cracked and handleless jug! How nice to behold again the wooden box in which she kept her clothes!
The little girl now quickly plaited her long, thick hair, arranged it tightly round her head, and putting on a shabby frock and jacket, and laying the dark blue, which had seen such evil days, in the little trunk, she hastily left the room.
She was not long in making her appearance in Giles's very humble attic. Her heart beat as she mounted the well-worn stairs. How often—oh, how often she had though of Giles and Sue! How she had longed for them! The next minute she had burst into the room where the boy was lying, as usual, flat on his back.
"Giles," she said, "I've come back."
"Connie!" answered Giles. He turned quickly to look at her. His face turned first red, then very pale; but the next minute he held up his hand to restrain further words.
"Don't say anything for half a minute, Connie, for 'e's goin' to speak."
"Big Ben? Oh!" said Connie.
She remembered what Big Ben had been to her and to Ronald in Mammy Warren's dreadful rooms. She too listened, half-arrested in her progress across the room. Then, above the din and roar of London, the sweet chimes pealed, and the hour of five o'clock was solemnly proclaimed.
"There!" said Giles. "Did yer 'ear wot he said now?"97
"Tell us—do tell us!" said Connie.
"'The peace of God which passeth all understanding.'" said Giles. "Ain't it fine?"
"Oh yus," said Connie—"yus! Giles—little Giles—'ow I ha' missed yer! Oh Giles, Giles! this is the peace o' God come back to me again."
Giles did not answer, and Connie had time to watch him. It was some weeks now since she had seen him—weeks so full of events that they were like a lifetime to the child; and in those weeks a change had come over little Giles. That pure, small, angel face of his looked smaller, thinner, and more angelic than ever. It seemed as if a breath might blow him away. His sweet voice itself was thin and weak.
"I did miss yer, Connie," he said at last. "But then, I were never frightened; Sue were—over and over."
"And w'y weren't yer frightened, Giles?" said Connie. "You 'ad a reason to be, if yer did but know."
"I did know," said Giles, "and that were why I didn't fret. I knew as you were safe—I knew for sartin sure that Big Ben 'ud talk to yer—'e'd bring yer a message, same as 'e brings to me."
"Oh—he did—he did!" said Connie. "I might ha' guessed that you'd think that, for the message were so wery strong. It were indeed as though a Woice uttered the words. But oh, Giles—I 'ave a lot to tell yer!"
"Well," said Giles, "and I am ready to listen. Poke up the fire a bit, and then set near me. Yer must stop talking w'en 'e speaks, but otherwise you talk and I listen."
"Afore I do anything," said Connie—"'ave you 'ad your tea?"
"No. I didn't want it. I'll 'ave it w'en Sue comes 'ome."
"Poor Sue!" said Connie. "I'm that longin' to see her! I 'ope she won't be hangry."
"Oh, no," said Giles. "We're both on us too glad to be angry. We missed yer sore, both on us."
While Giles was speaking Connie had put on the kettle to boil. She had soon made a cup of tea, which she brought to the boy, who, although he had said he did not want it, drank it off with dry and thirsty lips.
"Dear Connie!" he said when he gave her the cup to put down.
"Now you're better," said Connie, "and I'll speak."
She began to tell her story, which quickly absorbed Giles, bringing color into his cheeks and brightness into his eyes, so that he looked by no means so frail and ill as he had done when Connie first saw him. She cheered up when she noticed this, and reflected that doubtless Giles was no worse. It was only because she had not seen him for so long that she was really frightened.
When her story was finished Giles spoke:
"You're back, and you're safe—and it were the good Lord as did it. Yer'll tell me 'bout the fire over agin another day;98 and yer'll tell me 'bout that little Ronald, wot 'ave so brave a father, another day. But I'm tired now a bit. It's wonnerful, all the same, wot brave fathers do for their children. W'en I think o' mine, an' wot 'e wor, an' 'ow 'e died, givin' up his life for others, I'm that proud o' him, an' comforted by him, an' rejoiced to think as I'll see 'im agin, as is almost past talkin' on. But there! you'd best go 'ome now; you're quite safe, for 'E wot gives Big Ben 'is message 'ull regard yer."
"But why mayn't I wait for Sue?" said Connie.
"No," said Giles in a faint tone; "I'm too tired—I'm sort o' done up, Connie—an' I can't listen, even to dear Sue axin' yer dozens and dozens o' questions. You go 'ome now, an' come back ef yer like later on, w'en Sue 'ull be 'ome and I'll ha' broke the news to her. She knows she must be very quiet in the room with me, Connie."
So Connie agreed to this; first of all, however, placing a glass with a little milk in it by Giles's side. She then returned to her own room, hoping that she might find her father there before her.
He was not there; his place was empty. Connie, however, was not alarmed, only it had struck her with a pang that if he really loved her half as much as she loved him he would have come on that first evening after her return. She spent a little time examining the room and putting it into ship-shape order, and then suddenly remembered that she herself was both faint and hungry.
She set the kettle on, therefore, to boil, and made herself some tea. There was a hunch of bread and a piece of cold bacon in the great cupboard, which in Connie's time was generally stored with provisions. She said to herself:
"I must ax father for money to buy wittles w'en he comes in." And then she made a meal off some of the bacon and bread, and drank the sugarless and milkless tea as though it were nectar. She felt very tired from all she had undergone; and as the time sped by, and Big Ben proclaimed the hours of seven, eight, and nine, she resolved to wait no longer for her father. She hoped indeed, he would not be tipsy to-night but she resolved if such were the case, and he again refused to receive her, to go to Mrs. Anderson and beg for a night's lodging.
First of all, however, she would visit Giles and Sue. Giles would have told Sue the most exciting part of the story, and Sue would be calm and practical and matter-of-fact; but of course, at the same time, very, very glad to see her. Connie thought how lovely it would be to get one of Sue's hearty smacks on her cheek, and to hear Sue's confident voice saying:
"You were a silly. Well, now ye're safe 'ome, you'll see as yer stays there."
Connie thought no words would be quite so cheerful and stimulating to hear as those matter-of-fact words of Sue's.99 She soon reached the attic. She opened the door softly, and yet with a flutter at her heart.
"Sue," she said. But there was no Sue in the room; only Giles, whose face was very, very white, and whose gentle eyes were full of distress.
"Come right over 'ere, Connie," he said. She went and knelt by him.
"Ye're not well," she said. "Wot ails yer?"
"Sue ain't come 'ome," he answered—"neither Sue nor any tidin's of her. No, I ain't frightened, but I'm—I'm lonesome, like."
"In course ye're not frightened," said Connie, who, in the new rôle of comforter for Giles, forgot herself.
"I'll set with yer," she said, "till Sue comes 'ome. W'y, Giles, anythink might ha' kep' her."
"No," said Giles, "not anythink, for she were comin' 'ome earlier than usual to-night, an' we was to plan out 'ow best to get me a new night-shirt, an' Sue herself were goin' to 'ave a evenin' patchin' her old brown frock. She were comin' 'ome—she 'ad made me a promise; nothin' in all the world would make her break it—that is, ef she could 'elp herself."
"Well, I s'pose she couldn't 'elp herself," said Connie. "It's jest this way. They keep her in over hours—they often do that at Cheadle's."
"They 'aven't kep' 'er in to-night," said Giles.
"Then wot 'ave come to her?" "I dunno; only Big Ben——"
"Giles dear, wot do yer mean?"
"I know," said Giles, with a catch in his voice, "as that blessed Woice comforts me; but there............
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