|Newspaper Title||Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903)|
|Trove Title||The King of No-Land|
THE KING OF NO-LAND. BY B. L. FARJEON. CI-PTrE III-continued. 'I think,' he whispered to Coltsfoot, 'that the poor have many pleasures which the rich do not taste.' Coltsfoot smiled; he was satisfied that his young friend was learning good lessons in a good way. The family wished Coltsfoot and Sassafras to remain with them the whole of the day; but Coltsfoot said that they had many things to see, and that they would return in the evening. In accordance with Colbsfoot's wish, Sassafras had not told them that he was about to leave them. 'Wait until to-night,' Coltsfoot said; 'it might spoil their pleasure to know too soon. They have but few holidays.' 'Then you really think,' asked Sassafras, 'that they will be sorry to lose me ?' 'I am sure so,' replied Coltsfoot. Sassafras found some consolation in this; it sweetened his grief. Coltsfoot took him into the City, where he witnessed many strange scenes, and where he saw the poor and helpless in their best and worst aspect. Where ever he went he met with touches of humanity which brought sweet light into the darkest places-wherever he went he saw the poor helping the poor. Coltsfoot was welcomed everywhere, even in the worst of places, for all recognised in him a friend. They walked through a nest of bad narrow thoroughfares, a very maze of shrunken diseased courts and lanes, in which it was almost impossible for virtue not to lose its way. Sassafras was frightened at the sights and sounds which greeted him: he clung closely to Coltsfoor, who conducted him safely through these hotbeds. Swarms of children were there, learning; swarms of men and women were living the lives they had been brought up to in their chilohood; doing their duty, as one bitter cynic among them said, to the best of their ability in that sphere of life in which it had pleased God to place them. 'There is nothing to fear, said Coltsfoot; 'they will not harm us.' 'Where do all these people live ?' asked Sassafras. 'In cellars,' replied Coltsfoot, 'in garrets, in rooms where heaven's light is veiled, huddled together like rats, clinging to each other for warmth like vermin. 0, that I were a ruler, if only to accomplish one task ?' 'What task ?' 'To sweep away these nests of corruption-to purify the streets. Sewers breed rats. But these living things are human creatures, God help them ! Dear lad, I have my doubts as well as you. Sometimes when I visit these places, knowing they have existed for scores of years, knowing that they will exist for scores of years longer, knowing that thousands and thousands of helpless babes will be born here and educated to lives of nfamy, I doubt whether under such circumstances man can be held respon sible for crime, and I am driven against my reason to ask whether civilization is a curse or a blessing. Only to you, dear lad, would I express these doubts, for I know the danger that lies in them.' These words were as painful for Sassafras to hear as they were to Coltsfoot to utter, but they were prompted by indignant pity, and Coltsfoot could not restrain the utter ance of them. They emerged into the wider thorough fares, and-iu the brighter aspect of the space in which they now moved, and the brighter prospect of pleasant hours presently to be spent with Blue bell and her kindred-were striving to shake from their minds the dust of melancholy which the scenes they had witnessed had engendered, when a babel of voices and sounds of hurried steps in their rear caused them to turn. Some twenty men and women, with alarm and pity on their faces, clustered about Coltsfoot and Sassafras, and began to speak all at once. 'I tell you he is a doctor. I tell you lie isn't. He is; he isn't. Well, ask him. He's a good sort anyway, and is likely to know something about it.' Coltsfoot held up his hand, to stop their unintelligible babble. 'I am not a doctor according to the law,' he said, 'but I have some know ledge of medicine. 'There ! there ! did'nt I tell you so ?' exclaimed those who were right to those who were wrong. 'But what special thing is it,' con tinuedl Coltsfoot, 'that you say I am likely to know something about V' 'Death,' said'a man, stepping forward. 'That special thing.' 'Explain yourself.' 'You know Death when you see it,' demanded the man somewhat surlily. 'I do,' replied Coltsfoot gravely. 'So do I; these ignorant cattle don't. 'The woman's dead,' said T, with half a look at her. But they wouldn't believe it. So they run after you, to prove me a liar.' Before the man's last words were uttered, Coltsfoot, with Sassafras by his side, was retracing his steps towards the narrow courts and lanes. The mob of men and women, the numbers of which had by this time considerably increased, led the way into one of the foulest'of the thorough fares, the entrance of which was arched; the rookeries it contained were of the vilest character, and were fit only for vermin to breed in. In a garret, in one of these dens, lay a woman on the ground-a woman so thin and emaciated as to cause sighs of compassion to escape from the breast of Sassafras. Coltsfoot knelt by the woman, whose only covering was a brown gown, torn, tattered, faded-fit for a dang-heap. 'She is dead,' said Coltsfoot. The man who had first pronounced her so east a look of triumph at the doubters. 'What was her complaint' asked Sassafras, in a whisper to Coltsfoot; but the whisper was heard, and the question answered by the man, who lifted :the kwoma??'ebare arm, and ran his hand along the sharp bones. 'Starvation, my hboy,' replied the man; 'i?bt'i ?has her complaint: A pretty tiine of the year' to die of that disease, ehl9'
'It is true, I am afraid,' said Colts foot, answering Sassafras's eloquent look of pity. 'But what is this? A child ? Truly, his eyes had lighted on a child, a baby of six months, who was asleep in a corner of the room. The baby was covered by a piece of rough sacking. 'Ah" said a woman, 'this is Dick little Dick.' Coltsfoot took the child in his arms, who, for a wonder, was clean; this was clearly to be seen, for when Coltsfoot let the piece of sacking fall to the ground, the child was discovered to be perfectly naked. 'Give him to me,' said the woman, and as she relieved Coltsfoot of his burden, the baby opened his eyes, and gazed upon the group, and upon the body of his dead mother lying on the gronnd. 'Little Dick I' exclaimed the woman tenderly. 'Cunning little Dick ! I'll take care of him to-night, sir.' With sad hearts, Coltsfoot and Sassafras walked away from the fevered thoroughfares towards the country lanes. 'Cunning little Dick !' mused Coltsfoot. 'Poor naked little mortal! If you happen to see him when you return from your travels, what will he have grown into ? But I know-alas ! I know.' He would have been filled even with a deeper sorrow had any foreshadowing fallen upon him of another Christmisn night in the years to come, when he and Sassafras and Cunning Little Dick met for the second time, in another place, and under other circumstances. Night stole upon them as they walked. 'Come,' said Coltsfoot, with an affectionate pressure of his companion's arm, 'let us banish melancholy thought. We are in a pure air now.