|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. CHAPTER XIV.-continued. 'Bend your head,' he whispered to Iris. 'Do you love me ?' 0 yes, yes I' 'I have been overtaken by mis fortune; I am afraid I am going to be ill. Stop a moment-stop a moment I' (This with a wild motion of his hands : the words were addressed to himself, and were intended to check the wave of fever that he felt to be coming upon him.) 'If you love me, you must promise me to nurse me yourself, and not go to Coltsfoot or Bluebell. I exact the promise. Give it to me for God's sake give it to me I' 'I do-I do!' cried Iris, with the tears running down her face. 'God will reward you ; I cannot. Dear child, dear child ! An angel dwells in your breast. But listen still. You are not to go to those dear ones I have named until the fever is over that I feel coming upon me. And what strange words I may utter you will not repeat. Swear to me no, promise, that is enough-that you will not tell them what I say.' 'Yes, yes ; I promise.' 'Ah me! ah me! Did I not tell you that I have been overtaken by a great misfortune? I shall say strange things-I have had strange fancies. But they will be over soon. The world is not all bad. There is good ness in it; there is sweetness in it. There are stars of peace and love in it. Come!' He stretched out his arms, and rose in bed; the gentle hand of Iris upon his breast was sufficient to compose him, and he sank back again. 'One more word,' he said, grasping consciousness, as it were, before it entirely escaped him ; 'if I am rebel lious, and give you trouble, whisper to me the name of Bluebell. Peace dwells with her.' These were the last rational words he uttered for three weeks, during which time Iris nursed him with tender care. But she would have foiund it far more difficult than she did to be faithful to the trust reposed in her, and which she accepted, had it not been that Coltsfoot found so much to do in consequence of the excitement into which the country was thrown by the abdication of the King, that every moment of his time was -occupied. His task was to throw oil upon the troubled waters among the poor whom he knew, and to prevent them from becoming violent in the extravagance of their agitation at the new state of things which was to be such a blessing to them. During these three weeks, Coltsfoot saw Iris on three or four occasions, when she contrived to meet him always in the streets, and he was satisfied by her words that all was going on well with her and her sisters. The little maid played a cunning part, and played it well. She obtained medicines from Coltsfoot, leading him to believe that they were for a poor person whom she visited ; and by this means and her own unwearied care she nursed Sassafras into convalescence. 'I can never repay you, dear child,' he said, as he lay upon the bed, a shadow of his former self. 'Go now to Coltsfoot and Bluebell, and tell them I am here.' CHAPTER XV. THROUGHOUT . THREE CHANGES OF THE SEASONS., As in a panorama- scenes' of places far` distant -from one'; another pass before our eyes' within a' few minutes -space and ' time :being defied, as` it *were,~ and" conquered by Lthoa, artist hrush---so, in some part. aft?lr the same fashion, shall certain pictures be given while the seasons run their! course in nature's wondrous scheme: . .... '.
.-. A little village church shines-out in the clear light of morning. The snow is on the ground ; the air is sweet, and the heavens are bright. Bound about the door are grouped thirty or forty poor women and children, dressed in their best ; some carry bunches of winter flowers in their hands. To this village church come Bluebell and Sassafras, to plight their troth so cording to God's holy ordinance: Coltsfoot accompanies them, and Robin ; and Iris and Lucerne and Daisy. Affectionate hands hold "out the flowers to the bride and bridegroom; affectionate looks greet them which ever way they turn. With heads reverently bent, they listen to the words of the priest; love is in their hearts, solemn thoughts are in their minds. Sassafras mentally thanks God for the new life which this day begins for him ; and the beautiful face of the bride grows still more beautiful as she plights her troth, It is near Christmas time, and the good season's gladness is reflected in the faces of those who throng the little church. 'May it be always Christmas with you, my child,' says Coltsfoot to Bluebell, as he kisses her in a fatherly way. He turns to Sassafras, and grasps his hand with faithful grasp. Then, with a smile on his lips, he leaves them, saying that he will be with them at the cottage in an hour. How does -he spend this hour? Alone, he stands in the cold white woods. He knows that this day has set the seal upon all his hopes of home and domestic love. No loving woman shall ever nestle in his arms, and call him Husband. No child shall ever cling to his knees, and call him Father. Waves of grief pass over his soul sighs issue from his aching breast; tears stain his face; a wintry smile dwells upon his lips. Suddenly the sun shines out; its warm rays rest upon a branch from which cold icicles hang, which pre'ently dissolve, and drop in diamond tears one by one to earth. 'Yes,' he murmurs, as if in answer to this sign ; 'because the fruition.of love is denied to me, shall I allow my heart to be frozen ? Dear sister ! dear brother!' He prays for strength, and it comes to him. 'Be comforted,' seems to be written in the air, in the snow-lined trees, in the clear heavens. The brave faithful man stands still for a few moments, with his earnest face turned upwards to the skies. Then he takes a hand ful of snow, and with it washes the traces of tears from his eyes. When he rejoins Bluebell and Sassafras, they see the same sweet smile upon his lips as was there when he left them by the village church. It is spring. Two men are working in the woods side by side. The sound of their axes rings through the air. A tree quivers, totters, falls. The workmen pause to wipe their brows. 'You're getting on,' says Ragged Robin approvingly. Sassafras smiles. 'But I shall never be as good a work man as you,' he says. 'Tain't to be expected,' remarks Robin complacently; but his complacent lock changes soon to one of discontent. 'What now, Robin?' asks Sassafras. ''Tis a shame it is,' answers Robin ; 'things ain't right.' 'Two shillings a week more, eh, Robin ?' exclaims Sassafras, with a sly look of merriment. That's so,' says Robin ; 'that's all that's wanted.' 'I wonder,' says Sassafras, swinging his axe, 'whether that nut will ever be cracked ?' 'I'd crack it,' grumbles Robin, 'if I had it between my teeth!' It is the evening of the same day. A hundred men, women, and children are trooping to Coltsfoot's school-house. His pupils have so increased in num bers that he has been compelled to call in the aid of Sassafras. Bluebell also assists them occasionally, when she can be spared from her household duties. Some of the pupils are grey haired men, who are now for the first time mastering their ab c. Iris, Lucerne, and Daisy are regular at tendants. The pupils learn good lessons in addition to the regular rou tins of tasks. How can it be otherwise, with such a teacher as Coltsfoot to guide them? By the mere force of example he renders them fitter for life's duties and for the life to come. Within the scope of his influenee which is necessarily very limited, but he does more than one man's good work-there are no gin-palaces, with garish light and vicious glitter, to poison and mislead. He woos the weak and ignorant to a better spending of their leisure hours. Wise, tolerant, merciful yet just, the lessons they learn from him clear the clouds from their minds, and make their souls and bodies clean and wholesome. Many and many a home has been made bright and happy. It is summer, and Coltsfoot and Sassafras stand by a small patch of land on which the corn is ripening. The plot is a very small one, and they have acquired is by industry; they have cultivated it with their own hands. 'There will be a good crop,' says Sassafras; 'we shall have flour enough for the year.' 'And a little to spare,' adds Coltsfoot. Together they walk to the little cottage, which is again bright with color. Within the honey-suckle porch sits Bluebell, working, and watching for the approach of her husband and friend. They come. She runs to meet them. A heaven of happiness is in the heart of Sassafras as he walks towards their home with his arm around her waist, and he murmurs gratefully, 'Now do I know what sweetness there is in life.' 'What is that you are whispering ?' asks Bluebell. "That I am the hap piest man in No-land, my darling,' he replies. 'Then I think,' 'she says, with that indescribably tender move ment which in such momentsa woman makes towards theeman she loves, 'thit I must hle the happiest woman.' The brown .tints of. autumn are coming into the leaves as all these humble friends whi~m I have grown-to love stand around a grave. Dame Endive is dead. To the last she never forgave Sassafras for robbing her son of Bluebell, and? if their had been ;ro,nfor a thorn in the happy cottage. sh& would hIave p!anuiiliti. But there was no room. lltr son and her friends 'would not allow it to grow. And now saiils removed from them,'and theie is
one soul-the -lese-in- the happy--net. But another will soon be added to it a flower which, will- bring a new and heaven-born joy to the hearta of Bluebell and Sassafras. It is winter again ; and Christmas day dawns upon them. The church bells ring blithely in the air, and Sassafras and his friends walk to church. 'We are seven,' says Colts foot as he looks around, for Robin, and Iris, and her sisters are of the party, making up the inumber. They sit in the rear of the building. The preacher is a rough earnest man, and his un studied words come from a deep well of earnestness. Occasionally his similes are startling in their truthful application. They are like rays of sunlight shining on dark places, where what is hidden or has been hidden is suddenly made clear to the under standing. He is emphatically a preacher of the gospel of the poor, and he sets forth the old, old lessons, more needed now than at any other time in the world's history. His text is, 'Love one another.' In beautiful and simple hnguage he describes the duty which man owes to man, and sets before his hearers so clear a view of the right course of life--not only right, but wise, because of the sweetness there is in it-that the dullest among them can comprehend. 'Not to-day alone,' he says, 'but every day in the year should be Christmas. The sentiments which animate and sweeten this season would, if they were exer cised continually, he the mightiest soldiers that can be found against ignorance, and misery. and crime; they would raise humanity to a higher level-nearer to the divine spirit which raises it above the level of the brute-nearer to the example which is worshipped in theory, the example set by Him who bade you bear one another's burdens.' The day is spent in rational enjoyment. They walk to a spot endeared to Sassafras and Bluebell by the tenderest memories to echo-land. Again they wake the echoes; again the inspired hollow speaks and sings. The scene is even more beautiful now in their eyes than in the summer. The pure white snow lies lightly on hill and plain, and beautifies every bare branch. 'Such a scene as this,' says Coltsfoot, 'always brings to my mind, in some way, a picture of creation before the first day, when the world was waiting for God's breath to awaken it to lifeand blossom.' 'To me,' says Sassafras, 'it brings the fancy of the world sleeping after a fever of turbulent years ;' and adds, 'The world is all asleep, and we stand here, musing on things that in the lap of time have sunk to rest.' Sassafras and Bluebell wander to the spot where he first told her that he loved her : though nothing but snow meets their eyes, the flowers are blooming as brightly for them as on that bright summer day which filled their lives with tender memories. In the evening they are all together in the cottage, and the three little girls, with their violins, play important parts. Robin looks at Iris, and the idea suddenly occurs to him that she is very pretty ; but his mind is not of the strongest, and there the idea remains, without forcing itself into expression. Bluebell is unusually quiet, and they do not disturb her. The fire cackles and glows, and she gazes long into the bright blaze, with eyes so happy and wistful that a few words whi-pered to her in a soft tone by Sassafras bring tears into them. She takes his hand, and her fingers twine round his with convulsive tenderness. (To be continued).