|Chapter Title||CUNNING LITTLE DICK.|
|Newspaper Title||Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903)|
|Trove Title||The King of No-Land|
CHAPTER XVI. CUNNING -LITTLE DICK. The change came about in a strange way. It had been Coltsfoot's habit for many years to visit certain places on Christmas-day, and he had often spoken bt Sassafras of the beautiful and touching scenes he had witnessed at this season in a large hospital, where the sick poor were cared for. Sassa fras had expressed a wish to see these scenes, and upon this Christmas night he accompanied Coltsfoot to the hos pital. They left Bluebell at home, with Iris, Lucerne, and Daisy, saying they would return at nine o'clock. Robin was also at home, making big eyes at Iris, and thinking, as he had thought three years ago, how pretty she was. He had not, however, yet mustered sufficient courage to put his thought in words. On their way to the hospital, Coltsfoot conversed with Sassafras upon the state of the country, and Sassafras learnt much that astonished him. The new administration had utterly failed to remedy the evils of which the people had complained ; the most unscrupulous of the Qiamoclits and the Whortleberries had gone into power, and were making the worst use of it. Not only were they incompetent, they were corrupt; and the people in every part of No-land were crying out for a change. 'Change 1' exclaimed Sassafras. 'What change?' They say they were happier under Sassafras, and they are asking where he is. The papers are full of the theme ; even the papers owned by the Reform ers say it would be a happy day for the country if the King could be found and induced to resume his crown. The principal one of these papers is edited by Old Humanity-' 'Do you know that man ?' inquired Sassafras, in an agitated tone. 'I have frequently conversed with him, and if I meet him in no other place, I meet him often at the hospital we are going to now. He has a daughter there, a nurse. Well, even Old Humanity, although his opinions are in no ways changed, has said in his paper that it would be well if the King could be found. This - man, very singularly, speaks in somewhat affectionate terms of Sassafras; it seems that on the occasion on which he acted as spokesman for the people he was most favorably impressed by the demeanour of the young King. The mystery is what can have become of him. Some say he is dead ; yet his body has not been found. Old Humanity declares that the King is alive, and in No-land; if so, he has concealed himself cunningly. But here we are at the hospital.' Sassafras, disturbed as he was by what he had just heard, found mcrlh that interested him in this hospital. He would fain have lingered long in the children's ward, which was beautifully lit up by hundreds of small Christmas candles of yellow, and green, and red, and blue. The ward was lined with straight rows of cots, every one of which had its child occupant, and the eyes of all were fixed with eager gaze upon the colored lights which made the scene brilliant. Some of the sick children lay upon their backs, very still and quiet, and from the snow-white bed-linen peeped pitiful white faces; the faces of others were joyousi some clapped their little hands; and some rose in their cots, and seemed as though they would have wished things to go on for ever in this way. Not one of the children in this ward was more than twelve years of age ; some were mere babies; but there were many old, old faces among them. Before one of these old faces Coltsfoot paused. The child-who was so thin and small that he looked scarcely eight years of age, but was two or three years older was lying on his side, gazing upon the colored candles, which, as they wasted away, but too surely typified his fate. There was not a trace of pleasure in his sullen eyes, and in his pinched, old, weazen face there was the canning of a fox. 'Cunning little Dick he'sd called,' whispered the. nurse, 'and I'vrye bean told that he is proud of the title, althobugb, since he has been here, I have never seenany. other expression on hisface than that whaihrests there
now. He was.'brought here three weeks ago, having been run over and crushed badly, but never a murmur has escaped his lips,' Coltsfoot had started at the name. 'Do you remember,' he said in a low" tone to Sassafras, 'the Christmas-day we spent together when yon were a boy, before you went on your travels, and the scene we witnessed in that miserable garret, where a woman lay dead of starvation ? Do you remember the baby I found in a corner of the room, and the name they called it by " Dick - little Dick- cunning little Dick!' Two other persons were now at the bedside. Sassafras trembled as his eyes fell upon the form of Old Human ity. A lad who accompanied the old man stood by the bedside. Not noticing Sassafras's agitation, Coltsfoot continued, 'This poor child must be cunning little Dick.' Old Humanity heard the words, and joined in the conversation. 'Yes, that is the boy's name. He has been brought up in the gutters, and the prison has been his best home, God help him I' Coltsfoot sighed, and at that moment Old Humanity raised his eyes, and looked Sassafras full in the face. Sassafras turned red, then white, beneath the fixed gaze of the old man, and stepped a pace or two away from the bed. Old Humanity also moved away, but he did not remove his eyes from Sassafras's face. He seemed to be puzzling out some problem. The nurse stooped, and said some thing kind and gentle to cunning little Dick, but the lad made no response in word or look, although her tone was most motherly and soft. 'It wasn't his fault,' said the nurse, in reply to an observation from Coltsfoot; 'he had picked a pocket, and was running away. People ran after him, and while he was crossing from one side of the road to the other a man knocked him down. A brewer's dray was passing at the time, and the poor little fellow fell beneath the horses' feet, and was picked up terribly crushed.' Coltsfoot laid his hand upon the nurse's arm with gentle significance, and they both watched the face of cunning little Dick, seeing there what was hidden from the others. The two candles which were on the little table by Dick's side were almost burnt out, and the lad's eyes never wandered from them. Coltsfoot knelt by the bed, and took a little wasted hand in his. (To be continued). n nn . . ..