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  The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

IV The Rat

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Marco would have wondered very much if he had heard the words, but, as he did not hear them, he turned toward home wondering at something else. A man who was in intimate attendance on a king must be a person of importance. He no doubt knew many things not only of his own ruler's country, but of the countries of other kings. But so few had really known anything of poor little Samavia until the newspapers had begun to tell them of the horrors of its war--and who but a Samavian could speak its language? It would be an interesting thing to tell his father--that a man who knew the King had spoken to him in Samavian, and had sent that curious message.

Later he found himself passing a side street and looked up it. It was so narrow, and on either side of it were such old, tall, and sloping-walled houses that it attracted his attention. It looked as if a bit of old London had been left to stand while newer places grew up and hid it from view. This was the kind of street he liked to pass through for curiosity's sake. He knew many of them in the old quarters of many cities. He had lived in some of them. He could find his way home from the other end of it. Another thing than its queerness attracted him. He heard a clamor of boys' voices, and he wanted to see what they were doing. Sometimes, when he had reached a new place and had had that lonely feeling, he had followed some boyish clamor of play or wrangling, and had found a temporary friend or so.

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Half-way to the street's end there was an arched brick passage. The sound of the voices came from there--one of them high, and thinner and shriller than the rest. Marco tramped up to the arch and looked down through the passage. It opened on to a gray flagged space, shut in by the railings of a black, deserted, and ancient graveyard behind a venerable church which turned its face toward some other street. The boys were not playing, but listening to one of their number who was reading to them from a newspaper.

Marco walked down the passage and listened also, standing in the dark arched outlet at its end and watching the boy who read. He was a strange little creature with a big forehead, and deep eyes which were curiously sharp. But this was not all. He had a hunch back, his legs seemed small and crooked. He sat with them crossed before him on a rough wooden platform set on low wheels, on which he evidently pushed himself about. Near him were a number of sticks stacked together as if they were rifles. One of the first things that Marco noticed was that he had a savage little face marked with lines as if he had been angry all his life.

``Hold your tongues, you fools!'' he shrilled out to some boys who interrupted him. ``Don't you want to know anything, you ignorant swine?''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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