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0105_001E The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

IV The Rat

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He was as ill-dressed as the rest of them, but he did not speak in the Cockney dialect. If he was of the riffraff of the streets, as his companions were, he was somehow different.

Then he, by chance, saw Marco, who was standing in the arched end of the passage.

``What are you doing there listening?'' he shouted, and at once stooped to pick up a stone and threw it at him. The stone hit Marco's shoulder, but it did not hurt him much. What he did not like was that another lad should want to throw something at him before they had even exchanged boy-signs. He also did not like the fact that two other boys promptly took the matter up by bending down to pick up stones also.

He walked forward straight into the group and stopped close to the hunchback.

``What did you do that for?'' he asked, in his rather deep young voice.

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He was big and strong-looking enough to suggest that he was not a boy it would be easy to dispose of, but it was not that which made the group stand still a moment to stare at him. It was something in himself--half of it a kind of impartial lack of anything like irritation at the stone-throwing. It was as if it had not mattered to him in the least. It had not made him feel angry or insulted. He was only rather curious about it. Because he was clean, and his hair and his shabby clothes were brushed, the first impression given by his appearance as he stood in the archway was that he was a young ``toff'' poking his nose where it was not wanted; but, as he drew near, they saw that the well-brushed clothes were worn, and there were patches on his shoes.

``What did you do that for?'' he asked, and he asked it merely as if he wanted to find out the reason.

``I'm not going to have you swells dropping in to my club as if it was your own,'' said the hunchback.

``I'm not a swell, and I didn't know it was a club,'' Marco answered. ``I heard boys, and I thought I'd come and look. When I heard you reading about Samavia, I wanted to hear.''

He looked at the reader with his silent-expressioned eyes.

``You needn't have thrown a stone,'' he added. ``They don't do it at men's clubs. I'll go away.''

He turned about as if he were going, but, before he had taken three steps, the hunchback hailed him unceremoniously.

``Hi!'' he called out. ``Hi, you!''

``What do you want?'' said Marco.

``I bet you don't know where Samavia is, or what they're fighting about.'' The hunchback threw the words at him.

``Yes, I do. It's north of Beltrazo and east of Jiardasia, and they are fighting because one party has assassinated King Maran, and the other will not let them crown Nicola Iarovitch. And why should they? He's a brigand, and hasn't a drop of royal blood in him.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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