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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

IV The Rat

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``Oh!'' reluctantly admitted the hunchback. ``You do know that much, do you? Come back here.''

Marco turned back, while the boys still stared. It was as if two leaders or generals were meeting for the first time, and the rabble, looking on, wondered what would come of their encounter.

``The Samavians of the Iarovitch party are a bad lot and want only bad things,'' said Marco, speaking first. ``They care nothing for Samavia. They only care for money and the power to make laws which will serve them and crush everybody else. They know Nicola is a weak man, and that, if they can crown him king, they can make him do what they like.''

The fact that he spoke first, and that, though he spoke in a steady boyish voice without swagger, he somehow seemed to take it for granted that they would listen, made his place for him at once. Boys are impressionable creatures, and they know a leader when they see him. The hunchback fixed glittering eyes on him. The rabble began to murmur.

``Rat! Rat!'' several voices cried at once in good strong Cockney. ``Arst 'im some more, Rat!''

``Is that what they call you?'' Marco asked the hunchback.

``It's what I called myself,'' he answered resentfully. `` `The Rat.' Look at me! Crawling round on the ground like this! Look at me!''

He made a gesture ordering his followers to move aside, and began to push himself rapidly, with queer darts this side and that round the inclosure. He bent his head and body, and twisted his face, and made strange animal-like movements. He even uttered sharp squeaks as he rushed here and there--as a rat might have done when it was being hunted. He did it as if he were displaying an accomplishment, and his followers' laughter was applause.

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``Wasn't I like a rat?'' he demanded, when he suddenly stopped.

``You made yourself like one on purpose,'' Marco answered. ``You do it for fun.''

``Not so much fun,'' said The Rat. ``I feel like one. Every one's my enemy. I'm vermin. I can't fight or defend myself unless I bite. I can bite, though.'' And he showed two rows of fierce, strong, white teeth, sharper at the points than human teeth usually are. ``I bite my father when he gets drunk and beats me. I've bitten him till he's learned to remember.'' He laughed a shrill, squeaking laugh. ``He hasn't tried it for three months--even when he was drunk-- and he's always drunk.'' Then he laughed again still more shrilly. ``He's a gentleman,'' he said. ``I'm a gentleman's son. He was a Master at a big school until he was kicked out--that was when I was four and my mother died. I'm thirteen now. How old are you?''

``I'm twelve,'' answered Marco.

The Rat twisted his face enviously.

``I wish I was your size! Are you a gentleman's son? You look as if you were.''

``I'm a very poor man's son,'' was Marco's answer. ``My father is a writer.''

``Then, ten to one, he's a sort of gentleman,'' said The Rat. Then quite suddenly he threw another question at him. ``What's the name of the other Samavian party?''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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