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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

IV The Rat

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But if it was bad here, it became worse when the old shepherd found the young huntsman's half-dead body in the forest. He HAD ``bin `done for' IN THE BACK! 'E'd bin give' no charnst. G-r-r-r!'' they groaned in chorus. ``Wisht'' THEY'D ``bin there when 'e'd bin 'it!'' They'd `` 'ave done fur somebody'' themselves. It was a story which had a queer effect on them. It made them think they saw things; it fired their blood; it set them wanting to fight for ideals they knew nothing about--adventurous things, for instance, and high and noble young princes who were full of the possibility of great and good deeds. Sitting upon the broken flagstones of the bit of ground behind the deserted graveyard, they were suddenly dragged into the world of romance, and noble young princes and great and good deeds became as real as the sunken gravestones, and far more interesting.

And then the smuggling across the frontier of the unconscious prince in the bullock cart loaded with sheepskins! They held their breaths. Would the old shepherd get him past the line! Marco, who was lost in the recital himself, told it as if he had been present. He felt as if he had, and as this was the first time he had ever told it to thrilled listeners, his imagination got him in its grip, and his heart jumped in his breast as he was sure the old man's must have done when the guard stopped his cart and asked him what he was carrying out of the country. He knew he must have had to call up all his strength to force his voice into steadiness.

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And then the good monks! He had to stop to explain what a monk was, and when he described the solitude of the ancient monastery, and its walled gardens full of flowers and old simples to be used for healing, and the wise monks walking in the silence and the sun, the boys stared a little helplessly, but still as if they were vaguely pleased by the picture.

And then there was no more to tell--no more. There it broke off, and something like a low howl of dismay broke from the semicircle.

``Aw!'' they protested, ``it 'adn't ought to stop there! Ain't there no more? Is that all there is?''

``It's all that was ever known really. And that last part might only be a sort of story made up by somebody. But I believe it myself.''

The Rat had listened with burning eyes. He had sat biting his finger-nails, as was a trick of his when he was excited or angry.

``Tell you what!'' he exclaimed suddenly. ``This was what happened. It was some of the Maranovitch fellows that tried to kill him. They meant to kill his father and make their own man king, and they knew the people wouldn't stand it if young Ivor was alive. They just stabbed him in the back, the fiends! I dare say they heard the old shepherd coming, and left him for dead and ran.''

``Right, oh! That was it!'' the lads agreed. ``Yer right there, Rat!''

``When he got well,'' The Rat went on feverishly, still biting his nails, ``he couldn't go back. He was only a boy. The other fellow had been crowned, and his followers felt strong because they'd just conquered the country. He could have done nothing without an army, and he was too young to raise one. Perhaps he thought he'd wait till he was old enough to know what to do. I dare say he went away and had to work for his living as if he'd never been a prince at all. Then perhaps sometime he married somebody and had a son, and told him as a secret who he was and all about Samavia.'' The Rat began to look vengeful. ``If I'd bin him I'd have told him not to forget what the Maranovitch had done to me. I'd have told him that if I couldn't get back the throne, he must see what he could do when he grew to be a man. And I'd have made him swear, if he got it back, to take it out of them or their children or their children's children in torture and killing. I'd have made him swear not to leave a Maranovitch alive. And I'd have told him that, if he couldn't do it in his life, he must pass the oath on to his son and his son's son, as long as there was a Fedorovitch on earth. Wouldn't you?'' he demanded hotly of Marco.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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