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|The Lost Prince||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
IV The Rat
|Page 8 of 9||
The Rat himself sat up straight on his platform. There was actually something military in the bearing of his lean body. His voice lost its squeak and its sharpness became commanding.
He put the dozen lads through the drill as if he had been a smart young officer. And the drill itself was prompt and smart enough to have done credit to practiced soldiers in barracks. It made Marco involuntarily stand very straight himself, and watch with surprised interest.
``That's good!'' he exclaimed when it was at an end. ``How did you learn that?''
The Rat made a savage gesture.
``If I'd had legs to stand on, I'd have been a soldier!'' he said. ``I'd have enlisted in any regiment that would take me. I don't care for anything else.''
Suddenly his face changed, and he shouted a command to his followers.
``Turn your backs!'' he ordered.
And they did turn their backs and looked through the railings of the old churchyard. Marco saw that they were obeying an order which was not new to them. The Rat had thrown his arm up over his eyes and covered them. He held it there for several moments, as if he did not want to be seen. Marco turned his back as the rest had done. All at once he understood that, though The Rat was not crying, yet he was feeling something which another boy would possibly have broken down under.
``All right!'' he shouted presently, and dropped his ragged-sleeved arm and sat up straight again.
``I want to go to war!'' he said hoarsely. ``I want to fight! I want to lead a lot of men into battle! And I haven't got any legs. Sometimes it takes the pluck out of me.''
``You've not grown up yet!'' said Marco. ``You might get strong.
No one knows what is going to happen. How did you learn to drill the club?''
``I hang about barracks. I watch and listen. I follow soldiers. If I could get books, I'd read about wars. I can't go to libraries as you can. I can do nothing but scuffle about like a rat.''
``I can take you to some libraries,'' said Marco. ``There are places where boys can get in. And I can get some papers from my father.''
``Can you?'' said The Rat. ``Do you want to join the club?''
``Yes!'' Marco answered. ``I'll speak to my father about it.''
He said it because the hungry longing for companionship in his own mind had found a sort of response in the queer hungry look in The Rat's eyes. He wanted to see him again. Strange creature as he was, there was attraction in him. Scuffling about on his low wheeled platform, he had drawn this group of rough lads to him and made himself their commander. They obeyed him; they listened to his stories and harangues about war and soldiering; they let him drill them and give them orders. Marco knew that, when he told his father about him, he would be interested. The boy wanted to hear what Loristan would say.
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|The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett
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