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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

IX "It Is Not a Game"

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Loristan walked slowly up and down the back sitting-room and listened to Marco, who sat by the small fire and talked.

``Go on,'' he said, whenever the boy stopped. ``I want to hear it all. He's a strange lad, and it's a splendid game.''

Marco was telling him the story of his second and third visits to the inclosure behind the deserted church-yard. He had begun at the beginning, and his father had listened with a deep interest.

A year later, Marco recalled this evening as a thrilling memory, and as one which would never pass away from him throughout his life. He would always be able to call it all back. The small and dingy back room, the dimness of the one poor gas-burner, which was all they could afford to light, the iron box pushed into the corner with its maps and plans locked safely in it, the erect bearing and actual beauty of the tall form, which the shabbiness of worn and mended clothes could not hide or dim. Not even rags and tatters could have made Loristan seem insignificant or undistinguished. He was always the same. His eyes seemed darker and more wonderful than ever in their remote thoughtfulness and interest as he spoke.

``Go on,'' he said. ``It is a splendid game. And it is curious. He has thought it out well. The lad is a born soldier.''

``It is not a game to him,'' Marco said. ``And it is not a game to me. The Squad is only playing, but with him it's quite different. He knows he'll never really get what he wants, but he feels as if this was something near it. He said I might show you the map he made. Father, look at it.''

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He gave Loristan the clean copy of The Rat's map of Samavia. The city of Melzarr was marked with certain signs. They were to show at what points The Rat--if he had been a Samavian general --would have attacked the capital. As Marco pointed them out, he explained The Rat's reasons for his planning.

Loristan held the paper for some minutes. He fixed his eyes on it curiously, and his black brows drew themselves together.

``This is very wonderful!'' he said at last. ``He is quite right. They might have got in there, and for the very reasons he hit on.

How did he learn all this?''

``He thinks of nothing else now,'' answered Marco. ``He has always thought of wars and made plans for battles. He's not like the rest of the Squad. His father is nearly always drunk, but he is very well educated, and, when he is only half drunk, he likes to talk.

The Rat asks him questions then, and leads him on until he finds out a great deal. Then he begs old newspapers, and he hides himself in corners and listens to what people are saying. He says he lies awake at night thinking it out, and he thinks about it all the day. That was why he got up the Squad.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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