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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

IX "It Is Not a Game"

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Loristan had continued examining the paper.

``Tell him,'' he said, when he refolded and handed it back, ``that I studied his map, and he may be proud of it. You may also tell him--'' and he smiled quietly as he spoke--``that in my opinion he is right. The Iarovitch would have held Melzarr to-day if he had led them.''

Marco was full of exultation.

``I thought you would say he was right. I felt sure you would. That is what makes me want to tell you the rest,'' he hurried on.

``If you think he is right about the rest too--'' He stopped awkwardly because of a sudden wild thought which rushed upon him. ``I don't know what you will think,'' he stammered. ``Perhaps it will seem to you as if the game--as if that part of it could--could only be a game.''

He was so fervent in spite of his hesitation that Loristan began to watch him with sympathetic respect, as he always did when the boy was trying to express something he was not sure of. One of the great bonds between them was that Loristan was always interested in his boyish mental processes--in the way in which his thoughts led him to any conclusion.

``Go on,'' he said again. ``I am like The Rat and I am like you.

It has not seemed quite like a game to me, so far.''

He sat down at the writing-table and Marco, in his eagerness, drew nearer and leaned against it, resting on his arms and lowering his voice, though it was always their habit to speak at such a pitch that no one outside the room they were in could distinguish what they said.

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``It is The Rat's plan for giving the signal for a Rising,'' he said.

Loristan made a slight movement.

``Does he think there will be a Rising?'' he asked.

``He says that must be what the Secret Party has been preparing for all these years. And it must come soon. The other nations see that the fighting must be put an end to even if they have to stop it themselves. And if the real King is found--but when The Rat bought the newspaper there was nothing in it about where he was.

It was only a sort of rumor. Nobody seemed to know anything.'' He stopped a few seconds, but he did not utter the words which were in his mind. He did not say: ``But YOU know.''

``And The Rat has a plan for giving the signal?'' Loristan said.

Marco forgot his first feeling of hesitation. He began to see the plan again as he had seen it when The Rat talked. He began to speak as The Rat had spoken, forgetting that it was a game. He made even a clearer picture than The Rat had made of the two vagabond boys--one of them a cripple--making their way from one place to another, quite free to carry messages or warnings where they chose, because they were so insignificant and poor-looking that no one could think of them as anything but waifs and strays, belonging to nobody and blown about by the wind of poverty and chance. He felt as if he wanted to convince his father that the plan was a possible one. He did not quite know why he felt so anxious to win his approval of the scheme--as if it were real--as if it could actually be done. But this feeling was what inspired him to enter into new details and suggest possibilities.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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