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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

IX "It Is Not a Game"

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``You are growing older,'' he had said the night he had revealed the marvelous secret. ``Silence is still the order, but you are man enough to be told more.''

Was he man enough to be thought worthy to help Samavia in any small way--even with boyish fancies which might contain a germ of some thought which older and wiser minds might make useful? Was he being listened to because the plan, made as part of a game, was not an impossible one--if two boys who could be trusted could be found? He caught a deep breath as he went on, drawing still nearer and speaking so low that his tone was almost a whisper.

``If the men of the Secret Party have been working and thinking for so many years--they have prepared everything. They know by this time exactly what must be done by the messengers who are to give the signal. They can tell them where to go and how to know the secret friends who must be warned. If the orders could be written and given to--to some one who has--who has learned to remember things!'' He had begun to breathe so quickly that he stopped for a moment.

Loristan looked up. He looked directly into his eyes.

``Some one who has been TRAINED to remember things?'' he said.

``Some one who has been trained,'' Marco went on, catching his breath again. ``Some one who does not forget--who would never forget--never! That one, even if he were only twelve--even if he were only ten--could go and do as he was told.'' Loristan put his hand on his shoulder.

``Comrade,'' he said, ``you are speaking as if you were ready to go yourself.''

Marco's eyes looked bravely straight into his, but he said not one word.

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``Do you know what it would mean, Comrade?'' his father went on. ``You are right. It is not a game. And you are not thinking of it as one. But have you thought how it would be if something betrayed you--and you were set up against a wall to be SHOT?''

Marco stood up quite straight. He tried to believe he felt the wall against his back.

``If I were shot, I should be shot for Samavia,'' he said. ``And for YOU, Father.''

Even as he was speaking, the front door-bell rang and Lazarus evidently opened it. He spoke to some one, and then they heard his footsteps approaching the back sitting-room.

``Open the door,'' said Loristan, and Marco opened it.

``There is a boy who is a cripple here, sir,'' the old soldier said. ``He asked to see Master Marco.''

``If it is The Rat,'' said Loristan, ``bring him in here. I wish to see him.''

Marco went down the passage to the front door. The Rat was there, but he was not upon his platform. He was leaning upon an old pair of crutches, and Marco thought he looked wild and strange. He was white, and somehow the lines of his face seemed twisted in a new way. Marco wondered if something had frightened him, or if he felt ill.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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