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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

VIII An Exciting Game

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``Yes, sir. Surely the time has come,'' he answered. But that was all he said, and he turned and went out of the shabby back sitting- room at once. It was as if he felt it were wiser to go before he lost power over himself and said more.

Marco made his way to the meeting-place of the Squad, to which The Rat had in the past given the name of the Barracks. The Rat was sitting among his followers, and he had been reading the morning paper to them, the one which contained the account of the battle of Melzarr. The Squad had become the Secret Party, and each member of it was thrilled with the spirit of dark plot and adventure. They all whispered when they spoke.

``This is not the Barracks now,'' The Rat said. ``It is a subterranean cavern. Under the floor of it thousands of swords and guns are buried, and it is piled to the roof with them. There is only a small place left for us to sit and plot in. We crawl in through a hole, and the hole is hidden by bushes.''

To the rest of the boys this was only an exciting game, but Marco knew that to The Rat it was more. Though The Rat knew none of the things he knew, he saw that the whole story seemed to him a real

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thing. The struggles of Samavia, as he had heard and read of them in the newspapers, had taken possession of him. His passion for soldiering and warfare and his curiously mature brain had led him into following every detail he could lay hold of. He had listened to all he had heard with remarkable results. He remembered things older people forgot after they had mentioned them. He forgot nothing. He had drawn on the flagstones a map of Samavia which Marco saw was actually correct, and he had made a rough sketch of Melzarr and the battle which had had such disastrous results.

``The Maranovitch had possession of Melzarr,'' he explained with feverish eagerness. ``And the Iarovitch attacked them from here,'' pointing with his finger. ``That was a mistake. I should have attacked them from a place where they would not have been expecting it. They expected attack on their fortifications, and they were ready to defend them. I believe the enemy could have stolen up in the night and rushed in here,'' pointing again. Marco thought he was right. The Rat had argued it all out, and had studied Melzarr as he might have studied a puzzle or an arithmetical problem. He was very clever, and as sharp as his queer face looked.

``I believe you would make a good general if you were grown up,'' said Marco. ``I'd like to show your maps to my father and ask him if he doesn't think your stratagem would have been a good one.''

``Does he know much about Samavia?'' asked The Rat.

``He has to read the newspapers because he writes things,'' Marco answered. ``And every one is thinking about the war. No one can help it.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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