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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

VIII An Exciting Game

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He said ``Comrade'' as Loristan did, and somehow Marco did not resent it, because he was ready to labor for Samavia. It was only a game, but it made them comrades--and was it really only a game, after all? His excited voice and his strange, lined face made it singularly unlike one.

``Yes, Comrade, I am ready,'' Marco answered him.

``We shall be in Samavia when the fighting for the Lost Prince begins.'' The Rat carried on his story with fire. ``We may see a battle. We might do something to help. We might carry messages under a rain of bullets--a rain of bullets!'' The thought so elated him that he forgot his whisper and his voice rang out fiercely. ``Boys have been in battles before. We might find the Lost King--no, the Found King--and ask him to let us be his servants. He could send us where he couldn't send bigger people. I could say to him, `Your Majesty, I am called ``The Rat,'' because I can creep through holes and into corners and dart about. Order me into any danger and I will obey you. Let me die like a soldier if I can't live like one.' ''

Suddenly he threw his ragged coat sleeve up across his eyes. He had wrought himself up tremendously with the picture of the rain of bullets. And he felt as if he saw the King who had at last been found. The next moment he uncovered his face.

``That's what we've got to do,'' he said. ``Just that, if you want to know. And a lot more. There's no end to it!''

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Marco's thoughts were in a whirl. It ought not to be nothing but a game. He grew quite hot all over. If the Secret Party wanted to send messengers no one would think of suspecting, who could be more harmless-looking than two vagabond boys wandering about picking up their living as best they could, not seeming to belong to any one? And one a cripple. It was true--yes, it was true, as The Rat said, that his being a cripple made him look safer than any one else. Marco actually put his forehead in his hands and pressed his temples.

``What's the matter?'' exclaimed The Rat. ``What are you thinking about?''

``I'm thinking what a general you would make. I'm thinking that it might all be real--every word of it. It mightn't be a game at all,'' said Marco.

``No, it mightn't,'' The Rat answered. ``If I knew where the Secret Party was, I'd like to go and tell them about it. What's that!'' he said, suddenly turning his head toward the street. ``What are they calling out?''

Some newsboy with a particularly shrill voice was shouting out something at the topmost of his lungs.

Tense and excited, no member of the circle stirred or spoke for a few seconds. The Rat listened, Marco listened, the whole Squad listened, pricking up their ears.

``Startling news from Samavia,'' the newsboy was shrilling out. ``Amazing story! Descendant of the Lost Prince found! Descendant of the Lost Prince found!''

``Any chap got a penny?'' snapped The Rat, beginning to shuffle toward the arched passage.

``I have!'' answered Marco, following him.

``Come on!'' The Rat yelled. ``Let's go and get a paper!'' And he whizzed down the passage with his swiftest rat-like dart, while the Squad followed him, shouting and tumbling over each other.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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