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  The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

VI The Drill and the Secret Party

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Loristan did not forbid Marco to pursue his acquaintance with The Rat and his followers.

``You will find out for yourself whether they are friends for you or not,'' he said. ``You will know in a few days, and then you can make your own decision. You have known lads in various countries, and you are a good judge of them, I think. You will soon see whether they are going to be MEN or mere rabble. The Rat now--how does he strike you?''

And the handsome eyes held their keen look of questioning.

``He'd be a brave soldier if he could stand,'' said Marco, thinking him over. ``But he might be cruel.''

``A lad who might make a brave soldier cannot be disdained, but a man who is cruel is a fool. Tell him that from me,'' Loristan answered. ``He wastes force--his own and the force of the one he treats cruelly. Only a fool wastes force.''

``May I speak of you sometimes?'' asked Marco.

``Yes. You will know how. You will remember the things about which silence is the order.''

``I never forget them,'' said Marco. ``I have been trying not to, for such a long time.''

``You have succeeded well, Comrade!'' returned Loristan, from his writing-table, to which he had gone and where he was turning over papers.

A strong impulse overpowered the boy. He marched over to the table and stood very straight, making his soldierly young salute, his whole body glowing.

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``Father!'' he said, ``you don't know how I love you! I wish you were a general and I might die in battle for you. When I look at you, I long and long to do something for you a boy could not do. I would die of a thousand wounds rather than disobey you--or Samavia!''

He seized Loristan's hand, and knelt on one knee and kissed it. An English or American boy could not have done such a thing from unaffected natural impulse. But he was of warm Southern blood.

``I took my oath of allegiance to you, Father, when I took it to Samavia. It seems as if you were Samavia, too,'' he said, and kissed his hand again.

Loristan had turned toward him with one of the movements which were full of dignity and grace. Marco, looking up at him, felt that there was always a certain remote stateliness in him which made it seem quite natural that any one should bend the knee and kiss his hand.

A sudden great tenderness glowed in his father's face as he raised the boy and put his hand on his shoulder.

``Comrade,'' he said, ``you don't know how much I love you--and what reason there is that we should love each other! You don't know how I have been watching you, and thanking God each year that here grew a man for Samavia. That I know you are--a MAN, though you have lived but twelve years. Twelve years may grow a man--or prove that a man will never grow, though a human thing he may remain for ninety years. This year may be full of strange things for both of us. We cannot know WHAT I may have to ask you to do for me--and for Samavia. Perhaps such a thing as no twelve-year- old boy has ever done before.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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