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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

VI The Drill and the Secret Party

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``I'm going to stand now, and so are the rest of you,'' said The Rat. ``Squad! 'Tention! You at the head of the line,'' to Marco. They were in line in a moment--straight, shoulders back, chins up. And Marco stood at the head.

``We're going to take an oath,'' said The Rat. ``It's an oath of allegiance. Allegiance means faithfulness to a thing--a king or a country. Ours means allegiance to the King of Samavia. We don't know where he is, but we swear to be faithful to him, to fight for him, to plot for him, to DIE for him, and to bring him back to his throne!'' The way in which he flung up his head when he said the word ``die'' was very fine indeed. ``We are the Secret Party. We will work in the dark and find out things--and run risks--and collect an army no one will know anything about until it is strong enough to suddenly rise at a secret signal, and overwhelm the Maranovitch and Iarovitch, and seize their forts and citadels. No one even knows we are alive. We are a silent, secret thing that never speaks aloud!''

Silent and secret as they were, however, they spoke aloud at this juncture. It was such a grand idea for a game, and so full of possible larks, that the Squad broke into a howl of an exultant cheer.

``Hooray!'' they yelled. ``Hooray for the oath of 'legiance! 'Ray! 'ray! 'ray!''

``Shut up, you swine!'' shouted The Rat. ``Is that the way you keep yourself secret? You'll call the police in, you fools! Look at HIM!'' pointing to Marco. ``He's got some sense.''

Marco, in fact, had not made any sound.

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``Come here, you Cad and Ben, and put me back on my wheels,'' raged the Squad's commander. ``I'll not make up the game at all.

It's no use with a lot of fat-head, raw recruits like you.''

The line broke and surrounded him in a moment, pleading and urging.

``Aw, Rat! We forgot. It's the primest game you've ever thought out! Rat! Rat! Don't get a grouch on! We'll keep still, Rat! Primest lark of all 'll be the sneakin' about an' keepin' quiet. Aw, Rat! Keep it up!''

``Keep it up yourselves!'' snarled The Rat.

``Not another cove of us could do it but you! Not one! There's no other cove could think it out. You're the only chap that can think out things. You thought out the Squad! That's why you're captain!''

This was true. He was the one who could invent entertainment for them, these street lads who had nothing. Out of that nothing he could create what excited them, and give them something to fill empty, useless, often cold or wet or foggy, hours. That made him their captain and their pride.

The Rat began to yield, though grudgingly. He pointed again to Marco, who had not moved, but stood still at attention.

``Look at HIM!'' he said. ``He knows enough to stand where he's put until he's ordered to break line. He's a soldier, he is--not a raw recruit that don't know the goose-step. He's been in barracks before.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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