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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XIII Loristan Attends a Drill of the Squad

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The Rat folded his paper when he had finished, and sat biting his nails. Having done this for a few minutes, he began to speak in his dramatic and hollow Secret Party whisper.

``The hour has come,'' he said to his followers. ``The messengers must go forth. They know nothing of what they go for; they only know that they must obey. If they were caught and tortured, they could betray nothing because they know nothing but that, at certain places, they must utter a certain word. They carry no papers. All commands they must learn by heart. When the sign is given, the Secret Party will know what to do--where to meet and where to attack.''

He drew plans of the battle on the flagstones, and he sketched an imaginary route which the two messengers were to follow. But his knowledge of the map of Europe was not worth much, and he turned to Marco.

``You know more about geography that I do. You know more about everything,'' he said. ``I only know Italy is at the bottom and Russia is at one side and England's at the other. How would the Secret Messengers go to Samavia? Can you draw the countries they'd have to pass through?''

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Because any school-boy who knew the map could have done the same thing, Marco drew them. He also knew the stations the Secret Two would arrive at and leave by when they entered a city, the streets they would walk through and the very uniforms they would see; but of these things he said nothing. The reality his knowledge gave to the game was, however, a thrilling thing. He wished he could have been free to explain to The Rat the things he knew. Together they could have worked out so many details of travel and possible adventure that it would have been almost as if they had set out on their journey in fact.

As it was, the mere sketching of the route fired The Rat's imagination. He forged ahead with the story of adventure, and filled it with such mysterious purport and design that the Squad at times gasped for breath. In his glowing version the Secret Two entered cities by midnight and sang and begged at palace gates where kings driving outward paused to listen and were given the Sign.

``Though it would not always be kings,'' he said. ``Sometimes it would be the poorest people. Sometimes they might seem to be beggars like ourselves, when they were only Secret Ones disguised. A great lord might wear poor clothes and pretend to be a workman, and we should only know him by the signs we had learned by heart. When we were sent to Samavia, we should be obliged to creep in through some back part of the country where no fighting was being done and where no one would attack. Their generals are not clever enough to protect the parts which are joined to friendly countries, and they have not forces enough. Two boys could find a way in if they thought it out.''

He became possessed by the idea of thinking it out on the spot. He drew his rough map of Samavia on the flagstones with his chalk.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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