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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XIII Loristan Attends a Drill of the Squad

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What Loristan saw done was wonderful in its mechanical exactness.

The Squad moved like the perfect parts of a perfect machine. That they could so do it in such space, and that they should have accomplished such precision, was an extraordinary testimonial to the military efficiency and curious qualities of this one hunchbacked, vagabond officer.

``That is magnificent!'' the spectator said, when it was over. ``It could not be better done. Allow me to congratulate you.''

He shook The Rat's hand as if it had been a man's, and, after he had shaken it, he put his own hand lightly on the boy's shoulder and let it rest there as he talked a few minutes to them all.

He kept his talk within the game, and his clear comprehension of it added a flavor which even the dullest member of the Squad was elated by. Sometimes you couldn't understand toffs when they made a shy at being friendly, but you could understand him, and he stirred up your spirits. He didn't make jokes with you, either, as if a chap had to be kept grinning. After the few minutes were over, he went away. Then they sat down again in their circle and talked about him, because they could talk and think about nothing else. They stared at Marco furtively, feeling as if he were a creature of another world because he had lived with this man. They stared at The Rat in a new way also. The wonderful-looking hand had rested on his shoulder, and he had been told that what he had done was magnificent.

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``When you said you wished your father could have seen the drill,'' said The Rat, ``you took my breath away. I'd never have had the cheek to think of it myself--and I'd never have dared to let you ask him, even if you wanted to do it. And he came himself! It struck me dumb.''

``If he came,'' said Marco, ``it was because he wanted to see it.''

When they had finished talking, it was time for Marco and The Rat to go on their way. Loristan had given The Rat an errand. At a certain hour he was to present himself at a certain shop and receive a package.

``Let him do it alone,'' Loristan said to Marco. ``He will be better pleased. His desire is to feel that he is trusted to do things alone.''

So they parted at a street corner, Marco to walk back to No. 7 Philibert Place, The Rat to execute his commission. Marco turned into one of the better streets, through which he often passed on his way home. It was not a fashionable quarter, but it contained some respectable houses in whose windows here and there were to be seen neat cards bearing the word ``Apartments,'' which meant that the owner of the house would let to lodgers his drawing-room or sitting-room suite.

As Marco walked up the street, he saw some one come out of the door of one of the houses and walk quickly and lightly down the pavement. It was a young woman wearing an elegant though quiet dress, and a hat which looked as if it had been bought in Paris or Vienna. She had, in fact, a slightly foreign air, and it was this, indeed, which made Marco look at her long enough to see that she was also a graceful and lovely person. He wondered what her nationality was. Even at some yards' distance he could see that she had long dark eyes and a curved mouth which seemed to be smiling to itself. He thought she might be Spanish or Italian.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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