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  The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XVIII "Cities and Faces"

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The hours of Marco's unexplained absence had been terrible to Loristan and to Lazarus. They had reason for fears which it was not possible for them to express. As the night drew on, the fears took stronger form. They forgot the existence of The Rat, who sat biting his nails in the bedroom, afraid to go out lest he might lose the chance of being given some errand to do but also afraid to show himself lest he should seem in the way.

``I'll stay upstairs,'' he had said to Lazarus. ``If you just whistle, I'll come.''

The anguish he passed through as the day went by and Lazarus went out and came in and he himself received no orders, could not have been expressed in any ordinary words. He writhed in his chair, he bit his nails to the quick, he wrought himself into a frenzy of misery and terror by recalling one by one all the crimes his knowledge of London police-courts supplied him with. He was doing nothing, yet he dare not leave his post. It was his post after all, though they had not given it to him. He must do something.

In the middle of the night Loristan opened the door of the back sitting-room, because he knew he must at least go upstairs and throw himself upon his bed even if he could not sleep.

He started back as the door opened. The Rat was sitting huddled on the floor near it with his back against the wall. He had a piece of paper in his hand and his twisted face was a weird thing to see.

``Why are you here?'' Loristan asked.

``I've been here three hours, sir. I knew you'd have to come out sometime and I thought you'd let me speak to you. Will you-- will you?''

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``Come into the room,'' said Loristan. ``I will listen to anything you want to say. What have you been drawing on that paper?'' as The Rat got up in the wonderful way he had taught himself. The paper was covered with lines which showed it to be another of his plans.

``Please look at it,'' he begged. ``I daren't go out lest you might want to send me somewhere. I daren't sit doing nothing. I began remembering and thinking things out. I put down all the streets and squares he MIGHT have walked through on his way home. I've not missed one. If you'll let me start out and walk through every one of them and talk to the policemen on the beat and look at the houses--and think out things and work at them--I'll not miss an inch--I'll not miss a brick or a flagstone--I'll--'' His voice had a hard sound but it shook, and he himself shook.

Loristan touched his arm gently.

``You are a good comrade,'' he said. ``It is well for us that you are here. You have thought of a good thing.''

``May I go now?'' said The Rat.

``This moment, if you are ready,'' was the answer. The Rat swung himself to the door.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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