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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXIII The Silver Horn

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``There'll be climbing enough to be done now,'' he said, ``and I look to see you again somewhere.''

When the boys went away, they talked it over.

``The hair-dresser didn't want to be a hair-dresser, and the shoemaker didn't want to make shoes,'' said The Rat. ``They both wanted to be mountain-climbers. There are mountains in Samavia and mountains on the way to it. You showed them to me on the map.

``Yes; and secret messengers who can climb anywhere, and cross dangerous places, and reconnoiter from points no one else can reach, can find out things and give signals other men cannot,'' said Marco.

``That's what I thought out,'' The Rat answered. ``That was what he meant when he said, `There will be climbing enough to be done now.' ''

Strange were the places they went to and curiously unlike each other were the people to whom they carried their message. The most singular of all was an old woman who lived in so remote a place that the road which wound round and round the mountain, wound round it for miles and miles. It was not a bad road and it was an amazing one to travel, dragged in a small cart by a mule, when one could be dragged, and clambering slowly with rests between when one could not: the tree-covered precipices one looked down, the tossing whiteness of waterfalls, or the green foaming of rushing streams, and the immensity of farm- and village- scattered plains spreading themselves to the feet of other mountains shutting them in were breath-taking beauties to look down on, as the road mounted and wound round and round and higher and higher.

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``How can any one live higher than this?'' said The Rat as they sat on the thick moss by the wayside after the mule and cart had left them. ``Look at the bare crags looming up above there. Let us look at her again. Her picture looked as if she were a hundred years old.''

Marco took out his hidden sketch. It seemed surely one of the strangest things in the world that a creature as old as this one seemed could reach such a place, or, having reached it, could ever descend to the world again to give aid to any person or thing.

Her old face was crossed and recrossed with a thousand wrinkles. Her profile was splendid yet and she had been a beauty in her day. Her eyes were like an eagle's--and not an old eagle's. And she had a long neck which held her old head high.

``How could she get here?'' exclaimed The Rat.

``Those who sent us know, though we don't,'' said Marco. ``Will you sit here and rest while I go on further?''

``No!'' The Rat answered stubbornly. ``I didn't train myself to stay behind. But we shall come to bare-rock climbing soon and then I shall be obliged to stop,'' and he said the last bitterly. He knew that, if Marco had come alone, he would have ridden in no cart but would have trudged upward and onward sturdily to the end of his journey.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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