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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXIII The Silver Horn

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``You are like some one I once saw,'' the old woman said, and her eagle eyes set themselves hard upon him. ``Tell me your name.''

There was no reason why he should not tell it to her.

``It is Marco Loristan,'' he said.

``What! It is that!'' she cried out, not loud but low.

To Marco's amazement she got up from her chair and stood before him, showing what a tall old woman she really was. There was a startled, even an agitated, look in her face. And suddenly she actually made a sort of curtsey to him--bending her knee as peasants do when they pass a shrine.

``It is that!'' she said again. ``And yet they dare let you go on a journey like this! That speaks for your courage and for theirs.''

But Marco did not know what she meant. Her strange obeisance made him feel awkward. He stood up because his training had told him that when a woman stands a man also rises.

``The name speaks for the courage,'' he said, ``because it is my father's.''

She watched him almost anxiously.

``You do not even know!'' she breathed--and it was an exclamation and not a question.

``I know what I have been told to do,'' he answered. ``I do not ask anything else.''

``Who is that?'' she asked, pointing to The Rat.

``He is the friend my father sent with me,'' said Marco smiling. ``He called him my aide-de-camp. It was a sort of joke because we had played soldiers together.''

It seemed as if she were obliged to collect her thoughts. She stood with her hand at her mouth, looking down at the earth floor.

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``God guard you!'' she said at last. ``You are very--very young!''

``But all his years,'' The Rat broke in, ``he has been in training for just this thing. He did not know it was training, but it was. A soldier who had been trained for thirteen years would know his work.''

He was so eager that he forgot she could not understand English. Marco translated what he said into German and added: ``What he says is true.''

She nodded her head, still with questioning and anxious eyes.

``Yes. Yes,'' she muttered. ``But you are very young.'' Then she asked in a hesitating way:

``Will you not sit down until I do?''

``No,'' answered Marco. ``I would not sit while my mother or grandmother stood.''

``Then I must sit--and forget,'' she said.

She passed her hand over her face as though she were sweeping away the sudden puzzled trouble in her expression. Then she sat down, as if she had obliged herself to become again the old peasant she had been when they entered.

``All the way up the mountain you wondered why an old woman should be given the Sign,'' she said. ``You asked each other how she could be of use.''

Neither Marco nor The Rat said anything.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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