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0105_001E The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXIV "How Shall We Find Him?

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``But,'' said The Rat more than once in these midnight hours, ``if it ever comes to a draw whether he is to be saved or I am, he is the one that must come to no harm. Killing can't take long-- and his father sent me with him.''

This thought passed through his mind as the tramping feet went by. As a sudden splendid burst of approaching music broke upon his ear, a queer look twisted his face. He realized the contrast between this day and that first morning behind the churchyard, when he had sat on his platform among the Squad and looked up and saw Marco in the arch at the end of the passage. And because he had been good-looking and had held himself so well, he had thrown a stone at him. Yes--blind gutter-bred fool that he'd been:--his first greeting to Marco had been a stone, just because he was what he was. As they stood here in the crowd in this far-off foreign city, it did not seem as if it could be true that it was he who had done it.

He managed to work himself closer to Marco's side. ``Isn't it splendid?'' he said, ``I wish I was an emperor myself. I'd have these fellows out like this every day.'' He said it only because he wanted to say something, to speak, as a reason for getting closer to him. He wanted to be near enough to touch him and feel that they were really together and that the whole thing was not a sort of magnificent dream from which he might awaken to find himself lying on his heap of rags in his corner of the room in Bone Court.

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The crowd swayed forward in its eagerness to see the principal feature of the pageant--the Emperor in his carriage. The Rat swayed forward with the rest to look as it passed.

A handsome white-haired and mustached personage in splendid uniform decorated with jeweled orders and with a cascade of emerald-green plumes nodding in his military hat gravely saluted the shouting people on either side. By him sat a man uniformed, decorated, and emerald-plumed also, but many years younger.

Marco's arm touched The Rat's almost at the same moment that his own touched Marco. Under the nodding plumes each saw the rather tired and cynical pale face, a sketch of which was hidden in the slit in Marco's sleeve.

``Is the one who sits with the Emperor an Archduke?'' Marco asked the man nearest to him in the crowd. The man answered amiably enough. No, he was not, but he was a certain Prince, a descendant of the one who was the hero of the day. He was a great favorite of the Emperor's and was also a great personage, whose palace contained pictures celebrated throughout Europe.

``He pretends it is only pictures he cares for,'' he went on, shrugging his shoulders and speaking to his wife, who had begun to listen, ``but he is a clever one, who amuses himself with things he professes not to concern himself about--big things. It's his way to look bored, and interested in nothing, but it's said he's a wizard for knowing dangerous secrets.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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