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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXI "Help!"

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Did it take you so long to find it? asked the Lovely Person with the smile. ``Of course I knew you would find it in the end. But we had to give ourselves time. How long did it take?''

Marco removed himself from beneath the touch of her hand. It was quietly done, but there was a disdain in his young face which made her wince though she pretended to shrug her shoulders amusedly.

``You refuse to answer?'' she laughed.

``I refuse.''

At that very moment he saw at the curve of the corridor the Chancellor and his daughter approaching slowly. The two young officers were talking gaily to the girl. They were on their way back to their box. Was he going to lose them? Was he?

The delicate hand was laid on his shoulder again, but this time he felt that it grasped him firmly.

``Naughty boy!'' the soft voice said. ``I am going to take you home with me. If you struggle I shall tell these people that you are my bad boy who is here without permission. What will you answer? My escort is coming down the staircase and will help me. Do you see?'' And in fact there appeared in the crowd at the head of the staircase the figure of the man he remembered.

He did see. A dampness broke out on the palms of his hands. If she did this bold thing, what could he say to those she told her lie to? How could he bring proof or explain who he was--and what story dare he tell? His protestations and struggles would merely amuse the lookers-on, who would see in them only the impotent rage of an insubordinate youngster.

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There swept over him a wave of remembrance which brought back, as if he were living through it again, the moment when he had stood in the darkness of the wine cellar with his back against the door and heard the man walk away and leave him alone. He felt again as he had done then--but now he was in another land and far away from his father. He could do nothing to help himself unless Something showed him a way.

He made no sound, and the woman who held him saw only a flame leap under his dense black lashes.

But something within him called out. It was as if he heard it. It was that strong self--the self that was Marco, and it called--it called as if it shouted.

``Help!'' it called--to that Unknown Stranger Thing which had made worlds and which he and his father so often talked of and in whose power they so believed. ``Help!''

The Chancellor was drawing nearer. Perhaps! Should he--?

``You are too proud to kick and shout,'' the voice went on. ``And people would only laugh. Do you see?''

The stairs were crowded and the man who was at the head of them could only move slowly. But he had seen the boy.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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