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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXI "Help!"

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``Does your father believe what he told him?'' The Rat's bewilderment had become an eager and restless thing.

``Yes, he believes it. He always thought something like it, himself. That is why he is so calm and knows so well how to wait.''

``Is THAT it!'' breathed The Rat. ``Is that why? Has--has he mended the chain?'' And there was awe in his voice, because of this one man to whom he felt any achievement was possible.

``I believe he has,'' said Marco. ``Don't you think so yourself?''

``He has done something,'' The Rat said.

He seemed to be thinking things over before he spoke again-- and then even more slowly than Marco.

``If he could mend the chain,'' he said almost in a whisper, ``he could find out where the descendant of the Lost Prince is. He would know what to do for Samavia!''

He ended the words with a start, and his whole face glowed with a new, amazed light.

``Perhaps he does know!'' he cried. ``If the help comes like thoughts --as yours did--perhaps his thought of letting us give the Sign was part of it. We--just we two every-day boys--are part of it!''

``The old Buddhist said--'' began Marco.

``Look here!'' broke in The Rat. ``Tell me the whole story. I want to hear it.''

It was because Loristan had heard it, and listened and believed, that The Rat had taken fire. His imagination seized upon the idea, as it would have seized on some theory of necromancy proved true and workable.

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With his elbows on the table and his hands in his hair, he leaned forward, twisting a lock with restless fingers. His breath quickened.

``Tell it,'' he said, ``I want to hear it all!''

``I shall have to tell it in my own words,'' Marco said. ``And it won't be as wonderful as it was when my father told it to me. This is what I remember:

``My father had gone through much pain and trouble. A great load was upon him, and he had been told he was going to die before his work was done. He had gone to India, because a man he was obliged to speak to had gone there to hunt, and no one knew when he would return. My father followed him for months from one wild place to another, and, when he found him, the man would not hear or believe what he had come so far to say. Then he had jungle-fever and almost died. Once the natives left him for dead in a bungalow in the forest, and he heard the jackals howling round him all the night. Through all the hours he was only alive enough to be conscious of two things--all the rest of him seemed gone from his body: his thought knew that his work was unfinished--and his body heard the jackals howl!''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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