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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXI "Help!"

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``Was the work for Samavia?'' The Rat put in quickly. ``If he had died that night, the descendant of the Lost Prince never would have been found--never!'' The Rat bit his lip so hard that a drop of blood started from it.

``When he was slowly coming alive again, a native, who had gone back and stayed to wait upon him, told him that near the summit of a mountain, about fifty miles away, there was a ledge which jutted out into space and hung over the valley, which was thousands of feet below. On the ledge there was a hut in which there lived an ancient Buddhist, who was a holy man, as they called him, and who had been there during time which had not been measured. They said that their grandparents and great-grandparents had known of him, though very few persons had ever seen him. It was told that the most savage beast was tame before him. They said that a man- eating tiger would stop to salute him, and that a thirsty lioness would bring her whelps to drink at the spring near his hut.''

``That was a lie,'' said The Rat promptly.

Marco neither laughed nor frowned.

``How do we KNOW?'' he said. ``It was a native's story, and it might be anything. My father neither said it was true nor false. He listened to all that was told him by natives. They said that the holy man was the brother of the stars. He knew all things past and to come, and could heal the sick. But most people, especially those who had sinful thoughts, were afraid to go near him.''

``I'd like to have seen--'' The Rat pondered aloud, but he did not finish.

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``Before my father was well, he had made up his mind to travel to the ledge if he could. He felt as if he must go. He thought that if he were going to die, the hermit might tell him some wise thing to do for Samavia.''

``He might have given him a message to leave to the Secret Ones,'' said The Rat.

``He was so weak when he set out on his journey that he wondered if he would reach the end of it. Part of the way he traveled by bullock cart, and part, he was carried by natives. But at last the bearers came to a place more than halfway up the mountain, and would go no further. Then they went back and left him to climb the rest of the way himself. They had traveled slowly and he had got more strength, but he was weak yet. The forest was more wonderful than anything he had ever seen. There were tropical trees with foliage like lace, and some with huge leaves, and some of them seemed to reach the sky. Sometimes he could barely see gleams of blue through them. And vines swung down from their high branches, and caught each other, and matted together; and there were hot scents, and strange flowers, and dazzling birds darting about, and thick moss, and little cascades bursting out. The path grew narrower and steeper, and the flower scents and the sultriness made it like walking in a hothouse. He heard rustlings in the undergrowth, which might have been made by any kind of wild animal; once he stepped across a deadly snake without seeing it. But it was asleep and did not hurt him. He knew the natives had been convinced that he would not reach the ledge; but for some strange reason he believed he should. He stopped and rested many times, and he drank some milk he had brought in a canteen. The higher he climbed, the more wonderful everything was, and a strange feeling began to fill him. He said his body stopped being tired and began to feel very light. And his load lifted itself from his heart, as if it were not his load any more but belonged to something stronger. Even Samavia seemed to be safe. As he went higher and higher, and looked down the abyss at the world below, it appeared as if it were not real but only a dream he had wakened from--only a dream.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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