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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXI "Help!"

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The Rat moved restlessly.

``Perhaps he was light-headed with the fever,'' he suggested.

``The fever had left him, and the weakness had left him,'' Marco answered. ``It seemed as if he had never really been ill at all-- as if no one could be ill, because things like that were only dreams, just as the world was.''

``I wish I'd been with him! Perhaps I could have thrown these away--down into the abyss!'' And The Rat shook his crutches which rested against the table. ``I feel as if I was climbing, too. Go on.''

Marco had become more absorbed than The Rat. He had lost himself in the memory of the story.

``I felt that _I_ was climbing, when he told me,'' he said. ``I felt as if I were breathing in the hot flower-scents and pushing aside the big leaves and giant ferns. There had been a rain, and they were wet and shining with big drops, like jewels, that showered over him as he thrust his way through and under them. And the stillness and the height--the stillness and the height! I can't make it real to you as he made it to me! I can't! I was there. He took me. And it was so high--and so still--and so beautiful that I could scarcely bear it.''

But the truth was, that with some vivid boy-touch he had carried his hearer far. The Rat was deadly quiet. Even his eyes had not moved. He spoke almost as if he were in a sort of trance. ``It's real,'' he said. ``I'm there now. As high as you--go on--go on. I want to climb higher.''

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And Marco, understanding, went on.

``The day was over and the stars were out when he reached the place were the ledge was. He said he thought that during the last part of the climb he never looked on the earth at all. The stars were so immense that he could not look away from them. They seemed to be drawing him up. And all overhead was like violet velvet, and they hung there like great lamps of radiance. Can you see them? You must see them. My father saw them all night long. They were part of the wonder.''

``I see them,'' The Rat answered, still in his trance-like voice and without stirring, and Marco knew he did.

``And there, with the huge stars watching it, was the hut on the ledge. And there was no one there. The door was open. And outside it was a low bench and table of stone. And on the table was a meal of dates and rice, waiting. Not far from the hut was a deep spring, which ran away in a clear brook. My father drank and bathed his face there. Then he went out on the ledge, and sat down and waited, with his face turned up to the stars. He did not lie down, and he thought he saw the stars all the time he waited. He was sure he did not sleep. He did not know how long he sat there alone. But at last he drew his eyes from the stars, as if he had been commanded to do it. And he was not alone any more. A yard or so away from him sat the holy man. He knew it was the hermit because his eyes were different from any human eyes he had ever beheld. They were as still as the night was, and as deep as the shadows covering the world thousands of feet below, and they had a far, far look, and a strange light was in them.''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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