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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXVI Across the Frontier

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Then they both got up and looked at each other.

``The last one!'' The Rat said. ``To-morrow we shall be on our way back to London--Number 7 Philibert Place. After all the places we've been to--what will it look like?''

``It will be like wakening out of a dream,'' said Marco. ``It's not beautiful--Philibert Place. But HE will be there,'' And it was as if a light lighted itself in his face and shone through the very darkness of it.

And The Rat's face lighted in almost exactly the same way. And he pulled off his cap and stood bare-headed. ``We've obeyed orders,'' he said. ``We've not forgotten one. No one has noticed us, no one has thought of us. We've blown through the countries as if we had been grains of dust.''

Marco's head was bared, too, and his face was still shining. ``God be thanked!'' he said. ``Let us begin to climb.''

They pushed their way through the ferns and wandered in and out through trees until they found the little path. The hill was thickly clothed with forest and the little path was sometimes dark and steep; but they knew that, if they followed it, they would at last come out to a place where there were scarcely any trees at all, and on a crag they would find the tiny church waiting for them. The priest might not be there. They might have to wait for him, but he would be sure to come back for morning Mass and for vespers, wheresoever he wandered between times.

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There were many stars in the sky when at last a turn of the path showed them the church above them. It was little and built of rough stone. It looked as if the priest himself and his scattered flock might have broken and carried or rolled bits of the hill to put it together. It had the small, round, mosque-like summit the Turks had brought into Europe in centuries past. It was so tiny that it would hold but a very small congregation--and close to it was a shed-like house, which was of course the priest's.

The two boys stopped on the path to look at it.

``There is a candle burning in one of the little windows,'' said Marco.

``There is a well near the door--and some one is beginning to draw water,'' said The Rat, next. ``It is too dark to see who it is. Listen!''

They listened and heard the bucket descend on the chains, and splash in the water. Then it was drawn up, and it seemed some one drank long. Then they saw a dim figure move forward and stand still. Then they heard a voice begin to pray aloud, as if the owner, being accustomed to utter solitude, did not think of earthly hearers.

``Come,'' Marco said. And they went forward.

Because the stars were so many and the air so clear, the priest heard their feet on the path, and saw them almost as soon as he heard them. He ended his prayer and watched them coming. A lad on crutches, who moved as lightly and easily as a bird--and a lad who, even yards away, was noticeable for a bearing of his body which was neither haughty nor proud but set him somehow aloof from every other lad one had ever seen. A magnificent lad--though, as he drew near, the starlight showed his face thin and his eyes hollow as if with fatigue or hunger.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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