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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXVI Across the Frontier

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``He always knows,'' answered Marco proudly. ``Always.'' He waved his hand like a young king toward The Rat. He wanted each man they met to understand the value of The Rat. ``He chose for me this companion,'' he added. ``I have done nothing alone.''

``He let me call myself his aide-de-camp!'' burst forth The Rat. ``I would be cut into inch-long strips for him.''

Marco translated.

Then the priest looked at The Rat and slowly nodded his head. ``Yes,'' he said. ``He knew best. He always knows best. That I see.''

``How did you know I was my father's son?'' asked Marco. ``You have seen him?''

``No,'' was the answer; ``but I have seen a picture which is said to be his image--and you are the picture's self. It is, indeed, a strange thing that two of God's creatures should be so alike. There is a purpose in it.'' He led them into his bare small house and made them rest, and drink goat's milk, and eat food. As he moved about the hut-like place, there was a mysterious and exalted look on his face.

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``You must be refreshed before we leave here,'' he said at last. ``I am going to take you to a place hidden in the mountains where there are men whose hearts will leap at the sight of you. To see you will give them new power and courage and new resolve. Tonight they meet as they or their ancestors have met for centuries, but now they are nearing the end of their waiting. And I shall bring them the son of Stefan Loristan, who is the Bearer of the Sign!''

They ate the bread and cheese and drank the goat's milk he gave them, but Marco explained that they did not need rest as they had slept all day. They were prepared to follow him when he was ready.

The last faint hint of twilight had died into night and the stars were at their thickest when they set out together. The white-haired old man took a thick knotted staff in his hand and led the way. He knew it well, though it was a rugged and steep one with no track to mark it. Sometimes they seemed to be walking around the mountain, sometimes they were climbing, sometimes they dragged themselves over rocks or fallen trees, or struggled through almost impassable thickets; more than once they descended into ravines and, almost at the risk of their lives, clambered and drew themselves with the aid of the undergrowth up the other side. The Rat was called upon to use all his prowess, and sometimes Marco and the priest helped him across obstacles with the aid of his crutch.

``Haven't I shown to-night whether I'm a cripple or not?'' he said once to Marco. ``You can tell HIM about this, can't you? And that the crutches helped instead of being in the way?''

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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