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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXV A Voice in the Night

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Late that afternoon there wandered about the gardens two quiet, inconspicuous, rather poorly dressed boys. They looked at the palace, the shrubs, and the flower-beds, as strangers usually did, and they sat on the seats and talked as people were accustomed to seeing boys talk together. It was a sunny day and exceptionally warm, and there were more saunterers and sitters than usual, which was perhaps the reason why the portier at the entrance gates gave such slight notice to the pair that he did not observe that, though two boys came in, only one went out. He did not, in fact, remember, when he saw The Rat swing by on his crutches at closing-time, that he had entered in company with a dark-haired lad who walked without any aid. It happened that, when The Rat passed out, the portier at the entrance was much interested in the aspect of the sky, which was curiously threatening. There had been heavy clouds hanging about all day and now and then blotting out the sunshine entirely, but the sun had refused to retire altogether. Just now, however, the clouds had piled themselves in thunderous, purplish mountains, and the sun had been forced to set behind them.

``It's been a sort of battle since morning,'' the portier said. ``There will be some crashes and cataracts to-night.'' That was what The Rat had thought when they had sat in the Fountain Garden on a seat which gave them a good view of the balcony and the big evergreen shrub, which they knew had the hollow in the middle, though its circumference was so imposing. ``If there should be a big storm, the evergreen will not save you much, though it may keep off the worst,'' The Rat said. ``I wish there was room for two.''

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He would have wished there was room for two if he had seen Marco marching to the stake. As the gardens emptied, the boys rose and walked round once more, as if on their way out. By the time they had sauntered toward the big evergreen, nobody was in the Fountain Garden, and the last loiterers were moving toward the arched stone entrance to the streets.

When they drew near one side of the evergreen, the two were together. When The Rat swung out on the other side of it, he was alone! No one noticed that anything had happened; no one looked back. So The Rat swung down the walks and round the flower-beds and passed into the street. And the portier looked at the sky and made his remark about the ``crashes'' and ``cataracts.''

As the darkness came on, the hollow in the shrub seemed a very safe place. It was not in the least likely that any one would enter the closed gardens; and if by rare chance some servant passed through, he would not be in search of people who wished to watch all night in the middle of an evergreen instead of going to bed and to sleep. The hollow was well inclosed with greenery, and there was room to sit down when one was tired of standing.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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