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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXV A Voice in the Night

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You can dry your clothes and sleep there. When the gardens are opened again, the rest will be easy.''

But though he stepped out from under the trees and began to move towards the palace in the shadow, Marco noticed that he moved hesitatingly, as if he had not quite decided what he should do. He stopped rather suddenly and turned again to Marco, who was following him.

``There is some one in the room I just now left,'' he said, ``an old man--whom it might interest to see you. It might also be a good thing for him to feel interest in you. I choose that he shall see you --as you are.''

``I am at your command, Highness,'' Marco answered. He knew his companion was smiling again.

``You have been in training for more centuries than you know,'' he said; ``and your father has prepared you to encounter the unexpected without surprise.''

They passed under the balcony and paused at a low stone doorway hidden behind shrubs. The door was a beautiful one, Marco saw when it was opened, and the corridor disclosed was beautiful also, though it had an air of quiet and aloofness which was not so much secret as private. A perfect though narrow staircase mounted from it to the next floor. After ascending it, the Prince led the way through a short corridor and stopped at the door at the end of it. ``We are going in here,'' he said.

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It was a wonderful room--the one which opened on to the balcony. Each piece of furniture in it, the hangings, the tapestries, and pictures on the wall were all such as might well have found themselves adorning a museum. Marco remembered the common report of his escort's favorite amusement of collecting wonders and furnishing his house with the things others exhibited only as marvels of art and handicraft. The place was rich and mellow with exquisitely chosen beauties.

In a massive chair upon the heart sat a figure with bent head. It was a tall old man with white hair and moustache. His elbows rested upon the arm of his chair and he leaned his forehead on his hand as if he were weary.

Marco's companion crossed the room and stood beside him, speaking in a lowered voice. Marco could not at first hear what he said. He himself stood quite still, waiting. The white-haired man lifted his head and listened. It seemed as though almost at once he was singularly interested. The lowered voice was slightly raised at last and Marco heard the last two sentences:

``The only son of Stefan Loristan. Look at him.''

The old man in the chair turned slowly and looked, steadily, and with questioning curiosity touched with grave surprise. He had keen and clear blue eyes.

Then Marco, still erect and silent, waited again. The Prince had merely said to him, ``an old man whom it might interest to see you.'' He had plainly intended that, whatsoever happened, he must make no outward sign of seeing more than he had been told he would see --``an old man.'' It was for him to show no astonishment or recognition. He had been brought here not to see but to be seen. The power of remaining still under scrutiny, which The Rat had often envied him, stood now in good stead because he had seen the white head and tall form not many days before, surmounted by brilliant emerald plumes, hung with jeweled decorations, in the royal carriage, escorted by banners, and helmets, and following troops whose tramping feet kept time to bursts of military music while the populace bared their heads and cheered.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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