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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXV A Voice in the Night

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``God be thanked!'' he said. ``God be thanked!'' as people always said it when they received the Sign, alone. But there was a kind of anguish in his voice as well as relief.

``Aide-de-camp!'' Marco cried out--The Rat had begged him to call him so. ``What have you been doing? How long have you been here?''

``Ever since I left you last night,'' said The Rat clutching tremblingly at his arm as if to make sure he was real. ``If there was not room for two in the hollow, there was room for one in the street.

Was it my place to go off duty and leave you alone--was it?''

``You were out in the storm?''

``Weren't you?'' said The Rat fiercely. ``I huddled against the wall as well as I could. What did I care? Crutches don't prevent a fellow waiting. I wouldn't have left you if you'd given me orders. And that would have been mutiny. When you did not come out as soon as the gates opened, I felt as if my head got on fire. How could I know what had happened? I've not the nerve and backbone you have. I go half mad.'' For a second or so Marco did not answer. But when he put his hand on the damp sleeve, The Rat actually started, because it seemed as though he were looking into the eyes of Stefan Loristan.

``You look just like your father!'' he exclaimed, in spite of himself. ``How tall you are!''

``When you are near me,'' Marco said, in Loristan's own voice, ``when you are near me, I feel--I feel as if I were a royal prince attended by an army. You ARE my army.'' And he pulled off his cap with quick boyishness and added, ``God be thanked!''

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The sun was warm in the attic window when they reached their lodging, and the two leaned on the rough sill as Marco told his story. It took some time to relate; and when he ended, he took an envelope from his pocket and showed it to The Rat. It contained a flat package of money.

``He gave it to me just before he opened the private door,'' Marco explained. ``And he said to me, `It will not be long now. After Samavia, go back to London as quickly as you can--AS QUICKLY AS YOU CAN!' ''

``I wonder--what he meant?'' The Rat said, slowly. A tremendous thought had shot through his mind. But it was not a thought he could speak of to Marco.

``I cannot tell. I thought that it was for some reason he did not expect me to know,'' Marco said. ``We will do as he told us. As quickly as we can.'' They looked over the newspapers, as they did every day. All that could be gathered from any of them was that the opposing armies of Samavia seemed each to have reached the culmination of disaster and exhaustion. Which party had the power left to take any final step which could call itself a victory, it was impossible to say. Never had a country been in a more desperate case.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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