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0105_001E The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

X The Rat-and Samavia

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Lazarus took him to a closet under the stairs where a battered tin bath was already full of hot water, which the old soldier himself had brought in pails. There were soap and coarse, clean towels on a wooden chair, and also there was a much worn but cleanly suit of clothes.

``Put these on when you have bathed,'' Lazarus ordered, pointing to them. ``They belong to the young Master and will be large for you, but they will be better than your own.'' And then he went out of the closet and shut the door.

It was a new experience for The Rat. So long as he remembered, he had washed his face and hands--when he had washed them at all--at an iron tap set in the wall of a back street or court in some slum. His father and himself had long ago sunk into the world where to wash one's self is not a part of every-day life. They had lived amid dirt and foulness, and when his father had been in a maudlin state, he had sometimes cried and talked of the long-past days when he had shaved every morning and put on a clean shirt.

To stand even in the most battered of tin baths full of clean hot water and to splash and scrub with a big piece of flannel and plenty of soap was a marvelous thing. The Rat's tired body responded to the novelty with a curious feeling of freshness and comfort.

``I dare say swells do this every day,'' he muttered. ``I'd do it myself if I was a swell. Soldiers have to keep themselves so clean they shine.''

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When, after making the most of his soap and water, he came out of the closet under the stairs, he was as fresh as Marco himself; and, though his clothes had been built for a more stalwart body, his recognition of their cleanliness filled him with pleasure. He wondered if by any effort he could keep himself clean when he went out into the world again and had to sleep in any hole the police did not order him out of.

He wanted to see Marco again, but he wanted more to see the tall man with the soft dark eyes and that queer look of being a swell in spite of his shabby clothes and the dingy place he lived in. There was something about him which made you keep on looking at him, and wanting to know what he was thinking of, and why you felt as if you'd take orders from him as you'd take orders from your general, if you were a soldier. He looked, somehow, like a soldier, but as if he were something more--as if people had taken orders from him all his life, and always would take orders from him. And yet he had that quiet voice and those fine, easy movements, and he was not a soldier at all, but only a poor man who wrote things for papers which did not pay him well enough to give him and his son a comfortable living. Through all the time of his seclusion with the battered bath and the soap and water, The Rat thought of him, and longed to have another look at him and hear him speak again. He did not see any reason why he should have let him sleep on his sofa or why he should give him a breakfast before he turned him out to face the world. It was first-rate of him to do it. The Rat felt that when he was turned out, after he had had the coffee, he should want to hang about the neighborhood just on the chance of seeing him pass by sometimes. He did not know what he was going to do. The parish officials would by this time have taken his dead father, and he would not see him again. He did not want to see him again. He had never seemed like a father. They had never cared anything for each other. He had only been a wretched outcast whose best hours had been when he had drunk too much to be violent and brutal. Perhaps, The Rat thought, he would be driven to going about on his platform on the pavements and begging, as his father had tried to force him to do. Could he sell newspapers? What could a crippled lad do unless he begged or sold papers?

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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