"ONLY TWO BOYS"
The words did elate him, and his blood was stirred by them every time they returned to his mind. He remembered them through the days and nights that followed. He sometimes, indeed, awakened from his deep sleep on the hard and narrow sofa in Marco's room, and found that he was saying them half aloud to himself. The hardness of the sofa did not prevent his resting as he had never rested before in his life. By contrast with the past he had known, this poor existence was comfort which verged on luxury. He got into the battered tin bath every morning, he sat at the clean table, and could look at Loristan and speak to him and hear his voice. His chief trouble was that he could hardly keep his eyes off him, and he was a little afraid he might be annoyed. But he could not bear to lose a look or a movement.
At the end of the second day, he found his way, at some trouble, to Lazarus's small back room at the top of the house.
"Will you let me come in and talk a bit?" he said.
When he went in, he was obliged to sit on the top of Lazarus's wooden box because there was nothing else for him.
"I want to ask you," he plunged into his talk at once, "do you think he minds me looking at him so much? I can't help it—but if he hates it—well—I'll try and keep my eyes on the table."
"The Master is used to being looked at," Lazarus made answer. "But it would be well to ask himself. He likes open speech."
"I want to find out everything he likes and everything he doesn't like," The Rat said. "I want—isn't there anything—anything you'd let me do for him? It wouldn't matter what it was. And he needn't know you are not doing it. I know you wouldn't be willing to give up anything particular. But you wait on him night and day. Couldn't you give up something to me?"
Lazarus pierced him with keen eyes. He did not answer for several seconds.
"Now and then," he said gruffly at last, "I'll let you brush his boots. But not every day—perhaps once a week."
"When will you let me have my first turn?" The Rat asked.
Lazarus reflected. His shaggy eyebrows drew themselves down over his eyes as if this were a question of state.
"Next Saturday," he conceded. "Not before. I'll tell him when you brush them."
"You needn't," said The Rat. "It's not that I want him to know. I want to know myself that I'm doing something for him. I'll find out things that I can do without interfering with you. I'll think them out."
"Anything any one else did for him would be interfering with me," said Lazarus.
It was The Rat's turn to reflect now, and his face twisted itself into new lines and wrinkles.
"I'll tell you before I do anything," he said, after he had thought it over. "You served him first."
"I have served him ever since he was born," said Lazarus.
"He's—he's yours," said The Rat, still thinking deeply.
"I am his," was Lazarus's stern answer. "I am his—and the young Master's."
"That's it," The Rat said. Then a squeak of a half-laugh broke from him. "I've never been anybody's," he added.
His sharp eyes caught a passing look on Lazarus's face. Such a queer, disturbed, sudden look. Could he be rather sorry for him?
Perhaps the look meant something like that.
"If you stay near him long enough—and it needn't be long—you will be his too. Everybody is."
The Rat sat up as straight as he could. "When it comes to that," he blurted out, "I'm his now, in my way. I was his two minutes after he looked at me with his queer, handsome eyes. They're queer because they get you, and you want to follow him. I'm going to follow."
That night Lazarus recounted to his master the story of the scene. He simply repeated word for word what had been said, and Loristan listened gravely.
"We have not had time to learn much of him yet," he commented. "But that is a faithful soul, I think."
A few days later, Marco missed The Rat soon after their breakfast hour. He had gone out without saying anything to the household. He did not return for several hours, and when he came back he looked tired. In the afternoon he fell asleep on his sofa in Marco's room and slept heavily. No one asked him any questions as he volunteered no explanation. The next day he went out again in the same mysterious manner, and the next and the next. For an entire week he went out and returned with the tired look; but he did not explain until one morning, as he lay on his sofa before getting up, he said to Marco:
"I'm practicing walking with my crutches. I don't want to go about like a rat any more. I mean to be as near like other people as I can. I walk farther every morning. I began with two miles. If I practice every day, my crutches will be like legs."
"Shall I walk with you?" asked Marco.
"Wouldn't you mind walking with a cripple?"
"Don't call yourself that," said Marco. "We can talk together, and try to remember everything we see as we go along."
"I want to learn to remember things. I'd like to train myself in that way too," The Rat answered. "I'd give anything to know some of the things your father taught you. I've got a good memory. I remember a lot of things I don't want to remember. Will you go this morning?"
That morning they went, and Loristan was told the reason for their walk. But though he knew one reason, he did not know all about it. When The Rat was allowed his "turn" of the boot-brushing, he told more to Lazarus.
"What I want to do," he said, "is not only walk as fast as other people do, but faster. Acrobats train themselves to do anything. It's training that does it. There might come a time when he might need some one to go on an errand quickly, and I'm going to be ready. I'm going to train myself until he needn't think of me as if I were only a cripple who can't do things and has to be taken care of. I want him to know that I'm really as strong as Marco, and where Marco can go I can go."
"He" was what he always said, and Lazarus always understood without explanation.
"'The Master' is your name for him," he had explained at the beginning. "And I can't call him just 'Mister' Loristan. It sounds like cheek. If he was called 'General' or 'Colonel' I could stand it—though it wouldn't be quite right. Some day I shall find a name. When I speak to him, I say 'Sir.'"
The walks were taken every day, and each day were longer. Marco found himself silently watching The Rat with amazement at his determination and endurance. He knew that he must not speak of what he could not fail to see as they walked. He must not tell him that he looked tired and pale and sometimes desperately fatigued. He had inherited from his father the tact which sees what people do not wish to be reminded of. He knew that for some reason of his own The Rat had determined to do this thing at any cost to himself. Sometimes his face grew white and worn and he breathed hard, but he never rested more than a few minutes, and never turned back or shortened a walk they had planned.
"Tell me something about Samavia, something to remember," he would say, when he looked his worst. "When I begin to try to remember, I forget—other things."
So, as they went on their way, they talked, and The Rat committed things to memory. He was quick at it, and grew quicker every day. They invented a game of remembering faces they passed. Both would learn them by heart, and on their return home Marco would draw them. They went to the museums and galleries and learned things there, making from memory lists and descriptions which at night they showed to Loristan, when he was not too busy to talk to them.
As the days passed, Marco saw that The Rat was gaining strength. This exhilarated him greatly. They often went to Hampstead Heath and walked in the wind and sun. There The Rat would go through curious exercises which he believed would develop his muscles. He began to look less tired during and after his journey. There were even fewer wrinkles on his face, and his sharp eyes looked less fierce. The talks between the two boys were long and curious. Marco soon realized that The Rat wanted to learn—learn—learn.
"Your father can talk to you almost as if you were twenty years old," he said once. "He knows you can understand what he's saying. If he were to talk to me, he'd always have to remember that I was only a rat that had lived in gutters and seen nothing else."
They were talking in their room, as they nearly always did after they went to bed and the street lamp shone in and lighted their bare little room. They often sat up clasping their knees, Marco on his poor bed, The Rat on his hard sofa, but neither of them conscious either of the poorness or hardness, because to each one the long unknown sense of companionship was such a satisfying thing. Neither of them had ever talked intimately to another boy, and now they were together day and night. They revealed their thoughts to each other; they told each other things it had never before occurred to either to think of telling any one. In fact, they found out about themselves, as they talked, things they had not quite known before. Marco had gradually discovered that the admiration The Rat had for his father was an impassioned and curious feeling which possessed him entirely. It seemed to Marco that it was beginning to be like a sort of religion. He evidently thought of him every moment. So when he spoke of Loristan's knowing him to be only a rat of the gutter, Marco felt he himself was fortunate in remembering something he could say.
"My father said yesterday that you had a big brain and a strong will," he answered from his bed. "He said that you had a wonderful memory which only needed exercising. He said it after he looked over the list you made of the things you had seen in the Tower."
The Rat shuffled on his sofa and clasped his knees tighter.
"Did he? Did he?" he said.
He rested his chin upon his knees for a few minutes and stared straight before him. Then he turned to the bed.
"Marco," he said, in a rather hoarse voice, a queer voice; "are you jealous?"
"Jealous," said Marco; "why?"
"I mean, have you ever been jealous? Do you know what it is like?"
"I don't think I do," answered Marco, staring a little.
"Are you ever jealous of Lazarus because he's always with your father—because he's with him oftener than you are—and knows about his work—and can do things for him you can't? I mean, are you jealous of—your father?"
Marco loosed his arms from his knees and lay down flat on his pillow.
"No, I'm not. The more people love and serve him, the better," he said. "The only thing I care for is—is him. I just care for HIM. Lazarus does too. Don't you?"
The Rat was greatly excited internally. He had been thinking of this thing a great deal. The thought had sometimes terrified him. He might as well have it out now if he could. If he could get at the truth, everything would be easier. But would Marco really tell him?
"Don't you mind?" he said, still hoarse and eager—"don't you mind how much I care for him? Could it ever make you feel savage? Could it ever set you thinking I was nothing but—what I am—and that it was cheek of me to push myself in and fasten on to a gentleman who only took me up for charity? Here's the living truth," he ended in an outburst; "if I were you and you were me, that's what I should be thinking. I know it is. I couldn't help it. I should see every low thing there was in you, in your manners and your voice and your looks. I should see nothing but the contrast between you and me and between you and him. I should be so jealous that I should just rage. I should HATE you—and I should DESPISE you!"
He had wrought himself up to such a passion of feeling that he set Marco thinking that what he was hearing meant strange and strong emotions such as he himself had never experienced. The Rat had been thinking over all this in secret for some time, it was evident. Marco lay still a few minutes and thought it over. Then he found something to say, just as he had found something before.
"You might, if you were with other people who thought in the same way," he said, "and if you hadn't found out that it is such a mistake to think in that way, that it's even stupid. But, you see, if you were I, you would have lived with my father, and he'd have told you what he knows—what he's been finding out all his life."
"What's he found out?"
"Oh!" Marco answered, quite casually, "just that you can't set savage thoughts loose in the world, any more than you can let loose savage beasts with hydrophobia. They spread a sort of rabies, and they always tear and worry you first of all."
"What do you mean?" The Rat gasped out.
"It's like this," said Marco, lying flat and cool on his hard pillow and looking at the reflection of the street lamp on the ceiling. "That day I turned into your Barracks, without knowing that you'd think I was spying, it made you feel savage, and you threw the stone at me. If it had made me feel savage and I'd rushed in and fought, what would have happened to all of us?"
The Rat's spirit of generalship gave the answer.
"I should have called on the Squad to charge with fixed bayonets. They'd have half killed you. You're a strong chap, and you'd have hurt a lot of them."
A note of terror broke into his voice. "What a fool I should have been!" he cried out. "I should never have come here! I should never have known HIM!" Even by the light of the street lamp Marco could see him begin to look almost ghastly.
"The Squad could easily have half killed me," Marco added. "They could have quite killed me, if they had wanted to do it. And who would have got any good out of it? It would only have been a street-lads' row—with the police and prison at the end of it."
"But because you'd lived with him," The Rat pondered, "you walked in as if you didn't mind, and just asked why we did it, and looked like a stronger chap than any of us—and different—different. I wondered what was the matter with you, you were so cool and steady. I know now. It was because you were like him. He'd taught you. He's like a wizard."
"He knows things that wizards think they know, but he knows them better," Marco said. "He says they're not queer and unnatural. They're just simple laws of nature. You have to be either on one side or the other, like an army. You choose your side. You either build up or tear down. You either keep in the light where you can see, or you stand in the dark and fight everything that comes near you, because you can't see and you think it's an enemy. No, you wouldn't have been jealous if you'd been I and I'd been you."
"And you're NOT?" The Rat's sharp voice was almost hollow. "You'll swear you're not?"
"I'm not," said Marco.
The Rat's excitement even increased a shade as he poured forth his confession.
"I was afraid," he said. "I've been afraid every day since I came here. I'll tell you straight out. It seemed just natural that you and Lazarus wouldn't stand me, just as I wouldn't have stood you. It seemed just natural that you'd work together to throw me out. I knew how I should have worked myself. Marco—I said I'd tell you straight out—I'm jealous of you. I'm jealous of Lazarus. It makes me wild when I see you both knowing all about him, and fit and ready to do anything he wants done. I'm not ready and I'm not fit."
"You'd do anything he wanted done, whether you were fit and ready or not," said Marco. "He knows that."
"Does he? Do you think he does?" cried The Rat. "I wish he'd try me. I wish he would."
Marco turned over on his bed and rose up on his elbow so that he faced The Rat on his sofa.
"Let us WAIT," he said in a whisper. "Let us WAIT."
There was a pause, and then The Rat whispered also.
"For him to find out that we're fit to be tried. Don't you see what fools we should be if we spent our time in being jealous, either of us. We're only two boys. Suppose he saw we were only two silly fools. When you are jealous of me or of Lazarus, just go and sit down in a still place and think of HIM. Don't think about yourself or about us. He's so quiet that to think about him makes you quiet yourself. When things go wrong or when I'm lonely, he's taught me to sit down and make myself think of things I like—pictures, books, monuments, splendid places. It pushes the other things out and sets your mind going properly. He doesn't know I nearly always think of him. He's the best thought himself. You try it. You're not really jealous. You only THINK you are. You'll find that out if you always stop yourself in time. Any one can be such a fool if he lets himself. And he can always stop it if he makes up his mind. I'm not jealous. You must let that thought alone. You're not jealous yourself. Kick that thought into the street."
The Rat caught his breath and threw his arms up over his eyes. "Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!" he said; "if I'd lived near him always as you have. If I just had."
"We're both living near him now," said Marco. "And here's something to think of," leaning more forward on his elbow. "The kings who were being made ready for Samavia have waited all these years; WE can make ourselves ready and wait so that, if just two boys are wanted to do something—just two boys—we can step out of the ranks when the call comes and say 'Here!' Now let's lie down and think of it until we go to sleep."
LORISTAN ATTENDS A DRILL OF THE SQUAD, AND MARCO MEETS A SAMAVIAN
The Squad was not forgotten. It found that Loristan himself would have regarded neglect as a breach of military duty.
"You must remember your men," he said, two or three days after The Rat became a member of his household. "You must keep up their drill. Marco tells me it was very smart. Don't let them get slack."
"His men!" The Rat felt what he could not have put into words.
He knew he had worked, and that the Squad had worked, in their hidden holes and corners. Only hidden holes and corners had been possible for them because they had existed in spite of the protest of their world and the vigilance of its policemen. They had tried many refuges before they found the Barracks. No one but resented the existence of a troop of noisy vagabonds. But somehow this man knew that there had evolved from it something more than mere noisy play, that he, The Rat, had MEANT order and discipline.
"His men!" It made him feel as if he had had the Victoria Cross fastened on his coat. He had brain enough to see many things, and he knew that it was in this way that Loristan was finding him his "place." He knew how.
When they went to the Barracks, the Squad greeted them with a tumultuous welcome which expressed a great sense of relief. Privately the members had been filled with fears which they had talked over together in deep gloom. Marco's father, they decided, was too big a swell to let the two come back after he had seen the sort the Squad was made up of. He might be poor just now, toffs sometimes lost their money for a bit, but you could see what he was, and fathers like him weren't going to let their sons make friends with "such as us." He'd stop the drill and the "Secret Society" game. That's what he'd do!
But The Rat came swinging in on his secondhand crutches looking as if he had been made a general, and Marco came with him; and the drill the Squad was put through was stricter and finer than any drill they had ever known.
"I wish my father could have seen that," Marco said to The Rat.
The Rat turned red and white and then red again, but he said not a single word. The mere thought was like a flash of fire passing through him. But no fellow could hope for a thing as big as that. The Secret Party, in its subterranean cavern, surrounded by its piled arms, sat down to read the morning paper.
The war news was bad to read. The Maranovitch held the day for the moment, and while they suffered and wrought cruelties in the capital city, the Iarovitch suffered and wrought cruelties in the country outside. So fierce and dark was the record that Europe stood aghast.
The Rat folded his paper when he had finished, and sat biting his nails. Having done this for a few minutes, he began to speak in his dramatic and hollow Secret Party whisper.
"The hour has come," he said to his followers. "The messengers must go forth. They know nothing of what they go for; they only know that they must obey. If they were caught and tortured, they could betray nothing because they know nothing but that, at certain places, they must utter a certain word. They carry no papers. All commands they must learn by heart. When the sign is given, the Secret Party will know what to do—where to meet and where to attack."
He drew plans of the battle on the flagstones, and he sketched an imaginary route which the two messengers were to follow. But his knowledge of the map of Europe was not worth much, and he turned to Marco.
"You know more about geography that I do. You know more about everything," he said. "I only know Italy is at the bottom and Russia is at one side and England's at the other. How would the Secret Messengers go to Samavia? Can you draw the countries they'd have to pass through?"
Because any school-boy who knew the map could have done the same thing, Marco drew them. He also knew the stations the Secret Two would arrive at and leave by when they entered a city, the streets they would walk through and the very uniforms they would see; but of these things he said nothing. The reality his knowledge gave to the game was, however, a thrilling thing. He wished he could have been free to explain to The Rat the things he knew. Together they could have worked out so many details of travel and possible adventure that it would have been almost as if they had set out on their journey in fact.
As it was, the mere sketching of the route fired The Rat's imagination. He forged ahead with the story of adventure, and filled it with such mysterious purport and design that the Squad at times gasped for breath. In his glowing version the Secret Two entered cities by midnight and sang and begged at palace gates where kings driving outward paused to listen and were given the Sign.
"Though it would not always be kings," he said. "Sometimes it would be the poorest people. Sometimes they might seem to be beggars like ourselves, when they were only Secret Ones disguised. A great lord might wear poor clothes and pretend to be a workman, and we should only know him by the signs we had learned by heart. When we were sent to Samavia, we should be obliged to creep in through some back part of the country where no fighting was being done and where no one would attack. Their generals are not clever enough to protect the parts which are joined to friendly countries, and they have not forces enough. Two boys could find a way in if they thought it out."
He became possessed by the idea of thinking it out on the spot. He drew his rough map of Samavia on the flagstones with his chalk.
"Look here," he said to Marco, who, with the elated and thrilled Squad, bent over it in a close circle of heads. "Beltrazo is here and Carnolitz is here—and here is Jiardasia. Beltrazo and Jiardasia are friendly, though they don't take sides. All the fighting is going on in the country about Melzarr. There is no reason why they should prevent single travelers from coming in across the frontiers of friendly neighbors. They're not fighting with the countries outside, they are fighting with themselves." He paused a moment and thought.
"The article in that magazine said something about a huge forest on the eastern frontier. That's here. We could wander into a forest and stay there until we'd planned all we wanted to do. Even the people who had seen us would forget about us. What we have to do is to make people feel as if we were nothing—nothing."
They were in the very midst of it, crowded together, leaning over, stretching necks and breathing quickly with excitement, when Marco lifted his head. Some mysterious impulse made him do it in spite of himself.
"There's my father!" he said.
The chalk dropped, everything dropped, even Samavia. The Rat was up and on his crutches as if some magic force had swung him there. How he gave the command, or if he gave it at all, not even he himself knew. But the Squad stood at salute.
Loristan was standing at the opening of the archway as Marco had stood that first day. He raised his right hand in return salute and came forward.
"I was passing the end of the street and remembered the Barracks was here," he explained. "I thought I should like to look at your men, Captain."
He smiled, but it was not a smile which made his words really a joke. He looked down at the chalk map drawn on the flagstones.
"You know that map well," he said. "Even I can see that it is Samavia. What is the Secret Party doing?"
"The messengers are trying to find a way in," answered Marco.
"We can get in there," said The Rat, pointing with a crutch. "There's a forest where we could hide and find out things."
"Reconnoiter," said Loristan, looking down. "Yes. Two stray boys could be very safe in a forest. It's a good game."
That he should be there! That he should, in his own wonderful way, have given them such a thing as this. That he should have cared enough even to look up the Barracks, was what The Rat was thinking. A batch of ragamuffins they were and nothing else, and he standing looking at them with his fine smile. There was something about him which made him seem even splendid. The Rat's heart thumped with startled joy.
"Father," said Marco, "will you watch The Rat drill us? I want you to see how well it is done."
"Captain, will you do me that honor?" Loristan said to The Rat, and to even these words he gave the right tone, neither jesting nor too serious. Because it was so right a tone, The Rat's pulses beat only with exultation. This god of his had looked at his maps, he had talked of his plans, he had come to see the soldiers who were his work! The Rat began his drill as if he had been reviewing an army.
What Loristan saw done was wonderful in its mechanical exactness.
The Squad moved like the perfect parts of a perfect machine. That they could so do it in such space, and that they should have accomplished such precision, was an extraordinary testimonial to the military efficiency and curious qualities of this one hunchbacked, vagabond officer.
"That is magnificent!" the spectator said, when it was over. "It could not be better done. Allow me to congratulate you."
He shook The Rat's hand as if it had been a man's, and, after he had shaken it, he put his own hand lightly on the boy's shoulder and let it rest there as he talked a few minutes to them all.
He kept his talk within the game, and his clear comprehension of it added a flavor which even the dullest member of the Squad was elated by. Sometimes you couldn't understand toffs when they made a shy at being friendly, but you could understand him, and he stirred up your spirits. He didn't make jokes with you, either, as if a chap had to be kept grinning. After the few minutes were over, he went away. Then they sat down again in their circle and talked about him, because they could talk and think about nothing else. They stared at Marco furtively, feeling as if he were a creature of another world because he had lived with this man. They stared at The Rat in a new way also. The wonderful-looking hand had rested on his shoulder, and he had been told that what he had done was magnificent.
"When you said you wished your father could have seen the drill," said The Rat, "you took my breath away. I'd never have had the cheek to think of it myself—and I'd never have dared to let you ask him, even if you wanted to do it. And he came himself! It struck me dumb."
"If he came," said Marco, "it was because he wanted to see it."
When they had finished talking, it was time for Marco and The Rat to go on their way. Loristan had given The Rat an errand. At a certain hour he was to present himself at a certain shop and receive a package.
"Let him do it alone," Loristan said to Marco. "He will be better pleased. His desire is to feel that he is trusted to do things alone."
So they parted at a street corner, Marco to walk back to No. 7 Philibert Place, The Rat to execute his commission. Marco turned into one of the better streets, through which he often passed on his way home. It was not a fashionable quarter, but it contained some respectable houses in whose windows here and there were to be seen neat cards bearing the word "Apartments," which meant that the owner of the house would let to lodgers his drawing-room or sitting-room suite.
As Marco walked up the street, he saw some one come out of the door of one of the houses and walk quickly and lightly down the pavement. It was a young woman wearing an elegant though quiet dress, and a hat which looked as if it had been bought in Paris or Vienna. She had, in fact, a slightly foreign air, and it was this, indeed, which made Marco look at her long enough to see that she was also a graceful and lovely person. He wondered what her nationality was. Even at some yards' distance he could see that she had long dark eyes and a curved mouth which seemed to be smiling to itself. He thought she might be Spanish or Italian.
He was trying to decide which of the two countries she belonged to, as she drew near to him, but quite suddenly the curved mouth ceased smiling as her foot seemed to catch in a break in the pavement, and she so lost her balance that she would have fallen if he had not leaped forward and caught her.
She was light and slender, and he was a strong lad and managed to steady her. An expression of sharp momentary anguish crossed her face.
"I hope you are not hurt," Marco said.
She bit her lip and clutched his shoulder very hard with her slim hand.
"I have twisted my ankle," she answered. "I am afraid I have twisted it badly. Thank you for saving me. I should have had a bad fall."
Her long, dark eyes were very sweet and grateful. She tried to smile, but there was such distress under the effort that Marco was afraid she must have hurt herself very much.
"Can you stand on your foot at all?" he asked.
"I can stand a little now," she said, "but I might not be able to stand in a few minutes. I must get back to the house while I can bear to touch the ground with it. I am so sorry. I am afraid I shall have to ask you to go with me. Fortunately it is only a few yards away."
"Yes," Marco answered. "I saw you come out of the house. If you will lean on my shoulder, I can soon help you back. I am glad to do it. Shall we try now?"
She had a gentle and soft manner which would have appealed to any boy. Her voice was musical and her enunciation exquisite.
Whether she was Spanish or Italian, it was easy to imagine her a person who did not always live in London lodgings, even of the better class.
"If you please," she answered him. "It is very kind of you. You are very strong, I see. But I am glad to have only a few steps to go."
She rested on his shoulder as well as on her umbrella, but it was plain that every movement gave her intense pain. She caught her lip with her teeth, and Marco thought she turned white. He could not help liking her. She was so lovely and gracious and brave. He could not bear to see the suffering in her face.
"I am so sorry!" he said, as he helped her, and his boy's voice had something of the wonderful sympathetic tone of Loristan's. The beautiful lady herself remarked it, and thought how unlike it was to the ordinary boy-voice.
"I have a latch-key," she said, when they stood on the low step.
She found the latch-key in her purse and opened the door. Marco helped her into the entrance-hall. She sat down at once in a chair near the hat-stand. The place was quite plain and old-fashioned inside.
"Shall I ring the front-door bell to call some one?" Marco inquired.
"I am afraid that the servants are out," she answered. "They had a holiday. Will you kindly close the door? I shall be obliged to ask you to help me into the sitting-room at the end of the hall. I shall find all I want there—if you will kindly hand me a few things. Some one may come in presently—perhaps one of the other lodgers—and, even if I am alone for an hour or so, it will not really matter."
"Perhaps I can find the landlady," Marco suggested. The beautiful person smiled.
"She has gone to her sister's wedding. That is why I was going out to spend the day myself. I arranged the plan to accommodate her. How good you are! I shall be quite comfortable directly, really. I can get to my easy-chair in the sitting-room now I have rested a little."
Marco helped her to her feet, and her sharp, involuntary exclamation of pain made him wince internally. Perhaps it was a worse sprain than she knew.
The house was of the early-Victorian London order. A "front lobby" with a dining-room on the right hand, and a "back lobby," after the foot of the stairs was passed, out of which opened the basement kitchen staircase and a sitting-room looking out on a gloomy flagged back yard inclosed by high walls. The sitting-room was rather gloomy itself, but there were a few luxurious things among the ordinary furnishings. There was an easy-chair with a small table near it, and on the table were a silver lamp and some rather elegant trifles. Marco helped his charge to the easy-chair and put a cushion from the sofa under her foot. He did it very gently, and, as he rose after doing it, he saw that the long, soft dark eyes were looking at him in a curious way.
"I must go away now," he said, "but I do not like to leave you. May I go for a doctor?"
"How dear you are!" she exclaimed. "But I do not want one, thank you. I know exactly what to do for a sprained ankle. And perhaps mine is not really a sprain. I am going to take off my shoe and see."
"May I help you?" Marco asked, and he kneeled down again and carefully unfastened her shoe and withdrew it from her foot. It was a slender and delicate foot in a silk stocking, and she bent and gently touched and rubbed it.
"No," she said, when she raised herself, "I do not think it is a sprain. Now that the shoe is off and the foot rests on the cushion, it is much more comfortable, much more. Thank you, thank you. If you had not been passing I might have had a dangerous fall."
"I am very glad to have been able to help you," Marco answered, with an air of relief. "Now I must go, if you think you will be all right."
"Don't go yet," she said, holding out her hand. "I should like to know you a little better, if I may. I am so grateful. I should like to talk to you. You have such beautiful manners for a boy," she ended, with a pretty, kind laugh, "and I believe I know where you got them from."
"You are very kind to me," Marco answered, wondering if he did not redden a little. "But I must go because my father will—"
"Your father would let you stay and talk to me," she said, with even a prettier kindliness than before. "It is from him you have inherited your beautiful manner. He was once a friend of mine. I hope he is my friend still, though perhaps he has forgotten me."
All that Marco had ever learned and all that he had ever trained himself to remember, quickly rushed back upon him now, because he had a clear and rapidly working brain, and had not lived the ordinary boy's life. Here was a beautiful lady of whom he knew nothing at all but that she had twisted her foot in the street and he had helped her back into her house. If silence was still the order, it was not for him to know things or ask questions or answer them. She might be the loveliest lady in the world and his father her dearest friend, but, even if this were so, he could best serve them both by obeying her friend's commands with all courtesy, and forgetting no instruction he had given.
"I do not think my father ever forgets any one," he answered.
"No, I am sure he does not," she said softly. "Has he been to Samavia during the last three years?"
Marco paused a moment.
"Perhaps I am not the boy you think I am," he said. "My father has never been to Samavia."
"He has not? But—you are Marco Loristan?"
"Yes. That is my name."
Suddenly she leaned forward and her long lovely eyes filled with fire.
"Then you are a Samavian, and you know of the disasters overwhelming us. You know all the hideousness and barbarity of what is being done. Your father's son must know it all!"
"Every one knows it," said Marco.
"But it is your country—your own! Your blood must burn in your veins!"
Marco stood quite still and looked at her. His eyes told whether his blood burned or not, but he did not speak. His look was answer enough, since he did not wish to say anything.
"What does your father think? I am a Samavian myself, and I think night and day. What does he think of the rumor about the descendant of the Lost Prince? Does he believe it?"
Marco was thinking very rapidly. Her beautiful face was glowing with emotion, her beautiful voice trembled. That she should be a Samavian, and love Samavia, and pour her feeling forth even to a boy, was deeply moving to him. But howsoever one was moved, one must remember that silence was still the order. When one was very young, one must remember orders first of all.
"It might be only a newspaper story," he said. "He says one cannot trust such things. If you know him, you know he is very calm."
"Has he taught you to be calm too?" she said pathetically. "You are only a boy. Boys are not calm. Neither are women when their hearts are wrung. Oh, my Samavia! Oh, my poor little country! My brave, tortured country!" and with a sudden sob she covered her face with her hands.
A great lump mounted to Marco's throat. Boys could not cry, but he knew what she meant when he said her heart was wrung.
When she lifted her head, the tears in her eyes made them softer than ever.
"If I were a million Samavians instead of one woman, I should know what to do!" she cried. "If your father were a million Samavians, he would know, too. He would find Ivor's descendant, if he is on the earth, and he would end all this horror!"
"Who would not end it if they could?" cried Marco, quite fiercely.
"But men like your father, men who are Samavians, must think night and day about it as I do," she impetuously insisted. "You see, I cannot help pouring my thoughts out even to a boy—because he is a Samavian. Only Samavians care. Samavia seems so little and unimportant to other people. They don't even seem to know that the blood she is pouring forth pours from human veins and beating human hearts. Men like your father must think, and plan, and feel that they must—must find a way. Even a woman feels it. Even a boy must. Stefan Loristan cannot be sitting quietly at home, knowing that Samavian hearts are being shot through and Samavian blood poured forth. He cannot think and say NOTHING!"
Marco started in spite of himself. He felt as if his father had been struck in the face. How dare she say such words! Big as he was, suddenly he looked bigger, and the beautiful lady saw that he did.
"He is my father," he said slowly.
She was a clever, beautiful person, and saw that she had made a great mistake.
"You must forgive me," she exclaimed. "I used the wrong words because I was excited. That is the way with women. You must see that I meant that I knew he was giving his heart and strength, his whole being, to Samavia, even though he must stay in London."
She started and turned her head to listen to the sound of some one using the latch-key and opening the front door. The some one came in with the heavy step of a man.
"It is one of the lodgers," she said. "I think it is the one who lives in the third floor sitting-room."
"Then you won't be alone when I go," said Marco. "I am glad some one has come. I will say good-morning. May I tell my father your name?"
"Tell me that you are not angry with me for expressing myself so awkwardly," she said.
"You couldn't have meant it. I know that," Marco answered boyishly. "You couldn't."
"No, I couldn't," she repeated, with the same emphasis on the words.
She took a card from a silver case on the table and gave it to him.
"Your father will remember my name," she said. "I hope he will let me see him and tell him how you took care of me."
She shook his hand warmly and let him go. But just as he reached the door she spoke again.
"Oh, may I ask you to do one thing more before you leave me?" she said suddenly. "I hope you won't mind. Will you run up-stairs into the drawing-room and bring me the purple book from the small table? I shall not mind being alone if I have something to read."
"A purple book? On a small table?" said Marco.
"Between the two long windows," she smiled back at him.
The drawing-room of such houses as these is always to be reached by one short flight of stairs.
Marco ran up lightly.
MARCO DOES NOT ANSWER
By the time he turned the corner of the stairs, the beautiful lady had risen from her seat in the back room and walked into the dining-room at the front. A heavily-built, dark-bearded man was standing inside the door as if waiting for her.
"I could do nothing with him," she said at once, in her soft voice, speaking quite prettily and gently, as if what she said was the most natural thing in the world. "I managed the little trick of the sprained foot really well, and got him into the house. He is an amiable boy with perfect manners, and I thought it might be easy to surprise him into saying more than he knew he was saying. You can generally do that with children and young things. But he either knows nothing or has been trained to hold his tongue. He's not stupid, and he's of a high spirit. I made a pathetic little scene about Samavia, because I saw he could be worked up. It did work him up. I tried him with the Lost Prince rumor; but, if there is truth in it, he does not or will not know. I tried to make him lose his temper and betray something in defending his father, whom he thinks a god, by the way. But I made a mistake. I saw that. It's a pity. Boys can sometimes be made to tell anything." She spoke very quickly under her breath. The man spoke quickly too.
"Where is he?" he asked.
"I sent him up to the drawing-room to look for a book. He will look for a few minutes. Listen. He's an innocent boy. He sees me only as a gentle angel. Nothing will SHAKE him so much as to hear me tell him the truth suddenly. It will be such a shock to him that perhaps you can do something with him then. He may lose his hold on himself. He's only a boy."
"You're right," said the bearded man. "And when he finds out he is not free to go, it may alarm him and we may get something worth while."
"If we could find out what is true, or what Loristan thinks is true, we should have a clue to work from," she said.
"We have not much time," the man whispered. "We are ordered to Bosnia at once. Before midnight we must be on the way."
"Let us go into the other room. He is coming."
When Marco entered the room, the heavily-built man with the pointed dark beard was standing by the easy-chair.
"I am sorry I could not find the book," he apologized. "I looked on all the tables."
"I shall be obliged to go and search for it myself," said the Lovely Person.
She rose from her chair and stood up smiling. And at her first movement Marco saw that she was not disabled in the least.
"Your foot!" he exclaimed. "It's better?"
"It wasn't hurt," she answered, in her softly pretty voice and with her softly pretty smile. "I only made you think so."
It was part of her plan to spare him nothing of shock in her sudden transformation. Marco felt his breath leave him for a moment.
"I made you believe I was hurt because I wanted you to come into the house with me," she added. "I wished to find out certain things I am sure you know."
"They were things about Samavia," said the man. "Your father knows them, and you must know something of them at least. It is necessary that we should hear what you can tell us. We shall not allow you to leave the house until you have answered certain questions I shall ask you."
Then Marco began to understand. He had heard his father speak of political spies, men and women who were paid to trace the people that certain governments or political parties desired to have followed and observed. He knew it was their work to search out secrets, to disguise themselves and live among innocent people as if they were merely ordinary neighbors.
They must be spies who were paid to follow his father because he was a Samavian and a patriot. He did not know that they had taken the house two months before, and had accomplished several things during their apparently innocent stay in it. They had discovered Loristan and had learned to know his outgoings and incomings, and also the outgoings and incomings of Lazarus, Marco, and The Rat. But they meant, if possible, to learn other things. If the boy could be startled and terrified into unconscious revelations, it might prove well worth their while to have played this bit of melodrama before they locked the front door behind them and hastily crossed the Channel, leaving their landlord to discover for himself that the house had been vacated.
In Marco's mind strange things were happening. They were spies! But that was not all. The Lovely Person had been right when she said that he would receive a shock. His strong young chest swelled. In all his life, he had never come face to face with black treachery before. He could not grasp it. This gentle and friendly being with the grateful soft voice and grateful soft eyes had betrayed—BETRAYED him! It seemed impossible to believe it, and yet the smile on herm curved mouth told him that it was true. When he had sprung to help her, she had been playing a trick! When he had been sorry for her pain and had winced at the sound of her low exclamation, she had been deliberately laying a trap to harm him. For a few seconds he was stunned—perhaps, if he had not been his father's son, he might have been stunned only. But he was more. When the first seconds had passed, there arose slowly within him a sense of something like high, remote disdain. It grew in his deep boy's eyes as he gazed directly into the pupils of the long soft dark ones. His body felt as if it were growing taller.
"You are very clever," he said slowly. Then, after a second's pause, he added, "I was too young to know that there was any one so—clever—in the world."
The Lovely Person laughed, but she did not laugh easily. She spoke to her companion.
"A grand seigneur!" she said. "As one looks at him, one half believes it is true."
The man with the beard was looking very angry. His eyes were savage and his dark skin reddened. Marco thought that he looked at him as if he hated him, and was made fierce by the mere sight of him, for some mysterious reason.
"Two days before you left Moscow," he said, "three men came to see your father. They looked like peasants. They talked to him for more than an hour. They brought with them a roll of parchment. Is that not true?"
"I know nothing," said Marco.
"Before you went to Moscow, you were in Budapest. You went there from Vienna. You were there for three months, and your father saw many people. Some of them came in the middle of the night."
"I know nothing," said Marco.
"You have spent your life in traveling from one country to another," persisted the man. "You know the European languages as if you were a courier, or the portier in a Viennese hotel. Do you not?"
Marco did not answer.
The Lovely Person began to speak to the man rapidly in Russian.
"A spy and an adventurer Stefan Loristan has always been and always will be," she said. "We know what he is. The police in every capital in Europe know him as a sharper and a vagabond, as well as a spy. And yet, with all his cleverness, he does not seem to have money. What did he do with the bribe the Maranovitch gave him for betraying what he knew of the old fortress? The boy doesn't even suspect him. Perhaps it's true that he knows nothing. Or perhaps it is true that he has been so ill-treated and flogged from his babyhood that he dare not speak. There is a cowed look in his eyes in spite of his childish swagger. He's been both starved and beaten."
The outburst was well done. She did not look at Marco as she poured forth her words. She spoke with the abruptness and impetuosity of a person whose feelings had got the better of her. If Marco was sensitive about his father, she felt sure that his youth would make his face reveal something if his tongue did not—if he understood Russian, which was one of the things it would be useful to find out, because it was a fact which would verify many other things.
Marco's face disappointed her. No change took place in it, and the blood did not rise to the surface of his skin. He listened with an uninterested air, blank and cold and polite. Let them say what they chose.
The man twisted his pointed beard and shrugged his shoulders.
"We have a good little wine-cellar downstairs," he said. "You are going down into it, and you will probably stay there for some time if you do not make up your mind to answer my questions. You think that nothing can happen to you in a house in a London street where policemen walk up and down. But you are mistaken. If you yelled now, even if any one chanced to hear you, they would only think you were a lad getting a thrashing he deserved. You can yell as much as you like in the black little wine-cellar, and no one will hear at all. We only took this house for three months, and we shall leave it to-night without mentioning the fact to any one. If we choose to leave you in the wine-cellar, you will wait there until somebody begins to notice that no one goes in and out, and chances to mention it to the landlord—which few people would take the trouble to do. Did you come here from Moscow?"
"I know nothing," said Marco.
"You might remain in the good little black cellar an unpleasantly long time before you were found," the man went on, quite coolly. "Do you remember the peasants who came to see your father two nights before you left?"
"I know nothing," said Marco.
"By the time it was discovered that the house was empty and people came in to make sure, you might be too weak to call out and attract their attention. Did you go to Budapest from Vienna, and were you there for three months?" asked the inquisitor.
"I know nothing," said Marco.
"You are too good for the little black cellar," put in the Lovely Person. "I like you. Don't go into it!"
"I know nothing," Marco answered, but the eyes which were like Loristan's gave her just such a look as Loristan would have given her, and she felt it. It made her uncomfortable.
"I don't believe you were ever ill-treated or beaten," she said. "I tell you, the little black cellar will be a hard thing. Don't go there!"
And this time Marco said nothing, but looked at her still as if he were some great young noble who was very proud.
He knew that every word the bearded man had spoken was true. To cry out would be of no use. If they went away and left him behind them, there was no knowing how many days would pass before the people of the neighborhood would begin to suspect that the place had been deserted, or how long it would be before it occurred to some one to give warning to the owner. And in the meantime, neither his father nor Lazarus nor The Rat would have the faintest reason for guessing where he was. And he would be sitting alone in the dark in the wine-cellar. He did not know in the least what to do about this thing. He only knew that silence was still the order.
"It is a jet-black little hole," the man said. "You might crack your throat in it, and no one would hear. Did men come to talk with your father in the middle of the night when you were in Vienna?"
"I know nothing," said Marco.
"He won't tell," said the Lovely Person. "I am sorry for this boy."
"He may tell after he has sat in the good little black wine-cellar for a few hours," said the man with the pointed beard. "Come with me!"
He put his powerful hand on Marco's shoulder and pushed him before him. Marco made no struggle. He remembered what his father had said about the game not being a game. It wasn't a game now, but somehow he had a strong haughty feeling of not being afraid.
He was taken through the hallway, toward the rear, and down the commonplace flagged steps which led to the basement. Then he was marched through a narrow, ill-lighted, flagged passage to a door in the wall. The door was not locked and stood a trifle ajar. His companion pushed it farther open and showed part of a wine-cellar which was so dark that it was only the shelves nearest the door that Marco could faintly see. His captor pushed him in and shut the door. It was as black a hole as he had described. Marco stood still in the midst of darkness like black velvet. His guard turned the key.
"The peasants who came to your father in Moscow spoke Samavian and were big men. Do you remember them?" he asked from outside.
"I know nothing," answered Marco.
"You are a young fool," the voice replied. "And I believe you know even more than we thought. Your father will be greatly troubled when you do not come home. I will come back to see you in a few hours, if it is possible. I will tell you, however, that I have had disturbing news which might make it necessary for us to leave the house in a hurry. I might not have time to come down here again before leaving."
Marco stood with his back against a bit of wall and remained silent.
There was stillness for a few minutes, and then there was to be heard the sound of footsteps marching away.
When the last distant echo died all was quite silent, and Marco drew a long breath. Unbelievable as it may appear, it was in one sense almost a breath of relief. In the rush of strange feeling which had swept over him when he found himself facing the astounding situation up-stairs, it had not been easy to realize what his thoughts really were; there were so many of them and they came so fast. How could he quite believe the evidence of his eyes and ears? A few minutes, only a few minutes, had changed his prettily grateful and kindly acquaintance into a subtle and cunning creature whose love for Samavia had been part of a plot to harm it and to harm his father.
What did she and her companion want to do—what could they do if they knew the things they were trying to force him to tell?
Marco braced his back against the wall stoutly.
"What will it be best to think about first?"
This he said because one of the most absorbingly fascinating things he and his father talked about together was the power of the thoughts which human beings allow to pass through their minds—the strange strength of them. When they talked of this, Marco felt as if he were listening to some marvelous Eastern story of magic which was true. In Loristan's travels, he had visited the far Oriental countries, and he had seen and learned many things which seemed marvels, and they had taught him deep thinking. He had known, and reasoned through days with men who believed that when they desired a thing, clear and exalted thought would bring it to them. He had discovered why they believed this, and had learned to understand their profound arguments.
What he himself believed, he had taught Marco quite simply from his childhood. It was this: he himself—Marco, with the strong boy-body, the thick mat of black hair, and the patched clothes—was the magician. He held and waved his wand himself—and his wand was his own Thought. When special privation or anxiety beset them, it was their rule to say, "What will it be best to think about first?" which was Marco's reason for saying it to himself now as he stood in the darkness which was like black velvet.
He waited a few minutes for the right thing to come to him.
"I will think of the very old hermit who lived on the ledge of the mountains in India and who let my father talk to him through all one night," he said at last. This had been a wonderful story and one of his favorites. Loristan had traveled far to see this ancient Buddhist, and what he had seen and heard during that one night had made changes in his life. The part of the story which came back to Marco now was these words:
"Let pass through thy mind, my son, only the image thou wouldst desire to see a truth. Meditate only upon the wish of thy heart, seeing first that it can injure no man and is not ignoble. Then will it take earthly form and draw near to thee. This is the law of that which creates."
"I am not afraid," Marco said aloud. "I shall not be afraid. In some way I shall get out."
This was the image he wanted most to keep steadily in his mind—that nothing could make him afraid, and that in some way he would get out of the wine-cellar.
He thought of this for some minutes, and said the words over several times. He felt more like himself when he had done it.
"When my eyes are accustomed to the darkness, I shall see if there is any little glimmer of light anywhere," he said next.
He waited with patience, and it seemed for some time that he saw no glimmer at all. He put out his hands on either side of him, and found that, on the side of the wall against which he stood, there seemed to be no shelves. Perhaps the cellar had been used for other purposes than the storing of wine, and, if that was true, there might be somewhere some opening for ventilation. The air was not bad, but then the door had not been shut tightly when the man opened it.
"I am not afraid," he repeated. "I shall not be afraid. In some way I shall get out."
He would not allow himself to stop and think about his father waiting for his return. He knew that would only rouse his emotions and weaken his courage. He began to feel his way carefully along the wall. It reached farther than he had thought it would.
The cellar was not so very small. He crept round it gradually, and, when he had crept round it, he made his way across it, keeping his hands extended before him and setting down each foot cautiously. Then he sat down on the stone floor and thought again, and what he thought was of the things the old Buddhist had told his father, and that there was a way out of this place for him, and he should somehow find it, and, before too long a time had passed, be walking in the street again.
It was while he was thinking in this way that he felt a startling thing. It seemed almost as if something touched him. It made him jump, though the touch was so light and soft that it was scarcely a touch at all, in fact he could not be sure that he had not imagined it. He stood up and leaned against the wall again. Perhaps the suddenness of his movement placed him at some angle he had not reached before, or perhaps his eyes had become more completely accustomed to the darkness, for, as he turned his head to listen, he made a discovery: above the door there was a place where the velvet blackness was not so dense. There was something like a slit in the wall, though, as it did not open upon daylight but upon the dark passage, it was not light it admitted so much as a lesser shade of darkness. But even that was better than nothing, and Marco drew another long breath.
"That is only the beginning. I shall find a way out," he said.
He remembered reading a story of a man who, being shut by accident in a safety vault, passed through such terrors before his release that he believed he had spent two days and nights in the place when he had been there only a few hours.
"His thoughts did that. I must remember. I will sit down again and begin thinking of all the pictures in the cabinet rooms of the Art History Museum in Vienna. It will take some time, and then there are the others," he said.
It was a good plan. While he could keep his mind upon the game which had helped him to pass so many dull hours, he could think of nothing else, as it required close attention—and perhaps, as the day went on, his captors would begin to feel that it was not safe to run the risk of doing a thing as desperate as this would be. They might think better of it before they left the house at least. In any case, he had learned enough from Loristan to realize that only harm could come from letting one's mind run wild.
"A mind is either an engine with broken and flying gear, or a giant power under control," was the thing they knew.
He had walked in imagination through three of the cabinet rooms and was turning mentally into a fourth, when he found himself starting again quite violently. This time it was not at a touch but at a sound. Surely it was a sound. And it was in the cellar with him. But it was the tiniest possible noise, a ghost of a squeak and a suggestion of a movement. It came from the opposite side of the cellar, the side where the shelves were. He looked across in the darkness saw a light which there could be no mistake about. It WAS a light, two lights indeed, two round phosphorescent greenish balls. They were two eyes staring at him. And then he heard another sound. Not a squeak this time, but something so homely and comfortable that he actually burst out laughing. It was a cat purring, a nice warm cat! And she was curled up on one of the lower shelves purring to some new-born kittens. He knew there were kittens because it was plain now what the tiny squeak had been, and it was made plainer by the fact that he heard another much more distinct one and then another. They had all been asleep when he had come into the cellar. If the mother had been awake, she had probably been very much afraid. Afterward she had perhaps come down from her shelf to investigate, and had passed close to him. The feeling of relief which came upon him at this queer and simple discovery was wonderful. It was so natural and comfortable an every-day thing that it seemed to make spies and criminals unreal, and only natural things possible. With a mother cat purring away among her kittens, even a dark wine-cellar was not so black. He got up and kneeled by the shelf. The greenish eyes did not shine in an unfriendly way. He could feel that the owner of them was a nice big cat, and he counted four round little balls of kittens. It was a curious delight to stroke the soft fur and talk to the mother cat. She answered with purring, as if she liked the sense of friendly human nearness. Marco laughed to himself.
"It's queer what a difference it makes!" he said. "It is almost like finding a window."
The mere presence of these harmless living things was companionship. He sat down close to the low shelf and listened to the motherly purring, now and then speaking and putting out his hand to touch the warm fur. The phosphorescent light in the green eyes was a comfort in itself.
"We shall get out of this—both of us," he said. "We shall not be here very long, Puss-cat."
He was not troubled by the fear of being really hungry for some time. He was so used to eating scantily from necessity, and to passing long hours without food during his journeys, that he had proved to himself that fasting is not, after all, such a desperate ordeal as most people imagine. If you begin by expecting to feel famished and by counting the hours between your meals, you will begin to be ravenous. But he knew better.
The time passed slowly; but he had known it would pass slowly, and he had made up his mind not to watch it nor ask himself questions about it. He was not a restless boy, but, like his father, could stand or sit or lie still. Now and then he could hear distant rumblings of carts and vans passing in the street. There was a certain degree of companionship in these also. He kept his place near the cat and his hand where he could occasionally touch her. He could lift his eyes now and then to the place where the dim glimmer of something like light showed itself.
Perhaps the stillness, perhaps the darkness, perhaps the purring of the mother cat, probably all three, caused his thoughts to begin to travel through his mind slowly and more slowly. At last they ceased and he fell asleep. The mother cat purred for some time, and then fell asleep herself.
A SOUND IN A DREAM
Marco slept peacefully for several hours. There was nothing to awaken him during that time. But at the end of it, his sleep was penetrated by a definite sound. He had dreamed of hearing a voice at a distance, and, as he tried in his dream to hear what it said, a brief metallic ringing sound awakened him outright. It was over by the time he was fully conscious, and at once he realized that the voice of his dream had been a real one, and was speaking still. It was the Lovely Person's voice, and she was speaking rapidly, as if she were in the greatest haste. She was speaking through the door.
"You will have to search for it," was all he heard. "I have not a moment!" And, as he listened to her hurriedly departing feet, there came to him with their hastening echoes the words, "You are too good for the cellar. I like you!"
He sprang to the door and tried it, but it was still locked. The feet ran up the cellar steps and through the upper hall, and the front door closed with a bang. The two people had gone away, as they had threatened. The voice had been excited as well as hurried. Something had happened to frighten them, and they had left the house in great haste.
Marco turned and stood with his back against the door. The cat had awakened and she was gazing at him with her green eyes. She began to purr encouragingly. She really helped Marco to think. He was thinking with all his might and trying to remember.
"What did she come for? She came for something," he said to himself. "What did she say? I only heard part of it, because I was asleep. The voice in the dream was part of it. The part I heard was, 'You will have to search for it. I have not a moment.' And as she ran down the passage, she called back, 'You are too good for the cellar. I like you.'" He said the words over and over again and tried to recall exactly how they had sounded, and also to recall the voice which had seemed to be part of a dream but had been a real thing. Then he began to try his favorite experiment. As he often tried the experiment of commanding his mind to go to sleep, so he frequently experimented on commanding it to work for him—to help him to remember, to understand, and to argue about things clearly.
"Reason this out for me," he said to it now, quite naturally and calmly. "Show me what it means."
What did she come for? It was certain that she was in too great a hurry to be able, without a reason, to spare the time to come. What was the reason? She had said she liked him. Then she came because she liked him. If she liked him, she came to do something which was not unfriendly. The only good thing she could do for him was something which would help him to get out of the cellar. She had said twice that he was too good for the cellar. If he had been awake, he would have heard all she said and have understood what she wanted him to do or meant to do for him. He must not stop even to think of that. The first words he had heard—what had they been? They had been less clear to him than her last because he had heard them only as he was awakening. But he thought he was sure that they had been, "You will have to search for it." Search for it. For what? He thought and thought. What must he search for?
He sat down on the floor of the cellar and held his head in his hands, pressing his eyes so hard that curious lights floated before them.
"Tell me! Tell me!" he said to that part of his being which the Buddhist anchorite had said held all knowledge and could tell a man everything if he called upon it in the right spirit.
And in a few minutes, he recalled something which seemed so much a part of his sleep that he had not been sure that he had not dreamed it. The ringing sound! He sprang up on his feet with a little gasping shout. The ringing sound! It had been the ring of metal, striking as it fell. Anything made of metal might have sounded like that. She had thrown something made of metal into the cellar. She had thrown it through the slit in the bricks near the door. She liked him, and said he was too good for his prison. She had thrown to him the only thing which could set him free. She had thrown him the KEY of the cellar!
For a few minutes the feelings which surged through him were so full of strong excitement that they set his brain in a whirl. He knew what his father would say—that would not do. If he was to think, he must hold himself still and not let even joy overcome him. The key was in the black little cellar, and he must find it in the dark. Even the woman who liked him enough to give him a chance of freedom knew that she must not open the door and let him out. There must be a delay. He would have to find the key himself, and it would be sure to take time. The chances were that they would be at a safe enough distance before he could get out.
"I will kneel down and crawl on my hands and knees," he said.
"I will crawl back and forth and go over every inch of the floor with my hands until I find it. If I go over every inch, I shall find it."
So he kneeled down and began to crawl, and the cat watched him and purred.
"We shall get out, Puss-cat," he said to her. "I told you we should."
He crawled from the door to the wall at the side of the shelves, and then he crawled back again. The key might be quite a small one, and it was necessary that he should pass his hands over every inch, as he had said. The difficulty was to be sure, in the darkness, that he did not miss an inch. Sometimes he was not sure enough, and then he went over the ground again. He crawled backward and forward, and he crawled forward and backward. He crawled crosswise and lengthwise, he crawled diagonally, and he crawled round and round. But he did not find the key. If he had had only a little light, but he had none. He was so absorbed in his search that he did not know he had been engaged in it for several hours, and that it was the middle of the night. But at last he realized that he must stop for a rest, because his knees were beginning to feel bruised, and the skin of his hands was sore as a result of the rubbing on the flags. The cat and her kittens had gone to sleep and awakened again two or three times.
"But it is somewhere!" he said obstinately. "It is inside the cellar. I heard something fall which was made of metal. That was the ringing sound which awakened me."
When he stood up, he found his body ached and he was very tired. He stretched himself and exercised his arms and legs.
"I wonder how long I have been crawling about," he thought. "But the key is in the cellar. It is in the cellar."
He sat down near the cat and her family, and, laying his arm on the shelf above her, rested his head on it. He began to think of another experiment.
"I am so tired, I believe I shall go to sleep again. 'Thought which Knows All'"—he was quoting something the hermit had said to Loristan in their midnight talk—"Thought which Knows All! Show me this little thing. Lead me to it when I awake."
And he did fall asleep, sound and fast.
He did not know that he slept all the rest of the night. But he did. When he awakened, it was daylight in the streets, and the milk-carts were beginning to jingle about, and the early postmen were knocking big double-knocks at front doors. The cat may have heard the milk-carts, but the actual fact was that she herself was hungry and wanted to go in search of food. Just as Marco lifted his head from his arm and sat up, she jumped down from her shelf and went to the door. She had expected to find it ajar as it had been before. When she found it shut, she scratched at it and was disturbed to find this of no use. Because she knew Marco was in the cellar, she felt she had a friend who would assist her, and she miauled appealingly.
This reminded Marco of the key.
"I will when I have found it," he said. "It is inside the cellar."
The cat miauled again, this time very anxiously indeed. The kittens heard her and began to squirm and squeak piteously.
"Lead me to this little thing," said Marco, as if speaking to Something in the darkness about him, and he got up.
He put his hand out toward the kittens, and it touched something lying not far from them. It must have been lying near his elbow all night while he slept.
It was the key! It had fallen upon the shelf, and not on the floor at all.
Marco picked it up and then stood still a moment. He made the sign of the cross.
Then he found his way to the door and fumbled until he found the keyhole and got the key into it. Then he turned it and pushed the door open—and the cat ran out into the passage before him.
THE RAT TO THE RESCUE
Marco walked through the passage and into the kitchen part of the basement. The doors were all locked, and they were solid doors. He ran up the flagged steps and found the door at the top shut and bolted also, and that too was a solid door. His jailers had plainly made sure that it should take time enough for him to make his way into the world, even after he got out of the wine-cellar.
The cat had run away to some part of the place where mice were plentiful. Marco was by this time rather gnawingly hungry himself. If he could get into the kitchen, he might find some fragments of food left in a cupboard; but there was no moving the locked door. He tried the outlet into the area, but that was immovable. Then he saw near it a smaller door. It was evidently the entrance to the coal-cellar under the pavement. This was proved by the fact that trodden coal-dust marked the flagstones, and near it stood a scuttle with coal in it.
This coal-scuttle was the thing which might help him! Above the area door was a small window which was supposed to light the entry. He could not reach it, and, if he reached it, he could not open it. He could throw pieces of coal at the glass and break it, and then he could shout for help when people passed by. They might not notice or understand where the shouts came from at first, but, if he kept them up, some one's attention would be attracted in the end.
He picked a large-sized solid piece of coal out of the heap in the scuttle, and threw it with all his force against the grimy glass. It smashed through and left a big hole. He threw another, and the entire pane was splintered and fell outside into the area. Then he saw it was broad daylight, and guessed that he had been shut up a good many hours. There was plenty of coal in the scuttle, and he had a strong arm and a good aim. He smashed pane after pane, until only the framework remained. When he shouted, there would be nothing between his voice and the street. No one could see him, but if he could do something which would make people slacken their pace to listen, then he could call out that he was in the basement of the house with the broken window.
"Hallo!" he shouted. "Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!"
But vehicles were passing in the street, and the passers-by were absorbed in their own business. If they heard a sound, they did not stop to inquire into it.
"Hallo! Hallo! I am locked in!" yelled Marco, at the topmost power of his lungs. "Hallo! Hallo!"
After half an hour's shouting, he began to think that he was wasting his strength.
"They only think it is a boy shouting," he said. "Some one will notice in time. At night, when the streets are quiet, I might make a policeman hear. But my father does not know where I am. He will be trying to find me—so will Lazarus—so will The Rat. One of them might pass through this very street, as I did. What can I do!"
A new idea flashed light upon him.
"I will begin to sing a Samavian song, and I will sing it very loud. People nearly always stop a moment to listen to music and find out where it comes from. And if any of my own people came near, they would stop at once—and now and then I will shout for help."
Once when they had stopped to rest on Hampstead Heath, he had sung a valiant Samavian song for The Rat. The Rat had wanted to hear how he would sing when they went on their secret journey. He wanted him to sing for the Squad some day, to make the thing seem real. The Rat had been greatly excited, and had begged for the song often. It was a stirring martial thing with a sort of trumpet call of a chorus. Thousands of Samavians had sung it together on their way to the battle-field, hundreds of years ago.
He drew back a step or so, and, putting his hands on his hips, began to sing, throwing his voice upward that it might pass through the broken window. He had a splendid and vibrant young voice, though he knew nothing of its fine quality. Just now he wanted only to make it loud.
In the street outside very few people were passing. An irritable old gentleman who was taking an invalid walk quite jumped with annoyance when the song suddenly trumpeted forth. Boys had no right to yell in that manner. He hurried his step to get away from the sound. Two or three other people glanced over their shoulders, but had not time to loiter. A few others listened with pleasure as they drew near and passed on.
"There's a boy with a fine voice," said one.
"What's he singing?" said his companion. "It sounds foreign."
"Don't know," was the reply as they went by. But at last a young man who was a music-teacher, going to give a lesson, hesitated and looked about him. The song was very loud and spirited just at this moment. The music-teacher could not understand where it came from, and paused to find out. The fact that he stopped attracted the attention of the next comer, who also paused.
"Who's singing?" he asked. "Where is he singing?"
"I can't make out," the music-teacher laughed. "Sounds as if it came out of the ground."
And, because it was queer that a song should seem to be coming out of the ground, a costermonger stopped, and then a little boy, and then a workingwoman, and then a lady.
There was quite a little group when another person turned the corner of the street. He was a shabby boy on crutches, and he had a frantic look on his face.
And Marco actually heard, as he drew near to the group, the tap-tap-tap of crutches.
"It might be," he thought. "It might be!"
And he sang the trumpet-call of the chorus as if it were meant to reach the skies, and he sang it again and again. And at the end of it shouted, "Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!"
The Rat swung himself into the group and looked as if he had gone crazy. He hurled himself against the people.
"Where is he! Where is he!" he cried, and he poured out some breathless words; it was almost as if he sobbed them out.
"We've been looking for him all night!" he shouted. "Where is he! Marco! Marco! No one else sings it but him. Marco! Marco!" And out of the area, as it seemed, came a shout of answer.
"Rat! Rat! I'm here in the cellar—locked in. I'm here!" and a big piece of coal came hurtling through the broken window and fell crashing on the area flags. The Rat got down the steps into the area as if he had not been on crutches but on legs, and banged on the door, shouting back:
"Marco! Marco! Here I am! Who locked you in? How can I get the door open?"
Marco was close against the door inside. It was The Rat! It was
The Rat! And he would be in the street again in a few minutes. "Call a policeman!" he shouted through the keyhole. "The people locked me in on purpose and took away the keys."
Then the group of lookers-on began to get excited and press against the area railings and ask questions. They could not understand what had happened to cause the boy with the crutches to look as if he were crazy with terror and relief at the same time.
And the little boy ran delightedly to fetch a policeman, and found one in the next street, and, with some difficulty, persuaded him that it was his business to come and get a door open in an empty house where a boy who was a street singer had got locked up in a cellar.
"IT IS A VERY BAD SIGN"
The policeman was not so much excited as out of temper. He did not know what Marco knew or what The Rat knew. Some common lad had got himself locked up in a house, and some one would have to go to the landlord and get a key from him. He had no intention of laying himself open to the law by breaking into a private house with his truncheon, as The Rat expected him to do.
"He got himself in through some of his larks, and he'll have to wait till he's got out without smashing locks," he growled, shaking the area door. "How did you get in there?" he shouted.
It was not easy for Marco to explain through a keyhole that he had come in to help a lady who had met with an accident. The policeman thought this mere boy's talk. As to the rest of the story, Marco knew that it could not be related at all without saying things which could not be explained to any one but his father. He quickly made up his mind that he must let it be believed that he had been locked in by some queer accident. It must be supposed that the people had not remembered, in their haste, that he had not yet left the house.
When the young clerk from the house agency came with the keys, he was much disturbed and bewildered after he got inside.
"They've made a bolt of it," he said. "That happens now and then, but there's something queer about this. What did they lock these doors in the basement for, and the one on the stairs? What did they say to you?" he asked Marco, staring at him suspiciously.
"They said they were obliged to go suddenly," Marco answered.
"What were you doing in the basement?"
"The man took me down."
"And left you there and bolted? He must have been in a hurry."
"The lady said they had not a moment's time."
"Her ankle must have got well in short order," said the young man.
"I knew nothing about them," answered Marco. "I had never seen them before."
"The police were after them," the young man said. "That's what I should say. They paid three months' rent in advance, and they have only been here two. Some of these foreign spies lurking about London; that's what they were."
The Rat had not waited until the keys arrived. He had swung himself at his swiftest pace back through the streets to No. 7 Philibert Place. People turned and stared at his wild pale face as he almost shot past them.
He had left himself barely breath enough to speak with when he reached the house and banged on the door with his crutch to save time.
Both Loristan and Lazarus came to answer.
The Rat leaned against the door gasping.
"He's found! He's all right!" he panted. "Some one had locked him in a house and left him. They've sent for the keys. I'm going back. Brandon Terrace, No. 10."
Loristan and Lazarus exchanged glances. Both of them were at the moment as pale as The Rat.
"Help him into the house," said Loristan to Lazarus. "He must stay here and rest. We will go." The Rat knew it was an order.
He did not like it, but he obeyed.
"This is a bad sign, Master," said Lazarus, as they went out together.
"It is a very bad one," answered Loristan.
"God of the Right, defend us!" Lazarus groaned.
"Amen!" said Loristan. "Amen!"