THE LOST PRINCE
Francis Hodgson Burnett
I The New Lodgers at No. 7 Philibert Place II A Young Citizen of the World III The Legend of the Lost Prince IV The Rat V "Silence Is Still the Order" VI The Drill and the Secret Party VII "The Lamp Is Lighted!" VIII An Exciting Game IX "It Is Not a Game" X The Rat—and Samavia XI Come with Me XII Only Two Boys XIII Loristan Attends a Drill of the Squad XIV Marco Does Not Answer XV A Sound in a Dream XVI The Rat to the Rescue XVII "It Is a Very Bad Sign" XVIII "Cities and Faces" XIX "That Is One!" XX Marco Goes to the Opera XXI "Help!" XXII A Night Vigil XXIII The Silver Horn XXIV "How Shall We Find Him?" XXV A Voice in the Night XXVI Across the Frontier XXVII "It is the Lost Prince! It Is Ivor!" XXVIII "Extra! Extra! Extra!" XXIX 'Twixt Night and Morning XXX The Game Is at an End XXXI "The Son of Stefan Loristan"
THE LOST PRINCE
THE NEW LODGERS AT NO. 7 PHILIBERT PLACE
There are many dreary and dingy rows of ugly houses in certain parts of London, but there certainly could not be any row more ugly or dingier than Philibert Place. There were stories that it had once been more attractive, but that had been so long ago that no one remembered the time. It stood back in its gloomy, narrow strips of uncared-for, smoky gardens, whose broken iron railings were supposed to protect it from the surging traffic of a road which was always roaring with the rattle of busses, cabs, drays, and vans, and the passing of people who were shabbily dressed and looked as if they were either going to hard work or coming from it, or hurrying to see if they could find some of it to do to keep themselves from going hungry. The brick fronts of the houses were blackened with smoke, their windows were nearly all dirty and hung with dingy curtains, or had no curtains at all; the strips of ground, which had once been intended to grow flowers in, had been trodden down into bare earth in which even weeds had forgotten to grow. One of them was used as a stone-cutter's yard, and cheap monuments, crosses, and slates were set out for sale, bearing inscriptions beginning with "Sacred to the Memory of." Another had piles of old lumber in it, another exhibited second-hand furniture, chairs with unsteady legs, sofas with horsehair stuffing bulging out of holes in their covering, mirrors with blotches or cracks in them. The insides of the houses were as gloomy as the outside. They were all exactly alike. In each a dark entrance passage led to narrow stairs going up to bedrooms, and to narrow steps going down to a basement kitchen. The back bedroom looked out on small, sooty, flagged yards, where thin cats quarreled, or sat on the coping of the brick walls hoping that sometime they might feel the sun; the front rooms looked over the noisy road, and through their windows came the roar and rattle of it. It was shabby and cheerless on the brightest days, and on foggy or rainy ones it was the most forlorn place in London.
At least that was what one boy thought as he stood near the iron railings watching the passers-by on the morning on which this story begins, which was also the morning after he had been brought by his father to live as a lodger in the back sitting-room of the house No. 7.
He was a boy about twelve years old, his name was Marco Loristan, and he was the kind of boy people look at a second time when they have looked at him once. In the first place, he was a very big boy—tall for his years, and with a particularly strong frame. His shoulders were broad and his arms and legs were long and powerful. He was quite used to hearing people say, as they glanced at him, "What a fine, big lad!" And then they always looked again at his face. It was not an English face or an American one, and was very dark in coloring. His features were strong, his black hair grew on his head like a mat, his eyes were large and deep set, and looked out between thick, straight, black lashes. He was as un-English a boy as one could imagine, and an observing person would have been struck at once by a sort of SILENT look expressed by his whole face, a look which suggested that he was not a boy who talked much.
This look was specially noticeable this morning as he stood before the iron railings. The things he was thinking of were of a kind likely to bring to the face of a twelve-year-old boy an unboyish expression.
He was thinking of the long, hurried journey he and his father and their old soldier servant, Lazarus, had made during the last few days—the journey from Russia. Cramped in a close third-class railway carriage, they had dashed across the Continent as if something important or terrible were driving them, and here they were, settled in London as if they were going to live forever at No. 7 Philibert Place. He knew, however, that though they might stay a year, it was just as probable that, in the middle of some night, his father or Lazarus might waken him from his sleep and say, "Get up—dress yourself quickly. We must go at once." A few days later, he might be in St. Petersburg, Berlin, Vienna, or Budapest, huddled away in some poor little house as shabby and comfortless as No. 7 Philibert Place.
He passed his hand over his forehead as he thought of it and watched the busses. His strange life and his close association with his father had made him much older than his years, but he was only a boy, after all, and the mystery of things sometimes weighed heavily upon him, and set him to deep wondering.
In not one of the many countries he knew had he ever met a boy whose life was in the least like his own. Other boys had homes in which they spent year after year; they went to school regularly, and played with other boys, and talked openly of the things which happened to them, and the journeys they made. When he remained in a place long enough to make a few boy-friends, he knew he must never forget that his whole existence was a sort of secret whose safety depended upon his own silence and discretion.
This was because of the promises he had made to his father, and they had been the first thing he remembered. Not that he had ever regretted anything connected with his father. He threw his black head up as he thought of that. None of the other boys had such a father, not one of them. His father was his idol and his chief. He had scarcely ever seen him when his clothes had not been poor and shabby, but he had also never seen him when, despite his worn coat and frayed linen, he had not stood out among all others as more distinguished than the most noticeable of them. When he walked down a street, people turned to look at him even oftener than they turned to look at Marco, and the boy felt as if it was not merely because he was a big man with a handsome, dark face, but because he looked, somehow, as if he had been born to command armies, and as if no one would think of disobeying him. Yet Marco had never seen him command any one, and they had always been poor, and shabbily dressed, and often enough ill-fed. But whether they were in one country or another, and whatsoever dark place they seemed to be hiding in, the few people they saw treated him with a sort of deference, and nearly always stood when they were in his presence, unless he bade them sit down.
"It is because they know he is a patriot, and patriots are respected," the boy had told himself.
He himself wished to be a patriot, though he had never seen his own country of Samavia. He knew it well, however. His father had talked to him about it ever since that day when he had made the promises. He had taught him to know it by helping him to study curious detailed maps of it—maps of its cities, maps of its mountains, maps of its roads. He had told him stories of the wrongs done its people, of their sufferings and struggles for liberty, and, above all, of their unconquerable courage. When they talked together of its history, Marco's boy-blood burned and leaped in his veins, and he always knew, by the look in his father's eyes, that his blood burned also. His countrymen had been killed, they had been robbed, they had died by thousands of cruelties and starvation, but their souls had never been conquered, and, through all the years during which more powerful nations crushed and enslaved them, they never ceased to struggle to free themselves and stand unfettered as Samavians had stood centuries before.
"Why do we not live there," Marco had cried on the day the promises were made. "Why do we not go back and fight? When I am a man, I will be a soldier and die for Samavia."
"We are of those who must LIVE for Samavia—working day and night," his father had answered; "denying ourselves, training our bodies and souls, using our brains, learning the things which are best to be done for our people and our country. Even exiles may be Samavian soldiers—I am one, you must be one."
"Are we exiles?" asked Marco.
"Yes," was the answer. "But even if we never set foot on Samavian soil, we must give our lives to it. I have given mine since I was sixteen. I shall give it until I die."
"Have you never lived there?" said Marco.
A strange look shot across his father's face.
"No," he answered, and said no more. Marco watching him, knew he must not ask the question again.
The next words his father said were about the promises. Marco was quite a little fellow at the time, but he understood the solemnity of them, and felt that he was being honored as if he were a man.
"When you are a man, you shall know all you wish to know," Loristan said. "Now you are a child, and your mind must not be burdened. But you must do your part. A child sometimes forgets that words may be dangerous. You must promise never to forget this. Wheresoever you are; if you have playmates, you must remember to be silent about many things. You must not speak of what I do, or of the people who come to see me. You must not mention the things in your life which make it different from the lives of other boys. You must keep in your mind that a secret exists which a chance foolish word might betray. You are a Samavian, and there have been Samavians who have died a thousand deaths rather than betray a secret. You must learn to obey without question, as if you were a soldier. Now you must take your oath of allegiance."
He rose from his seat and went to a corner of the room. He knelt down, turned back the carpet, lifted a plank, and took something from beneath it. It was a sword, and, as he came back to Marco, he drew it out from its sheath. The child's strong, little body stiffened and drew itself up, his large, deep eyes flashed. He was to take his oath of allegiance upon a sword as if he were a man. He did not know that his small hand opened and shut with a fierce understanding grip because those of his blood had for long centuries past carried swords and fought with them.
Loristan gave him the big bared weapon, and stood erect before him.
"Repeat these words after me sentence by sentence!" he commanded.
And as he spoke them Marco echoed each one loudly and clearly.
"The sword in my hand—for Samavia!
"The heart in my breast—for Samavia!
"The swiftness of my sight, the thought of my brain, the life of my life—for Samavia.
"Here grows a man for Samavia.
"God be thanked!"
Then Loristan put his hand on the child's shoulder, and his dark face looked almost fiercely proud.
"From this hour," he said, "you and I are comrades at arms."
And from that day to the one on which he stood beside the broken iron railings of No. 7 Philibert Place, Marco had not forgotten for one hour.
A YOUNG CITIZEN OF THE WORLD
He had been in London more than once before, but not to the lodgings in Philibert Place. When he was brought a second or third time to a town or city, he always knew that the house he was taken to would be in a quarter new to him, and he should not see again the people he had seen before. Such slight links of acquaintance as sometimes formed themselves between him and other children as shabby and poor as himself were easily broken. His father, however, had never forbidden him to make chance acquaintances. He had, in fact, told him that he had reasons for not wishing him to hold himself aloof from other boys. The only barrier which must exist between them must be the barrier of silence concerning his wanderings from country to country. Other boys as poor as he was did not make constant journeys, therefore they would miss nothing from his boyish talk when he omitted all mention of his. When he was in Russia, he must speak only of Russian places and Russian people and customs. When he was in France, Germany, Austria, or England, he must do the same thing. When he had learned English, French, German, Italian, and Russian he did not know. He had seemed to grow up in the midst of changing tongues which all seemed familiar to him, as languages are familiar to children who have lived with them until one scarcely seems less familiar than another. He did remember, however, that his father had always been unswerving in his attention to his pronunciation and method of speaking the language of any country they chanced to be living in.
"You must not seem a foreigner in any country," he had said to him. "It is necessary that you should not. But when you are in England, you must not know French, or German, or anything but English."
Once, when he was seven or eight years old, a boy had asked him what his father's work was.
"His own father is a carpenter, and he asked me if my father was one," Marco brought the story to Loristan. "I said you were not. Then he asked if you were a shoemaker, and another one said you might be a bricklayer or a tailor—and I didn't know what to tell them." He had been out playing in a London street, and he put a grubby little hand on his father's arm, and clutched and almost fiercely shook it. "I wanted to say that you were not like their fathers, not at all. I knew you were not, though you were quite as poor. You are not a bricklayer or a shoemaker, but a patriot—you could not be only a bricklayer—you!" He said it grandly and with a queer indignation, his black head held up and his eyes angry.
Loristan laid his hand against his mouth.
"Hush! hush!" he said. "Is it an insult to a man to think he may be a carpenter or make a good suit of clothes? If I could make our clothes, we should go better dressed. If I were a shoemaker, your toes would not be making their way into the world as they are now." He was smiling, but Marco saw his head held itself high, too, and his eyes were glowing as he touched his shoulder. "I know you did not tell them I was a patriot," he ended. "What was it you said to them?"
"I remembered that you were nearly always writing and drawing maps, and I said you were a writer, but I did not know what you wrote—and that you said it was a poor trade. I heard you say that once to Lazarus. Was that a right thing to tell them?"
"Yes. You may always say it if you are asked. There are poor fellows enough who write a thousand different things which bring them little money. There is nothing strange in my being a writer."
So Loristan answered him, and from that time if, by any chance, his father's means of livelihood were inquired into, it was simple enough and true enough to say that he wrote to earn his bread.
In the first days of strangeness to a new place, Marco often walked a great deal. He was strong and untiring, and it amused him to wander through unknown streets, and look at shops, and houses, and people. He did not confine himself to the great thoroughfares, but liked to branch off into the side streets and odd, deserted-looking squares, and even courts and alleyways. He often stopped to watch workmen and talk to them if they were friendly. In this way he made stray acquaintances in his strollings, and learned a good many things. He had a fondness for wandering musicians, and, from an old Italian who had in his youth been a singer in opera, he had learned to sing a number of songs in his strong, musical boy-voice. He knew well many of the songs of the people in several countries.
It was very dull this first morning, and he wished that he had something to do or some one to speak to. To do nothing whatever is a depressing thing at all times, but perhaps it is more especially so when one is a big, healthy boy twelve years old. London as he saw it in the Marylebone Road seemed to him a hideous place. It was murky and shabby-looking, and full of dreary-faced people. It was not the first time he had seen the same things, and they always made him feel that he wished he had something to do.
Suddenly he turned away from the gate and went into the house to speak to Lazarus. He found him in his dingy closet of a room on the fourth floor at the back of the house.
"I am going for a walk," he announced to him. "Please tell my father if he asks for me. He is busy, and I must not disturb him."
Lazarus was patching an old coat as he often patched things—even shoes sometimes. When Marco spoke, he stood up at once to answer him. He was very obstinate and particular about certain forms of manner. Nothing would have obliged him to remain seated when Loristan or Marco was near him. Marco thought it was because he had been so strictly trained as a soldier. He knew that his father had had great trouble to make him lay aside his habit of saluting when they spoke to him.
"Perhaps," Marco had heard Loristan say to him almost severely, once when he had forgotten himself and had stood at salute while his master passed through a broken-down iron gate before an equally broken-down-looking lodging-house—"perhaps you can force yourself to remember when I tell you that it is not safe—IT IS NOT SAFE! You put us in danger!"
It was evident that this helped the good fellow to control himself. Marco remembered that at the time he had actually turned pale, and had struck his forehead and poured forth a torrent of Samavian dialect in penitence and terror. But, though he no longer saluted them in public, he omitted no other form of reverence and ceremony, and the boy had become accustomed to being treated as if he were anything but the shabby lad whose very coat was patched by the old soldier who stood "at attention" before him.
"Yes, sir," Lazarus answered. "Where was it your wish to go?"
Marco knitted his black brows a little in trying to recall distinct memories of the last time he had been in London.
"I have been to so many places, and have seen so many things since I was here before, that I must begin to learn again about the streets and buildings I do not quite remember."
"Yes, sir," said Lazarus. "There HAVE been so many. I also forget. You were but eight years old when you were last here."
"I think I will go and find the royal palace, and then I will walk about and learn the names of the streets," Marco said.
"Yes, sir," answered Lazarus, and this time he made his military salute.
Marco lifted his right hand in recognition, as if he had been a young officer. Most boys might have looked awkward or theatrical in making the gesture, but he made it with naturalness and ease, because he had been familiar with the form since his babyhood. He had seen officers returning the salutes of their men when they encountered each other by chance in the streets, he had seen princes passing sentries on their way to their carriages, more august personages raising the quiet, recognizing hand to their helmets as they rode through applauding crowds. He had seen many royal persons and many royal pageants, but always only as an ill-clad boy standing on the edge of the crowd of common people. An energetic lad, however poor, cannot spend his days in going from one country to another without, by mere every-day chance, becoming familiar with the outer life of royalties and courts. Marco had stood in continental thoroughfares when visiting emperors rode by with glittering soldiery before and behind them, and a populace shouting courteous welcomes. He knew where in various great capitals the sentries stood before kingly or princely palaces. He had seen certain royal faces often enough to know them well, and to be ready to make his salute when particular quiet and unattended carriages passed him by.
"It is well to know them. It is well to observe everything and to train one's self to remember faces and circumstances," his father had said. "If you were a young prince or a young man training for a diplomatic career, you would be taught to notice and remember people and things as you would be taught to speak your own language with elegance. Such observation would be your most practical accomplishment and greatest power. It is as practical for one man as another—for a poor lad in a patched coat as for one whose place is to be in courts. As you cannot be educated in the ordinary way, you must learn from travel and the world. You must lose nothing—forget nothing."
It was his father who had taught him everything, and he had learned a great deal. Loristan had the power of making all things interesting to fascination. To Marco it seemed that he knew everything in the world. They were not rich enough to buy many books, but Loristan knew the treasures of all great cities, the resources of the smallest towns. Together he and his boy walked through the endless galleries filled with the wonders of the world, the pictures before which through centuries an unbroken procession of almost worshiping eyes had passed uplifted. Because his father made the pictures seem the glowing, burning work of still-living men whom the centuries could not turn to dust, because he could tell the stories of their living and laboring to triumph, stories of what they felt and suffered and were, the boy became as familiar with the old masters—Italian, German, French, Dutch, English, Spanish—as he was with most of the countries they had lived in. They were not merely old masters to him, but men who were great, men who seemed to him to have wielded beautiful swords and held high, splendid lights. His father could not go often with him, but he always took him for the first time to the galleries, museums, libraries, and historical places which were richest in treasures of art, beauty, or story. Then, having seen them once through his eyes, Marco went again and again alone, and so grew intimate with the wonders of the world. He knew that he was gratifying a wish of his father's when he tried to train himself to observe all things and forget nothing. These palaces of marvels were his school-rooms, and his strange but rich education was the most interesting part of his life. In time, he knew exactly the places where the great Rembrandts, Vandykes, Rubens, Raphaels, Tintorettos, or Frans Hals hung; he knew whether this masterpiece or that was in Vienna, in Paris, in Venice, or Munich, or Rome. He knew stories of splendid crown jewels, of old armor, of ancient crafts, and of Roman relics dug up from beneath the foundations of old German cities. Any boy wandering to amuse himself through museums and palaces on "free days" could see what he saw, but boys living fuller and less lonely lives would have been less likely to concentrate their entire minds on what they looked at, and also less likely to store away facts with the determination to be able to recall at any moment the mental shelf on which they were laid. Having no playmates and nothing to play with, he began when he was a very little fellow to make a sort of game out of his rambles through picture-galleries, and the places which, whether they called themselves museums or not, were storehouses or relics of antiquity. There were always the blessed "free days," when he could climb any marble steps, and enter any great portal without paying an entrance fee. Once inside, there were plenty of plainly and poorly dressed people to be seen, but there were not often boys as young as himself who were not attended by older companions. Quiet and orderly as he was, he often found himself stared at. The game he had created for himself was as simple as it was absorbing. It was to try how much he could remember and clearly describe to his father when they sat together at night and talked of what he had seen. These night talks filled his happiest hours. He never felt lonely then, and when his father sat and watched him with a certain curious and deep attention in his dark, reflective eyes, the boy was utterly comforted and content. Sometimes he brought back rough and crude sketches of objects he wished to ask questions about, and Loristan could always relate to him the full, rich story of the thing he wanted to know. They were stories made so splendid and full of color in the telling that Marco could not forget them.
THE LEGEND OF THE LOST PRINCE
As he walked through the streets, he was thinking of one of these stories. It was one he had heard first when he was very young, and it had so seized upon his imagination that he had asked often for it. It was, indeed, a part of the long-past history of Samavia, and he had loved it for that reason. Lazarus had often told it to him, sometimes adding much detail, but he had always liked best his father's version, which seemed a thrilling and living thing. On their journey from Russia, during an hour when they had been forced to wait in a cold wayside station and had found the time long, Loristan had discussed it with him. He always found some such way of making hard and comfortless hours easier to live through.
"Fine, big lad—for a foreigner," Marco heard a man say to his companion as he passed them this morning. "Looks like a Pole or a Russian."
It was this which had led his thoughts back to the story of the Lost Prince. He knew that most of the people who looked at him and called him a "foreigner" had not even heard of Samavia. Those who chanced to recall its existence knew of it only as a small fierce country, so placed upon the map that the larger countries which were its neighbors felt they must control and keep it in order, and therefore made incursions into it, and fought its people and each other for possession. But it had not been always so. It was an old, old country, and hundreds of years ago it had been as celebrated for its peaceful happiness and wealth as for its beauty. It was often said that it was one of the most beautiful places in the world. A favorite Samavian legend was that it had been the site of the Garden of Eden. In those past centuries, its people had been of such great stature, physical beauty, and strength, that they had been like a race of noble giants. They were in those days a pastoral people, whose rich crops and splendid flocks and herds were the envy of less fertile countries. Among the shepherds and herdsmen there were poets who sang their own songs when they piped among their sheep upon the mountain sides and in the flower-thick valleys. Their songs had been about patriotism and bravery, and faithfulness to their chieftains and their country. The simple courtesy of the poorest peasant was as stately as the manner of a noble. But that, as Loristan had said with a tired smile, had been before they had had time to outlive and forget the Garden of Eden. Five hundred years ago, there had succeeded to the throne a king who was bad and weak. His father had lived to be ninety years old, and his son had grown tired of waiting in Samavia for his crown. He had gone out into the world, and visited other countries and their courts. When he returned and became king, he lived as no Samavian king had lived before. He was an extravagant, vicious man of furious temper and bitter jealousies. He was jealous of the larger courts and countries he had seen, and tried to introduce their customs and their ambitions. He ended by introducing their worst faults and vices. There arose political quarrels and savage new factions. Money was squandered until poverty began for the first time to stare the country in the face. The big Samavians, after their first stupefaction, broke forth into furious rage. There were mobs and riots, then bloody battles. Since it was the king who had worked this wrong, they would have none of him. They would depose him and make his son king in his place. It was at this part of the story that Marco was always most deeply interested. The young prince was totally unlike his father. He was a true royal Samavian. He was bigger and stronger for his age than any man in the country, and he was as handsome as a young Viking god. More than this, he had a lion's heart, and before he was sixteen, the shepherds and herdsmen had already begun to make songs about his young valor, and his kingly courtesy, and generous kindness. Not only the shepherds and herdsmen sang them, but the people in the streets. The king, his father, had always been jealous of him, even when he was only a beautiful, stately child whom the people roared with joy to see as he rode through the streets. When he returned from his journeyings and found him a splendid youth, he detested him. When the people began to clamor and demand that he himself should abdicate, he became insane with rage, and committed such cruelties that the people ran mad themselves. One day they stormed the palace, killed and overpowered the guards, and, rushing into the royal apartments, burst in upon the king as he shuddered green with terror and fury in his private room. He was king no more, and must leave the country, they vowed, as they closed round him with bared weapons and shook them in his face. Where was the prince? They must see him and tell him their ultimatum. It was he whom they wanted for a king. They trusted him and would obey him. They began to shout aloud his name, calling him in a sort of chant in unison, "Prince Ivor—Prince Ivor—Prince Ivor!" But no answer came. The people of the palace had hidden themselves, and the place was utterly silent.
The king, despite his terror, could not help but sneer.
"Call him again," he said. "He is afraid to come out of his hole!"
A savage fellow from the mountain fastnesses struck him on the mouth.
"He afraid!" he shouted. "If he does not come, it is because thou hast killed him—and thou art a dead man!"
This set them aflame with hotter burning. They broke away, leaving three on guard, and ran about the empty palace rooms shouting the prince's name. But there was no answer. They sought him in a frenzy, bursting open doors and flinging down every obstacle in their way. A page, found hidden in a closet, owned that he had seen His Royal Highness pass through a corridor early in the morning. He had been softly singing to himself one of the shepherd's songs.
And in this strange way out of the history of Samavia, five hundred years before Marco's day, the young prince had walked—singing softly to himself the old song of Samavia's beauty and happiness. For he was never seen again.
In every nook and cranny, high and low, they sought for him, believing that the king himself had made him prisoner in some secret place, or had privately had him killed. The fury of the people grew to frenzy. There were new risings, and every few days the palace was attacked and searched again. But no trace of the prince was found. He had vanished as a star vanishes when it drops from its place in the sky. During a riot in the palace, when a last fruitless search was made, the king himself was killed. A powerful noble who headed one of the uprisings made himself king in his place. From that time, the once splendid little kingdom was like a bone fought for by dogs. Its pastoral peace was forgotten. It was torn and worried and shaken by stronger countries. It tore and worried itself with internal fights. It assassinated kings and created new ones. No man was sure in his youth what ruler his maturity would live under, or whether his children would die in useless fights, or through stress of poverty and cruel, useless laws. There were no more shepherds and herdsmen who were poets, but on the mountain sides and in the valleys sometimes some of the old songs were sung. Those most beloved were songs about a Lost Prince whose name had been Ivor. If he had been king, he would have saved Samavia, the verses said, and all brave hearts believed that he would still return. In the modern cities, one of the jocular cynical sayings was, "Yes, that will happen when Prince Ivor comes again."
In his more childish days, Marco had been bitterly troubled by the unsolved mystery. Where had he gone—the Lost Prince? Had he been killed, or had he been hidden away in a dungeon? But he was so big and brave, he would have broken out of any dungeon. The boy had invented for himself a dozen endings to the story.
"Did no one ever find his sword or his cap—or hear anything or guess anything about him ever—ever—ever?" he would say restlessly again and again.
One winter's night, as they sat together before a small fire in a cold room in a cold city in Austria, he had been so eager and asked so many searching questions, that his father gave him an answer he had never given him before, and which was a sort of ending to the story, though not a satisfying one:
"Everybody guessed as you are guessing. A few very old shepherds in the mountains who like to believe ancient histories relate a story which most people consider a kind of legend. It is that almost a hundred years after the prince was lost, an old shepherd told a story his long-dead father had confided to him in secret just before he died. The father had said that, going out in the early morning on the mountain side, he had found in the forest what he at first thought to be the dead body of a beautiful, boyish, young huntsman. Some enemy had plainly attacked him from behind and believed he had killed him. He was, however, not quite dead, and the shepherd dragged him into a cave where he himself often took refuge from storms with his flocks. Since there was such riot and disorder in the city, he was afraid to speak of what he had found; and, by the time he discovered that he was harboring the prince, the king had already been killed, and an even worse man had taken possession of his throne, and ruled Samavia with a blood-stained, iron hand. To the terrified and simple peasant the safest thing seemed to get the wounded youth out of the country before there was any chance of his being discovered and murdered outright, as he would surely be. The cave in which he was hidden was not far from the frontier, and while he was still so weak that he was hardly conscious of what befell him, he was smuggled across it in a cart loaded with sheepskins, and left with some kind monks who did not know his rank or name. The shepherd went back to his flocks and his mountains, and lived and died among them, always in terror of the changing rulers and their savage battles with each other. The mountaineers said among themselves, as the generations succeeded each other, that the Lost Prince must have died young, because otherwise he would have come back to his country and tried to restore its good, bygone days."
"Yes, he would have come," Marco said.
"He would have come if he had seen that he could help his people," Loristan answered, as if he were not reflecting on a story which was probably only a kind of legend. "But he was very young, and Samavia was in the hands of the new dynasty, and filled with his enemies. He could not have crossed the frontier without an army. Still, I think he died young."
It was of this story that Marco was thinking as he walked, and perhaps the thoughts that filled his mind expressed themselves in his face in some way which attracted attention. As he was nearing Buckingham Palace, a distinguished-looking well-dressed man with clever eyes caught sight of him, and, after looking at him keenly, slackened his pace as he approached him from the opposite direction. An observer might have thought he saw something which puzzled and surprised him. Marco didn't see him at all, and still moved forward, thinking of the shepherds and the prince. The well-dressed man began to walk still more slowly. When he was quite close to Marco, he stopped and spoke to him—in the Samavian language.
"What is your name?" he asked.
Marco's training from his earliest childhood had been an extraordinary thing. His love for his father had made it simple and natural to him, and he had never questioned the reason for it. As he had been taught to keep silence, he had been taught to control the expression of his face and the sound of his voice, and, above all, never to allow himself to look startled. But for this he might have started at the extraordinary sound of the Samavian words suddenly uttered in a London street by an English gentleman. He might even have answered the question in Samavian himself. But he did not. He courteously lifted his cap and replied in English:
The gentleman's clever eyes scrutinized him keenly. Then he also spoke in English.
"Perhaps you do not understand? I asked your name because you are very like a Samavian I know," he said.
"I am Marco Loristan," the boy answered him.
The man looked straight into his eyes and smiled.
"That is not the name," he said. "I beg your pardon, my boy."
He was about to go on, and had indeed taken a couple of steps away, when he paused and turned to him again.
"You may tell your father that you are a very well-trained lad. I wanted to find out for myself." And he went on.
Marco felt that his heart beat a little quickly. This was one of several incidents which had happened during the last three years, and made him feel that he was living among things so mysterious that their very mystery hinted at danger. But he himself had never before seemed involved in them. Why should it matter that he was well-behaved? Then he remembered something. The man had not said "well-behaved," he had said "well-TRAINED." Well-trained in what way? He felt his forehead prickle slightly as he thought of the smiling, keen look which set itself so straight upon him. Had he spoken to him in Samavian for an experiment, to see if he would be startled into forgetting that he had been trained to seem to know only the language of the country he was temporarily living in? But he had not forgotten. He had remembered well, and was thankful that he had betrayed nothing. "Even exiles may be Samavian soldiers. I am one. You must be one," his father had said on that day long ago when he had made him take his oath. Perhaps remembering his training was being a soldier. Never had Samavia needed help as she needed it to-day. Two years before, a rival claimant to the throne had assassinated the then reigning king and his sons, and since then, bloody war and tumult had raged. The new king was a powerful man, and had a great following of the worst and most self-seeking of the people. Neighboring countries had interfered for their own welfare's sake, and the newspapers had been full of stories of savage fighting and atrocities, and of starving peasants.
Marco had late one evening entered their lodgings to find Loristan walking to and fro like a lion in a cage, a paper crushed and torn in his hands, and his eyes blazing. He had been reading of cruelties wrought upon innocent peasants and women and children. Lazarus was standing staring at him with huge tears running down his cheeks. When Marco opened the door, the old soldier strode over to him, turned him about, and led him out of the room.
"Pardon, sir, pardon!" he sobbed. "No one must see him, not even you. He suffers so horribly."
He stood by a chair in Marco's own small bedroom, where he half pushed, half led him. He bent his grizzled head, and wept like a beaten child.
"Dear God of those who are in pain, assuredly it is now the time to give back to us our Lost Prince!" he said, and Marco knew the words were a prayer, and wondered at the frenzied intensity of it, because it seemed so wild a thing to pray for the return of a youth who had died five hundred years before.
When he reached the palace, he was still thinking of the man who had spoken to him. He was thinking of him even as he looked at the majestic gray stone building and counted the number of its stories and windows. He walked round it that he might make a note in his memory of its size and form and its entrances, and guess at the size of its gardens. This he did because it was part of his game, and part of his strange training.
When he came back to the front, he saw that in the great entrance court within the high iron railings an elegant but quiet-looking closed carriage was drawing up before the doorway. Marco stood and watched with interest to see who would come out and enter it. He knew that kings and emperors who were not on parade looked merely like well-dressed private gentlemen, and often chose to go out as simply and quietly as other men. So he thought that, perhaps, if he waited, he might see one of those well-known faces which represent the highest rank and power in a monarchical country, and which in times gone by had also represented the power over human life and death and liberty.
"I should like to be able to tell my father that I have seen the King and know his face, as I know the faces of the czar and the two emperors."
There was a little movement among the tall men-servants in the royal scarlet liveries, and an elderly man descended the steps attended by another who walked behind him. He entered the carriage, the other man followed him, the door was closed, and the carriage drove through the entrance gates, where the sentries saluted.
Marco was near enough to see distinctly. The two men were talking as if interested. The face of the one farthest from him was the face he had often seen in shop-windows and newspapers. The boy made his quick, formal salute. It was the King; and, as he smiled and acknowledged his greeting, he spoke to his companion.
"That fine lad salutes as if he belonged to the army," was what he said, though Marco could not hear him.
His companion leaned forward to look through the window. When he caught sight of Marco, a singular expression crossed his face.
"He does belong to an army, sir," he answered, "though he does not know it. His name is Marco Loristan."
Then Marco saw him plainly for the first time. He was the man with the keen eyes who had spoken to him in Samavian.
Marco would have wondered very much if he had heard the words, but, as he did not hear them, he turned toward home wondering at something else. A man who was in intimate attendance on a king must be a person of importance. He no doubt knew many things not only of his own ruler's country, but of the countries of other kings. But so few had really known anything of poor little Samavia until the newspapers had begun to tell them of the horrors of its war—and who but a Samavian could speak its language? It would be an interesting thing to tell his father—that a man who knew the King had spoken to him in Samavian, and had sent that curious message.
Later he found himself passing a side street and looked up it. It was so narrow, and on either side of it were such old, tall, and sloping-walled houses that it attracted his attention. It looked as if a bit of old London had been left to stand while newer places grew up and hid it from view. This was the kind of street he liked to pass through for curiosity's sake. He knew many of them in the old quarters of many cities. He had lived in some of them. He could find his way home from the other end of it. Another thing than its queerness attracted him. He heard a clamor of boys' voices, and he wanted to see what they were doing. Sometimes, when he had reached a new place and had had that lonely feeling, he had followed some boyish clamor of play or wrangling, and had found a temporary friend or so.
Half-way to the street's end there was an arched brick passage. The sound of the voices came from there—one of them high, and thinner and shriller than the rest. Marco tramped up to the arch and looked down through the passage. It opened on to a gray flagged space, shut in by the railings of a black, deserted, and ancient graveyard behind a venerable church which turned its face toward some other street. The boys were not playing, but listening to one of their number who was reading to them from a newspaper.
Marco walked down the passage and listened also, standing in the dark arched outlet at its end and watching the boy who read. He was a strange little creature with a big forehead, and deep eyes which were curiously sharp. But this was not all. He had a hunch back, his legs seemed small and crooked. He sat with them crossed before him on a rough wooden platform set on low wheels, on which he evidently pushed himself about. Near him were a number of sticks stacked together as if they were rifles. One of the first things that Marco noticed was that he had a savage little face marked with lines as if he had been angry all his life.
"Hold your tongues, you fools!" he shrilled out to some boys who interrupted him. "Don't you want to know anything, you ignorant swine?"
He was as ill-dressed as the rest of them, but he did not speak in the Cockney dialect. If he was of the riffraff of the streets, as his companions were, he was somehow different.
Then he, by chance, saw Marco, who was standing in the arched end of the passage.
"What are you doing there listening?" he shouted, and at once stooped to pick up a stone and threw it at him. The stone hit Marco's shoulder, but it did not hurt him much. What he did not like was that another lad should want to throw something at him before they had even exchanged boy-signs. He also did not like the fact that two other boys promptly took the matter up by bending down to pick up stones also.
He walked forward straight into the group and stopped close to the hunchback.
"What did you do that for?" he asked, in his rather deep young voice.
He was big and strong-looking enough to suggest that he was not a boy it would be easy to dispose of, but it was not that which made the group stand still a moment to stare at him. It was something in himself—half of it a kind of impartial lack of anything like irritation at the stone-throwing. It was as if it had not mattered to him in the least. It had not made him feel angry or insulted. He was only rather curious about it. Because he was clean, and his hair and his shabby clothes were brushed, the first impression given by his appearance as he stood in the archway was that he was a young "toff" poking his nose where it was not wanted; but, as he drew near, they saw that the well-brushed clothes were worn, and there were patches on his shoes.
"What did you do that for?" he asked, and he asked it merely as if he wanted to find out the reason.
"I'm not going to have you swells dropping in to my club as if it was your own," said the hunchback.
"I'm not a swell, and I didn't know it was a club," Marco answered. "I heard boys, and I thought I'd come and look. When I heard you reading about Samavia, I wanted to hear."
He looked at the reader with his silent-expressioned eyes.
"You needn't have thrown a stone," he added. "They don't do it at men's clubs. I'll go away."
He turned about as if he were going, but, before he had taken three steps, the hunchback hailed him unceremoniously.
"Hi!" he called out. "Hi, you!"
"What do you want?" said Marco.
"I bet you don't know where Samavia is, or what they're fighting about." The hunchback threw the words at him.
"Yes, I do. It's north of Beltrazo and east of Jiardasia, and they are fighting because one party has assassinated King Maran, and the other will not let them crown Nicola Iarovitch. And why should they? He's a brigand, and hasn't a drop of royal blood in him."
"Oh!" reluctantly admitted the hunchback. "You do know that much, do you? Come back here."
Marco turned back, while the boys still stared. It was as if two leaders or generals were meeting for the first time, and the rabble, looking on, wondered what would come of their encounter.
"The Samavians of the Iarovitch party are a bad lot and want only bad things," said Marco, speaking first. "They care nothing for Samavia. They only care for money and the power to make laws which will serve them and crush everybody else. They know Nicola is a weak man, and that, if they can crown him king, they can make him do what they like."
The fact that he spoke first, and that, though he spoke in a steady boyish voice without swagger, he somehow seemed to take it for granted that they would listen, made his place for him at once. Boys are impressionable creatures, and they know a leader when they see him. The hunchback fixed glittering eyes on him. The rabble began to murmur.
"Rat! Rat!" several voices cried at once in good strong Cockney. "Arst 'im some more, Rat!"
"Is that what they call you?" Marco asked the hunchback.
"It's what I called myself," he answered resentfully. "'The Rat.' Look at me! Crawling round on the ground like this! Look at me!"
He made a gesture ordering his followers to move aside, and began to push himself rapidly, with queer darts this side and that round the inclosure. He bent his head and body, and twisted his face, and made strange animal-like movements. He even uttered sharp squeaks as he rushed here and there—as a rat might have done when it was being hunted. He did it as if he were displaying an accomplishment, and his followers' laughter was applause.
"Wasn't I like a rat?" he demanded, when he suddenly stopped.
"You made yourself like one on purpose," Marco answered. "You do it for fun."
"Not so much fun," said The Rat. "I feel like one. Every one's my enemy. I'm vermin. I can't fight or defend myself unless I bite. I can bite, though." And he showed two rows of fierce, strong, white teeth, sharper at the points than human teeth usually are. "I bite my father when he gets drunk and beats me. I've bitten him till he's learned to remember." He laughed a shrill, squeaking laugh. "He hasn't tried it for three months—even when he was drunk—and he's always drunk." Then he laughed again still more shrilly. "He's a gentleman," he said. "I'm a gentleman's son. He was a Master at a big school until he was kicked out—that was when I was four and my mother died. I'm thirteen now. How old are you?"
"I'm twelve," answered Marco.
The Rat twisted his face enviously.
"I wish I was your size! Are you a gentleman's son? You look as if you were."
"I'm a very poor man's son," was Marco's answer. "My father is a writer."
"Then, ten to one, he's a sort of gentleman," said The Rat. Then quite suddenly he threw another question at him. "What's the name of the other Samavian party?"
"The Maranovitch. The Maranovitch and the Iarovitch have been fighting with each other for five hundred years. First one dynasty rules, and then the other gets in when it has killed somebody as it killed King Maran," Marco answered without hesitation.
"What was the name of the dynasty that ruled before they began fighting? The first Maranovitch assassinated the last of them," The Rat asked him.
"The Fedorovitch," said Marco. "The last one was a bad king."
"His son was the one they never found again," said The Rat. "The one they call the Lost Prince."
Marco would have started but for his long training in exterior self-control. It was so strange to hear his dream-hero spoken of in this back alley in a slum, and just after he had been thinking of him.
"What do you know about him?" he asked, and, as he did so, he saw the group of vagabond lads draw nearer.
"Not much. I only read something about him in a torn magazine I found in the street," The Rat answered. "The man that wrote about him said he was only part of a legend, and he laughed at people for believing in him. He said it was about time that he should turn up again if he intended to. I've invented things about him because these chaps like to hear me tell them. They're only stories."
"We likes 'im," a voice called out, "becos 'e wos the right sort; 'e'd fight, 'e would, if 'e was in Samavia now."
Marco rapidly asked himself how much he might say. He decided and spoke to them all.
"He is not part of a legend. He's part of Samavian history," he said. "I know something about him too."
"How did you find it out?" asked The Rat.
"Because my father's a writer, he's obliged to have books and papers, and he knows things. I like to read, and I go into the free libraries. You can always get books and papers there. Then I ask my father questions. All the newspapers are full of things about Samavia just now." Marco felt that this was an explanation which betrayed nothing. It was true that no one could open a newspaper at this period without seeing news and stories of Samavia.
The Rat saw possible vistas of information opening up before him.
"Sit down here," he said, "and tell us what you know about him. Sit down, you fellows."
There was nothing to sit on but the broken flagged pavement, but that was a small matter. Marco himself had sat on flags or bare ground often enough before, and so had the rest of the lads. He took his place near The Rat, and the others made a semicircle in front of them. The two leaders had joined forces, so to speak, and the followers fell into line at "attention."
Then the new-comer began to talk. It was a good story, that of the Lost Prince, and Marco told it in a way which gave it reality. How could he help it? He knew, as they could not, that it was real. He who had pored over maps of little Samavia since his seventh year, who had studied them with his father, knew it as a country he could have found his way to any part of if he had been dropped in any forest or any mountain of it. He knew every highway and byway, and in the capital city of Melzarr could almost have made his way blindfolded. He knew the palaces and the forts, the churches, the poor streets and the rich ones. His father had once shown him a plan of the royal palace which they had studied together until the boy knew each apartment and corridor in it by heart. But this he did not speak of. He knew it was one of the things to be silent about. But of the mountains and the emerald velvet meadows climbing their sides and only ending where huge bare crags and peaks began, he could speak. He could make pictures of the wide fertile plains where herds of wild horses fed, or raced and sniffed the air; he could describe the fertile valleys where clear rivers ran and flocks of sheep pastured on deep sweet grass. He could speak of them because he could offer a good enough reason for his knowledge of them. It was not the only reason he had for his knowledge, but it was one which would serve well enough.
"That torn magazine you found had more than one article about Samavia in it," he said to The Rat. "The same man wrote four. I read them all in a free library. He had been to Samavia, and knew a great deal about it. He said it was one of the most beautiful countries he had ever traveled in—and the most fertile. That's what they all say of it."
The group before him knew nothing of fertility or open country. They only knew London back streets and courts. Most of them had never traveled as far as the public parks, and in fact scarcely believed in their existence. They were a rough lot, and as they had stared at Marco at first sight of him, so they continued to stare at him as he talked. When he told of the tall Samavians who had been like giants centuries ago, and who had hunted the wild horses and captured and trained them to obedience by a sort of strong and gentle magic, their mouths fell open. This was the sort of thing to allure any boy's imagination.
"Blimme, if I wouldn't 'ave liked ketchin' one o' them 'orses," broke in one of the audience, and his exclamation was followed by a dozen of like nature from the others. Who wouldn't have liked "ketchin' one"?
When he told of the deep endless-seeming forests, and of the herdsmen and shepherds who played on their pipes and made songs about high deeds and bravery, they grinned with pleasure without knowing they were grinning. They did not really know that in this neglected, broken-flagged inclosure, shut in on one side by smoke-blackened, poverty-stricken houses, and on the other by a deserted and forgotten sunken graveyard, they heard the rustle of green forest boughs where birds nested close, the swish of the summer wind in the river reeds, and the tinkle and laughter and rush of brooks running.
They heard more or less of it all through the Lost Prince story, because Prince Ivor had loved lowland woods and mountain forests and all out-of-door life. When Marco pictured him tall and strong-limbed and young, winning all the people when he rode smiling among them, the boys grinned again with unconscious pleasure.
"Wisht 'e 'adn't got lost!" some one cried out.
When they heard of the unrest and dissatisfaction of the Samavians, they began to get restless themselves. When Marco reached the part of the story in which the mob rushed into the palace and demanded their prince from the king, they ejaculated scraps of bad language. "The old geezer had got him hidden somewhere in some dungeon, or he'd killed him out an' out—that's what he'd been up to!" they clamored. "Wisht the lot of us had been there then—wisht we 'ad. We'd 'ave give' 'im wot for, anyway!"
"An' 'im walkin' out o' the place so early in the mornin' just singin' like that! 'E 'ad 'im follered an' done for!" they decided with various exclamations of boyish wrath. Somehow, the fact that the handsome royal lad had strolled into the morning sunshine singing made them more savage. Their language was extremely bad at this point.
But if it was bad here, it became worse when the old shepherd found the young huntsman's half-dead body in the forest. He HAD "bin 'done for' IN THE BACK! 'E'd bin give' no charnst. G-r-r-r!" they groaned in chorus. "Wisht THEY'D bin there when 'e'd bin 'it! They'd 'ave done fur somebody" themselves. It was a story which had a queer effect on them. It made them think they saw things; it fired their blood; it set them wanting to fight for ideals they knew nothing about—adventurous things, for instance, and high and noble young princes who were full of the possibility of great and good deeds. Sitting upon the broken flagstones of the bit of ground behind the deserted graveyard, they were suddenly dragged into the world of romance, and noble young princes and great and good deeds became as real as the sunken gravestones, and far more interesting.
And then the smuggling across the frontier of the unconscious prince in the bullock cart loaded with sheepskins! They held their breaths. Would the old shepherd get him past the line! Marco, who was lost in the recital himself, told it as if he had been present. He felt as if he had, and as this was the first time he had ever told it to thrilled listeners, his imagination got him in its grip, and his heart jumped in his breast as he was sure the old man's must have done when the guard stopped his cart and asked him what he was carrying out of the country. He knew he must have had to call up all his strength to force his voice into steadiness.
And then the good monks! He had to stop to explain what a monk was, and when he described the solitude of the ancient monastery, and its walled gardens full of flowers and old simples to be used for healing, and the wise monks walking in the silence and the sun, the boys stared a little helplessly, but still as if they were vaguely pleased by the picture.
And then there was no more to tell—no more. There it broke off, and something like a low howl of dismay broke from the semicircle.
"Aw!" they protested, "it 'adn't ought to stop there! Ain't there no more? Is that all there is?"
"It's all that was ever known really. And that last part might only be a sort of story made up by somebody. But I believe it myself."
The Rat had listened with burning eyes. He had sat biting his finger-nails, as was a trick of his when he was excited or angry.
"Tell you what!" he exclaimed suddenly. "This was what happened. It was some of the Maranovitch fellows that tried to kill him. They meant to kill his father and make their own man king, and they knew the people wouldn't stand it if young Ivor was alive. They just stabbed him in the back, the fiends! I dare say they heard the old shepherd coming, and left him for dead and ran."
"Right, oh! That was it!" the lads agreed. "Yer right there, Rat!"
"When he got well," The Rat went on feverishly, still biting his nails, "he couldn't go back. He was only a boy. The other fellow had been crowned, and his followers felt strong because they'd just conquered the country. He could have done nothing without an army, and he was too young to raise one. Perhaps he thought he'd wait till he was old enough to know what to do. I dare say he went away and had to work for his living as if he'd never been a prince at all. Then perhaps sometime he married somebody and had a son, and told him as a secret who he was and all about Samavia." The Rat began to look vengeful. "If I'd bin him I'd have told him not to forget what the Maranovitch had done to me. I'd have told him that if I couldn't get back the throne, he must see what he could do when he grew to be a man. And I'd have made him swear, if he got it back, to take it out of them or their children or their children's children in torture and killing. I'd have made him swear not to leave a Maranovitch alive. And I'd have told him that, if he couldn't do it in his life, he must pass the oath on to his son and his son's son, as long as there was a Fedorovitch on earth. Wouldn't you?" he demanded hotly of Marco.
Marco's blood was also hot, but it was a different kind of blood, and he had talked too much to a very sane man.
"No," he said slowly. "What would have been the use? It wouldn't have done Samavia any good, and it wouldn't have done him any good to torture and kill people. Better keep them alive and make them do things for the country. If you're a patriot, you think of the country." He wanted to add "That's what my father says," but he did not.
"Torture 'em first and then attend to the country," snapped The Rat. "What would you have told your son if you'd been Ivor?"
"I'd have told him to learn everything about Samavia—and all the things kings have to know—and study things about laws and other countries—and about keeping silent—and about governing himself as if he were a general commanding soldiers in battle—so that he would never do anything he did not mean to do or could be ashamed of doing after it was over. And I'd have asked him to tell his son's sons to tell their sons to learn the same things. So, you see, however long the time was, there would always be a king getting ready for Samavia—when Samavia really wanted him. And he would be a real king."
He stopped himself suddenly and looked at the staring semicircle.
"I didn't make that up myself," he said. "I have heard a man who reads and knows things say it. I believe the Lost Prince would have had the same thoughts. If he had, and told them to his son, there has been a line of kings in training for Samavia for five hundred years, and perhaps one is walking about the streets of Vienna, or Budapest, or Paris, or London now, and he'd be ready if the people found out about him and called him."
"Wisht they would!" some one yelled.
"It would be a queer secret to know all the time when no one else knew it," The Rat communed with himself as it were, "that you were a king and you ought to be on a throne wearing a crown. I wonder if it would make a chap look different?"
He laughed his squeaky laugh, and then turned in his sudden way to Marco:
"But he'd be a fool to give up the vengeance. What is your name?"
"Marco Loristan. What's yours? It isn't The Rat really."
"It's Jem RATcliffe. That's pretty near. Where do you live?"
"No. 7 Philibert Place."
"This club is a soldiers' club," said The Rat. "It's called the Squad. I'm the captain. 'Tention, you fellows! Let's show him."
The semicircle sprang to its feet. There were about twelve lads altogether, and, when they stood upright, Marco saw at once that for some reason they were accustomed to obeying the word of command with military precision.
"Form in line!" ordered The Rat.
They did it at once, and held their backs and legs straight and their heads up amazingly well. Each had seized one of the sticks which had been stacked together like guns.
The Rat himself sat up straight on his platform. There was actually something military in the bearing of his lean body. His voice lost its squeak and its sharpness became commanding.
He put the dozen lads through the drill as if he had been a smart young officer. And the drill itself was prompt and smart enough to have done credit to practiced soldiers in barracks. It made Marco involuntarily stand very straight himself, and watch with surprised interest.
"That's good!" he exclaimed when it was at an end. "How did you learn that?"
The Rat made a savage gesture.
"If I'd had legs to stand on, I'd have been a soldier!" he said. "I'd have enlisted in any regiment that would take me. I don't care for anything else."
Suddenly his face changed, and he shouted a command to his followers.
"Turn your backs!" he ordered.
And they did turn their backs and looked through the railings of the old churchyard. Marco saw that they were obeying an order which was not new to them. The Rat had thrown his arm up over his eyes and covered them. He held it there for several moments, as if he did not want to be seen. Marco turned his back as the rest had done. All at once he understood that, though The Rat was not crying, yet he was feeling something which another boy would possibly have broken down under.
"All right!" he shouted presently, and dropped his ragged-sleeved arm and sat up straight again.
"I want to go to war!" he said hoarsely. "I want to fight! I want to lead a lot of men into battle! And I haven't got any legs. Sometimes it takes the pluck out of me."
"You've not grown up yet!" said Marco. "You might get strong. No one knows what is going to happen. How did you learn to drill the club?"
"I hang about barracks. I watch and listen. I follow soldiers. If I could get books, I'd read about wars. I can't go to libraries as you can. I can do nothing but scuffle about like a rat."
"I can take you to some libraries," said Marco. "There are places where boys can get in. And I can get some papers from my father."
"Can you?" said The Rat. "Do you want to join the club?"
"Yes!" Marco answered. "I'll speak to my father about it."
He said it because the hungry longing for companionship in his own mind had found a sort of response in the queer hungry look in The Rat's eyes. He wanted to see him again. Strange creature as he was, there was attraction in him. Scuffling about on his low wheeled platform, he had drawn this group of rough lads to him and made himself their commander. They obeyed him; they listened to his stories and harangues about war and soldiering; they let him drill them and give them orders. Marco knew that, when he told his father about him, he would be interested. The boy wanted to hear what Loristan would say.
"I'm going home now," he said. "If you're going to be here to-morrow, I will try to come."
"We shall be here," The Rat answered. "It's our barracks."
Marco drew himself up smartly and made his salute as if to a superior officer. Then he wheeled about and marched through the brick archway, and the sound of his boyish tread was as regular and decided as if he had been a man keeping time with his regiment.
"He's been drilled himself," said The Rat. "He knows as much as I do."
And he sat up and stared down the passage with new interest.
"SILENCE IS STILL THE ORDER"
They were even poorer than usual just now, and the supper Marco and his father sat down to was scant enough. Lazarus stood upright behind his master's chair and served him with strictest ceremony. Their poor lodgings were always kept with a soldierly cleanliness and order. When an object could be polished it was forced to shine, no grain of dust was allowed to lie undisturbed, and this perfection was not attained through the ministrations of a lodging house slavey. Lazarus made himself extremely popular by taking the work of caring for his master's rooms entirely out of the hands of the overburdened maids of all work. He had learned to do many things in his young days in barracks. He carried about with him coarse bits of table-cloths and towels, which he laundered as if they had been the finest linen. He mended, he patched, he darned, and in the hardest fight the poor must face—the fight with dirt and dinginess—he always held his own. They had nothing but dry bread and coffee this evening, but Lazarus had made the coffee and the bread was good.
As Marco ate, he told his father the story of The Rat and his followers. Loristan listened, as the boy had known he would, with the far-off, intently-thinking smile in his dark eyes. It was a look which always fascinated Marco because it meant that he was thinking so many things. Perhaps he would tell some of them and perhaps he would not. His spell over the boy lay in the fact that to him he seemed like a wonderful book of which one had only glimpses. It was full of pictures and adventures which were true, and one could not help continually making guesses about them. Yes, the feeling that Marco had was that his father's attraction for him was a sort of spell, and that others felt the same thing. When he stood and talked to commoner people, he held his tall body with singular quiet grace which was like power. He never stirred or moved himself as if he were nervous or uncertain. He could hold his hands (he had beautiful slender and strong hands) quite still; he could stand on his fine arched feet without shuffling them. He could sit without any ungrace or restlessness. His mind knew what his body should do, and gave it orders without speaking, and his fine limbs and muscles and nerves obeyed. So he could stand still and at ease and look at the people he was talking to, and they always looked at him and listened to what he said, and somehow, courteous and uncondescending as his manner unfailingly was, it used always to seem to Marco as if he were "giving an audience" as kings gave them.
He had often seen people bow very low when they went away from him, and more than once it had happened that some humble person had stepped out of his presence backward, as people do when retiring before a sovereign. And yet his bearing was the quietest and least assuming in the world.
"And they were talking about Samavia? And he knew the story of the Lost Prince?" he said ponderingly. "Even in that place!"
"He wants to hear about wars—he wants to talk about them," Marco answered. "If he could stand and were old enough, he would go and fight for Samavia himself."
"It is a blood-drenched and sad place now!" said Loristan. "The people are mad when they are not heartbroken and terrified."
Suddenly Marco struck the table with a sounding slap of his boy's hand. He did it before he realized any intention in his own mind.
"Why should either one of the Iarovitch or one of the Maranovitch be king!" he cried. "They were only savage peasants when they first fought for the crown hundreds of years ago. The most savage one got it, and they have been fighting ever since. Only the Fedorovitch were born kings. There is only one man in the world who has the right to the throne—and I don't know whether he is in the world or not. But I believe he is! I do!"
Loristan looked at his hot twelve-year-old face with a reflective curiousness. He saw that the flame which had leaped up in him had leaped without warning—just as a fierce heart-beat might have shaken him.
"You mean—?" he suggested softly.
"Ivor Fedorovitch. King Ivor he ought to be. And the people would obey him, and the good days would come again."
"It is five hundred years since Ivor Fedorovitch left the good monks." Loristan still spoke softly.
"But, Father," Marco protested, "even The Rat said what you said—that he was too young to be able to come back while the Maranovitch were in power. And he would have to work and have a home, and perhaps he is as poor as we are. But when he had a son he would call him Ivor and TELL him—and his son would call HIS son Ivor and tell HIM—and it would go on and on. They could never call their eldest sons anything but Ivor. And what you said about the training would be true. There would always be a king being trained for Samavia, and ready to be called." In the fire of his feelings he sprang from his chair and stood upright. "Why! There may be a king of Samavia in some city now who knows he is king, and, when he reads about the fighting among his people, his blood gets red-hot. They're his own people—his very own! He ought to go to them—he ought to go and tell them who he is! Don't you think he ought, Father?"
"It would not be as easy as it seems to a boy," Loristan answered. "There are many countries which would have something to say—Russia would have her word, and Austria, and Germany; and England never is silent. But, if he were a strong man and knew how to make strong friends in silence, he might sometime be able to declare himself openly."
"But if he is anywhere, some one—some Samavian—ought to go and look for him. It ought to be a Samavian who is very clever and a patriot—" He stopped at a flash of recognition. "Father!" he cried out. "Father! You—you are the one who could find him if any one in the world could. But perhaps—" and he stopped a moment again because new thoughts rushed through his mind. "Have YOU ever looked for him?" he asked hesitating.
Perhaps he had asked a stupid question—perhaps his father had always been looking for him, perhaps that was his secret and his work.
But Loristan did not look as if he thought him stupid. Quite the contrary. He kept his handsome eyes fixed on him still in that curious way, as if he were studying him—as if he were much more than twelve years old, and he were deciding to tell him something.
"Comrade at arms," he said, with the smile which always gladdened Marco's heart, "you have kept your oath of allegiance like a man. You were not seven years old when you took it. You are growing older. Silence is still the order, but you are man enough to be told more." He paused and looked down, and then looked up again, speaking in a low tone. "I have not looked for him," he said, "because—I believe I know where he is."
Marco caught his breath.
"Father!" He said only that word. He could say no more. He knew he must not ask questions. "Silence is still the order." But as they faced each other in their dingy room at the back of the shabby house on the side of the roaring common road—as Lazarus stood stock-still behind his father's chair and kept his eyes fixed on the empty coffee cups and the dry bread plate, and everything looked as poor as things always did—there was a king of Samavia—an Ivor Fedorovitch with the blood of the Lost Prince in his veins—alive in some town or city this moment! And Marco's own father knew where he was!
He glanced at Lazarus, but, though the old soldier's face looked as expressionless as if it were cut out of wood, Marco realized that he knew this thing and had always known it. He had been a comrade at arms all his life. He continued to stare at the bread plate.
Loristan spoke again and in an even lower voice. "The Samavians who are patriots and thinkers," he said, "formed themselves into a secret party about eighty years ago. They formed it when they had no reason for hope, but they formed it because one of them discovered that an Ivor Fedorovitch was living. He was head forester on a great estate in the Austrian Alps. The nobleman he served had always thought him a mystery because he had the bearing and speech of a man who had not been born a servant, and his methods in caring for the forests and game were those of a man who was educated and had studied his subject. But he never was familiar or assuming, and never professed superiority over any of his fellows. He was a man of great stature, and was extraordinarily brave and silent. The nobleman who was his master made a sort of companion of him when they hunted together. Once he took him with him when he traveled to Samavia to hunt wild horses. He found that he knew the country strangely well, and that he was familiar with Samavian hunting and customs. Before he returned to Austria, the man obtained permission to go to the mountains alone. He went among the shepherds and made friends among them, asking many questions.
"One night around a forest fire he heard the songs about the Lost Prince which had not been forgotten even after nearly five hundred years had passed. The shepherds and herdsmen talked about Prince Ivor, and told old stories about him, and related the prophecy that he would come back and bring again Samavia's good days. He might come only in the body of one of his descendants, but it would be his spirit which came, because his spirit would never cease to love Samavia. One very old shepherd tottered to his feet and lifted his face to the myriad stars bestrewn like jewels in the blue sky above the forest trees, and he wept and prayed aloud that the great God would send their king to them. And the stranger huntsman stood upright also and lifted his face to the stars. And, though he said no word, the herdsman nearest to him saw tears on his cheeks—great, heavy tears. The next day, the stranger went to the monastery where the order of good monks lived who had taken care of the Lost Prince. When he had left Samavia, the secret society was formed, and the members of it knew that an Ivor Fedorovitch had passed through his ancestors' country as the servant of another man. But the secret society was only a small one, and, though it has been growing ever since and it has done good deeds and good work in secret, the huntsman died an old man before it was strong enough even to dare to tell Samavia what it knew."
"Had he a son?" cried Marco. "Had he a son?"
"Yes. He had a son. His name was Ivor. And he was trained as I told you. That part I knew to be true, though I should have believed it was true even if I had not known. There has ALWAYS been a king ready for Samavia—even when he has labored with his hands and served others. Each one took the oath of allegiance."
"As I did?" said Marco, breathless with excitement. When one is twelve years old, to be so near a Lost Prince who might end wars is a thrilling thing.
"The same," answered Loristan.
Marco threw up his hand in salute.
"'Here grows a man for Samavia! God be thanked!'" he quoted. "And HE is somewhere? And you know?"
Loristan bent his head in acquiescence.
"For years much secret work has been done, and the Fedorovitch party has grown until it is much greater and more powerful than the other parties dream. The larger countries are tired of the constant war and disorder in Samavia. Their interests are disturbed by them, and they are deciding that they must have peace and laws which can be counted on. There have been Samavian patriots who have spent their lives in trying to bring this about by making friends in the most powerful capitals, and working secretly for the future good of their own land. Because Samavia is so small and uninfluential, it has taken a long time but when King Maran and his family were assassinated and the war broke out, there were great powers which began to say that if some king of good blood and reliable characteristics were given the crown, he should be upheld."
"HIS blood,"—Marco's intensity made his voice drop almost to a whisper,—"HIS blood has been trained for five hundred years, Father! If it comes true—" though he laughed a little, he was obliged to wink his eyes hard because suddenly he felt tears rush into them, which no boy likes—"the shepherds will have to make a new song—it will have to be a shouting one about a prince going away and a king coming back!"
"They are a devout people and observe many an ancient rite and ceremony. They will chant prayers and burn altar-fires on their mountain sides," Loristan said. "But the end is not yet—the end is not yet. Sometimes it seems that perhaps it is near—but God knows!"
Then there leaped back upon Marco the story he had to tell, but which he had held back for the last—the story of the man who spoke Samavian and drove in the carriage with the King. He knew now that it might mean some important thing which he could not have before suspected.
"There is something I must tell you," he said.
He had learned to relate incidents in few but clear words when he related them to his father. It had been part of his training. Loristan had said that he might sometime have a story to tell when he had but few moments to tell it in—some story which meant life or death to some one. He told this one quickly and well. He made Loristan see the well-dressed man with the deliberate manner and the keen eyes, and he made him hear his voice when he said, "Tell your father that you are a very well-trained lad."
"I am glad he said that. He is a man who knows what training is," said Loristan. "He is a person who knows what all Europe is doing, and almost all that it will do. He is an ambassador from a powerful and great country. If he saw that you are a well-trained and fine lad, it might—it might even be good for Samavia."
"Would it matter that I was well-trained? COULD it matter to Samavia?" Marco cried out.
Loristan paused for a moment—watching him gravely—looking him over—his big, well-built boy's frame, his shabby clothes, and his eagerly burning eyes.
He smiled one of his slow wonderful smiles.
"Yes. It might even matter to Samavia!" he answered.
THE DRILL AND THE SECRET PARTY
Loristan did not forbid Marco to pursue his acquaintance with The Rat and his followers.
"You will find out for yourself whether they are friends for you or not," he said. "You will know in a few days, and then you can make your own decision. You have known lads in various countries, and you are a good judge of them, I think. You will soon see whether they are going to be MEN or mere rabble. The Rat now—how does he strike you?"
And the handsome eyes held their keen look of questioning.
"He'd be a brave soldier if he could stand," said Marco, thinking him over. "But he might be cruel."
"A lad who might make a brave soldier cannot be disdained, but a man who is cruel is a fool. Tell him that from me," Loristan answered. "He wastes force—his own and the force of the one he treats cruelly. Only a fool wastes force."
"May I speak of you sometimes?" asked Marco.
"Yes. You will know how. You will remember the things about which silence is the order."
"I never forget them," said Marco. "I have been trying not to, for such a long time."
"You have succeeded well, Comrade!" returned Loristan, from his writing-table, to which he had gone and where he was turning over papers.
A strong impulse overpowered the boy. He marched over to the table and stood very straight, making his soldierly young salute, his whole body glowing.
"Father!" he said, "you don't know how I love you! I wish you were a general and I might die in battle for you. When I look at you, I long and long to do something for you a boy could not do. I would die of a thousand wounds rather than disobey you—or Samavia!"
He seized Loristan's hand, and knelt on one knee and kissed it. An English or American boy could not have done such a thing from unaffected natural impulse. But he was of warm Southern blood.
"I took my oath of allegiance to you, Father, when I took it to Samavia. It seems as if you were Samavia, too," he said, and kissed his hand again.
Loristan had turned toward him with one of the movements which were full of dignity and grace. Marco, looking up at him, felt that there was always a certain remote stateliness in him which made it seem quite natural that any one should bend the knee and kiss his hand.
A sudden great tenderness glowed in his father's face as he raised the boy and put his hand on his shoulder.
"Comrade," he said, "you don't know how much I love you—and what reason there is that we should love each other! You don't know how I have been watching you, and thanking God each year that here grew a man for Samavia. That I know you are—a MAN, though you have lived but twelve years. Twelve years may grow a man—or prove that a man will never grow, though a human thing he may remain for ninety years. This year may be full of strange things for both of us. We cannot know WHAT I may have to ask you to do for me—and for Samavia. Perhaps such a thing as no twelve-year-old boy has ever done before."
"Every night and every morning," said Marco, "I shall pray that I may be called to do it, and that I may do it well."
"You will do it well, Comrade, if you are called. That I could make oath," Loristan answered him.
The Squad had collected in the inclosure behind the church when Marco appeared at the arched end of the passage. The boys were drawn up with their rifles, but they all wore a rather dogged and sullen look. The explanation which darted into Marco's mind was that this was because The Rat was in a bad humor. He sat crouched together on his platform biting his nails fiercely, his elbows on his updrawn knees, his face twisted into a hideous scowl. He did not look around, or even look up from the cracked flagstone of the pavement on which his eyes were fixed.
Marco went forward with military step and stopped opposite to him with prompt salute.
"Sorry to be late, sir," he said, as if he had been a private speaking to his colonel.
"It's 'im, Rat! 'E's come, Rat!" the Squad shouted. "Look at 'im!"
But The Rat would not look, and did not even move.
"What's the matter?" said Marco, with less ceremony than a private would have shown. "There's no use in my coming here if you don't want me."
"'E's got a grouch on 'cos you're late!" called out the head of the line. "No doin' nothin' when 'e's got a grouch on."
"I sha'n't try to do anything," said Marco, his boy-face setting itself into good stubborn lines. "That's not what I came here for. I came to drill. I've been with my father. He comes first. I can't join the Squad if he doesn't come first. We're not on active service, and we're not in barracks."
Then The Rat moved sharply and turned to look at him.
"I thought you weren't coming at all!" he snapped and growled at once. "My father said you wouldn't. He said you were a young swell for all your patched clothes. He said your father would think he was a swell, even if he was only a penny-a-liner on newspapers, and he wouldn't let you have anything to do with a vagabond and a nuisance. Nobody begged you to join. Your father can go to blazes!"
"Don't you speak in that way about my father," said Marco, quite quietly, "because I can't knock you down."
"I'll get up and let you!" began The Rat, immediately white and raging. "I can stand up with two sticks. I'll get up and let you!"
"No, you won't," said Marco. "If you want to know what my father said, I can tell you. He said I could come as often as I liked—till I found out whether we should be friends or not. He says I shall find that out for myself."
It was a strange thing The Rat did. It must always be remembered of him that his wretched father, who had each year sunk lower and lower in the under-world, had been a gentleman once, a man who had been familiar with good manners and had been educated in the customs of good breeding. Sometimes when he was drunk, and sometimes when he was partly sober, he talked to The Rat of many things the boy would otherwise never have heard of. That was why the lad was different from the other vagabonds. This, also, was why he suddenly altered the whole situation by doing this strange and unexpected thing. He utterly changed his expression and voice, fixing his sharp eyes shrewdly on Marco's. It was almost as if he were asking him a conundrum. He knew it would have been one to most boys of the class he appeared outwardly to belong to. He would either know the answer or he wouldn't.
"I beg your pardon," The Rat said.
That was the conundrum. It was what a gentleman and an officer would have said, if he felt he had been mistaken or rude. He had heard that from his drunken father.
"I beg yours—for being late," said Marco.
That was the right answer. It was the one another officer and gentleman would have made. It settled the matter at once, and it settled more than was apparent at the moment. It decided that Marco was one of those who knew the things The Rat's father had once known—the things gentlemen do and say and think. Not another word was said. It was all right. Marco slipped into line with the Squad, and The Rat sat erect with his military bearing and began his drill:
"Stand at ease!
They did it so well that it was quite wonderful when one considered the limited space at their disposal. They had evidently done it often, and The Rat had been not only a smart, but a severe, officer. This morning they repeated the exercise a number of times, and even varied it with Review Drill, with which they seemed just as familiar.
"Where did you learn it?" The Rat asked, when the arms were stacked again and Marco was sitting by him as he had sat the previous day.
"From an old soldier. And I like to watch it, as you do."
"If you were a young swell in the Guards, you couldn't be smarter at it," The Rat said. "The way you hold yourself! The way you stand! You've got it! Wish I was you! It comes natural to you."
"I've always liked to watch it and try to do it myself. I did when I was a little fellow," answered Marco.
"I've been trying to kick it into these chaps for more than a year," said The Rat. "A nice job I had of it! It nearly made me sick at first."
The semicircle in front of him only giggled or laughed outright. The members of it seemed to take very little offense at his cavalier treatment of them. He had evidently something to give them which was entertaining enough to make up for his tyranny and indifference. He thrust his hand into one of the pockets of his ragged coat, and drew out a piece of newspaper.
"My father brought home this, wrapped round a loaf of bread," he said. "See what it says there!"
He handed it to Marco, pointing to some words printed in large letters at the head of a column. Marco looked at it and sat very still.