The group had become a small crowd by the time they reached Brandon Terrace. Marco had not found it easy to leave the place because he was being questioned. Neither the policeman nor the agent's clerk seemed willing to relinquish the idea that he could give them some information about the absconding pair.
The entrance of Loristan produced its usual effect. The agent's clerk lifted his hat, and the policeman stood straight and made salute. Neither of them realized that the tall man's clothes were worn and threadbare. They felt only that a personage was before them, and that it was not possible to question his air of absolute and serene authority. He laid his hand on Marco's shoulder and held it there as he spoke. When Marco looked up at him and felt the closeness of his touch, it seemed as if it were an embrace—as if he had caught him to his breast.
"My boy knew nothing of these people," he said. "That I can guarantee. He had seen neither of them before. His entering the house was the result of no boyish trick. He has been shut up in this place for nearly twenty-four hours and has had no food. I must take him home. This is my address." He handed the young man a card.
Then they went home together, and all the way to Philibert Place Loristan's firm hand held closely to his boy's shoulder as if he could not endure to let him go. But on the way they said very little.
"Father," Marco said, rather hoarsely, when they first got away from the house in the terrace, "I can't talk well in the street. For one thing, I am so glad to be with you again. It seemed as if—it might turn out badly."
"Beloved one," Loristan said the words in their own Samavian, "until you are fed and at rest, you shall not talk at all."
Afterward, when he was himself again and was allowed to tell his strange story, Marco found that both his father and Lazarus had at once had suspicions when he had not returned. They knew no ordinary event could have kept him. They were sure that he must have been detained against his will, and they were also sure that, if he had been so detained, it could only have been for reasons they could guess at.
"This was the card that she gave me," Marco said, and he handed it to Loristan. "She said you would remember the name." Loristan looked at the lettering with an ironic half-smile.
"I never heard it before," he replied. "She would not send me a name I knew. Probably I have never seen either of them. But I know the work they do. They are spies of the Maranovitch, and suspect that I know something of the Lost Prince. They believed they could terrify you into saying things which would be a clue. Men and women of their class will use desperate means to gain their end."
"Might they—have left me as they threatened?" Marco asked him.
"They would scarcely have dared, I think. Too great a hue and cry would have been raised by the discovery of such a crime. Too many detectives would have been set at work to track them."
But the look in his father's eyes as he spoke, and the pressure of the hand he stretched out to touch him, made Marco's heart thrill. He had won a new love and trust from his father. When they sat together and talked that night, they were closer to each other's souls than they had ever been before.
They sat in the firelight, Marco upon the worn hearth-rug, and they talked about Samavia—about the war and its heart-rending struggles, and about how they might end.
"Do you think that some time we might be exiles no longer?" the boy said wistfully. "Do you think we might go there together—and see it—you and I, Father?"
There was a silence for a while. Loristan looked into the sinking bed of red coal.
"For years—for years I have made for my soul that image," he said slowly. "When I think of my friend on the side of the Himalayan Mountains, I say, 'The Thought which Thought the World may give us that also!'"
"CITIES AND FACES"
The hours of Marco's unexplained absence had been terrible to Loristan and to Lazarus. They had reason for fears which it was not possible for them to express. As the night drew on, the fears took stronger form. They forgot the existence of The Rat, who sat biting his nails in the bedroom, afraid to go out lest he might lose the chance of being given some errand to do but also afraid to show himself lest he should seem in the way.
"I'll stay upstairs," he had said to Lazarus. "If you just whistle, I'll come."
The anguish he passed through as the day went by and Lazarus went out and came in and he himself received no orders, could not have been expressed in any ordinary words. He writhed in his chair, he bit his nails to the quick, he wrought himself into a frenzy of misery and terror by recalling one by one all the crimes his knowledge of London police-courts supplied him with. He was doing nothing, yet he dare not leave his post. It was his post after all, though they had not given it to him. He must do something.
In the middle of the night Loristan opened the door of the back sitting-room, because he knew he must at least go upstairs and throw himself upon his bed even if he could not sleep.
He started back as the door opened. The Rat was sitting huddled on the floor near it with his back against the wall. He had a piece of paper in his hand and his twisted face was a weird thing to see.
"Why are you here?" Loristan asked.
"I've been here three hours, sir. I knew you'd have to come out sometime and I thought you'd let me speak to you. Will you—will you?"
"Come into the room," said Loristan. "I will listen to anything you want to say. What have you been drawing on that paper?" as The Rat got up in the wonderful way he had taught himself. The paper was covered with lines which showed it to be another of his plans.
"Please look at it," he begged. "I daren't go out lest you might want to send me somewhere. I daren't sit doing nothing. I began remembering and thinking things out. I put down all the streets and squares he MIGHT have walked through on his way home. I've not missed one. If you'll let me start out and walk through every one of them and talk to the policemen on the beat and look at the houses—and think out things and work at them—I'll not miss an inch—I'll not miss a brick or a flagstone—I'll—" His voice had a hard sound but it shook, and he himself shook.
Loristan touched his arm gently.
"You are a good comrade," he said. "It is well for us that you are here. You have thought of a good thing."
"May I go now?" said The Rat.
"This moment, if you are ready," was the answer. The Rat swung himself to the door.
Loristan said to him a thing which was like the sudden lighting of a great light in the very center of his being.
"You are one of us. Now that I know you are doing this I may even sleep. You are one of us." And it was because he was following this plan that The Rat had turned into Brandon Terrace and heard the Samavian song ringing out from the locked basement of Number 10.
"Yes, he is one of us," Loristan said, when he told this part of the story to Marco as they sat by the fire. "I had not been sure before. I wanted to be very sure. Last night I saw into the depths of him and KNEW. He may be trusted."
From that day The Rat held a new place. Lazarus himself, strangely enough, did not resent his holding it. The boy was allowed to be near Loristan as he had never dared to hope to be near. It was not merely that he was allowed to serve him in many ways, but he was taken into the intimacy which had before enclosed only the three. Loristan talked to him as he talked to Marco, drawing him within the circle which held so much that was comprehended without speech. The Rat knew that he was being trained and observed and he realized it with exaltation. His idol had said that he was "one of them" and he was watching and putting him to tests so that he might find out how much he was one of them. And he was doing it for some grave reason of his own. This thought possessed The Rat's whole mind. Perhaps he was wondering if he should find out that he was to be trusted, as a rock is to be trusted. That he should even think that perhaps he might find that he was like a rock, was inspiration enough.
"Sir," he said one night when they were alone together, because The Rat had been copying a road-map. His voice was very low—"do you think that—sometime—you could trust me as you trust Marco? Could it ever be like that—ever?"
"The time has come," and Loristan's voice was almost as low as his own, though strong and deep feeling underlay its quiet—"the time has come when I can trust you with Marco—to be his companion—to care for him, to stand by his side at any moment. And Marco is—Marco is my son." That was enough to uplift The Rat to the skies. But there was more to follow.
"It may not be long before it may be his part to do work in which he will need a comrade who can be trusted—as a rock can be trusted."
He had said the very words The Rat's own mind had given to him.
"A Rock! A Rock!" the boy broke out. "Let me show you, sir. Send me with him for a servant. The crutches are nothing. You've seen that they're as good as legs, haven't you? I've trained myself."
"I know, I know, dear lad." Marco had told him all of it. He gave him a gracious smile which seemed as if it held a sort of fine secret. "You shall go as his aide-de-camp. It shall be part of the game."
He had always encouraged "the game," and during the last weeks had even found time to help them in their plannings for the mysterious journey of the Secret Two. He had been so interested that once or twice he had called on Lazarus as an old soldier and Samavian to give his opinions of certain routes—and of the customs and habits of people in towns and villages by the way. Here they would find simple pastoral folk who danced, sang after their day's work, and who would tell all they knew; here they would find those who served or feared the Maranovitch and who would not talk at all. In one place they would meet with hospitality, in another with unfriendly suspicion of all strangers. Through talk and stories The Rat began to know the country almost as Marco knew it. That was part of the game too—because it was always "the game," they called it. Another part was The Rat's training of his memory, and bringing home his proofs of advance at night when he returned from his walk and could describe, or recite, or roughly sketch all he had seen in his passage from one place to another. Marco's part was to recall and sketch faces. Loristan one night gave him a number of photographs of people to commit to memory. Under each face was written the name of a place.
"Learn these faces," he said, "until you would know each one of them at once wheresoever you met it. Fix them upon your mind, so that it will be impossible for you to forget them. You must be able to sketch any one of them and recall the city or town or neighborhood connected with it."
Even this was still called "the game," but Marco began to know in his secret heart that it was so much more, that his hand sometimes trembled with excitement as he made his sketches over and over again. To make each one many times was the best way to imbed it in his memory. The Rat knew, too, though he had no reason for knowing, but mere instinct. He used to lie awake in the night and think it over and remember what Loristan had said of the time coming when Marco might need a comrade in his work. What was his work to be? It was to be something like "the game." And they were being prepared for it. And though Marco often lay awake on his bed when The Rat lay awake on his sofa, neither boy spoke to the other of the thing his mind dwelt on. And Marco worked as he had never worked before. The game was very exciting when he could prove his prowess. The four gathered together at night in the back sitting-room. Lazarus was obliged to be with them because a second judge was needed. Loristan would mention the name of a place, perhaps a street in Paris or a hotel in Vienna, and Marco would at once make a rapid sketch of the face under whose photograph the name of the locality had been written. It was not long before he could begin his sketch without more than a moment's hesitation. And yet even when this had become the case, they still played the game night after night. There was a great hotel near the Place de la Concorde in Paris, of which Marco felt he should never hear the name during all his life without there starting up before his mental vision a tall woman with fierce black eyes and a delicate high-bridged nose across which the strong eyebrows almost met. In Vienna there was a palace which would always bring back at once a pale cold-faced man with a heavy blonde lock which fell over his forehead. A certain street in Munich meant a stout genial old aristocrat with a sly smile; a village in Bavaria, a peasant with a vacant and simple countenance. A curled and smoothed man who looked like a hair-dresser brought up a place in an Austrian mountain town. He knew them all as he knew his own face and No. 7 Philibert Place.
But still night after night the game was played.
Then came a night when, out of a deep sleep, he was awakened by Lazarus touching him. He had so long been secretly ready to answer any call that he sat up straight in bed at the first touch.
"Dress quickly and come down stairs," Lazarus said. "The Prince is here and wishes to speak with you."
Marco made no answer but got out of bed and began to slip on his clothes.
Lazarus touched The Rat.
The Rat was as ready as Marco and sat upright as he had done.
"Come down with the young Master," he commanded. "It is necessary that you should be seen and spoken to." And having given the order he went away.
No one heard the shoeless feet of the two boys as they stole down the stairs.
An elderly man in ordinary clothes, but with an unmistakable face, was sitting quietly talking to Loristan who with a gesture called both forward.
"The Prince has been much interested in what I have told him of your game," he said in his lowest voice. "He wishes to see you make your sketches, Marco."
Marco looked very straight into the Prince's eyes which were fixed intently on him as he made his bow.
"His Highness does me honor," he said, as his father might have said it. He went to the table at once and took from a drawer his pencils and pieces of cardboard.
"I should know he was your son and a Samavian," the Prince remarked.
Then his keen and deep-set eyes turned themselves on the boy with the crutches.
"This," said Loristan, "is the one who calls himself The Rat. He is one of us."
The Rat saluted.
"Please tell him, sir," he whispered, "that the crutches don't matter."
"He has trained himself to an extraordinary activity," Loristan said. "He can do anything."
The keen eyes were still taking The Rat in.
"They are an advantage," said the Prince at last.
Lazarus had nailed together a light, rough easel which Marco used in making his sketches when the game was played. Lazarus was standing in state at the door, and he came forward, brought the easel from its corner, and arranged the necessary drawing materials upon it.
Marco stood near it and waited the pleasure of his father and his visitor. They were speaking together in low tones and he waited several minutes. What The Rat noticed was what he had noticed before—that the big boy could stand still in perfect ease and silence. It was not necessary for him to say things or to ask questions—to look at people as if he felt restless if they did not speak to or notice him. He did not seem to require notice, and The Rat felt vaguely that, young as he was, this very freedom from any anxiety to be looked at or addressed made him somehow look like a great gentleman.
Loristan and the Prince advanced to where he stood.
"L'Hotel de Marigny," Loristan said.
Marco began to sketch rapidly. He began the portrait of the handsome woman with the delicate high-bridged nose and the black brows which almost met. As he did it, the Prince drew nearer and watched the work over his shoulder. It did not take very long and, when it was finished, the inspector turned, and after giving Loristan a long and strange look, nodded twice.
"It is a remarkable thing," he said. "In that rough sketch she is not to be mistaken."
Loristan bent his head.
Then he mentioned the name of another street in another place—and Marco sketched again. This time it was the peasant with the simple face. The Prince bowed again. Then Loristan gave another name, and after that another and another; and Marco did his work until it was at an end, and Lazarus stood near with a handful of sketches which he had silently taken charge of as each was laid aside.
"You would know these faces wheresoever you saw them?" said the Prince. "If you passed one in Bond Street or in the Marylebone Road, you would recognize it at once?"
"As I know yours, sir," Marco answered.
Then followed a number of questions. Loristan asked them as he had often asked them before. They were questions as to the height and build of the originals of the pictures, of the color of their hair and eyes, and the order of their complexions. Marco answered them all. He knew all but the names of these people, and it was plainly not necessary that he should know them, as his father had never uttered them.
After this questioning was at an end the Prince pointed to The Rat who had leaned on his crutches against the wall, his eyes fiercely eager like a ferret's.
"And he?" the Prince said. "What can he do?"
"Let me try," said The Rat. "Marco knows."
Marco looked at his father.
"May I help him to show you?" he asked.
"Yes," Loristan answered, and then, as he turned to the Prince, he said again in his low voice: "HE IS ONE OF US."
Then Marco began a new form of the game. He held up one of the pictured faces before The Rat, and The Rat named at once the city and place connected with it, he detailed the color of eyes and hair, the height, the build, all the personal details as Marco himself had detailed them. To these he added descriptions of the cities, and points concerning the police system, the palaces, the people. His face twisted itself, his eyes burned, his voice shook, but he was amazing in his readiness of reply and his exactness of memory.
"I can't draw," he said at the end. "But I can remember. I didn't want any one to be bothered with thinking I was trying to learn it. So only Marco knew."
This he said to Loristan with appeal in his voice.
"It was he who invented 'the game,'" said Loristan. "I showed you his strange maps and plans."
"It is a good game," the Prince answered in the manner of a man extraordinarily interested and impressed. "They know it well. They can be trusted."
"No such thing has ever been done before," Loristan said. "It is as new as it is daring and simple."
"Therein lies its safety," the Prince answered.
"Perhaps only boyhood," said Loristan, "could have dared to imagine it."
"The Prince thanks you," he said after a few more words spoken aside to his visitor. "We both thank you. You may go back to your beds."
And the boys went.
"THAT IS ONE!"
A week had not passed before Marco brought to The Rat in their bedroom an envelope containing a number of slips of paper on each of which was written something.
"This is another part of the game," he said gravely. "Let us sit down together by the table and study it."
They sat down and examined what was written on the slips. At the head of each was the name of one of the places with which Marco had connected a face he had sketched. Below were clear and concise directions as to how it was to be reached and the words to be said when each individual was encountered.
"This person is to be found at his stall in the market," was written of the vacant-faced peasant. "You will first attract his attention by asking the price of something. When he is looking at you, touch your left thumb lightly with the forefinger of your right hand. Then utter in a low distinct tone the words 'The Lamp is lighted.' That is all you are to do."
Sometimes the directions were not quite so simple, but they were all instructions of the same order. The originals of the sketches were to be sought out—always with precaution which should conceal that they were being sought at all, and always in such a manner as would cause an encounter to appear to be mere chance. Then certain words were to be uttered, but always without attracting the attention of any bystander or passer-by.
The boys worked at their task through the entire day. They concentrated all their powers upon it. They wrote and re-wrote—they repeated to each other what they committed to memory as if it were a lesson. Marco worked with the greater ease and more rapidly, because exercise of this order had been his practice and entertainment from his babyhood. The Rat, however, almost kept pace with him, as he had been born with a phenomenal memory and his eagerness and desire were a fury.
But throughout the entire day neither of them once referred to what they were doing as anything but "the game."
At night, it is true, each found himself lying awake and thinking. It was The Rat who broke the silence from his sofa.
"It is what the messengers of the Secret Party would be ordered to do when they were sent out to give the Sign for the Rising," he said. "I made that up the first day I invented the party, didn't I?"
"Yes," answered Marco.
After a third day's concentration they knew by heart everything given to them to learn. That night Loristan put them through an examination.
"Can you write these things?" he asked, after each had repeated them and emerged safely from all cross-questioning.
Each boy wrote them correctly from memory.
"Write yours in French—in German—in Russian—in Samavian," Loristan said to Marco.
"All you have told me to do and to learn is part of myself, Father," Marco said in the end. "It is part of me, as if it were my hand or my eyes—or my heart."
"I believe that is true," answered Loristan.
He was pale that night and there was a shadow on his face. His eyes held a great longing as they rested on Marco. It was a yearning which had a sort of dread in it.
Lazarus also did not seem quite himself. He was red instead of pale, and his movements were uncertain and restless. He cleared his throat nervously at intervals and more than once left his chair as if to look for something.
It was almost midnight when Loristan, standing near Marco, put his arm round his shoulders.
"The Game"—he began, and then was silent a few moments while Marco felt his arm tighten its hold. Both Marco and The Rat felt a hard quick beat in their breasts, and, because of this and because the pause seemed long, Marco spoke.
"The Game—yes, Father?" he said.
"The Game is about to give you work to do—both of you," Loristan answered.
Lazarus cleared his throat and walked to the easel in the corner of the room. But he only changed the position of a piece of drawing-paper on it and then came back.
"In two days you are to go to Paris—as you," to The Rat, "planned in the game."
"As I planned?" The Rat barely breathed the words.
"Yes," answered Loristan. "The instructions you have learned you will carry out. There is no more to be done than to manage to approach certain persons closely enough to be able to utter certain words to them."
"Only two young strollers whom no man could suspect," put in Lazarus in an astonishingly rough and shaky voice. "They could pass near the Emperor himself without danger. The young Master—" his voice became so hoarse that he was obligated to clear it loudly—"the young Master must carry himself less finely. It would be well to shuffle a little and slouch as if he were of the common people."
"Yes," said The Rat hastily. "He must do that. I can teach him. He holds his head and his shoulders like a gentleman. He must look like a street lad."
"I will look like one," said Marco, with determination.
"I will trust you to remind him," Loristan said to The Rat, and he said it with gravity. "That will be your charge."
As he lay upon his pillow that night, it seemed to Marco as if a load had lifted itself from his heart. It was the load of uncertainty and longing. He had so long borne the pain of feeling that he was too young to be allowed to serve in any way. His dreams had never been wild ones—they had in fact always been boyish and modest, howsoever romantic. But now no dream which could have passed through his brain would have seemed so wonderful as this—that the hour had come—the hour had come—and that he, Marco, was to be its messenger. He was to do no dramatic deed and be announced by no flourish of heralds. No one would know what he did. What he achieved could only be attained if he remained obscure and unknown and seemed to every one only a common ordinary boy who knew nothing whatever of important things. But his father had given to him a gift so splendid that he trembled with awe and joy as he thought of it. The Game had become real. He and The Rat were to carry with them The Sign, and it would be like carrying a tiny lamp to set aflame lights which would blaze from one mountain-top to another until half the world seemed on fire.
As he had awakened out of his sleep when Lazarus touched him, so he awakened in the middle of the night again. But he was not aroused by a touch. When he opened his eyes he knew it was a look which had penetrated his sleep—a look in the eyes of his father who was standing by his side. In the road outside there was the utter silence he had noticed the night of the Prince's first visit—the only light was that of the lamp in the street, but he could see Loristan's face clearly enough to know that the mere intensity of his gaze had awakened him. The Rat was sleeping profoundly. Loristan spoke in Samavian and under his breath.
"Beloved one," he said. "You are very young. Because I am your father—just at this hour I can feel nothing else. I have trained you for this through all the years of your life. I am proud of your young maturity and strength but—Beloved—you are a child! Can I do this thing!"
For the moment, his face and his voice were scarcely like his own.
He kneeled by the bedside, and, as he did it, Marco half sitting up caught his hand and held it hard against his breast.
"Father, I know!" he cried under his breath also. "It is true. I am a child but am I not a man also? You yourself said it. I always knew that you were teaching me to be one—for some reason. It was my secret that I knew it. I learned well because I never forgot it. And I learned. Did I not?"
He was so eager that he looked more like a boy than ever. But his young strength and courage were splendid to see. Loristan knew him through and through and read every boyish thought of his.
"Yes," he answered slowly. "You did your part—and now if I—drew back—you would feel that I HAD FAILED YOU-FAILED YOU."
"You!" Marco breathed it proudly. "You COULD not fail even the weakest thing in the world."
There was a moment's silence in which the two pairs of eyes dwelt on each other with the deepest meaning, and then Loristan rose to his feet.
"The end will be all that our hearts most wish," he said. "To-morrow you may begin the new part of 'the Game.' You may go to Paris."
When the train which was to meet the boat that crossed from Dover to Calais steamed out of the noisy Charing Cross Station, it carried in a third-class carriage two shabby boys. One of them would have been a handsome lad if he had not carried himself slouchingly and walked with a street lad's careless shuffling gait. The other was a cripple who moved slowly, and apparently with difficulty, on crutches. There was nothing remarkable or picturesque enough about them to attract attention. They sat in the corner of the carriage and neither talked much nor seemed to be particularly interested in the journey or each other. When they went on board the steamer, they were soon lost among the commoner passengers and in fact found for themselves a secluded place which was not advantageous enough to be wanted by any one else.
"What can such a poor-looking pair of lads be going to Paris for?" some one asked his companion.
"Not for pleasure, certainly; perhaps to get work," was the casual answer.
In the evening they reached Paris, and Marco led the way to a small cafe in a side-street where they got some cheap food. In the same side-street they found a bed they could share for the night in a tiny room over a baker's shop.
The Rat was too much excited to be ready to go to bed early. He begged Marco to guide him about the brilliant streets. They went slowly along the broad Avenue des Champs Elysees under the lights glittering among the horse-chestnut trees. The Rat's sharp eyes took it all in—the light of the cafes among the embowering trees, the many carriages rolling by, the people who loitered and laughed or sat at little tables drinking wine and listening to music, the broad stream of life which flowed on to the Arc de Triomphe and back again.
"It's brighter and clearer than London," he said to Marco. "The people look as if they were having more fun than they do in England."
The Place de la Concorde spreading its stately spaces—a world of illumination, movement, and majestic beauty—held him as though by a fascination. He wanted to stand and stare at it, first from one point of view and then from another. It was bigger and more wonderful than he had been able to picture it when Marco had described it to him and told him of the part it had played in the days of the French Revolution when the guillotine had stood in it and the tumbrils had emptied themselves at the foot of its steps.
He stood near the Obelisk a long time without speaking.
"I can see it all happening," he said at last, and he pulled Marco away.
Before they returned home, they found their way to a large house which stood in a courtyard. In the iron work of the handsome gates which shut it in was wrought a gilded coronet. The gates were closed and the house was not brightly lighted.
They walked past it and round it without speaking, but, when they neared the entrance for the second time, The Rat said in a low tone:
"She is five feet seven, has black hair, a nose with a high bridge, her eyebrows are black and almost meet across it, she has a pale olive skin and holds her head proudly."
"That is the one," Marco answered.
They were a week in Paris and each day passed this big house. There were certain hours when great ladies were more likely to go out and come in than they were at others. Marco knew this, and they managed to be within sight of the house or to pass it at these hours. For two days they saw no sign of the person they wished to see, but one morning the gates were thrown open and they saw flowers and palms being taken in.
"She has been away and is coming back," said Marco. The next day they passed three times—once at the hour when fashionable women drive out to do their shopping, once at the time when afternoon visiting is most likely to begin, and once when the streets were brilliant with lights and the carriages had begun to roll by to dinner-parties and theaters.
Then, as they stood at a little distance from the iron gates, a carriage drove through them and stopped before the big open door which was thrown open by two tall footmen in splendid livery.
"She is coming out," said The Rat.
They would be able to see her plainly when she came, because the lights over the entrance were so bright.
Marco slipped from under his coat sleeve a carefully made sketch.
He looked at it and The Rat looked at it.
A footman stood erect on each side of the open door. The footman who sat with the coachman had got down and was waiting by the carriage. Marco and The Rat glanced again with furtive haste at the sketch. A handsome woman appeared upon the threshold. She paused and gave some order to the footman who stood on the right. Then she came out in the full light and got into the carriage which drove out of the courtyard and quite near the place where the two boys waited.
When it was gone, Marco drew a long breath as he tore the sketch into very small pieces indeed. He did not throw them away but put them into his pocket.
The Rat drew a long breath also.
"Yes," he said positively.
"Yes," said Marco.
When they were safely shut up in their room over the baker's shop, they discussed the chances of their being able to pass her in such a way as would seem accidental. Two common boys could not enter the courtyard. There was a back entrance for tradespeople and messengers. When she drove, she would always enter her carriage from the same place. Unless she sometimes walked, they could not approach her. What should be done? The thing was difficult. After they had talked some time, The Rat sat and gnawed his nails.
"To-morrow afternoon," he broke out at last, "we'll watch and see if her carriage drives in for her—then, when she comes to the door, I'll go in and begin to beg. The servant will think I'm a foreigner and don't know what I'm doing. You can come after me to tell me to come away, because you know better than I do that I shall be ordered out. She may be a good-natured woman and listen to us—and you might get near her."
"We might try it," Marco answered. "It might work. We will try it."
The Rat never failed to treat him as his leader. He had begged Loristan to let him come with Marco as his servant, and his servant he had been more than willing to be. When Loristan had said he should be his aide-de-camp, he had felt his trust lifted to a military dignity which uplifted him with it. As his aide-de-camp he must serve him, watch him, obey his lightest wish, make everything easy for him. Sometimes, Marco was troubled by the way in which he insisted on serving him, this queer, once dictatorial and cantankerous lad who had begun by throwing stones at him.
"You must not wait on me," he said to him. "I must wait upon myself."
The Rat rather flushed.
"He told me that he would let me come with you as your aide-de camp," he said. "It—it's part of the game. It makes things easier if we keep up the game."
It would have attracted attention if they had spent too much time in the vicinity of the big house. So it happened that the next afternoon the great lady evidently drove out at an hour when they were not watching for her. They were on their way to try if they could carry out their plan, when, as they walked together along the Rue Royale, The Rat suddenly touched Marco's elbow.
"The carriage stands before the shop with lace in the windows," he whispered hurriedly.
Marco saw and recognized it at once. The owner had evidently gone into the shop to buy something. This was a better chance than they had hoped for, and, when they approached the carriage itself, they saw that there was another point in their favor. Inside were no less than three beautiful little Pekingese spaniels that looked exactly alike. They were all trying to look out of the window and were pushing against each other. They were so perfect and so pretty that few people passed by without looking at them. What better excuse could two boys have for lingering about a place?
They stopped and, standing a little distance away, began to look at and discuss them and laugh at their excited little antics. Through the shop-window Marco caught a glimpse of the great lady.
"She does not look much interested. She won't stay long," he whispered, and added aloud, "that little one is the master. See how he pushes the others aside! He is stronger than the other two, though he is so small."
"He can snap, too," said The Rat.
"She is coming now," warned Marco, and then laughed aloud as if at the Pekingese, which, catching sight of their mistress at the shop-door, began to leap and yelp for joy.
Their mistress herself smiled, and was smiling as Marco drew near her.
"May we look at them, Madame?" he said in French, and, as she made an amiable gesture of acquiescence and moved toward the carriage with him, he spoke a few words, very low but very distinctly, in Russian.
"The Lamp is lighted," he said.
The Rat was looking at her keenly, but he did not see her face change at all. What he noticed most throughout their journey was that each person to whom they gave the Sign had complete control over his or her countenance, if there were bystanders, and never betrayed by any change of expression that the words meant anything unusual.
The great lady merely went on smiling, and spoke only of the dogs, allowing Marco and himself to look at them through the window of the carriage as the footman opened the door for her to enter.
"They are beautiful little creatures," Marco said, lifting his cap, and, as the footman turned away, he uttered his few Russian words once more and moved off without even glancing at the lady again.
"That is ONE!" he said to The Rat that night before they went to sleep, and with a match he burned the scraps of the sketch he had torn and put into his pocket.
MARCO GOES TO THE OPERA
Their next journey was to Munich, but the night before they left Paris an unexpected thing happened.
To reach the narrow staircase which led to their bedroom it was necessary to pass through the baker's shop itself.
The baker's wife was a friendly woman who liked the two boy lodgers who were so quiet and gave no trouble. More than once she had given them a hot roll or so or a freshly baked little tartlet with fruit in the center. When Marco came in this evening, she greeted him with a nod and handed him a small parcel as he passed through.
"This was left for you this afternoon," she said. "I see you are making purchases for your journey. My man and I are very sorry you are going."
"Thank you, Madame. We also are sorry," Marco answered, taking the parcel. "They are not large purchases, you see."
But neither he nor The Rat had bought anything at all, though the ordinary-looking little package was plainly addressed to him and bore the name of one of the big cheap shops. It felt as if it contained something soft.
When he reached their bedroom, The Rat was gazing out of the window watching every living thing which passed in the street below. He who had never seen anything but London was absorbed by the spell of Paris and was learning it by heart.
"Something has been sent to us. Look at this," said Marco.
The Rat was at his side at once. "What is it? Where did it come from?"
They opened the package and at first sight saw only several pairs of quite common woolen socks. As Marco took up the sock in the middle of the parcel, he felt that there was something inside it—something laid flat and carefully. He put his hand in and drew out a number of five-franc notes—not new ones, because new ones would have betrayed themselves by crackling. These were old enough to be soft. But there were enough of them to amount to a substantial sum.
"It is in small notes because poor boys would have only small ones. No one will be surprised when we change these," The Rat said.
Each of them believed the package had been sent by the great lady, but it had been done so carefully that not the slightest clue was furnished.
To The Rat, part of the deep excitement of "the Game" was the working out of the plans and methods of each person concerned. He could not have slept without working out some scheme which might have been used in this case. It thrilled him to contemplate the difficulties the great lady might have found herself obliged to overcome.
"Perhaps," he said, after thinking it over for some time, "she went to a big common shop dressed as if she were an ordinary woman and bought the socks and pretended she was going to carry them home herself. She would do that so that she could take them into some corner and slip the money in. Then, as she wanted to have them sent from the shop, perhaps she bought some other things and asked the people to deliver the packages to different places. The socks were sent to us and the other things to some one else. She would go to a shop where no one knew her and no one would expect to see her and she would wear clothes which looked neither rich nor too poor."
He created the whole episode with all its details and explained them to Marco. It fascinated him for the entire evening and he felt relieved after it and slept well.
Even before they had left London, certain newspapers had swept out of existence the story of the descendant of the Lost Prince. This had been done by derision and light handling—by treating it as a romantic legend.
At first, The Rat had resented this bitterly, but one day at a meal, when he had been producing arguments to prove that the story must be a true one, Loristan somehow checked him by his own silence.
"If there is such a man," he said after a pause, "it is well for him that his existence should not be believed in—for some time at least."
The Rat came to a dead stop. He felt hot for a moment and then felt cold. He saw a new idea all at once. He had been making a mistake in tactics.
No more was said but, when they were alone afterwards, he poured himself forth to Marco.
"I was a fool!" he cried out. "Why couldn't I see it for myself! Shall I tell you what I believe has been done? There is some one who has influence in England and who is a friend to Samavia. They've got the newspapers to make fun of the story so that it won't be believed. If it was believed, both the Iarovitch and the Maranovitch would be on the lookout, and the Secret Party would lose their chances. What a fool I was not to think of it! There's some one watching and working here who is a friend to Samavia."
"But there is some one in Samavia who has begun to suspect that it might be true," Marco answered. "If there were not, I should not have been shut in the cellar. Some one thought my father knew something. The spies had orders to find out what it was."
"Yes. Yes. That's true, too!" The Rat answered anxiously. "We shall have to be very careful."
In the lining of the sleeve of Marco's coat there was a slit into which he could slip any small thing he wished to conceal and also wished to be able to reach without trouble. In this he had carried the sketch of the lady which he had torn up in Paris. When they walked in the streets of Munich, the morning after their arrival, he carried still another sketch. It was the one picturing the genial-looking old aristocrat with the sly smile.
One of the things they had learned about this one was that his chief characteristic was his passion for music. He was a patron of musicians and he spent much time in Munich because he loved its musical atmosphere and the earnestness of its opera-goers.
"The military band plays in the Feldherrn-halle at midday. When something very good is being played, sometimes people stop their carriages so that they can listen. We will go there," said Marco.
"It's a chance," said The Rat. "We mustn't lose anything like a chance."
The day was brilliant and sunny, the people passing through the streets looked comfortable and homely, the mixture of old streets and modern ones, of ancient corners and shops and houses of the day was picturesque and cheerful. The Rat swinging through the crowd on his crutches was full of interest and exhilaration. He had begun to grow, and the change in his face and expression which had begun in London had become more noticeable. He had been given his "place," and a work to do which entitled him to hold it.
No one could have suspected them of carrying a strange and vital secret with them as they strolled along together. They seemed only two ordinary boys who looked in at shop windows and talked over their contents, and who loitered with upturned faces in the Marien-Platz before the ornate Gothic Rathaus to hear the eleven o'clock chimes play and see the painted figures of the King and Queen watch from their balcony the passing before them of the automatic tournament procession with its trumpeters and tilting knights. When the show was over and the automatic cock broke forth into his lusty farewell crow, they laughed just as any other boys would have laughed. Sometimes it would have been easy for The Rat to forget that there was anything graver in the world than the new places and new wonders he was seeing, as if he were a wandering minstrel in a story.
But in Samavia bloody battles were being fought, and bloody plans were being wrought out, and in anguished anxiety the Secret Party and the Forgers of the Sword waited breathlessly for the Sign for which they had waited so long. And inside the lining of Marco's coat was hidden the sketched face, as the two unnoticed lads made their way to the Feldherrn-halle to hear the band play and see who might chance to be among the audience.
Because the day was sunny, and also because the band was playing a specially fine programme, the crowd in the square was larger than usual. Several vehicles had stopped, and among them were one or two which were not merely hired cabs but were the carriages of private persons.
One of them had evidently arrived early, as it was drawn up in a good position when the boys reached the corner. It was a big open carriage and a grand one, luxuriously upholstered in green. The footman and coachman wore green and silver liveries and seemed to know that people were looking at them and their master.
He was a stout, genial-looking old aristocrat with a sly smile, though, as he listened to the music, it almost forgot to be sly. In the carriage with him were a young officer and a little boy, and they also listened attentively. Standing near the carriage door were several people who were plainly friends or acquaintances, as they occasionally spoke to him. Marco touched The Rat's coat sleeve as the two boys approached.
"It would not be easy to get near him," he said. "Let us go and stand as close to the carriage as we can get without pushing. Perhaps we may hear some one say something about where he is going after the music is over."
Yes, there was no mistaking him. He was the right man. Each of them knew by heart the creases on his stout face and the sweep of his gray moustache. But there was nothing noticeable in a boy looking for a moment at a piece of paper, and Marco sauntered a few steps to a bit of space left bare by the crowd and took a last glance at his sketch. His rule was to make sure at the final moment. The music was very good and the group about the carriage was evidently enthusiastic. There was talk and praise and comment, and the old aristocrat nodded his head repeatedly in applause.
"The Chancellor is music mad," a looker-on near the boys said to another. "At the opera every night unless serious affairs keep him away! There you may see him nodding his old head and bursting his gloves with applauding when a good thing is done. He ought to have led an orchestra or played a 'cello. He is too big for first violin."
There was a group about the carriage to the last, when the music came to an end and it drove away. There had been no possible opportunity of passing close to it even had the presence of the young officer and the boy not presented an insurmountable obstacle.
Marco and The Rat went on their way and passed by the Hof-Theater and read the bills. "Tristan and Isolde" was to be presented at night and a great singer would sing Isolde.
"He will go to hear that," both boys said at once. "He will be sure to go."
It was decided between them that Marco should go on his quest alone when night came. One boy who hung around the entrance of the Opera would be observed less than two.
"People notice crutches more than they notice legs," The Rat said. "I'd better keep out of the way unless you need me. My time hasn't come yet. Even if it doesn't come at all I've—I've been on duty. I've gone with you and I've been ready-that's what an aide-de-camp does."
He stayed at home and read such English papers as he could lay hands on and he drew plans and re-fought battles on paper.
Marco went to the opera. Even if he had not known his way to the square near the place where the Hof-Theater stood, he could easily have found it by following the groups of people in the streets who all seemed walking in one direction. There were students in their odd caps walking three or four abreast, there were young couples and older ones, and here and there whole families; there were soldiers of all ages, officers and privates; and, when talk was to be heard in passing, it was always talk about music.
For some time Marco waited in the square and watched the carriages roll up and pass under the huge pillared portico to deposit their contents at the entrance and at once drive away in orderly sequence. He must make sure that the grand carriage with the green and silver liveries rolled up with the rest. If it came, he would buy a cheap ticket and go inside.
It was rather late when it arrived. People in Munich are not late for the opera if it can be helped, and the coachman drove up hurriedly. The green and silver footman leaped to the ground and opened the carriage door almost before it stopped. The Chancellor got out looking less genial than usual because he was afraid that he might lose some of the overture. A rosy-cheeked girl in a white frock was with him and she was evidently trying to soothe him.
"I do not think we are really late, Father," she said. "Don't feel cross, dear. It will spoil the music for you."
This was not a time in which a man's attention could be attracted quietly. Marco ran to get the ticket which would give him a place among the rows of young soldiers, artists, male and female students, and musicians who were willing to stand four or five deep throughout the performance of even the longest opera. He knew that, unless they were in one of the few boxes which belonged only to the court, the Chancellor and his rosy-cheeked daughter would be in the best seats in the front curve of the balcony which were the most desirable of the house. He soon saw them. They had secured the central places directly below the large royal box where two quiet princesses and their attendants were already seated.
When he found he was not too late to hear the overture, the Chancellor's face become more genial than ever. He settled himself down to an evening of enjoyment and evidently forgot everything else in the world. Marco did not lose sight of him. When the audience went out between acts to promenade in the corridors, he might go also and there might be a chance to pass near to him in the crowd. He watched him closely. Sometimes his fine old face saddened at the beautiful woe of the music, sometimes it looked enraptured, and it was always evident that every note reached his soul.
The pretty daughter who sat beside him was attentive but not so enthralled. After the first act two glittering young officers appeared and made elegant and low bows, drawing their heels together as they kissed her hand. They looked sorry when they were obliged to return to their seats again.
After the second act the Chancellor sat for a few minutes as if he were in a dream. The people in the seats near him began to rise from their seats and file out into the corridors. The young officers were to be seen rising also. The rosy daughter leaned forward and touched her father's arm gently.
"She wants him to take her out," Marco thought. "He will take her because he is good-natured."
He saw him recall himself from his dream with a smile and then he rose and, after helping to arrange a silvery blue scarf round the girl's shoulders, gave her his arm just as Marco skipped out of his fourth-row standing-place.
It was a rather warm night and the corridors were full. By the time Marco had reached the balcony floor, the pair had issued from the little door and were temporarily lost in the moving numbers.
Marco quietly made his way among the crowd trying to look as if he belonged to somebody. Once or twice his strong body and his dense black eyes and lashes made people glance at him, but he was not the only boy who had been brought to the opera so he felt safe enough to stop at the foot of the stairs and watch those who went up and those who passed by. Such a miscellaneous crowd as it was made up of—good unfashionable music-lovers mixed here and there with grand people of the court and the gay world.
Suddenly he heard a low laugh and a moment later a hand lightly touched him.
"You DID get out, then?" a soft voice said.
When he turned he felt his muscles stiffen. He ceased to slouch and did not smile as he looked at the speaker. What he felt was a wave of fierce and haughty anger. It swept over him before he had time to control it.
A lovely person who seemed swathed in several shades of soft violet drapery was smiling at him with long, lovely eyes.
It was the woman who had trapped him into No. 10 Brandon Terrace.
Did it take you so long to find it? asked the Lovely Person with the smile. "Of course I knew you would find it in the end. But we had to give ourselves time. How long did it take?"
Marco removed himself from beneath the touch of her hand. It was quietly done, but there was a disdain in his young face which made her wince though she pretended to shrug her shoulders amusedly.
"You refuse to answer?" she laughed.
At that very moment he saw at the curve of the corridor the Chancellor and his daughter approaching slowly. The two young officers were talking gaily to the girl. They were on their way back to their box. Was he going to lose them? Was he?
The delicate hand was laid on his shoulder again, but this time he felt that it grasped him firmly.
"Naughty boy!" the soft voice said. "I am going to take you home with me. If you struggle I shall tell these people that you are my bad boy who is here without permission. What will you answer? My escort is coming down the staircase and will help me. Do you see?" And in fact there appeared in the crowd at the head of the staircase the figure of the man he remembered.
He did see. A dampness broke out on the palms of his hands. If she did this bold thing, what could he say to those she told her lie to? How could he bring proof or explain who he was—and what story dare he tell? His protestations and struggles would merely amuse the lookers-on, who would see in them only the impotent rage of an insubordinate youngster.
There swept over him a wave of remembrance which brought back, as if he were living through it again, the moment when he had stood in the darkness of the wine cellar with his back against the door and heard the man walk away and leave him alone. He felt again as he had done then—but now he was in another land and far away from his father. He could do nothing to help himself unless Something showed him a way.
He made no sound, and the woman who held him saw only a flame leap under his dense black lashes.
But something within him called out. It was as if he heard it. It was that strong self—the self that was Marco, and it called—it called as if it shouted.
"Help!" it called—to that Unknown Stranger Thing which had made worlds and which he and his father so often talked of and in whose power they so believed. "Help!"
The Chancellor was drawing nearer. Perhaps! Should he—?
"You are too proud to kick and shout," the voice went on. "And people would only laugh. Do you see?"
The stairs were crowded and the man who was at the head of them could only move slowly. But he had seen the boy.
Marco turned so that he could face his captor squarely as if he were going to say something in answer to her. But he was not.
Even as he made the movement of turning, the help he had called for came and he knew what he should do. And he could do two things at once—save himself and give his Sign—because, the Sign once given, the Chancellor would understand.
"He will be here in a moment. He has recognized you," the woman said.
As he glanced up the stairs, the delicate grip of her hand unconsciously slackened.
Marco whirled away from her. The bell rang which was to warn the audience that they must return to their seats and he saw the Chancellor hasten his pace.
A moment later, the old aristocrat found himself amazedly looking down at the pale face of a breathless lad who spoke to him in German and in such a manner that he could not but pause and listen.
"Sir," he was saying, "the woman in violet at the foot of the stairs is a spy. She trapped me once and she threatens to do it again. Sir, may I beg you to protect me?"
He said it low and fast. No one else could hear his words.
"What! What!" the Chancellor exclaimed.
And then, drawing a step nearer and quite as low and rapidly but with perfect distinctness, Marco uttered four words:
"The Lamp is lighted."
The Help cry had been answered instantly. Marco saw it at once in the old man's eyes, notwithstanding that he turned to look at the woman at the foot of the staircase as if she only concerned him.
"What! What!" he said again, and made a movement toward her, pulling his large moustache with a fierce hand.
Then Marco recognized that a curious thing happened. The Lovely Person saw the movement and the gray moustache, and that instant her smile died away and she turned quite white—so white, that under the brilliant electric light she was almost green and scarcely looked lovely at all. She made a sign to the man on the staircase and slipped through the crowd like an eel. She was a slim flexible creature and never was a disappearance more wonderful in its rapidity. Between stout matrons and their thin or stout escorts and families she made her way and lost herself—but always making toward the exit. In two minutes there was no sight of her violet draperies to be seen. She was gone and so, evidently, was her male companion.
It was plain to Marco that to follow the profession of a spy was not by any means a safe thing. The Chancellor had recognized her—she had recognized the Chancellor who turned looking ferociously angry and spoke to one of the young officers.
"She and the man with her are two of the most dangerous spies in Europe, She is a Rumanian and he is a Russian. What they wanted of this innocent lad I don't pretend to know. What did she threaten?" to Marco.
Marco was feeling rather cold and sick and had lost his healthy color for the moment.
"She said she meant to take me home with her and would pretend I was her son who had come here without permission," he answered. "She believes I know something I do not." He made a hesitating but grateful bow. "The third act, sir—I must not keep you. Thank you! Thank you!"
The Chancellor moved toward the entrance door of the balcony seats, but he did it with his hand on Marco's shoulder.
"See that he gets home safely," he said to the younger of the two officers. "Send a messenger with him. He's young to be attacked by creatures of that kind."
Polite young officers naturally obey the commands of Chancellors and such dignitaries. This one found without trouble a young private who marched with Marco through the deserted streets to his lodgings. He was a stolid young Bavarian peasant and seemed to have no curiosity or even any interest in the reason for the command given him. He was in fact thinking of his sweetheart who lived near Konigsee and who had skated with him on the frozen lake last winter. He scarcely gave a glance to the schoolboy he was to escort, he neither knew nor wondered why.
The Rat had fallen asleep over his papers and lay with his head on his folded arms on the table. But he was awakened by Marco's coming into the room and sat up blinking his eyes in the effort to get them open.
"Did you see him? Did you get near enough?" he drowsed.
"Yes," Marco answered. "I got near enough."
The Rat sat upright suddenly.
"It's not been easy," he exclaimed. "I'm sure something happened—something went wrong."
"Something nearly went wrong—VERY nearly," answered Marco. But as he spoke he took the sketch of the Chancellor out of the slit in his sleeve and tore it and burned it with a match. "But I did get near enough. And that's TWO."
They talked long, before they went to sleep that night. The Rat grew pale as he listened to the story of the woman in violet.
"I ought to have gone with you!" he said. "I see now. An aide-de-camp must always be in attendance. It would have been harder for her to manage two than one. I must always be near to watch, even if I am not close by you. If you had not come back—if you had not come back!" He struck his clenched hands together fiercely. "What should I have done!"
When Marco turned toward him from the table near which he was standing, he looked like his father.
"You would have gone on with the Game just as far as you could," he said. "You could not leave it. You remember the places, and the faces, and the Sign. There is some money; and when it was all gone, you could have begged, as we used to pretend we should. We have not had to do it yet; and it was best to save it for country places and villages. But you could have done it if you were obliged to. The Game would have to go on."
The Rat caught at his thin chest as if he had been struck breathless.
"Without you?" he gasped. "Without you?"
"Yes," said Marco. "And we must think of it, and plan in case anything like that should happen."
He stopped himself quite suddenly, and sat down, looking straight before him, as if at some far away thing he saw.
"Nothing will happen," he said. "Nothing can."
"What are you thinking of?" The Rat gulped, because his breath had not quite come back. "Why will nothing happen?"
"Because—" the boy spoke in an almost matter-of-fact tone—in quite an unexalted tone at all events, "you see I can always make a strong call, as I did tonight."
"Did you shout?" The Rat asked. "I didn't know you shouted."
"I didn't. I said nothing aloud. But I—the myself that is in me," Marco touched himself on the breast, "called out, 'Help! Help!' with all its strength. And help came."
The Rat regarded him dubiously.
"What did it call to?" he asked.
"To the Power—to the Strength-place—to the Thought that does things. The Buddhist hermit, who told my father about it, called it 'The Thought that thought the World.'"
A reluctant suspicion betrayed itself in The Rat's eyes.
"Do you mean you prayed?" he inquired, with a slight touch of disfavor.
Marco's eyes remained fixed upon him in vague thoughtfulness for a moment or so of pause.
"I don't know," he said at last. "Perhaps it's the same thing—when you need something so much that you cry out loud for it. But it's not words, it's a strong thing without a name. I called like that when I was shut in the wine-cellar. I remembered some of the things the old Buddhist told my father."
The Rat moved restlessly.
"The help came that time," he admitted. "How did it come to-night?"
"In that thought which flashed into my mind almost the next second. It came like lightning. All at once I knew if I ran to the Chancellor and said the woman was a spy, it would startle him into listening to me; and that then I could give him the Sign; and that when I gave him the Sign, he would know I was speaking the truth and would protect me."
"It was a splendid thought!" The Rat said. "And it was quick. But it was you who thought of it."
"All thinking is part of the Big Thought," said Marco slowly. "It KNOWS—It KNOWS. And the outside part of us somehow broke the chain that linked us to It. And we are always trying to mend the chain, without knowing it. That is what our thinking is—trying to mend the chain. But we shall find out how to do it sometime. The old Buddhist told my father so—just as the sun was rising from behind a high peak of the Himalayas." Then he added hastily, "I am only telling you what my father told me, and he only told me what the old hermit told him."
"Does your father believe what he told him?" The Rat's bewilderment had become an eager and restless thing.
"Yes, he believes it. He always thought something like it, himself. That is why he is so calm and knows so well how to wait."
"Is THAT it!" breathed The Rat. "Is that why? Has—has he mended the chain?" And there was awe in his voice, because of this one man to whom he felt any achievement was possible.
"I believe he has," said Marco. "Don't you think so yourself?"
"He has done something," The Rat said.
He seemed to be thinking things over before he spoke again—and then even more slowly than Marco.
"If he could mend the chain," he said almost in a whisper, "he could find out where the descendant of the Lost Prince is. He would know what to do for Samavia!"
He ended the words with a start, and his whole face glowed with a new, amazed light.
"Perhaps he does know!" he cried. "If the help comes like thoughts—as yours did—perhaps his thought of letting us give the Sign was part of it. We—just we two every-day boys—are part of it!"
"The old Buddhist said—" began Marco.
"Look here!" broke in The Rat. "Tell me the whole story. I want to hear it."
It was because Loristan had heard it, and listened and believed, that The Rat had taken fire. His imagination seized upon the idea, as it would have seized on some theory of necromancy proved true and workable.
With his elbows on the table and his hands in his hair, he leaned forward, twisting a lock with restless fingers. His breath quickened.
"Tell it," he said, "I want to hear it all!"
"I shall have to tell it in my own words," Marco said. "And it won't be as wonderful as it was when my father told it to me. This is what I remember:
"My father had gone through much pain and trouble. A great load was upon him, and he had been told he was going to die before his work was done. He had gone to India, because a man he was obliged to speak to had gone there to hunt, and no one knew when he would return. My father followed him for months from one wild place to another, and, when he found him, the man would not hear or believe what he had come so far to say. Then he had jungle-fever and almost died. Once the natives left him for dead in a bungalow in the forest, and he heard the jackals howling round him all the night. Through all the hours he was only alive enough to be conscious of two things—all the rest of him seemed gone from his body: his thought knew that his work was unfinished—and his body heard the jackals howl!"
"Was the work for Samavia?" The Rat put in quickly. "If he had died that night, the descendant of the Lost Prince never would have been found—never!" The Rat bit his lip so hard that a drop of blood started from it.
"When he was slowly coming alive again, a native, who had gone back and stayed to wait upon him, told him that near the summit of a mountain, about fifty miles away, there was a ledge which jutted out into space and hung over the valley, which was thousands of feet below. On the ledge there was a hut in which there lived an ancient Buddhist, who was a holy man, as they called him, and who had been there during time which had not been measured. They said that their grandparents and great-grandparents had known of him, though very few persons had ever seen him. It was told that the most savage beast was tame before him. They said that a man-eating tiger would stop to salute him, and that a thirsty lioness would bring her whelps to drink at the spring near his hut."
"That was a lie," said The Rat promptly.
Marco neither laughed nor frowned.
"How do we KNOW?" he said. "It was a native's story, and it might be anything. My father neither said it was true nor false. He listened to all that was told him by natives. They said that the holy man was the brother of the stars. He knew all things past and to come, and could heal the sick. But most people, especially those who had sinful thoughts, were afraid to go near him."
"I'd like to have seen—" The Rat pondered aloud, but he did not finish.
"Before my father was well, he had made up his mind to travel to the ledge if he could. He felt as if he must go. He thought that if he were going to die, the hermit might tell him some wise thing to do for Samavia."
"He might have given him a message to leave to the Secret Ones," said The Rat.
"He was so weak when he set out on his journey that he wondered if he would reach the end of it. Part of the way he traveled by bullock cart, and part, he was carried by natives. But at last the bearers came to a place more than halfway up the mountain, and would go no further. Then they went back and left him to climb the rest of the way himself. They had traveled slowly and he had got more strength, but he was weak yet. The forest was more wonderful than anything he had ever seen. There were tropical trees with foliage like lace, and some with huge leaves, and some of them seemed to reach the sky. Sometimes he could barely see gleams of blue through them. And vines swung down from their high branches, and caught each other, and matted together; and there were hot scents, and strange flowers, and dazzling birds darting about, and thick moss, and little cascades bursting out. The path grew narrower and steeper, and the flower scents and the sultriness made it like walking in a hothouse. He heard rustlings in the undergrowth, which might have been made by any kind of wild animal; once he stepped across a deadly snake without seeing it. But it was asleep and did not hurt him. He knew the natives had been convinced that he would not reach the ledge; but for some strange reason he believed he should. He stopped and rested many times, and he drank some milk he had brought in a canteen. The higher he climbed, the more wonderful everything was, and a strange feeling began to fill him. He said his body stopped being tired and began to feel very light. And his load lifted itself from his heart, as if it were not his load any more but belonged to something stronger. Even Samavia seemed to be safe. As he went higher and higher, and looked down the abyss at the world below, it appeared as if it were not real but only a dream he had wakened from—only a dream."
The Rat moved restlessly.
"Perhaps he was light-headed with the fever," he suggested.
"The fever had left him, and the weakness had left him," Marco answered. "It seemed as if he had never really been ill at all—as if no one could be ill, because things like that were only dreams, just as the world was."
"I wish I'd been with him! Perhaps I could have thrown these away—down into the abyss!" And The Rat shook his crutches which rested against the table. "I feel as if I was climbing, too. Go on."
Marco had become more absorbed than The Rat. He had lost himself in the memory of the story.
"I felt that I was climbing, when he told me," he said. "I felt as if I were breathing in the hot flower-scents and pushing aside the big leaves and giant ferns. There had been a rain, and they were wet and shining with big drops, like jewels, that showered over him as he thrust his way through and under them. And the stillness and the height—the stillness and the height! I can't make it real to you as he made it to me! I can't! I was there. He took me. And it was so high—and so still—and so beautiful that I could scarcely bear it."
But the truth was, that with some vivid boy-touch he had carried his hearer far. The Rat was deadly quiet. Even his eyes had not moved. He spoke almost as if he were in a sort of trance. "It's real," he said. "I'm there now. As high as you—go on—go on. I want to climb higher."
And Marco, understanding, went on.
"The day was over and the stars were out when he reached the place were the ledge was. He said he thought that during the last part of the climb he never looked on the earth at all. The stars were so immense that he could not look away from them. They seemed to be drawing him up. And all overhead was like violet velvet, and they hung there like great lamps of radiance. Can you see them? You must see them. My father saw them all night long. They were part of the wonder."
"I see them," The Rat answered, still in his trance-like voice and without stirring, and Marco knew he did.
"And there, with the huge stars watching it, was the hut on the ledge. And there was no one there. The door was open. And outside it was a low bench and table of stone. And on the table was a meal of dates and rice, waiting. Not far from the hut was a deep spring, which ran away in a clear brook. My father drank and bathed his face there. Then he went out on the ledge, and sat down and waited, with his face turned up to the stars. He did not lie down, and he thought he saw the stars all the time he waited. He was sure he did not sleep. He did not know how long he sat there alone. But at last he drew his eyes from the stars, as if he had been commanded to do it. And he was not alone any more. A yard or so away from him sat the holy man. He knew it was the hermit because his eyes were different from any human eyes he had ever beheld. They were as still as the night was, and as deep as the shadows covering the world thousands of feet below, and they had a far, far look, and a strange light was in them."
"What did he say?" asked The Rat hoarsely.
"He only said, 'Rise, my son. I awaited thee. Go and eat the food I prepared for thee, and then we will speak together.' He didn't move or speak again until my father had eaten the meal. He only sat on the moss and let his eyes rest on the shadows over the abyss. When my father went back, he made a gesture which meant that he should sit near him.
"Then he sat still for several minutes, and let his eyes rest on my father, until he felt as if the light in them were set in the midst of his own body and his soul. Then he said, 'I cannot tell thee all thou wouldst know. That I may not do.' He had a wonderful gentle voice, like a deep soft bell. 'But the work will be done. Thy life and thy son's life will set it on its way.'
"They sat through the whole night together. And the stars hung quite near, as if they listened. And there were sounds in the bushes of stealthy, padding feet which wandered about as if the owners of them listened too. And the wonderful, low, peaceful voice of the holy man went on and on, telling of wonders which seemed like miracles but which were to him only the 'working of the Law.'"
"What is the Law?" The Rat broke in.
"There were two my father wrote down, and I learned them. The first was the law of The One. I'll try to say that," and he covered his eyes and waited through a moment of silence.
It seemed to The Rat as if the room held an extraordinary stillness.
"Listen!" came next. "This is it:
"'There are a myriad worlds. There is but One Thought out of which they grew. Its Law is Order which cannot swerve. Its creatures are free to choose. Only they can create Disorder, which in itself is Pain and Woe and Hate and Fear. These they alone can bring forth. The Great One is a Golden Light. It is not remote but near. Hold thyself within its glow and thou wilt behold all things clearly. First, with all thy breathing being, know one thing! That thine own thought—when so thou standest—is one with That which thought the Worlds!'"
"What?" gasped The Rat. "MY thought—the things I think!"
"Your thoughts—boys' thoughts—anybody's thoughts."
"You're giving me the jim-jams!"
"He said it," answered Marco. "And it was then he spoke about the broken Link—and about the greatest books in the world—that in all their different ways, they were only saying over and over again one thing thousands of times. Just this thing—'Hate not, Fear not, Love.' And he said that was Order. And when it was disturbed, suffering came—poverty and misery and catastrophe and wars."
"Wars!" The Rat said sharply. "The World couldn't do without war—and armies and defences! What about Samavia?"
"My father asked him that. And this is what he answered. I learned that too. Let me think again," and he waited as he had waited before. Then he lifted his head. "Listen! This is it:
"'Out of the blackness of Disorder and its outpouring of human misery, there will arise the Order which is Peace. When Man learns that he is one with the Thought which itself creates all beauty, all power, all splendor, and all repose, he will not fear that his brother can rob him of his heart's desire. He will stand in the Light and draw to himself his own.'"
"Draw to himself?" The Rat said. "Draw what he wants? I don't believe it!"
"Nobody does," said Marco. "We don't know. He said we stood in the dark of the night—without stars—and did not know that the broken chain swung just above us."
"I don't believe it!" said The Rat. "It's too big!"
Marco did not say whether he believed it or not. He only went on speaking.
"My father listened until he felt as if he had stopped breathing. Just at the stillest of the stillness the Buddhist stopped speaking. And there was a rustling of the undergrowth a few yards away, as if something big was pushing its way through—and there was the soft pad of feet. The Buddhist turned his head and my father heard him say softly: 'Come forth, Sister.'
"And a huge leopardess with two cubs walked out on to the ledge and came to him and threw herself down with a heavy lunge near his feet."
"Your father saw that!" cried out The Rat. "You mean the old fellow knew something that made wild beasts afraid to touch him or any one near him?"
"Not afraid. They knew he was their brother, and that he was one with the Law. He had lived so long with the Great Thought that all darkness and fear had left him forever. He had mended the Chain."
The Rat had reached deep waters. He leaned forward—his hands burrowing in his hair, his face scowling and twisted, his eyes boring into space. He had climbed to the ledge at the mountain-top; he had seen the luminous immensity of the stars, and he had looked down into the shadows filling the world thousands of feet below. Was there some remote deep in him from whose darkness a slow light was rising? All that Loristan had said he knew must be true. But the rest of it—?
Marco got up and came over to him. He looked like his father again.
"If the descendant of the Lost Prince is brought back to rule Samavia, he will teach his people the Law of the One. It was for that the holy man taught my father until the dawn came."
"Who will—who will teach the Lost Prince—the new King—when he is found?" The Rat cried. "Who will teach him?"
"The hermit said my father would. He said he would also teach his son—and that son would teach his son—and he would teach his. And through such as they were, the whole world would come to know the Order and the Law."
Never had The Rat looked so strange and fierce a thing. A whole world at peace! No tactics—no battles—no slaughtered heroes—no clash of arms, and fame! It made him feel sick. And yet—something set his chest heaving.
"And your father would teach him that—when he was found! So that he could teach his sons. Your father BELIEVES in it?"
"Yes," Marco answered. He said nothing but "Yes." The Rat threw himself forward on the table, face downward.
"Then," he said, "he must make me believe it. He must teach me—if he can."
They heard a clumping step upon the staircase, and, when it reached the landing, it stopped at their door. Then there was a solid knock.
When Marco opened the door, the young soldier who had escorted him from the Hof-Theater was standing outside. He looked as uninterested and stolid as before, as he handed in a small flat package.
"You must have dropped it near your seat at the Opera," he said. "I was to give it into your own hands. It is your purse."
After he had clumped down the staircase again, Marco and The Rat drew a quick breath at one and the same time.
"I had no seat and I had no purse," Marco said. "Let us open it."
There was a flat limp leather note-holder inside. In it was a paper, at the head of which were photographs of the Lovely Person and her companion. Beneath were a few lines which stated that they were the well known spies, Eugenia Karovna and Paul Varel, and that the bearer must be protected against them. It was signed by the Chief of the Police. On a separate sheet was written the command: "Carry this with you as protection."
"That is help," The Rat said. "It would protect us, even in another country. The Chancellor sent it—but you made the strong call—and it's here!"
There was no street lamp to shine into their windows when they went at last to bed. When the blind was drawn up, they were nearer the sky than they had been in the Marylebone Road. The last thing each of them saw, as he went to sleep, was the stars—and in their dreams, they saw them grow larger and larger, and hang like lamps of radiance against the violet—velvet sky above a ledge of a Himalayan Mountain, where they listened to the sound of a low voice going on and on and on.
A NIGHT VIGIL
On a hill in the midst of a great Austrian plain, around which high Alps wait watching through the ages stands a venerable fortress, almost more beautiful than anything one has ever seen. Perhaps, if it were not for the great plain flowering broadly about it with its wide-spread beauties of meadow-land, and wood, and dim toned buildings gathered about farms, and its dream of a small ancient city at its feet, it might—though it is to be doubted—seem something less a marvel of medieval picturesqueness. But out of the plain rises the low hill, and surrounding it at a stately distance stands guard the giant majesty of Alps, with shoulders in the clouds and god-like heads above them, looking on—always looking on—sometimes themselves ethereal clouds of snow-whiteness, some times monster bare crags which pierce the blue, and whose unchanging silence seems to know the secret of the everlasting. And on the hill which this august circle holds in its embrace, as though it enclosed a treasure, stands the old, old, towered fortress built as a citadel for the Prince Archbishops, who were kings in their domain in the long past centuries when the splendor and power of ecclesiastical princes was among the greatest upon earth.
And as you approach the town—and as you leave it—and as you walk through its streets, the broad calm empty-looking ones, or the narrow thoroughfares whose houses seem so near to each other, whether you climb or descend—or cross bridges, or gaze at churches, or step out on your balcony at night to look at the mountains and the moon—always it seems that from some point you can see it gazing down at you—the citadel of Hohen-Salzburg.
It was to Salzburg they went next, because at Salzburg was to be found the man who looked like a hair-dresser and who worked in a barber's shop. Strange as it might seem, to him also must be carried the Sign.
"There may be people who come to him to be shaved—soldiers, or men who know things," The Rat worked it out, "and he can speak to them when he is standing close to them. It will be easy to get near him. You can go and have your hair cut."
The journey from Munich was not a long one, and during the latter part of it they had the wooden-seated third-class carriage to themselves. Even the drowsy old peasant who nodded and slept in one corner got out with his bundles at last. To Marco the mountains were long-known wonders which could never grow old. They had always and always been so old! Surely they had been the first of the world! Surely they had been standing there waiting when it was said "Let there be Light." The Light had known it would find them there. They were so silent, and yet it seemed as if they said some amazing thing—something which would take your breath from you if you could hear it. And they never changed. The clouds changed, they wreathed them, and hid them, and trailed down them, and poured out storm torrents on them, and thundered against them, and darted forked lightnings round them. But the mountains stood there afterwards as if such things had not been and were not in the world. Winds roared and tore at them, centuries passed over them—centuries of millions of lives, of changing of kingdoms and empires, of battles and world-wide fame which grew and died and passed away; and temples crumbled, and kings' tombs were forgotten, and cities were buried and others built over them after hundreds of years—and perhaps a few stones fell from a mountain side, or a fissure was worn, which the people below could not even see. And that was all. There they stood, and perhaps their secret was that they had been there for ever and ever. That was what the mountains said to Marco, which was why he did not want to talk much, but sat and gazed out of the carriage window.
The Rat had been very silent all the morning. He had been silent when they got up, and he had scarcely spoken when they made their way to the station at Munich and sat waiting for their train. It seemed to Marco that he was thinking so hard that he was like a person who was far away from the place he stood in. His brows were drawn together and his eyes did not seem to see the people who passed by. Usually he saw everything and made shrewd remarks on almost all he saw. But to-day he was somehow otherwise absorbed. He sat in the train with his forehead against the window and stared out. He moved and gasped when he found himself staring at the Alps, but afterwards he was even strangely still. It was not until after the sleepy old peasant had gathered his bundles and got out at a station that he spoke, and he did it without turning his head.
"You only told me one of the two laws," he said. "What was the other one?"
Marco brought himself back from his dream of reaching the highest mountain-top and seeing clouds float beneath his feet in the sun. He had to come back a long way.
"Are you thinking of that? I wondered what you had been thinking of all the morning," he said.
"I couldn't stop thinking of it. What was the second one?" said The Rat, but he did not turn his head.
"It was called the Law of Earthly Living. It was for every day," said Marco. "It was for the ordering of common things—the small things we think don't matter, as well as the big ones. I always remember that one without any trouble. This was it:
"'Let pass through thy mind, my son, only the image thou wouldst desire to see become a truth. Meditate only upon the wish of thy heart—seeing first that it is such as can wrong 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.'"
Then The Rat turned round. He had a shrewdly reasoning mind.
"That sounds as if you could get anything you wanted, if you think about it long enough and in the right way," he said. "But perhaps it only means that, if you do it, you'll be happy after you're dead. My father used to shout with laughing when he was drunk and talked about things like that and looked at his rags."
He hugged his knees for a few minutes. He was remembering the rags, and the fog-darkened room in the slums, and the loud, hideous laughter.
"What if you want something that will harm somebody else?" he said next. "What if you hate some one and wish you could kill him?"
"That was one of the questions my father asked that night on the ledge. The holy man said people always asked it," Marco answered. "This was the answer:
"'Let him who stretcheth forth his hand to draw the lightning to his brother recall that through his own soul and body will pass the bolt.'"
"Wonder if there's anything in it?" The Rat pondered. "It'd make a chap careful if he believed it! Revenging yourself on a man would be like holding him against a live wire to kill him and getting all the volts through yourself."
A sudden anxiety revealed itself in his face.
"Does your father believe it?" he asked. "Does he?"
"He knows it is true," Marco said.
"I'll own up," The Rat decided after further reflection—"I'll own up I'm glad that there isn't any one left that I've a grudge against. There isn't any one—now."
Then he fell again into silence and did not speak until their journey was at an end. As they arrived early in the day, they had plenty of time to wander about the marvelous little old city. But through the wide streets and through the narrow ones, under the archways into the market gardens, across the bridge and into the square where the "glockenspiel" played its old tinkling tune, everywhere the Citadel looked down and always The Rat walked on in his dream.
They found the hair-dresser's shop in one of the narrow streets. There were no grand shops there, and this particular shop was a modest one. They walked past it once, and then went back. It was a shop so humble that there was nothing remarkable in two common boys going into it to have their hair cut. An old man came forward to receive them. He was evidently glad of their modest patronage. He undertook to attend to The Rat himself, but, having arranged him in a chair, he turned about and called to some one in the back room.
"Heinrich," he said.
In the slit in Marco's sleeve was the sketch of the man with smooth curled hair, who looked like a hair-dresser. They had found a corner in which to take their final look at it before they turned back to come in. Heinrich, who came forth from the small back room, had smooth curled hair. He looked extremely like a hair-dresser. He had features like those in the sketch—his nose and mouth and chin and figure were like what Marco had drawn and committed to memory. But—
He gave Marco a chair and tied the professional white covering around his neck. Marco leaned back and closed his eyes a moment.
"That is NOT the man!" he was saying to himself. "He is NOT the man."
How he knew he was not, he could not have explained, but he felt sure. It was a strong conviction. But for the sudden feeling, nothing would have been easier than to give the Sign. And if he could not give it now, where was the one to whom it must be spoken, and what would be the result if that one could not be found? And if there were two who were so much alike, how could he be sure?
Each owner of each of the pictured faces was a link in a powerful secret chain; and if a link were missed, the chain would be broken. Each time Heinrich came within the line of his vision, he recorded every feature afresh and compared it with the remembered sketch. Each time the resemblance became more close, but each time some persistent inner conviction repeated, "No; the Sign is not for him!"
It was disturbing, also, to find that The Rat was all at once as restless as he had previously been silent and preoccupied. He moved in his chair, to the great discomfort of the old hair-dresser. He kept turning his head to talk. He asked Marco to translate divers questions he wished him to ask the two men. They were questions about the Citadel—about the Monchsberg—the Residenz—the Glockenspiel—the mountains. He added one query to another and could not sit still.
"The young gentleman will get an ear snipped," said the old man to Marco. "And it will not be my fault."
"What shall I do?" Marco was thinking. "He is not the man."
He did not give the Sign. He must go away and think it out, though where his thoughts would lead him he did not know. This was a more difficult problem than he had ever dreamed of facing. There was no one to ask advice of. Only himself and The Rat, who was nervously wriggling and twisting in his chair.
"You must sit still," he said to him. "The hair-dresser is afraid you will make him cut you by accident."
"But I want to know who lives at the Residenz?" said The Rat. "These men can tell us things if you ask them."
"It is done now," said the old hair-dresser with a relieved air. "Perhaps the cutting of his hair makes the young gentleman nervous. It is sometimes so."
The Rat stood close to Marco's chair and asked questions until Heinrich also had done his work. Marco could not understand his companion's change of mood. He realized that, if he had wished to give the Sign, he had been allowed no opportunity. He could not have given it. The restless questioning had so directed the older man's attention to his son and Marco that nothing could have been said to Heinrich without his observing it.
"I could not have spoken if he had been the man," Marco said to himself.
Their very exit from the shop seemed a little hurried. When they were fairly in the street, The Rat made a clutch at Marco's arm.
"You didn't give it?" he whispered breathlessly. "I kept talking and talking to prevent you."
Marco tried not to feel breathless, and he tried to speak in a low and level voice with no hint of exclamation in it.
"Why did you say that?" he asked.
The Rat drew closer to him.
"That was not the man!" he whispered. "It doesn't matter how much he looks like him, he isn't the right one."
He was pale and swinging along swiftly as if he were in a hurry.
"Let's get into a quiet place," he said. "Those queer things you've been telling me have got hold of me. How did I know? How could I know—unless it's because I've been trying to work that second law? I've been saying to myself that we should be told the right things to do—for the Game and for your father—and so that I could be the right sort of aide-de-camp. I've been working at it, and, when he came out, I knew he was not the man in spite of his looks. And I couldn't be sure you knew, and I thought, if I kept on talking and interrupting you with silly questions, you could be prevented from speaking."
"There's a place not far away where we can get a look at the mountains. Let's go there and sit down," said Marco. "I knew it was not the right one, too. It's the Help over again."
"Yes, it's the Help—it's the Help—it must be," muttered The Rat, walking fast and with a pale, set face. "It could not be anything else."
They got away from the streets and the people and reached the quiet place where they could see the mountains. There they sat down by the wayside. The Rat took off his cap and wiped his forehead, but it was not only the quick walking which had made it damp.
"The queerness of it gave me a kind of fright," he said. "When he came out and he was near enough for me to see him, a sudden strong feeling came over me. It seemed as if I knew he wasn't the man. Then I said to myself—'but he looks like him'—and I began to get nervous. And then I was sure again—and then I wanted to try to stop you from giving him the Sign. And then it all seemed foolishness—and the next second all the things you had told me rushed back to me at once—and I remembered what I had been thinking ever since—and I said—'Perhaps it's the Law beginning to work,' and the palms of my hands got moist."
Marco was very quiet. He was looking at the farthest and highest peaks and wondering about many things.
"It was the expression of his face that was different," he said. "And his eyes. They are rather smaller than the right man's are. The light in the shop was poor, and it was not until the last time he bent over me that I found out what I had not seen before. His eyes are gray—the other ones are brown."