They had not quite ended, but in a few minutes more they had reached the beginning of the pass proper. Before them lay a grassy boggy slope curling gently upwards between higher rockier slopes. A little stream plashed softly adown it, through a perfect wilderness of flowers, and without one word the tired travellers threw themselves beside it for rest and refreshment.
But Baby Akbar looked a little troubled.
“Amma, Dadda ’way ’way in a ’ky,” he said solemnly, and essayed to crawl on over the grass. For he could not walk yet, though he spoke so well. They say he began to talk when he was nine months old.
After a while the party started on their way once more feeling greatly brisked up. But the heat of the day was now upon them, and though the snow lay close beside the path, the fierce sun melting it made the vapour rise and turned the narrow valley into a regular steam bath.
The perspiration ran down the travellers’ faces and especially down poor Head-nurse’s; for she had insisted on taking off her veil to twist it turbanwise round Baby Akbar’s head since the Royal Umbrella was forbidden. Foster-mother had tried to take off hers also, but Head-nurse had angrily forbidden her to do any such thing. If she, Head-nurse, died of sunstroke what matter, but if Foster-mother failed, what—even though one back tooth had been gloriously cut—would become of the Heir-to-Empire, the Admired-of-the-World, the Great-in-Pomp, etc.?
So, to comfort herself she went on mumbling titles as she struggled along, the sun beating fiercely on her bare head. Such a quaint head, with sleek black hair parted and plaited and hung with jewels, even down the long pigtail of brown wool that was added on to the back to make the hair look more plentiful.
It was a piteous sight and Foster-mother was so conscious of the devotion it meant that she said “Lo! Head-nurse, thou art a good, good soul though a hard one to me; but I will never, never, never, forget this day.”
“Nor I,” groaned Head-nurse, “but ’tis for the Heir-to-Empire.”
It was a full hour before the slope ended in a level bog, on the other side of which began a visible descent. Then in the angled hills a blue shadow began to rise, telling of a valley below them.
“Bismillah!” (Thanks be to God) cried Foster-father piously. And every one echoed the remark except Baby Akbar. He turned round and looked back at the snowy peaks which were beginning to show behind them.
“Amma, Dadda ’way ’way mountains,” he said regretfully and his little mouth went down as for a cry, when everybody’s attention was distracted by the sudden appearance of a huge furry black dog which came bounding down the hill side, its big white teeth gleaming as it uttered shrill, sharp, growling barks.
Head-nurse and Foster-mother shrieked with fright, little Adam ran like a hare for the shelter of his mother’s petticoats, and Meroo the cook-boy, remembering his bare legs—for like all Indian scullions he wore short cotton drawers—squatted down where he was standing, in order to protect them. Even Roy, brave boy that he was, looked uncomfortable, and both Foster-father and Old Faithful whipped out their swords.