“I will climb down and see if there is aught,” said Roy; “it is easier here—if he had fallen here, he might—” the tears in his voice prevented more, as he tucked up his garments preparatory to the difficult descent.
But the shepherds raised an urgent outcry. There was a demon in the cavern, they said, whence the water came. There was no use angering it, no use in losing another life.
Roy struggled madly in their detaining hands, but Old Faithful and Foster-father looked at each other. Whether there was a demon or not it was a risk to another life and that should not be a young one.
“No, boy!” said the old warrior stoutly. “This is my task, not thine. I am good swordsman to begin with, and demons—if there be any—like not a clean sword thrust. Also I have been pilgrim to Holy Mecca and demons—if there be any—like not pilgrims’ flesh.”
So, muttering prayers and holding his drawn sword in his teeth, since both hands were needed for the parlous descent, he commenced his task while the others watched him eagerly.
About half way down he paused, looked up and called back; but they could not hear what he said.
“Take thy sword out of thy mouth, man,” shrieked Head-nurse almost beside herself with grief and rage; “it isn’t manners to speak with the mouth full.”
True enough, but Old Faithful had some difficulty in obeying orders. However, he managed to steady himself for a moment on his two feet; so sword in hand he bawled back.
“’Tis true! There is a demon. It growls. I hear it plainly. Farewell! I go on, secure in my sword and Holy——”
Here a foot slipped and he went sliding, slithering, slipping down to the bottom where, happily only bruised, he sat half-stunned staring in front of him.
And then there echoed up to the listeners the most terrible barking, and yelping, and growling, and spitting, that ever was heard!
“The demon! The demon!” yelled the shepherds in terror, and ran for their lives.
But Roy, ear over the cliff, listened for a second, and the next had followed Old Faithful. Foster-father was not long behind him, and Meroo was close on his heels. Foster-mother and Head-nurse were not to be left out, and somehow they all managed to get down in safety.
And then they all stood and sat silent and agape with surprise and delight.
For what they saw was this. A low cavern in the rock, and on a shelving bank of dry sand Baby Akbar sitting up and rubbing his eyes, while on one side of him was the golliwog of a black dog, his fur all bristling, his white teeth gleaming as he filled the air with furious barks; while on the other was the white fluff of a cat, her back arched, her tail the size of two, spitting and growling fiercely.
How had he got there? Foster-father looked at Foster-mother, Head-nurse looked at Old Faithful, and Roy looked at Meroo, and they all looked at each other.