“Aye!” assented Foster-mother, “but he does not walk yet.”
Head-nurse sniffed. “Thou are a foolish soul, woman! Sure either the feet or the tongue must come first, and for my part I prefer the tongue. Any babe can walk!”
And Foster-mother was silent; it was true one could not have everything.
Their last camp was pitched just outside the city of Kandahar, so that Prince Askurry could make a regular triumphal entry the next morning and let everybody see with their own eyes that he had come back victorious, holding Baby Akbar as prisoner and hostage.
But this did not suit Head-nurse at all. She had no notion that her Heir-to-Empire should be stared at as a captive; so, though she started from camp humbly as ever on the baggage camel, no sooner had they passed through the arched gate of the city with Prince Askurry well ahead of them in the narrow streets, than out she whipped the Royal Umbrella which she had patched up with an old scarlet silk petticoat, and there was Baby Akbar under its shadow; and, having—young as he was—been taught to salute to a crowd, he began waving his little fat hand with much dignity, until the people who had come out to gape whispered among themselves and said:
“He looks every inch a king’s son.”
“And that is what he is,” said a bold voice in the crowd; but though folk turned to see who spoke, there was no sign of the speaker. For loyal men had to hide their loyalty in those days. Still the populace were pleased with the little Prince’s bearing, and many a hand was raised to welcome him.
Before they reached the frowning palace, indeed, where Prince Askurry kept a right royal court as Governor of Kandahar, Head-nurse’s mind was full of the things she intended to insist upon for the honour and dignity of her small charge. Meanwhile she had to obey the order to take him at once into Princess Sultanam’s apartments. Now Princess Sultanam was Prince Askurry’s wife, and she had a boy of her own who was about three years older than Baby Akbar, and a little daughter who had just been born about a month before. So, as she lay among cushions at the farther end of the long room, with Prince Askurry, who had hurried to see his wife on his return, beside her, she looked suspiciously at the child which Head-nurse put down on the Persian carpet as soon as she came into the room; since though others might carry him to the upstarts at the farther end, she was not going to do so, when they were clearly bound to come humbly to the Heir-to-Empire and prostrate themselves before him!
So there stood Baby Akbar, fair and square, steadying himself by Head-nurse’s petticoats, but for all that looking bold and big and brave.
Now Princess Sultanam was a kindly foolish woman at heart, much given to impulses, and the sight of the upstanding little boy made her think instantly what a fine man he would make, and that brought another thought which made her sit up delightedly and clap her hands.