long before they flower,
Gracious rain too soon is overpast;
Youth and strength are with us but an hour,
All glad life must end in death at last.
But king reigns king without consent of courtier,
Rulers may rule, though none heed their command;
Heaven-crowned heads, stoop not, but rise the haughtier,
Alone and friendless in a strangers’ land.’
“So his friends forsook him and fled. But Rasalu went on his way.”
Now the terrible thing that happened was one which Foster-father might have expected, but for two things.
One was the sentry who walked up and down all night long below the high second-story windows of the central room. He would be bound to see any attempt to gain an entrance through them, even if they were wide enough to admit the entry of a grown man, which they were not.
The other was the fact that he, Old Faithful, Meroo and Roy all slept in the outer room, into which the only door opened, so that any intruder would have to force an entrance over their bodies; for they slept with drawn swords beside them.
So as the days passed on Foster-father’s vigilance—though he knew that cruel brother Kumran’s agents were on the lookout for any opportunity of kidnapping the Heir-to-Empire—slackened somewhat, especially when the afternoons drew in, the fire in the big hall was made up, the quilts put down and Baby Akbar, surrounded by his admiring circle, listened to Roy’s stories or tumbled about with his playmates, Tumbu, the dog, and Down, the cat.
One day, however, Down did not appear until little Akbar was having his supper, and then she came in a great hurry out of a small archway by the big fireplace, which led to a sort of cupboard in the masonry, where charcoal had been kept, gobbled up a plate of bread and milk, and hurried in again as if she had to catch a train.
“She has had kittens,” said Foster-mother; “I wonder if they are white or black.”
“Black!” sniffed Head-nurse. “What else could they be in that hole? Have a care, woman! or the Heir-to-Empire will be blacking himself, too. The archway is large enough for him to creep in, and Heaven only knows whither it might lead.”
“That is true,” replied Foster-mother, alarmed, as she distracted the child’s attention.
But in a day or two his quick ear caught the sound of a feeble mewing inside the arch, and, of course, he wanted to know what it was. So he was told that kittens had to be kept quiet and that Down would be very vexed if her kitten was disturbed; but that by-and-bye she would doubtless bring it out for him to see, and then, of course, he could play with it. Now, Baby Akbar was always a reasonable little fellow, so he waited patiently; though every night when he went to bed and Down came out for her supper, his little mouth would go down and he would hold up his little hands and twiddle them round and say mournfully: