So all the night long the little lamps twinkled and twinkled.
But when morning came there was not a sweet left!
“It must have been the rats,” said Meroo, who, as cook, had gone up to see what he could save. “I saw the tail of one disappearing.”
But Foster-father said swiftly: “I would it were some other helper, for the time has come for help. Prince Askurry hath sent to say we start for Kabul and cruel brother Kumran at noon to-day!”
A WINTER MARCH
It was only too true! The escort which was to see them on the road was already occupying the garden, the horses champing their bits and fretting because the long branches of the roses at which they snatched held nothing but thorns.
Prince Akbar, indeed, was too much interested in watching them and wondering if they were very hungry to take much heed of anything else, but Princess Bakshee Bani Begum, who was a very practical little person, at once began to pack up her favourite doll.
“You had better choose out some toy, Mirak,” said she, “or you will be wanting to play with mine, and I won’t let you.”
But Mirak was busy with the horses.
“I sha’n’t want anything but my sword,” he replied valiantly. “I’m a big boy now, and I’m going to play with real things.” Then he turned to one of the troopers with a quaint air of authority. “Your horse is too thin. When I am King I shall see that my men give their horses enough to eat.”
Foster-father, who overheard the child, paused in the hasty arrangements he was making to look at the little Heir-to-Empire and put up a prayer that the fates might let him be King; but the future looked black indeed. The road to Kabul must still be blocked with snow, even if more did not fall by the way. A likely happening, with the bitter north wind and the dull lowering sky. And if the young child escaped the danger of extreme cold and extreme hardship, what might not be before him in Kabul itself?
Better, it might have been, for those in charge of him, to have risked all, taken refuge with the old mountain chief, and died like brave men. There was but one comfort in the whole affair. Prince Askurry must know that Humayon or his friends were close at hand, or he would not be in such a desperate hurry to send away the Heir-to-Empire.
And this, indeed, was the truth. The fear of a rescue was so real and immediate that Prince Askurry had had to make his decision in a minute. So there was scarcely any time for preparation, and by noon the party had started for the three hundred and odd miles of mountainous country that lay between them and Kabul. Only the children’s faces were cheerful; even Roy’s showed grave and anxious.