They rode fast and far till dusk fell, when they had covered full twenty miles. For the last few, both the women, who were mounted behind troopers, had almost been dropping with fatigue, but the captain of the escort was under orders to go as far as possible that night, so he pushed on to reach a place called Robat. Here they were all unceremoniously bundled into one large room, and by the steady tramp through the night of a sentry outside, Foster-father judged they were complete prisoners. Luckily they were given plenty of fuel to replenish the fire that roared in the wide chimney, so the elders squatted round it and dozed, holding the children in their laps. They slept as soundly as if they had been in their beds, and so did Tumbu and Down, who had both insisted on being of the party; the latter having quite calmly taken her place on Horse-chestnut’s broad wavy back on the wide cushion of felt which Foster-father used as a saddle-cloth. She had left her kitten behind her as it was now quite a big tom-cat, and able to take care of itself.
In a way, both Tumbu and Down had already been of service to their young master, for the troopers of the Escort had been amused by the golliwog’s gambols, and had admired Down’s dignity, so they were more inclined to treat the whole party in kindly fashion. Indeed, next morning, the Captain of the Escort, whose anxiety about a rescue had, perhaps, been lessened by the uneventful night, was much less strict in his orders, and took Prince Akbar on his own saddle and let him hold the reins.
“He is a brave, bold lad,” he said to Foster-father; “were he to live, he would make a good King.” Then he frowned, his mouth hardened and Foster-father, watching him, augured ill for the safety of the Heir-to-Empire. For the time, however, all went well, though Foster-father remarked that they kept off the direct track as much as possible; no doubt to avoid pursuit. And at Ghuznee, where they halted the second night, the Captain of the Escort sent nearly all his men into the city by one gate, taking with them, despite their protestations, Roy and Meroo and Old Faithful, while he himself, with but one or two troopers, Foster-father, Foster-mother, Head-nurse and the two children, entered by another and found lodging in the caravanserai as common travellers. Evidently, Foster-father surmised, it was thought best for some reason or another to conceal the fact that the Heir-to-Empire was being carried off to Kabul; and something happened that evening to make him certain that this was the case. It was dark ere they arrived, so the other travellers in the serai took little heed of the small party, especially as there were women and children in it, and it is not polite in Eastern countries to take any notice of them. But while Head-nurse and Foster-mother were busy settling down the children’s quilts in the little dark archway room, which was all the accommodation available, and Foster-father had gone to purchase them some milk