It was a bitter cold night. The wind blew keenly from the snow before them, and by the time they reached a miserable village, high up on the slopes of the pass, every one save the two children was chilled to the bone; but they, well happed in all the coverings the fugitives could compass, were warm; Akbar, in Foster-father’s arms, with Down, the cat, cuddled up beside him, and acting as a hot bottle! Once more there was plenty of fuel in the rude hut where they found shelter, and stiffened limbs and half-frosted fingers soon began to thaw. Tumbu, who had kept himself supple by, as usual, bounding about, was the only one of the party who did not doze off at once, now comparative comfort was reached.
But he was curiously restless. Over and over again he rose, went to the door and seemed to listen. Then he began to whine a little, then to scratch at the door as if he wanted to get out. Finally, finding no one paid any attention, he let loose one short, sharp bark, which awakened Head-nurse, who with an impatient look to see if her children had been disturbed, and an angry whisper, “Go, then! thou mean-born beast,” rose softly, set open the door for a second, then closed it again, shivering with the chill blast that swept in. But Tumbu was out like a flash and disappeared in the darkness.
It must have been an hour afterward that every one’s slumber was disturbed by the most insistent barking that ever was heard. Even Akbar, usually the soundest of sleepers, sat up and rubbed his eyes.
“The evil-dispositioned hound!” said Head-nurse in drowsy anger. “I deemed he had left us forever, and good riddance, too.”
But little Prince Akbar, half awake, protested in defence of his dear dog.
“Tumbu only barks when he wants something, nurse; go and see what it is.”
“A likely story!” cried Head-nurse.
“Well,” interposed Foster-father philosophically, “some one must go if any one is to sleep.”
Whereat he went to the door; but Tumbu on the doorstep refused to come in; he barked, bounced off, and returned the next minute to whine and bark again.
“He only wants something; go and see what it is,” came Mirak’s deep-toned voice. “I know he wants something.”
“Lo! man alive!” grumbled Head-nurse; “shut the door whichever way it is. I perish with cold!”
Foster-father was a wise man, so to avoid further discussion he stepped out and shut the door behind him. Thus for a minute or two there was peace. Then Foster-father’s voice rose urgently from outside.
“Open! I say open! Quick!”
Foster-mother flew to obey, and her husband staggered in, bearing some one in his arms. “God send the boy be not dead,” he said as he laid down his burden.
It was Roy the Rajput!
“I found him quite close, frozen by the cold,” he continued, as they set to work before the fire to rub the poor, stiff limbs and force a few drops of hot milk through the blue lips.