“’Tis slow,” said Old Faithful, “but not so slow as trampling down a road!”
Not half so slow, for after a time Tumbu seemed to understand what they would be at, and needed no more bits of food to make him dig, but went on solidly, every now and again giving a yap just to make himself believe he really was digging something out. In fact, he got on so fast that Roy, who, as the slimmest of the party, had to keep the tunnel clear of the dug-out snow, had almost more to do than he could manage. It was frightfully exciting, and Mirak and Bija were dancing about, unable to keep still, when a sudden shaft of light that burst into the dark shed, and a furiously joyful barking that came down the funnel as if it had been a speaking trumpet, announced Tumbu’s arrival in free air.
“Now, we shall do,” said Old Faithful with much importance. “Lo! how one clever idea begets another. But for Firdoos Gita Makani trampling a road I should never have thought of a tunnel!”
Roy, however, was already hard at work improving on the idea by widening the way with Old Faithful’s sword, being only let from doing more by Head-nurse’s exclamation that the melting snow would flood the shed.
“Let be, boy!” said Foster-father; “the hot air from within, rising through the tunnel, will melt the sides by degrees. To-morrow will see it large enough for you, at any rate, to pass through.”
And so it proved. Not next day, but the day after, not only Roy, but Mirak and Bija, had managed to climb up to the outer world by the notches which Roy cut in the snow walls.
It was a strange, chill world which they saw. Far as the eye could reach, nothing but snow, the air frosty and sharp, though the sun was shining once more. Mirak was keen to snowball, but Roy would not hear of it; the snow was melting with the faint heat of the mid-day sun, he said, and a step might make the frost film break, and down into the powdery drift they might go, never to come up again. So they only stood looking about them for a few minutes and then prepared to go back.
“Take care, my lord, take care!” cried Roy, as Mirak, who was preparing to descend legs foremost, as he had been told to do, suddenly looked up with a face full of mischief, let go with his hands, and pouf! disappeared down the slippery tunnel like a pea in a pea-shooter. A burst of laughter from below told them he had arrived safely, and nothing would suit Bija but to do likewise, Roy being still too tight a fit to slide quickly. In fact, the children were eager to climb up once more and do it again, but Head-nurse said she could not hear of it; their clothes were wet enough as it was; besides, it was most unlady-like for a real Princess!
The days, therefore, did not pass so uncomfortably, though pressing anxiety sat on Foster-father’s honest face, and every time Roy returned from a climb up to outer air he would ask him if he had seen anything.