After that there was peace and quiet in the camp, Roy sitting beside the fire and making it blaze up every now and again by putting on a fresh juniper branch. For he knew that since the others had not arrived by daylight, they must either all have perished on the road or else be waiting until the cold of night once more froze the ice-film on the snow. In this case the firelight seen from afar might be a guide.
So the night passed. More than once Roy fell asleep, for despite his care the smoke of the juniper branches could not quite be avoided, and that, every one knows, is terribly sleepifying. He woke every time, however, before the fire was quite out, and hastened to send up a flare of flame. As he did so the last time it was answered by a hulloo from the rocks above, and shortly afterward Meroo, the scullion’s, blubbering voice could be heard as he uttered thanks to Heaven.
“And the others?” asked Roy anxiously, as out of the darkness Meroo appeared and cast himself at the lad’s feet, bellowing joy.
“They come, they come! They are but a short way back. I saw the fire, and the sight of it warmed the cockles of my heart! Lo! I shall cook once more! I shall not die hungry in the wilderness. Nay! go not,” for Roy was starting up. “True! the women are nigh dead, and Foster-father hath his fingers frost-bitten, but—nay, put more flame to the fire, boy! It is the fire they need!”
He was half beside himself, but he was right. As the fresh juniper branches blazed up Head-nurse came tottering and stumbling into its light. Roy sprang to help her, but she pushed him aside.
“The Heir-to-Empire?” she muttered, her lips almost refusing to form the words. “The Heir-to-Empire, the Admired-of-the-World——”
Roy pointed to the little tent. “There! Safe! Well! Asleep!” he cried; and the poor woman with a sob sank as she stood, and lay prone muttering long strings of titles.
Before a minute had passed Foster-father and Foster-mother struggled into the circle of light, and after a word of question and reply, sank down also.
Then there was a long pause, but no sign came of good Old Faithful’s tall, gaunt figure. At last Roy spoke.
“Faithful?” he asked in a low whisper. “What of him?”
There was no answer at first; only Foster-father covered his face with his hands. At last he spoke gently.
“He was faithful to death. He was going first, as ever, cheering us all with his sayings of Firdoos Gita Makani. I saw him there one moment turning to tell us words of wisdom—the next the snow bridge had given way beneath his feet and he was gone. We waited on the bank of the awful chasm for a long time, but there was no sound save the roaring of the stream below. Firdoos Gita Makani, his master, had called him. Peace be with them both!”