“I will not leave the child—” began the wretched mother. “My lord! thou canst not have the heart——”
“It is his only chance—” interrupted the poor King, his face full of grief and anger, of bitter, bitter regret—“His only chance of life! In the mountains yonder, with winter snow upon us, lies certain death for one so young. Were we to stay with him here, he would find death with us—for my brother Askurry is close behind us. But if we are gone, God knows, but he might spare the child. Askurry is not all unkind, and the little lad favors my father so much that his blessed memory may be safeguard. God send it so. It is his best chance, his only chance. So come——”
“I cannot! I cannot!” moaned the poor mother distractedly.
“There is no other way, sweetheart!” said the King, “so be brave, little mother, and come for thy son’s sake. He will be safer here than with thee. Come! trusting in God’s mercy for the child. And come quickly while the darkness of the storm shrouds our going.”
Then he looked round on those others—Head-nurse, Wet-nurse, Old Faithful, Roy the Rajput, and Meroo the cook-boy—not much of a bodyguard for the young prince, and yet, since force would be useless, perhaps as good as any other, if they had a head between them. But the nurses were women, Faithful nothing but an old soldier, and the two others were mere boys. Some one else must be left. Who? Then he remembered Foster-father, Foster-mother’s husband. He was the man. Solid, sober, clear-headed. So, as Queen Humeeda was being hurriedly wrapped in a shawl by the two weeping nurses, he gave them a few directions. They were to stay where they were, no matter what happened, until Foster-father returned from showing the fugitives a path he knew to the mountains, and then——
King Humayon could say no more. Only as, after a hurried, tearless, hopeless farewell to his little son, he paused at the tent door to take a last look, his half-fainting wife in his arms, he said suddenly in a sharp, loud voice:
“Remember! In your charge lies the safety of the Heir-to-Empire.”
The words sank into the very hearts of those who stood watching the group of hurrying figures making its way rapidly toward the hills.
“Pray Heaven,” muttered Old Faithful anxiously, “that they be over the rise before those who follow see them.”
So they stood fearfully watching, watching. And Heaven was kind, for though one great blue blaze of lightning showed the fugitives clear against the sky line, when the next came there was nothing but the rugged rocks.
Then for the first time Baby Akbar, who had been silent in his nurses’ arms, watching with the rest, lifted up his deep-toned baby voice:
“Daddy, Amma,” he said contentedly, “gone up in a ’ky.”
Whereupon Foster-mother wept loudly and prayed that good angels might protect her darling.
But Head-nurse was more practical, and set about considering how best that safety might be secured. Who was there who could help? No one of much use, truly, though every one was brimful of devotion and ready to give his or her life for the Heir-to-Empire.