For two whole days the little party was too weary even to attempt a move. They had some provisions with them, and Tumbu, as good as his word, brought in more and more marmots; for being unaccustomed to dogs, they were easily caught.
The death of Old Faithful weighed upon the spirits of all, and for the first twelve hours or so the Heir-to-Empire was inconsolable for the loss of his beloved cat; for Foster-father had found it impossible to carry Down farther, and she had remained behind in the snow, protesting piteously. It was a terrible grief, and the child had almost wept himself sick, when, to every one’s surprise and delight, Mistress Down was seen walking sedately across the flowers, her bushy tail carried very high, not one hair of her silky white coat awry. She took no notice of anybody, but passed to the fire, sat down beside it with stiff dignity, curled her tail round her paws, yawned and then began to purr gently. It was as if nothing had happened. And she certainly was not hungry, for she turned up her dainty nose at Tumbu’s marmot bones.
“Cats,” said Head-nurse, who had just awakened from a long sleep of many hours, “are not to be counted as other beasts. Having nine lives, they could afford to lose one; but they never do. They always fall on their feet. It is the way of the world; the more you have the more you get. Still, I am glad she has returned; and I wish there were a chance of others turning up also,” she added with a sigh.
The Heir-to-Empire looked up gravely. “But Faithful can’t come back, you know. He went to help Grand-dad to help us.”
“Hark to the innocent,” cried Foster-mother, half in smiles, half in tears, “but it is true. If ever poor mortals were watched over by saints in Paradise, we were; and for my part if ever I get to Kabul, my duty shall be paid to the tomb of Firdoos Gita Makani—on whom be peace.”
“Amen!” added her husband devoutly; “but for the memory of that good man we should not be here now.”
It was on the third day that leaving Meroo in charge for a few hours Foster-father and Roy set off to explore. They were fortunate in finding some shepherds’ huts within a walking distance for even footsore women, and returned ere nightfall with a skin bag of fresh milk.
Early next morning, therefore, they all set off, Roy girding on dead Faithful’s sword from the sledge that was wanted no more, and from that moment feeling himself indeed bodyguard to the Heir-to-Empire.
Once they had reached safety from starvation in the shepherds’ huts, a great desire for rest came upon them all; and for three whole days they did nothing but eat, and sleep, and rejoice in the early spring sunshine, and the early spring flowers. For the late snap of extreme cold had passed and every green thing was hurrying to be ahead of its neighbour. Bija made endless cowslip balls out of the beautiful rose-pink primulas, while Roy and Mirak, following the shepherds’ boys, came back with their hands full of young rhubarb shoots and green fern croziers, which they ate like asparagus. But this sort of thing could not last long, since they were close to the caravan route from Kandahar to Kabul; and sure enough, no sooner had the snow on the uplands melted than travellers began to pass through.