“So the squirrels’
birthright is to want for naught,
Have no grief or thought, know not ‘must’ or ‘ought.’
Yet upon their gold there lingers
Shades of care, that Great Ram’s fingers
For their blessing wrought.”
“Wah! Wah!” cried the Queen, delighted. “He can stop if he likes.”
Ten minutes after Roy had finished his song Dearest-Lady’s litter paused for a moment on a high-perched corner of the road towards Kandahar, to give her a last look of the fair city of Kabul. Her bright old face was bright still, undimmed by care. She was old and frail, she was going a wearisome, trying journey; yet, for the present, she knew that she had saved the Heir-to-Empire’s life. That at any rate was secure until she returned—and she might never return! The thought made her smile. “Forward, slaves!” she cried cheerfully, and Kabul, the city she loved so well, was left behind without one regret.
And she was right. She had saved the Heir-to-Empire’s life; for at that very minute the door of little Prince Akbar’s room opened wide, and Roy starting up found himself face to face with cruel Uncle Kumran followed by two men with drawn swords. And, alas for Roy! he had no sword to draw, for Old Faithful’s sabre did not fit the disguise of a Rajput bard. Despite that, he stepped forward boldly, though his heart beat to suffocation. For Kumran’s face was cruel indeed.
Still, for one second, the latter’s attention was distracted. He had wanted no witnesses to what he meant to do.
“How camest thou hither, slave?” he asked fiercely.
And Roy gave him back the simple truth, no more, no less; but it was sufficient.
“Her Highness Khanzada Khanum brought me hither to be with the Heir-to-Empire ere she left at sunset.”
Kumran started back. “Left? Hath she left already?” he asked, his face paling. So he stood for a moment irresolute, the words of his own oath pealing through his brain, “By the memory of my father I promise.” That was not one which any son of Babar’s was ever likely to break. “Sheath your swords, fools!” he said at last bitterly; “they are not needed. I am not the first man who has been outwitted by a woman.”
But if Kumran was let and hindered by his oath from actually killing the Heir-to-Empire in cold blood, or, in lesser degree, from treating him so harshly that he might die, he did not feel so bound towards the others; and being cruel by nature, he set to work upon them at once. Foster-father he sent to the State prison, which was down a well in the big courtyard. There were two of these prison-wells, in which the water was reached by a flight of steep steps, and where dark, underground cells opened on to the deep silent pool. They were terribly damp, but here poor Foster-father had to drag out long, miserable