Roy, who had never stopped for a breath yet in his headlong race, was at that very moment rounding on the bastion, and looking up, saw what he had feared to see—a little figure bound hand and foot to a framework of wood that hung close to what Sumbal had called the pigeon place, seeming to form part of it. The child was not crying. Perhaps he was past that. Perhaps he had never cried, but had taken this last and urgent danger as he had taken others, with grave dignity.
All we know is that he hung there on the wall, and that before his very eyes the light was growing in the east, and over in the hill battery a dozen men were sweating away to bring the “Thunder of God” into position. Roy gave a gasp. Should he call to the little Heir-to-Empire and let him know that a friend was near, that help might come? No! perhaps he did not realise his danger. It was better to let be.
So gathering all his forces for a last effort, he dashed into the open for the final five minutes’ run. And there could be no dodging here. Every loophole of the bastion was, he knew, crammed with the matchlocks of many marksmen. And there was now, worse luck, little darkness to cover him!
“Three minutes more, friend!” said Sumbal boastfully, “and thou shalt see what thou wilt see. Slave! the port fire, quick. I will give the signal. Lo! What is up?”
A rattle of musketry rose on the still air of dawn, and an artillery man leaned over the low embrasure to see better into the intervening valley.
“Some one escaping,” he said with a yawn, for he had been up half the night. “Lo! he runs like a hare! But they will have him, for sure.”
“Quick,” called Sumbal, “we will silence their noise. The portfire, I say. I will fire old Thunderer myself.”
The man carrying the flaming flashlight handed it to his superior, but in so doing by some mischance it dropped, and in the dropping went out!
“Fool!” cried Sumbal passionately. “Are we to stand insulted here without reply while thou fetchest another? Put him in irons, sergeant, and bring light at once!”
But the grave, silent Rajput was watching the runner. “He is but a boy,” he said slowly, “yet see how he runs. And they have hit him, for he staggers. Yet he comes on. He must bring news, friend, for sure!”
[Illustration: “I stay my hand while I count ten—no more.”]
“News!” echoed Sumbal contemptuously; “we have half a hundred such runaways coming in every day. It is no news that King Humayon is better liked than Kumran. Lo! hast thou it at last?” He snatched the portfire from the sergeant and went toward the gun.
“Stay one moment, friend!” said the grave and silent man with sudden command in his voice. “A moment’s hastiness may bring disaster. Discretion is better than valour. Yonder boy brings news—he waves his arms—he shouts! Stay at least till we can hear what he says.”