And the child, clever, observant beyond his years, remembering how his mother had guided his fingers to Old Faithful’s weapon, put out his little hand solemnly and touched it.
Behind their close-folded veils Head-nurse and Wet-nurse wept for joy. And the old trooper’s grip relaxed and the hard relentless look faded from Roy’s face.
For here was safety, for a while at any rate, for the Heir-to-Empire.
He, and Fate between them, had won his first victory. No! his second, since the first had been the conquering of Adam’s obstinacy.
But for that Baby Akbar might not have behaved with such dignity.
THE ROYAL UMBRELLA
That night even Roy the Rajput, who as a rule woke every hour to see to his little master’s safety, slept sound. And so did the others, though they sat up till Foster-father crept in to the tent about midnight, after having seen the Royal Fugitives safely over the Persian border. Of course, there was nothing but miles on miles of snowy mountains before them, nothing but long struggle and privation to be hoped for; still they were out of India, out of an enemy’s country. For which Heaven be thanked!
So they wrapped themselves in their quilts and lay down to rest with hearts eased for the time of immediate anxiety.
Head-nurse, however, began at once, after her wont, to make plans for resuming some of the courtly ways which hurry had made impossible. The gold embroidered royal red umbrella was one thing she was determined to have.
But who was to hold it over the Royal Infant? Roy would get tired of it during a long march. He was but a boy; and after all there should be a Deputy, Assistant, Second, Umbrella Bearer to Majesty.
Could Meroo, properly dressed, of course, be promoted to the position?
She actually woke Foster-father from his well-earned first sleep to propound this knotty question.
“Good woman,” he murmured patiently, “make what court appointments ye will. Create the scullion Prime Minister, so I have my sleep.”
And he was snoring almost before the words were out of his mouth.
So next morning Head-nurse, refusing the baggage camel with panniers which Prince Askurry sent for the use of the little Heir-to-Empire, organised a procession of her own.
First of all came Foster-father, stout and solid, on his skew-bald hill pony which was called Horse-chestnut because it was patched all over, like an unripe chestnut, with yellow, brown and white.
It had a lovely tail that touched the ground, and a coat that was long and wavy like an Irish setter’s. A wise, sober pony was Horse-chestnut; he never attempted to climb up anything he thought too difficult, but just gave a look at it to make sure and then put down his head calmly, and began to graze until his rider found an easier path.