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The Cursing of Pertab Singh

From The Sun, March 28, 1915. By F. W. Poole.

The ryot crouched in his hut and moaned with his face to the plastered wall.
He rent his rage and tore his hair and wept for his ruler’s fall.
The children hushed their simple songs and whimpered and wailed with dread.
Sir Pertab Singh, their prince, their king, had dared to touch the dead.

The white sahibs had warned him though the slain was of their kin.
They knew the awful laws of caste—to touch the dead is sin.
“’Tis the son of a friend and comrade. His father is not here.”
Sir Pertab gently bore the corpse and laid it on the bier.

Five hundred priests of Brahma’s shrine awaited at the morn
To make an ancient honored name a byword and a scorn.
Calmly cool, Sir Pertab heard his fate all men might know—
To be with outcast sweepers as the lowest of the low.

“What care I for your paltry ban?” and as they paused he smiled.
“If naught can soil me save your clan, then I am undefiled.
Mine is a higher, nobler caste, of which you do not know,
A caste as great as thine is mean—as high as thine is low.

“A caste that was old and honored ere your upstart creed began—
The caste of a loyal soldier. The creed of an honest man
Who serves men less with a weakling word, and more with a well wrought deed—
Who lives for the good of his kin and kind, and dies for his country’s need.

“The caste of a man—his word a law which he obeys the first—
Of one who well to serve the best will ever dare the worst—
Who stands unawed by a host in arms, nor quails at a parting breath—
Walks straight and true with a friend unto—and beyond—the gates of death.”

The high priests gasped in wonderment, the vast throng gazed in awe
That the will of a man was strong to stand in the face of an iron law.
The pillars of caste that a realm had reared to shadow a man and king
Wavered and crumbled and disappeared—and left Sir Pertab Singh.

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