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The Ballad of Sir Pertab Singh; OR, A Soldier’s Faith

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Lieut.-Gen’l. H.H. Sir Partap Singh, 1845-1922, Maharaja of Idar and Regent of Jodhpur, the Grand Old Rathore, was a man of high military and administrative genius, and there are many wonderful stories about him. Here is one which shows his nobility of character:

Lieut. James D. Cadell, a young English soldier, came to stay with Sir Pratap in Jodhpur and there he died of typhoid and a serious problem aroused. There were not enough Englishmen in the place to carry his body out to burial — there were three, but a fourth was needed. Sir Pratap, true to himself, placed brotherhood before caste and said, “I will be the fourth bearer of my friend’s corpse.” The Englishmen implored Sir Pratap not to do so as he would lose caste if he touched his body, but he refused to pay any attention. The next morning, a deputation of Brahmin priests were on his doorstep and told him that he would have to do a very severe purification. Sir Pratap told them to go away and never speak of it again, because their is a caste higher than any other caste and that is the caste of the soldier.

Sir Pratap Singh and the Ampthill boys
A photograph of Sir Pratap Singh and three Ampthill boys, dressed in cadet uniforms and holding flagpoles in their right hands, standing outside Government House in Madras.
© Royal Collection Trust.

Colonel T. Cadell, V.C., C.B., wrote it for The Times; this story appeared in John Buchan’s Lord Minto, A Memoir; and when Sir Henry J. Newbolt heard this story, he turned into following poem:

In the first year of him that first
Was Emperor and King,
A rider came to the Rose-red House,
The House of Pertab Singh.

Young he was and an Englishman
And a soldier, hilt and heel,
And he struck fire in Pertab’s heart
As the steel strikes on steel.

Beneath the morning stars they rode,
Beneath the evening sun,
And their blood sang to them as they rode
That all good wars are one.

They told their tales of the love of women,
Their tales of East and West,
But their blood sang that of all their loves
They loved a soldier best.

So ran their joy the allotted days.
Till at the last day’s end
The shadow stilled the Rose-red House
And the heart of Pertab’s friend.

When morning came, in narrow chest
The soldier’s face they hid,
And over his fast-dreaming eyes
Shut down the narrow lid.

Three were there of his race and creed.
Three only, and no more:
They could not find to bear the dead
A fourth in all Jodhpore.

“O Maharaj, of your good grace
Send us a Sweeper here:
A Sweeper has no caste to lose
Even by an alien bier.”

”What need, what need?” said Pertab Singh,
And bowed his princely head.
“I have no caste, for I myself
Am bearing forth the dead.”

”O Maharaj, O passionate heart,
Be wise, bethink you yet:
That which you lose to-day is lost
Till the last sun shall set.”

Stately and slow and shoulder-high,
In the sight of all Jodhpore,
The dead went down the rose-red steps
Upheld by bearers four.

When dawn relit the lamp of grief
Within the burning East,
There came a word to Pertab Singh,
The soft word of a priest.

He woke, and even as he woke
He went forth all in white,
And saw the Brahmins bowing there
In the hard morning light.

“Alas, O Maharaj, alas!
O noble Pertab Singh!
For here in Jodhpore yesterday
Befell a fearful thing.

“Oh here in Jodhpore yesterday
A fearful thing befell.”
“A fearful thing,” said Pertab Singh,
“God and my heart know well—

“I lost a friend.”
“More fearful yet!
When down these steps you past
In sight of all Jodhpore you lost—
O Maharaj!—your caste.”

Then leapt the light in Pertab’s eyes
As the flame leaps in smoke.
“Thou priest! thy soul hath never known
The word thy lips have spoke.

“My caste I know thou there is a caste
Above my caste or thine;
Brahmin and Rajput are but dust
To that immortal line:

“Wide as the world, free as the air,
Pure as the pool of death—
The caste of all Earth’s noble hearts
Is the right soldier’s faith.”

Sir Henry J. Newbolt, the Ballad of Sir Pertab Singh; OR, A Soldier’s Faith

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