Poems » john todhunter » a ballad of john nicholson

It fell in the year of Mutiny,
    At darkest of the night,

John Nicholson by Jalndhar came,
    On his way to Delhi fight.

And as he by Jalndhar came,
    He thought what he must do,

And he sent to the Rajah fair greeting,
    To try if he were true.

"God grant your Highness length of days,
    And friends when need shall be;

And I pray you send your Captains hither,
    That they may speak with me."

On the morrow through Jalndhar town
    The Captains rode in state;

They came to the house of John Nicholson,
    And stood before the gate.

The chief of them was Mehtab Singh,
    He was both proud and sly;

His turban gleamed with rubies red,
    He held his chin full high.

He marked his fellows how they put
    Their shoes from off their feet;

"Now wherefore make ye such ado
    These fallen lords to greet?

"They have ruled us for a hundred years,
    In truth I know not how,

But though they be fain of mastery
    They dare not claim it now."

Right haughtily before them all
    The durbar hall he trod,

With rubies red his turban gleamed,
    His feet with pride were shod.

They had not been an hour together,
    A scanty hour or so,

When Mehtab Singh rose in his place
    And turned about to go.

Then swiftly came John Nicholson
    Between the door and him,

With anger smouldering in his eyes,
    That made the rubies dim.

"You are over-hasty, Mehtab Singh," --
    Oh, but his voice was low!

He held his wrath with a curb of iron
    That furrowed cheek and brow.

"You are over-hasty, Mehtab Singh,
    When that the rest are gone,

I have a word that may not wait
    To speak with you alone."

The Captains passed in silence forth
    And stood the door behind;

To go before the game was played
    Be sure they had no mind.

But there within John Nicholson
    Turned him on Mehtab Singh,

"So long as the soul is in my body
    You shall not do this thing.

"Have ye served us for a hundred years
    And yet ye know not why?

We brook no doubt of our mastery,
    We rule until we die.

"Were I the one last Englishman
    Drawing the breath of life,

And you the master-rebel of all
    That stir this land to strife --

"Were I," he said, "but a Corporal,
    And you a Rajput King,

So long as the soul was in my body
    You should not do this thing.

"Take off, take off, those shoes of pride,
    Carry them whence they came;

Your Captains saw your insolence,
    And they shall see your shame."

When Mehtab Singh came to the door
    His shoes they burned his hand,

For there in long and silent lines
    He saw the Captains stand.

When Mehtab Singh rode from the gate
    His chin was on his breast:

The captains said, "When the strong command
    Obedience is best."