The lads were bonny, the lads were young,
But he claimed a pitiless debt;
Life and death in the balance hung,
They watched it swing and set.
They saw him search with sombre eyes,
They knew the place he sought;
They saw him feel for the hilted steel,
They bowed before his thought.
But he—he saw the prison there
In the old quivering heat,
Where merry hearts had met despair
And died without defeat;
Where feeble hands had raised the cup
For feebler lips to drain,
And one had worn with smiling scorn
His double load of pain.
“The sleep that Tippoo Sahib sleeps
Hears not the voice of man;
The faith that Tippoo Sahib keeps
No earthly judge may scan;
For all the wrong your father wrought
Your father’s sons are free;
Where Lucas lay no tongue shall say
That Mercy bound not me.”
It fell in the year of Mutiny,
At darkest of the night,
John Nicholson by Jalandhar came,
On his way to Delhi fight.
And as he by Jalandhar 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 Jalandhar 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 overhasty, 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.