Littell's Living Age/Volume 139/Issue 1802/A Rajput Chief of the Old School

From The Fortnightly Review.



And why say ye that I must leave
This pleasure-garden, where the sun
Is baffled by the boughs that weave
Their shade o'er my pavilion?
The trees I planted with my hands,
This house I built among the sands,
Within a lofty wall which rounds
This green oasis, kept with care;
With room for my horses, hawks, and hounds —
And the cool arcade for my ladies fair.


How often, while the landscape flames
With heat, within the marble court
I lie and laugh to see my dames
About the shimmering fountain sport;
Or after the long scorching days,
When the hot wind hushes, and falling stays
The clouds of dust, and stars are bright,
I've spread my carpets in the grove,
And talked and loitered the livelong night
With some foreign leman light o' love.


My wives — I married, as was fit,
Some thirteen of the purest blood —
And two or three have germs of wit,
And almost all are chaste and good;
But all their womanhood has been
Hencooped behind a marble screen;
They count their pearls and doze—while she,
The courtezan, had travelled far,
Her songs were fresh, her talk was free
Of the Delhi court, or the Kabul war.


Those days are gone — I am old and ill,
Why should I move? I love the place;
The dawn is fresh, the nights are still —
Ah yes! I see it in your face,
My latest dawn and night are nigh,
And of my clan a chief must die
Within the ancestral rampart's fold
Paced by the listening sentinel,
Where ancient cannon, and beldames old
As the guns, peer down from the citadel.


Once more, once only, they shall bear
My litter up the steep ascent
That pierces, mounting stair on stair,
The inmost ring of battlement.
Oft-times that frowning gate I've past
(This time, but one, shall be the last),
Where the tribal daemon's image stands
Crowning the arch, and on the side
Are scarlet prints of women's hands —
Farewell! and forth must the lady ride,


Her face unveiled, in rich attire,
She strikes the stone with fingers red —
"Farewell the palace, to the pyre
We follow, widows of the dead!"
And I, whose life has reached its verge,
Bethink me of the wailing dirge
That day my father forth was borne,
High seated, swathed in many a shawl,
By priests who scatter flowers, and mourn —
And the eddying smoke of the funeral.


Thus did he vanish. With him went
Seven women, by the flames set free;
I built a stately monument
To shrine their graven effigy:
In front my father, godlike, stands;
The widows kneel with folded hands;
All yearly rites are duly paid,
All round are planted sacred trees,
And the ghosts are soothed by the spreading shade,
And lulled by the strain of the obsequies.


His days were troubled; his curse I earned
Full often, ere he passed that arch,
My father, by his farms we burned
By raiding on the English march;
And then that summer I rebelled,
One fort we seized, and there we held
Until my father's guns grew hot;
But the floods and darkness veiled our flight,
We rode their lines with never a shot,
For the matches were moist in the rainy night.


That's forty years ago, and since,
With all these wild unruly clans,
In this salt wilderness, a prince
Of camel-riding caterans,
I've sought religiously, Heaven knows,
A life of worship and repose,
Vext by the stiff, ungrateful league
Of all my folk in fretful stir,
By priest and gods in dark intrigue,
And the wasting curse of the sorcerer.


They say I seized their broad estates,
Upbraid me with a kinsman's blood;
He led his bands before my gates,
And then — it was an ancient feud.
But I must offer gifts, and pray
The Brahmin's stain be washed away —
Saint and poisoner, fed with bribes,
Deep versed in every traitorous plan —
I told them only to kill the scribes,
But my Afghans hated the holy man.


Yes, peace is blessed, and prayer is good;
My eldest son defied my power;
I lost his mother in the wood
That hides my lonely hunting-tower;
She was a proud unbroken dame;
Like son, like mother, hard to tame
Or tire — and so he took the bent,
His mother's kinsfolk at his heel,
With many a restless malcontent —
There were some had ease, ere I sheathed my steel.


The English say I govern ill,
That laws must silence spear and gun,
So may my peaceful subjects till;
But peaceful subjects have I none.
I can but follow my father's rule,
I cannot learn in English school;
Yet the hard world softens, and change is best,
My sons must leave the ancient ways,
The folk are weary, the land shall rest,
And the gods are kind, for I end my days.


Then carry me to my castle steep,
Whose time is ending with its lord's:
Eight months my grandsire held the keep
Against the fierce Maratta hordes;
It would not stand three winter suns
Before the shattering English guns;
And so these rude old faithful stones,
My fathers' haven in high war-tide,
Must rive and moulder, as soon my bones
Shall bleach on the holy river-side.


Years hence, when all the earth is calm,
And forts are level, and foes agree
To leave their fighting, trade and farm,
And toil, like oxen, patiently,
When this my garden palace stands
A desert ruin, choked with sands,
A broken well 'mid trees that fade,
Some traveller still my name may bless,
The chief lang syne that left him shade
And a water-spring in the wilderness.

A. C. Lyall.