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A Sahibs’ War
by [?]

Pass? Pass? Pass? I have one pass already, allowing me to go by the rel from Kroonstadt to Eshtellenbosch, where the horses are, where I am to be paid off, and whence I return to India. I am a–trooper of the Gurgaon Rissala (cavalry regiment), the One Hundred and Forty-first Punjab Cavalry, Do not herd me with these black Kaffirs. I am a Sikh–a trooper of the State. The Lieutenant-Sahib does not understand my talk? Is there any Sahib on the train who will interpret for a trooper of the Gurgaon Rissala going about his business in this devil’s devising of a country, where there is no flour, no oil, no spice, no red pepper, and no respect paid to a Sikh? Is there no help?… God be thanked, here is such a Sahib! Protector of the Poor! Heaven-born! Tell the young Lieutenant-Sahib that my name is Umr Singh; I am–I was servant to Kurban Sahib, now dead; and I have a pass to go to Eshtellenbosch, where the horses are. Do not let him herd me with these black Kaffirs!… Yes, I will sit by this truck till the Heaven-born has explained the matter to the young Lieutenant-Sahib who does not understand our tongue.

* * * * *

What orders? The young Lieutenant-Sahib will not detain me? Good! I go down to Eshtellenbosch by the next terain? Good! I go with the Heaven- born? Good! Then for this day I am the Heaven-born’s servant. Will the Heaven-born bring the honour of his presence to a seat? Here is an empty truck; I will spread my blanket over one corner thus–for the sun is hot, though not so hot as our Punjab in May. I will prop it up thus, and I will arrange this hay thus, so the Presence can sit at ease till God sends us a terain for Eshtellenbosch….

The Presence knows the Punjab? Lahore? Amritzar? Attaree, belike? My village is north over the fields three miles from Attaree, near the big white house which was copied from a certain place of the Great Queen’s by –by–I have forgotten the name. Can the Presence recall it? Sirdar Dyal Singh Attareewalla! Yes, that is the very man; but how does the Presence know? Born and bred in Hind, was he? O-o-oh! This is quite a different matter. The Sahib’s nurse was a Surtee woman from the Bombay side? That was a pity. She should have been an up-country wench; for those make stout nurses. There is no land like the Punjab. There are no people like the Sikhs. Umr Singh is my name, yes. An old man? Yes. A trooper only after all these years? Ye-es. Look at my uniform, if the Sahib doubts. Nay–nay; the Sahib looks too closely. All marks of rank were picked off it long ago, but–but it is true–mine is not a common cloth such as troopers use for their coats, and–the Sahib has sharp eyes–that black mark is such a mark as a silver chain leaves when long worn on the breast. The Sahib says that troopers do not wear silver chains? No-o. Troopers do not wear the Arder of Beritish India? No. The Sahib should have been in the Police of the Punjab. I am not a trooper, but I have been a Sahib’s servant for nearly a year–bearer, butler, sweeper, any and all three. The Sahib says that Sikhs do not take menial service? True; but it was for Kurban Sahib– my Kurban Sahib–dead these three months!

* * * * *

Young–of a reddish face–with blue eyes, and he lilted a little on his feet when he was pleased, and cracked his finger-joints. So did his father before him, who was Deputy-Commissioner of Jullundur in my father’s time when I rode with the Gurgaon Rissala. My father? Jwala Singh. A Sikh of Sikhs–he fought against the English at Sobraon and carried the mark to his death. So we were knit as it were by a blood-tie, I and my Kurban Sahib. Yes, I was a trooper first–nay, I had risen to a Lance-Duffadar, I remember–and my father gave me a dun stallion of his own breeding on that day; and he was a little baba, sitting upon a wall by the parade-ground with his ayah–all in white, Sahib–laughing at the end of our drill. And his father and mine talked together, and mine beckoned to me, and I dismounted, and the baba put his hand into mine–eighteen–twenty-five– twenty-seven years gone now–Kurban Sahib–my Kurban Sahib! Oh, we were great friends after that! He cut his teeth on my sword-hilt, as the saying is. He called me Big Umr Singh–Buwwa Umwa Singh, for he could not speak plain. He stood only this high, Sahib, from the bottom of this truck, but he knew all our troopers by name–every one…. And he went to England, and he became a young man, and back he came, lilting a little in his walk, and cracking his finger-joints–back to his own regiment and to me. He had not forgotten either our speech or our customs. He was a Sikh at heart, Sahib. He was rich, open-handed, just, a friend of poor troopers, keen- eyed, jestful, and careless. I could tell tales about him in his first years. There was very little he hid from me. I was his Umr Singh, and when we were alone he called me Father, and I called him Son. Yes, that was how we spoke. We spoke freely together on everything–about war, and women, and money, and advancement, and such all.