A Prologue

So please you, Gentlefolk, a drama slight 
Awaits your verdict on our opening night. 
But, ere the call-bell rings, we pray you take 
In all good part the humble plea we make
For mercy at the hands of those who know 
Exactly how a comedy should go.
And they are many, and their cold grey eyes
Note every weakness from the curtain's rise. 
They scoff at halting bye-play and rejoice 
To hear the agonizing Prompter's voice;
Mark where the hare's foot trenches on the crow's 
And damn an actor for too red a nose;
Then, where the 'rickshaws block Peliti's door, 
Remark: 'We never saw such stuff before!'
To these stem critics we appeal for ruth, 
By virtue, not of excellence, but youth.
For we are young—behold, the paint still new 
Shows that but yesterday our playhouse grew. 
Forgive us then, if side-slips slide uncertain,
Or all too hasty falls the half-trained curtain, 
Or from your eyes by unrehearsed mishap, 
Our leading ladies vanish down a trap.
Such little accidents, it stands to reason,
Might mar the first performance of the season.

Thus, having met all possible detractors, 
We will not ask you to excuse our actors.
Some you know well; their art in bye-gone years
Has moved the Gaiety to mirth and tears, 
Brought as the 'act-drop' closed upon the scene, 
To English lips, the Moslem cry of Din!
We borrowed them—we glory in the crime— 
And hope to playgiarise a second time.
The others who portray poor Lucia's griefs,
Are all, in their respective lines,—the Chiefs! 
The Army List eluciadates this fact.
And now to tell you how we came to act.
Who said—'To please yourselves'?—No! I deny it.
Who ever acts for pleasure? Just you try it!
Men say, who simmer in the Plains below, 
That Simla people frivol. Be it so.
Let us admit that, as the Plains assert,
The Maidens of the Mountain sometimes ... flirt,
While Matrons dance, and others, wilder still 
Give picnics at the back of Summer Hill.
And bold, bad sportsmen on a lottery-night 
Sit up till morning dims the candle-light. 
But we are good. We scorn the flighty crew. 
We frivol with a serious end in view:
And here forgive me if my trifling rhyme
Take graver accents for a little time.

You know, who know the Army, first of those 
Strong lines that wall the Empire from her foes 
Stands—'to attention' ready for the sign—
One Thomas Atkins, Private of the Line. 
His business is—well, never mind the rest;
You men who lead him know his business best! 
But, 'ere that work begins, 'neath Indian skies 
Too oft alas! our faithful warder dies.
[The hot Sun wars above him and beneath
The steaming Earth reclaims the Dragon's Teeth], 
The chill of night, the fever of the town,
The sickness of the noon-day strikes him down. 
Nor him alone. The leaders and the led
Swell that great army of the untimely dead 
Who knew no battle save one hopeless fight 
With Death, beneath the punkah in the night.
Is this an idle story in your ears?
Look back! How reads the record of past years?
Think for a moment, while your memory traces 
The long procession of the dead lost faces. 
See! Year on year the dreary record runs—
Strong men and boys—friends, lovers, husbands, sons,
Cut down upon the threshold of Life's Gate
Who might have lived, but that help came too late.

Help came too late. The care sad comrades gave 
Was rough as ready, and unskilled to save.
And O! it asks the tenderest care to stay
The spirit poised between the Night and Day.
That care, if woman's skill and woman's toil
May from the Slayer wrench the destined spoil—
[By night-long watches in the dim-lit ward
Arrest the downward stroke of Azrael's sword—]
That care is theirs by right who freely give 
Their lives to guard the land wherein we live. 
Let be the Dead gone down beyond recall; 
Turn to the Living. Help them lest they fall! 
Fight Death with money—money that can buy
The soft, cool, soothing touch, the sleepless eye,
The woman's art that coaxes and commands
The fevered mouth and weak and trembling hands.
Buy these—for all the healing lore men know
Fails, lacking these, to bind the soul below.
Help us herein, who strive in some small measure 
To weave a purpose in the threads of Pleasure—
To meet both Simla's and the Soldier's needs
And make light Mirth the handmaid of Kind Deeds.

But here some justly wearied man may say:— 
'We didn't want a sermon. Where's your play?' 
So I, who trespass on your patience, cease. 
Ohe! Behind there! Psst! Ring on the piece!

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