The Red Year: The Story of the Indian Mutinyby Louis Tracy
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On a day in January, 1857, a sepoy was sitting by a well in the cantonment of Dum-Dum, near Calcutta. Though he wore the uniform of John Company, and his rank was the lowest in the native army, he carried on his forehead the caste-marks of the Brahmin. In a word, he was more than noble, being of sacred birth, and the Hindu officers of his regiment, if they were not heaven-born Brahmins, would grovel before him in secret, though he must obey their slightest order on parade or in the field.
To him approached a Lascar.
“Brother,” said the newcomer, “lend me your brass pot, so that I may drink, for I have walked far in the sun.”
The sepoy started as though a snake had stung him. Lascars, the sailor-men of India, were notoriously free-and-easy in their manners. Yet how came it that even a low-caste mongrel of a Lascar should offer such an overt insult to a Brahmin!
“Do you not know, swine-begotten, that your hog’s lips would contaminate my lotah?” asked he, putting the scorn of centuries into the words.
“Contaminate!” grinned the Lascar, neither frightened nor angered. “By holy Ganga, it is your lips that are contaminated, not mine. Are not the Government greasing your cartridges with cow’s fat? And can you load your rifle without biting the forbidden thing? Learn more about your own caste, brother, before you talk so proudly to others.”
Not a great matter, this squabble between a sepoy and a Lascar, yet it lit such a flame in India that rivers of blood must be shed ere it was quenched. The Brahmin’s mind reeled under the shock of the retort. It was true, then, what the agents of the dethroned King of Oudh were saying in the bazaar. The Government were bent on the destruction of Brahminical supremacy. He and his caste-fellows would lose all that made life worth living. But they would exact a bitter price for their fall from high estate.
“Kill!” he murmured in his frenzy, as he rushed away to tell his comrades the lie that made the Indian Mutiny possible. “Slay and spare not! Let us avenge our wrongs so fully that no accursed Feringhi shall dare again to come hither across the Black Water!”
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