I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
"Good speed!" cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
"Speed!" echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right, 10
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.
‘Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren deg., the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear: 14
At Boom deg., a great yellow star came out to see; 15
At Dueffeld deg., ’twas morning as plain as could be; 16
And from Mecheln deg. church-steeple we heard the half-chime, 17
So, Joris broke silence with, “Yet there is time!”
At Aershot deg. up leaped of a sudden the sun, 19
And against him the cattle stood black every one, 20
To stare through the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland, at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye’s black intelligence,–ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on. 30
By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, “Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her,
We’ll remember at Aix”–for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.
So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
‘Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff; 40
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight!”
“How they’ll greet us!”–and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.
Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all, 50
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length, into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is,–friends flocking round
As I sat with his head ‘twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent. 60
Browning thus explains the origin of the poem: “There is no sort of historical foundation about Good News from Ghent. I wrote it under the bulwark of a vessel off the African coast, after I had been at sea long enough to appreciate even the fancy of a gallop on the back of a certain good horse ‘York,’ then in my stable, at home.” It would require a skilful imagination to create a set of circumstances which could give any other plausible reason for the ride to “save Aix from her fate.”
14. =Lokeren=. Twelve miles from Ghent.
15. =Boom=. Sixteen miles from Lokeren.
16. =Dueffeld=. Twelve miles from Boom.
17. 19, 31, etc. =Mecheln= (Fr. Malines), =Aershot=, =Hasselt=, etc. The reader may trace the direction and length of the ride in any large atlas. Minute examinations of the route are, however, of no special value.