How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

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How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix
by Robert Browning
I have an old essay written by a lad of fourteen years on "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix." I should judge from this essay that any boy at that age would like the poem, even if he had not himself been over the ground as this boy had. (1812-89.)

    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 girth tight,
    Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right,
    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, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
    At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
    At Düffeld, 'twas morning as plain as could be;
    And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,
    So Joris broke silence with, "Yet there is time!"

    At Aershot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
    And against him the cattle stood black every one,
    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 upward in galloping on.

    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;
    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,
    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 voting by common consent)
    Was no more than his due who brought the good news from Ghent.