Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

The Cavalier's Escape

T HE Civil War in England was fought during the years from 1642 to 1649 between the followers of King Charles I, who were called the "Cavaliers," and the men led by Oliver Cromwell, who sided with the Parliament, and were called "Roundheads," because they wore their hair cut short. In this poem one of the Cavaliers has met a band of Roundheads, and is trying to outride them and reach his own men at the town of Salisbury, five miles away. His chestnut mare Kate can outstrip both the roan and the gray that are following her.

It is almost dawn as the Cavalier starts. He hears the heavy hoof-beats of the roan, and the quicker tread of the gray. But Kate dashes off ahead of them, and her rider doffs his hat in mock courtesy and wishes his pursuers good-day. They splash through the mire and come to a gate. Kate clears it, but the others falter. The Cavalier gains a lead, but soon the Roundheads are close behind him again. He turns like a stag at bay, strikes a blow at the first pursuer and drops him from his horse; the second fires, but misses, and the Cavalier wounds him with a stroke of his sword. Then he fights his way through the others who have caught up, and dashes on. The enemy follow with sword and match-lock gun. They are almost on him when he reaches Salisbury gate. One long leap by the faithful chestnut steed, and he is safe within the town, leaving the Roundheads baffled of their prey.

The Cavalier calls them the "canting band" because the Roundheads were supposed to be religious zealots, and fond of cant and hypocrisy from the standpoint of the dashing Cavaliers.

The Cavalier's Escape

by Walter Thornbury

Trample! trample! went the roan,

Trap! trap! went the gray;

But pad! pad! PAD! like a thing that was mad,

My chestnut broke away.

It was just five miles from Salisbury town,

And but one hour to day.

Thud! THUD! came on the heavy roan,

Rap! RAP! the mettled gray;

But my chestnut mare was of blood so rare,

That she showed them all the way.

Spur on! spur on!—I doffed my hat,

And wished them all good-day.

They splashed through miry rut and pool,—

Splintered through fence and rail;

But chestnut Kate switched over the gate,

I saw them droop and tail.

To Salisbury town—but a mile of down,

Once over this brook and rail.

Trap! trap! I heard their echoing hoofs

Past the walls of mossy stone;

The roan flew on at a staggering pace,

But blood is better than bone.

I patted old Kate, and gave her the spur,

For I knew it was all my own.

But trample! trample! came their steeds,

And I saw their wolf's eyes burn;

I felt like a royal hart at bay,

And made me ready to turn.

I looked where highest grew the May,

And deepest arched the fern.

I flew at the first knave's sallow throat;

One blow, and he was down.

The second rogue fired twice, and missed;

I sliced the villain's crown—

Clove through the rest, and flogged brave Kate,

Fast, fast to Salisbury town!

Pad! pad! they came on the level sward,

Thud! thud! upon the sand,—

With a gleam of swords, and a burning match,

And a shaking of flag and hand;

But one long bound, and I passed the gate,

Safe from the canting band.

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