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

How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

T HERE is no actual incident in history such as that described in this poem, but such an adventure might very easily have taken place during one of the wars in the Netherlands. Three riders set out from the city of Ghent, which is in the country now called Belgium, to carry certain news to the town of Aix, in Rhenish Prussia. This news, if it reaches Aix in time, will save that town. The distance to be covered is over a hundred miles.

The three riders, Joris, Dirck, and the one who tells the story, set off from Ghent at full speed, as the moon is setting. The watch opens the city gate, and they gallop out, and race neck and neck mile after mile. Dawn comes as they ride through the towns of Lokeren and Boom and Düffeld. At Mecheln they hear the clock chime. The sun rises at Aerschot. As they near Hasselt Dirck's horse staggers and falls. The other two race on past Looz and Tongres.

As they reach Dalhem Joris cries, "Aix is in sight!" but his roan drops; and the man on Roland is left alone to carry the message. He throws off his coat, and boots, and belt, and urges Roland on. At last they reach Aix, and the noble horse, the hero of the ride, falls as the people crowd about him. The rider, with Roland's head resting between his knees, pours down his steed's throat the last measure of wine left in Aix. The "good news" had arrived in time to save the city.

How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

by Robert Browning

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,

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 Aerschot, 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 sung, any noise, bad or good,

Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.

And all I remember is friends flocking round,

As I sate 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.

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