Fytte II: By Flood and Field
[A Legend of the Cotswold]
‘They have saddled a hundred milk-white steeds,
They have bridled a hundred black.—Old Ballad.
‘He turned in his saddle, now follow who dare,
I ride for my country, quoth . . .’—Lawrence.
I REMEMBER the lowering wintry morn,
And the mist on the Cotswold hills,
Where I once heard the blast of the huntsman’s horn,
Not far from the seven rills.
Jack Esdale was there, and Hugh St. Clair,
Bob Chapman and Andrew Kerr,
And big George Griffiths on Devil-May-Care,
And—black Tom Oliver.
And one who rode on a dark-brown steed,
Clean jointed, sinewy, spare,
With the lean game head of the Blacklock breed,
And the resolute eye that loves the lead,
And the quarters massive and square—
A tower of strength, with a promise of speed
(There was Celtic blood in the pair).
I remember how merry a start we got,
When the red fox broke from the gorse,
In a country so deep, with a scent so hot,
That the hound could outpace the horse ;
I remember how few in the front rank show’d,
How endless appeared the tail,
On the brown hill side, where we cross’d the road,
And headed towards the vale.
The dark-brown steed on the left was there,
On the right was a dappled grey,
And between the pair, on a chestnut mare,
The duffer who writes this lay.
What business had ‘this child’ there to ride ?
But little or none at all ;
Yet I held my own for a while in ‘the pride
That goeth before a fall.’
Though rashness can hope for but one result,
We are heedless when fate draws nigh us,
And the maxim holds good, ‘Quem perdere vult
Deus, dementat prius.’
The right hand man to the left hand said,
As down in the vale we went,
‘Harden your heart like a millstone, Ned,
And set your face as flint ;
Solid and tall is the rasping wall
That stretches before us yonder ;
You must have it at speed or not at all,
‘Twere better to halt than to ponder,
For the stream runs wide on the take-off side,
And washes the clay bank under ;
Here goes for a pull, ’tis a madman’s ride,
And a broken neck if you blunder.’
No word in reply his comrade spoke,
Nor waver’d nor once look’d round,
But I saw him shorten his horse’s stroke
As we splash’d through the marshy ground ;
I remember the laugh that all the while
On his quiet features play’d :—
So he rode to his death, with that careless smile,
In the van of the ‘Light Brigade’ ;
So stricken by Russian grape, the cheer
Rang out, while he toppled back,
From the shattered lungs as merry and clear
As it did when it roused the pack.
Let never a tear his memory stain,
Give his ashes never a sigh,
One of many who perished, NOT IN VAIN,
AS A TYPE OF OUR CHIVALRY—
I remember one thrust he gave to his hat,
And two to the flanks of the brown,
And still as a statue of old he sat,
And he shot to the front, hands down ;
I remember the snort and the stag-like bound
Of the steed six lengths to the fore,
And the laugh of the rider while, landing sound,
He turned in his saddle and glanced around ;
I remember—but little more,
Save a bird’s-eye gleam of the dashing stream
A jarring thud on the wall,
A shock and the blank of a nightmare’s dream—
I was down with a stunning fall.
Published in ‘Sea Spray and Smoke Drift’ (1867).