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Poem by Henry Newbolt


Riding at dawn, riding alone,
  Gillespie left the town behind;
Before he turned by the Westward road
  A horseman crossed him, staggering blind.

"The Devil's abroad in false Vellore,
  The Devil that stabs by night," he said,
"Women and children, rank and file,
  Dying and dead, dying and dead."

Without a word, without a groan,
  Sudden and swift Gillespie turned,
The blood roared in his ears like fire,
  Like fire the road beneath him burned.

He thundered back to Arcot gate,
  He thundered up through Arcot town,
Before he thought a second thought
  In the barrack yard he lighted down.

"Trumpeter, sound for the Light Dragoons,
  Sound to saddle and spur," he said;
"He that is ready may ride with me,
  And he that can may ride ahead."

Fierce and fain, fierce and fain,
  Behind him went the troopers grim,
They rode as ride the Light Dragoons
  But never a man could ride with him.

Their rowels ripped their horses' sides,
  Their hearts were red with a deeper goad,
But ever alone before them all
  Gillespie rode, Gillespie rode.

Alone he came to false Vellore,
  The walls were lined, the gates were barred;
Alone he walked where the bullets bit,
  And called above to the Sergeant's Guard.

"Sergeant, Sergeant, over the gate,
  Where are your officers all?" he said;
Heavily came the Sergeant's voice,
  "There are two living and forty dead."

"A rope, a rope," Gillespie cried :
  They bound their belts to serve his need.
There was not a rebel behind the wall
  But laid his barrel and drew his bead.

There was not a rebel among them all
  But pulled his trigger and cursed his aim,
For lightly swung and rightly swung
  Over the gate Gillespie came.

He dressed the line, he led the charge,
  They swept the wall like a stream in spate,
And roaring over the roar they heard
  The galloper guns that burst the gate.

Fierce and fain, fierce and fain,
  The troopers rode the reeking flight:
The very stones remember still
  The end of them that stab by night.

They've kept the tale a hundred years,
  They'll keep the tale a hundred more:
Riding at dawn, riding alone,
  Gillespie came to false Vellore.

Henry Newbolt

Henry Newbolt's other poems:
  1. The Quarter-Gunner's Yarn
  2. The Non-Combatant
  3. Northumberland
  4. Waggon Hill
  5. O Pulchritudo

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