Cadet Grey - Canto II

written by

« Reload image


Where West Point crouches, and with lifted shield
  Turns the whole river eastward through the pass;
Whose jutting crags, half silver, stand revealed
  Like bossy bucklers of Leonidas;
Where buttressed low against the storms that wield
  Their summer lightnings where her eaglets swarm,
By Freedom's cradle Nature's self has steeled
  Her heart, like Winkelried, and to that storm
  Of leveled lances bares her bosom warm.


But not to-night.  The air and woods are still,
  The faintest rustle in the trees below,
The lowest tremor from the mountain rill,
  Come to the ear as but the trailing flow
Of spirit robes that walk unseen the hill;
  The moon low sailing o'er the upland farm,
The moon low sailing where the waters fill
  The lozenge lake, beside the banks of balm,
  Gleams like a chevron on the river's arm.


All space breathes languor: from the hilltop high,
  Where Putnam's bastion crumbles in the past,
To swooning depths where drowsy cannon lie
  And wide-mouthed mortars gape in slumbers vast;
Stroke upon stroke, the far oars glance and die
  On the hushed bosom of the sleeping stream;
Bright for one moment drifts a white sail by,
  Bright for one moment shows a bayonet gleam
  Far on the level plain, then passes as a dream.


Soft down the line of darkened battlements,
  Bright on each lattice of the barrack walls,
Where the low arching sallyport indents,
  Seen through its gloom beyond, the moonbeam falls.
All is repose save where the camping tents
  Mock the white gravestones farther on, where sound
No morning guns for reveille, nor whence
  No drum-beat calls retreat, but still is ever found
  Waiting and present on each sentry's round.


Within the camp they lie, the young, the brave,
  Half knight, half schoolboy, acolytes of fame,
Pledged to one altar, and perchance one grave;
  Bred to fear nothing but reproach and blame,
Ascetic dandies o'er whom vestals rave,
  Clean-limbed young Spartans, disciplined young elves,
Taught to destroy, that they may live to save,
  Students embattled, soldiers at their shelves,
  Heroes whose conquests are at first themselves.


Within the camp they lie, in dreams are freed
  From the grim discipline they learn to love;
In dreams no more the sentry's challenge heed,
  In dreams afar beyond their pickets rove;
One treads once more the piny paths that lead
  To his green mountain home, and pausing hears
The cattle call; one treads the tangled weed
  Of slippery rocks beside Atlantic piers;
  One smiles in sleep, one wakens wet with tears.


One scents the breath of jasmine flowers that twine
  The pillared porches of his Southern home;
One hears the coo of pigeons in the pine
  Of Western woods where he was wont to roam;
One sees the sunset fire the distant line
  Where the long prairie sweeps its levels down;
One treads the snow-peaks; one by lamps that shine
  Down the broad highways of the sea-girt town;
  And two are missing,--Cadets Grey and Brown!


Much as I grieve to chronicle the fact,
  That selfsame truant known as "Cadet Grey"
Was the young hero of our moral tract,
  Shorn of his twofold names on entrance-day.
"Winthrop" and "Adams" dropped in that one act
  Of martial curtness, and the roll-call thinned
Of his ancestors, he with youthful tact
  Indulgence claimed, since Winthrop no more sinned,
Nor sainted Adams winced when he, plain Grey, was "skinned."


He had known trials since we saw him last,
  By sheer good luck had just escaped rejection,
Not for his learning, but that it was cast
  In a spare frame scarce fit for drill inspection;
But when he ope'd his lips a stream so vast
  Of information flooded each professor,
They quite forgot his eyeglass,--something past
  All precedent,--accepting the transgressor,
  Weak eyes and all of which he was possessor.


E'en the first day he touched a blackboard's space--
  So the tradition of his glory lingers--
Two wise professors fainted, each with face
  White as the chalk within his rapid fingers:
All day he ciphered, at such frantic pace,
  His form was hid in chalk precipitation
Of every problem, till they said his case
  Could meet from them no fair examination
  Till Congress made a new appropriation.


Famous in molecules, he demonstrated
  From the mess hash to many a listening classful;
Great as a botanist, he separated
  Three kinds of "Mentha" in one julep's glassful;
High in astronomy, it has been stated
  He was the first at West Point to discover
Mars' missing satellites, and calculated
  Their true positions, not the heavens over,
  But 'neath the window of Miss Kitty Rover.


Indeed, I fear this novelty celestial
  That very night was visible and clear;
At least two youths of aspect most terrestrial,
  And clad in uniform, were loitering near
A villa's casement, where a gentle vestal
  Took their impatience somewhat patiently,
Knowing the youths were somewhat green and "bestial"--
  (A certain slang of the Academy,
  I beg the reader won't refer to me).


For when they ceased their ardent strain, Miss Kitty
  Glowed not with anger nor a kindred flame,
But rather flushed with an odd sort of pity,
  Half matron's kindness, and half coquette's shame;
Proud yet quite blameful, when she heard their ditty
  She gave her soul poetical expression,
And being clever too, as she was pretty,
  From her high casement warbled this confession,--
  Half provocation and one half repression:--


Not yet, O friend, not yet! the patient stars
Lean from their lattices, content to wait.
All is illusion till the morning bars
Slip from the levels of the Eastern gate.
Night is too young, O friend! day is too near;
Wait for the day that maketh all things clear.
  Not yet, O friend, not yet!

Not yet, O love, not yet! all is not true,
All is not ever as it seemeth now.
Soon shall the river take another blue,
Soon dies yon light upon the mountain brow.
What lieth dark, O love, bright day will fill;
Wait for thy morning, be it good or ill.
  Not yet, O love, not yet!


The strain was finished; softly as the night
  Her voice died from the window, yet e'en then
Fluttered and fell likewise a kerchief white;
  But that no doubt was accident, for when
She sought her couch she deemed her conduct quite
  Beyond the reach of scandalous commenter,--
Washing her hands of either gallant wight,
  Knowing the moralist might compliment her,--
  Thus voicing Siren with the words of Mentor.


She little knew the youths below, who straight
  Dived for her kerchief, and quite overlooked
The pregnant moral she would inculcate;
  Nor dreamed the less how little Winthrop brooked
Her right to doubt his soul's maturer state.
  Brown--who was Western, amiable, and new--
Might take the moral and accept his fate;
  The which he did, but, being stronger too,
  Took the white kerchief, also, as his due.


They did not quarrel, which no doubt seemed queer
  To those who knew not how their friendship blended;
Each was opposed, and each the other's peer,
  Yet each the other in some things transcended.
Where Brown lacked culture, brains,--and oft, I fear,
  Cash in his pocket,--Grey of course supplied him;
Where Grey lacked frankness, force, and faith sincere,
  Brown of his manhood suffered none to chide him,
  But in his faults stood manfully beside him.


In academic walks and studies grave,
  In the camp drill and martial occupation,
They helped each other: but just here I crave
  Space for the reader's full imagination,--
The fact is patent, Grey became a slave!
  A tool, a fag, a "pleb"!  To state it plainer,
All that blue blood and ancestry e'er gave
  Cleaned guns, brought water!--was, in fact, retainer
  To Jones, whose uncle was a paper-stainer!


How they bore this at home I cannot say:
  I only know so runs the gossip's tale.
It chanced one day that the paternal Grey
  Came to West Point that he himself might hail
The future hero in some proper way
  Consistent with his lineage.  With him came
A judge, a poet, and a brave array
  Of aunts and uncles, bearing each a name,
  Eyeglass and respirator with the same.


"Observe!" quoth Grey the elder to his friends,
  "Not in these giddy youths at baseball playing
You'll notice Winthrop Adams!  Greater ends
  Than these absorb HIS leisure.  No doubt straying
With Caesar's Commentaries, he attends
  Some Roman council.  Let us ask, however,
Yon grimy urchin, who my soul offends
  By wheeling offal, if he will endeavor
  To find--  What! heaven!  Winthrop!  Oh! no! never!"


Alas! too true!  The last of all the Greys
  Was "doing police detail,"--it had come
To this; in vain the rare historic bays
  That crowned the pictured Puritans at home!
And yet 'twas certain that in grosser ways
  Of health and physique he was quite improving.
Straighter he stood, and had achieved some praise
  In other exercise, much more behooving
  A soldier's taste than merely dirt removing.


But to resume: we left the youthful pair,
  Some stanzas back, before a lady's bower;
'Tis to be hoped they were no longer there,
  For stars were pointing to the morning hour.
Their escapade discovered, ill 'twould fare
  With our two heroes, derelict of orders;
But, like the ghost, they "scent the morning air,"
  And back again they steal across the borders,
  Unseen, unheeded, by their martial warders.


They got to bed with speed: young Grey to dream
  Of some vague future with a general's star,
And Mistress Kitty basking in its gleam;
  While Brown, content to worship her afar,
Dreamed himself dying by some lonely stream,
  Having snatched Kitty from eighteen Nez Perces,
Till a far bugle, with the morning beam,
  In his dull ear its fateful song rehearses,
  Which Winthrop Adams after put to verses.


So passed three years of their novitiate,
  The first real boyhood Grey had ever known.
His youth ran clear,--not choked like his Cochituate,
  In civic pipes, but free and pure alone;
Yet knew repression, could himself habituate
  To having mind and body well rubbed down,
Could read himself in others, and could situate
  Themselves in him,--except, I grieve to own,
  He couldn't see what Kitty saw in Brown!


At last came graduation; Brown received
  In the One Hundredth Cavalry commission;
Then frolic, flirting, parting,--when none grieved
  Save Brown, who loved our young Academician.
And Grey, who felt his friend was still deceived
  By Mistress Kitty, who with other beauties
Graced the occasion, and it was believed
  Had promised Brown that when he could recruit his
  Promised command, she'd share with him those duties.


Howe'er this was I know not; all I know,
  The night was June's, the moon rode high and clear;
"'Twas such a night as this," three years ago,
  Miss Kitty sang the song that two might hear.
There is a walk where trees o'erarching grow,
  Too wide for one, not wide enough for three
(A fact precluding any plural beau),
  Which quite explained Miss Kitty's company,
  But not why Grey that favored one should be.


There is a spring, whose limpid waters hide
  Somewhere within the shadows of that path
Called Kosciusko's.  There two figures bide,--
  Grey and Miss Kitty.  Surely Nature hath
No fairer mirror for a might-be bride
  Than this same pool that caught our gentle belle
To its dark heart one moment.  At her side
  Grey bent.  A something trembled o'er the well,
  Bright, spherical--a tear?  Ah no! a button fell!


"Material minds might think that gravitation,"
  Quoth Grey, "drew yon metallic spheroid down.
The soul poetic views the situation
  Fraught with more meaning.  When thy girlish crown
Was mirrored there, there was disintegration
  Of me, and all my spirit moved to you,
Taking the form of slow precipitation!"
  But here came "Taps," a start, a smile, adieu!
  A blush, a sigh, and end of Canto II.


Fades the light,
  And afar
Goeth day, cometh night;
  And a star
  Leadeth all,
  Speedeth all
  To their rest!

Love, good-night!
  Must thou go
  When the day
And the light
  Need thee so,--
Needeth all,
Heedeth all,
  That is best?

© Francis Bret Harte