Cadet Grey

A poem by Francis Bret Harte

Canto I

I

Act first, scene first. A study. Of a kind
Half cell, half salon, opulent yet grave;
Rare books, low-shelved, yet far above the mind
Of common man to compass or to crave;
Some slight relief of pamphlets that inclined
The soul at first to trifling, till, dismayed
By text and title, it drew back resigned,
Nor cared with levity to vex a shade
That to itself such perfect concord made.

II

Some thoughts like these perplexed the patriot brain
Of Jones, Lawgiver to the Commonwealth,
As on the threshold of this chaste domain
He paused expectant, and looked up in stealth
To darkened canvases that frowned amain,
With stern-eyed Puritans, who first began
To spread their roots in Georgius Primus’ reign,
Nor dropped till now, obedient to some plan,
Their century fruit, the perfect Boston man.

III

Somewhere within that Russia-scented gloom
A voice catarrhal thrilled the Member’s ear:
“Brief is our business, Jones. Look round this room!
Regard yon portraits! Read their meaning clear!
These much proclaim my station. I presume
You are our Congressman, before whose wit
And sober judgment shall the youth appear
Who for West Point is deemed most just and fit
To serve his country and to honor it.

IV

“Such is my son! Elsewhere perhaps ’twere wise
Trial competitive should guide your choice.
There are some people I can well surmise
Themselves must show their merits. History’s voice
Spares me that trouble: all desert that lies
In yonder ancestor of Queen Anne’s day,
Or yon grave Governor, is all my boy’s,
Reverts to him; entailed, as one might say;
In brief, result in Winthrop Adams Grey!”

V

He turned and laid his well-bred hand, and smiled,
On the cropped head of one who stood beside.
Ah me! in sooth it was no ruddy child
Nor brawny youth that thrilled the father’s pride;
’Twas but a Mind that somehow had beguiled
From soulless Matter processes that served
For speech and motion and digestion mild,
Content if all one moral purpose nerved,
Nor recked thereby its spine were somewhat curved.

VI

He was scarce eighteen. Yet ere he was eight
He had despoiled the classics; much he knew
Of Sanskrit; not that he placed undue weight
On this, but that it helped him with Hebrew,
His favorite tongue. He learned, alas! too late,
One can’t begin too early, would regret
That boyish whim to ascertain the state
Of Venus’ atmosphere made him forget
That philologic goal on which his soul was set.

VII

He too had traveled; at the age of ten
Found Paris empty, dull except for art
And accent. “Mabille” with its glories then
Less than Egyptian “Almees” touched a heart
Nothing if not pure classic. If some men
Thought him a prig, it vexed not his conceit,
But moved his pity, and ofttimes his pen,
The better to instruct them, through some sheet
Published in Boston, and signed “Beacon Street.”

VIII

From premises so plain the blind could see
But one deduction, and it came next day.
“In times like these, the very name of G.
Speaks volumes,” wrote the Honorable J.
“Inclosed please find appointment.” Presently
Came a reception to which Harvard lent
Fourteen professors, and, to give esprit,
The Liberal Club some eighteen ladies sent,
Five that spoke Greek, and thirteen sentiment.

IX

Four poets came who loved each other’s song,
And two philosophers, who thought that they
Were in most things impractical and wrong;
And two reformers, each in his own way
Peculiar, one who had waxed strong
On herbs and water, and such simple fare;
Two foreign lions, “Ram See” and “Chy Long,”
And several artists claimed attention there,
Based on the fact they had been snubbed elsewhere.

X

With this indorsement nothing now remained
But counsel, Godspeed, and some calm adieux;
No foolish tear the father’s eyelash stained,
And Winthrop’s cheek as guiltless shone of dew.
A slight publicity, such as obtained
In classic Rome, these few last hours attended.
The day arrived, the train and depot gained,
The mayor’s own presence this last act commended
The train moved off and here the first act ended.



CANTO II

I

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.

II

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.

III

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.

IV

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.

V

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.

VI

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.

VII

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!

VIII

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.”

IX

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.

X

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.

XI

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.

XII

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).

XIII

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

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!


XIV

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.

XV

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.

XVI

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.

XVII

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!

XVIII

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.

XIX

“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!”

XX

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.

XXI

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.

XXII

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.

XXIII

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!

XXIV

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.

XXV

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.

XXVI

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!

XXVII

“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.

Bugle Song

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?



Canto III

I

Where the sun sinks through leagues of arid sky,
Where the sun dies o’er leagues of arid plain,
Where the dead bones of wasted rivers lie,
Trailed from their channels in yon mountain chain;
Where day by day naught takes the wearied eye
But the low-rimming mountains, sharply based
On the dead levels, moving far or nigh,
As the sick vision wanders o’er the waste,
But ever day by day against the sunset traced:

II

There moving through a poisonous cloud that stings
With dust of alkali the trampling band
Of Indian ponies, ride on dusky wings
The red marauders of the Western land;
Heavy with spoil, they seek the trail that brings
Their flaunting lances to that sheltered bank
Where lie their lodges; and the river sings
Forgetful of the plain beyond, that drank
Its life blood, where the wasted caravan sank.

III

They brought with them the thief’s ignoble spoil,
The beggar’s dole, the greed of chiffonnier,
The scum of camps, the implements of toil
Snatched from dead hands, to rust as useless here;
All they could rake or glean from hut or soil
Piled their lean ponies, with the jackdaw’s greed
For vacant glitter. It were scarce a foil
To all this tinsel that one feathered reed
Bore on its barb two scalps that freshly bleed!

IV

They brought with them, alas! a wounded foe,
Bound hand and foot, yet nursed with cruel care,
Lest that in death he might escape one throe
They had decreed his living flesh should bear:
A youthful officer, by one foul blow
Of treachery surprised, yet fighting still
Amid his ambushed train, calm as the snow
Above him; hopeless, yet content to spill
His blood with theirs, and fighting but to kill.

V

He had fought nobly, and in that brief spell
Had won the awe of those rude border men
Who gathered round him, and beside him fell
In loyal faith and silence, save that when
By smoke embarrassed, and near sight as well,
He paused to wipe his eyeglass, and decide
Its nearer focus, there arose a yell
Of approbation, and Bob Barker cried,
“Wade in, Dundreary!” tossed his cap and died.

VI

Their sole survivor now! his captors bear
Him all unconscious, and beside the stream
Leave him to rest; meantime the squaws prepare
The stake for sacrifice: nor wakes a gleam
Of pity in those Furies’ eyes that glare
Expectant of the torture; yet alway
His steadfast spirit shines and mocks them there
With peace they know not, till at close of day
On his dull ear there thrills a whispered “Grey!”

VII

He starts! Was it a trick? Had angels kind
Touched with compassion some weak woman’s breast?
Such things he’d read of! Faintly to his mind
Came Pocahontas pleading for her guest.
But then, this voice, though soft, was still inclined
To baritone! A squaw in ragged gown
Stood near him, frowning hatred. Was he blind?
Whose eye was this beneath that beetling frown?
The frown was painted, but that wink meant Brown!

VIII

“Hush! for your life and mine! the thongs are cut,”
He whispers; “in yon thicket stands my horse.
One dash! I follow close, as if to glut
My own revenge, yet bar the others’ course.
Now!” And ’tis done. Grey speeds, Brown follows; but
Ere yet they reach the shade, Grey, fainting, reels,
Yet not before Brown’s circling arms close shut
His in, uplifting him! Anon he feels
A horse beneath him bound, and hears the rattling heels.

IX

Then rose a yell of baffled hate, and sprang
Headlong the savages in swift pursuit;
Though speed the fugitives, they hope to hang
Hot on their heels, like wolves, with tireless foot.
Long is the chase; Brown hears with inward pang
The short, hard panting of his gallant steed
Beneath its double burden; vainly rang
Both voice and spur. The heaving flanks may bleed,
Yet comes the sequel that they still must heed!

X

Brown saw it reined his steed; dismounting, stood
Calm and inflexible. “Old chap! you see
There is but one escape. You know it? Good!
There is one man to take it. You are he.
The horse won’t carry double. If he could,
’Twould but protract this bother. I shall stay:
I’ve business with these devils, they with me;
I will occupy them till you get away.
Hush! quick time, forward. There! God bless you, Grey!”

XI

But as he finished, Grey slipped to his feet,
Calm as his ancestors in voice and eye:
“You do forget yourself when you compete
With him whose right it is to stay and die:
That’s not your duty. Please regain your seat;
And take my orders since I rank you here!
Mount and rejoin your men, and my defeat
Report at quarters. Take this letter; ne’er
Give it to aught but her, nor let aught interfere.”

XII

And, shamed and blushing, Brown the letter took
Obediently and placed it in his pocket;
Then, drawing forth another, said, “I look
For death as you do, wherefore take this locket
And letter.” Here his comrade’s hand he shook
In silence. “Should we both together fall,
Some other man” but here all speech forsook
His lips, as ringing cheerily o’er all
He heard afar his own dear bugle-call!

XIII

’Twas his command and succor, but e’en then
Grey fainted, with poor Brown, who had forgot
He likewise had been wounded, and both men
Were picked up quite unconscious of their lot.
Long lay they in extremity, and when
They both grew stronger, and once more exchanged
Old vows and memories, one common “den”
In hospital was theirs, and free they ranged,
Awaiting orders, but no more estranged.

XIV

And yet ’twas strange nor can I end my tale
Without this moral, to be fair and just:
They never sought to know why each did fail
The prompt fulfillment of the other’s trust.
It was suggested they could not avail
Themselves of either letter, since they were
Duly dispatched to their address by mail
By Captain X., who knew Miss Rover fair
Now meant stout Mistress Bloggs of Blank Blank Square.

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