It was a Sergeant old and gray,
Well singed and bronzed from siege and pillage,
Went tramping in an army’s wake,
Along the turnpike of the village.
For days and nights the winding host
Had through the little place been marching,
And ever loud the rustics cheered,
Till ev'ry throat was hoarse and parching.
The squire and farmer, maid and dame,
All took the sight’s electric stirring,
And hats were waved, and staves were sung,
And 'kerchiefs white were countless whirling.
They only saw a gallant show
Of heroes stalwart under banners,
And, in the fierce heroic glow,
’Twas theirs to yield but wild hosannas.
The sergeant heard the shrill hurrahs,
Where he behind in step was keeping;
But glancing down beside the road,
He saw a little maid sit weeping.
"And how is this?" he gruffly said,
A moment pausing to regard her;
"Why weepest thou, my little chit?"
And then she only cried the harder.
"And how is this, my little chit?"
The sturdy trooper straight repeated,—
"When all the village cheers us on,
That you, in tears, apart are seated?
"We march two hundred thousand strong!
And that ’s a sight, my baby beauty,
To quicken silence into song,
And glorify the soldier’s duty."
"It’s very, very grand, I know,"
The little maid gave soft replying;
"And father, mother, brother, too,
All say ‘hurrah’ while I am crying.
"But think—O Mr. Soldier, think,
How many little sisters’ brothers
Are going all away to fight,
And may be killed, as well as others!"
"Why, bless thee, child," the sergeant said,
His brawny hand her curls caressing,
"’Tis left for little ones like you
To find that war’s not all a blessing."
And "bless thee!" once again he cried;
Then cleared his throat and looked indignant,
And marched away with wrinkled brow
To stop the struggling tear benignant.
And still the ringing shouts went up
From doorway, thatch, and fields of tillage;
The pall behind the standard seen
By one alone, of all the village.
The oak and cedar bend and writhe
When roars the wind through the gap and braken;
But 'tis the tenderest reed of all
That trembles first when earth is shaken.