Us Angry-Saxyums

THE long train slowed down. A station-agent rushed a brown manila envelope into a grasping hand extended from the baggage-car doorway, and the engine recovered speed.

Mistaking it for the local I was expecting, I swung onto a car platform, to find myself a stowaway on a troop train which would not stop again until it reached Chicago.

The car bulged with olive-drab uniforms. The aisles were piled with kitbags. Boys sat on the seats, on the backs and arms of the seats, on each other, and on submerged luggage in the aisle. There were hundreds of boys on that train.

As those at the door ' squeezed up a bit to make room for me in the car (the air on the platform was keen), I felt the onrush of words and the chuckle of throaty laughter. The place was charged with compressed volumes of energy.

It came to me as a second thought that the boys, as well as their uniforms, were khaki. It was the Eighth Illinois, Chicago’s colored regiment, going to the war. Erect and lithe, with no slouching or shambling, they were being rushed to conclusions because, for the most part, they themselves had chosen that it should be so.

How they loved the uniform! and i’ faith, it liked them well! Their brown skins toned with the olive-drab as though a French water-colorist had planned it. The black accent of hair, and the high light of eyes, were but touches of artistic value.

Suddenly, at the far end of the car, voices rose above the rumble demanding ' Babe.’ The whole car echoed the demand: everybody wanted ‘Babe.’

In response, a huge tobacco-colored fellow, big of girth and over six feet in height, struggled into a space before the door. Those nearby juggled bags and cases to make room for his feet, so that he might plant them wide apart for balance.

Like a Colossus, like a Hindoo idol, like a bronze statue of Liberty, he waited, his wide mouth puckered, his head held high, the eyes alert like those of a hound listening for the starter’s whistle.

‘Show us de way, Babe,’ urged the car. ‘It’s all dark. Show us de way.’

Babe’s mouth smoothed out and curved into a jack-o’-lantern smile.

‘My sangwiches ain’t matematicated and mecademized for to show you — all de way,’ he answered modestly.

Then came the ping of inspiration. Someone called down the aisle, ‘Whar yo gwine, Babe?’

A voice flared through the car — a voice trained to camp-meeting eloquence.

‘Whar we-all gwine? We’se gwine to France! Whuffur is we-all gwine to France? We’se gwine to France to fight — to fight for Libbutty; to fight for de women an’ de lil chillen; to fight fo’ de honnah ob de Unitum States; an fur de Glory! Ebery one on us bleeged to bring somepin’ back home wid us fur to make de Glory out en — de Glory ob de Unitum States.’

‘Huh,’ whined a conscientious objector, ‘ what has de United States ever done fur we-all?’

Like a war-horse who saith with the trumpet, ‘Ah, ha!’ Job lambasted his questioner.

‘Whar was we-all when de Unitum States was born? Wha’ kine o’ close was we a wearin’ den? Huh? Nothin’ but sunshine! Wha’ kine o’ close we got on now? De uniform ob de Unitum States. Ain’t no sogers in de hul army whar look puttier dan we does.’

‘Yah! but how is we been treated in de past?’ persisted the tormentor.

‘Man, dis ain’t de past. Wake up! De pas’ is pas’. Forgit it. De Unitum States say we kin show what we kin do fur freedom. Dey gin freedom to us once. We is gwine hab de same chance as de white folks is. We has de same uniform and de same grub and de same pay. We’s gwine hab colored officers and our own camp.’

‘ Whuf fur dey put us in a separate camp? Dey ought n’t be no descrimination in de army,’ protested some one.

‘ What you talkin’ about — no ’scrimination in de army, you lil black baby boy? Ain’t you know dey ain’t nuffin but ’scrimination in de army? Dat’s de way armies is built. If you gits to be corporal and I ain’t, right dar’s whar ’scrimination gwine come in. And, anyway, whuffur you want white folks snufflin’ round yo’ camp? You listen yer. Every lumberjack whar go to France gwine tote somepin’ wif him whar ain’t in his ole kit-bag. Dat am his disposition. Eberywhar you go, you gwine tote yo’ disposition. An’ when it am cold an’ measly, an’ when de captain he gits biggoty, an’ when de grub gits scorched, den when yo’ disposition gwine show right fru de uniform. Whuffur you want er white man a lambastin’ roun’ de camp den? No, suh! not for Babe. When you fru wid a hard day’s fightin’ an’ you come er limpin’ back to camp, both hands full an’ yo’ nose er running, an’ yo’ set down on er log er wood, an’ maybe de cook lem you have a bucket o’ hot water an’ a whuff o’ mustard in, an’ you untwis’ an’ untwine your foots an’ plump ’em into dat bucket an’, my landy! how de comfort soaks fru you! You lights your briar an’ — right den comes erlong a white man. “Yer, you nigger,’ he say, “you take your huffs out’n dat bowl o’ bran mash an’ you gif it to me"; an’ he totes dat bucket erway fur to comfort hisself.’

‘ Not my bucket he won’t tote away!’ asseverated Bildad the Shuhite.

‘Den you an’ dat white man gwine have what de matches got on ’em — friction. No, sah! I don’t want no camp ’cepen’ jes’ only one whar my color am in style! ’

Someone shunted Babe back onto the main track by asking, ‘What-all is you gwine do fur to make de glory ob de United States, when you gits to France, Babe?’

‘Me? What I gwine do? When I gits to France, — you know, when I gits to France, I’s gwine walk right out into No Man’s Land, and I’s gwine call ober, “Mistah Kaisah! Mistah Bill Kaisah, you come yer!” An’ when he come yer, I’s gwine put my hand on his shoulder an’ I’s gwine scrooch down and look in his lil face and I’s gwine say, “Mistah Kaisah, yoday am come! You ’se been er-messin’ roun’ long enough, spokin’ de wheels in de factory an’ pullin’ up de gyarden sass, an’ rattlin’ on de palin’s ob de fence, an’ — an’ hurtin’ lil chillums — big man lik’ you! hurtin’ lil chillums! Mistah President Wilson, he done sont de black folks ob de Unitum States way ober yer to France to tote a message to you. You ain’t de boss of de yarf an’ we-all ain’t gwine be your slaves. Git dat? No, sah!” Dat’s what-all I’s gwine take home fur to make de glory out’n. Bigger dan lickin’ de whole German army. I’s gwine let daylight into de nut ob de Kaisah. You jus’wait, Mistah Kaisah. You ain’t seed any one fight yit. You wait till us Angry-Saxyums git to France — Yo’ day am come !

‘Chicago!’ suggested the brakeman at the other end of the car, which instantly resolved itself into its component parts.