A Night 'Somewhere in America'

There is a little factory town in the south central part of the State of New York, about fifteen miles north of the state line of Pennsylvania. I had counted 605 little red and blue stars on the huge white sign in front of the largest factory, and 204 on the service flag flying from the top of the other large factory, when I was informed that another quota of seventy men had been ordered to entrain for training-camps on the morrow.

That night when I went to bed, I knew that some of the good people of the little town would find sleep a tardy guest; but I hardly suspected that to me, too, sleep would be unknown, and that I was destined to experience one of the most thrilling nights of my life. The village was having a carnival, a musical carnival — such as I had read about only in books dealing with mediæval knights in the romantic countries of the Latins. There was music everywhere — mandolins, guitars, banjos, accordions; vocal solos and arias, duets, quartettes, and sextettes.

About one in the morning I was out on the porch, sharing in the pathetic enthusiasm of the village. The night was clear and starry. A cool northern breeze was blowing softly from across the hills, lifting up the quaint, wonderful music of the parading groups of young men, and wafting it to the porches of listening villagers, who accepted it as the thrilling farewell of men who had worked and lived with them, and who were about to offer their lives for the freedom they had all enjoyed together.

Several Italians passed me shouting, ‘Goode-bye,’ while beating out a sweetly melodious serenade on their mandolins and guitars. A young Russian, with an accordion slung across his body, was the centre of a group of Slavs. With wistful monotony he kept on playing, accompanied by half-adozen voices, a melancholy Russian folk-song. And far away, in the other streets, instruments and voices were sending their musical expression of souls, sorrowing, encouraging, and hoping, into the still night.

Slowly, very slowly, the black mists shielding the low hills to the north turned into gray; day was approaching quite visibly, until it broke — gloriously radiant. In the east the sun swam out, round and large and peaceful, and a hundred voices cheered it. A rich tenor voice suddenly struck up, in the most musical of all languages, a prayer to dawn, so weird and thrilling and infinitely sweet, that a hush fell over the town, and the hills seemed to reverberate and reëcho his marvelous melody — a hush which lasted even for some minutes after his last notes had died away; and it was hard to distinguish whether the moisture in the eyes of the good people sitting on the porches was the reflection of the morning dew or the reaction of the Italian’s song.

Then down below, at the foot of the hill, the newsdealer made his appearance. Instantly he was surrounded, and the headlines of his papers were translated into a half-dozen languages; and a great shout of joy went up to the sky. I bought a paper, and hurriedly read that the Franco-American forces had hurled the Germans back across the Marne, inflicting heavy losses, and taking thousands of prisoners. The crowd kept on cheering wildly, as if their own first victory were won. The sun was climbing upwards. It gave promise of a beautiful day. A young Greek passed me by, holding a newspaper in his hands. ’Good boys! he said, pointing to the headlines; verrry good worrk! ’ His eyes were glistening with tears.

Later in the day I saw these men depart for the camps — sturdy, tanfaced foreigners mostly, who had received this country’s warm hospitality and had never forgotten it.