And then Jimmie met a Frenchman, who had been a waiter in a Chicago hotel, and now was bossing a gang of wire-haired Korean labourers. Jimmie had thought he knew all the races of the earth in the shops and mills and mines of America; but here he heard of new kinds of men—Annamese and Siamese, Pathans and Sikhs, Madagascans and Abyssinians and Algerians. All the British empire was here, and all the French colonies. There were Portuguese and Brazilians and West Indians, bushmen from Australia and Zulus from South Africa; and these not having proven enough, America was now pouring out the partly melted contents of her pot—Hawaiians and Porto Ricans, Filipinos and “spiggoties”, Eskimos from Alaska, Chinamen from San Francisco, Sioux from Dakota, and plain black plantation niggers from Louisiana and Alabama! Jimmie saw a gang of these latter mending a track which had been blown out of place by a bomb from an aeroplane; their black skins shining with sweat, their white teeth shining with good-nature as they swung their heavy crow-bars, a long row of them moving like a machine chanting to keep in unison, “Altogether—heave!” the officer would call, and the line would swing into motion—
“Get a mule!
An’ a jack!
Put the hump!
In yo’ back—”
For nearly four years Jimmie had been reading about France, and now he was here, and could see the sights with his own eyes. People with wooden shoes, for example! It was worth coming across the seas to see women and kids going clatter, clatter along the cobbled streets. And the funny little railroad-coaches, with rows of doors like rabbit-pens. It was a satisfaction to notice that the train had a real man-sized engine, with U.S.A. painted thereon. Jimmie owned a share in that engine, and experienced Socialistic thrills as he rode behind it.
He had got separated from his “unit”, thanks to the submarine and the sojourn in the hospital. They had given him a pass, with orders to proceed to a certain town, travelling on a certain train. Now Jimmie sat looking out of the window, as happy as a boy out of school. A beautiful country, the fresh green glory of spring everywhereupon it; broad, straight military highways lined with poplars, and stone houses with queer steep roofs, and old men and women and children toiling in the fields.
Jimmie chattered with the men in the compartment, soldiers and workers, each a cog in the big machine, each bound upon some important errand. Each had news to tell—tales of the fighting, or of the progress of preparation. For more than a year now America had been getting ready, and here, in the most desperate crisis of the war, what was she going to do? Everybody was on tip-toe with excitement, with impatience to get into the scrap, to make good in the work upon which his soul was set.