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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Peace On Earth

By James A. Baldwin
Illustrated by John Baldwin

The Magpie, Spring 1940, v. 24, n. 2, p. 45.

IT was a dreary snowy day in December. It was the kind of day that makes a fellow wish he had never been born. The sky was overcast and ominous. As far as the eye could see, the earth was covered with a heavy white blanket.

The day was still and quiet, and to us in the dugout it was oppressive. It made us think of peace, of homes, of Christmas chimes ringing through the air. And when one is at the front fighting for one's country, it is no time to be thinking of home.

I looked about me. There were four of us in the dugout. Stan, Pete, and I, Scotty, were three negro boys. Johnny, the youngest and most religious of us, was white. We were four pals. We had gone to school together. We came from the same town, and loved each other. We loved peace. The only reason we were fighting was that we had been drafted. We had not chosen to murder human beings whom we had never seen before.

I looked at Stan. He was the largest of us all. He was writing a letter to the girl whom he had intended to marry, had the war not intervened. Stan does not belong here. He does not hate anyone, and it is impossible to hate Stan.

"How do you spell indomitable?" he inquires. I tell him and return to my observation of my comrades. There were Johnny, and Peter—commonly called Pete. Johnny not only possesses salvation, but he also is a minister. He is friendly, lovable, and Christ-like. We call him the "Little Minister."

Pete is the joker. Everything he says begins or ends with a wise-crack. His sense of humor is superb. He had kept us laughing all the way to the front, much to the displeasure of Johnny who deplored such Laodicean looseness in saved young men.

"We who follow Christ must lift up a standard," he rebuked us. Of course, we knew that, but we figured that we were young and we couldn't be like Johnny anyhow. He was so reserved, so pure, so powerful. When Johnny preached, you felt something stir within you and you longed to break the prison walls of flesh and reach out and grasp more of God. But we hadn't heard Johnny preach now in a long time. We were not so fervent as we had been, and we served God with less ardour.

I may remark, in passing, that Stan, Pete, Johnny and I were part of that much ridiculed class of people known as "Holy-Rollers." We believed in life after death.

We also believed, and told anyone who would listen (and many who would not), that the only way to obtain everlasting life was to please God in this present world, that the only way to please Him was to lay aside all sin and worldliness and consecrate your life to Him. That the only way to be entirely consecrated was to possess His Holy Spirit. That dancing, smoking, gossiping, moviegoing, and living loosely all came under the heading of sin. In short, that all unrighteousness was sin and a stench in God's nostrils, and unless those things were laid aside their life after death would be very unpleasant. The world indignantly denounced us as mental detectives and Puritans, laughed us to scorn, and consigned us to Hell.

"Do we fight today?" I asked. Johnny, who had been asleep, stirred. "I don't think so," he said.

"I hope not," said Peter, seriously. "But they may need us."

"Lord," I groaned. "Why'd they have to draft us?"

"God only knows," said Johnny.

A pause——————Johnny looked at Stan.

"How's Elaine?" he asked.

"She's O.K." Stan said cautiously—knowing what was coming

"Tell her not to worry," I said. "Tell her we'll be all right."

"She's not worried about us anyhow," Peter observed. "She's only uneasy about her da-r-rling Sta-a-a-n." (With an unbearable feminine purr.)

"Elaine's a very nice girl," began Johnny.

"She's a beauty," said Pete. "Did you ever notice her resemblance to a good drayhorse?"

"Peter" From Johnny.

Stan drew up to his full height. "You duel with me at dawn," he said in the Southern manner. "Choose your weapon."

"My trusty swords" said Pete dramatically.

"Very well, I shall use my .45," said Stan calmly.

"We'd better dig Pete's grave now, then," said Johnny. "It will save time later.

"What kind of flowers do you like, old man?" I inquired solicitously of Pete. "Roses, violets, chrysanthemums?"

"I don't like Powers," said Peter, with dignity. "Smelly things."

A young fellow from a neighboring dugout clattered down the steps.

"You'd better be prepared for anything," he said. "Things are getting worse. We're liable to go up."

"O.K.," said Johnny. "Thanks." And when the boy left, we were silent and could not face each other's eyes...

It was night. Stan was lying face downward on his bunk. Johnny was seated near him. On his lap was a Bible open at the Ninety-first Psalm. Johnny read "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

O, Lord, I thought, help me always to dwell in Thy secret place.

Screams, bullets, shells—far away the noise of battle. The voice went on

"I will say of the Lord—."

Somewhere a man was screaming—"in Him will I trust." I trust you, Lord—help me trust you—.

"Thou shalt not be afraid"—in the darkness—the danger—your comrade's arm about you—your head against his shoulder—thou shalt not be afraid—

"For He shall—keep thee—"

Yes, Lord. Keep me, O God; the world is wicked. Keep me from falling—

"He hath known my name—"

Salt on my cheeks—drops on my hand—Pete's shoulder wobbled, trembled—the voice faltered

"I will be with him—"

Peace like a river. Joy like a flood. I will be with him—always—always—even to the end of the world.

"I will deliver him—"

I will deliver him—death, misery, war, hatred—Why, O, Lord?—

Because they are not delivered, the people of the earth walk in darkness—O, Lord. Darkness shall cover the earth—

An explosion, very near. The dugout quivered. Peter broke away.

"I'm going to see what's wrong," he said. And he ran up the steps, and stood on the second from the top, peering.

A blinding glare. A sudden crash. Peter lax and awry, rolling down the steps.

"Oh, God!" Stan shrieked. "Oh, God!"

Johnny ran to where he lay, at the foot of the steps—washed in scarlet moonlight.

"Pete!" he said, gently. "Pete!" No breathing, no heartbeat. On his eyelids the shadow of death.

Stan and I knelt beside him—and knew that Pete was gone.

"Pete—old man," we choked.

A young fellow from a neighboring dugout clattered down the steps.

"You're ordered out," he told us.

* * * *

The day was cold and dreary. As far as I could see the earth was dressed in white. Somewhere on that long expanse of snow there is a small cross, and under it lies the best comrade a man ever had—Peter.

"Stan," I asked miserably, "why is there no peace on earth? Christ came to bring peace."

"Until men receive Christ in their hearts," Stan said, "there can be no peace on earth."

But to Johnny, seated silently on his bunk, appeared a greater vision than to us. For Johnny knew that Christ would never be recognized until the sky cracked and the earth trembled with the power and the glory of His return.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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