Bill Meilen
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Prairie Reverie

Resting in sunshine
Restores warmth within the bones
Revives the spirit.

The sweetgrass bank along the railway siding served as a sweet-smelling solarium. Men were spread the length of the train’s shadowy northern side, making the most of the shade, while some soaked up the sun’s rays. Some wore handkerchiefs as improvised sun-shades.

A group of legionnaires had rigged a low tent with blankets and broomhandles, and were playing boulet in its shadow. In the lee of the second coach, a thickset Bohemian with sweat-plastered hair played an accordion for a folksong. Lying in the perfumed grass, watching grasshoppers whirr in the sunlight, Rudi sang it softly to himself... “Mariandl-andl-andl. . .Aus dem Wachauerlandl-landl. . .Dein lieber Name klingt schon wie ein liebes Wort. . .Oh Mariandl-andl-andl! Du setzt mein Herz am bandl-bandl. . . .”

A trio of other singers joined him in harmony with the old mountain song, one yodelling like a past master.

Suddenly a wail of bagpipes rent the air from where the swimming party was parading with towels under their arms, properly dressed, with caps at the correct angle. The quartet of singers and the accordionist watched the red-faced R.S.M. strut by, rivering sweat, his starched shirt soaked from the very effort of moving.

“Prisoners, atten-hun!” they heard him bellow. The accordionist lowered his instrument and raised his bowed head from the harmony as the ranks of hot swimmers came to attention in unison. “By the front, quick march!” yelled Campbell, leading the parade, and swung away along the side of a wheatfield followed by a hundred men in four platoons, marching to ‘Scotland the Brave.’

“There go the Ladies from Hell,” wisecracked the accordionist, as the strains of the pibroch died away over the hill. Soon the harmonisers were singing tenor and bass. “Du kannst nicht treu sein, nein, nein, das kannst du nicht—wenn auf dein mund mir waren Liebe verspricht.”

Rudi sang the old drinking song with gusto, thinking about a cool stein of beer. When the song ended the two companion singers left for a swim.

Rudi lit up a Black Cat cigarette and looked at the short thick accordionist. “You seem very good with those old-time melodies, amigo. Somehow you make them really touch the heart, which takes a special skill, so I am making a guess that you must be a professional musician.”

“Don’t tell anyone—but it’s just a touch of the old Tzigeuner rubrato, learned from the Roma.”