Brothers in Arms
A story of war’s aftermath and the loyalties by which a man measures his friends when friendship is more precious than gold
RODERICK STUART KENNEDY
STEPHEN GREENWOOD was cold and hungry, and very tired. The main floor of the big department store was gratefully warm, but the pungent aroma from the toilet-goods counters brought back the scene, earlier in the morning, when he had passed through on his way to see the employment manager— and passed out again.
They had no positions for accountants or bookkeepers; had waiting lists, in fact. His rather desperate suggestion about something in the packing rooms, delivery work, anything, had been met by a glance at his neat Melton overcoat, Derby hat, and well-polished shoes, by a decently sympathetic smile and by the same earnest assurance—there were dozens of men waiting for every job.
The department stores had been his last reserve. With
their multitudes of employees it had seemed as if there must be some job for him—an expert accountant, willing to do anything, even to nailing UR packing cases. But the other three big stores had given him the same reception; sympathetic but hopeless.
Now he had stepped into the first one again to get warm. Cold winds swirled through the slushy streets, and piles of grimy snow still lay in shady corners. Winter was hanging on to the last bitter gasp, and Stephen’s shoes and coat were not quite as serviceable as they appeared.
A man couldn’t starve in this country if he were willing to work. He had heard that often enough and believed it. Still, when a man with a family hadn’t got more than seventy-five cents in the world, and no jobs were going, and thousands of other men were looking for them—well, what could you do?
Fear stirred in the back of his mind; urgent, sickening fear. He went out quickly. He simply must get something, anything to do. Since his firm had gone under, leaving him and some hundred others stranded, he had steered clear of friends and acquaintances. But he’d have to pocket his pride. After all, it wouldn’t be so very unusual to ask Major Ewart for a job. They’d been together through a good many dirty months during the war; Ewart wouldn’t mind doing a bit of a favor for one of his old subalterns. He could not think of anyone else to whom he could
go with a reasonable chance of getting a job, though there must be a couple of thousand old 9th Battalion men knocking about the city. He was always running into them in unexpected places, but those he knew well were not men with jobs to give. He must try the major.
Walking quickly but carefully picking the driest spots, he made his way to the nearest downtown turning, where a big grey church stood isolated in its bedraggled grounds, looking over the busy corner sadly. It had been left behind, a misfit among the huge stores and clanging street cars. On its north side drifts of dirty snow remained heaped against the buttresses, and on the bordering path was a long queue of dingy men, hundreds of silent figures, motionless. As he passed, the line suddenly rippled forward for a few shuffling steps. The vestry door was opened to admit a few of those in front, and a few others came out, each with a meal ticket gripped in his hand.
Stephen had passed that line dozens of times during the winter, always with deep pity for the poor fellows who were so much worse off than he. But recently his feeling had changed somewhat, and now, as he watched them, it was with something more like envy.
"K/fAJOR EWART’S real estate business was large -*•*-*and important. So was the major. The city had grown since he had stepped into his father’s little office after the war, and the major had grown with it. The acting O.C. of the home town battalion had had many opportunities to expand his connection in those days, and he was not the man to waste them. Today he was usually referred to as a “leading citizen” or a “notable sportsman”, and his tall, straight figure, florid complexion and glittering smile suited both descriptions well.
But Stephen found the great open office a little intimidating. As he sat waiting, he realized that he hadn’t seen much of the major since the war and that the war was a long time ago; too long to be bridged by a few short chats.at restaurants and golf clubs, and mutual attendance at crowded reunion dinners.
He tried to reassure himself with the thought that Ewart was a good fellow, that he must have a hundred apartment houses, office buildings, and estates to look after, all with jobs attached, and would surely be glad to dig up something as a temporary favor.
The clerk came out, followed by Major Ewart.
“How do, Greenwood, haven’t seen you for some time. How’re things?” His smile and greeting were as jovial as ever, but his handshake lacked a trifle of its reunion warmth.
“How do, Major. I—er—dropped in to see if you could help me in a—er—little matter of business.” He was finding it more difficult than he expected. The only other time he had been there, in connection with some reunion accounts he was helping out with, the major had taken him into his own comfortable office. This standing up in the open, with two or three people within hearing, was rather dampening to a man on his particular errand. But the major, smiling genially, showed no sign of moving from the little swing gate.
“That’s good,” was all he said. “Glad to act for you in any way we can.”
“You know, I was with the Turner Textile Company, major—been there ever since the war. Since they failed I’ve found it difficult to—you see I’ve been in the same job for so long, it’s not easy to make another connection just now. You know how things are.”
“I should say so,” the major agreed lugubriously. “That was a bad business, Turner’s.” His tone implied, quite erroneously, that he had lost heavily by the failure of the big dry-goods house. “Between ourselves, Greenwood,” he added confidentially, “things are not too good in the realty business, otherwise”—he straightened up, as if to bear his burden bravely, and came through the little gate—"otherwise we might have been able to offer you something here that would have been worth your while. But as it is—” He moved over beside the door.
Stephen, feeling helplessly ineffective, clenched and unclenched his hands in the pockets of his coat, and made a last effort to put his request so definitely and obviously that it couldn’t be dodged or forestalled.
“I know how things are, major,” he laughed nervously, “only too well; but frankly, I’ve tried about every place in the city, and you know—wife and kids—haven’t got the resources to be out of a job too long. In fact, I’m just about at the end of them now. I thought—”
Major Ewart, smiling frankly and sympathetically, had laid his hand noiselessly on the door handle. The door was moving slowly, almost imperceptibly open.
“Don’t I know what it is,” said the major, shaking his head. “If only we could—”
“But look here, major,” Stephen broke in desperately, “surely, just for a month or so, there must be something you could find—watchman, shovelling ashes—you’d never see me. Nobody would know who I was. Honestly, I need—”
Then, somehow, he was out in the passage, and the major’s regretful, “Terribly sorry, old man,” was cut off by the gently closing door.
All the way down in the elevator, Stephen’s hands remained tightly clenched in his pockets. A chill had crept through him. There seemed to be nothing inside him but cold inanimate vapor an a drumming heart which beat too quickly and too weakly.
At the street door the necessity of deciding which way to turn brought him back suddenly to normal. His face grew hot. The thought of that interview brought a flush of raw humiliation. Not because he had to ask for a job, not even because he had been refused, but because of his feeble ineffectiveness during the interview, because of his inability to control its chilling effect on him.
He turned east, walking listlessly. After all, he was tired and hungry. Weeks of tramping about, looking for a job, of ten-cent meals taken at cheap cafés to conserve meagre housekeeping resources, of keeping up appearances before the world and the children, and to some extent even before his wife—all that sort of thing told on a man. A rest and a good square meal would fix him nicely.
He frowned. He was on his way home, but it wouldn’t be fair to get that square meal at home. Not enough there as it was, without him drawing on the little supply unexpectedly. No, he must manage some other way.
rTHE tiny flat was warm. So was Madge’s kiss, though
he could feel a touch of apprehension behind it. He met her unspoken thought with a quick explanation.
“Can’t stay more than a few minutes, dear. Got an appointment at noon, but thought I’d drop in and get warmed up a bit. It’s dirty weather for so-called spring. And I think I’ll take my cloth cap. This Derby may be stylish, but it’s not so comforting to the ears.”
“Come and sit by the radiator, darling. It’s a shame you should have to go tramping about in this weather.
I wish—couldn’t you stay in for lunch? The children will soon be in from school, and I think—” She unbuttoned his coat and bustled him into the warm corner, worried over the inadequacy of the meal that was to have done for her and the children, hating to let him go without it, doubtful about pressing him to stay. “Is the appointment anything about a—a position? Couldn’t you—”
Stephen, hunched against the radiator, looked over his shoulder, smiling confidently. He could nearly always tell what was going on in her mind. She was worrying about where the meal was coming from.
“It might lead to something . . . possibly, but I hardly think so,” he said, mindful of the anguish of hope continually deferred. “It’s only a man I us^d to know in the army . . . wants me to have lunch with him.” That would remove her most pressing anxiety. It was one of the advantages of fourteen years of mutual confidence and frankness that he could get away with any fairly plausible lie, now that he often needed one badly.
“Heard anything from that old blighter, Kelly, lately?” he asked, getting up and giving his hands a last warm pressure on the radiator.
“He was in asking about the rent again this morning —but he was very nice about it, dear,” she added lightly. “Don’t bother about that.”
He put on the old cloth cap, and kissed Madge with an understanding hug. She was a terribly poor hand at dissimulation, he reflected on his way downstairs. It was a devil of a mess when a filthy grafter like Kelly could badger Madge with impunity. But with two months rent in arrears, what could they do? He must get out of this hole soon; he simply must. The urgency of the need, his utter helplessness, set his heart thumping again, and he hurried faster and faster along the drab street as if somehow salvation lay at the end.
The grey church towered, unchanged, above the
crowded street and the line of quiet men who were shuffling a few steps at a time across its yard.
It was Stephen’s luncheon appointment.
There was a wide space between the street gates and the church door, a broad path which would be thronged on Sunday with well-dressed worshippers but which was intimidatingly empty now and exposed. The line which started at the vestry door far down the buttressed wall, stretched along to the back, round it, and halfway up the other side. Stephen walked quickly up a side street to a wicket gate at the back of the churchyard. There he paused for a moment, screened from the lighthearted crowds by the church itself. The appearance of neatness and prosperity which he had so carefully preserved as the essential qualification for getting a position was incongruous here. He turned up his coat collar, pulled his cap well down over his ears, and slipped quietly across the open to the end of the waiting line.
Not until others had drifted up and he was sheltered between their bodies and the kindly church wall did he relax. Then he released the tension. His knees slackened, his chin sank on his chest, and he was just one of a long, drab line of forgotten men.
His shoulders slumped wearily forward. With all this tramping about in the slushy streets and icy winds, some infernal rheumatism seemed to have settled its dull ache on the very spot he had once thought strongest; on those muscular shoulders which he used to believe, with a sort of secret pride, could not be bowed by any mortal strain.
Many a time he had shepherded his footsore platoon to the end of a weary route march, carrying a couple of extra packs on those shoulders, his own fatigue forgotten in the pride that not a man had dropped out.
Physically, his shoulders had been bowed deeply enough at such times, until he dumped the packs at the feet of their exhausted owners. But, spiritually, those shoulders had been bravely set, swinging gaily through the chill Flanders drizzle, down the long, long road.
“It’s a long way to go.
“It’s a long, long road to Tipper--ar--y—”
Shuffle, shuffle; the drab line moved a few steps forward.
Listless movement; stolid waiting.
Shuffle, shuffle; a few more steps.
It was like a dozing dream. Now they had shuffled round to the back of the church. The clanging of street cars and hooting of
motor horns seemed to have become more distant.
It wouldn’t be too bad to be absolutely and permanently down and out. This drowsy apathy would soon grow to be a protection. You wouldn’t feel humiliation, you wouldn’t hope, you wouldn’t try, you wouldn’t mind what happened to your wife or kids, you wouldn’t love anybody—not even yourself.
Round the end of the church, now—street noises louder, streams of traffic seen through half-closed eyes. But that kind of protective shell only came to men who were really out as well as down. Must be something lacking in poor devils like that. Probably God gave them that protective shell as a sort of substitute for a backbone—like a crab.
Shuffle, shuffle; stop.
Hard to understand a man really giving up. Still, round at the back of the church there . . . Yes, maybe it was understandable.
Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.
A little farther this time. The line was closing up toward the vestry door. Now he was standing right against it. A grained affair, in a Gothic arch of stone. Black iron hinges spreading right across it, iron bolt heads sticking out all over in little nobs.
Then it opened. A few words from a man at a table, a question about his name and address which he answered falsely, and he was outside again, %
with a piece of grimy pasteboard -
in his hand.
COHEN BROS. Cloaks and Suits
STEPHEN stood looking at the name on the glass door, hesitating. It was nearly six o’clock. He was late; too late, probably, as he had been already at three other places. Due to his long wait in the line by the church, and the wearying delays at the public soup kitchen before he got that heartening plate of stew, he had only reached the Herald office half an hour after the paper was out. The usual crowd, waiting for the first glimpse of the "Help Wanted” columns, had disappeared, hurrying to all quarters of the city to get first chance at the few jobs offered. He had grudged paying two cents for the paper, knowing that it was probably wasted money, but had picked out five of the least unlikely advertisements and tried them, walking several miles to do it. Three of the jobs had been filled before he arrived. The fourth had wanted a "live, young man.” The manager had smiled when he applied!
COHEN BROS. Not a chance! They had advertised for a bookkeeper, but he knew what kind. A smart youngster, at beginner’s wages, Hebrew preferred, for odd clerical jobs, mighty little bookkeeping necessary. People in the cloak and suit business gave very special personal attention to their own books.
A girl came out, putting the finishing touches to her outdoor complexion, and hitching her shoulders into a cheap fur coat. Fine black eyes looked at him suspiciously from the heavy face.
“Is Mr. Cohen in? Can I see him—-or the manager?”
"Yeah, he’s in all right. What—? ’Bout that job? Huh, I hope you get it! Well, I guess you c’n see him.” There was a peculiar mixture of indifference and contempt in her tone as she called back through the open door,
“Hey, Mr. Solly!”
“Well, better go in.” she said impatiently as no answer came. "The room with the light in it.” She finished buttoning her coat and went off toward the elevator.
Stephen closed the door behind him. The outer office was bigger and more elaborate than he had expected. He knocked on the only door which showed a light, waited, and knocked again. Some sort of sound came from within. It didn’t sound like “Come in,” but Stephen, his spirits dampened by the unhopeful aspect and only anxious to get things over, pushed open the door.
A little man was sitting at one of the two desks, leaning forward, his scrubby chin resting on the palms of his hands, elbows planted in the midst of ledgers and papers strewn untidily on the desk. Black eyes stared vaguely toward the door; eyes that were too protuberant and pouchy in spite of the thick brows and wide, prominent cheekbones in which they were set.
For several embarrassing moments he did not say anything. Then his eyes gradually focused on Stephen.
“Yes?” he said. "Did you want something?” Uncomfortably, Stephen explained.
"You want I should see you about this position, now?” the little Jew exclaimed irritably. "And after six already ! This is not a time for all that. And there is nobody that fits this job like I want it. Fifty 1 must have seen now, and nobody right. Nothing is right since— ” He paused hopelessly, and his eyes wandered over the empty desk at which Stephen was sitting and then to the litter on his own. “Well, I’ll see you. What is your name, mister?”
Once more Stephen rehearsed the familiar list of his qualifications and experience. Once more he produced the letter from Turner’s manager, complimentary but now rather creased.
"Turner Textiles?” said Mr. Cohen, with the first sign of interest he had yet shown.
"They are a good firm. It is a pity such a good firm like that goes under. Bad debts and slow pay; it is that fixes them, yes? But they were a good people to deal with, Turner’s. They never worry us when our business is starting and things is hard, and when we get going good we buy from Turner’s all we can and then we never worry them with this slow pay, I tell you that, mister. This eight years, yes, Cohen Brothers takes their discount always.” There was pride in his voice, which died out as he looked over the untidy desk again.
“Turner’s is good experience,” he said, coming back to the point. “Have you worked for other firms?”
Stephen began to explain, but when he mentioned the army, the little man interrupted and his air of uninterested depression lifted.
“Yes? I was in the war, too.” He fumbled in hls desk drawer, and pulled out a bronze service button. “I got this, still. I don’t wear it now. Jake said I should wear
it still. Jake wanted to go to the war himself, but there was the business we had just started, so we tossed up a coin and I went, but Jake never grudged me that button. He wanted I should wear it always. I used to wear it, but the war is gone back a long time. Cloaks and suits is different again. What was you with, Mr.—er ?”
“Greenwood’s the name, Mr. Cohen. I was with the 9th Battalion.”
The little man leaned forward quickly.
"Is that it you say Greenwood?” he exclaimed. “I was remembering your face, too, but thought it might be at Turner’s I see you, perhaps. You don’t remember me, Mr. Greenwood, eh?”
Stephen examined the plump, sallow face curiously. It conveyed nothing to him. The face was Hebrew; that was all he could gather from it.
“Look now, you don’t remember? Number 22,789, Private Cohen, S. Don’t that give it?” He smiled, delighted with some dawning recognition in Stephen’s eyes. "Yes, eh? You got it? Number Four platoon? I guess we both changed since those times, Mr. Greenwood, ain’t it?”
At last Stephen had placed him. He held out his hand, his heart cheered by the little man’s obvious pleasure at the meeting.
The Silver Scale
Another thrilling detective novel by
“The Room with the Iron Shutters”
MacLean’s for June First
"Sure, I’ve got it at last. Sorry I took so long, but you know how it is—fifty men to remember, and changing so often. And you don’t look so much like Cohen S., of Number Four platoon, now, Mr. Cohen.”
The pouchy little man grinned as he placed his stubby hands on each side of a generous waist, to indicate the cause.
Stephen smiled, too. He had quite forgotten that he was applying to ex-private Cohen for a position.
"That’s a pretty good disguise, Cohen. I remember now you were about the thinnest man in the platoon. Honest, I used to wonder how you got in the army; you looked so small and thin and delicate. I don’t know how you even carried your pack. You must have had a hard time in those days. I sometimes wonder if I couldn’t have fixed things easier for you boys.” He stared out of the window, across the city lights, thoughtfully.
The prosperous Jew studied the wan-looking Gentile with a keen and searching scrutiny.
“You got a terrible bad memory, ain’t it, Mr. Greenwood?” he said at last. “That pack was damn hard, yes, for a man my size. The only way I did carry it was that at the end of one of them long marches, maybe, somebody should carry that hard pack of mine as well as his own.”
Stephen felt uncomfortable and was beginning a disclaimer when the little man interrupted.
"You don’t look like you can carry anybody else’s pack now, Mr. Greenwood,” he said shrewdly. "You been ill? What are you doing since you leave Turner’s” —he glanced at the letter of recommendation—"three months ago, already? But I don’t want you should tell me unless you feel like,” he added, seeing Greenwood’s hesitation.
Briefly Stephen described his difficulty in finding a job. Cohen listened, supplying for himself much that was unsaid.
"Things is changed since Number Four platoon,” he sighed as the unconscious pathos of the story brought back his own sadness. “Everything is O.K. to me up to a short time ago, like you. Then my brother, Jaky, took sick, and a week ago he died. My Jaky, that’s been sitting at that desk nearly ten years yet. Such partners we are, and a good brother always, and such a head for the books and the office and the credits, while I am in the factory all the time, and the business goes always good and better.
"I tell you, Mr. Greenwood,” he went on vehemently, "jobs is nothing at all yet. You got your wife-, you got your children, but I got nobody but Jaky—and now he’s gone.” His words poured out faster and faster, as if finding a vent for the first time.
Stephen listened, full of sympathy, to the tale of the brothers’ boyhood in the old land, of their adventuring to the new, of their defeats and triumphs, always together except for the few war years. It moved him strongly tc see the little man, when the words ceased to flow, sitting there silently, his head on his hands, his shoulders shaking spasmodically.
He rose and went round the broad expanse of the two desks which separated them, and put his hand almost tenderly on the hunched shoulders. It was Lieutenant Greenwood, commander of Number Four platoon, and Private Cohen, S., one of his “boys’’ —wounded. His own fortitude strengthened, as it always did when he drew upon it for others. He would stay until Cohen calmed down, then slip off quietly, so the poor chap wouldn’t feel badly about breaking down before him.
But the sobs came to an end suddenly. Solly Cohen stood up, a man again—a quaint, earnest little man, brusquely drawing his sleeve across moist eyes. He had taken hold of the arm that slid off his shoulder as he rose, and now kept it.
"I ain’t been that way since Jaky died,” he said, and his voice seemed almost cheerful. "But when a man has got nobody yet in the world, and is no more young, it does good to speak things to somebody that is a friend.
“You got a good face, Mr. Greenwood,” he broke off suddenly, still grasping Stephen’s elbow and looking intently into his eyes. “And a man who acted how you did by your men when we are in the army, and stays twelve years yet with a house like Turner’s, is a man that is trustworthy. I got gratitude, Mr. Greenwood. I remember how you are doing everything for us men, and how heavy is those packs. He peered more intently than ever into Stephen’s face. You really got all those bookkeepings and credits and office stuff at the end of your fingers?” he asked anxiously. “Just like Jake?”
Embarrassed, and suddenly recalled to his dire need for a job, Stephen stammered out an assurance.
The little man had taken hold of his other arm by the time he had finished.
“Listen, Mr. Greenwood,” he said seriously. “You are in trouble, and something sends you to Cohen Brothers to look for a job, and I am in trouble, too, for poor Jaky. Well, I do not say to you, ‘You can have this job and do Jaky’s work.’ I say to you this, ‘You are a good man, Mr. Greenwood, that I can trust like myself. You are ready to carry my pack when things is hard in those days, so now I want you should not only do my brother’s work, but that in everything else, yet, you should be—my brother.’ That is what I say, Mr. Greenwood.”
He stretched out his arms, holding them outspread for a moment, and though he was such a pouchy little man the gesture seemed to become him. Then he let them drop.
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 14
Stephen, feeling his strength ebbing, got to his chair, and sat down limply. Through the dark window he could see electric signs whirling and twinkling far away across the city roofs. Distant street cars were rumbling. The figure opposite seemed almost as far away for a minute.
Then things slipped into their places again. He looked at the little Jew across the desks, full of gratitude.
“I don’t know what to say—to thank you properly, Mr. Cohen. It’s no use trying, but—but—”
Solly Cohen, rubbing his hands together contentedly, waited for his adopted brother and new partner to regain his composure.
Suddenly Stephen jumped up, at last realizing to the full how gloriously and completely his troubles had been swept away.
“Can I use your phone?” he almost shouted.
Cohen understood. He picked up the telephone in both hands, leaned far over the desks, and plumped it down in front of the happy, eager man.
“You were right, Mr. Greenwood,” he said, beaming, “you tell the wife.”