MoboReader> Literature > From Place to Place


From Place to Place By Irvin S. Cobb Characters: 57998

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

SOMEBODY said once that facts are stubborn things, which is a lie. Facts are almost the most flexible things known to man. The historian appreciates the truth of this just as the fictionist recognises and is governed by the opposite of it, each according to his lights. In recording the actual, the authentic, the definite, your chronicler may set down in all soberness things which are utterly inconceivable; may set them down because they have happened. But he who deals with the fanciful must be infinitely more conventional in his treatment of the probabilities and the possibilities, else the critics will say he has let his imagination run away with him. They'll tell him to put ice on his brow and advise sending his creative faculty to the restcure.

Jules Verne was a teller of most mad tales which he conjured up out of his head. The Brothers Wright and Edison and Holland, the submarine man, worked out their notions with monkey wrenches and screw drivers and things, thereby accomplishing verities far surpassing the limit where common sense threw up a barrier across the pathway of Verne's genius. H. G. Wells never dreamed a dream of a world war to equal the one which William Hohenzollern loosed by ordering a flunky in uniform to transmit certain dispatches back yonder in the last week of July and the first week of August, 1914.

So always it has gone. So always, beyond peradventure, it must continue to go.

If in his first act the playwright has his principal characters assembled in a hotel lobby in Chicago and in Act II has them all bumping into one another-quite by chance-in a dugout in Flanders, the reviewers sternly will chide him for violating Rule 1 of the book of dramatic plausibilities, and quite right they will be too. But when the identical event comes to pass in real life-as before now it has-we merely say that, after all, it's a small world now, isn't it? And so saying, pass along to the next preposterous occurrence that has just occurred. In fiction coincidence has its metes and bounds beyond which it dare not step. In human affairs it has none.

Speaking of coincidences, that brings me round to the matter of a certain sergeant and a certain private in our American Expeditionary Force which is a case that is a case in point of what I have just been saying upon this subject. If Old Man Coincidence had not butted into the picture when he did and where he did and so frequently as he did, there would be-for me-no tale to tell touching on these two, the sergeant and the private. But he did. And I shall.

To begin at the remote beginning, there once upon a time was a fight in front of the public school in Henry Street over on the East Side, in which encounter one Pasquale Gallino licked the Semitic stuffings out of a fellow-pupil of his-by name Hyman Ginsburg. To be explicit about it, he made the Ginsburg boy's somewhat prominent nose to bleed extensively and swelled up Hyman's ear until for days thereafter Hyman's head, viewed fore or aft, had rather a lop-sided appearance, what with one ear being so much thicker than its mate. The object of this mishandlement was as good as whipped before he started by reason of the longer reach and quicker fist play of his squat and swarthy opponent. Nevertheless, facing inevitable and painful defeat, he acquitted himself with proper credit and courage.

Bearing his honourable wounds, Master Ginsburg went home from battle to a tenement in Allen Street, there to be licked again for having been licked before; or, speaking with exactitude, for having been in a fight, his father being one who held by the theory that diplomacy ever should find the way out to peace when blows threatened to follow on disputation. With view, therefore, to proving his profound distaste for physical violence in any form he employed it freely upon the body of his son, using to that end a strap. Scarred in new places, the victim of two beatings in one day went weeping and supperless to bed.

Now this fight in Henry Street took place some sixteen years ago, and in sixteen years a great deal of water runs under the bridges provided for that purpose and for other purposes. Two separate currents of the water that flowed caught up Hyman Ginsburg and Pasquale Gallino and carried them along differing channels toward differing destinies. While Hyman was in the grammar grades, a brag pupil, Pasquale was in the Protectory, a branded incorrigible. While Hyman was attending high school, Pasquale was attending reform school. When Hyman, a man grown, was taking his examinations with the idea of getting on the police force, Pasquale was constructing an alibi with the idea of staying out of Sing Sing. One achieved his present ambition-that was Hyman.

The next period of their respective developments found this pair in a fair way each to achieve a definite niche in his chosen profession. Patrolman Hyman Ginsburg, after walking post for some months, had been taken out of uniform and put into civilian garb as a plain-clothes man on the Headquarters staff. Here he was making good. Having intelligence and energy and the racial persistence which is as much a part of his breed as their hands and their feet are, he was looked upon in the department as a detective with a future ahead of him.

As for him who had once been Pasquale Gallino, he now occupied a position of prominence amid congenial surroundings while following after equally congenial pursuits. There was a gang. Despite the fact that it was such a new gang, this gang before the eyes of law and order stood high upon a pinnacle of evil eminence, overtopping such old-established gangs as the Gas House and the Gophers, the Skinned Rabbits and the Pearl Button Kid's. Taking title from the current name of its chieftain, it was popularly known as the Stretchy Gorman gang. Its headquarters was a boozing den of exceeding ill repute on the lower West Side. Its chief specialties were loft robberies and dock robberies. Its favourite side lines were election frauds and so-called strike-breaking jobs. The main amusement of its members was hoodlumism in its broader and more general phases. Its shield and its buckler was political influence of a sort; its keenest sword was its audacious young captain. You might call it a general-purposes gang. Contemporary gangsters spoke of it with respect and admiration. For a thing so young it gave great promise.

A day came, though, when the protection under which the Stretchy Gormans had flourished ceased to protect. It is not known, nor yet is it written, what the reason for this was. Perhaps there was a breaking off of the friendly relations theretofore existing between one of the down-town district leaders and one of the powers-name deleted-higher up. Perhaps the newspapers had scolded too shrilly, demanding the house-cleaning of a neighbourhood which had become a bad smell in the sensitive nostrils of honest taxpayers and valued advertisers. Certainly burglaries in the wholesale silk district had occurred so numerously as to constitute a public scandal.

Then, besides, there was the incident of the night watchman of a North River freight pier, a worthy enough person though a nonvoter and therefore of small account from the viewpoint of ward politics, who stood up in single-handed defence of his employer's premises and goods against odds of at least four to one. Swinging a cold chisel, someone chipped a bit of bone out of the watchman's skull as expeditiously and almost as neatly as a visiting Englishman chips the poll of his breakfast egg; so that forever after the victim nursed an achesome and slightly addled brain. Then there were other things.

Be the cause what it may, it certainly is the fact that on a pleasant autumnal afternoon Inspector Krogan summoned to his presence two members of the Central Office staff and told them to go get Stretchy Gorman. Stretchy was to be gone after and got on the blanket charge-the rubber blanket charge, as one might say, since it is so elastic and covers such a multitude of sins-of being a suspicious character.

Now Stretchy Gorman had no character to speak of; so therein the accusation appeared faulty. But equally was it true as Holy Gospel that he was suspicious of nearly everybody on earth and that nearly everybody on earth had reasons to be suspicious of him. So, balancing one word against the other, the garment might be said to fit him. At any rate, it was plain the supreme potentates had decreed for him that he was to wear it.

One of the detectives detailed to this assignment was Hyman Ginsburg. His partner on the job was a somewhat older man named Casane. These two frequently worked together. Pulling in double harness they made a dependable team. Both had wit and shrewdness. By sight, Casane knew the individual they were deputed to take; Ginsburg, to his knowledge, had never seen him.

Across his roll-top desk the inspector, speaking as follows, according to the mode of the fellowcraft, gave them their instructions:

"You'll likely be findin' this here party at the Stuffed Owl. That's his regular hang-out. My information is that he's usually there regular this time of the day. I've just had word that he went in there fifteen minutes ago; it's likely he'll be stayin' a while.

"Now, if he's in there don't you two go and send for him to come outside to you; nothin' like that. See? You go right in after him and nail him right in front of his own pals. Understand? I want him and his bunch and the reporters all to know that this here alleged drag of his that the newspapers've been beefin' so loud about is all bogus. And then you fetch him here to me and I'll do the rest. Don't make no gun play nor nothin' of that nature without you have to, but at the same time and nevertheless don't take no foolish chances. This party may act up rough and then again he may not. Get me? My guess is he won't. Still and notwithstandin', don't leave no openin's. Now get goin'."

Sure enough it was at the sign of the Stuffed Owl, down in a basement bat cave of a place and in the dusk of the evening, that they found their man. To Ginsburg's curious eyes he revealed himself as a short, swart person with enormously broad shoulders and with a chimpanzee's arm reach. Look at those arms of his and one knew why he was called Stretchy. How he had acquired his last name of Gorman was only to be guessed at. It was fair to assume, though, he had got it by processes of self-adoption-no unusual thing in a city where overnight a Finkelstein turns into a Fogarty and he who at the going down of the sun was Antonio Baccigaluppi has at the upcoming of the same become Joseph Brown. One thing, though, was sure as rain: This particular Gorman had never been a Gorman born.

Not the blackest of the "Black Irish," not the most brunette of brunette Welshmen ever had a skin of that peculiar brownish pallor, like clear water in a cypress swamp, or eyes like the slitted pair looking out obliquely from this man's head.

Taking their cue of action from their superior's words, Casane and Ginsburg, having come down the short flight of steps leading from the sidewalk, went directly across the barroom to where their man sat at a small table with two others, presumably both of his following, for his companions.

The manner of the intruders was casual enough; casual and yet marked by a businesslike air. They knew that at this moment they were not especially attractive risks for an accident insurance company. The very sawdust on the floor stank of villainy; the brass bar rail might have been a rigid length of poison snake; the spittoons were small sinks of corruption. Moreover, they had been commissioned to take a monarch off his throne before the eyes of his courtiers, and history records that this ever was a proceeding fraught with peril.

Still they went straight toward him. Before they spoke a word-almost before they were well inside the street door-he must have recognised them as Headquarters men. Being what he was, he instantly would have appraised them for what they were had the meeting taken place in the dead vast and middle of Sahara's sandy wastes. Even the seasoned urbanite who is law-abiding and who has no cause to fear the thief-taker can pick out a detective halfway up the block.

Besides, in the same instant that they descended from the street level, the barkeeper with his tongue had made a small clucking sound, thrice repeated, and with all four fingers of his right hand had gripped the left lapel of his unbuttoned waistcoat. Thereat there had been a general raising of heads all over the place. Since the days of Jonathan Wild and even before that-since the days when the Romany Rye came out of the East into England-the signal of the collar has been the sign of the collar, which means the cop.

The man they sought eyed them contemptuously from under the down-tilted visor of his cap as they approached him. His arms were folded upon the table top and for the moment he kept them so.

"Evening," said Casane civilly, pausing alongside him. "Call yourself Gorman, don't you?"

"I've been known to answer to that name," he answered back in the curious flat tone that is affected by some of his sort and is natural with the rest of them. "Wot of it?"

"There's somebody wants to have a talk with you up at the front office-that's all," said Casane.

"It's a pinch, then, huh?" The gangster put his open hands against the edge of the table as though for a rearward spring.

"I'm tellin' you all we know ourselves?" countered Casane. His voice was conciliatory-soothing almost. But Ginsburg had edged round past Casane, ready at the next warning move to take the gang leader on the flank with a quick forward rush, and inside their overcoats, the shapes of both the officers had tensed.

"Call it a pinch if you want to," went on Casane. "I'd call it more of an invitation just to take a little walk with us two and then have a chat with somebody else. Unless you or some of your friends here feel like startin' something there'll be no rough stuff-that's orders. We're askin' you to go along-first. How about it?"

"Oh, I'll go-I'll go! There's nobody got anything on me. And nobody's goin' to get anything on me neither."

He stood up and with a quick movement jerked back the skirts of his coat, holding them aloft so that his hip pockets and his waistband, showed.

"Take notice!" he cried, invoking as witnesses all present. "Take notice that I'm carryin' no gat! So don't you bulls try framin' me under the Sullivan Law for havin' a gat on me. There's half a dozen here knows I ain't heeled and kin swear to it-case of a frame-up. Now go ahead and frisk me!"

"That'll be all right-we could easy take your word for it," said Casane, still maintaining his placating pose. Nevertheless he signed to Ginsburg and the latter moved a step nearer their man and his practiced fingers ran swiftly over the unresisting form, feeling beneath the arms, down the flanks, about the belt line and even at the back of the neck for a suspicious hard bulge inside the garments, finally giving the side coat pockets a perfunctory slap.

"Unless you make it necessary, we won't be callin' for the wagon," Casane stated. "Just the three of us'll take a little stroll, like I'm telling you-just stroll out and take the air up to Headquarters."

He slipped into position on one side of the gangster, Ginsburg on the other. Over his shoulder the man thus placed between them looked round to where his two underlings still sat at the table, both silent as the rest of the company were, but both plainly prepared for any contingencies; both ready to follow their chief's lead in whatsoever course, peaceable or violent, he might next elect to follow.

"Here you, Louie," he bade one of them, "jump to the telephone and notify a certain party to have me mouthpiece at Headquarters by the time I kin get there with these two dicks. Tell him the cops've got nothin' on me, but I wants me mouthpiece there just the same-case of a tie."

Until now the preliminaries had been carried on with a due regard for the unwritten but rigid code of underworld etiquette. From neither side had there issued a single unethical word. The detectives had been punctilious to avoid ruffling the sensibilities of any and all. All the same, the prisoner chose of a sudden to turn nasty. It was at once manifest that he aimed to give offence without giving provocation or real excuse for reprisals on the part of the invaders. He spat sidewise across Casane's front and as he took the first step forward he brought the foot down upon one of Ginsburg's feet, grinding his heel sharply into the toes beneath. Ginsburg winced at the pain but did not speak; he had not spoken at all up until now, leaving it to Casane as the elder man to conduct the preliminaries.

"Why don't you say something, you Jew!" taunted the prisoner. "Don't you even know enough to excuse yourself when you stick your fat feet in people's way?"

"That'll be all right," said Ginsburg crisply. It was his business to avoid the issue of a clash. "And it'll be all right your calling me a Jew. I am a Jew and I'm proud of it. And I'm wearing the same name I started out with too."

"Is that so?"

Except in the inspired pages of fiction city thugs are singularly barren of power to deliver really snappy, really witty retorts.

"Is that so, Jew?" He stared at Ginsburg and a derisive grin opened a gap in his broad dark face. "Oh, be chee! We ain't strangers-you and me ain't! We've met before-when we was kids. Down in Henry Street, it was. I put me mark on you oncet, and if I ever feel like it I'll do it again sometime."

Like a match under shavings the words kindled half-forgotten memories in the young detective's brain and now-for his part-recognition came flashing back out of the past.

"I thought so," he said, choosing to ignore the gangster and addressing Casane. "I thought from the first Gorman wasn't his right name. I've forgotten what his right name is, but it's nothing that sounds like Gorman. He's a wop. I went to the same school with him over on the East Side a good many years ago."

"Don't forget to tell him how the wop licked the Jew," broke in the prisoner. "Remember how the scrap started?"

He spat again and this time he did not miss. Ginsburg put up his gloved hand and wiped clean a face that with passion had turned a mottle of red-and-white blotches. His voice shook from the strain of his effort to control himself.

"I'll get you for that," he said quietly. "And I'll get you good. The day'll come when I'll walk you in broad daylight up to the big chief, and I'll have the goods on you too."

"Forget it," jeered the ruffian triumphantly. Before the eyes of his satellites he had-by his standards-acquitted himself right creditably. "You got nothin' on me now, Jew, and you never will have. Well, come on, you bulls, let's be goin' along. I wouldn't want the neither one of you for steady company. One of you is too polite and the other'n too meek for my tastes."

* * *

The man who was called Stretchy Gorman spoke a prophetic word when he said the police had nothing on him. Since they had nothing on him, he was let go after forty-eight hours of detention; but that is not saying they did not intend, if they could-and in such cases they usually can-to get something on him.

No man in the department had better reason to crave that consummation than Hyman Ginsburg had. With him the hope of achieving revenge became practically an obsession. It rode in his thoughts. Any hour, in a campaign to harry the gangster to desperation by means of methods that are common enough inside the department, he might have invoked competent and willing assistance, for the word had filtered down from on high, where the seats of the mighty are, that those mysterious forces aloft would look complacently upon the eternal undoing of the Stretchy Gormans and their titular leader, no matter how accomplished.

But this notion did not match in with the colour of Ginsburg's desires. Single-handed, he meant to do the trick. Most probably then the credit would be all his; assuredly the satisfaction would. When he considered this prospect his mind ran back along old grooves to the humiliating beating he had suffered in front of the Henry Street school so long before and of a most painful strapping that followed; these being coupled always with a later memory scar of a grievous insult endured in the line of duty and all the more hateful because it had been endured.

Once Ginsburg had read a book out of a public library-a book which mentally he called Less Miserables. Through the pages of that book there had walked a detective whom Ginsburg in his mind knew by the name of Jawbert. Now he recalled how this Jawbert spent his life tracking down an offender who was the main hero of the book. He told himself that in the matter of Stretchy Gorman he would be as another Jawbert.

By way of a beginning he took advantage of leisure hours to trace out the criminal history of his destined victim. In the gallery he found numbered and classified photographs; in the Bertillon bureau, finger prints; and in the records, what else he lacked of information-as an urchin, so many years spent in the protectory; as a youth, so many years in the reformatory; as a man, a year on Blackwell's Island for a misdemeanour and a three-year term at Sing Sing for a felony; also he dug up the entry of an indictment yet standing on which trial had never been held for lack of proof to convict; finally a long list of arrests for this and that and the other thing, unproved. From under a succession of aliases he uncovered Gorman's real name.

But a sequence of events delayed his fuller assumption of the r?le of Jawbert. He was sent to Rio de Janeiro to bring back an absconder of note. Six months he worked on the famous Gonzales child-stealing mystery. He made two trips out to the Pacific Coast in connection with the Chappy Morgan wire-tapping cases. Few of the routine jobs about the detective bureau fell to him. He was too good for routine and his superiors recognised the fact and were governed thereby.

By the rules of tradition, Ginsburg-as a successful detective-should have been either an Irishman or of Irish descent. But in the second biggest police force in the world, wherein twenty per cent of the personnel wear names that betoken Jewish, Slavic or Latin forebears, tradition these times suffers many a body wallop.

On a night in early April, Ginsburg, coming across from New Jersey, landed off a ferryboat at Christopher Street. He had gone across the river to gather up a loose end of the evidence accumulating against Chappy Morgan, king of the wireless wire-tappers. It was nearly midnight when he emerged from the ferryhouse. In sight was no surface car; so he set out afoot to walk across town to where he lived on the East Side.

Going through a side street in a district which mainly is given over to the establishments of textile jobbers, he observed, half a block away, a fire escape that bore strange fruit. The front line of a stretch of tallish buildings stood out in relief against the background of a wet moon and showed him, high up on the iron ladder which flighted down the face of one house of the row, two dark clumps, one placed just above the other.

Ginsburg slipped into a protecting ledge of shadow close up against the buildings and edged along nearer. The clumps resolved into the figures of men. One-the uppermost shape of a man-was receiving from some unseen sources flat burdens that came down over the roof coping and passing them along to the accomplice below. The latter in turn stacked them upon the grilled floor of the fire balcony that projected out into space at the level of the fourth floor, the building being five floors in height. By chance Ginsburg had happened upon a loft-robbing enterprise.

He shifted his revolver from his hip pocket to the side pocket of his overcoat and crept closer, planning for the pair so intently engaged overhead a surprise when they should descend with their loot. There was no time now to seek out the patrolman on the post; the job must be all his.

Two doors from the building that had been entered he crept noiselessly down into a basement and squatted behind an ash barrel. It was inky black in there; so inkily black he never suspected that the recess held another tenant. Your well-organised loft-robbing mob carries along a lookout who in case of discovery gives warning; in case of attack, repels the attack, and in case of pursuit acts as rear guard. In Stretchy Gorman's operations Stretchy acted as his own lookout, and a highly competent one he was, too, with a preference for lurking in areaways while his lieutenants carried forward the more arduous but less responsible shares of the undertaking.

In the darkness behind Ginsburg where he crouched a long gorilla's arm of an arm reached outward and downward, describing an arc. You might call it the long arm of coincidence and be making no mistake either. At the end of the arm was a fist and in the fist a length of gas pipe wrapped in rags. This gas pipe descended upon the back of Ginsburg's skull, crushing through the derby hat he wore. And the next thing Ginsburg knew he was in St. Vincent's Hospital with a splitting headache and the United States Government had gone to war against the German Empire.

Ginsburg did not volunteer. The parent who once had wielded the disciplinary strap-end so painstakingly had long since rejoined his bearded ancestors, but there was a dependent mother to be cared for and a whole covey of younger brothers and sisters to be shepherded through school and into sustaining employment. So he waited for the draft, and when the draft took him and his number came out in the drawing, as it very soon did, he waived his exemptions and went to training camp wearing an old suit of clothes and an easy pair of shoes. Presently he found himself transferred to a volunteer outfit-one of the very few draft men who were to serve with that outfit.

In camp the discipline he had acquired and the drilling he had done in his prentice days on the force stood him in good stead. Hard work trimmed off of him the layers of tissue he had begun to take on; plain solid food finished the job of unlarding his frame. Shortly he was Corporal Ginsburg-a trim upstanding corporal. Then he became Sergeant Ginsburg and soon after this was Second Sergeant Ginsburg of B Company of a regiment still somewhat sketchy and ragged in its make-up, but with promise of good stuff to emerge from the mass of its material. When his regiment and his division went overseas, First Sergeant Ginsburg went along too.

The division had started out by being a national guard division; almost exclusively its rank and file had been city men-rich men's sons from uptown, poor men's sons with jaw-breaking names from the tenements. At the beginning the acting major general in command had been fond of boasting that he had representatives of thirty-two nations and practitioners of fifty-four creeds and cults in his outfit. Before very long he might truthfully expand both these figures.

To stopper the holes made by the wear and tear of intensive training, the attritions of sickness and of transfers, the losses by death and by wounding as suffered in the first small spells of campaigning, replacements came up from the depots, enriching the local colour of the division with new types and strange accents. Southern mountaineers, Western ranch hands and farm boys from the Middle States came along to find mates among Syrians, Jews, Italians, Armenians and Greeks. Cotton Belt, Corn Belt, Wheat Belt and Timber Belt contributed. Born feudists became snipers, counter jumpers became fencibles, yokels became drillmasters, sweat-shop hands became sharpshooters, aliens became Americans, an ex-janitor-Austrian-born-became a captain, a rabble became an organised unit; the division became a tempered mettlesome lance-springy, sharp and dependable.

This miracle so often repeated itself in our new army that it ceased to be miraculous and became commonplace. During its enactment we as a nation accepted it with calmness, almost with indifference. I expect our grandchildren will marvel at it and among them will be some who will write large, fat books about it.

On that great day when a new definition for the German equivalent of the English word "impregnable" was furnished by men who went up to battle swearfully or prayerfully, as the case might be, a-swearing and a-praying as they went in more tongues than were babbled at Babel Tower; in other words, on the day when the never-to-be-broken Hindenburg line was broken through and through, a battalion of one of the infantry regiments of this same polyglot division formed a little ind

ividual ground swell in the first wave of attack.

That chill and gloomy hour when condemned men and milkmen rise up from where they lie, when sick folk die in their beds and the drowsy birds begin to chirp themselves awake found the men of this particular battalion in shallow front-line trenches on the farther edge of a birch thicket. There they crouched, awaiting the word. The flat cold taste of before sunup was clammy in their throats; the smell of the fading nighttime was in their nostrils.

And in the heart of every man of them that man over and over again asked himself a question. He asked himself whether his will power-which meant his soul-was going to be strong enough to drag his reluctant body along with it into what impended. You see, with a very few exceptions none of this outfit had been beyond the wires before. They had been under fire, some of them-fire of gas shells and of shrapnel and of high explosives in dugouts or in rear positions or as they passed along roads lying under gun range of the enemy. But this matter would be different; this experience would widely differ from any they had undergone. This meant going out into the open to walk up against machine-gun fire and small-arm fire. So each one asked himself the question.

Take a thousand fighting men. For purposes of argument let us say that when the test of fighting comes five men out of that thousand cannot readjust their nerves to the prospect of a violent end by powder and ball from unseen sources. Under other circumstances any one of the five might face a peril greater than that which now confronts him. Conceivably he might flop into a swollen river to save a drowning puppy; might dive into a burning building after some stranger's pet tabby cat. But this prospect which lies before him of ambling across a field with death singing about his ears, is a thing which tears with clawing fingers at the tuggs and toggles of his imagination until his flesh revolts to the point where it refuses the dare. It is such a man that courts-martial and the world at large miscall by the hateful name of coward.

Out of the remaining nine hundred and ninety-five are five more-as we allow-who have so little of perception, who are so stolid, so dull of wit and apprehension that they go into battle unmoved, unshaken, unthinking. This leaves nine hundred and ninety who are afraid-sorely and terribly afraid. They are afraid of being killed, afraid of being crippled, afraid of venturing out where killings and cripplings are carried on as branches of a highly specialised business.

But at the last they find that they fear just one thing more than they fear death and dismemberment; and that this one supremest thing is the fear that those about them may discover how terribly afraid they are. It is this greater fear, overriding all those lesser terrors, that makes over ordinary men into leaders of forlorn hopes, into holders of last ditches, into bearers of heroic blazons, into sleepers under memorial shafts erected by the citizens of a proud, a grateful and a sorrowing country. A sense of self-respect is a terrific responsibility.

Under this double stress, torn in advance of the actual undertaking by primitive emotions pulling in opposite directions, men bear themselves after curious but common fashions. To a psychologist twenty men chosen at random from the members of the battalion, waiting there in the edge of the birch thicket for their striking hour to come, would have offered twenty contrasting subjects for study.

Here was a man all deathly white, who spoke never a word, but who retched with sharp painful sounds and kept his free hand gripped into his cramping belly. That dread of being hit in the bowels which so many men have at moments like this was making him physically sick.

Here again was a man who made jokes about cold feet and yellow streaks and the chances of death and the like and laughed at his own jokes. But there was a quiver of barely checked hysteria in his laughing and his eyes shone like the eyes of a man in a fever and the sweat kept popping out in little beads on his face.

Here again was a man who swore constantly in a monotonous undertone. Always I am reading where a man of my race under strain or provocation coins new and apt and picturesque oaths; but myself, I have never seen such a man. I should have seen him, too, if he really existed anywhere except in books, seeing that as a boy I knew many steamboat mates on Southern waters and afterward met socially many and divers mule drivers and horse wranglers in the great West.

But it has been my observation that in the matter of oaths the Anglo-Saxon tongue is strangely lacking in variety and spice. There are a few stand-by oaths-three or four nouns, two or three adjectives, one double-jointed adjective-and these invariably are employed over and over again. The which was undeniably true in this particular instance. This man who swore so steadily merely repeated, times without number and presumably with reference to the Germans, the unprettiest and at the same time the most familiar name of compounded opprobrium that our deficient language yields.

For the fiftieth time in half as many minutes, a captain-his name was Captain Griswold and he was the captain of B Company-consulted the luminous face of his wrist watch where he stooped behind shelter. He spoke then, and his voice was plainly to be heard under the whistle and whoop of the shells passing over his head from the supporting batteries behind with intent to fall in the supposed defences of the enemy in front. Great sounds would have been lost in that crashing tumult; by one of the paradoxes of battle lesser sounds were easily audible.

"All right," said Captain Griswold, "it's time! If some damn fool hasn't gummed things up the creeping barrage should be starting out yonder and everything is set. Come on, men-let's go!"

They went, each still behaving according to his own mode. The man with the gripes who retched was still retching as he heaved himself up over the parapet; the man who had laughed was still laughing; the man who had sworn was mechanically continuing to repeat that naughty pet name of his for the Fritzies. Nobody, though, called on anybody else to defend the glory of the flag; nobody invited anybody to remember the Lusitania; nobody spoke a single one of the fine speeches which the bushelmen of fiction at home were even then thinking up to put into the mouths of men moving into battle.

Indeed, not in any visible regard was the scene marked by drama. Merely some muddied men burdened with ironmongery and bumpy with gas masks and ammunition packs climbed laboriously out of a slit in the wet earth and in squads-single filing, one man behind the next as directly as might be-stepped along through a pale, sad, slightly misty light at rather a deliberate pace, to traverse a barb-wired meadowland which rose before them at a gentle incline. There was no firing of guns, no waving of swords. There were no swords to wave. There was no enemy in sight and no evidence as yet that they had been sighted by any enemy. As a matter of fact, none of them-neither those who fell nor those who lived-saw on that day a single living individual recognisable as a German.

A sense of enormous isolation encompassed them. They seemed to be all alone in a corner of the world that was peopled by diabolical sounds, but not by humans. They had a feeling that because of an error in the plans they had been sent forward without supports; that they-a puny handful-were to be sacrificed under the haunches of the Hindenburg line while all those thousands of others who should have been their companions upon this adventure bided safely behind, held back by the countermand which through some hideous blunder had failed to reach them in time. But they went on. Orders were to go on-and order, plus discipline, plus the individual's sense of responsibility, plus that fear of his that his mates may know how fearful of other things he is-make it possible for armies to be armies instead of mobs and for battles to be won.

They went on until they came to an invisible line drawn lengthwise across the broad way of the weed field, and here men began to drop down. Mainly those stricken slid gently forward to lie on their stomachs. Only here and there was there a man who spun about to fall face upward. Those who were wounded, but not overthrown, would generally sit down quite gently and quite deliberately, with puzzled looks in their eyes. Since still there was neither sign nor sight of the well-hidden enemy the thought took root in the minds of the men as yet unscathed that, advancing too fast, they had been caught in the drop curtain of their own barrage.

Sergeant Hyman Ginsburg, going along at the head of his squad, got this notion quite well fixed in his mind. Then, though, he saw smoke jets issuing from bushes and trees on ahead of him where the ridges of the slope sharpened up acutely into a sort of natural barrier like a wall; and likewise for the first time he now heard the tat-tat-tat of machine guns, sounding like the hammers of pneumatic riveters rapidly operated. To him it seemed a proper course that his squad should take such cover as the lay of the land afforded and fire back toward the machine guns. But since the instructions, so far as he knew them, called for a steady advance up to within a few rods of the enemy's supposed position and then a quick rush forward, he gave no such command to his squad.

Suddenly he became aware that off to the right the forward movement of the battalion was checking up. Then, all in an instant, men on both sides were falling back. He and his squad were enveloped in a reverse movement. It seemed too bad that the battalion should be driven in after suffering these casualties and without having dealt a blow in return for the punishment it had undergone. But what did it matter if, after all, they were being sacrificed vainly as the result of a hideous mistake at divisional headquarters? Better to save what was left.

So far as he could tell, nobody gave the word to retire. He found himself going back at the tail of his squad where before he had been its head. Subconsciously he was surprised to observe that the copse from which they had emerged but a minute or two earlier, as he had imagined, was a considerable distance away from them, now that they had set their faces toward it. It did not seem possible that they could have left it so far behind them. Yet returning to it the men did not perceptibly hurry their steps. They retreated without evidences of disorder-almost reluctantly-as though by this very slowness of movement to signify their disgust for the supposed fiasco that had enveloped them, causing them to waste lives in an ill-timed and futile endeavour.

Ginsburg re?ntered the covert of birches with a sense of gratitude for its protection and let himself down into the trench. He faced about, peering over its rim, and saw that his captain-Captain Griswold-was just behind him, returning all alone and looking back over his shoulder constantly.

Captain Griswold was perhaps twenty yards from the thicket when he clasped both hands to the pit of his stomach and slipped down flat in the trampled herbage. In that same moment Ginsburg saw how many invisible darting objects, which must of course be machine-gun bullets, were mowing the weed stems about the spot where the captain had gone down. Bits of turf flew up in showers as the leaden blasts, spraying down from the top of the ridge, bored into the earth.

Well, somebody would have to bring the captain in out of that. He laid his rifle against the wall of the trench and climbed out again into plain view. So far as he knew he was going as a solitary volunteer upon this errand. He put one arm across his face, like a man fending off rain drops, and ran bent forward.

The captain, when he reached him, was lying upon his side with his face turned away from Ginsburg and his shrapnel helmet half on and half off his head. Ginsburg stooped, putting his hands under the pits of the captain's arms, and gave a heave. The burden of the body came against him as so much dead heft; a weight limp and unresponsive, the trunk sagging, the limbs loose and unguided.

Ginsburg felt a hard buffet in his right side. It wasn't a blow exactly; it was more like a clout from a heavily-shod blunt-ended brogan. His last registered impression as he collapsed on top of the captain was that someone, hurrying up to aid him, had stumbled and driven a booted toe into his ribs. Thereafter for a space events-in so far as Ginsburg's mind recorded them-were hazy, with gaps between of complete forgetfulness. He felt no pain to speak of, but busybodies kept bothering him. It drowsily annoyed him to be dragged about, to be lifted up and to be put down again, to be pawed over by unseen, dimly comprehended hands, to be ridden in a careening, bumping vehicle for what seemed to him hours and hours. Finally, when he was striving to reorganise his faculties for the utterance of a protest, someone put something over his nose and he went sound asleep.

Ensued then a measureless period when he slept and dreamed strange jumbled dreams. He awakened, clear enough in his thoughts, but beset with a queer giddiness and a weakness, in a hospital sixteen miles from where the mix-up had started, though he didn't know about that of course until subsequent inquiry enabled him to piece together a number of fragmentary recollections. For the present he was content to realise that he lay on a comfortable cot under a tight roof and that he had his full complement of arms and legs and could move them, though when he moved the right leg the ankle hurt him. Also he had a queer squeezed-in sensation amidships as though broad straps had been buckled tightly about his trunk.

Upon top of these discoveries came another. Sitting up in the next-hand cot to his on the right was a member of his own company, one Paul Dempsey, now rather elaborately bandaged as to his head and shoulders, but seemingly otherwise in customary good order and spirits.

"Hello, Dempsey," he said.

"Hello, sarge," answered back Dempsey. "How you feelin' by now-all right?"

"Guess so. My ankle is sprained or something and my side feels sort of funny."

"I shouldn't wonder," said Dempsey. "I got a dippy kind of feelin' inside my own headpiece-piece of shell casin' come and beaned me. It don't amount to much, though; just enough to get me a wound stripe. You're the lucky guy, sarge. Maybe it's so you won't have to go back and prob'ly I will."

The speaker sighed and grinned and then confessed to a great perception which many before him had known and which many were to know afterward, but which some-less frank than he-have sought to conceal.

"I'll go back of course if they need me-and if I have to-but I'd just as lief not. You kin take it from me, I've had plenty of this gettin' all-shot-up business. Oncet is enough for First-Class Private Dempsey.

"Say," he went on, "looks like you and me are goin' partners a lot here lately. I get mine right after you get yours. We ride back here together in the same tin Lizzie-you and me do-and now here we are side by each again. Well, there's a lot of the fellows we won't neither of us see no more. But their lives wasn't wasted, at that. I betcher there's a lot of German bein' spoke in hell these last two or three days.

"Oh, you ain't heard the big news, have you? Bein' off your dip and out of commission like you was. Well, we busted old Mister Hindenburg's line in about nine places and now it looks like maybe we'll eat Thanksgivin' dinner in Berlin or Hoboken-one."

Dempsey went on and every word that he uttered was news-how the seemingly premature advance of the battalion had not been a mistake at all; how the only slip was that the battalion walked into a whole cote of unsuspected machine-gun nests, but how the second battalion going up and round the shore of the hill to the left had taken the boche on the flank and cleaned him out of his pretty little ambuscade; how there were tidings of great cheer filtering back from all along the line and so forth and so on. Ginsburg broke in on him:

"How's Captain Griswold?"

"Oh, the cap was as good as dead when this here guy, Goodman, fetched him in on his back after he'd went out after you fell and fetched you back in first. I seen the whole thing myself-it was right after that that I got beaned. One good scout, the cap was. And there ain't nothin' wrong with this Goodman, neither; you kin take it from me."

"Goodman?" Ginsburg pondered. The name was a strange one. "Say, was it this Goodman that kicked me in the ribs while I was tryin' to pick up the captain?"

"Kicked you nothin'! You got a machine-gun bullet glancin' on your short ribs and acrost your chest right under the skin-that was what put you down and out. And then just as Goodman fetched you in acrost over the top here come another lot of machine-gun bullets, and one of 'em drilled you through the ankle and another one of them bored Goodman clean through the shoulder; but that didn't keep him from goin' right back out there, shot up like he was, after the captain. Quick as a cat that guy was and strong as a bull. Naw, Goodman he never kicked you-that was a little chunk of lead kicked you."

"But I didn't feel any pain like a bullet," protested Ginsburg. "It was more like a hard wallop with a club or a boot."

"Say, that's a funny thing too," said Dempsey. "You're always readin' about the sharp dartin' pain a bullet makes, and yet nearly everybody that gets hit comes out of his trance ready to swear a mule muster kicked him or somethin'. I guess that sharp-dartin' pain stuff runs for Sweeney; the guys that write about it oughter get shot up themselves oncet. Then they'd know."

"This Goodman, now?" queried Ginsburg, trying to chamber many impressions at once. "I don't seem to place him. He wasn't in B Company?"

"Naw! He's out of D Company. He's a new guy. He's out of a bunch of replacements that come up for D Company only the day before yistiddy. Well, for a green hand he certainly handled himself like one old-timer."

Dempsey, aged nineteen, spoke as the grizzled veteran of many campaigns might have spoken.

"Yes, sir! He certainly snatched you out of a damn bad hole in jig time."

"I'd like to have a look at him," said Ginsburg. "And my old mother back home would, too, I know."

"Your mother'll have to wait, but you kin have your wish," said Dempsey gleefully. He had been saving his biggest piece of news for the last. "If you've got anything to ask him just ask him. He's layin' there-right over there on the other side of you. We all three of us rode down here together in the same amb'lance load."

Ginsburg turned his head. Above the blanket that covered the figure of his cot neighbour on the right he looked into the face of the man who had saved him-looked into it and recognised it. That dark skin, clear though, with a transparent pallor to it like brown stump water in a swamp, and those black eyes between the slitted lids could belong to but one person on earth. If the other had overheard what just had passed between Ginsburg and Dempsey he gave no sign. He considered Ginsburg steadily, with a cool, hostile stare in his eyes.

"Much obliged, buddy," said Ginsburg. Something already had told him that here revealed was a secret not to be shared with a third party.

"Don't mention it," answered his late rescuer shortly. He drew a fold of the blanket up across his face with the gesture of one craving solitude or sleep.

"Huh!" quoth Dempsey. "Not what I'd call a talkative guy."

This shortcoming could not be laid at his own door. He talked steadily on. After a while, though, a reaction of weariness began to blunt Dempsey's sprightly vivacity. His talk trailed off into grunts and he slept the sleep of a hurt tired-out boy.

Satisfied that Dempsey no longer was to be considered in the r?le of a possible eavesdropper, Ginsburg nevertheless spoke cautiously as again he turned his face toward the motionless figure stretched alongside him on his left.

"Listening?" he began.

"Yes," gruffly.

"When did you begin calling yourself Goodman?"

"That's my business."

"No, it's not. Something has happened that gives me the right to know. Forget that I used to be on the cops. I'm asking you now as one soldier to another: When did you begin calling yourself Goodman?"

"About a year ago-when I first got into the service."

"How did you get in?"


"Where? New York?"

"No. Cleveland."

"What made you enlist?"

"Say, wot's this-thoid-degree stuff?"

"I told you just now that I figured I had a right to know. When a man saves your life it puts him under an obligation to you-I mean puts you under an obligation to him," he corrected.

"Well, if you put it that way-maybe it was because I wanted to duck out of reach of you bulls. Maybe because I wanted to go straight a while. Maybe because I wanted to show that a bad guy could do somethin' for his country. Dope it out for yourself. That used to be your game-dopin' things out-wasn't it?"

"I'm trying to, now. Tell me, does anybody know-anybody in the Army, I mean-know who you are?"

"Nobody but you; and you might call it an accident, the way you come to find out."

"Something like that. How's your record since you joined up?"

"Clean as anybody's."

"And what's your idea about keeping on going straight after the war is over and you get out of service?

"Don't answer unless you feel like it; only I've got my own private reasons for wanting to know."

"Well, I know a trade-learnt it in stir, but I know it. I'm a steamfitter by trade, only I ain't never worked much at it. Maybe when I get back I'd try workin' at it steady if you flatties would only keep off me back. Anything else you wanted to find out?" His tone was sneering almost. "If there's not, I think I'll try to take a nap."

"Not now-but I'd like to talk to you again about some things when we're both rested up."

"Have it your own way. I can't get away from you for a while-not with this hole drilled in me shoulder."

However, Ginsburg did not have it his own way. The wound in his leg gave threat of trouble and at once he was shifted south to one of the big base hospitals. An operation followed and after that a rather long, slow convalescence.

In the same week of November that the armistice was signed, Ginsburg, limping slightly, went aboard a troopship bound for home. It befell, therefore, that he spent the winter on sick leave in New York. He had plenty of spare time on his hands and some of it he employed in business of a more or less private nature. For example, he called on the district attorney and a few days later went to Albany and called upon the governor. A returned soldier whose name has been often in the paper and who wears on his uniform tunic two bits of ribbon and on his sleeves service and wound stripes is not kept waiting in anterooms these times. He saw the governor just as he had seen the district attorney-promptly. In fact, the governor felt it to be an honour to meet a soldier who had been decorated for gallantry in action and so expressed himself. Later he called in the reporters and restated the fact; but when one of the reporters inquired into the reasons for Sergeant Ginsburg's visit at this time the governor shook his head.

"The business between us was confidential," he said smilingly. "But I might add that Sergeant Ginsburg got what he came for. And it wasn't a job either. I'm afraid, though, that you young gentlemen will have to wait a while for the rest of the details. They'll come out in time no doubt. But just for the present a sort of surprise is being planned for someone and while I'm to be a party to it I don't feel at liberty to tell about it-yet."

* * *

Now it is a part of the business of newspaper men to put two and two together and get four. Months later, recalling what the governor had said to the Albany correspondents, divers city editors with the aid of their bright young staff men did put two and two together and they got a story. It was a peach of a bird of a gem of a story that they got on the day a transport nosed up the harbour bearing what was left of one of the infantry regiments of the praiseworthy Metropolitan Division.

Even in those days of regardless receptions for home-arriving troops it did not often happen that a secretary to the governor and an assistant from the office of the district attorney went down the bay on the same tug to meet the same returning soldier-and he a private soldier at that. Each of these gentlemen had put on his long-tailed coat and his two-quart hat for the gladsome occasion; each of them carried a document for personal presentation to this private soldier.

And the sum total of these documents was: Firstly, to the full legal effect that a certain indictment of long standing was now by due processes of law forever and eternally quashed; and secondly, that the governor had seen fit to remove all disabilities against a certain individual, thereby restoring the person named to all the rights, boons, benefits and privileges of citizenship; and thirdly, that in accordance with a prior and privy design, now fully carried out, the recipient of these documents had official guaranty, stamped, sealed and delivered, that when he set foot on the soil of these United States he would do so without cloud upon his title as a sovereign voter, without blemish on his name and without fear of prosecution in his heart. And the upshot of it all was that the story was more than a peach; it was a pippin. The rehabilitation of Private Pasquale Gallino, sometime known as Stretchy Gorman, gangster, and more latterly still as P. Goodman, U. S. A., A. E. F., was celebrated to the extent of I don't know how many gallons of printer's ink.

Having landed in driblets and having been reassembled in camp as a whole, the division presently paraded, which made another story deemed worthy of columns upon columns in print. Our duty here, though, is not to undertake a description of that parade, for such was competently done on that fine day when the crowd that turned out was the largest crowd which that city of crowds, New York, had seen since the day when the crowding Dutchmen crowded the Indians off the shortly-to-be-crowded island of Manhattan.

Those who followed the daily chronicles of daily events saw then, through the eyes of gifted scribes, how Fifth Avenue was turned into a four-mile stretch of prancing, dancing glory; and how the outpouring millions, in masses fluid as water and in strength irresistible as a flood, broke the police dams and made of roadway and sidewalks one great, roaring, human sluiceway; and how the khaki-clad ranks marched upon a carpet of the flowers and the fruit and the candy and the cigarettes and the cigars and the confetti and the paper ribbons that were thrown at them and about them. These things are a tale told and retold. For us the task is merely to narrate one small incident which occurred in a side street hard by Washington Square while the parade was forming.

Where he stood marking time in the front row of the honour men of his own regiment-there being forty-six of these honour men, all bearing upon their proudly outbulged bosoms bits of metal testifying to valorous deeds-First Sergeant Hyman Ginsburg, keeping eyes front upon the broad back of the colonel who would ride just in advance of the honour squad and speaking out of the side of his mouth, addressed a short, squat, dark man in private's uniform almost directly behind him at the end of the second file.

"Pal," he said, casting his voice over his shoulder, "did you happen to read in the paper this morning that the police commissioner-the new one, the one that was appointed while we were in France-would be in the reviewing stand to-day?"

"No, I didn't read it; but wot of it?" answered the person addressed.

"Nothing, only it reminded me of a promise I made you that night down at the Stuffed Owl when we met for the first time since we were kids together. Remember that promise, don't you?"

"Can't say I do."

"I told you that some day I'd get you with the goods on you and that I'd lead you in broad daylight up the street to the big chief. Well, to-day, kid, I make good on that promise. The big chief's waiting for us up yonder in the reviewing stand along with the governor and the mayor and the rest. And you've got the goods on you-you're wearing them on your chest. And I'm about to lead you to him."

Whereupon old Mr. John J. Coincidence, standing in the crowd, took out his fountain pen and on his shirt cuff scored a fresh tally to his own credit.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top