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ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT

TEAMWORK

Cover

RGL e-Book Cover 2016

ILUSTRATED BY RAYMOND SISLEY



First published in The American Legion, June 1941
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Version date: 2016-11-19

Only the original raw text of this book is in the public domain.
All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Argosy, June 8, 1940

The American Legion, June 1941, with "Teamwork"



Illustration

COMING from morning brilliance into the chalky-dusty dimness of the school corridor, Henry Allan tripped over something on the floor. He caught himself, adjusted the clip of his glasses on a bony nose and saw that the obstacle was one of a dozen or so suitcases deposited along the tiled wall either side of the door to which was tacked a cardboard sign:


LOCAL DRAFT BOARD NO. 27


Allan glanced up the passage toward his own office. Some obscure impulse turned him to this nearer door and, thin cheeks sucked in, he pulled it open.

The body-warmed, odorous atmosphere of a crowded room met him, and a buzz of low talk that held an undertone of excitement. A line of scarred desks kept the farther quarter of the room clear. Beyond them three older men huddled in absorbed conference over a sheaf of official-looking papers, but the faces that had turned to Allan were all young, some grinning nervously, some sober, about the mouths of one or two the lines of unacknowledged strain. Twenty-four years ago he had himself stood in just such a room, no longer a civilian but not yet a soldier, and so he knew the answer to the question that showed so plainly in these faces.

"What now? What lies ahead for us?"

Homesickness first, he could tell them.

Life suddenly harsh, almost inimical in rigid routine. Injustice sometimes. Bone-racking fatigue. The wind of the open spaces cleansing lungs of the city's dust and smoke, blood tingling in bodies alive as they never had been. Muscles, brains, learning new skills and glorying in them. Comradeship, deep, voiceless, in a fellowship of men. The exaltation of serving an ideal, of serving one's country.

He'd known all this, would know it again soon

"Hello, Mr. Allan!" A tall youth had moved to him through the press, was thrusting a big, brown hand at him. "Swell of you to come and see us off."

Allan took the hand, peered up into the blunt-jawed, smiling countenance.

"Not at all."

Bright blue eyes and dark-brown, rumpled hair made an odd contrast, vaguely familiar.

"You don't remember who I am, do you?"

Remember him? One of his old pupils, of course, but how remember one out of the thousands who'd passed before him.

"What makes you think I don't remember?"

The lad would be disappointed. "You were in my 8B class." That was a safe guess, he was about twenty-one or two, and eight years ago Allan had been teaching graduating classes for five. "You sat—" He pointed toward the rear of an imagined classroom, where a tall boy naturally would be seated. "You sat just about there."

"Right as rain!" The pleased glow that came into those blue eyes was ample recompense for the small deception. "In the last double desk with Johnny Foster."

"And you are William Grant." All the details of that term sprang into vivid recollection about the darkly handsome figure of John Foster. "That was my last official class before they made me assistant principal."

Of all the boys he'd taught, Allan speculated most often about this one's fortunes.

"You wouldn't happen to know what's become of young Foster, would you?"

"No, Mr. Allan. They moved out of the neighborhood and I lost track of him. Johnny was some guy, wasn't he?"

Grant chuckled reminiscently. "Always in some jam or other. Remember the mess he got the two of us into that time he had the bright idea of our dropping effervescent soda tablets into all the ink-wells on the top floor and they overflowed all over everybody's clothes and books?"

"Yes. Yes, indeed. That was quite an exploit."

"I'll never forget the way you went to bat for us when Dr. Ingraham wanted to expel us."

"It was easy enough to get you off, Grant, on the plea that you'd been influenced by a stronger character. Your previous record was good and you were properly contrite. But Foster was a very different matter...."

John Foster's record card was a black page of misdeeds, from 1A through to 8B George Ingraham had tapped it with a stiff forefinger and said, in his dry, sexless voice, "The boy's been sent down to me four times as often as any other I can remember, and no punishment has ever had any effect on him except to elicit sullen defiance. Foster was already vicious, Allan, when he first came to us at the age of six."

"He couldn't have been." Allan had reached out an appealing hand to the man he was to succeed in a few months. "No child of six, or of sixteen, is really vicious. There must be some unfortunate situation in his home background that explains his persistent defiance of our authority. Perhaps a purely subconscious protest—"

"That," Ingraham broke in, "is the sort of soft-headed sentimentalism misnamed psychology that is ruining our schools. I have not and, so long as I am still in a position to prevent it, will not permit it to ruin this one. Every boy in the building knows of Foster's latest crime, and unless they know also that he has been promptly and rigorously punished for it there will be no controlling them. Which, my friend, since the discipline of the school is so shortly to be-come your concern, should be of some interest to you."

"My interest at the moment is in helping Foster to learn how to live as a useful member of society. Your methods have succeeded only in building up in him an antagonism to all authority and if you climax this by expelling him, you will be sending him out into the world a potential criminal. You must not do this thing. You have no right to."

"I have no right to do anything else, in justice to my conscience." Ingraham had risen in token that the discussion was at an end. "I shall recommend that John Foster be expelled...."


"BOY, oh boy, was I scared sitting on the mourners' bench up the hall here!" William Grant also was recalling that afternoon eight years ago, "waiting for you to come out of the office with old Ingraham's verdict. Johnny was pretty white around the gills too, but otherwise he didn't seem a bit fazed. If he got kicked out, he told me, he was all set with a job making deliveries for Legs Simpson, a bootlegger who used to operate around our block. That was before prohibition was repealed, you remember."

"Yes," Henry Allan nodded. "I remember...."

He remembered the dull pound of anger in his temples and his surprise that his voice was so calm, saying:

"If you make that recommendation, Dr. Ingraham, I shall go before the City Council with information I happen to possess as to why you received your new appointment just in time to be able to retire, next year, on a principal's pension instead of an assistant's."

What there was of color in Ingraham's sere countenance had drained from it and he'd become suddenly an old man, old and somehow pathetic. His career stemmed from the time when advancement in the system depended on political pull rather than merit and he'd seen no wrong in using that pull one last time.

"You—you wouldn't do that to me," he had whispered, unable to more than whisper.

"Have I any right to do anything else," Allan had asked softly, "in justice to my conscience?" and then, when the wordless gesture of a blue-veined hand had acknowledged defeat, he'd said, "You'll have no trouble with John Foster from now on. I promise you...."

Illustration

GRANT chuckled again. "I bust out bawling when you told us everything was all right. You gave me a pat on the back and chased me the hell out of there, but you walked home with Johnny."

"It was a comfortable home he took me to a nicely-furnished, neat, well managed. But Foster had a younger sister who'd been paralyzed from infancy and the effort to make up for the cruel trick Fate had played on her absorbed the whole life of the family. What was wrong with John was that his personality being so submerged at home, he overemphasized aggressiveness elsewhere. Well, it was too late to do anything about the family set-up but I worked with the boy and I've always hoped that before he graduated I'd gotten him to understand that cooperation with others, as well as the maintenance of one's individuality, is the key to successful living in a democratic society."

"'Teamwork, boys.'" Grant quoted, grinning, "'is as important in the game of life as on the basketball court.' If I heard you say that once that term, I heard you say it a hundred times."

"And I'm still—" Allan broke off as the shortest of the three board members rapped sharply on a desk and called out in the thin, high tones of a portly, middle-aged businessman trying to be military, "Attention, gentlemen. Please answer to your names."

For a moment longer Henry Allan's thoughts clung to the recollections the name of Johnny Foster had touched off. After he'd taken over Ingraham's desk he'd treated every pupil the teachers had sent down to him in the way Foster should have been treated from the first. He'd talked with the parents, had visited the homes if necessary, had studied every facet of each boy's background and personality till he'd learned exactly how to accomplish a permanent adjustment. Piled on top of the numberless other details of his job, this had meant long hours of work, evenings, weekends, but he was young and vigorous and could endure it. He was in the prime of life....

"Bailey." The board member called the roll. "Carlsen. Fagnani...."

Well, Allan reminded himself, that would all be over and done with soon. As soon as a reply came to the application he'd sent to Washington last week.

"Grant!"

"Present," William Grant snapped, and relaxed. A clangor of gongs came in from the corridor and beyond the walls of this room, the school came alive with a rush of small feet, a shrillness of childish voices.

Henry Allan put his hand on Grant's shoulder. "That means I've got to get to work. Good luck, my boy."

"Thanks, Mr. Allan. Thanks and good-bye."

"Maybe not good-bye, son. Don't be surprised if I turn up somewhere along the line, giving you orders." It was Allan's turn to chuckle. "There may be a letter waiting for me in my office, right now...."

It was there, a long envelope unopened on top of the pile of official mail Miss Corbin had placed on his desk, the printed penalty notice in the corner where ordinary letters bear a cancelled stamp. Allan's fingers trembled a bit with eagerness to reach for it but his clerk, prim in black, high-collared about a scrawny neck, was putting before him the teachers' time-sheet to sign.

"Mrs. Mornay telephoned that she has a cold and will not be in. You were late," she informed him, coldly disapproving, "and so I took it on myself to call up that Miss Jordan who did so well substituting in 4B3 last month."

"Quite right." You'll be looking down your long nose at someone else next week, my lady. "Quite as I should have wished." And I'll be in uniform, doing man's work among men. "Now, if you'll permit me to look over my mail....

"There's nothing of special importance. Mr. Allan, and Mrs. Johnson has been waiting since twenty to nine. She left her baby in a neighbor's care. I promised that you'd talk with her as soon as you came in."

"Mrs. Johnson," Allan blinked up at her, his mind far afield. "Who—?"

"Benjamin Johnson's mother, the imp who stuck an inked pen-point into the hand of the boy sitting in front of him, in Room 218. You had me write her to come in."

"Ah, yes. Benjamin couldn't explain why he did that. He had nothing against the other boy, just had a sudden impulse to hurt him. It will be interesting to discover what is behind that impulse."

"Plain cussedness was behind it." The tip of Leila Corbin's nose twitched like a rabbit's. "Dr. Ingraham would have had his mother whale him within an inch of his life—"

"You seem never to have quite realized." Allan interrupted, "that I am the assistant principal here, not the shade of Dr. Ingraham. and that his methods are not mine."

He'd almost miss these little brushes, repeated in one form or another every time a case of discipline came up. "I will see Mrs. Johnson in a moment."

The Corbin woman rustled away to her own desk. Allan picked up the War Department envelope, ripped it open. The sheet he drew out shook a little as he unfolded it. The letter was dated yesterday.


Sir:

With reference to your letter of the twelfth inst., your grade eligible for appointment in the Officers Reserve Corps is that of First Lieutenant, the highest grade held by you during prior service. Unfortunately, however, you are beyond the maximum age for appointment in that grade in any section of the Officers Reserve Corps.

Your patriotic offer of service is appreciated and your letter has been filed with your record.

Very truly yours,

C. S. Adams, Major-General
The Adjutant General


The paper was crumpled into a tight ball in Henry Allan's hand. He did not recall doing that. The bookcases along the wall blurred and the bust of Dante seemed to smirk down at him mockingly. The chalk-dust in the close, dead air he breathed choked him.... A tramp of marching feet was muffled in the corridor outside, the ratatat of a type-writer drowned it out.

"Miss Corbin," Allan croaked.

The typewriter stopped and Leila Corbin looked across at him. "I'm an old man," he told her. "Do you know that I'm an old man, Miss Corbin?"

"Nonsense." The tip of her nose started twitching. "You're only forty-six. You're in the prime of life."

"No, Miss Corbin. I'm old. I'm too old to serve my country."

She stared at him and, the tip of her nose twitching faster, she looked like a frightened rabbit with black fur and a gray scalp.

"I'm not even a man. I'm just a superannuated schoolmarm in trousers."

"You mustn't say that, Mr. Allan."

She was on her feet, coming toward him.

"You—you're just tired out. You've been working too hard...."

"Precisely, Miss Corbin." His lips felt thin, tight. "I've been working much too hard. I'm too old to work so hard and I'm going to take it easy from now on. No more evenings. No more Saturdays and holidays—Fetch in Mrs. Johnson, Miss Corbin."

"But—"

His hand slapped down on the pile of papers in front of him.

"Fetch in Mrs. Johnson. And you need not go out again, as I've taught you to do during my interviews with the boys' parents. I want you to stay in here and listen to what I tell her. I want you to hear me tell her to flog that son of hers within an inch of his vicious little life."

Leila Corbin looked startled, but there was in her faded eyes a gleam of covert triumph as she scurried to the door.

Henry Allan recalled a trick George Ingraham used to employ to put parents in a properly receptive frame of mind for his dicta. Flinging the War Department letter into the wastepaper basket, he picked up the next one on the pile.

"You may come in now, Mrs. Johnson."

Allan didn't look up as hesitant feet neared him. The paper in his hand was another unopened envelope, addressed to him in a bold scrawl. The feet came to a stop in front of his desk, shuffled uneasily. He opened the envelope. It was empty. No. A small slip of paper dropped out—a small mimeographed clipping.

This would do to keep the Johnson woman waiting. It was poorly, amateurishly done. It was headed, Co. B Blattings.


Supply Sergeant Cassoway [the smaller type began] is going to have to issue bigger hats to the Second Platoon since one of that outfit was picked as the first trainee from this camp to goto Officers Training School.

We think Capt. Geraghty's explanation of the selection worth while repeating for everyone to think about.

"Others may have done better at the rifle butts and on the parade ground," he said at retreat last Friday. "Others of you may have displayed equal qualities of leadership. But the officers of the New Army must above everything else be able to teach their men, by example as well as precept, the proper balance between individual initiative and obedience to superior authority. It is through this spirit of perfect teamwork that we hope to make our forces superior to those of the dictatorships we may be called upon to meet, and it is in his understanding of this spirit that Private John Foster has shown himself outstanding."


The one word, teamwork, was underlined in ink.

Holding the slip very carefully down on his lap. Allan looked up at the deep-bosomed, work-worn woman before him.


Illustration

"The lady told me what Benny done." she started at once. "I promise you that little rascal will catch it when his father comes home from work tonight. He'll have to eat off the—"

"Just a minute, Mrs. Johnson." Allan's upraised hand dammed the spate of words. "Please make yourself comfortable in that chair."

He watched her comply, raised his voice a little so that it would carry to the other desk. "Oh, Miss Corbin. Would you mind running upstairs and making sure that Miss Jordan is having no difficulty with Mrs. Mornay's class?"

The nose-tip twitched furiously. The office door closed on an outraged rustle of taffeta petticoats. Henry Allan turned to Mrs. Johnson.

"Let's have a little talk about Benjamin, shall we, before we decide what to do about him? You see, madam, you and I, we have a great responsibility in dealing with these children. Not only to them, but to the country that will be theirs in such a little while."

His smile was a little wistful.

"You are a woman, and I am too old to be a soldier, so we can't fight for America, but we can still serve her in this way...."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.