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Three Comrades

Erich Maria Remarque


  Bob had seen too much.

  First in the war. Then among the girls at the Café International,

  his "comrades" of the street.

  He moved among the lost and damned,

  living on borrowed dreams and stolen love.

  Lovely Patricia was just another refugee from boredom,

  more generous than most of the "soldiers of love."

  But when her terrible secret threatened their relationship,

  Bob knew he had to stay and help her fight back.

  Snatching warmth and pleasure on the run,

  their love became a burning protest against

  a corrupt and cynical world.

  "It is unlike any love story that you have read,

  written with a superb simplicity and a directness,

  in its background and in its characters, that stamp

  Remarque as a great novelist—more than a great

  narrator of the horrors of war."

  Boston HERALD

  * * *


  Recognized as one of the world's outstanding novelists,

  Erich Maria Remarque was born in Osnabruck, Germany,

  and is now a United States citizen dividing his time between

  New York and Switzerland.

  He established himself in the world of letters with the


  followed this great World War I novel with THREE COMRADES,


  A TIME TO DIE and his very recent bestseller THE BLACK OBELISK.


  "The author of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT has written a very different, but hardly less memorable novel in THREE COMRADES. Erich Maria Remarque's new novel is less bitter, less intense, than his former one; it is long rather than short—and about the most readable work of Action published in a long while. It is a novel with a story so fascinating that it can't be laid aside; told through action and incident quickly and directly. It has the simplicity of greatness."


  "The qualities which distinguish Remarque as a writer are abundantly displayed in THREE COMRADES. Simplicity and strength, humor and tenderness, a poet's sensitive reactions both to the things that are tangible and to those that are not—all these have been united in his work from the beginning, but to them there is added now, I think, a growing power of characterization . . . There is evident for the first time the power to build up the story of the unfolding of a human relationship—for THREE COMRADES has for its focus one of the most poignant love stories that have been told in our time."


  "As you read Remarque's kindly, lilting, sad-eyed novel, so informal an epilogue to an era, you cannot help placing it against the books in other countries that were written by men like him. You remember the Hemingway of THE SUN ALSO RISES . . . It is the bitter-sweet tang of youth, the slow ebb of an anxious conscience 'mixing memory and desire,' that one responds to in this book; a pleasure as warmly sad as nostalgic, something caught out of turmoil and held against the presence of time."


  All POPULAR LIBRARY books are carefully selected by the POPULAR LIBRARY Editorial Board from the lists of the country's major book publishers, and represent fiction and non-fiction titles by the world's greatest authors.

  * * *


  Published in January, 1958

  Copyright, 1936, 1937, by Erich Maria Remarque

  Published by arrangement with the author.

  Little, Brown edition published in April, 1937

  Five printings

  British edition published by Hutchinson & Co., Ltd.

  Swedish edition published by Bonnier, Oyrdendal & Norsk

  French edition published by Gallimard

  Israeli edition published by Tversky

  Spanish edition published by Ercilla,Chile

  Additional editions published in Italian, Portuguese,

  Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, Polish, Dutch, Japanese,

  Czechoslovakian, Roumanian and German.


  All Rights Reserved

  Chapter I

  The sky was yellow as brass, not yet hidden by the smoke from the chimney stacks. Behind the roofs of the factory the radiance was especially bright. The sun must be just rising. I looked at my watch; not eight o'clock. A quarter of an hour too early.

  Still I opened the gate, and put the petrol pump in readiness. There was always a car or two passing at that hour wanting a fill.

  Suddenly I heard behind me a harsh, high-pitched squeaking—like the sound of a rusty hoist being turned somewhere down under the earth. I stood still and listened. I walked back across the yard to the workshop and cautiously opened the door.

  A ghost—stumbling about in the gloom! It had a dirty white cloth wound about its head, its skirt was hitched up to give its knees clearance; it had a blue apron, a pair of thick slippers, and was wielding a broom; it weighed around fourteen stone, and was in fact our charwoman, Matilda Stoss.

  I stood watching her. With all the grace of a hippopotamus, she made her way staggering among the radiators, singing in a hollow voice as she went "the Song of the Bold Hussar." On the bench by the window stood two cognac bottles, one of them almost empty. Last night they had been full. I had forgotten to lock them away.

  "But Frau Stoss!" I protested.

  The singing stopped; the broom dropped to the floor. The beatific smile died away. Now it was my turn to be the ghost.

  "Holy Jesus!" exclaimed Matilda, staring at me with bleary eyes. "I wasn't expecting you yet."

  "That doesn't surprise me. Did it taste good?"

  "Sure and it did. But this is so awkward, Herr Lohkamp." She wiped her hand across her mouth. "I just can't understand—"

  "Come, Matilda, that's an exaggeration. You're only tight —full as a tick, eh?"

  She maintained her balance with difficulty and stood there blinking like an old owl. Gradually her mind became clear. Resolutely she took a step forward.

  "Man is human, Herr Lohkamp, after all. . . I only smelled it at first . . . and then I took just one little nip, because well, you know, I always have had a weak stomach . . . and then . . . then I think the Devil must have got hold of me. Anyway, you have no right to lead an old woman into temptation, leaving good bottles standing about like that. . . ."

  It was not the first time I had caught her so. She used to come to us for two hours every morning to clean up the workshop; and though one might leave as much money lying around as one liked she would never disturb it—but schnapps she could smell out as far off as a rat a slice of bacon.

  I held up the bottles. "Naturally! You've left the customers' cognac. . . . But the good stuff, Herr Köster's own—you've polished it all off."

  A grin appeared on her weather-beaten face. "Trust me, Herr Lohkamp; I'm a connoisseur! But you won't tell, Herr Lohkamp—and me a poor widow?"

  She unpinned her skirt. "Then I'd better be going. If Herr Köster should catch me . . ." She threw up her hands.

  I went to the cupboard and opened it. "Matilda. . . ."

  She came waddling along. I held up a rectangular brown bottle.

  Protesting, she held up her hands.

  "It wasn't me," she said. "Honour bright, it wasn't, Herr Lohkamp. I didn't even smell it!"

  "You don't even know what it is, I suppose?" said I, filling a glass.

  "No?" she replied, licking her lips. "Rum. Stone Age Jamaica."

  "Excellent! Then how about a glass?"

  "Me?" S
he started back. "This is too much, Herr Lohkamp! This is heaping coals of fire on my head. Here's old Stoss goes and mops up all your cognac on the quiet and then you treat her to a rum on top of it! You're a saint, Herr Lohkamp, that's what you are! I'll see myself in my grave before I touch a drop of it."

  "You're quite sure, Matilda?" said I, making to drink it myself.

  "Well, all right, then," said she swiftly, seizing the glass.

  "One must take the good as it comes. Even though one doesn't understand. Good health! It's not your birthday, I suppose?"

  "More or less, Matilda. A good guess."

  "No, not really?" She seized my hand. "Many happy returns! And lots of dough, Herr Lohkamp. . . . Why, I'm all of a quiver. . . . I must have another to celebrate that. I'm as fond of you as if you were my own son!"

  "Very good."

  I poured her another glass. She tipped it down, and, still singing my praises, she left the workshop.

  I put the bottle away and sat down at the table. The pallid sunlight through the window shone upon my hands. A queer feeling, a birthday—even though it means nothing. Thirty years. . . . I remember the time when I thought I should never reach twenty—it seemed so far away. And then. . . .

  I took a sheet of paper from the drawer and began to reckon. Childhood, school—an unresolvable complex of things and happenings—so remote, another world, not real any more. Real life began only in 1916. I had just joined the Army—eighteen years of age, thin and lanky. And a snotty sergeant-major who used to make me practise, on-the-hands-down, over and over again in the mud of the ploughed fields at the back of the barracks . . . One evening my mother came to the barracks to visit me; but she had to wait for me over an hour, because I had failed to pack my kit the regulation way, and as punishment had been ordered to scrub out the latrines. She offered to help me, but that was not allowed. She cried, and I was so tired that I fell asleep as I sat there beside her.

  1917. Flanders. Mittendorf and I bought a bottle of red wine at the canteen. . . . We intended to celebrate. But we never got so far, for early that morning the English bombardment began. Köster was wounded about midday; Meyer and Deters were killed during the afternoon. Then, with nightfall, just as we thought things were quietening down, and were about to draw the cork, gas came over and filled the dugouts. We had our masks on in good time, but Mittendorf's was defective, and by the time he knew it, it was too late. He ripped it off, but before a new one could be found he had swallowed so much gas he was spewing blood. He died the next morning, green and black in the face.

  1918. That was in hospital. A fresh convoy had come in a few days before. Paper bandages. Badly wounded cases. Groans. Low operating-trolleys trundling back and forth all day. Josef Stoll was in the bed next to mine. Both his legs were off, but he didn't know that. He could not see it, because the bedclothes were supported on a wire cradle. He would not have believed it anyway, for he could still feel the pain in his feet. Two chaps died in the night in our room, one very slowly and hard.

  1919. Home again. Revolution. Starvation. And outside the machine-guns rattling. Soldier against soldier.

  1920. Putsch. Karl Bröger shot. Köster and Lenz arrested. My mother in hospital. Cancer.

  1921. . . .

  I pondered awhile. No, I couldn't remember. That year, was missing. 1922, I was a platelayer in Thuringia; 1923, advertising manager for a rubber goods firm. That was during the inflation. At one time I was earning as much as two hundred billion marks a month. We used to be paid twice a day, each payment followed by a half-hour's leave, so that one could dash out to the shops and buy something before next publication of the dollar exchange rate—for by that time the money would be again worth only half.

  And then what? The years after that? I put down the pencil. There was no point in going over all that. Anyway, I could not remember any longer; it had been all too confused. My last birthday I celebrated as pianist at the Café International. It was then I met Köster and Lenz once more. And now here I was in the Aurewo—Auto-Repair-Workshop; Köster & Co. Lenz and I were the "Co.," but the shop belonged really only to Köster. He had been our school friend, and in the Army pur company commander; then he became an air pilot, and later for a time a student; then a speedway racer. . . . And finally he had bought this show. Lenz, after spending some years drifting around South America, had been first to join him—then I.

  I fished a cigarette from my pocket. After all, I had every reason to be content. I was not so badly off really; I had work, I was strong, I did not tire easily, I was healthy as things go. . . . But it was better not to think too much about all that—when alone, at any rate; and especially at night. For every now and then things had a way of rising up suddenly out of the past and staring at one with dead eyes. It was against such times that one kept a bottle of schnapps.

  The gate creaked on its hinges. I tore up the slip of paper with the dates on it and threw it into the wastepaper basket. The door burst open, and Gottfried Lenz—tall, thin, with a straw-coloured mop of hair and a nose that might have belonged to somebody else—stood framed in the doorway.

  "Bobby," he bawled, "you lump of obesity, stand up! Put your heels together! Your superior officers wish to speak to you!

  "Herrgott!" I stood up. "I hoped you wouldn't remember. . . . Don't make a song about it."

  "You're not the only one to be considered," said Gottfried, putting down on the table a parcel in which was something that clinked and rattled. Köster came in after him.

  Lenz stood towering over me. "What was the first thing you met this morning, Bob?"

  I thought awhile. "An old woman dancing."

  "Holy Moses! There's an omen, if you like! Fits in with your horoscope exactly! I had it cast yesterday. You are born under Sagittarius—weak, unreliable, a reed in the wind—with Saturn sitting in an ugly quarter and Jupiter unfavourable this year. Köster and I are in loco parentis, you understand, therefore I ask you to accept, for your very necessary protection, first this amulet. I had it from a direct descendant of the last of the Incas. She had blue blood and flat feet; she was lousy, and had the gift of clairvoyance. 'Pale-faced stranger,' she said to me, 'kings have worn this; the power of sun, moon and earth are in it, to say nothing of the lesser planets. . . . Give me a silver dollar for it to buy schnapps and it is yours.' That the chain of fortune may not be broken, I now give it to you. May it preserve you and put to flight unfriendly Jupiter." He hung about my neck a little black figure suspended on a thin chain. "There. That is against major misfortunes. . . . Against those of every day, there is this—six bottles of rum. From Otto. Every drop twice as old as you are."

  He opened the parcel and stood the bottles up one by one in the morning sunshine. They glowed like amber. "Looks marvellous," said I. "Where did you get it, Otto?"

  Köster smiled. "That's a long story. But say, Boy, how do you feel? Thirty?"

  I shook my head. "Like sixteen and fifty both at the same time. Pretty punk, in other words. . . ."

  "Pretty punk! What do you mean?" objected Lenz. "Why, that's the most wonderful thing in the world. It means you've conquered time and are living twice over!"

  Köster looked at me. "Let him alone, Gottfried," said he then. "Birthdays weigh heavily on one's self-esteem. Early in the morning especially. He'll pick up later."

  Lenz knit his brows. "The less a man thinks of himself the better he is. Doesn't that comfort you now, Bob?"

  "Not at all," said I. "The better a man is the more he has to live up to. I find that rather strenuous and a bore anyway."

  "Wonderful! He's philosophizing, Otto! He's saved already," said Lenz. "The worst is over—the crisis is over— he's past the birthday hour when a man looks himself in the eye and finds that after all he is only a poor mutt. . . Now for the daily round with a quiet mind, and to the old Cadillac to oil his innards."

  We worked till dusk, then washed and dressed.

  Lenz eyed the row of bottles covetously. "What do you say to cracking on
e, Otto?"

  "That's for Bob, not for me, to say," said Köster. "You know, Gottfried, it's not polite to make a gift and then throw off hints like a howitzer."

  "Still less is it polite to let a benefactor die of thirst," retorted Lenz, drawing a cork.

  The smell filled the whole place.

  "Holy Mother!" exclaimed Gottfried.

  We all sniffed.

  "Fantastic, Otto! Outside the poets, there are not words to describe it."

  "It's too good for this murky hole," said Lenz. "I've an idea. . . . Let's go and have supper in the country somewhere and take the bottles with us. We can finish them off in God's great out-of-doors."


  We shoved aside the Cadillac on which we had been working all afternoon, and disclosed behind it a queer-look ing object on four wheels: Otto Köster's racing car—the pride of the workshop.