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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 20
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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 20 Post by :tomfra Category :Long Stories Author :Gouverneur Morris Date :May 2012 Read :1532

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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 20


New fervor of enlistment took place, and among the first to enlist was Aladdin, and when his regiment met for organization he was unanimously elected major. He had many friends.

At first he thought that his duty did not lie where his heart lay, because of his brother Jack, now fourteen, whom he had to support. And then, the old promises coming to mind, he presented himself one morning before Senator St. John.

"Senator," he said, "you promised to do me a favor if I should ever ask it."

The senator thought of Margaret and trembled.

"I have come to ask it."

"Well, sir?"

"I want to enlist, sir, but if I do there's nobody to look after Jack."

Again the senator thought of Margaret, and his heart warmed.

"He shall live in my house, sir," said the senator, "as a member of my family, sir."

"God bless you, sir!" cried Aladdin.

In a state of dancing glee he darted off to the "Spy" office to see his chief.

Mr. Blankinship was leaning against the post of the street door, reading his own editorial in the morning issue.

"Hallo, Mr. Blankinship!" cried Aladdin.

"Hallo, Aladdin!" cried Mr. Blankinship, grinning at his favorite. "Late as usual."

"And for the last time, sir."

"I know of only one good reason for such a statement."

"It's it, sir!"

Mr. Blankinship folded his paper carefully. His eyes were red, for he had been up late the night before.

"I'd go, too," he said simply, "if it wasn't for the mother."

The firm of John St. John & Brothers sat in its office. The head of the firm was gorgeous in a new uniform; he had hurried up from New York (where he had been paying vigorous court to Ellen Manners, whom he had made up his mind to marry) in order, as oldest, biggest, and strongest, to enlist for the family in one of the home regiments. There lingered on his lips the thrill of a kiss half stolen, half yielded, while in his pockets were a number of telegrams since received, and the usually grave and stern young man was jocular and bantering. The two younger members of the firm were correspondingly savage.

"For God's sake, clear out of here," said Hamilton. "Your shingle's down. Bul and I are running this office now."

"Well, it's the chance of your lives, boys," said the frisky colonel. "I'll have forgotten the law by the time I come back."

"Hope you may choke, John," said Hannibal, sweetly.

"Don't allow smoking in here, do you, boys?" He got no answer. It was a hard-and-fast rule which he himself had instituted.

"Well, here goes." He lighted a huge cigar and puffed it insolently about the office. He surveyed himself in the cracked mirror.

"Cursed if a uniform isn't becoming to a man!" he said.

"Chicken!" said Hamilton.

"Puppy!" said Hannibal.

"Titmouse!" said Hamilton.

"Ant!" said Hannibal.

John's grin widened.

"Boys," he said, "you've got one swell looker in the family, anyway, and you ought to be glad of that."

The boys exchanged glances.

Hannibal had upon his desk a pen-wiper which consisted of a small sponge heavy with the ink of wiped pens. Hamilton had beneath his desk an odd rubber boot which served him as a scrap-basket. These ornamental missiles took John St. John in the back of the head at about the same moment, the weight and impetus of the boot knocking the cigar clean out of his mouth, so that it dashed itself against the mirror.

The gallant colonel turned, still grinning. "Which threw the boot?" said he.

"I did," said Hamilton.

"Then you get the first licking."

Hamilton met his brother's hostile if grinning advance with the hardest blow that he could strike him over the left eye. Then they clenched, and Hannibal joined the fray. The three brothers, roaring with laughter, proceeded to inflict as much damage to each other and the office as they jointly could. Over and under they squirmed and contorted, hitting, tripping, falling and rising. Desks went over, lawbooks strewed the floor, ink ran, and finally the bust of George Washington, which had stood over the inner door since the foundation of the firm, came down with a crash.

By this time the three brothers were helpless with laughter. The combat ceased, and they sat upon the floor to survey the damage.

"You can't handle the old man yet, boys," said the colonel. His left eye was closed, and his new uniform looked like the ribbons hung on a May-pole.

Hamilton was bleeding at the nose. Hannibal's lip was split. The three looked at each other and shook with laughter.

"I'm inclined to think we've had a healthy bringing-up," said Hamilton between gasps.

"Better move, colonel," said Hannibal; "you're sitting in a pool of ink."

"So I am," said the colonel, as the cold struck through his new trousers.

The laughter broke out afresh.

Beau Larch, in the uniform of a private, appeared at the door.

"Hallo, Beau!"

"Come in."

"Take a hand?"

"Thank you, no," said Beau. "I just dropped in to tell you fellows that we've just had a hell of a licking at Bull Run."

"Us!" said the colonel, rising.

"Us!" said Hamilton. "Licked!"

"Us!" said Hannibal.

"And I've got other news, too," said Beau, bashfully. "If I stop drinking till my year's up, and don't ever drink any more, Claire says she'll marry me."

Hannibal was the first to shake his hand.

"Boys," said Beau, "I hope if any of you ever sees me touch a drop you'll strike me dead."

He went out.

"I'm going to find out about this," said John; "what did he say the name of the licking was?"

"Bull Run."

"Bull Run. And I'll come back and tell you."

He was starting to descend the steep stairs to the street, when he caught the sound of snickers and creeping footsteps behind him. He turned like a panther, but was not in time. The heavily driven toes of the right boots of the younger St. Johns lifted him clear of the stairs, and clean to the bottom of them. There he sat, his uniform a thing of the past, his left eye blackening and closed, and roars of laughter shaking him.

But Hamilton and Hannibal put the office more or less to rights, and sat down gloomily at their respective desks. Up till now they had faced being left behind, but this licking was too much. Each brooded over it, while pretending to be up to the ears in work. Hamilton wrote a letter, sealed it, addressed it, and presently rose.

"Bul," he said, and to Hannibal the whole manoeuver smacked suspicious, "I'm going to run up and see the old man for a few minutes."

"All right," said Hannibal.

Hamilton reached the door and turned.

"By the way," he said, "I left a letter on my desk; wish you'd put a stamp on it and mail it."

He went out.

Hannibal felt very lonely and fidgety.

"I think I'll just mail that letter and get it off my mind," he said.

He put on his hat, licked a stamp, and crossed to his brother's desk. The letter was there, right enough, but it did not require a stamp, for on it was written but one word, and that word was Hannibal.

Hannibal tore open the envelop and read:

DEAR OLD Bul: I can't stand it any longer, but you'll try and not be mad with me for running off and leaving you to keep up the old place alone, and damn it, Bul, two of us ought to go anyway....

The letter ran on for a little in the same strain. Hannibal put the letter in his pocket, and sat down at his brother's desk.

"It will kill the old man if we all go," he said. "And of all three I'm the one with the best rights to go and get shot."

He took from somewhere in his clothes a little gold locket, flat and plain. Each of the St. John boys had carried one since their mother's death. Facing her picture each had had engraved the motto which he had chosen for himself to be his watchword in life. In John's locket was engraved, "In fortis vinces"; in Hamilton's, "Deo volente"; and in Hannibal's, "Carpe diem." But in Hannibal's locket there was another picture besides that of his mother. He opened the locket with his thumb-nails and laid it on the desk before him. Presently his eyes dimmed, and he looked beyond the locket.

Hamilton St. John's ink-well was a globe of glass, with a hole like a thimble in the top to contain ink. Hannibal found himself looking at this, and noting the perfect miniature reproduction of the big calendar on the wall, as it was refracted by the glass. With his thoughts far away, his eyes continued to look at the neat little curly calendar in the ink-well. Presently it seemed to him that it was not a calendar at all, but just a patch of bright green color--a patch of bright green that became grass, an acre of it, a ten-acre field, a great field gay with trampled flowers, rolling hills, woods, meadows, fences, streams. Then he saw, lying thickly over a fair region, broken guns, exploded cannons, torn flags, horses and men contorted and sprung in death; everywhere death and demolition. He wandered over the field and came presently upon himself, scorched, mangled, and dead under the wheel of a cannon.

After a little it seemed to him that the field of battle shrank until it became again the calendar. But there was something odd about that calendar; the dates were queer. It read July, right enough; but this was the year 1861, whereas the calendar bore the date 1863. And why was there a cross to mark the third day of July? Hannibal came to with a shock; but he could have sworn that he had not been asleep.

"God is very--very good!" he said solemnly.

Then he opened his pen-knife, and scratched a deep line of erasure through the "Carpe diem" in his locket, and underneath, cutting with great pains, he inserted a date, "July 3, 1863," and the words "Nunc dimittis." Below that he cut "Te Deum laudamus."

He looked once more at the picture of his mother and at the picture that was not of his mother, shut the little gold case, and put it back in his pocket.

Then he inked on the white inside of a paper-box cover, in large letters, these words:

This office will not be opened until the end of the war.

That office was never opened again.

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