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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 21
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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 21 Post by :tomfra Category :Long Stories Author :Gouverneur Morris Date :May 2012 Read :3678

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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 21

BOOK II CHAPTER XXI

The lives of sixty million people had become suddenly full of drill, organization, uniforms, military music, flags, hatred, love, and self-sacrifice, and the nations of the Old World stood about, note-book in hand, like so many medical students at a clinic: could a heart, cut in two, continue to supply a body with blood after the soul had been withdrawn? And the nations of the Old World hoped that there would be enough fresh meat left on the carcass for them to feed on, when the experiment should be at an end. Mother England was particularly hungry, and dearly hoped to have the sucking of the eggs which she herself had laid.

It was a great time for young men, and Margaret shed secret tears on behalf of five of them. It had fallen upon her to tell the old man that his three sons had enlisted, and that task had tortured her for an hour before she had dared go and accomplish it.

"Papa," she said, "Ham has enlisted, and so has Bul."

The senator had not moved a muscle.

"It was only a question of time," he said. "I wish that I had begotten a dozen others."

He had borrowed her well-marked Bible from old Mrs. Blankinship and read Isaiah at a gulp. Then he had sought out his boys and bantered them on their new clothes.

Margaret sat very still for a long time after the interview with her father. She knew that Bul, whom she loved best of her brothers, was going to be killed. She had never before seen his face so serenely happy as when he came to tell her that he had sworn in, nor had she ever before seen that unexplainable phenomenon, known variously as fate, doom, numbered, Nemesis, written upon a face. And there were others who might be taken.

Aladdin came in for a moment to give her the news. He was nervous with enthusiasm, and had been working like a horse. His regiment was to leave Friday for the front; he could stay but a minute; he had only dashed in on his way to drill. Would she care to come? Quite right; there was nothing much to look at. He talked as cheerfully and as rapidly as a mountain brook runs. And then he gave his best piece of news, and looked almost handsome as he gave it.

"Peter's here," he said. "He's outside talking to the senator. He looks simply stunning, and he's a whole lot of things on a staff--assistant adjutant-general with the rank of a colonel; and he's floated up here on a dash against time to say good-by to us."

Aladdin's face puckered.

"You and Peter and I, Margaret," he said, "Lord, what a muddle!"

"I'm terribly blue, old man," said Margaret, "and it hurts to have you say things like that."

Instantly Aladdin was all concern.

"You know I wouldn't hurt you purposely," he said, "but I'm terribly blue, too, dear, and one tries to keep up and says asinine things, and"--he smiled, and his smile was very winning--"is at once forgiven by an old dear."

She held out her hand and gave his a friendly squeeze.

"You old darling!" he said, and ran out.

She followed him into the hall, and met Manners, who had just parted from the senator at the front door. His uniform was wonderfully becoming.

"Is it Peter?"

They shook hands.

"Never," she said, "have I seen anything so beautiful!"

Peter blushed (looking even more beautiful, for he hated to be talked about).

"Where was 'Laddin going?" he said. "He went by me like a shot out of a gun, and had only time to pull my hat over my eyes and squeal Peeeter."

"He's very important now," said Margaret, "and wonders how anybody can want to write things and be a poet or a musician when there are real things to do in the world."

Peter looked at his watch.

"Isn't that the least bit rude?" said Margaret.

"No," said Peter; "my train back leaves in one hour, and I could better afford to lose my chances of heaven. I had no business to come, as it was. But I had to come."

Margaret sighed. She had hoped that it would not happen so soon. He followed her into the parlor and closed the door behind him.

"First, Margaret," he said, "I'm going to tell you something that may surprise you a little. It did me; it was so sudden. My sister Ellen is going to be married."

"Ellen!" exclaimed Margaret. "Why, she always said--" "It's only been arranged in the last few days," said Peter, "by many telegrams. I was told to tell you."

"Is he nice?"

"Yes. He's a good chap."

"Rich?"

"Well--rather rising than rich."

"Who is it?"

"Your brother John."

"My dear Peter--"

"No--I never did, either!"

"Isn't that splendid!"

Peter pulled a grave face.

"Yes--and no," he said.

"I hope you're not going to be insolent," said Margaret.

"It depends on what you call insolent. My father, you see, objects very much to having Ellen go out of the family, but he says that he can learn to bear that if the only other girl in the world will come into the family."

Manners' voice had become husky toward the last of the sentence, and perhaps not husky so much as hungry. Margaret knew better than to say anything of the kind, but she couldn't help looking as innocent as a child and saying:

"Won't she?"

"How do I know?" said Peter. "I have come to ask her."

He looked so very strong and manly and frank that Margaret, whose world had been terribly blue recently, was half tempted to throw herself into his arms and cry.

"O Peter!" she said pitifully.

He came and sat beside her on the sofa, and drew her close to him.

"My darling," he said brokenly.

A great sense of trust and security stole over Margaret, but she knew that it was not love. Yet for a moment she hesitated, for she knew that if she took this man, his arm would always be about her, and he would always--always--always be good to her. As she sat there, not trusting herself to speak, she had her first doubt of Aladdin, and she wondered if he loved her as much--as much as he loved Aladdin. Then she felt like a traitor.

For a little neither could find any words to say. So still they sat that Margaret could hear the muffled ticking of Peter's watch. At length Peter spoke.

"What shall I tell my father?" he said.

"Tell him--" said Margaret, and her voice broke.

"Aren't you sure, darling--is that it?"

She nodded with tears in her eyes.

He took his arm from round her waist, and she felt very lonely.

"But I'm always going to love you," he said.

She felt still more alone.

"Peter," she said, "I can't explain things very well, but I--I--don't want you to go away feeling as if--"

Manners' eyes lifted up.

"As if it was all over?" he asked eagerly.

"Almost that, Peter," she said. "I--I can't say yes now--but God knows, Peter, perhaps sometime--I--I can."

She was thinking of the flighty and moody Aladdin, who had loved her so long, and whom (she suddenly realized in spite of the words just spoken) she loved back with all her heart and soul.

Honor rose hot in her to give Peter a final answer now and forever--no. But she looked into his eyes and could not. He looked at his watch.

"Margaret dear," he said, "I've got to go. Thanks for everything, and for the hope and all, and--and I may never see you again, but if I do, will you give me my answer then?"

"I will," said Margaret, "when I see you again."

They rose.

"May I kiss you, Margaret?" he said.

"Certainly, Peter."

He kissed her on the cheek, and went away with her tears on his lips.

A newly organized fife-and-drum corps marched by struggling with "The Girl I Left Behind Me."

In those days the most strangled rendering of that tune would bring lumps into the throats of those that heard.

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BOOK II CHAPTER XXNew 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
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