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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 22
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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 22 Post by :tomfra Category :Long Stories Author :Gouverneur Morris Date :May 2012 Read :3852

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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 22


Hannible and Hamilton were privates in the nth regiment, Aladdin was major, and John was colonel. If any of them had the slightest military knowledge, it was Aladdin. Not in vain had he mastered the encyclopedia from Safety-lamps to Stranglers. He could explain with strange words and in long, balanced sentences everything about the British army that began with an S, except only those things whose second letter stood farther down in the alphabet than T. But the elements of knowledge kept dropping in, at first on perfunctory calls, visitors that disappeared when you turned to speak with them, but that later came to stay. The four young men were like children with a "roll-the-seven-number-eight-shot-into-the middle" puzzle. They could make a great rattling with the shot, and control their tempers; that was about all. Later they were to form units in the most efficient and intelligent large body of men that the world ever saw, with the possible exception of the armies it was to be pitted against; but those, it must be owned, were usually smaller, though, in the ability of their commanders to form concentration, often of three times the size. They learned that it is cheaper to let a company sleep in tents upon hard ground of a rainy night than to lodge them in a neighboring hotel at one's own expense, and that going the rounds in pitch-darkness grows less thrilling in exact ratio to the number of times you do it, and finally, even in sight of the enemy's lines, becomes as boring as waltzing with a girl you don't like. They began to learn that cleanliness is next to godliness only in times of peace, and that food is the one god, and the stomach his only prophet. They learned that the most difficult of all duties is to keep the face straight when the horse of a brother officer who mounts for the first time is surprised to vehemence by its first experience with a brass band.

Aladdin was absolutely equal to the occasion, and developed an astonishing talent for play-acting, and, it is to be feared, strutted a little, both in the bosom of his soul and on the parade-ground. It was only when he looked at two of the "tall men on the right," Hamilton and Hannibal St. John, who had chosen humble parts that they might serve under their brother, that he felt properly small and resented himself. Sometimes, too, he searched his past life and could find in it only one brave deed, his swim down the river, and he wondered with an awful wonder what he would do when the firing began. He need not have troubled: he was of too curious and inquiring a disposition to be afraid of most things. And he was yet to see proved on many Southern fields that a coward is, if anything, a rarer bird than a white quail. Only once in action did Aladdin see a man really show the white feather. The man had gone into the army from a grocery-store, and was a very thin, small specimen with a very big, bulbous head; and, like many others of his class, proved to be a perfect fire-eater in battle, and a regular buzzard to escape fever and find food. But during the famous seven days before Richmond a retreat was ordered of a part of the line which the Buzzard helped compose, and he was confronted by the necessity, for his friends were hastening him from behind, of crossing a gully by means of a somewhat slender fallen tree. It was then that Aladdin saw him show fear. Bullets tore up the bark of the tree, and pine needles, clipped from the trees overhead, fell in showers. But he did not mind that. It was the slenderness and instability of the fallen tree that froze the marrow in his bones: would it bear his one hundred and twenty-four pounds, or would it precipitate him, an awful drop of ten feet, into the softest of muds at the bottom of the gully, where a sickeningly striped but in reality harmless water-snake lay coiled?

Finally, pale and shaking, he ventured on the log, got half-way across, turned giddy, and fell with such a howl of terror that it was only equaled in vehemence by the efforts of the snake to get out of the way. After which the Buzzard picked himself up, scrambled out, and continued his retreat, scraping his muddied boots among the fallen leaves as he went. "Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules," but it may be that an exceedingly giddy elevation coupled with a serpent would have made shivering children of both those heroes. To each his own fear. Margaret's and Aladdin's was the same they both feared Aladdin.

That afternoon the regiment was to leave for the front, and Aladdin went to bid Margaret good-by. She and her father were still staying with the Blankinships.

They had a very satisfactory talk, beginning with the beginning of things, and going over their long friendship, laughing, remembering, and regretting. Jack was to live with the St. Johns, and they talked much of him, and of old Mrs. Brackett, and of affairs at home. Jack about this time was in the seventh hell of despair, for his extreme youth had prevented him from bringing to its triumphant conclusion a pleasant little surprise, consisting of a blue uniform, which he had planned for himself and others. No love of country stirred the bosom of the guileless Jack; only hatred of certain books out of which he was obliged to learn many useless things, such as reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic. Besides, word had come to him that persimmons were to be had for the picking and chickens for the broiling in that country toward which the troops were heading. And much also had he heard concerning the beauty of Southern maidens, and of the striped watermelons in the watermelon-patch. And so he was to be left behind, and God was not good.

Toward the end their talk got very serious.

"I'm going to turn over a new leaf," said Aladdin, "and be better things, Margaret, and you must save up a lot of pride to have in me if I do, and perhaps it will all come right in the end."

"You know how fond I am of you," said Margaret, "and because I am, and because you're all the big things that are hard to be, I want you to be all the little things that ought to be so easy to be. That doesn't seem very plain, but I mean--"

"I know exactly what you mean," said Aladdin. "Don't you suppose I know myself pretty well by this time, and how far I've got to climb before I have a ghost of a right to tell you what I tell you every time I look at you?"

Aladdin rose.

"Margaret," he said, "this time I'm going like an old friend. If I make good and live steady, as I mean to do, I shall come back like a lover. Meanwhile you shall think all things over, and if you think that you can care for me, you shall tell me so when I come back. And if you conclude that you can't, you shall tell me. I'm not going to ask you to marry me now, because in no way am I in a position to. But if I come back and say to you, 'Margaret, I have turned into a man at last,' you will know that I am telling the truth and am in a position to ask anything I please. For I shall come back without a cent, but with a character, and that's everything. I shall not drink any more, and every night I shall pray to God to help me believe in Him. But, Margaret, I may not come back at all. If I don't it will be for one of two reasons. Either I shall fail in becoming worthy to kiss the dust under your blessed feet, or I shall be killed. In the first case, I beg that you will pray for me; but in the second I pray that you will forget all that was bad in me and only remember what was good. And so, darling--" his voice broke, "because I am a little afraid of death and terribly afraid of myself--"

She came obediently into his arms, and knew what it was to be kissed by the man she loved.

"Aladdin," she said, "promise that nothing except--"

"Death?" said Aladdin.

"--that nothing, nothing except death--shall keep you from coming back."

"If I live," said Aladdin, "I will come back."

Everybody of education knows that Lucy Locket lost her pocket and that Betty Pringle found it without a penny "in it" (to rhyme with "found it"), but everybody does not know that the aforementioned Lucy Locket had a tune composed for her benefit that has thrilled the hearts of more sons of the young republic when stepping to battle than any other tune, past, present, or to come. There is a martial vigor and a tear in "The Girl I Left Behind Me"; some feet cannot help falling into rhythm when they hear the "British Grenadiers"; North and South alike are possessed with a do-or-die madness when the wild notes of "Dixie" rush from the brass; and "John Brown's Body" will cause the dumb to sing. But it is the farcical little quickstep known by the ridiculous name of "Yankee Doodle" which the nations would do well to consider when straining the patience of the peace-loving and United States.

And so they marched down the street to the station, and the tall men walked on the right and the little men on the left, and the small boys trotted alongside, and the brand-new flags flung out, and bouquets were thrown, and there were cheers from the heart up all along the line. But ever the saucy fifes sang, and the drums gaily beat

Yankee Doodle came to town
Riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his Hat,
And called it macaroni.

At the station the emotions attendant on departure found but one voice. The mother said to the son what the sweetheart said to the lover, and the sister to the brother. Nor was this in any manner different from what the brother, lover, and son said to the sister, sweetheart, and mother. It was the last sentence which bleeding hearts supply to lips at moments of farewell:

"Write to me."

And the supercilious little quickstep went on:

Yankee Doodle came to town
Riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his Hat,
And called it macaroni.

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