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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 23
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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 23 Post by :tomfra Category :Long Stories Author :Gouverneur Morris Date :May 2012 Read :2248

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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 23

BOOK II CHAPTER XXIII

A tongue of land with Richmond (built, like another capital beginning with R, on many hills) for its major root, and a fortification vulgarly supposed to be of the gentler sex for its tip, is formed by the yellow flow of the James and York rivers. To land an army upon the tip of this tongue, march the length of it and extract the root, after reducing it to a reminiscence, was the wise plan of the powers early in the year 1862. To march an army of preponderous strength through level and fertile country, flanked by friendly war-ships and backed by unassailable credit; to meet and overcome a much smaller and far less rich army, intrenched behind earthworks of doubtful formidableness, and finally to besiege and capture an isolated city of more historic than strategic advantages, seemed on the face of it as easy as rolling a barrel downhill or eating when hungry. But the level, fertile country was discovered to be very muddy, its supply of rain from heaven unparalleled in nature, its streams as deadly as arsenic, and its topography utterly different from that assigned to it in any known geography. Furthermore, in its woods, and it was nearly all woods, dwelt far more mosquitos than there are lost souls in Hades, and each mosquito had a hollow spike in his head through which he not only could but would squirt, with or without provocation, the triple compound essence of malaria into veins brought up on oxygen, and on water through which you could see the pebbles at the bottom. A bosom friend of the mosquito, and some say his paramour, was little Miss Tick. Of the two she was considerably the more hellish, and forsook her dwelling-places in the woods for the warm flesh of soldiers where it is rosiest, next the skin. The body, arms, and legs of Miss Tick could be scratched to nothing by poisonous finger-nails, but her detached head was eternal, and through eternity she bit and gnawed and sometimes laughed in the hollow of her black soul. For the horses, mules, and cattle there were shrubs which disagreed with them, and gigantic horse-flies. And for the general at the head of the vast body of irritation there was an opposing army whose numbers he overrated, and whose whereabouts he kept discovering suddenly. It is said that during the Peninsular campaign the buzzards were so well nourished that they raised a second brood.

While the army was still in the vicinity of Fort Monroe, numbers of officers secured leave to ride over to Newport News and view the traces of the recent and celebrated naval fight, which was to relegate wooden battle-ships to the fireplace. Aladdin was among those to go. At this time he was in great spirits, for it had been brought home to him that he was one of the elect, one of those infinitely rare and godlike creatures whom mosquitos do not bite nor ticks molest. His nights were as peaceful as the grave, and the poisonous drinking-waters glanced from his rubber constitution. Besides, he had forsaken his regimental duties to enjoy a life of constant variety upon the staff of a general, and had begun to feel at home on horseback. It was one of those radiant, smiling days, which later on were to become rarer than charity, and the woods were positively festive with sunshine. And the temperature was precisely that which brings to a young man's fancy thoughts of love. So that it was in the nature of a shock to come suddenly upon the shore and behold for the first time the finality of war. There was no visible glory about it. What had happened to the Cumberland and the Congress was disappointingly like what would happen to two ships destroyed in shallow water. The masts of the Cumberland, slightly off the vertical and still rigged, projected for half their length from the yellow surface of the river. That was all. Some distance to the left and half submerged was a blackened and charred mass that bore some resemblance to a ship that had once been proud and tall, and known by the name of Congress. That was all. Aladdin had hoped that war would be a little more like the pictures.

As he rode back, pondering, toward the encampment, however, he came upon something which was truly an earnest of what was to come. There were so many buzzards perched in the trees of a certain wood that he turned in to see what they had. He came upon it suddenly, just beyond a cheerful bush of holly, and the buzzards stepped reluctantly back until he had looked. It was only a horse. Some of the buzzards, heavy with food, raised their eyelids heavily and looked at Aladdin, and then lapsed back into filthy sleep. Others, not yet satiated, looked upon him querulously, and suggested as much as looks can suggest that he go, and trouble them no more. Others, the newly arrived and ravenous, swooped above the trees, so that dark circles were drawn over the fallen sunlight. Now a buzzard opened and closed its wings, and now one looked from the horse to Aladdin, and back, fretfully, to the horse. There seemed to be hundreds of them, dark and dirty, with raw heads and eyelids. Aladdin sat solemn and motionless upon his horse, but he could feel the cold sweat of horror running down his sides from under his arms, and the bristling of his hair. He wanted to make a great noise, to shout, to do anything, but he did not dare. It would have been breaking the rules. In that assembly no sound was allowed, for the meeting was unholy and wicked and worked with hurried stealth, so that the attention of God should not be drawn. Aladdin knew that he had no right to be there, that without knocking he had entered the bedroom of horror and found her naked in the arms of lust. He turned and rode away shivering and without looking back. He had not ridden the distance between two forest trees before the carcass was again black with the descending birds, and the blood streamed to their bills.

The Peninsular campaign developed four kinds of men: the survivors, the wounded, the dead, and the missing. When the campaign was over Aladdin sometimes woke starting in the night to think of those missing and of what he had seen in the woods.

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BOOK II CHAPTER XXIVThe tedious locomotion of an army and the incessant reluctance of the battle to be met will try a sinner; but a scarcity of tobacco and constantly wet feet will try a saint. Aladdin was somewhat of both. But in the fidgety gloom which presently settled upon man and beast, his, great Irish gift of cheerfulness shone like a star. He even gave up longing for promotion, and strained his mind to the cracking-point for humorous verses and catching tunes. He went singing up the Peninsula, and thumped the gay banjo by the camp-fire, and was greatly beloved
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BOOK II CHAPTER XXIIHannible 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
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