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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 24
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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 24 Post by :tomfra Category :Long Stories Author :Gouverneur Morris Date :May 2012 Read :1970

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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 24

BOOK II CHAPTER XXIV

The 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 by the foot-sore and sick. He had given up worrying about what he would do in battle, for there were much more important things to think about.

Battles are to soldiers what Christmas trees are to children: you must wait, wait, and wait for them, and forever wait; and when they do come the presents are apt to be a little tawdry. And you are only envied by the other little children who didn't really see what you really got. The most comforting man in the army was one minister of the gospel, and the most annoying was another. The first had the divine gift of story-telling and laughter, and the second thanked God because the soldiers had run out of their best friend, tobacco, which he described through his nose as "filthy weed," "vile narcotic," or "pernicious hell-plant." And they both served the Lord as hard as they could--and they both suffered from dysentery.

As the days passed and the temperature of the army rose, and its digestion became permanently impaired, Aladdin, by giving out, and constantly, all that was best in himself, became gradually exhausted. He found himself telling stories as many as three times to the same man, and he began to steal from the poets and musicians that he knew in order to keep abreast of his own original powers of production. He even went so far as to draw inspiration from men of uneven heights stood in line: he would hum the intervals as scored by their heads on an imaginary staff and fashion his tune accordingly, but this tended to a somewhat compressed range and was not always happy in its results. His efforts, however, were appreciated, and the emaciated young Irishman became a most exceptional prophet, and received honor in his own land.

For the rest, being a staff-officer, he was kept busy and rode hundreds of extra miles through the rain. It was a large army, as inexperienced as it was large, and it stood in great need of being kept in contact with itself. If you lived at one end of it and wanted to know what was going on at the other end, you had to travel about as far as from New York to New Haven. The army proper, marching by fours, stretched away through the wet lands for forty miles. A fly-bitten tail of ambulances and wagons, with six miserable horses or six perfectly happy mules attached to each, added another twenty miles. At the not always attained rate of fifteen miles a day the army could pass a given point in four days. To the gods in Olympus it would have appeared to have all the characteristic color and shape of an angleworm, without, however, enjoying that reptile's excellent good health. If the armies of Washington, Cornwallis, Clive, Pizarro, Cortes, and Christian de Wet had been added to it, they would have passed unnoticed in the crowd. And the recurring fear of the general in command of this army was that the army he sought would prove to be twice as big. So speculation was active between the York and James rivers.

In the minds of the soldiers a thousand years passed, and then there was a little fight, and they learned that they were soldiers. And so did the other army. Another thousand years passed, and it seemed tactful to change bases. Accordingly, that which had been arduously established on a muddy river called the Chickahominy (and it was very far from either of those two good things) was forsaken, and the host began to be moved toward the James. This move would have been more smoothly accomplished if the enemy had not interfered. They, however, insisted upon making history, turning a change of base into a nominal retreat, and begetting in themselves a brass-bound and untamable spirit which it took vast wealth and several years to humble. From Gaines's Mill to the awful brow of Malvern Hill there were thunder and death. Forty thousand men were somewhat needlessly killed, wounded, or (as one paradoxical account has it) "found missing."

Aladdin missed the fight at Malvern Hill and became wounded in a non-bellicose fashion. His general desired to make a remark to another general, and writing it on a piece of thin yellow paper, gave it to him to deliver. He rode off to the tune of axes,--for a Maine regiment was putting in an hour in undoing the stately work of a hundred years,--trotted fifteen miles peacefully enough, delivered his general's remark, and started back. Then came night and a sticky mist. Then the impossibility of finding the way. Aladdin rode on and on, courageously if not wisely, and came in time to the dimly discernible outbuildings of a Virginia mansion. They stood huddled dark and wet in the mist, which was turning to rain, and there was no sign of life in or about them. Aladdin passed them and turned into an alley of great trees. By looking skyward he could keep to the road they bounded. As he drew near the mansion itself a great smell of box and roses filled his nostrils with fragrance. But to him, standing under the pillared portico and knocking upon the door, came no word of welcome and no stir of lights. He gave it up in disgust, mounted, and rode back through the rich mud to the stables. Had he looked over his shoulder he might have seen a face at one of the windows of the house.

He found a door of one of the stables unlocked, and went in, leading his horse. Within there was a smell of hay. He closed the door behind him, unsaddled, and fell to groping about in the dark. He wanted several armfuls of that hay, and he couldn't find them. The hay kept calling to his nose, "Here I am, here I am"; but when he got there, it was hiding somewhere else. It was like a game of blindman's-buff. Then he heard the munching of his horse and knew that the sought was found. He moved toward the horse, stepped on a rotten planking, and fell through the floor. Something caught his chin violently as he went through, and in a pool of filthy water, one leg doubled and broken under him, he passed the night as tranquilly as if he had been dosed with laudanum.

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BOOK II CHAPTER XXVAladdin came to consciousness in the early morning. He was about as sick as a man can be this side of actual dissolution, and the pain in his broken leg was as sharp as a scream. He lay groaning and doubled in the filthy half-inch of water into which he had fallen. About him was darkness, but overhead a glimmer of light showed a jagged and cruel hole in the planking of the stable floor. Very slowly, for his agony was unspeakable, he came to a realization of what had happened. He called for help, and his voice
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BOOK II CHAPTER XXIIIA 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
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