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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 29
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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 29 Post by :Refugee Category :Long Stories Author :Gouverneur Morris Date :May 2012 Read :3547

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Aladdin O'brien - Book 2 - Chapter 29

BOOK II CHAPTER XXIX

Our veterans walked painfully through the town and up the hill; nor were they suffered to go in peace, for right and left they were recognized, and people rushed up to shake them by the hands and ask news of such an one, and if Peter's bullet was still in him, and if it was true, which of course they saw it wasn't, that Aladdin had a wooden leg. Aladdin, it must be owned, enjoyed these demonstrations, and in spite of his lameness strutted a little. But Peter, white from the after effects of his wound and weary with the long travel, did not enjoy them at all. Then the steep pitch of the hill was almost too much for him, and now and again he was obliged to stop and rest.

The St. Johns' house stood among lilacs and back from the street by the breadth of a small garden. In the rear were large grounds, fields, and even woods. The place had two entrances, one immediately in front of the house for people on foot, and the other, a quarter of a mile distant, for people driving. This latter, opening from a joyous country lane of blackberry-vines and goldenrod, passed between two prodigious round stones, and S-ed into a dark and stately wood. Trees, standing gladly where God had set them, made a screen, impenetrable to the eye, between the gateway and the house.

Here Peter and Aladdin halted, while Aladdin sent a coin spinning into the air.

"Heads!" called Peter.

Aladdin let the piece fall to the ground, and they bent over it eagerly.

"After you," said Peter, for the coin read, "Tails."

Aladdin picked up the coin, and hurled it far away among the trees.

"That's our joint sacrifice to the gods, Peter," he said.

Peter gave him five cents.

"My share," he said.

"Peter," said Aladdin, "I will ask her the first chance I get, and if there's nothing in it for me, I will go away and leave the road clear for you. Come."

"No," said Peter; "you've got your chance now. And here I wait until you send me news."

"Lord!" said Aladdin, "has it got to be as sudden as this?"

"Let's get it over," said Peter.

"Very good," said Aladdin. "I'll go. But, Peter, whatever happens, I won't keep you long in suspense."

"Good man," said Peter.

Aladdin turned his face to the house like a man measuring a distance. He drew a deep breath.

"Well--here goes," he said, and took two steps.

"Wait, 'Laddin," said Peter.

Aladdin turned.

"Can I have your pipe?"

"Of course."

Aladdin turned over his pipe and pouch. "I'm afraid it's a little bitter," he said.

Again he started up the drive; but Peter ran after him.

"'Laddin," he cried, "wait--I forgot something."

Aladdin came back to meet him.

"Aladdin," said Peter, "I forgot something." He held out his hand, and Aladdin squeezed it.

"Aladdin," said Peter, "from the bottom of my heart I wish you luck."

When they separated again there were tears in the eyes of both.

Just before the curtain of trees quite closed the view of the gate, Aladdin turned to look at Peter. Peter sat upon one of the big stones that marked the entrance, smoking and smoking. He had thrown aside his hat, and his hair shone in the sun. There was a kind of wistfulness in his poise, and his calm, pure eyes were lifted toward the open sky. A great hero-worship surged in Aladdin's heart, and he thought that there was nothing that he would not do for such a friend. "He gave you your life once," said a little voice in Aladdin's heart; "give him his. He is worth a million of you; don't stand in his way."

Aladdin turned and went on, and the well-known house came into view, but he saw only the splendid, wistful man at the gate, waiting calmly, as a gentleman should, for life or death, and smoking smoking.

Even as he made his resolve, a lump of self-pity rose in Aladdin's throat. That was the old Adam in him, the base clay out of which springs the fair flower of self-sacrifice.

He tried a variety of smiles, for he wished to be easy in the difficult part which he had so suddenly, and in the face of all the old years, elected to play. "He must know by the look of me," said Aladdin, "that I do not love her any more, for, God help me, I can't say it."

He found her on the broad rear veranda of the house. And instead of going up to her and taking her in his arms,--for he had planned this meeting often, as the stars could tell, he stood rooted, and said:

"Hallo, Margaret!"

He acted better than he knew, for the great light which had blazed for one instant in her eyes on first seeing him went out like a snuffed candle, and he did not see it or know that it had blazed. Therefore his own cruelty was hidden from him, and his part became easier to play. They shook hands, and even then, if he had not been blinded with the egotism of self-sacrifice, he might have seen. That was his last chance. For Margaret's heart cried to her, "It is over," and in believing it, suddenly, and as she thought forever, an older sweetness came in her face.

"You've changed, Aladdin," she said.

"Yes, I'm thinner, if possible," said Aladdin, "almost willowy. Do you think it's becoming?"

"I am not sure," said Margaret. "The fact remains that I'm more than glad to see you."

Aladdin fumbled for speech.

"I'm still a little lame, you see," he said apologetically, and took several steps to show.

"Very!" said Margaret, in such a voice that Aladdin wondered what she meant.

"But it doesn't hurt any more."

"Then that's all right."

"Where's Jack?" he asked at length.

Margaret became very grave.

"I'm afraid we've betrayed our trust, Aladdin," she said. "Because only yesterday he slipped away and left a little note to say that he was going to enlist. We're very much distressed about it."

"Perhaps it's better so," said Aladdin, "if he really wanted to go. Did he leave any address?"

"None whatever; he simply vanished."

"Ungrateful little brute!" said Aladdin. Then he bethought him of Peter. "I'll come back later, Margaret," he said, "but it behooves me to go and look up the good Mrs. Brackett."

He hardly knew how he got out of the house. He felt like a criminal who has been let off by the judge.

The sun was now low, and the shadows long and black. Aladdin found Peter where he had left him, balancing on the great stone at the entrance, and sending up clouds of smoke. He rose when he saw Aladdin, and he looked paler and more worn. "Peter," said Aladdin, "from the bottom of my heart I wish you luck."

Aladdin had never seen just such a look as came into Peter's eyes; at once they were full of infinite pity, and at peace with the whole world.

"Peter," said Aladdin, "give me back my pipe." His voice broke in spite of himself, for he had given up golden things. "I--" he said, "I'll wait here a little while, but if--if all goes well, Peter, don't you bother to come back."

They clasped hands long and in silence. Then Peter turned with a gulp, and, his weakness a thing of the past, went striding up the driveway. But Aladdin sat down to wait. And now a great piping of tree-frogs arose in all that country. Aladdin waited for a long time. He waited until the day gave way to twilight and the sun went down. He waited until the twilight turned to dark and the stars came out. He waited until, after all the years of waiting and longing, his heart was finally at peace. And then he rose to go.

For Peter had not yet come.

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