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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAladdin O'brien - Book 3 - Chapter 32
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Aladdin O'brien - Book 3 - Chapter 32 Post by :Refugee Category :Long Stories Author :Gouverneur Morris Date :May 2012 Read :1885

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Aladdin O'brien - Book 3 - Chapter 32

BOOK III CHAPTER XXXII

That morning Peter Manners had received a letter, but he had not had a chance to open and read it. It was a letter that belonged next to his heart, as he judged by the writing, and next to his heart, in a secure pocket, he placed it, there to lie and give him strength and courage for the cruel day's work, and something besides the coming of night to look forward to. For the rest, he went among the lines, and smiled like a boy released from school to see how silently and savagely they fought.

The Sixth Corps rested wherever there was shade along the banks of Rock Creek, and gathered strength and breath for whatever work should be assigned to it.

Aladdin, sharing a cherry-pie with a friend, shivered with excitement, for there was a terrific and ever-increasing discharge of cannons and muskets on the left, and it seemed that the time to go forward again and win glory was at hand. Presently one came riding back from the battle. His face was shining with delight, and, sitting like a centaur to the fiery plunges of his horse, he swung his hat and shouted. It was Sedgwick's chief of staff, McMahon, and he brought glorious news, for he said that the corps was to move toward the heavy firing, where the fighting was most severe.

Then the whole corps sprang to its feet and went forward, tearing down the fences in its path and trampling the long grass in the fields. A mile away the long, flowery slopes ended in a knobbed hill revealed through smoke. That was Little Round Top, and its possession meant victory or defeat. The corps was halted and two regiments were sent forward up the long slope. To them the minutes seemed moments. They went like a wave over the crest to the right of the hill, and poured down into the valley beyond. Here the blue flood of men banked against a stone wall, spreading to right and left, as the waters of a stream spread the length of a dam. Then they began to fire dreadfully into the faces of their enemy, and to curse terribly, as is proper in battle. Bullets stung the long line like wasps, and men bit the sod.

Aladdin was ordered to ride up Little Round Top for information. Half-way up he left his horse among the boulders and finished the laborious ascent on foot. At the summit he came upon a leaderless battery loading and firing like clockwork, and he saw that the rocks were strewn with dead men in light-blue Zouave uniforms, who looked as if they had fallen in a shower from the clouds. Many had their faces caved in with stones, and terrible rents showed where the bayonet had been at work, for in this battle men had fought hand to hand like cave-dwellers. Bullets hit the rocks with stinging blows, and round shot screamed in the air. Sometimes a dead man would be lifted from where he lay and hurled backward, while every instant men cried hoarsely and joined the dead. In the midst of this thunder and carnage, Aladdin came suddenly upon Peter, smiling like a favorite at a dance, and shouted to him. They grinned at each other, and as Aladdin grinned he looked about to see where he could be of use, and sprang toward a gun half of whose crew had been blasted to death by a bursting shell. The sweat ran down his face, and already it was black with burning powder. The flash of the guns set fire to the clothing of the dead and wounded who lay in front, and on the recoil the iron-shod wheels broke the bones of those lying behind. It was impossible to know how the fight was going. It was only possible to go on fighting.

There was a voice in front of the battery that kept calling so terribly for water that it turned cold the stomachs of those that heard. It came from a Confederate, a general officer, who had been wounded in the spine. Occasionally it was possible to see him through the smoke. Sometimes a convulsion seized him, and he beat the ground with his whole body, as a great fish that has been drawn from the water beats the deck of a vessel. It was terrible to look at and hear. Bullets and shot tore the ground about the man and showered him with dust and stones. Aladdin shook his canteen and heard the swish of water. It seemed to him, and his knees turned to water at the thought, that he must go out into that place swept by the fire of both sides, and give relief to his enemy. He did not want to go, and fear shook him; but he threw down the rammer which he had been serving, and drawing breath in long gasps, took a step forward. His resolve came too late. A blue figure slipped by him and went down the slope at a run. It was Manners. They saw him kneel by the dying Confederate in the bright sunlight, and then smoke swept between like a wave of fog. The red flashes of the guns went crashing into the smoke, and on all sides men fell. But presently there came a star-shaped explosion in the midst of the smoke, hurling it back, and they saw Manners again. He was staggering about with his hands over his eyes, and blood was running through his fingers. Even as they looked, a shot struck him in the back, and he came down. They saw his splendid square chest heaving, and knew that he was not yet dead. Then the smoke closed in, but this time another figure was hidden by the smoke. For no sooner did Aladdin see Peter fall than he sprang forward like a hound from the leash. Aladdin kneeled by Manners, and as he kneeled a bullet struck his hat from his head, and a round shot, smashing into the rocky ground a dozen feet away, filled his eyes with dirt and sparks. There was a pungent smell of brimstone from the furious concussions of iron against rock. A bullet struck the handle of Aladdin's sword and broke it. He unstopped his canteen and pressed the nozzle to Manners' lips. Manners sucked eagerly, like an infant at its mother's breast. A bullet struck the canteen and dashed it to pieces. The crashing of the cannon was like close thunder, and the air sang like the strings of an instrument. But Aladdin, so cool and collected he was, might have been the target for praises and roses flung by beauties. He put his lips close to Peter's ear, and spoke loudly, for the noise of battle was deafening.

"Is it much, darlint?"

Manners turned his bleeding eyes toward Aladdin.

"Go back, you damn little fool!" he said.

"Peter, Peter," said Aladdin, "can't you see?"

"No, I can't. I'm no use now. Go back; go back and give 'em hell!"

Aladdin endeavored to raise Peter in his arms, but was not strong enough.

"I can't lift you, I can't lift you," he said.

"You can't," said Peter. "Bless you for coming, and go back."

"Shut up, will you?" cried Aladdin, savagely. "Where are you hit?"

"In the back," said Peter, "and I'm done for."

"The hell you are!" said Aladdin. Tears hotter than blood were running out of his eyes. "What can I do for you, Peter?" he said in a husky voice.

Manners' blackened fingers fumbled at the buttons of his coat, but he had not the strength to undo them.

"It's there, 'Laddin," he said.

"What's there?" said Aladdin. He undid the coat with swift, clever fingers.

"Let me hold it in my hands," said Peter.

"Is it this--this letter--this letter from Margaret?" asked Aladdin, chokingly, for he saw that the letter had not been opened.

A shower of dirt and stones fell upon them, and a shell burst with a sharp crash above their heads.

"Yes," said Peter. "Give it to me. I can't ever read it now."

"I can read it for you," said Aladdin. He was struggling with a sob that wanted to tear his throat.

"Will you? Will you?" cried Peter, and he smiled like a beautiful child.

"Sure I will," said Aladdin.

With the palm of his hand he pressed back the streaming sweat from his forehead twice and three times. Then, having wiped his hands upon his knees, he drew the battered fragment of his sword, and using it as a paper-knife, opened the letter carefully, as a man opens letters which are not to be destroyed. Then his stomach turned cold and his tongue grew thick and burred. For the letter which Margaret had written to her lover was more cruel than the shell which had blinded his eyes and the bullet which was taking his life.

"'Laddin--" this in a fearful voice.

"Yes."

"Thank God. I thought you'd been hit. Why don't you read?"

Aladdin's eyes, used to reading in blocks of lines rather than a word at a time, had at one glance taken in the purport of Margaret's letter, and his wits had gone from him. She called herself every base and cruel name, and she prayed her lover to forgive her, but she had never had the right to tell him that she would marry him, for she had never loved him in that way. She said that, God forgive her, she could not keep up the false position any longer, and she wished she was dead.

"There's a man at the bottom of this," thought Aladdin. He caught a glimpse of Peter's poor, bloody face and choked.

"I--it--the sheets are mixed," he said presently. "I'm trying to find the beginning. There are eight pages," he went on, "fighting for time," and they 're folded all wrong, and they're not numbered or anything."

Peter waited patiently while Aladdin fumbled with the sheets and tried, to the cracking-point, to master the confusion in his mind.

Suddenly God sent light, and he could have laughed aloud. Not in vain had he pursued the muse and sought after the true romance in the far country where she sweeps her skirts beyond the fingers of men. Not in vain had he rolled the arduous ink-pots and striven manfully for the right word and the telling phrase. The chance had come, and the years of preparation had not been thrown away. He knew that he was going to make good at last. His throat cleared of itself, and the choking phlegm disappeared as if before a hot flame of joy. His voice came from between his trembling lips clear as a bell, and the thunder of battle rolled back from the plain of his consciousness, as, slowly, tenderly, and helped by God, he began to speak those eight closely lined pages which she should have written.

"My Heart's Darling--" he began, and there followed a molten stream of golden and sacred words.

And the very soul of Manners shouted aloud, for the girl was speaking to him as she had never spoken before.

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BOOK III CHAPTER XXXIIIWhen the fighting was over for that day, Aladdin wrote as follows to Margaret: MARGARET DEAR: Peter was shot down to-day, while doing more than his duty by his enemies and by his country and by himself, which was always his way. He will not live very long, and you must come to him if it is in any way possible. His love for you makes other loves seem very little, and I think it would be better that you should walk the streets than that you should refuse to come to him now. He had a letter
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BOOK III CHAPTER XXXIThere was a pretty girl in Manchester, Maryland (possibly several, but one was particularly pretty), and Aladdin, together with several young officers (nearly all officers were young in that war) of the Sixth Army Corps, rather flattered himself that he was making an impression. He was all for making impressions in those days. Margaret was engaged to marry Peter--and a pretty girl was a pretty girl. The pretty girl of Manchester had several girls and several officers to tea on a certain evening, and they remained till midnight, making a great deal of noise and flirting outrageously in
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