Aladdin's song went all over the North, and his name became known in the land.
Hannibal St. John was not musical. There were only four tunes, and three of them were variations of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," that he recognized when he heard them. As he lay on his bed of pain, he heard the shrill whistle of his gardener piping in the garden below. Unconsciously the senator's well hand marked the time. All day, as he came and went about his business, the gardener kept whistling that tune, and the senator heard and reheard ever with increasing pleasure. And this was an extraordinary thing, for it was as difficult or nearly so to move Hannibal St. John with music as it must have been for Orpheus to get himself approached by rocks and stones and trees, and far more difficult than it ever was for the Pied Piper to achieve a following of brats and rats.
Margaret had been for a drive with a girl friend. She came home and to her father's side in great spirits.
"Oh, papa," she cried, "will you do me a favor?"
She read consent.
"Claire has got the wonderfulest song, and I want you to let her come in and sing it for you."
"A song?" said the senator, doubtfully.
"Papa de-e-ear, please."
He smiled grimly.
"If Claire will not be shocked by my appearance," he said against hope.
"Rubbish," cried Margaret, and flew out of the room.
There were a few preliminary gasps and giggles in the hall, and the two maidens, as sedate and demure as mice, entered. Claire was a little party, with vivacious manners and a comical little upturned face.
"How do you do, senator?" she said. "I'm so sorry you're laid up. Isn't it lovely out?" She advanced and shook his well hand.
"Won't you take a chair?" said the senator.
"I just ran in for a moment. Margaret and I thought maybe you'd like to hear the new campaign song that everybody's singing. My brother brought it up from Portland—" she paused, out of breath.
"It would afford me great pleasure," said the senator.
And forthwith Claire sang in a rollicking voice. The tune was the same as that which the gardener had been whistling. St. John recognized it in spite of the difference in the mediums and smiled. Then he smiled because of the words, and presently he laughed. It was the first real pleasure he had had in many a day.
"Everybody is wild about it," said Claire, when she had finished.
The senator was shaking with laughter.
"That's good," he said, "that's good."
"Papa," said Margaret, when Claire had gone, "who do you think wrote that song?"
"I don't know," said the senator. "But it's good."
"Aladdin wrote it," said Margaret.
"Upon my word!" said the senator.
Margaret knelt and threw her arms about her father's neck and blushed a lovely blush.
"Isn't it splendid?"
There was a ring at the front door, and a telegram was brought in.
"Read it, Peggy," said the senator. He used that name only when moved about something. The despatch was from the senator's youngest son, Hannibal, and read:
Do not worry; we are singing Bispham up a tree.
"And Aladdin wrote the song!" cried Margaret. "Aladdin wrote it!"
The senator's face clouded for a moment. He forced the cloud to pass.
"We must thank him," he said. "We must thank him."
Senator St. John was reelected by a small majority. Everybody admitted that it was due to Aladdin O'Brien's song. It was impossible to disguise the engaging childishness of the vote.
As he went to his desk in the back room of the Portland "Spy" offices the morning after the election, Aladdin had an evil headache, and a subconscious hope that nobody would speak to him suddenly. He felt that his arms and legs might drop off if anybody did, and he could have sworn that he saw a gray sparrow with blue eyes run into a dark corner, and turn into a mouse. But he was quite free from penitence, as the occasion of this last offense had been joy and triumph, whereas that of his first had been sorrow. He lighted a bad cigar, put off his editorial till later, and covered a whole sheet of paper with pictures like these:
(Transcriber's note: These are simple sketches of birds and animals.)
He looked back with a certain smug satisfaction upon a hilarious evening beginning with a dinner at the club, which some of the older adherents of St. John had given him in gratitude for the part he had taken in the campaign. He remembered that he had not given a bad exhibition, and that noble prophecies had been made of his future by gentlemen in their cups, and that he himself, when just far enough gone to be courageous without being silly, had made a snappy little speech of thanks which had been received with great applause, and that later he had sung his campaign song and others, and that finally, in company with an ex-judge, whose hat was also decorated with a wreath of smilax, he had rolled amiably about the town in a hack, going from one place where drinks could be gotten to another, and singing with great fervor and patriotism:
Zhohn Brownzh bozhy liezh a mole-ring in zhe grave.
Aladdin thought over these things with pleasure, for he had fallen under the dangerous flattery of older men, and with less pleasure of the editorial which it was his immediate business to write. His brisk, crisp chief, Mr. Blankinship, came in for a moment, walking testily and looking like the deuce.
"So you've showed up, Aladdin, have you?" he said. "That's young blood. If any question of politics—I mean policy—arises, I leave it absolutely to you. I'm going back to bed. Can't you stop smoking that rotten cigar?"
Aladdin laughed aloud, and Mr. Blankinship endeavored to smile.
"Somewhere," he said, "in this transcendentally beautiful continent, Aladdin, there may be some one that feels worse than I do, but I doubt it." He turned to go.
"Won't Mr. Orde be here either?" said Aladdin.
"No; he's home in bed. You're editor-in-chief and everything else for the day, see? And I wish I was dead." Mr. Blankinship nodded, very slightly, for it hurt, and went out.
The misery of others is a great cure: with the first sight of Mr. Blankinship, Aladdin's headache had gone, and he now pounced upon fresh paper, got a notion out of the God-knows-where, wrote his editorial at full speed, and finished it without once removing the cigar from his mouth.
He had just done when the shrewd, inky little boy, who did everything about the "Spy" offices which nobody else would do, entered and said that a gentleman wanted to speak with Mr. O'Brien. Aladdin had the gentleman shown up, and recognized the oldest of Hannibal St. John's sons; he knew them well by sight, but it so happened that he had never met them. They were the three biggest and most clean-cut young men in Maine, measuring between six feet three and four; erect, massive, utterly composed, and, if anything, a little stronger than so many dray-horses. They were notable shots, great fishermen, and the whole State was beginning to speculate with excitement about their respective futures and the present almost glittering success of the law firm which they composed. The oldest was the tallest and the strongest. He had been known to break horseshoes and to tear a silver dollar in two. Iron was as sealing-wax in his huge hands. His habits were Spartan. The second son was almost a replica of the first—a little darker and a little less vivid. The third was like the others; but his face was handsomer, and not so strong. He was of a more gentle and winning disposition, for his life was not ignorant of the frailties. The girl to whom he had been engaged had died, and that had left a kind of sweetness, almost beseechingness, in his manner, very engaging in so tall and strong a man.
"Mr. O'Brien?" said John St. John.
Aladdin arose and held out his long, slender hand.
Aladdin had a way of moving which was very individual to himself, a slight, ever so slight, exaggeration of stride and gesture, a kind of captivating awkwardness and diffidence that was on the borderland of grace and assurance. Like all slender people who work much with their heads, he had a strong grip, but he felt that his hand was as inconsistent as an eel when St. John's closed over it.
"I came in for a moment," said St. John, "to say that we are all exceedingly grateful to you. Your song was a great factor in my father's reelection to the Senate. But we do not hold so much by the song as by the good will which you showed us in writing it. I want you to understand and believe that if I can ever be of the slightest service to you, I will go very far to render it."
"I'm as obliged as I can be," said Aladdin. "It's mighty good of you to come and talk to me like this, and except for the good will I have toward all your family, I don't deserve it a bit."
When John St. John had gone, the inky boy came to announce that another gentleman wished to speak with Mr. O'Brien.
The second gentleman proved to be the second brother, Hamilton St. John.
"Mr. O'Brien?" said he.
Aladdin shook hands with him.
"I came in for a moment," said Hamilton St. John, "for the pleasure of telling you how tremendously grateful we all are to you for your song, which was such a big factor in my father's redirection to the Senate. But I want to say, too, that we're more grateful for your good will than for the song, and if I can ever do you a service, I want you to feel perfectly free to come and ask it of me, whatever it is."
Aladdin could have laughed for joy. Margaret did not seem so far away as sometimes.
"I'm as obliged as I can be," he said. "It's mighty good of you to come and talk to me like this, and except for the good will I have toward all your family, I don't deserve it a bit, but I appreciate it just the same."
Presently Hamilton St. John departed.
Again the inky boy, and this time grinning.
"There's a gentleman would like to speak with you, sir," he said.
"Show him in," said Aladdin.
Hannibal St. John, Jr., entered.
"O'Brien," he said, "I've often heard my sister Margaret speak about you, and I've been meaning for ever so long to look you up. And I wish I'd done it before I had such an awfully good excuse as that song of yours, because I don't know how to thank you, quite. But I want you to understand that if at any time—rubbish, you know what I mean. Come up to the club, and we'll make a drink and talk things over."
He drew Aladdin's arm into his, and they went out.
Aladdin had never before felt so near Margaret.
He returned to the office in half an hour, happy and a slave. Hannibal St. John, Jr., had won the heart right out of him in ten minutes. He sat musing and dreaming. Was he to be one of those chosen?
"Gentleman to see you, sir."
"Show him in."
The inky snickered and hurried out. He could be heard saying with importance, "This way, sir. Look out for that press, sir. It's very dark in here, sir." And then, like a smart flunky in a house of condition, he appeared again at the door and announced
"Senator Hannibal St. John."
Aladdin sprang up.
The senator, still suffering from the gout, and leaning heavily on his whalebone cane, limped majestically in. There was an amiability on his face, which Aladdin had never seen there before. He placed a chair for his distinguished guest. The senator removed his high hat and stood it upon the edge of Aladdin's desk.
"My boy," he said,—the word tingled from Aladdin's ears to his heart, for it was a word of great approachment and unbending,—"I am very grateful for your efforts in my behalf. I will place honor where honor is due, and say that I owe my recent reflection to the United States Senate not so much to my more experienced political friends as to you. The present crisis in the affairs of the nation calls for men of feeling and honor, and not for politicians. I hope that you will not misconstrue me into a braggart if I say from the bottom of my heart I believe that, in returning a man of integrity and tradition to his seat in the Congress of the nation, you have rendered a service to the nation."
The senator paused, and Aladdin, still standing, waited for him to finish.
"After a week," said the senator, "I shall return to my duties in Washington. In the meanwhile, Margaret" (he had hitherto always referred to her before Aladdin as "my daughter") "and I are keeping open house, and if it will give you pleasure we shall be charmed" (the word fell from the senator's lips like a complete poem) "to have you make us a visit. Two of my sons will be at home, and other young people."
"Indeed, and it will give me pleasure!" cried Aladdin, falling into the least suspicion of a brogue.
"I will write a line to your chief," continued the senator, "and I have reason to believe that he will see you excused. We shall expect you to-morrow by the fourthirty."
"I'm ever so much obliged, sir," said Aladdin.
"My boy," said the senator, gravely, after a full minute's pause, "we are all concerned in your future, which promises to be a brilliant one. It rests with you. But, if an old man may be permitted a word of caution, it would be this: Let your chief recreation lie in your work; leave the other things. Do I make myself clear enough?" (Aladdin nodded guiltily.) "Leave the frailties to the dullards of this world."
He rose to go.
"My young friend," said the senator, "you have my best wishes."
Grimacing with the pain in his foot, limping badly, but always stately and impressive,—almost superimpending,—Hannibal St. John moved slowly out of the office.
The weather turned suddenly gusty and cold, and that afternoon it began to snow, and it kept on snowing. All night fine dry flakes fell in unexampled profusion, and by morning the face of the land was many inches deep. Nor did the snow then cease. All the morning it continued to fall with vigor. The train by which Aladdin was to go to the St. Johns' left at two-thirty, arriving there two hours later; and it was with numb feet and stinging ears that he entered the car reserved for smokers, and, bundling in a somewhat threadbare over coat, endeavored to make himself comfortable for the journey. As the train creaked and jerked out of the protecting station, the storm smote upon the windows with a noise like thrown sand, and a back draft down the chimney of the iron stove in one end of the car sent out puffs of smutty smoke at whatever points the various castings of the stove came together with insufficient snugness. There were but half a dozen people in the whole train.
"Troubles, old man," said Aladdin, for so he was in the habit of addressing himself at moments of self-communication, "this is going to be the slowest kind of a trip, but we're going to enjoy every minute of it, because it's taking us to the place where we would be-God bless her!"
Aladdin took a cigar from his breast pocket.
"Troubles," said he, "may I offer you a smoke? What? Oh, you're very much obliged and don't mind if you do. There you are, then." Aladdin sent out a great puff of white smoke; this turned into a blue wraith, drifted down the aisle, between the seats, gathering momentum as it went, and finally, with the rapidity of a mint julep mounting a sucked straw (that isn't split) and spun long and fine, it was drawn through a puncture of the isinglass in the stove door and went up the chimney in company with other smoke, and out into the storm. Aladdin, full of anticipation and glee, smoked away with great spirit. Presently, for the car was empty but for himself, Aladdin launched into the rollicking air of "Red Renard"
"Three scarlet huntsmen rode up to White Plains With a carol of voices and jangle of chains, For the morning was blue and the morning was fair, And the word ran, "Red Renard" is waiting us there."
He puffed at his cigar a moment to be sure that its fire should not flag, and sang on:
"The first scarlet huntsman blew into his horn, Lirala, Lovely Morning, I'm glad I was born"; The second red huntsman he whistled an air, And the third sang, "Red Renard" is waiting us there."
"Just such weather as this, Troubles," he said, looking out into the swirl of snow. "Just the beautifulest kind of cross-country weather!" He sang on:
Three lovely ladies they met at the meet, With whips in their hands and with boots on their feet; And the gentlemen lifted their hats with a cheer, As the girls said, "Red Renard is waiting you here."
He quickened into the stanza he liked best:
Three scarlet huntsmen rode off by the side Of three lovely ladies on horses of pride. Said the first, "Call me Ellen"; the second, "I'm Claire"; Said the third, "I'm Red Renard—so called from my hair."
The train, which had been running more slowly, drew up with a chug, and some minutes passed before it again gathered itself and lurched on.
"That's all right," said Aladdin. He was quite warm now, and thoroughly happy.
Three scarlet huntsmen rode home from White Plains, With its mud on their boots, and its girls on their brains; And the first sang of Ellen, the second of Claire, But the third sang, "Red Renard is waiting back there."
He made a waggish face to finish with:
Three scarlet huntsmen got into frock-coats, And they pinched their poor feet, and they tortured their throats; And the first married Ellen, the second wed Claire, While the third said, "Re Renar izh waishing back zhere."
He assumed the expression for a moment of one astutely drunk.
"A bas!" he said, for this much of the French language was his to command, and no more. He turned and attempted to look out. He yawned. Presently he threw away the reeking butt of his cigar, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.
The water below the veranda was alive with struggling fishes in high hats and frock-coats. Each fish had a label painted across his back with his name and address neatly printed on it, and each fish was struggling to reach a tiny minnow-hook, naked of bait, which dangled just out of reach above the water. The baitless hook was connected by a fine line (who ever heard of baiting a line at the wrong end?) with Margaret's hand. She had on a white dress stamped with big pink roses, and there was a pale-green ribbon round the middle of it; her hair was done up for the first time, and she was leaning over the railing, which was made of safety-lamps and stranglers alternately, painted light blue, regarding the struggling fishes with a look at once full of curiosity and pity. Presently one of the fishes' labels soaked off, and went hurtling out to sea, with the fish weeping bitterly and following at express speed, until in less than one moment both label and fish were hull down below the horizon. Then another label washed off, and then another and another, and fish after fish, in varying states of distraction, followed after and disappeared, until all you could see were two, whereof the one was labeled Manners and the other O'Brien (these continued to fight for the hook), and all you could hear was Neptune, from down, down, down in the sea, saying coquettishly to Cleopatra, "I'm Red Renard—so called from my hair." And then all of a sudden valiant Captain Kissed-by-Margaret went by on a log writing mottos for the wives of famous men. And then Manners and O'Brien, struggling desperately to drown each other, sank down, down, down, and Cleopatra could be heard saying perfectly logically to Neptune, "You didn't!" And then there was a tremendous shower of roses, and the dream went out like a candle.
Aladdin opened his eyes and stroked his chin. He was troubled about the dream. The senator had spoken to him of "others." Could Peter Manners possibly be there? Was that the especial demolishment that fate held in store for him? He was very wide awake now.
At times, owing to the opaqueness of the storm, it was impossible to see out of the car window. But there were moments when a sudden rush of wind blew a path for the eye, and by such occasional pictures—little long of the instantaneous—one could follow the progress of the blizzard. Aladdin saw a huddle of sheep big with snow; then a man getting into a house by the window; an ancient apple-tree with a huge limb torn off; two telegraph poles that leaned toward each other, like one man fixing another's cravat; and he caught glimpses of wires broken, loosened, snarled, and fuzzy with snow. Then the train crawled over a remembered trestle, and Aladdin knew that he was within four miles of his station, and within three of the St. Johns' house by the best of short cuts across country. He looked precisely in its direction, and kissed his fingers to Margaret, and wondered what she was doing. Then there was a rumbling, jumping jar, and the train stopped. Minute after minute went by. Aladdin waited impatiently for the train to start. The conductor passed hurriedly through.
"What's up?" called Aladdin after him.
"Up!" cried the conductor. "We're off the track."
"Can't we go on to-night?"
"Nup!" The conductor passed out of the car and banged the door.
"Got to sit here all night!" said Aladdin. "Not much! Get up, Troubles! If you don't think I know the way about here, you can stay by the stove. I'm going to walk."
Aladdin and Troubles rose, buttoned their coat, left the car, and set out in the direction of the St. Johns'. Aladdin's watch at starting read five o'clock.
"Our luggage is all checked, Troubles," he said, "and all we've got to face is the idea of walking three miles through very disagreeable weather, over a broad path that we know like the palm of our hand (which we don't know as well as we might), arriving late, wet to the skin, and without a change of clothes. On the other hand, we shall deserve a long drink and much sympathy. As for you, Troubles, you're the best company I know, and all is well."
The first scarlet huntsman blew into his horn, "Lirala, Lovely Morning, I'm glad I was born."
At first the way, lying through waist-high fir scrub, was pretty bad underfoot, but beyond was a stretch of fine timber, where the trees had done much to arrest the snow, and the going was not so severe. Aladdin calculated that he should make the distance in an hour and a half; and when the wood ended, he looked at his watch and found that the first mile, together with only twenty-five minutes, was behind him.
"That's the rate of an hour and a quarter, Troubles," he said. "And that's good time. Are you listening?"
But following the wood was a great open space of country pitched up from the surrounding levels, and naked to every fury of nature. Across that upland the wind blew a wicked gale, scarifying the tops of knolls to the brown, dead grass, and filling the hollows flush with snow. At times, to keep from being blown over, it was necessary to lean against the gusts. Aladdin was conscious of not making very rapid progress, but there was something exhilarating in the wildness, the bitter cold, and the roar of the wind; it had an effect as of sea thundering upon beach, great views from mountain-tops, black wild nights, the coming of thunder and freshness after intense heat, or any of the thousand and one vaster demonstrations of nature. Now and again Aladdin sang snatches of song:
Gaily bedight, A gallant knight In sunshine and shadow Journeyed long, Singing a song, In search of El Dorado.
Or from "The Mole of Marimolena"
I was turning fifty-odd when the everlasting God Smote a path of molten gold across the blue, Says, "There's many million men would have done the like again, But you didn't, and, my man, there's hope for you.
"Start sheets and sail for the Mole— For the old rotten Mole of Marimolena; There's maybe some one there That you're longing to treat fair, On the dismal, woeful Mole of Marimolena."
And other deep-sea chanteys,—the one in which the pirate found the Lady in the C-a-a-bin and slivered off her head, or back to Red Renard, or further to his own campaign song, and furthest of all to the bad, bad young dog of a crow. Then he got quite out of breath, and pausing for a moment to catch it, noted for the first time the extreme bitterness of the cold. It stung the face like insects. "Woof!" he said. "And now for lost time."
Again he stepped out, but with each step the snow became deeper, and presently he floundered in to his waist. "Must be a ditch!" he said, turning a little to the right and exclaiming, "Thought so!" as the wading got shallower. Whereupon he stepped into a deep hole and fell. After plunging and plowing about, it was brought home to him that he had lost the path. Even at that the difficulty remained one of hard walking alone, for he had been familiar with that country since childhood, and knew the precise direction in which it was necessary for him to locomote. It was a pity that the only structure in the vicinity was an ancient and deserted house,—it lay just off there,—as he should have liked to have warmed himself by a good fire before going farther. He remembered that there were a partly preserved stove in the deserted house, broken laths, and naily boards, and swathes of curious old wall-papers, layer upon layer, which, dampening and rotting from the wall, hung raggedly down. He had once explored the house with Margaret, and it seemed almost wise to go to the place and make a fire. But on account of the delay involved and the approach of darkness, he discarded the notion, and, a little impatient at being badly used by a neighborhood he knew so well, struggled on.
"Troubles," he said, "what sort of a storm is this anyway? Did you ever see anything quite like it round here? Because I never did. It must be like those things they have out West, when millions of poor little baa-sheeps and horses and cattles freeze to death. I'd hate to be a horse out in this, but I wish I had one. I—"
If, as a child, you have ever slipped, though only an inch, while climbing over roofs, you will know that sudden, stabbing, sinking feeling that came to Aladdin and stopped the beating of his heart by the hairbreadth of a second. He had been proceeding chin on breast, and head bent against the wind, or he would have seen it before, for it was a notable landmark in that part of the world, and showed him that he had been making way, not toward his destination, but toward the wilderness.
He gazed up at the great black blasted pine, its waist the height of a tall tree, and its two lonely lightning-scathed and white arms stretched out like a malediction; and for a moment he had to take himself in hand. After a little he mastered the fear that had seized him.
"It's only a poor old lonely vegetable out in the cold," he said. "And it shows us exactly where we are and exactly which way we have to go."
He set himself right, and, with head lowered and hands clenched, again started on. But he was beginning to be very much bored, and sensible that his legs were not accustomed to being used so hard. Furthermore, there was a little difficulty—not by any means an insurmountable one—in steering straight, because of the constantly varying point of the compass in which the wind blew. He went on for a long time....
He began to look for the high ground to decline, as it should, about now, if it was the high ground he took it for. "I ought to be getting somewhere," he said.
And, God help him! tired out, half frozen and very foot-sore, he was getting somewhere, for, glancing up, he again beheld the gigantic and demoniac shape of the blasted pine.
It is on prairies and among mountains, far from the habitations of men, that man is most readily terrified before nature, and not on the three-mile primrose way from a railway accident to a house-party. But for a moment cold terror struck at Aladdin like a serpent, and the marrow in his bones froze. Before he could succeed in reducing this awful feeling to one of acute anxiety alone, he had to talk to himself and explain things as to a child.
"Then it is true, Troubles, old man," he said, "about a person's tendency to go to the left. That's interesting, isn't it? But what do we care? Being gifted with a certain (flighty, it is true) intelligence, we will simply take pains, and every step pull a little to the right; and that will make us go straight. Come now-keep thinking about it-every step!"
As the end of the day approached, a lull came in the gale, and the snow fell less freely. The consequently widened horizon of vision was eminently comforting, and Aladdin's unpleasant feeling of anxiety almost disappeared.
Suddenly he was aware of a red horse.
It was standing almost leg-clear, in an angle of what seemed a drifted-over snake-fence. Its ugly, Roman-nosed head was thrown up and out, as if about to neigh.
"Poor beastie," said Aladdin, after a start. "You must be direfful cold, but we'll ride you, and that will make you warm, and us cold, and we'll all get along faster."
Drawing near, he began to gentle the horse and call it pet names. It was a huge brute, over seventeen hands high, and Aladdin, aided only by a rickety fence, and a pair of legs that would hardly support him, was appalled by the idea of having to climb to that lofty eminence, its back. Without doubt he was dreadfully tired.
"The fence will help, old man" he said. "Here, you, pay attention and get over." He tried to insinuate himself between the horse and the fence, but the horse did not seem inclined to move.
"Get over, you!" he said, and gave a shove. The horse moved a little, very unwillingly. "Farther yet," said Aladdin: "Get over, you, get over." Again he shoved; this time harder. He slapped the great shoulder with his open hand. And again the horse moved, but very slowly. "You're an unwilling brute, aren't you?" he said angrily.
For answer the thing tottered, and, to his horror, began to fall, at first slowly, but ever with accelerating speed, until, in the exact attitude in which it had stood by the fence,—the great Roman-nosed head thrown up and out, as if to neigh,—he beheld the horse stretched before him on the ground, and noted for the first time the awful death-like glint of the yellow teeth through the parting of the lips.
He went very gravely from that place, for he had been looking upon death by freezing, and he himself was terribly cold, terribly tired, and—he admitted it now—completely lost.
But he went on for a long time—four or five hundred years. And it grew darker and colder.
He began to talk to himself, to try and steady himself, as he had done ever since childhood at forsaken times.
"Troubles," he said, "You're full of troubles, aren't you, old man? You always were. But this is the worst. You can't walk very much farther, can you? I can't. And if you don't get helped by some one pretty soon, you're going to come to the end of your troubles. And, Troubles, do you know, I think that's what's going to happen to you and me, and I want you to stand up to it if it comes [gulp] and face it like a man. Now let's rest a little, Troubles, will we?"
Troubles and Aladdin rested a little. When the rest was over they could hardly move, and they began to see the end of a young man that they had hoped would live a long time and be very happy. They went on.
"Troubles," said Aladdin, "do you suppose she knows that we are out here, perhaps dying? We would know if she were, wouldn't we? And do you think she cares? Liar, you know she cares, and a lot. She wouldn't be she if she didn't care. But we didn't think that all the years of waiting and hoping and loving and trying to be something would end like this, did we, Troubles? We thought that it might end with the godlike Manners (whom we wouldn't help if he were freezing to death, would we?), but not like this—O Lord God, not like this!... And we weren't sure it would end with Manners; we were going to fight it out to a mighty good finish, weren't we, Troubles? But now it's going to end in a mighty good storm, and you're going to die for all your troubles, Troubles... And I'm talking to you so that we won't lose our sand, even if we are afraid to die, and there's no one looking on."
Though Aladdin stopped making talk in his head, the talk kept going on by itself; and he suddenly shouted aloud for it to stop. Then he began to whimper and shiver, for he thought that his mind was going.
Presently he shook himself.
"Troubles," he said, "we've only a little farther to go—just as far as our feet will carry us, and no farther. That's the proper way to finish. And for God's sake keep sane. We won't give her up yet!"
Ten steps and years passed.
"Troubles," said Aladdin, "we're going to call for help, and if it don't come, which it won't, we're going to try and be calm. It seems simplest and looks best to be calm."
Aladdin stood there crying aloud for the help of man, but it did not come. And then he cried for the help of God. And he stood there waiting—waiting for it to come.
"We must help ourselves, Troubles," he said, with a desperate effort to be calm. "We've got ten steps left in us. Now, then, one—two—"
During the taking of those ten steps the snow ceased entirely to fall, and black night enveloped the earth.
Aladdin was all numb, and he wished to sleep, but he made the ten steps into eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, before his limbs refused to act, and he fell forward in the snow. He managed to raise himself and crawl a little way. He saw a light afar off, and guessing that it must be an angel, held out his hands to it—and one of them encountered a something in the dark.
Even through his thick mitten it felt round and smooth and colder than his fingers, like a ball of ice. Then Aladdin laughed aloud, for he knew that his last walk upon earth had been in the form of a silly circle. He had returned to the dead horse, and his gloved hand was resting upon its frozen eye. He shrieked with laughter and became heavy with a desire to sleep.
He sank deliciously down, and began to see showers of roses, when it flashed upon him that this was not sleep, but death.
It was like lifting prodigious dumb-bells to get his eyes to open, and a return to consciousness was like the stabbing of knives. But he opened his eyes and roused himself.
"I won't give her up yet," he cried.
And then, by the help of God Almighty, he crawled the whole length of the horse.
And fell asleep.
It was a miserable, undressed thing wrapped in a horse-blanket and a buffalo-robe that woke up in front of a red-hot stove and remembered that it used to be Aladdin O'Brien. It had a dreadful headache, and could smell whisky and feel warm, and that for a long time was about all. Then it noticed that the wall opposite was ragged with loosened wall-paper and in places stripped of plaster, so that the lathing showed through, and that in its own head—no, in the room beyond the wall—an impatient stamping noise of iron on wood was occurring at intervals. Then it managed to turn its head, and it saw a big, beautiful man sitting on the end of an old soapbox and smoking a pipe. Then it was seized with a wrenching sickness, and the big man came quickly and held its head and was very good to it, and it felt better and went to sleep. After a while it descended into the Red Sea, with the avowed intention of calling Neptune Red Renard to his face, and when it got to the bottom, which was of red brick sprinkled with white door-knobs that people kept diving for, it became frightened and ran and ran until it came to the bottom of an iceberg, that had roots like a hyacinth bulb and was looking for a place to plant itself, and it climbed up to the top of the iceberg, which was all bulrushes, and said, "I beg your pardon, but I forgot; I must go back and make my apologies." Then it woke up and spoke in a weak voice.
"Peter Manners," said Aladdin, "come here."
Manners came and sat on the floor beside him.
"Feel better now?" he said.
"Tell me—" said Aladdin.
"Oh, stuff!" said Manners.
"Manners," said Aladdin, "you don't look as if you hated me any more."
"You sleep," said Manners. "That's what you need."
Aladdin thought for a long time and tried to remember what he wanted to say, and shutting his eyes, to think better, fell asleep.
For the third time he awoke. Manners was back on the soap-box, still as a sphinx, and smoking his pipe.
"Please come and talk some more," said Aladdin.
Again Manners came.
"Tell me about it," said Aladdin.
"You be good and go to sleep," said Manners.
"What time is it?"
"No; stars out and warmer."
Aladdin thought a moment.
"Manners," he said, "please talk to me. How did you find me?"
"Simply enough," said Manners. "I took the senator's cutter out for a little drive, and got lost. Then I heard somebody laughing, and I stumbled over you and your horse; that's all. How the devil did you manage to lose your saddle and bridle?"
"It was a dead horse," said Aladdin, and he shivered at the recollection.
"Quite so," said Manners.
"It was the funniest thing," said Aladdin, and again he shuddered with a kind of reminiscent revolt. "I pushed it, and it fell over frozen to death." He was conscious of talking nonsense.
"Wait a minute, Manners," he said. "I'll be sensible in a minute."
Presently he told Manners about the horse.
"I saw alight just then," he said, "and I thought it was an angel."
"It was I," said Manners, naively.
"Yes, Manners, it was you," said Aladdin.
He thought about an angel turning out to be Manners for a long time. Then a terrible recollection came to him, and, in a voice shaking with remorse and self-incrimination, he cried:
"God help me, Manners, I would have let you freeze."
Manners pulled at his pipe.
"Manners," said Aladdin, "it's true I know it's true, because, for all I knew, I was dying when I said it."
Manners shook his head.
"Oh, no," said Manners.
"Make me think that," said Aladdin, with a quaver. "Please make me think that if you can, for, God help me, I think I would have let you freeze."
"When I found you," said Manners, "I—I was sorry that the Lord hadn't sent somebody else to you, and me to somebody else. That was because you always hated me with no very good reason, and a man hates to be hated, and so, to be quite honest, I hated you back."
"Right," said Aladdin, "right."
Light began to come in through the windows, whose broken panes Manners had stopped with crumpled wall-paper.
"But when I got you here," said Manners, "and began to work over you, you stopped being Aladdin O'Brien, and were just a man in trouble."
"Yes," said Aladdin, "it must be like that. It's got to be like that."
"At first," said Manners, "I worked because it seemed the proper thing to do, and then I got interested, and then it became terrible to think that you might die."
"Yes," said Aladdin. His face was ghastly in the pre-sunrise light.
"You wouldn't get warm for hours," said Manners, "and I got so tired that I couldn't rub any more, and so I stripped and got into the blankets with you, and tried to keep you as warm as I could that way."
He paused to relight his pipe.
Aladdin stared up at the tattered ceiling with wide, wondering eyes.
"When you got warm," said Manners, "I gave you all the rest of the whisky, and I'm sorry it made you sick, and now you're as fit as a fiddle."
"Fit-as-a-fiddle," said Aladdin, slowly, as the wonder grew. And then he began to cry like a little child. Manners waited till he had done, and then wiped his face for him.
"So you see," said Manners, simply, though with difficulty,—for he was a man shy, to terror, of discussing his own feelings,—"I can't help liking you now, and—and I hope you won't feel so hard toward me any more."
"I feel hard toward you!" said Aladdin. "Oh, Manners!" he cried. "I thought all along that you were just a man that knew about horses and dogs, but I see, I see; and I'm not going to worship anybody any more except you and God, I'm not!"
Then he had another great long, hot cry. Manners waited patiently till it was over.
"Manners," said Aladdin, in a choky, hoarse voice, "I think you're different from what you used to be. You look as if—as if you 'd got the love of mankind in you."
Manners did not answer. He appeared to be thinking of something wonderful.
"Do you think that's it?" cried Aladdin.
Manners did not answer.
"Can't I get it, too?" Aladdin cried. "Have I got to be little and mean always? So help me, Manners, I don't love any one but you and her."
"You 're not fit to talk," said Manners, with great gentleness. "You go to sleep." He arose, and going to the door of the house, opened it a little way and looked out.
"It's warm as toast out, Aladdin," he called. "There's going to be a big thaw." He closed the door and went into the next room, and Aladdin could hear him talking to the horse. After a little he came back.
"Greener says that she never was better stalled," he said.
"Manners," said Aladdin, "have I been raving?"
"Not been riding quite straight," said Manners.
"How soon are we going to start?" said Aladdin.
"We've got to wait till the snow's pretty well melted," said Manners. "About noon, I think."
Then, because he was very tired and sick and weak, and perhaps a trifle delirious, Aladdin asked Manners if he would mind holding his hand. Manners took the hand in his, and a thrill ran up Aladdin's arm and all over him, till it settled deliciously about his heart, and he slept.
The sun rose, and dazzling beams of light filled the room.
"In this combat no man can imagine, unless he had seen and heard as I did, what yelling and hideous roaring Apollyon made all the time of the fight, he spake like a Dragon; and on the other side, what sighs and groans burst from Christian's heart. I never saw him all the while give so much as one pleasant look, till he perceived he had wounded Apollyon with his two-edged sword: then indeed he did smile and look upward."
Senator St. John, attended by Margaret, her maid, and a physician, had made the arduous journey from Washington to Portland without too much fatigue, and it seemed reasonable to suppose that a long rest in his comfortable house, far from the turmoil of public affairs, would do much to reinstate his body after the savage attack of gout with complications to which it had been subjected during six long weeks. Arrived at Portland, he was driven to the house of his old friend Mr. Blankinship, and helped to bed. Next morning he was seized with acute pains in the region of the heart, and though his valiant mind refused for a single moment to tolerate the thought that the end might be near, was persuaded to send for his daughter and his sons.
Margaret was in the parlor with Aladdin. It was April, and the whole land dripped. Through the open window, for the day was warm, the moisture of the soaked ground and trees was almost audible. Margaret had much to say to Aladdin, and he to her; they had not met for several months.
"I want to hear about Peter," said Aladdin—"all about him. He met you, of course, and got you across the city?"
"Yes, and his father came, too," said Margaret. "Such an old dear—you never saw him, did you? He's taller than Peter, but much thinner, and a great aristocrat. He's the only man I ever saw that has more presence than papa. He looks like a fine old bird, and you can see his skull very plainly—especially when he laughs, if you know what I mean. And he's really witty. He knows all about you and wants you to go and stay with them sometime." Aladdin sighed for the pure delight of hearing Margaret's voice running on and on. He was busy looking at her, and did not pay the slightest attention to what she said. "And the girl came to lunch, Aladdin, and she is so pretty, but not a bit serene like Peter, and the men are all wild about her, but she doesn't care that—"
"Doesn't she?" said Aladdin, annoyingly.
"No, she doesn't!" said Margaret, tartly. "She says she's going to be a horse-breaker or a nurse, and all the while she kept making eyes at brother John, and he lost his poise entirely and smirked and blushed, and I shouldn't wonder a bit if he'd made up his mind to marry her, and if he has he will—"
Aladdin caught at the gist of the last sentence. "Is that all that's necessary?" he said. "Has a man only got to make up his mind to marry a certain girl?"
"It's all brother John would have to do," said Margaret, provokingly.
"Admitting that," said Aladdin, "how about the other men?"
"Why," said Margaret, "I suppose that if a man really and truly makes up his mind to get the girl he wants, he'll get her."
She looked at him with a grand innocence. Aladdin's heart leaped a little.
"But suppose two men made up their minds," said Aladdin, "to get the same girl."
"That would just prove the rule," said Margaret, refusing to see any personal application, "because one of them would get her, and the other would be the exception."
"Would the one who spoke first have an advantage?" said Aladdin. "Suppose he'd wanted her ever so long, and had tried to succeed because of her, and"—he was warming to the subject, which meant much to him—"had never known that there was any other girl in the world, and had pinned all his faith and hope on her, would he have any advantage?"
"I don't know," said Margaret, rather dreamily.
"Because if he would—" Aladdin reached forward and took one of her hands in his two.
She let it lie there, and for a moment they looked into each other's eyes. Margaret withdrew her hand.
"I know—I know," she said. "But you mustn't say it, 'Laddin dear, because—somehow I feel that there are heaps of things to be considered before either of us ought to think of that. And how can we be quite sure? Anyway, if it's going to happen—it will happen. And that's all I'm going to say, 'Laddin."
"Tell me," he said gently, "what the trouble is, dear. Is it this: do you think you care for me, and aren't sure? Is that it?"
She nodded gravely. Aladdin took a long breath.
"Well," he said finally, "I believe I love you well enough, Margaret, to hope that you get the man who will make you happiest. I don't know," he went on rather gloomily, "that I'm exactly calculated to make anybody happy, but," he concluded, with a quavering smile, "I'd like to try." They shook hands like the two very old friends they were.
"We'll always be that, anyway," said Margaret.
"Always," said Aladdin.
"Mademoiselle!" Eugenie opened the parlor door and looked cautiously in, after the manner of the French domestic.
"What is it?" said Margaret in French.
Aladdin listened with intense admiration, for he did not understand a word.
"Monsieur does not carry himself so well," said Eugenie, "and he asks if mademoiselle will have the goodness to mount a moment to his room."
"I'll go at once." Margaret rose. "Papa's worse," she said to Aladdin. "Will you wait?"
"I am so sorry," said Aladdin. "No, I can't wait; I have to get out the paper. I"—he smiled—"am announcing to an eager public what general, in my expert opinion, is best fitted to command the armies of the United States."
"Of course there'll be fighting."
"Of course—and in a day or two. Good-by."
"I'll come round later and inquire about your father. Give him my love."
Margaret ran up-stairs to her father's room. He was in great pain, but perfectly calm and collected. As Margaret entered, the doctor went out, and she was alone with her father.
"Are you feeling badly, dear?" she said.
"I am feeling more easy than a moment ago," said the senator. "Bring a chair over here, Peggy; we must have a little talk."
She brought a little upright chair and sat down facing him, her right hand nestling over one of his.
"The doctor," said the senator, "considers that my condition is critical."
"I disagree with him. I shall, I believe, live to see the end of this civil riot, but I cannot be sure. So it behooves me to ask my dear daughter a question." St. John asked it with eagerness. "Which is it to be, Peggy?"
She blushed deeply.
"You are interested in Aladdin O'Brien?"
Her head drooped a little.
The senator sighed.
"Thank you, dear," he said. "That is all I wanted to know. I had hoped that it would be otherwise. Peggy," he said, "I love that other young man like a son."
"I have always hoped that you would see him as I have seen him. I would be happy if I thought that I could leave you in such strong young hands. I trust him absolutely."
"You don't like Aladdin?"
"He is not steady, Margaret." The simple word was pregnant with meaning as it fell from the senator.
"You don't mean that he—that he's like—"
"Yes, dear; I should not wish my youngest son to marry."
"Poor boy," said Margaret, softly.
"It's the Irish in him," said the senator. "He must do all things to extremes. There, in a word, lies all his strength and all his weakness."
"You would be sorry if I married Aladdin?"
"I should be afraid for your happiness. Do you love him?"
"I am not sure, papa."
"You are fond of Peter, aren't you?"
She leaned forward till her cheek touched his.
"Next to you and 'Laddin."
The senator patted her shoulder, and thus they remained for some time.
A great shouting arose in the neighborhood.
The senator sat bolt upright in bed. His nostrils began to quiver. He was like an old war-horse that hears bugles.
"Sumter?" he cried. "Sumter? Do I hear Sumter?"
The shouting became louder.
"Sumter?" he cried. "Have they fired upon Sumter?"
Margaret flew to the window and threw it open. It acted upon the shouting like the big swell of an organ, and the cries of excitement filled the room to bursting. South Carolina had clenched her hand and struck the flag in the face.
The doctor rushed in. He paused flabbergasted at sight of the man whom he had supposed to be dying.
"Great God, man!" cried the senator, "can't you get my clothes?"
When he was dressed they brought him his whalebone stick.
"Damn it, I can walk!" said he, and he broke the faithful old thing over a knee that had not been bent for a month.
New fervor of enlistment took place, and among the first to enlist was Aladdin, and when his regiment met for organization he was unanimously elected major. He had many friends.
At first he thought that his duty did not lie where his heart lay, because of his brother Jack, now fourteen, whom he had to support. And then, the old promises coming to mind, he presented himself one morning before Senator St. John.
"Senator," he said, "you promised to do me a favor if I should ever ask it."
The senator thought of Margaret and trembled.
"I have come to ask it."
"I want to enlist, sir, but if I do there's nobody to look after Jack."
Again the senator thought of Margaret, and his heart warmed.
"He shall live in my house, sir," said the senator, "as a member of my family, sir."
"God bless you, sir!" cried Aladdin.
In a state of dancing glee he darted off to the "Spy" office to see his chief.
Mr. Blankinship was leaning against the post of the street door, reading his own editorial in the morning issue.
"Hallo, Mr. Blankinship!" cried Aladdin.
"Hallo, Aladdin!" cried Mr. Blankinship, grinning at his favorite. "Late as usual."
"And for the last time, sir."
"I know of only one good reason for such a statement."
"It's it, sir!"
Mr. Blankinship folded his paper carefully. His eyes were red, for he had been up late the night before.
"I'd go, too," he said simply, "if it wasn't for the mother."
The firm of John St. John & Brothers sat in its office. The head of the firm was gorgeous in a new uniform; he had hurried up from New York (where he had been paying vigorous court to Ellen Manners, whom he had made up his mind to marry) in order, as oldest, biggest, and strongest, to enlist for the family in one of the home regiments. There lingered on his lips the thrill of a kiss half stolen, half yielded, while in his pockets were a number of telegrams since received, and the usually grave and stern young man was jocular and bantering. The two younger members of the firm were correspondingly savage.
"For God's sake, clear out of here," said Hamilton. "Your shingle's down. Bul and I are running this office now."
"Well, it's the chance of your lives, boys," said the frisky colonel. "I'll have forgotten the law by the time I come back."
"Hope you may choke, John," said Hannibal, sweetly.
"Don't allow smoking in here, do you, boys?" He got no answer. It was a hard-and-fast rule which he himself had instituted.
"Well, here goes." He lighted a huge cigar and puffed it insolently about the office. He surveyed himself in the cracked mirror.
"Cursed if a uniform isn't becoming to a man!" he said.
"Chicken!" said Hamilton.
"Puppy!" said Hannibal.
"Titmouse!" said Hamilton.
"Ant!" said Hannibal.
John's grin widened.
"Boys," he said, "you've got one swell looker in the family, anyway, and you ought to be glad of that."
The boys exchanged glances.
Hannibal had upon his desk a pen-wiper which consisted of a small sponge heavy with the ink of wiped pens. Hamilton had beneath his desk an odd rubber boot which served him as a scrap-basket. These ornamental missiles took John St. John in the back of the head at about the same moment, the weight and impetus of the boot knocking the cigar clean out of his mouth, so that it dashed itself against the mirror.
The gallant colonel turned, still grinning. "Which threw the boot?" said he.
"I did," said Hamilton.
"Then you get the first licking."
Hamilton met his brother's hostile if grinning advance with the hardest blow that he could strike him over the left eye. Then they clenched, and Hannibal joined the fray. The three brothers, roaring with laughter, proceeded to inflict as much damage to each other and the office as they jointly could. Over and under they squirmed and contorted, hitting, tripping, falling and rising. Desks went over, lawbooks strewed the floor, ink ran, and finally the bust of George Washington, which had stood over the inner door since the foundation of the firm, came down with a crash.
By this time the three brothers were helpless with laughter. The combat ceased, and they sat upon the floor to survey the damage.
"You can't handle the old man yet, boys," said the colonel. His left eye was closed, and his new uniform looked like the ribbons hung on a May-pole.
Hamilton was bleeding at the nose. Hannibal's lip was split. The three looked at each other and shook with laughter.
"I'm inclined to think we've had a healthy bringing-up," said Hamilton between gasps.
"Better move, colonel," said Hannibal; "you're sitting in a pool of ink."
"So I am," said the colonel, as the cold struck through his new trousers.
The laughter broke out afresh.
Beau Larch, in the uniform of a private, appeared at the door.
"Take a hand?"
"Thank you, no," said Beau. "I just dropped in to tell you fellows that we've just had a hell of a licking at Bull Run."
"Us!" said the colonel, rising.
"Us!" said Hamilton. "Licked!"
"Us!" said Hannibal.
"And I've got other news, too," said Beau, bashfully. "If I stop drinking till my year's up, and don't ever drink any more, Claire says she'll marry me."
Hannibal was the first to shake his hand.
"Boys," said Beau, "I hope if any of you ever sees me touch a drop you'll strike me dead."
He went out.
"I'm going to find out about this," said John; "what did he say the name of the licking was?"
"Bull Run. And I'll come back and tell you."
He was starting to descend the steep stairs to the street, when he caught the sound of snickers and creeping footsteps behind him. He turned like a panther, but was not in time. The heavily driven toes of the right boots of the younger St. Johns lifted him clear of the stairs, and clean to the bottom of them. There he sat, his uniform a thing of the past, his left eye blackening and closed, and roars of laughter shaking him.
But Hamilton and Hannibal put the office more or less to rights, and sat down gloomily at their respective desks. Up till now they had faced being left behind, but this licking was too much. Each brooded over it, while pretending to be up to the ears in work. Hamilton wrote a letter, sealed it, addressed it, and presently rose.
"Bul," he said, and to Hannibal the whole manoeuver smacked suspicious, "I'm going to run up and see the old man for a few minutes."
"All right," said Hannibal.
Hamilton reached the door and turned.
"By the way," he said, "I left a letter on my desk; wish you'd put a stamp on it and mail it."
He went out.
Hannibal felt very lonely and fidgety.
"I think I'll just mail that letter and get it off my mind," he said.
He put on his hat, licked a stamp, and crossed to his brother's desk. The letter was there, right enough, but it did not require a stamp, for on it was written but one word, and that word was Hannibal.
Hannibal tore open the envelop and read:
DEAR OLD Bul: I can't stand it any longer, but you'll try and not be mad with me for running off and leaving you to keep up the old place alone, and damn it, Bul, two of us ought to go anyway....
The letter ran on for a little in the same strain. Hannibal put the letter in his pocket, and sat down at his brother's desk.
"It will kill the old man if we all go," he said. "And of all three I'm the one with the best rights to go and get shot."
He took from somewhere in his clothes a little gold locket, flat and plain. Each of the St. John boys had carried one since their mother's death. Facing her picture each had had engraved the motto which he had chosen for himself to be his watchword in life. In John's locket was engraved, "In fortis vinces"; in Hamilton's, "Deo volente"; and in Hannibal's, "Carpe diem." But in Hannibal's locket there was another picture besides that of his mother. He opened the locket with his thumb-nails and laid it on the desk before him. Presently his eyes dimmed, and he looked beyond the locket.
Hamilton St. John's ink-well was a globe of glass, with a hole like a thimble in the top to contain ink. Hannibal found himself looking at this, and noting the perfect miniature reproduction of the big calendar on the wall, as it was refracted by the glass. With his thoughts far away, his eyes continued to look at the neat little curly calendar in the ink-well. Presently it seemed to him that it was not a calendar at all, but just a patch of bright green color—a patch of bright green that became grass, an acre of it, a ten-acre field, a great field gay with trampled flowers, rolling hills, woods, meadows, fences, streams. Then he saw, lying thickly over a fair region, broken guns, exploded cannons, torn flags, horses and men contorted and sprung in death; everywhere death and demolition. He wandered over the field and came presently upon himself, scorched, mangled, and dead under the wheel of a cannon.
After a little it seemed to him that the field of battle shrank until it became again the calendar. But there was something odd about that calendar; the dates were queer. It read July, right enough; but this was the year 1861, whereas the calendar bore the date 1863. And why was there a cross to mark the third day of July? Hannibal came to with a shock; but he could have sworn that he had not been asleep.
"God is very—very good!" he said solemnly.
Then he opened his pen-knife, and scratched a deep line of erasure through the "Carpe diem" in his locket, and underneath, cutting with great pains, he inserted a date, "July 3, 1863," and the words "Nunc dimittis." Below that he cut "Te Deum laudamus."
He looked once more at the picture of his mother and at the picture that was not of his mother, shut the little gold case, and put it back in his pocket.
Then he inked on the white inside of a paper-box cover, in large letters, these words:
This office will not be opened until the end of the war.
That office was never opened again.
The lives of sixty million people had become suddenly full of drill, organization, uniforms, military music, flags, hatred, love, and self-sacrifice, and the nations of the Old World stood about, note-book in hand, like so many medical students at a clinic: could a heart, cut in two, continue to supply a body with blood after the soul had been withdrawn? And the nations of the Old World hoped that there would be enough fresh meat left on the carcass for them to feed on, when the experiment should be at an end. Mother England was particularly hungry, and dearly hoped to have the sucking of the eggs which she herself had laid.
It was a great time for young men, and Margaret shed secret tears on behalf of five of them. It had fallen upon her to tell the old man that his three sons had enlisted, and that task had tortured her for an hour before she had dared go and accomplish it.
"Papa," she said, "Ham has enlisted, and so has Bul."
The senator had not moved a muscle.
"It was only a question of time," he said. "I wish that I had begotten a dozen others."
He had borrowed her well-marked Bible from old Mrs. Blankinship and read Isaiah at a gulp. Then he had sought out his boys and bantered them on their new clothes.
Margaret sat very still for a long time after the interview with her father. She knew that Bul, whom she loved best of her brothers, was going to be killed. She had never before seen his face so serenely happy as when he came to tell her that he had sworn in, nor had she ever before seen that unexplainable phenomenon, known variously as fate, doom, numbered, Nemesis, written upon a face. And there were others who might be taken.
Aladdin came in for a moment to give her the news. He was nervous with enthusiasm, and had been working like a horse. His regiment was to leave Friday for the front; he could stay but a minute; he had only dashed in on his way to drill. Would she care to come? Quite right; there was nothing much to look at. He talked as cheerfully and as rapidly as a mountain brook runs. And then he gave his best piece of news, and looked almost handsome as he gave it.
"Peter's here," he said. "He's outside talking to the senator. He looks simply stunning, and he's a whole lot of things on a staff—assistant adjutant-general with the rank of a colonel; and he's floated up here on a dash against time to say good-by to us."
Aladdin's face puckered.
"You and Peter and I, Margaret," he said, "Lord, what a muddle!"
"I'm terribly blue, old man," said Margaret, "and it hurts to have you say things like that."
Instantly Aladdin was all concern.
"You know I wouldn't hurt you purposely," he said, "but I'm terribly blue, too, dear, and one tries to keep up and says asinine things, and"—he smiled, and his smile was very winning—"is at once forgiven by an old dear."
She held out her hand and gave his a friendly squeeze.
"You old darling!" he said, and ran out.
She followed him into the hall, and met Manners, who had just parted from the senator at the front door. His uniform was wonderfully becoming.
"Is it Peter?"
They shook hands.
"Never," she said, "have I seen anything so beautiful!"
Peter blushed (looking even more beautiful, for he hated to be talked about).
"Where was 'Laddin going?" he said. "He went by me like a shot out of a gun, and had only time to pull my hat over my eyes and squeal Peeeter."
"He's very important now," said Margaret, "and wonders how anybody can want to write things and be a poet or a musician when there are real things to do in the world."
Peter looked at his watch.
"Isn't that the least bit rude?" said Margaret.
"No," said Peter; "my train back leaves in one hour, and I could better afford to lose my chances of heaven. I had no business to come, as it was. But I had to come."
Margaret sighed. She had hoped that it would not happen so soon. He followed her into the parlor and closed the door behind him.
"First, Margaret," he said, "I'm going to tell you something that may surprise you a little. It did me; it was so sudden. My sister Ellen is going to be married."
"Ellen!" exclaimed Margaret. "Why, she always said—" "It's only been arranged in the last few days," said Peter, "by many telegrams. I was told to tell you."
"Is he nice?"
"Yes. He's a good chap."
"Well—rather rising than rich."
"Who is it?"
"Your brother John."
"My dear Peter—"
"No—I never did, either!"
"Isn't that splendid!"
Peter pulled a grave face.
"Yes—and no," he said.
"I hope you're not going to be insolent," said Margaret.
"It depends on what you call insolent. My father, you see, objects very much to having Ellen go out of the family, but he says that he can learn to bear that if the only other girl in the world will come into the family."
Manners' voice had become husky toward the last of the sentence, and perhaps not husky so much as hungry. Margaret knew better than to say anything of the kind, but she couldn't help looking as innocent as a child and saying:
"How do I know?" said Peter. "I have come to ask her."
He looked so very strong and manly and frank that Margaret, whose world had been terribly blue recently, was half tempted to throw herself into his arms and cry.
"O Peter!" she said pitifully.
He came and sat beside her on the sofa, and drew her close to him.
"My darling," he said brokenly.
A great sense of trust and security stole over Margaret, but she knew that it was not love. Yet for a moment she hesitated, for she knew that if she took this man, his arm would always be about her, and he would always—always—always be good to her. As she sat there, not trusting herself to speak, she had her first doubt of Aladdin, and she wondered if he loved her as much—as much as he loved Aladdin. Then she felt like a traitor.
For a little neither could find any words to say. So still they sat that Margaret could hear the muffled ticking of Peter's watch. At length Peter spoke.
"What shall I tell my father?" he said.
"Tell him—" said Margaret, and her voice broke.
"Aren't you sure, darling—is that it?"
She nodded with tears in her eyes.
He took his arm from round her waist, and she felt very lonely.
"But I'm always going to love you," he said.
She felt still more alone.
"Peter," she said, "I can't explain things very well, but I—I—don't want you to go away feeling as if—"
Manners' eyes lifted up.
"As if it was all over?" he asked eagerly.
"Almost that, Peter," she said. "I—I can't say yes now—but God knows, Peter, perhaps sometime—I—I can."
She was thinking of the flighty and moody Aladdin, who had loved her so long, and whom (she suddenly realized in spite of the words just spoken) she loved back with all her heart and soul.
Honor rose hot in her to give Peter a final answer now and forever—no. But she looked into his eyes and could not. He looked at his watch.
"Margaret dear," he said, "I've got to go. Thanks for everything, and for the hope and all, and—and I may never see you again, but if I do, will you give me my answer then?"
"I will," said Margaret, "when I see you again."
"May I kiss you, Margaret?" he said.
He kissed her on the cheek, and went away with her tears on his lips.
A newly organized fife-and-drum corps marched by struggling with "The Girl I Left Behind Me."
In those days the most strangled rendering of that tune would bring lumps into the throats of those that heard.
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?"
"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.
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.