The Peninsular campaign developed four kinds of men: the survivors, the wounded, the dead, and the missing. When the campaign was over Aladdin sometimes woke starting in the night to think of those missing and of what he had seen in the woods.
The tedious locomotion of an army and the incessant reluctance of the battle to be met will try a sinner; but a scarcity of tobacco and constantly wet feet will try a saint. Aladdin was somewhat of both. But in the fidgety gloom which presently settled upon man and beast, his, great Irish gift of cheerfulness shone like a star. He even gave up longing for promotion, and strained his mind to the cracking-point for humorous verses and catching tunes. He went singing up the Peninsula, and thumped the gay banjo by the camp-fire, and was greatly beloved by the foot-sore and sick. He had given up worrying about what he would do in battle, for there were much more important things to think about.
Battles are to soldiers what Christmas trees are to children: you must wait, wait, and wait for them, and forever wait; and when they do come the presents are apt to be a little tawdry. And you are only envied by the other little children who didn't really see what you really got. The most comforting man in the army was one minister of the gospel, and the most annoying was another. The first had the divine gift of story-telling and laughter, and the second thanked God because the soldiers had run out of their best friend, tobacco, which he described through his nose as "filthy weed," "vile narcotic," or "pernicious hell-plant." And they both served the Lord as hard as they could—and they both suffered from dysentery.
As the days passed and the temperature of the army rose, and its digestion became permanently impaired, Aladdin, by giving out, and constantly, all that was best in himself, became gradually exhausted. He found himself telling stories as many as three times to the same man, and he began to steal from the poets and musicians that he knew in order to keep abreast of his own original powers of production. He even went so far as to draw inspiration from men of uneven heights stood in line: he would hum the intervals as scored by their heads on an imaginary staff and fashion his tune accordingly, but this tended to a somewhat compressed range and was not always happy in its results. His efforts, however, were appreciated, and the emaciated young Irishman became a most exceptional prophet, and received honor in his own land.
For the rest, being a staff-officer, he was kept busy and rode hundreds of extra miles through the rain. It was a large army, as inexperienced as it was large, and it stood in great need of being kept in contact with itself. If you lived at one end of it and wanted to know what was going on at the other end, you had to travel about as far as from New York to New Haven. The army proper, marching by fours, stretched away through the wet lands for forty miles. A fly-bitten tail of ambulances and wagons, with six miserable horses or six perfectly happy mules attached to each, added another twenty miles. At the not always attained rate of fifteen miles a day the army could pass a given point in four days. To the gods in Olympus it would have appeared to have all the characteristic color and shape of an angleworm, without, however, enjoying that reptile's excellent good health. If the armies of Washington, Cornwallis, Clive, Pizarro, Cortes, and Christian de Wet had been added to it, they would have passed unnoticed in the crowd. And the recurring fear of the general in command of this army was that the army he sought would prove to be twice as big. So speculation was active between the York and James rivers.
In the minds of the soldiers a thousand years passed, and then there was a little fight, and they learned that they were soldiers. And so did the other army. Another thousand years passed, and it seemed tactful to change bases. Accordingly, that which had been arduously established on a muddy river called the Chickahominy (and it was very far from either of those two good things) was forsaken, and the host began to be moved toward the James. This move would have been more smoothly accomplished if the enemy had not interfered. They, however, insisted upon making history, turning a change of base into a nominal retreat, and begetting in themselves a brass-bound and untamable spirit which it took vast wealth and several years to humble. From Gaines's Mill to the awful brow of Malvern Hill there were thunder and death. Forty thousand men were somewhat needlessly killed, wounded, or (as one paradoxical account has it) "found missing."
Aladdin missed the fight at Malvern Hill and became wounded in a non-bellicose fashion. His general desired to make a remark to another general, and writing it on a piece of thin yellow paper, gave it to him to deliver. He rode off to the tune of axes,—for a Maine regiment was putting in an hour in undoing the stately work of a hundred years,—trotted fifteen miles peacefully enough, delivered his general's remark, and started back. Then came night and a sticky mist. Then the impossibility of finding the way. Aladdin rode on and on, courageously if not wisely, and came in time to the dimly discernible outbuildings of a Virginia mansion. They stood huddled dark and wet in the mist, which was turning to rain, and there was no sign of life in or about them. Aladdin passed them and turned into an alley of great trees. By looking skyward he could keep to the road they bounded. As he drew near the mansion itself a great smell of box and roses filled his nostrils with fragrance. But to him, standing under the pillared portico and knocking upon the door, came no word of welcome and no stir of lights. He gave it up in disgust, mounted, and rode back through the rich mud to the stables. Had he looked over his shoulder he might have seen a face at one of the windows of the house.
He found a door of one of the stables unlocked, and went in, leading his horse. Within there was a smell of hay. He closed the door behind him, unsaddled, and fell to groping about in the dark. He wanted several armfuls of that hay, and he couldn't find them. The hay kept calling to his nose, "Here I am, here I am"; but when he got there, it was hiding somewhere else. It was like a game of blindman's-buff. Then he heard the munching of his horse and knew that the sought was found. He moved toward the horse, stepped on a rotten planking, and fell through the floor. Something caught his chin violently as he went through, and in a pool of filthy water, one leg doubled and broken under him, he passed the night as tranquilly as if he had been dosed with laudanum.
Aladdin came to consciousness in the early morning. He was about as sick as a man can be this side of actual dissolution, and the pain in his broken leg was as sharp as a scream. He lay groaning and doubled in the filthy half-inch of water into which he had fallen. About him was darkness, but overhead a glimmer of light showed a jagged and cruel hole in the planking of the stable floor. Very slowly, for his agony was unspeakable, he came to a realization of what had happened. He called for help, and his voice was thick and unresonant, like the voice of a drunken man. His horse heard him and neighed. Now and again he lapsed into semi-unconsciousness, and time passed without track. Hours passed, when suddenly the glimmer above him brightened, and he heard light footsteps and the cackling of hens. He called for help. Instantly there was silence. It continued a long time. Then he heard a voice like soft music, and the voice said, "Who's there?"
A shadow came between him and the light, and a fair face that was darkened looked down upon him.
"For God's sake take care," he said. "Those boards are rotten."
"You 're a Yankee, aren't you?" said the voice, sweetly.
"Yes," said Aladdin, "and I'm badly hurt."
The voice laughed.
"Hurt, are you?" it said.
"I think I've broken my leg," said Aladdin. "Can you get some one to help me out of this?"
"Reckon you're all right down there," said the voice.
Aladdin revolved the brutality of it in his mind.
"Do you mean to say that you're not going to help me?" he said.
"Help you? Why should I?"
Aladdin groaned, and could have killed himself for groaning.
"If you don't help me," he said, and his voice broke, for he was suffering tortures, "I'll die before long."
A perfectly cool and cruel "Well?" came back to him.
"You won't help me?"
Anger surged in his heart, but he spoke with measured sarcasm.
"Then," he said, "will you at least do me the favor of getting from between me and God's light? If I die, I may go to hell, but I prefer not to see devils this side of it, thank you."
The girl went away, but presently came back. She lowered something to him on a string. "I got it out of one of your holsters," she said.
Aladdin's fingers closed on the butt of a revolver.
"It may save you a certain amount of hunger and pain," she said. "When you are dead, we will give it to one of our men, and your horse too. He's a beauty."
"I hope to God he may—" began Aladdin.
"Pretty!" said the girl.
She went away, and he heard her clucking to the chickens. After a time she came back. Aladdin was waiting with a plan.
"Don't move," he said, "or you'll be shot."
"Rubbish!" said the girl. She leaned casually back from the hole, and he could hear her moving away and clucking to the chickens. Again she returned.
"Thank you for not shooting," she said.
There was no answer.
"Are you dead?" she said.
When he came to, there was a bright light in Aladdin's eyes, for a lantern swung just to the left of his head.
"I thought you were dead," said the girl, still from her point of advantage. The lantern's light was in her face, too, and Aladdin saw that it was beautiful.
"Won't you help me?" he said plaintively.
"Were you ever told that you had nice eyes?" said the girl.
"It bores you to be told that?"
"My dear young lady," said Aladdin, "if you were as kind as you are beautiful—"
"How about your horse kicking me to a certain place? That was what you started to say, you know."
"Lady—lady," said Aladdin, "if you only knew how I'm suffering, and I'm just an ordinary young man with a sweetheart at home, and I don't want to die in this hole. And now that I look at you," he said, "I see that you're not so much a girl as an armful of roses."
"Are you by any chance—Irish?" said the girl, with a laugh.
"Faith and of ahm that," said Aladdin, lapsing into full brogue; "oi'm a hireling sojer, mahm, and no inimy av yours, mahm."
"What will you do for me if I help you?" said the girl.
"Anything," said Aladdin.
"Will you say 'God save Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America,' and sing 'Dixie'—that is, if you can keep a tune. 'Dixie''s rather hard."
"I'll 'God bless Jefferson Davis and every future President of the Confederate States, if there are any,' ten million times, if you'll help me out, and—"
"Will you promise not to fight any more?"
A long silence.
"You needn't do the other things either," said the girl, presently. Her voice, oddly enough, was husky.
"I thought it would be good to see a Yankee suffer," she said after a while, "but it isn't."
"If you could let a ladder down," said Aladdin, "I might be able to get up it."
"I'll get one," said the girl. Then she appeared to reflect. "No," she said; "we must wait till dark. There are people about, and they'd kill you. Can you live in that hole till dark?"
"If you could throw down a lot of hay," said Aladdin. "It's very wet down here and hard."
The girl went, and came with a bundle of hay.
"Look out for the lantern," she called, and threw the hay down to him. She brought, in all, seven large bundles and was starting for the eighth, when, by a special act of Providence, the flooring gave again, and she made an excellent imitation of Aladdin's shute on the previous evening. By good fortune, however, she landed on the soft hay and was not hurt beyond a few scratches.
"Did you notice," she said, with a little gasp, "that I didn't scream?"
"You aren't hurt, are you?" said Aladdin.
"No," she said; "but—do you realize that we can't get out, now?"
She made a bed of the hay.
"You crawl over on that," she said.
Aladdin bit his lips and groaned as he moved.
"It's really broken, isn't it?" said the girl. Aladdin lay back gasping.
"You poor boy," she said.
The girl borrowed Aladdin's pocket-knife and began whittling at a fragment of board. Then she tore several yards of ruffle from her white petticoat, cut his trouser leg off below the knee, cut the lacings of his boot, and bandaged his broken leg to the splint she had made. All that was against a series of most courteous protests, made in a tearful voice.
When she had done, Aladdin took her hand in his and kissed the fingers.
"They're the smallest sisters of mercy I ever saw," said he. She made no attempt to withdraw her hand.
"It was stupid of me to fall through," she said.
"Isn't there any possible way of getting out?"
"No; the walls are stone."
"O Lord!" said Aladdin.
"I'm glad I repented before I fell through," said the girl.
"So am I," said Aladdin.
"What were you doing in our stable?" said the girl.
"I got lost, and came in for shelter."
"You came to the house first. I heard you knocking, and saw you from the window. But I wouldn't let you in, because my father and brother were away, and besides, I knew you were a Yankee."
"It was too dark to see my uniform."
"I could tell by the way you rode."
"Is it as bad as that?"
"No—but it's different."
The girl laid her hand on Aladdin's forehead.
"You've got fever," she said.
"It doesn't matter," said Aladdin, politely.
"Does your leg hurt awfully?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Did any one ever tell you that you were very civil for a Yankee?"
"It doesn't matter," said Aladdin.
She looked at him shrewdly, and saw that the light of reason had gone out of his eyes. She wetted her handkerchief with the cold, filthy water spread over the cellar floor and laid it on his forehead. Aladdin spoke ramblingly or kept silence. Every now and then the girl freshened the handkerchief, and presently Aladdin fell into a troubled sleep.
When he awoke his mind was quite clear. The lantern still burned, but faintly, for the air in the cellar was becoming heavy. Beside him on the straw the girl lay sleeping. And overhead footsteps sounded on the stable floor. He remembered what the girl had said about the people who would kill him if they found him, and blew out the lantern. Then, his hand over her mouth, he waked the girl.
"Don't make a noise," he said. "Listen."
The girl sat up on the straw.
"I'll call," she whispered presently, "and pretend you're not here."
"But the horse?"
"I'll lie about him."
She raised her voice.
"Who's there?" she called.
"It's I—Calvert. Where are you?"
"Listen," she answered; "I've fallen through the floor into the cellar. Don't you see where it's broken?"
The footsteps approached.
"You're not hurt, are you?"
"No; but don't come too close, don't try to look down; the floor's frightfully rickety. Isn't there a ladder there somewhere?"
A man laughed.
"Wait," he said. They heard his footsteps and laughter receding. Presently the bottom of a ladder appeared through the hole in the floor.
"Look out for your head," said the man.
The girl rose and guided the ladder clear of Aladdin's head.
"What have you done with the Yankee's horse?" she called.
"Where's the Yankee, do you suppose?"
"We think he must have run off into the woods."
"That's what I thought."
The girl began to mount the ladder.
"I'm coming up," she said.
She disappeared, and the ladder was withdrawn.
She came back after a long time, and there were men with her.
"It's all right, Yankee," she called down the hole. "They're your own men, and I'm the prisoner now."
The ladder reappeared, and two friendly men in blue came down into the cellar.
"Good God!" they said. "It's Aladdin O'Brien!"
Hannibal St. John and Beau Larch lifted Aladdin tenderly and took him out of his prison.
Outside, tents were being pitched in the dark, and there was a sound of axes. Fires glowed here and there through the woods and over the fields, and troops kept pouring into the plantation. They laid Aladdin on a heap of hay and went to bring a stretcher. The girl sat down beside him.
"You'll be all right now," she said.
"Yes," said Aladdin.
"And go home to your sweetheart."
"Yes," said Aladdin, and he thought of the tall violets on the banks of the Maine brooks, and the freshness of the sea.
"What is her name?" said the girl.
"Margaret," said Aladdin.
"Mine's Ellen," said the girl, and it seemed as if she sighed.
Aladdin took her hand.
"You 've been very good to me," he said, and his voice grew tender, for she was very beautiful, "and I'll never forget you," he said.
"Oh, me!" said the girl, and there was a silence between them.
"I tried to help you," said the girl, faintly, "but I wasn't very good at it."
"You were an angel," said Aladdin.
"I don't suppose we'll ever see each other again, will we?" said the girl.
"I don't know," said Aladdin. "Perhaps I'll come back some day."
"It's very silly of me—" said the girl.
"What?" said Aladdin.
He closed his eyes, for he was very weak. It seemed as if a great sweetness came close to his face, and he could have sworn that something wet and hot fell lightly on his forehead; but when he opened his eyes, the girl was sitting aloof, her face in the shadow.
"I dreamed just then," said Aladdin, "that something wonderful happened to me. Did it?"
"What would you consider wonderful?"
Aladdin laid a finger on his forehead; he drew it away and saw that the tip was wet.
"I couldn't very well say," he said.
The girl bent over him.
"It nearly happened," she said.
"You are very wonderful and beautiful," said Aladdin.
Her eyes were like stars, and she leaned closer.
"Are you going to go on fighting against my people?" she said.
Roses lay for a moment on his lips.
He made no sign. If she had kissed him again he would have renounced his birthright and his love.
"God bless and keep you, Yankee," she said.
Tears rushed out of Aladdin's eyes.
"They're coming to take you away," she said. "Good-by."
"Kiss me again," said Aladdin, hoarsely.
She looked at him quietly for some moments.
"And your sweetheart?" she said.
Aladdin covered his face with his arm.
"Poor little traitor," said the girl, sadly. She rose and, without looking back, moved slowly up the road toward the house.
Nor did Aladdin ever see her again, but in after years the smell of box or roses would bring into his mind the wonderful face of her, and the music of her voice.
In the delirium which was upon him all that night, he harped to the surgeon of Ellen, and in the morning fell asleep.
"Haec olim meminisse juvabit," said the surgeon, as rain-clouded dawn rose whitely in the east.
Aladdin was jolted miserably down the Peninsula in a white ambulance, which mules dragged through knee-deep mud and over flowing, corduroy roads. He had fever in his whole body, anguish in one leg, and hardly a wish to live. But at Fort Monroe the breezes came hurrying from the sea, like so many unfailing doctors, and blew his fever back inland where it belonged. He lay under a live-oak on the parade ground and once more received the joy of life into his heart. When he was well enough to limp about, they gave him leave to go home; and he went down into a ship, and sailed away up the laughing Chesapeake, and up the broad Potomac to Washington. There he rested during one night, and in the morning took train for New York. The train was full of sick and wounded going home, and there was a great cheerfulness upon them all. Men joined by the brotherhood of common experience talked loudly, smoked hard, and drank deep. There was tremendous boasting and the accounting of unrivaled adventures. In Aladdin's car, however, there was one man who did not join in the fellowship, for he was too sick. He had been a big man and strong, but he looked like a ghost made of white gossamer and violet shadows. His own mother would not have recognized him. He lay back into the corner of a seat with averted face and closed eyes. The more decent-minded endeavored, on his account, to impose upon the noisy a degree of quiet, but their efforts were unavailing. Aladdin, drumming with his nails upon the windowpane, fell presently into soft song:
Give me three breaths of pleasure After three deaths of pain, And make me not remeasure The ways that were in vain.
Men grew silent and gathered to hear, for Aladdin's fame as a maker of songs had spread over the whole army, and he was called the Minstrel Major. He felt his audience and sang louder. The very sick man turned a little so that he, too, could hear. Only the occasional striking of a match or the surreptitious drawing of a cork interrupted. The stately tune moved on:
The first breath shall be laughter, The second shall be wine; And there shall follow after A kiss that shall be mine.
Somehow all the homing hearts were set to beating.
Roses with dewfall laden One garden grows for me; I call them kisses, maiden, And gather them from thee.
The very sick man turned fully, and there was a glad light of recognition in his eyes.
Give me three kisses only— Then let the storm break o'er The vessel beached and lonely Upon the lonely shore.
If Aladdin's singing ever moved anybody particularly, it was Aladdin, and that was why it moved other people. He sang on with tears in his voice
Give me three breaths of pleasure After three deaths of pain, And I will no more treasure The hopes that are in vain.
There was silence for a moment, more engaging than applause, and then applause. Aladdin was in his element, and he wondered what he would best sing next if they should ask him to sing again, and this they immediately did. The train was jolting along between Baltimore and Philadelphia. There was much beer in the bellies of the sick and wounded, and much sentiment in their hearts. Aladdin's finger was always on the pulse of his audience, and he began with relish:
Oh, shut and dark her window is In the dark house on the hill, But I have come up through the lilac walk To the lilt of the whippoorwill, With the old years tugging at my hands And my heart which is her heart still.
There was another man in the car whose whole life centered about a house on a hill with a lilac walk leading up to it. He was the very sick man, and a shadow of red color came into his cheeks.
They said, "You must come to the house once more, Ere the tale of your years be done, You must stand and look up at her window again, Ere the sands of your life are run, As the night-time follows the lost daytime, And the heart goes down with the sun."
There were tears in the very sick man's eyes, for the future was hidden from him. Aladdin sang on:
Though her window be darkest of every one, In the dark house on the hill, Yet I turn to it here from this ruin of grass, She has leaned on that window's sill, And dark it is, but there is, there is An echo of light there still!
There was great applause from the drunk and sentimental. And Aladdin lowered his eyes until it was over. When he raised them it was to encounter those of the very sick man. Aladdin sprang to his feet with a cry and went limping down the aisle.
"Peter," he cried, "by all that's holy!"
All the tenderness of the Celt gushed into Aladdin's heart as he realized the pitiful condition and shocking emaciation of his friend. He put his arm gently about him, and thus they sat until the journey's end. In New York they separated.
Aladdin rested that night and boarded an early morning train for Boston. He settled himself contentedly behind a newspaper, and fell to gathering news of the army. But it was difficult to read. A sentence beginning like this: "Rumors of a savage engagement between the light horse under" would shape itself like this: "I am going to see Margaret to-morrow—to-morrow—to-morrow—I am going to see Margaret to-morrow-tomorrow—and God is good—is good—is good."
Oddly enough, there was another man in the car who was having precisely the same difficulty in deciphering his newspaper. At about the same time they both gave up the attempt; and their eyes met. And they laughed aloud. And presently, seated together, they fell into good talk, but each refrained pointedly from asking the other where he was going.
With a splendid assumption of innocence, they drove together across Boston, and remarking nothing on the coincidence, each distinctly heard the other checking his luggage for Portland, Maine.
Side by side they rolled out of Portland and saw familiar trees and hills go by. Presently Aladdin chuckled:
"Where are you going, Peter, anyway?" he said.
"Just where you are," said Peter.
"Peter," said Aladdin, presently, "it seems to me that for two such old friends we are lacking in confidence. I know precisely what you are thinking about, and you know precisely what I am. We mustn't play the jealous rivals to the last; and to put it plainly, Peter, if God is going to be good to you instead of me, why, I'm going to try and thank God just the same. A personal disappointment is a purely private matter and has no license to upset old ties and affections. Does it occur to you that we are after the same thing and that one of us isn't going to get it?"
"We won't let it make any difference," said Peter, stoutly.
"That's just it," said Aladdin. "We mustn't."
"The situation—" Peter began.
"Is none the less difficult, I know. Here we are with a certain amount of leave to occupy as we each see fit. And, unfortunately, there's only one thing which seems fit to either of us. And, equally unfortunately, it's something we can't hold hands and do at the same time. Shall I go straight from the station to Mrs. Brackett's and wait until you've had your say, Peter?—not that I want to wait very long," he added.
"That wouldn't be at all fair," said Peter.
"Do you mind," said Aladdin after a pause, "telling me about what your chances are?"
Peter reddened uncomfortably.
"I'm afraid they're not very good, 'Laddin," he said. "She—she said she wasn't sure. And that's a good deal more apt to mean nothing than everything, but I can't straighten my life out till I'm sure."
"My chances," said Aladdin, critically, "shouldn't by rights be anywhere near as good as yours, but as long as they remain chances I feel just the same as you do about yours, and want to get things straightened out. But if I were any kind of a man, I'd drop it, because I'm not in her class."
"Nonsense," said Peter.
"No, I'm not," said Aladdin, gloomily. "I know that. But, Peter, what is a man going to do, a single, solitary, pretty much good-for-nothing man, with three great bouncing Fates lined up against him?"
Peter laughed his big, frank laugh.
"Shall we chuck the whole thing," said Aladdin, "until it's time to go back to the army?"
"No," said Peter, "that would be shirking; it's got to be settled one way or another very quickly." He became grave again.
"I think so, too, Peter," said Aladdin. "And I think that if she takes one of us it will be a great sorrow for the other."
"And for her," said Peter, quietly.
"Perhaps," said Aladdin, whimsically, "she won't take either of us."
"That," said Peter, "should be a great sorrow for us both."
"I know," said Aladdin. "Anyway, there's got to be sorrow."
"I think I shall bear it better," said Peter, "if she takes you, 'Laddin."
A flash of comparison between his somewhat morbid and warped self and the bigness and nobility of his friend passed through Aladdin's mind. He glanced covertly at the strong, emaciated face beside him, and noted the steadiness and purity of the eyes. A little quixotic flame, springing like an orchid from nothing, blazed suddenly in his heart, and for the instant he was the better man of the two.
"I hope she takes you, Peter," he said.
They rolled on through the midsummer woods, heavy with bright leaves and waist-deep with bracken; little brooks, clean as whistles, piped away among immaculate stones, and limpid light broken by delicious shadows fell over all.
"Who shall ask her first?" said Aladdin. Peter smiled. "Shall we toss for it?" said Aladdin. Peter laughed gaily. "Do you really want it to be like that?" he said.
"What's the use of our being friends," said Aladdin, "if we are not going to back each other up in this of all things?"
"Right!" said Peter. "But you ought to have the first show because you mentioned it first."
"Rubbish!" said Aladdin. "We'll toss, but not now; we'll wait till we get there."
Peter looked at his watch.
"Nearly in," he said.
"Yes," said Aladdin. "I know by the woods."
"Did you telegraph, by any chance?" said Peter. "Because I didn't."
"Nor I," said Aladdin; "I didn't want to be met."
"Nor I," said Peter.
"The sick man and the lame man will take hands and hobble up the hill," said Aladdin. "And whatever happens, they mustn't let anything make any difference."
"No," said Peter, "they mustn't."
Our veterans walked painfully through the town and up the hill; nor were they suffered to go in peace, for right and left they were recognized, and people rushed up to shake them by the hands and ask news of such an one, and if Peter's bullet was still in him, and if it was true, which of course they saw it wasn't, that Aladdin had a wooden leg. Aladdin, it must be owned, enjoyed these demonstrations, and in spite of his lameness strutted a little. But Peter, white from the after effects of his wound and weary with the long travel, did not enjoy them at all. Then the steep pitch of the hill was almost too much for him, and now and again he was obliged to stop and rest.
The St. Johns' house stood among lilacs and back from the street by the breadth of a small garden. In the rear were large grounds, fields, and even woods. The place had two entrances, one immediately in front of the house for people on foot, and the other, a quarter of a mile distant, for people driving. This latter, opening from a joyous country lane of blackberry-vines and goldenrod, passed between two prodigious round stones, and S-ed into a dark and stately wood. Trees, standing gladly where God had set them, made a screen, impenetrable to the eye, between the gateway and the house.
Here Peter and Aladdin halted, while Aladdin sent a coin spinning into the air.
"Heads!" called Peter.
Aladdin let the piece fall to the ground, and they bent over it eagerly.
"After you," said Peter, for the coin read, "Tails."
Aladdin picked up the coin, and hurled it far away among the trees.
"That's our joint sacrifice to the gods, Peter," he said.
Peter gave him five cents.
"My share," he said.
"Peter," said Aladdin, "I will ask her the first chance I get, and if there's nothing in it for me, I will go away and leave the road clear for you. Come."
"No," said Peter; "you've got your chance now. And here I wait until you send me news."
"Lord!" said Aladdin, "has it got to be as sudden as this?"
"Let's get it over," said Peter.
"Very good," said Aladdin. "I'll go. But, Peter, whatever happens, I won't keep you long in suspense."
"Good man," said Peter.
Aladdin turned his face to the house like a man measuring a distance. He drew a deep breath.
"Well—here goes," he said, and took two steps.
"Wait, 'Laddin," said Peter.
"Can I have your pipe?"
Aladdin turned over his pipe and pouch. "I'm afraid it's a little bitter," he said.
Again he started up the drive; but Peter ran after him.
"'Laddin," he cried, "wait—I forgot something."
Aladdin came back to meet him.
"Aladdin," said Peter, "I forgot something." He held out his hand, and Aladdin squeezed it.
"Aladdin," said Peter, "from the bottom of my heart I wish you luck."
When they separated again there were tears in the eyes of both.
Just before the curtain of trees quite closed the view of the gate, Aladdin turned to look at Peter. Peter sat upon one of the big stones that marked the entrance, smoking and smoking. He had thrown aside his hat, and his hair shone in the sun. There was a kind of wistfulness in his poise, and his calm, pure eyes were lifted toward the open sky. A great hero-worship surged in Aladdin's heart, and he thought that there was nothing that he would not do for such a friend. "He gave you your life once," said a little voice in Aladdin's heart; "give him his. He is worth a million of you; don't stand in his way."
Aladdin turned and went on, and the well-known house came into view, but he saw only the splendid, wistful man at the gate, waiting calmly, as a gentleman should, for life or death, and smoking smoking.
Even as he made his resolve, a lump of self-pity rose in Aladdin's throat. That was the old Adam in him, the base clay out of which springs the fair flower of self-sacrifice.
He tried a variety of smiles, for he wished to be easy in the difficult part which he had so suddenly, and in the face of all the old years, elected to play. "He must know by the look of me," said Aladdin, "that I do not love her any more, for, God help me, I can't say it."
He found her on the broad rear veranda of the house. And instead of going up to her and taking her in his arms,—for he had planned this meeting often, as the stars could tell, he stood rooted, and said:
He acted better than he knew, for the great light which had blazed for one instant in her eyes on first seeing him went out like a snuffed candle, and he did not see it or know that it had blazed. Therefore his own cruelty was hidden from him, and his part became easier to play. They shook hands, and even then, if he had not been blinded with the egotism of self-sacrifice, he might have seen. That was his last chance. For Margaret's heart cried to her, "It is over," and in believing it, suddenly, and as she thought forever, an older sweetness came in her face.
"You've changed, Aladdin," she said.
"Yes, I'm thinner, if possible," said Aladdin, "almost willowy. Do you think it's becoming?"
"I am not sure," said Margaret. "The fact remains that I'm more than glad to see you."
Aladdin fumbled for speech.
"I'm still a little lame, you see," he said apologetically, and took several steps to show.
"Very!" said Margaret, in such a voice that Aladdin wondered what she meant.
"But it doesn't hurt any more."
"Then that's all right."
"Where's Jack?" he asked at length.
Margaret became very grave.
"I'm afraid we've betrayed our trust, Aladdin," she said. "Because only yesterday he slipped away and left a little note to say that he was going to enlist. We're very much distressed about it."
"Perhaps it's better so," said Aladdin, "if he really wanted to go. Did he leave any address?"
"None whatever; he simply vanished."
"Ungrateful little brute!" said Aladdin. Then he bethought him of Peter. "I'll come back later, Margaret," he said, "but it behooves me to go and look up the good Mrs. Brackett."
He hardly knew how he got out of the house. He felt like a criminal who has been let off by the judge.
The sun was now low, and the shadows long and black. Aladdin found Peter where he had left him, balancing on the great stone at the entrance, and sending up clouds of smoke. He rose when he saw Aladdin, and he looked paler and more worn. "Peter," said Aladdin, "from the bottom of my heart I wish you luck."
Aladdin had never seen just such a look as came into Peter's eyes; at once they were full of infinite pity, and at peace with the whole world.
"Peter," said Aladdin, "give me back my pipe." His voice broke in spite of himself, for he had given up golden things. "I—" he said, "I'll wait here a little while, but if—if all goes well, Peter, don't you bother to come back."
They clasped hands long and in silence. Then Peter turned with a gulp, and, his weakness a thing of the past, went striding up the driveway. But Aladdin sat down to wait. And now a great piping of tree-frogs arose in all that country. Aladdin waited for a long time. He waited until the day gave way to twilight and the sun went down. He waited until the twilight turned to dark and the stars came out. He waited until, after all the years of waiting and longing, his heart was finally at peace. And then he rose to go.
For Peter had not yet come.
"Where are the tall men that marched on the right, That marched to the battle so handsome and tall? They 've been left to mark the places where they saw the foemen's faces, For the fever and the lead took them all, Jenny Orde, The fever and the lead took them all.
"I found him in the forefront of the battle, Kenny Orde, With the bullets spitting up the ground around him, And the sweat was on his brow, and his lips were on his sword, And his life was going from him when I found him.
"We lowered him to rest, Jenny Orde, With your picture on his breast, Jenny Orde, And the rumble of pursuit was the regiment's salute To the man that loved you best, Jenny Orde."
As a dam breaking gives free passage to the imprisoned waters, and they rush out victoriously, so Vicksburg, starving and crumbling in the West, was about to open her gates and set the Father of Waters free forever. That was where the Union hammer, grasped so firmly by strong fingers that their knuckles turned white, was striking the heaviest blows upon the cracking skull of the Confederacy. On the other hand, Chancellorsville had verged upon disaster, and the powers of Europe were waiting for one more Confederate victory in order to declare the blockade of Southern ports at an end, and to float a Southern loan. That a Confederate victory was to be feared, the presence in Northern territory of Lee, grasping the handle of a sword, whose splendid blade was seventy thousand men concentrated, testified. That Lee had lost the best finger of his right hand at Chancellorsville was but job's comfort to the threatened government at Washington. That government was still, after years of stern fighting, trying generals and finding them wanting. But now the Fates, in secret conclave, weighed the lots of Union and Disunion; and that of Disunion, though glittering and brilliant like gold, sank heavily to the ground, as a great eagle whose wing is broken by the hunter's bullet comes surely if fiercely down, to be put to death.
Early on the morning of July 1, 1863, Lee found himself in the neighborhood of a small and obscure town named Gettysburg. A military invasion is the process of occupying in succession a series of towns. To occupy Gettysburg, which seemed as possible as eating breakfast, Lee sent forward a division of a corps, and followed leisurely with all his forces. But Gettysburg and the ridges to the west of Gettysburg were already occupied by two brigades of cavalry, and those, with a cockiness begotten of big lumps of armed friends approaching from the rear, determined to go on occupying. This, in a spirit of great courage, with slowly increasing forces, against rapidly increasing forces, they did, until the brisk and pliant skirmish which opened the business of the day had grown so in weight and ferocity that it was evident to the least astute that the decisive battle of the New World was being fought.
There 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 dark corners. Two of the girls got themselves kissed, and two of the officers got their ears boxed, and later a glove each to stick in their hat-bands. At midnight the party broke up with regret, and the young officers, seeking their quarters, turned in, and were presently sleeping the sleep of the constant in heart. But Aladdin did not dream about the pretty girl of Manchester, Maryland. When he could not help himself—under the disadvantage of sleep, when suddenly awakened, or when left alone—his mind harped upon Margaret. And often the chords of the harping were sad chords. But on this particular night he dreamed well. He dreamed that her little feet did wrong and fled for safety unto him. What the wrong was he knew in his dream, but never afterward—only that it was a dreadful, unforgivable wrong, not to be condoned, even by a lover. But in his dream Aladdin was more than her lover, and could condone anything. So he hid her feet in his hands until those who came to arrest them had passed, and then he waked to find that his hands were empty, and the delicious dream over. He waked also to find that it was still dark, and that the Sixth Army Corps was to march to a place called Taneytown, where General Meade had headquarters. He made ready and presently was riding by his general at the head of a creaking column, under the starry sky. In the great hush and cool that is before a July dawn, God showed himself to the men, and they sang the "Battle-hymn of the Republic," but it sounded sweetly and yearningly, as if sung by thousands of lovers:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword His truth is marching on.
The full sunlight gives man poise and shows him the practical side of things, but in the early morning and late at night man is seldom quite rational. He weakly allows himself to dwell upon what was not, is not, and will not be. And so Aladdin, during the first period of that march, pretended that Margaret was to be his and that all was well.
A short distance out of Manchester the column met with orders from General Meade and was turned westward toward Gettysburg. With the orders came details of the first day's fight, and Aladdin learned of the officer bringing them, for he was a Maine man, that Hamilton St. John was among the dead. Aladdin and the officer talked long of the poor boy, for both had known him well. They said that he had not been as brilliant as John, nor as winning as Hannibal, but so honest and reliable, so friendly and unselfish. They went over his good qualities again and again, and spoke of his great strength and purity, and of other things which men hold best in men.
And now they were riding with the sun in their eyes, and white dust rolled up from the swift feet of horses and men. Wild roses and new-mown grass filled the air with delightful fragrance, and such fields as were uncut blazed with daisies and buttercups. Over the trimmed lawns about homesteads yellow dandelions shone like stars in a green sky. Men, women, and children left their occupations, and stood with open mouths and wide eyes to see the soldiers pass. The sun rose higher and the day became most hot, but steadily, unflinchingly as the ticking of a clock, the swift, bleeding, valiant feet of the Sixth Army Corps stepped off the miles. And the men stretched their ears to hear the mumbled distant thunder of artillery—that voice of battle which says so much and tells so little to those far off. The Sixth Corps felt that it was expected to decide a battle upon Northern soil for the North, and marching in that buoyant hope, left scarcely a man, broken with fatigue and disappointment, among the wild flowers by the side of the way.
If you have ever ridden from Cairo to the Pyramids you will remember that at five miles' distance they look as huge as at a hundred yards, and that it is not until you actually touch them with your hand that you even begin to realize how wonderfully huge they really are. It was so with the thunders of Gettysburg. They sounded no louder, and they connoted no more to the column now in the immediate vicinage of the battle, than they had to its far-distant ears. But presently the column halted behind a circle of hills, and beheld white smoke pouring heavenward as if a fissure had opened in the earth and was giving forth steam. And they beheld in the heavens themselves tiny, fleecy white clouds and motionless rings, and they knew that shells were bursting and men falling upon the slopes beyond the hills.
A frenzy of eagerness seized upon the tired feet, and they pressed upward, lightly, like dancers' feet. Straps creaked upon straining breasts, and sweat ran in bubbles. Then the head of the column reached the ridge of a hill, and its leaders saw through smarting eyes a great horseshoe of sudden death.
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.
"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.
When 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 from you, which God, knowing about, blinded him so that he could not read it, and he believes that you love him and are faithful to him. It is very merciful of God to let him believe that. He must not be undeceived now, and you must come and be lovely to him and pretend and pretend, and make his dying beautiful. I have the right to ask this of you, for, next to Peter, I was the one that loved you most. And when I made you think I didn't I lied. I lied because I felt that I was not worthy, and I loved you enough to want you to belong to the best man God ever made, and I loved him too. And that was why it was. I tell you because I think you must have wondered about it sometimes. But it was very hard to do, and because I did it, and because Peter is what he is, you must come to him now. If God will continue to be merciful, you will get here in time. I hope I may be on hand to see you, but I do not know. Hamilton is gone, and Peter is going, and there will be a terrible battle to-morrow, and thousands of poor lads will lie on this field forever. And here, one way or another, the war will be decided. I have not the heart to write to you any more, my darling. You will come to Peter, I know, and all will be as well as it can be. I pray to God that I too shall live to see you again, and I ask him to bless you and keep you for ever and ever. Always I see your dear face before me in the battle, and sometimes at night God lets me dream of you. I am without dogma, sweetest of all possible sweethearts, but this creed I say over and over, and this creed I believe: I believe in one God, Maker of heaven and Margaret.
Angels guard you, darling.
ALADDIN. GETTYSBURG, July 2, 1863.
On the morning of the third day of July, young Hannibal St. John shaved his face clean and put himself into a new uniform. The old nth Maine was no longer a regiment, but a name of sufficient glory. On three occasions it had been shot to pieces, and after the third the remaining tens were absorbed by other regiments. Hannibal's father had obtained for him a lieutenancy in the United States artillery, Beau Larch was second lieutenant in another Maine regiment, and John, the old and honored colonel of the nth, was now, like Aladdin, serving on a staff.
The battle began with a movement against Johnson on the Confederate left, and one against Longstreet on their right.
That against Longstreet became known in history as Farnsworth's charge, and Aladdin saw it from the signal-station on Little Round Top.
It was a series of blue lines, whose relations to one another could not be justly estimated, because of the wooded nature of the ground, which ran out into open places before fences and woods that spat red fire, and became thinner and of less extension, as if they had been made of wax and were melting under the blaze of the July sun. In that charge Farnsworth fell and achieved glory.
Aladdin held a field-glass to his eyes with trembling hands, and watched the cruel mowing of the blue flowers. Sometimes he recognized a man that he knew, and saw him die for his country. Three times he saw John St. John in the forefront of the battle. The first time he was riding a glorious black horse, of spirit and proportions to correspond with those of the hero himself. The second time he was on foot, running forward with a-halt in his stride, hatless, and carrying a great battle-flag. Upon the top of it gleamed a gold eagle, that nodded toward the enemy. A dozen blue-coated soldiers, straggling like the finishers in a long-distance race, followed him with bayonets fixed. The little loose knot of men ran across a field toward a stone wall that bounded it upon the other side. Then white smoke burst from the wall, and they were cut down to the last man. The smoke cleared, and Aladdin saw John lying above the great flag which he had carried. A figure in gray leaped the stone wall and ran out to him, stooped, and seizing the staff of the flag in both hands, braced his hands and endeavored to draw it from beneath the great body of the hero. But it would not come, and as he bent closer to obtain a better hold, the back of a great clenched hand struck him across the jaw, and he fell like a log. Other men in gray leaped the wall and ran out. The flag came easily now, for St. John was dead; but so was the gray brother, for his comrades raised him, and his head hung back over his left shoulder, and they saw that his neck had been broken like a dry stick.
Aladdin had not been sent to that place to mourn, but to gain information. Twice and three times he wiped his eyes clear of tears, and then he swept his faltering glass along the lines of the enemy, until, ranged in their center, he beheld a great semicircle of a hundred and more iron and brass cannons, and movements of troops. Then Aladdin scrambled down from Little Round Top to report what he had seen in the center of the Confederate lines.
At one o'clock the Confederate batteries, one hundred and fifteen pieces in all, opened their tremendous fire upon the center of the Union lines. Eighty cannons roared back at them with defiant thunder, and the blue sky became hidden by smoke. Among the Union batteries horses began to run loose, cannons to be splintered like fire-wood, and caissons to explode. At these moments men, horses, fragments of men and horses, stones, earth, and things living and things dead were hurled high into the air with great blasts of flame and smoke, and it was possible to hear miles of exultant yells from the hills opposite. But fresh cannon were brought lumbering up at the gallop and rolled into the places of those dismantled, shot and shell and canister and powder were rushed forward from the reserve, and the grim, silent infantry, the great lumbermen of Maine and Vermont, the shrill-voiced regiments from New York, the shrewd farmers of Ohio and Massachusetts, the deliberate Pennsylvanians, and the rest, lay closely, wherever there was shelter, and moistened their lips, and gripped their rifles, and waited—waited.
For two hours that terrible cannonading was maintained. The men who served the guns looked like stokers of ships, for, such was the heat, many of them, casting away first one piece of clothing and then another, were half naked, and black sweat glistened in streams on their chests and backs. As sight-seers crowd in eagerly by one door of a building where there is an exhibition, and come reluctantly out by another and go their ways, so the reserves kept pressing to the front, and the wounded maintained an unceasing reluctant stream to the rear.
A little before three o'clock Hannibal St. John had his right knee smashed by the exploding of a caisson, and fell behind one of the guns of his battery. He was so sure that he was to be killed on this day that it had never occurred to him that he might be trivially wounded and carried to the rear in safety. An expression of almost comical chagrin came over his face, for life was nothing to him, and somewhere far above the smoke a goodly welcome awaited him: that he knew. Men came with a stretcher to carry him off, but he cursed them roundly and struggled to his well knee. The cannon behind which he had fallen was about to be discharged.
"Give 'em hell!" cried Hannibal.
As he spoke, the piece was fired, and leaping back on the recoil, as a frenzied horse that breaks its halter, one of the wheels struck him a terrible blow on the body, breaking all the ribs on that side and killing him instantly. His face wore a glad smile, and afterward, when Aladdin found him and took the gold locket from his pocket, and read the inscription written, a great wonder seized men:
July 3, 1863. Nunc dimittis. Te Deum laudamus.
Thus in one battle fell the three strong hostages which an old man had given to fortune.
Three o'clock the Union batteries were ordered to be silent, for it was well known to those in command that presently there would be a powerful attack by infantry, for which the cannonade was supposed to have paved the way with death and disorder, and it was necessary that the pieces should be kept cool in order to be in efficient condition to grapple with and suppress this attack. Sometimes a regiment, stung to a frenzy of courage by bullets and the death of comrades, will rise from its trench without the volition of its officers, and go frantically forward against overwhelming odds. A different effect of an almost identical psychological process is patience. Men will sometimes lie as quietly under a rain of bullets, in order to get in one effective shot at an enemy, as cattle in the hot months will lie under a rain of water to get cool. It was so now. The whole Union army was seized by a kind of bloody deliberation and lay like statues of men, while, for quarter of an hour more, the Confederates continued to thunder from their guns. Now and again a man felt lovingly the long black tube of a cannon to see if its temperature was falling. Others came hurrying from the rear with relays of powder, shot, shell, and canister.
It seemed now to the Confederate leaders that the Union batteries had been silenced, and that the time had come for Pickett, the Ney of the South, to go forward with all his forces. Only Longstreet demurred and protested against the charge. When Pickett asked him for the order to advance he turned away his head sorrowfully and would not speak. Then Pickett, that great leader of men, who was one half daring and one half magnetism and all hero, said proudly: "I shall go forward, sir." And turned to his lovers.
Silence and smoke hung over Gettysburg.
Presently out of the smoke on the Confederate side came three lines of gray a mile long. Battle-flags nodded at intervals, and swords blazed in the sun.
Very deliberately and with pains about aiming, the Union batteries began to hurl solid shot against the gray advance. Soon holes were bitten here and there, and occasionally a flag went down, to be instantly snatched up and waved defiantly. When Pickett, Pettigrew, and the splendid brigade of Cadmus Wilcox had reached the bottom of the valley, their organization was as unbroken as a parade. But there shell, instead of round shot, met them, and men tasted death by fives and tens. But the lines, drawing together, closed the spaces left by mortality, and the flags began to approach each other. Then the gray men began to come up the slope, and there were thousands of them. But shell yielded to canister, and the muskets of the infantry sent out death in leaden showers, so that the great charge began to melt like wax over heat, and the flags hung close together like a trophy of battle in a chapel. But still the gray men came. And now, in a storm of flame and smoke, they reached the foremost cannons of the Union line, and planted their flags. So much were they permitted for the glory of a lost cause. For a little, men killed one another with the butts of guns, with bayonets, and with stones, and then, as the overdrip of a wave broken upon an iron coast trickles back through the stones of the beach to the ocean, so all that was left of Pickett's great charge trickled back down the slope, driblets of gray, running blood. For a little while longer the firing continued. Battle-flags were gathered, and thrown together in sheaves. There was a little broken cheering, and to all intents and purposes the great war was at an end.
Aladdin, broken with grief and fatigue, went picking his way among the dead and wounded. He had lost Peter and Hannibal in that battle, and Hamilton and John were dead; he alone remained, and it was not just. He felt that the Great Reaper had spared the weed among the flowers, and he was bitter against the Great Reaper. But there was one more sorrow reserved for Aladdin, and he was to blaspheme against the God that made him.
There was still desultory firing from both armies. As when, on the Fourth of July, you set off a whole bunch of firecrackers, there is at first a crackling roar, and afterward a little explosion here and a little explosion there, so Gettysburg must have sounded to the gods in Olympus. Thunder-clouds begotten of the intense heat rolled across the heavens from east to west, accentuating the streaming glory of the setting sun, and now distant thunder rumbled, with a sound as of artillery crossing a bridge. Drops of rain fell here and there.
Aladdin heard himself called by name, "'Laddin, 'Laddin."
As quickly as the brain is advertised of an insect's sting, so quickly did Aladdin recognize the voice and know that his brother. Jack was calling to him. He turned, and saw a little freckled boy, in a uniform much too big for him, trailing a large musket.
"Jack!" he cried, and rushed toward him with outstretched arms. "You little beggar, what are you doin' here?"
Jack grinned like one confessing to a successful theft of apples belonging to a cross farmer. And then God saw fit to take away his life. He dropped suddenly, and there came a rapid pool of blood where his face had been. With his arms wrapped about the little figure that a moment before had been so warlike and gay, Aladdin turned toward the heavens a face of white flint.
"I believe in one God, Maker of hell!" he cried.
Thunder rumbled and rolled slowly across the battle-field from east, to west.
"I believe in one God, Maker of hell!" cried Aladdin, "Father of injustice and doer of hellish deeds! I believe in two damnations, the damnation of the living and the damnation of the dead."
He turned to the little boy in his arms, and terrible sobs shook his body, so that it appeared as if he was vomiting. After a while he turned his convulsed face again to the sky.
"Come down," he cried, "come down, you—"
Far down the hill there was a puff of white smoke, and a merciful bullet, glancing from a rock, struck Aladdin on the head with sufficient force to stretch him senseless upon the ground.
When the news of Gettysburg reached the Northern cities, lights were placed in every window, and horns were blown as at the coming of a new year. Senator Hannibal St. John had lost his three boys and the hopes of his old age in that terrible fight, but he caused his Washington house to be illuminated from basement to garret.
And then he walked out in the streets alone, and the tears ran down his old cheeks.
There had been a wedding in the hospital tent. Margaret bent over Peter and kissed him goodby. She was in deep black, and by her side loomed a great, dark figure, whose eyes were like caverns in the depths of which burned coals. The great, dark man leaned heavily upon a stick, and did not seem conscious of what was going on. The minister who had performed the ceremony stood with averted face. Every now and then he moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. The wounded in neighboring cots turned pitiful eyes upon the girl in black, for she was most lovely—and very sad. Occasionally a throat was cleared.
"When you come, darling," said the dying man, "there will be an end of sorrow."
"There will be an end of sorrow," echoed the girl. She bent closer to him, and kissed him again.
"It is very wonderful to have been loved," said Peter. Then his face became still and very beautiful. A smile, innocent like that of a little child, lingered upon his lips, and his blind eyes closed.
St. John laid his hand upon Margaret's shoulder.
A man, very tall and lean and homely, entered the tent. He was clad in an exceedingly long and ill-fitting frock-coat. Upon his head was a high black hat, somewhat the worse for wear. He turned a pair of very gentle and pitying eyes slowly over those in the tent.
Aladdin, his head almost concealed by bandages, sat suddenly upright in a neighboring cot. A wild, unreasoning light was in his eyes, and marking time with his hand, he burst suddenly into the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on.
He sang on, and the wounded joined him with weak voices:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me; As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.
The tall man who had entered, to whom every death was nearer than his own, and to whom the suffering of others was as a crucifixion, removed the silk hat from his head, and wiped his forehead with a colored handkerchief.
Margaret knelt by Aladdin and held his unconscious form in her arms.
Outside, the earth was bathing in exquisite sunshine.
It was not long before Aladdin got back the strength of his body, but the gray bullet which had come in answer to his cry against God, even as the lightning came to Amyas Leigh, in that romance to which it is so good to bow, had injured the delicate mechanism of his brain, so that it seemed as if he would go down to the grave without memory of things past, or power upon the hour. Indeed, the war ended before the surgeons spoke of an operation which might restore his mind. He went under the knife a little child, his head full of pictures, playthings, and fear of the alphabet; he came forth made over, and turned clear, wondering eyes to the girl at his side. And he held her hand while she bridged over the years for him in her sweet voice.
He learned that she had married Peter, making his death peaceful, and he God-blessed her for so doing, while the tears ran down his cheeks.
But much of Aladdin that had slept so long was to wake no more. For it was spring when he woke, and waking, he fell in love with all living things.
One day he sat with Margaret on the porch of a familiar house, and looked upon a familiar river that flowed silverly beyond the dark trees.
Senator St. John, very old and very moving, came heavily out of the house, and laid his hands upon the shoulders of Margaret and Aladdin. It was like a benediction.
"I have been thinking," said the senator, very slowly, and in the voice of an old man, "that God has left some flowers in my garden."
"Roses?" said Aladdin, and he looked at Margaret.
"Roses perhaps," said the senator, "and withal some bittersweet, but, better than these, and more, he has left me heart's-ease. This little flower," continued the senator, "is sown in times of great doubt and sorrow and trouble, and it will grow only for a good gardener, one who has learned to bow patiently in all things to God's will, and to set his feet valiantly against the stony way which God appoints. I call Margaret 'Heart's-ease,' and I call you, too, 'Heart's-ease,' Aladdin, for you are becoming like a son to me in my declining years. Consider the river, how it flows," said the old man, "smoothly to the sea, asking no questions, and making no lamentations against the length of its days, and receiving cheerfully into the steadfast current of its going alike the bitter waters and the sweet."
We have forgotten Aladdin's songs and the tunes which he made, for the people's ear is not tuned to them any more. But that is a little thing. It is pleasant to think of that night when, the knocking of his heart against his ribs louder than the knocking of his hand upon her door, he carried to Margaret's side the wonderful lamp which, years before, had been lighted within him, and which, burning always, now high, now low, like the rising and falling tides in the river, had at length consumed whatever in his nature was little or base, until there was nothing left save those precious qualities, love and charity, which fire cannot calcine nor cold freeze. Also it is pleasant to think that little children came of their love and sang about their everlasting fire.